Curls of smoke lifted and writhed their way to the yellowed ceiling to leave their own contribution to the collected stain. Morgan watched them as though they were spirits, the agonized souls of the girls around her, seated at their lighted mirrors applying lip gloss and gluing on feathery lashes, their spirits dancing around them begging for attention and as always being ignored.
“What’s got into you?”
Darla breathed out a stream of smoke as she asked. It was she that puffed and puffed on the little Virginia slims giving a pale wispy shape to their souls. Her hair was glossy and black, her lips eternally pouty, her voice deep and sultry.
“Nothing.” Morgan answered dismally and Darla snorted and flicked ashes right onto the top of the vanity, disregarding the green glass ash tray all together.
“It’s not nothing babe. Something’s eating you. You’ve been sitting there staring at the ceiling like the blessed virgin was up there having a clam bake.”
“It’s nothing.” Morgan repeated and shook her head to clear the cobwebs, to clear the curls of smoke.
“Mmm,” Darla pursed her lip and snuffed the cigarette out on the table top leaving an ugly burn on the white Formica. She began to peel her lashes off and put them away in a little acrylic container.
“Well that was your last set. You gonna get dressed or are you planning to walk home that way?”
Morgan looked down at her bare leg peaking out of the crack of her silk robe. Her panties and hose were still clamped in a tight fist at her side. She jammed them into her purse, which was sitting on the counter in front of her and she dared to face herself in the mirror. Hurriedly she wiped the make up away and peeled her own lashes off and took the lift out of her hair. She let the robe fall over the chair and reached under the counter for her duffle bag and pulled out the valure sweat suit stored there, a nice anonymous black number. Having slipped into the bottoms and zipped herself into the top, she tied her hair back with a cloth band and sighed at the pile of crumpled green bills still laying out on the vanity top. She grabbed them up and jammed them unceremoniously into her open purse. She was aware of Darla watching her out of the corner of her eye. She grabbed her purse and put it over her shoulder as she stood.
“Hang on.” Darla said putting the last two finishing strokes into her sleek black hair. “I’ll walk out with you.”
Jack escorted the two ladies to their cars, his massive hands poised protectively high in the center of their backs, one lady on each side of him. Hanging around the back corner of the building on the edge, where the light from the lamp faded, a man in a sweaty white T-shirt under a flimsy windbreaker stood with hands in his pockets. One look from big black Jack sent him scurrying off, away from the girls and into the darkness like an oversized roach. When Darla was installed in her blue Toyota and Morgan was unlocking her own car door the Jack of Spades, as they liked to call him, said,
“Good Night Miss Morgan. You take care.” And he smiled warmly. His voice was so velvety soft with brotherly concern that Morgan had to smile genuinely, not one of those fake smiles that she rained on the gentlemen in the club like plastic Mardi Gras beads all night. Then she slipped into the open door of her battered white Nissan and Jack closed the door for her.
Driving home, she took a detour, a long open ended far out of her way detour. It took her through a quiet little neighborhood with yards and bike paths and windows aglow with light. It reminded her somewhat of the tract of houses where she had been raised hundreds of miles away. She could nearly see herself running barefoot through the yards and skipping rope, and later climbing out of back windows and hitchhiking as far out of town as she could get before a state trooper picker her up and brought her back to her mortified parents. At that time, the idea of escape had been all consuming, getting away from the nowhere and the life that her mother lived, that of an uninteresting housewife whom no one thanked or loved. Eventually she had escaped from the suburbs, when she was old enough to drive herself out and make her way to a big old city. And maybe at first she had felt free, before the electricity was shut off and the realization that she couldn’t make rent on waitressing tips set in. Then she had scrambled to find a gig that made better money. Her parents thought that she was employed with a modern dance company in Oakland.
Parked in front of some stranger’s house, the tears began to flow. Watching the ghost of herself playing ballerina in a driveway. This was escape? This was escaping the fate of her mother? Alone in a huge violent mysterious place where only a handful of slobs knew she existed for a few moments when she was under the lights and they were cramming their filthy money into her g-string. The girl in her railed against the bars of her chest, demanding an escape. Demanding to be noticed, to be freed. Morgan choked back the tears and started the engine of her car again. Her headlights swept over the road ahead wavering as she left the ghost ballerina to dance to an empty street, twirling towards the abyss.