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American Contemporary Fiction

Mallory sat at her desk, watching the clock in the corner of her work computer. She thought about how she had her routine for the end of the work day down to a science. At this point, she thought, she had mastered the art of deception. Not the bad kind of deception that could potentially hurt someone, but the kind that gave her an air of mystery.

        No one in the office knew what she really did after work.

        When her coworkers saw her leaving, carrying her oversized gym bag, they smiled at her and complimented her dedication. “You’re so good!” her coworker, Margaret, would say. “I wish I had your motivation!” Margaret was an older woman who worked in HR. She had three kids, six grandkids, and her favorite water cooler discussion topic was her upcoming retirement after thirty-three years with the company. Mallory couldn’t imagine doing anything for thirty-three years. That was longer than she’d been alive.

        She wouldn’t say much when Margaret or anyone else would comment on her commitment to fitness. She would laugh, or shrug modestly, or say thanks and be on her way as quickly as possible. She was relieved when no one asked her about her workout routine or which gym she belonged to, because she had no answer.


Four days a week, she would leave one task for the end of the work day. Not a challenging task, because she was an administrative assistant and none of her daily tasks were particularly challenging, but a task that would take up an extra half hour. She’d make photocopies or catch up on emails or restock office supplies. That half hour allowed most of the other employees to leave for the day, and it allowed Mallory to go straight from the office to the club, instead of stopping at home first.

        The club was an hour away by bus, and Mallory didn’t have a car. She worried that someone she knew would see her, so she walked several blocks to a bus stop that wasn’t near the office. She could take a cab, but she didn’t want to pay for one, so she’d lug her gym bag over her shoulder, and she’d wait. She didn’t want anyone to catch on to her routine, so there were a few different bus stops that she rotated between.

        She always kept a paperback in her bag to read on the bus, but she never ended up opening it. She scrolled through social media on her phone or stared out the window, letting her mind go blank. When she arrived at the club, she’d hurry into the dressing rooms, and she’d put on a skimpy, sequined outfit that left nothing to the imagination. She’d wait for the announcer to call her stage name, and when he did, Mallory became Melody, and until her shift was over at two o’clock in the morning, she allowed herself to be someone else.


Stripping, or dancing, had never been part of Mallory’s plan, but it had been an opportunity, and she’d taken advantage of it. It wasn’t something she did for fun, but she did marvel at the amount of money that she would go home with, and that part filled her with secret glee. The best part was sitting on her living room floor after she got home, counting each dollar she made.

        It had all started six months ago. Mallory didn’t usually go out, especially not back then, but one of her friends sent her a text message inviting her out to a very exclusive night club. Mallory declined, saying that she was flat broke, but her friend Jenn told her not to worry about it, just show up and look hot.

        She was aware that it was her looks that got her the job. That night, she had put effort into her appearance. She had blow dried her hair, which was long and auburn. She wore lacy black underwear and a pushup bra, a little black dress and strappy heels. She applied mascara and eyeliner and lip gloss. Mallory had always been naturally stunning, and it was both a blessing and curse. Putting in any effort to her physical appearance was enough to get her some kind of attention, whether it was wanted or not.

        The irony of it all was that Mallory was an introvert. She didn’t enjoy attention. She didn’t like being looked at. Almost nothing made her happier than being able to fade into the background. Her favorite classes while she was at university were the ones in giant lecture halls, with a hundred other students, and she could find a spot somewhere in the middle and just blend in and be a number instead of a person. It wasn’t until after college that she understood that her looks could benefit her. Being beautiful could get her free drinks or a free meal, or, later, an internship or a job offer. And when she became a dancer, it earned her extra tips. She remembered one of her first nights on the job, when the other dancers talked amongst themselves and shared how much money that they had made that night, and Mallory realized that she had out earned them all. It certainly wasn’t because she was a better dancer.

        The club was called Pearl. Mallory had never heard of it, but that wasn’t saying much, because she could count the number of times she’d intentionally gone to a night club on one hand. So she went, and she met up with Jenn and two other girls who she remembered vaguely from other nights out in the not too distant past. It wasn’t until they’d gotten in the door when Mallory realized that Pearl was a strip club. But it wasn’t a strip club like she’d pictured them. Everything about Pearl was classy and elegant. It was immaculately clean, and every surface was glossy and new. It was dark and low lit, but everything in the room had a look of luxury. The furniture was sleek yet plush. The dancers also didn’t look how Mallory expected them to look, which was trashy and drug addicted. Instead, they were beautiful young women, like her.

        Most of the night was a blur, not because of the alcohol she drank but because she was so fascinated by her surroundings. She couldn’t take her eyes off the dancers; the way they moved, the way they looked at the men who were looking at them. And she especially noticed the quantity of dollar bills that were handed to the dancers or tossed onstage as they danced. From where she stood, Mallory could see that many of those bills were $20 or $50.

        Toward the end of the night, Mallory left her group and went to the bar for a drink. It was a busy night, and the bartender was occupied when she went over, so she sat down on a bar stool to wait her turn. She’d only been sitting down for a few moments when a middle aged man sitting a few seats down said, “Wow, you’re gorgeous.”

        Mallory felt her cheeks get hot. She never knew what to say to things like that.

        “No, I mean it,” he went on. “I know you must hear that all the time, but I’d pay to come here just to stare at you.”

        Mallory was taken aback. “Oh,” she said quickly. “I don’t work here.”

        “Oh, I’m sorry,” the guy said. He didn’t look embarrassed. He took a sip of his drink. “So what brings you here tonight?” he asked her.

        “I’m here with my friends,” she said, gesturing vaguely to the table where they were sitting. Her friends sat close to one another, their heads together so that they could talk and hear each other over the music. As she glanced at them, they all burst into spontaneous laughter over something that Jenn had said, and Mallory felt a rush of affection for them.

        The man nodded slowly, appraising her. “I don’t usually come to these places,” he said, an air of calculated sadness in his voice. “But I’m having some trouble at home.”

        “Oh,” Mallory said, not believing him for a second. She was confused about why he was telling her this. Her guard was up. Under the bar, she slid her phone out of her clutch. “I’m sorry to hear that.”

        “It’s alright. It’ll work out,” he said. He sighed deeply, and then he took one last sip of his drink before placing his glass down on the bar. Then he looked at her again and smiled. He stood up, pulling his wallet out of his pocket. He pulled out two bills, and he placed one on the bar. “Thanks for listening,” he said, and he handed the second bill to her. Before she could react or try to hand it back to him, he was walking away. She was so floored that she didn’t look at the bill before she shoved it in her purse, and she forgot about the encounter until she pulled the bill out of her bag the next morning.

        It was $100.


Mallory spent a long time considering that $100. She didn’t spend it for months. She kept it tucked into her wallet, and once in awhile, she pulled it out and looked at it to remind herself of her power, of the money that she could make if she wanted to.

        Money was the biggest struggle of Mallory’s life. She’d graduated from college nearly three years ago with a liberal arts degree, and because she hadn’t received any grants or scholarships and her parents hadn’t been able to help her, she was drowning in student loan debt. Her job was entry level and unskilled, so it didn’t pay much, and it barely covered her rent and student loan payments, which meant that she was slowly accruing credit card debt each month just to feed herself if she couldn’t convince her parents to help her, which was most of the time. Her parents thought she needed a roommate to bring down her living costs, but Mallory would rather stab herself in the eye with a fork than live with someone else. She couldn’t imagine sharing living space with even her closest friends.

        She remembered the day that she decided to pursue dancing as a way to bring in extra money. She was at the grocery store after work, trying to buy bread and cheese so that she could make a grilled cheese sandwich for dinner. When she tried to pay for her food, her debit card was declined. “Sorry,” the teenage cashier had said, handing her card back to her after trying three times to get it to go through. “Do you have another payment method?” he asked, as though he was reading from an employee manual on what to say in these difficult situations.

        “No,” Mallory mumbled, humiliated, even though no one was in line behind her. “It’s okay. Thanks.” She quickly left the store. She stood outside and pulled out her phone, where she checked her bank account balance and saw that she had overdrafted earlier that day when she bought tampons from the pharmacy near the office.

        Then she remembered the $100 that she had stashed, zipped into a secret pocket of her bag. She made sure that it was still there, and she went back into the grocery store, and she spent all of it. Then she went home, made a sandwich, and looked up Pearl online to find out when they were holding their next audition for dancers.

She didn’t discuss her decision to audition as a dancer with anyone she knew. Instead, she did research. She browed reddit. She watched videos. She learned how to dance, how to move her body, how to smile right and make eye contact in a way that was both innocent and suggestive. At first, it was awkward, even though she was alone in her apartment, and she had to laugh at herself as she tried to learn how to be intentionally sexy for the first time in her life.

On the night of her audition at Pearl, Mallory patiently waited her turn, and when they called her name, she performed the dance that she had practiced at home every night for the past three weeks. Dancing and moving sensually didn’t come naturally to her, but she pretended that it did, and she got the job.

Since then, her days had become a blur. She was constantly exhausted – during the week, she woke at 6:30am, got ready for work, spent a full day at the office, then went to the club, where she worked until one or two in the morning. She slept maybe three or four hours a night, but at least now she could afford to buy coffee.

The nights that she didn’t dance had taken on new meaning. It was the only time she had to herself. She knew that she didn’t have to work so much, but the novelty of financial stability hadn’t worn off. She knew that the people closest to her had noticed that things were different. She didn’t ask her parents for money. She met up with her girlfriends for bunch. It was the most normal she had felt since finishing college, and she would never take that for granted.


Later that night, Mallory arrived home to her apartment after her shift at the club. She was tired, as always. She took a shower, put on pajamas, and climbed into bed.

        She took stock of her life. She was laying on a new mattress that she’d bought a few weeks ago, along with new silk sheets. Her rent was paid. Her student loan balance was slowly dwindling. Her fridge was full of groceries.

She had to smile to herself, because she knew that when she was at the club, the men she danced for thought that they had power over her because she was dancing for them. But they were the ones who were paying for her life, giving her their money, allowing her to finally live well, and the one who was truly powerful was her.

September 02, 2021 22:31

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1 comment

Scout Tahoe
01:32 Jan 03, 2022

Amy, I read your bio and it encouraged me to comment on this. I read it weeks ago, and loved it. Mallory didn't start out a powerful character but definitely ended as one. Also, you changed my mind about strip clubs. I was blown away by your language and you left me confused with new perspectives. I thought the men were powerful too, and that the dancers were there because they had no other way to make money (which is sort of true with Mallory), but because Pearl is on the nicer side, she makes a lot. Cheers to another year of your stories!


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