Renata digs her thong out of her ass crack, brushes glitter on her boobs, and gets into Cage C, which is a respectable distance from the stage. Emily, who is white and was a high school cheerleader, is in Cage A. Renata reminds herself of the thousand she needs to make by the end of the night if she wants to make rent. She pretends she is drunk and happy and starts up her routine, becomes Lolita.
Renata is aware of just how good she looks when she wraps first one leg around the pole, then the other, until she lets her back arch and her hair sweep the floor. Lolita ignores the guys watching her, awkwardly clutching their beers like talismans.
Lolita is the popular girl they masturbated to in high school, the celebrity crush they fantasized about, the neighbor changing through the window. Lolita is a salve for their balding heads and drooping bellies, their flopping dicks and looming mortality. Even as she grinds against them, she is not really there. She compliments and teases. She is charismatic and lets the guys think they are in control.
The music pounds louder, and Renata can feel the bass pulse through her heart. The room feels too tight, the eyes too leering. Before her shift, she had borrowed some pain reliever from Tia, but her head still hurts. Over at Cage A, Emily flaunts a bottle of champagne. It means another guy just bought a VIP lap dance, and Renata tries not to think about how much money Emily pulls a night.
As Lolita caresses a guy’s face with her boobs, Renata remembers she is turning 28 next week. Her sister, the real estate agent, says she supports Renata no matter what, of course, but isn’t it time she found a real job? Lolita spins around the pole, her figure fluid, her muscles taut. Renata is addicted to walking home with cash each night, some nights just $100, and other nights $1000. Part of the thrill, like gambling, is never knowing when she’ll strike it big.
Lolita is the girl Renata wanted to be in high school. Lolita stands twenty feet tall on billboards all over Los Angeles, and spreads her legs wide open in 1080p on PornHub. Lolita orders Renata to be happy and sexy, and evaporates if Renata eats more than 1000 calories a day. Lolita demands she shave and wax and pluck, get boob jobs and butt implants and liposuction. Lolita drowns her in makeup, and in the acute feeling that she is never going to be good enough.
Lolita’s fingers trail over the bars of the cage, which have been spray painted gold, and here she lingers. Renata tries to squeeze out of the cage, shoulders first, but Lolita catches her, still smiling, still shaking her ass. Lolita is charismatic and lets Renata think she is in control. The song changes, and they dance, wrapping their body around the pole like a snake constricting its prey, sweat and glitter glistening on their boobs.
Sanjana Raghavan is a student at George Mason University, and her work has been published in Lunch Ticket.