The alarm clock buzzed in the dark. Cold and callous was the sound. Ominous and familiar though it was Gwen failed to grow fonder of this signal to the start of another day in her life. This was not to be a day like almost every other in the life of Gwen. She clambered to silence the sound. This denial had become common-place. The denial of everything that was. The mediocre job and pay – for the figure did not merit the term, ‘salary’. The mind-numbingly boring routine of a fifty hour working week. The elderly gentleman who always walked his non-pedigree Scottish terriers as she trudged in a lethargic daze to the local newsagents in the mornings. The life of a woman so wanting in morale, she had neither the desire nor the need to continue, to breathe, to really live.
Suicidal is a politically charged term. The stigma that is so inseparably associated with this emotive and simple idiom often means those who suffer feelings of this nature never do so in the public sphere, be this at work, amongst friends or whilst chatting on a cell phone into the small hours. Never would there be a mention or admission of these feelings, of this weakness in her heart. Admission. The Samaritans’ telephone number may have been free of charge, but it did appear in cold , hard print on one’s telephone bill. Admission is weakness, admission somehow makes it all too real. Gwen considered herself neither depressed nor anxious, although at twenty-four, she was nowhere near where she thought she would be. She had always been attractive, talented, she would dare say so herself an incredible person even just to have as a colleague or acquaintance. This is all fine on paper or in idle chit-chat. She found herself the good on paper girl. Good credentials, yet a long line of inexplicably bad relationships with other human beings. Granted there had always been something missing. What is success when the only people you have to share it with are old friends? What is achievement with nobody as a first-choice to call and express excitement before or after the event? She felt empty inside,. The past few months had simply compounded this feeling to a point where she was all too aware of it. Writing to a sponsored child in Senegal, or the friend of a friend serving in Afghanistan was all too superficial. She felt alone. Gwen was completely unaware that today, a most lonely and sadly standard day would be her last of this nature.
Gwen quickly brushed on her make-up. She had long ago ceased caring whether or not it was as near perfect as her skills would allow. Making her way to the bus stop, she silently cursed the fact that she had failed her three attempts at a driving licence due to speeding. Her breath hung in the air and she pulled her scarf closer around her neck tucking the ends into each side of her jacket banishing the chill of the air from her chest. She no longer even flinched when elderly women stared at her attire and began idly gossiping about her, speculating as to what she was. She had become withdrawn, abrupt in nature, always on the offence and even aggressive should the opportunity for justification of this behaviour present itself.
She had been a stripper now for close to a year. She had worked between three different bars, all within a stone’s throw of one other. The first bar was her debut on ‘the scene’. She was the shy, intelligent little blonde girl all the young soldiers had loved so much. It was a sweet setup, had the owner not made lewd advances, she may have still been there. Her second bar had an allegedly richer and more gentlemanly clientele, but it was at “The Palace” she had learned the hard way men will always be men. She eventually found her latest work place after a spell in which she had to live off her savings. Gwen always was intelligent when it came to cold, hard cash. She didn’t recognise herself as intelligent in many other areas, but cold, hard cash Gwen knew.
“You need to save up all you pennies Gwen” her father had always told her.
“Why Daddy? I like that Barbie I saw in the window, I can buy that. I have enough.” she said in that familiar whine.
“Because Gwen, maybe you will see a lovely bike or something that means you have to save, then you’ll be glad you did. You can have a Barbie every other week if you want them Gwen, or you can save up for that something really special”
“Twenty percent of your wages go where Gwen?”
“In the bank father…always in the bank”
“Yes, you must always have three months worth of cash at your disposal, in case a company goes bust, or you end up on hard times…”
Times were more often hard than not.
Gwen had abandoned a career in stripping, or exotic dancing as the more coy like to call it, completely when she found her new bar. A few of the girls from her old place had worked there before and had told many tales of how superior in terms of earning prospects this particular bar was. Gwen had a quick look at their web page online one day, made a phone call, went for her ‘audition’ and the rest would be history.
She arrived, late as per usual for work, dripping, her platinum bleached hair unruly beyond reasonable expectation, damp from the walk. Gwen found herself more than mildly irritated by the beggar who seemed to haunt the doorway two numbers down from the bar. It annoyed her greatly. Should he really be in need surely he would be in some sort of shelter. If he was serious in asking whether or not she could spare change, surely he would sit outside a phone box, rather than a strip bar. She was greeted with the usual distain from her ‘manager’. The term manager is used loosely here. The various managers of this particular strip bar did little more than the bar staff yet were paid a greatly enhanced rate. To add insult to injury they collected anything from between one hundred and two hundred pounds per shift from the girls to ‘book‘ dances (as there were only three dance booths). This was per shift, not per day. If Analise was working from open at twelve noon until close at one am, she collected this pot twice, once from the day girls, and again from the night girls. God only knows how many fights erupted over this. It was of particular annoyance to Gwen, as she usually worked double shifts at the weekends before plodding in to her PAYE job on Mondays.
Today was not particularly significant in any way other than it was Jessica’s thirty-second birthday. She hadn’t wished it to be public knowledge (for obvious reasons – most strippers retire at around the age of twenty-seven). Unknown to Jessica Gwen had planned a small token of appreciation for her friendship. Jessica had always looked out for her, being older and in this game for longer, Jess gave Gwen every shortcut she had to learn on her own. They had been chatting over cocktails one night after a rather unsuccessful dayshift and Jess had revealed that it had taken her two years in this occupation to master the sales pitch aspect. She gave Gwen an attitude An attitude that she was untouchable, sexy and worth immeasurable sums to see perform. Alongside the belief that everyone who had the pleasure of laying their eyes would want her. In her line of work, attitude over looks made money.
The night rolled in. Rowdy crowds of excited and arrogant men. A few Army boys – who were always a blessing, as they tended to be younger and significantly more respectful towards the girls. A few rich old geezers, identifiable only by their cashmere jackets, obviously looking for call girls. Only one lesbian that night. Gwen never did like dancing for other women in a paid service context. She drew great amusement from doing it t parties for fun, but not for money. The tom boy in her did not allow her to be comfortable removing her clothes and dancing seductively in front of another woman. They were significantly more judgemental. Slipping, tripping or being unable to unhook a bra with particular ease in the presence of a man was fine. You would simply laugh and give a playful look over your shoulder. This was acceptable. Nobody is perfect, not even professionals, whatever their field. Women would openly criticise, as if they had ever did such a demanding job and did it well.
At the end of the night Gwen and Jess would usually stumble on to the stage for a cat nap before their taxi would arrive. Jess lay next to Gwen, her dark brown eyes closed, with the slightest hint of content upon her face. Gwen crept through to the changing room unnoticed and stuffed the gift she had hurriedly bought into a cheap recycled paper gift bag she had the barman buy on his break. And with that she retraced her steps. Jess had already opened her eyes, though the look upon her face was not that of someone who had guessed correctly what had been going on. Gwen revealed the bag to Jessica, and she smiled like Gwen had cleared her excessive mortgage and let escape a gasp of excitement. She grabbed the bag and revealed the gift – it was a Britney Spears perfume set. The cost of the gift wasn’t significant to either party, the thought was there. Jessica looked at Gwen knowing all too well she could have easily afforded her some new season Fendi shoes or a Gucci bag and her eyes welled up. Both girls were aware that the gift hadn’t cost more than thirty pounds but it obviously meant a lot that Gwen had thought of the other girl enough to rush out and buy something, anything to mark the occasion.
“That’s not it!” nodded Gwen.
And at the bottom of the gift bag there was an ever so tiny cake and candle. Jessica’s tears now flowed freely down each cheek now and Gwen asked,
“What’s the matter?”
“Oh, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I haven’t had anything apart from this and it was…just…so nice…so thoughtful of you.” she sniffed.
“What about your mother?” asked Gwen, under a deep seated impression that Jessica and her mother had been close.
“She hates what we do Gwen. We haven’t spoken properly since before I was old enough to do this, she just sends me a blank card every year with a £10 note in it, no calls, no Christmas, nothing. I always feel so alone, every year, this day.”
Gwen placed a hand on the shoulder of her friend, someone she had many times said she loved and put her arms gently round her neck. Gwen had no idea about the issues Jessica had just tearfully revealed. She shushed her friend and comforted her, though she couldn’t help but wonder if the blank card and a ten pound note was what Jessica’s mother thought the going rate was. She was not implying they could all be bought, she was explicitly stating her thoughts on the matter. And it was with her pale, slim arms round Jessica’s shoulder and slender Barbie-like neck that Gwen realised, she did have at least one person who treasured her friendship, one person who cared enough to cry in her presence, at lease one person whom she loved, and who‘s love she had in return.
This is technically fiction, but a lot of it is taken from life. A small drop in the ocean of an old career path of mine.