Indifference. That’s what finally got her to strip.

Not an argument, not a confrontation, not a parting of ways. It was the fact that she could not get a rise out of him no matter what she did. She could not seduce him into caring about her. Flirting, teasing seemed to annoy him. His face remained impassive or he looked questioningly at her out of the corner of his eye. He topped off that expression with a twisted frown around his mouth.

“You don’t have to believe it, just say it. Say, you’re so beautiful.”

Nothing.

And so here she was, on her birthday, getting naked in front of an audience of paying strangers. The stage was black. The emcee had growled her name into the mic, not her real one of course. Nothing left to do but walk in the darkness to a chair. Pose and wait for the low lights and the scrim to tantalize the audience with her silhouette.

Her act was third. She followed a pole dancer and a statuesque drag performer. After her were a burlesque artist and two veteran dancers of a local strip club. When she’d auditioned at the open casting for this black-tie fundraiser, she admitted not having much experience. On paper, she filled in her stats honestly: bust 34C, waist 27, hips 36. Height, “medium.” Weight, “reasonable.” A post office box for her address, mobile number. Act: Woman strip-teases her actual, unsuspecting husband. Qualifications: dancer; student of burlesque for three years, some performances. Why you want to perform in this show: I think I’m an average modern woman and wife, and since this is a breast cancer survivor event, I think they should see that being brave can be beautiful. Also…to shake things up. And also, it will be my birthday. Somehow the organizers had liked the idea. Although no one was really sure how to get husband there, to his seat at a table in front.

Her hands shook. Feel the night on your body, not the eyes, that’s the only way to do this. Completely uninvited, a thrill of pleasure rolled low in her belly, very close to her sex but not enough to get embarrassed. How can I be aroused by this? She paced around the chair. The strands and strands of precious stones draped on her body kissed her skin with each step she took. Her languid movement around the chair made the gold and silver chains carrying pearls and pearls and more pearls tap her breasts, her hips, her thighs. She rambled around the simple parlor chair of wood dragging her finger nail along the back. She lowered herself onto its cane seat. The blue spots came on and drenched her in blue light. She stretched and arched her back as her nipples tightened and hardened into what felt like diamond-sharp points. This was it, she thought. She expected this moment to terrify her. Instead, she was so aroused, her thighs felt like signs with welcoming arrows “this way!” and she wondered whether in this condition she could even remember her dance, her routine.

(c0ntinued)

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