There was a line of girls standing outside the door. There was a fake plastic leather couch that had cracked and was spilling its orange dirty guts. Beside the office door was a cloudy window. Inside the office one could see a parrot chained to a bird stand made from what looked like ocean driftwood but was clearly from Petco or some other kind of place. The bird had a tiny thin black chain around its ankle. It seemed more delicate and humane somehow than I guess what would have been an alternative bulkier bird chain. In truth I hadn’t ever really seen one before come to think of it, so I suppose the chain might have been the normal size.
I held my resume close in sweaty fingers and pulled my latex skirt down. No one was sitting on the couch because no one wanted to lose their spot in line. I mean that’s why I wasn’t sitting at least. Soon enough though the line had shortened or I had just made it to the front and they were calling my name. I looked up from where I had been looking down at the orange, pilled up rug and was surprised to see that I was next. I rotated my foot in the tall hot pink stiletto, to wake it up a bit so it wouldn’t collapse beneath me and sprain an ankle, as it had done before, getting up from my knees in the Burgundy Room bathroom, the fluorescent purple lights beaming down on my head as I sucked Rayven, the house DJ’s cock, a few months prior.
I stepped sheepishly inside the office beneath a man’s arm. He was wearing a shiny silver suit jacket over a slippery looking dress shirt and jeans, like Max Headroom might wear if he were invited to a casual Friday’s office party. He was youngish but not so young to have teeth as white and blinding as his. Sit down, said an older man’s voice. I looked over at the dark wet spot of hair sitting in a receding row down the man’s smooth dome. A desk of styrofoam coffee cups and a stack of wrinkled car magazines lay strewn about beyond his manicured reach.
“I’m John.” He said, sitting up. Everything on him looked expensive, like it was sitting in the window of a store that would never hire Pretty Woman. Yet here I was, waiting to get hired. “What makes you think you can sit still for five hours at a time, without a break?” he asked. I set my purse down, still adjusting and looked behind me as the security officer, who appeared from behind a coat rack, shut the door. Squawk, inside now. Inside now, said the parrot and I jumped.
“I’m sorry,” said John, starting again and extending his hand. “I’m John. I run the hotel, I, own it.” He said this slowly, purposefully, letting the words drape and drip and swim around my ears. I reacted in time, the way I knew he wanted me to.
“Oh my, wow. That’s amazing,” I said, smiling big, the way my face looked cute, young, earnest. Like a naked girl in boots and mittens shivering in the snow. A wretched painful beauty. I nodded my head a few times, dopily, for insistence. Not because I knew to, but because dopily I was impressed. It was a very cool hotel. Upstairs at least, not in this basement area where we were now. That I had to wind slowly one stiletto at a time down the almost vertical hill behind the property near the underground garage, the view of West Hollywood dropping off the strip into the flat lands below, in order to reach these men.
“They don’t know everything we do down here,” said John, finally eyeing me. “Let’s see you sit,” he said, sitting up and leaning slightly forward. He loosened his tie in obvious anticipation, like men did in movies, in what I thought had been exaggerated gestures. He licked his lips. I looked behind me at the parrot that nibbled on the chain like everything was fine. Breasts, it telepathed. I intuited as much. I leaned forward in front of the chair, in order to stand again, straightened my skirt one more time and let my dark naturally curly hair sweep across my large pale breasts, and sat once more. I touched my neck softly and looked around the room for the approval of everyone present. The parrot nibbled and I knew I had done good.
“Well, everyone here can see that clearly you are very talented. So I ask again, Oh what’s this?” asked John, stopping himself, as I nudged the sweaty resume in his direction. It was imperative that he take it. I had stayed up all night on the rent a computer at Kinko’s typing it out. Skills: I can balance many things and juggle.
“My resume.” I said smiling, nodding at it.
“Oh yes,” he said, also smiling, for recognition. He glanced at it then pushed it away. “So everyone can see that clearly you are very talented. So I ask again, do you think you would be able to sit for five hours at a time, in the mermaid tail, and not need a break? Remember you can lay flat and propped up on your elbows, some girls read, or do their homework, or lay sideways, but not all the way up, upright, I mean. We don’t want you to bump your head,” he said laughing, looking at the security guard and the other white-toothed man. “You can do almost any other thing, you’ll find. Almost as if you were able, or could, sit up. You get used to it, too, of course.”
“Have you sat in the box?” I asked, wide-eyed placid and comatose sounding.
“Oh, no, I don’t fit, obviously.” He said laughing, “and why would I? No one wants to see me. You, however, that’s a different story. Who wouldn’t want to look at you in a mermaid tail, reclining comfortably, in a glass box? Why, you would be the centerpiece of the lobby. Could we, would you feel comfortable, trying on the tail? Just so we could take some Polaroid’s?”
“No, of course not. I mean, yes of course I can. I mean, I don’t mind.”
And then there I was, hobbling out from behind the coat rack, the security guard had kindly turned his back, and I stood, smoothing out the crinkly green sparkly fabric, without noticing that my breasts had fallen forward once again in beautiful harmony with my hair. I felt myself giggle and look up. It was as if the fire of a thousand tongues licked my body. The parrot stopped nibbling and stared. I looked around the room in joyous triumph, their stunned silence. I was a goddamn beauty. I heard Terri Nun from Berlin howl the words Take My Breathe Away, from some distant echo, some wrinkle in time and she filled the room with her high clean clear beautiful notes. They respected me. The parrot felt my pride. My pale unblemished skin pride, my skinny ribs showing pride. My young beauty so untouched, plump and perfect, pride. My one rotten ankle, hardly a whisper unheard. Every one in this room wanted to fuck me.
Later at midnight when Belinda lit the bar on fire at the Burgundy Room, first squirting the fluid then flicking the match, the thing went up and everyone cheered, and then like every night before that one, fizzled out as the alcohol absorbed and everyone fell quiet again and kept drinking. The Scorpions were playing that Donkey Park song, or what I heard as Down In Donkey Park, but knew that was wrong and I was three Red Bull vodka’s and two lines of blow into the night. I had Belinda set down a shot of whiskey and eyed it cautiously, moving closer toward its dare. I waved my hands animatedly and talked about the interview. Telling her how many girls were up for it, at least a dozen. How good it paid, two hundred for a six hour shift, and how it had such low turnover because the perks were so excellent. Free drinks at the bar, half off on rooms, free use of the pool. Articulating over and over again, how pretty I looked in the tale.
“And did you get the job?” she asked, pulling a rock from her glass and sucking.
I picked up the shot and tossed, swishing whiskey around my mouth, trying to erase the taste of John’s cum. There was a tiny bruise growing beneath my bangs and above my temple, where I had bumped my head on his desk, trying to stand. The venetian blinds outside the office, in the parking garage rustled, as I could see the other two men had been watching. But that was okay I knew I had performed well.
“Of course,” I said, taking Belinda’s last rock from her glass and feeling it melt cold to liquid on my tongue. “Clearly I am very talented.”
Nikki Darling is a student in the Creative Writing/Literature PhD program at USC. Her poetry, performance and experimental essays center around subjectivity, persona, and post-structuralist methods of deconstructing literary form and meaning. Her chapbook, Pink Trumpet and the Purple Prose, was released on Econo Textual Objects in December 2014. She is a columnist for KCET’s Artbound and is finishing her first novel, Fade Into You, a story of mixed race identity in the San Gabriel Valley during the 1990s. Her criticism has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Art Book Review, Tomorrow Magazine and Public Books, among others. Her essay “Appropriate For Destruction” was included in Best Music Writing 2010. Her works and letters are archived in the UCLA Chicano Studies Department.
Author photo courtesy of: Gilda Davidian
Feature image : “Barbie Bag Foot”, courtest of David Gilbert