The Stripper by Candace Hartsuyker

The stripper is thigh high boots and fishnet stockings, tits and washboard abs. She likes how her job is a performance, how she’s not just a woman in a G-string; she’s an artist. She loves what her body is capable of: the high kicks, the back bends, the sinuous way it moves. The dancing pole: a better lover than any man she’s ever been with. She doesn’t mind it: the late nights and dim lighting, the greasy dollar bills, the long drive home, foot bare against the gas pedal, boots shed like snakeskin in the backseat. But sometimes she notices the way the men look at her, like she is a photograph they can smudge, or a piece of fruit sheared to the rind.

When that happens, she takes her time driving home, careful not to disturb the family of deer that like to congregate in her yard. Every time, she holds her breath, in awe of the buck’s antlers, an artistic candelabrum and the doe’s velvety coat, her soft, dark eyes. She draws them sometimes, sketchbook balanced in her lap, charcoal smudging thick paper.

Upstairs, in her bedroom, the stripper sits on her bed, facing her full-length mirror. She’s never believed what her mother says that a mirror in a bedroom is bad luck. She remembers as a little girl stealing sugared almonds from the wooden bowl her mother kept on the coffee table, hearing her tell her guests that an uncovered mirror in a bedroom was a portal for ghosts, a place where a person could become trapped. 

The stripper slowly sheds each article of clothing. She bought the mirror from Goodwill the day before, cleaned the frame in soft strokes until the corroded surface became smooth again. She observes herself as if watching a stranger. The stranger’s skin is the color of spilt milk. One hand bisects a nipple, the fingertips like blinds. Lying on the bed on her side, the stranger admires her legs, her waist, the soft slope of her shoulder. For a moment, she is Titian’s Venus of Urbino or Manet’s Olympia. She is everything she has ever wanted to be. 

CANDACE HARTSUYKER — Candace has an M.F.A in Creative Writing from McNeese State University and reads for PANK. She has been published in Cheap Pop, Okay Donkey, Fractured Lit, Trampset, Heavy Feather Review, Maudlin House and elsewhere.

Art by LAURIE MARSHALL — Laurie is a writer and analog collage artist from Northwest Arkansas. Her words can be found in some cool places but Flash Frog tucked into a special place in her heart when they asked her to illustrate their amazing July stories. She believes in the power of Militant Optimism, prefers her chocolate dark, and is currently raising gray tree frog tadpoles on her back patio. Find her on Twitter @LaurieMMarshall.