I’m rolling a joint, because working in a strip club is more fun when you’re high. Little orange hairs fall onto the duvet, and I brush them aside. I’ll share this with a few of the girls, and in return they’ll help me make money. The ones who don’t get invited will wonder why, and start doing me favors. Dressing room politics.
The evening light feels heavy, pale gold liquid from the streetlights outside my window. I finish the joint and pull the covers back over me, pressing myself into Sarah’s fat, warm body. Her silky hair covers my eyes and fills my mouth. She moans in her sleep, and I think about calling in sick again, but the power bill is due next week, and there’s a big rugby game on which means money.
I tiptoe to the bathroom, wrapped in a towel. Cold creeps up from the floorboards, spreading an ache through the soles of my feet. I can see my breath misting out in front of me, and Sarah’s soft skin is calling to me from the bedroom. The sun is low, and it floods the hallway but does nothing to warm the damp walls of the house.
In the shower I cup my heavy breasts, and pee against the glass door. Sarah will sleep till late, and make eggs before she goes. She’ll leave her wet towel on the floor of the bathroom, and a dirty pan in the sink. I rub my eyes and wonder when I’ll work up the strength to tell her to stop coming around. Maybe I’ll get hit by a bus on my way to work, and I won’t have to.
The water surrounds me, and I think back to Tahiti, where the air felt like swimming through hot, damp sleep. I went to learn French, and stayed with a family in Papeete who had a daughter my age. My body seemed to blossom in the heat, and I would lock myself in the bathroom to masturbate frantically, late at night when the family had gone to sleep.
My host sister, Leslie, was cruel and childish. She loved to mock my crude accent in front of her friends, and constantly told me my short hair made me look boyish and ugly. I fell hopelessly in love with her, and fought to keep myself from staring at the way her long, dark eyelashes made shadows against her cheeks. “Ne me regarde pas!” She shouted once in frustration at me across the dinner table, making me flinch and drop my fork.
One Sunday we drove to the beach at Venus Point. The day had been dry so far, but the deep turquoise water and black sands stretched out parallel to the grey clouds spreading across the sky, forming a highway of soft monochrome. The air was heavy with the scent of vanilla and impending rain.
Leslie’s parents had dropped us off at the beach, promising to return in a couple of hours. Leslie and her brother were throwing rocks out into the water, seeing who could throw the farthest. I wandered up the beach, and waded out into the waves. The water was warm, and I was up to my waist when the rain started.
It began abruptly, filling the air with big, soft drops of warm water. I was enveloped, barely finding space between the raindrops to catch breath. I could faintly hear Leslie calling my name from the shore, and looked back to find her hunched with her brother under a mango tree. The torrential rain was knocking all the mangoes off the branches, and they were hopping from foot to foot, arms curving defensively above their heads, trying to avoid the falling fruit. They looked like dancers, performing some demented ballet on a stage that was falling apart. I laughed and waved away their shouts, turning back to the horizon. It seemed so pointless trying to stay dry.
Leslie’s voice faded away, and I tipped my head back, letting my mouth fill with rain. I knew I should go back and wait with the others for her parents to return, but the sky and the ocean had merged, and I was overcome with expansive, grey-blue inertia. I could drown, I thought. They might not notice in time, and I would slip quietly away.
Back in the bedroom I dress quickly, trying not to disturb Sarah. I’ll have to do my hair and makeup at work, surrounded by gossip and backhanded compliments, but I don’t want to have to say goodbye.
The streets are barely warmer than my house. The sun is bright, but the wind is sharp against my cheeks. I curl into myself, trying to wrap my body in thoughts of tropical rain.
I can keenly feel the homesickness that had overwhelmed me as a teenager. Back then the hours had seemed endless, measured in sticky, sweat-drenched passes of the second hand. My dance bag is heavy with rhinestoned shoes and tangled hair extensions.
I decide to keep the joint for myself, and smoke most of it outside. I can hear the music pulsing with wet intensity, and a customer throws me a knowing look, sniffing the air as I walk past him. The other girls chatter in the dressing room, their voices like seagulls, screaming over dropped food. I’ll skip makeup. I can dance with damp hair.
The stained red carpet pushes up against my heels. My vision clouds. Lights shimmer. Everything is dark sand and endless, warm water. I’m suddenly eager to strip. It seems pointless to try and stay dry.