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Love In A Plain Brown Envelope: The Bar(e)tender

by Jaime Dunkle

Ian and Sam entered the elongated, narrow strip club. They both reached out for furniture to keep balance in the dark tube. The buzz hit ’em. They rocked and wobbled through the corridor, as if on the deck of a submarine. Sam got serious and whipped around, hair in his face and eyes bulged. He grabbed Ian by the collar of his plaid shirt.

"It’s the fucking bat cave," he said.

Ian glared at Sam, then flicked a lighter right in his face. He added the fire for effect. But, really, they couldn’t see shit. Sam shrunk back a few steps. The flame danced in Ian’s thick-rimmed glasses. He was bigger and more intimidating by default. Sam paused, squealed and spun back toward the bar, away from the door. The flame flickered against dark brown walls, hardly illuminating the jaunt. They scaled the long hallway; long for a tiny strip club, anyway.

Before they reached the bar, "The Gambler" by Kenny Rogers played on speakers bolted to the wall, with wires exposed in a mess no one bothered to hide.

A petite woman, wearing jeans and a flannel, plopped her tush on a four-by-eight wooden box and smoked a Marlboro Menthol 100. She undid her messy bun. Smoke rings puffed toward the empty, adjacent bar. Bare feet dangled from the unpainted block.

Ian and Sam sat in ripped and duct-taped stools at the bar.

The smoking woman slunk behind the counter. She set the burning cigarette in an ashtray and propped her scabby face on her vein-y hands between them.

"We only got Hamm’s—tallboys or drafts. What’ll it be?"


"Drafts," Sam said, cutting Ian off.

"Actually," Ian said. "One each; a tallboy for me."

"Where’s the booty on duty?" Ian asked the bar(e)tender. He wrapped his tattooed hand around the 24-ounce can. He leaned over and eyeballed her bare feet. She smiled. Her bottom right front tooth missing.

"I’ll go get her; go sit at the rack," she said, as she set his change in 16 one-dollar bills next to his beer.

He tapped the stack on the plastic-coated bar. He went and sat at the rack.

Patsy Cline’s "Crazy" played over the poorly installed speaker system.

She cruised over, slowly, smoking a new cigarette, still barefoot, sans jeans, in her underwear and bra, with the flannel unbuttoned, rolled up and tied in a knot at her navel. Her ribs poked out.

"Oh shit, you’re the bartender, disc jockey AND stripper?"

"Well, lookie here...we got a smart one," the bar(e)tender said. He took one last puff and snuffed her half-smoked ciggie.

Sam stayed at the bar and gawked at the makeshift stage. She caught him. He peered at the sticky floor. "Honey, you can come up here too."

"No, he can’t, ’cause he doesn’t have any money," Ian said.

She wasn’t even dancing and no one cared. Ian pointed behind her, toward a stained shower curtain, fastened to a rod with silver rings, strung from two dirty ropes, nailed to the ceiling. A single, lonesome chair rested between it and the wall.

"What’s that supposed to be?" Ian asked.

"That’s where I go to get wet," she said, then cackled.

Ian’s stomach gurgled. They both heard it. He could swear he smelled mold, but was convinced his mind was only fucking with him, since there wasn’t an actual shower where he studied the sad chair, through the discolored shower curtain hanging from the rusted rod nailed to the ceiling with tattered ropes.

The song ended. Lou Reed’s "Walk On The Wild Side" popped on next.

The Bar(e)tender stood up and shook her titties in his face. She untied her flannel and took off her bra. Ian put down a dollar. She squeezed her B-cups and picked up the single, lonesome banknote with her boobs. She turned her back to him, sat on the rack and attempted to pump each ass cheek to the slow beat, but her ass was too skinny and it just sort of shifted ever so slightly from side to side.

Ian tipped another dollar, swigged his Hamm’s tallboy and motioned for Sam to bail with him.

"Have a good one," he said to the bar(e)tender. He left three more dollars.

"You too, hun," she said.

Sam murmured on the way out onto Southeast 82nd Avenue.

"What are you mumbling about over there?"

"This is where strippers go to die," Sam said in a high-pitched voice.

Ian shook his head in agreement and got into the car.