At Moe’s club on O’Farrell Street, there was a new dancer. She called herself Aphrodite, and she was sensational. She was a platinum blonde, and her lean and muscular body moved hypnotically as she captured the eyes and the libido of every patron.
Sometimes Aphrodite danced a simple striptease, and wound up wearing only a beguiling, mysterious grin. And sometimes she danced long and complex dances with veils and swords that had the audience’s hearts in their mouths for half-an-hour at a time. She sucked up their attention, she drenched herself in it, reveled in it, and she remade herself anew for every audience.
Nobody knew where Aphrodite had come from. Moe said she’d just walked in one day and asked to audition. She knew every dance move that anybody who’d ever worked there knew, and she even seemed to know every patron, even though they’d never seen her before in their lives. And when she moved, she moved with the unconscious grace of a cat.
She was irresistible. When she stared into your eyes, you’d find yourself having fevered fantasies about her. And when she danced, you could feel her moving even from across the room. Every shimmy and shake she made became the beat of the whole room, and everybody felt her moves even if they were pretending not to pay attention. She had that kind of presence. She had that kind of power. She was a creature of a different and mysterious order, dancing among the mortals, the strippers and hookers and showgirls and students who made their way at Moe’s.
Moe made his money on drinks, and when Aphrodite danced, everybody drank. He was raking it in hand over fist, and Aphrodite herself was getting paid in tips more than any ten other dancers put together ever had. The other girls could work the crowd while Aphrodite danced, and they were making more in tips than they’d ever seen before too. A week ago Moe’s had been struggling, just one strip joint among many in the tenderloin. It had become prosperous the day Aphrodite had walked in.
Aphrodite rarely talked to anyone, and when she did it didn’t take too long to realize she was insane. Moe figured her for some kind of druggie case, and was sure she’d burn out in a couple of months. But still, he was glad she was here for now.
One of the dancers who tried to talk with Aphrodite was named Clarice.
“I swear, girl, that fire-breathing thing was fuckin’ awesome!” said Clarice. “It took me most of a year to learn to do that sustained burst the way we did it together tonight. Where’d you pick it up?”
Aphrodite shrugged. “I always knew,” she said. “I figured, if we kiss onstage and then breathe the flames together, it’ll do it for the crowd. And it did.”
“No shit, it did!” Clarice continued. “That guy in the back, the one they call ‘pocket?’ I figure he came three times watching our number tonight!” She laughed.
Aphrodite shook her head. “Only once,” she said quietly. “And it was way early in the dance, where we just had our tops off. He was disappointed then. He wanted it to be later.”
Clarice grimaced. “Eww,” she said. “Too much information. Why were you watching him that close?”
Aphrodite smiled. “I watch everybody that close,” she said. “They’re here to worship me. I can’t know what’s working for them if I don’t … feel with them, you know? Feel what they feel.”
Clarice grimaced. “Ugh. I can’t even stand to think about what they’re thinking when they watch us.”
Aphrodite nodded. “You can be a better dancer if you get over that, you know. We are to them … what they need right now. Lots of them are alienated or confused or lonely, and they come here seeking some respite, some forgetting, or some remembering. To release tension, or to find … peace, of a sort. To most, we’re just a diversion of sorts, a hobby or a fetish. But to some of them, we’re as close to a real relationship as they can handle emotionally; to others, we’re as close as they can afford. Some are making us proxies for lovers whose forgiveness or acceptance they need.” She stood, and slowly turned in a circle. “They need us, Clarice. They need our selfless love, and resolution and absolution, or just a sense of wonder in a jaded weary world. And we can be that for them. I was out there using mostly your moves tonight. The part of me that’s you knew them all along. But it’s me the crowd was into, because the part of me that’s them was … feeling what they felt.”
“So you were all horn-doggy and wanting to do both of us right there on the floor?” Clarice laughed, hands fluttering awkwardly.
“Sure,” Aphrodite smiled. “There’s nothing shameful about sex in love, Clarice. My love encompasses them. And you too.” She raised a hand, placing a lingering touch at the base of Clarice’s neck. Clarice gasped at the sudden, decidedly sexual shock of a simple touch. “I can give you the peace you need too,” Aphrodite said quietly. She moved close, and Clarice’s head began to swim with desire as she smelled Aphrodite’s breath, which seemed suddenly to be a powerful cocktail, laced with ancient scents of earth and salt and sex. Aphrodite murmured, “I can give you back what was taken from you. But it has to be your decision. You have to want it. And me.”
A silence stretched out for just a moment too long. Clarice laughed awkwardly as she moved away from Aphrodite’s touch. Her voice cracked with nervous strain as she said, “I need to do my makeup.”
“Right. Right. It’s okay.” Aphrodite replied. Clarice stood up and quickly left. Aphrodite, now alone, faced her own mirror. With one hand, she dipped cold cream out of a jar and wiped it on her face. She smeared it around for a few seconds, dissolving layers of makeup into a streaky mess, then wiped it off with some wet washcloths.
A snarling kitten and a double sunburst appeared, for just a moment, before the other hand deposited a layer of cover cream and started the long process of getting Aphrodite’s makeup right again. In the corner of the dressing room, Indra’s skateboard lay forgotten.
This is one chapter of The Hook, a novel which is being published serially on this site. This page links to all chapters so far serialized.
The complete novel is available from Amazon.