Taxi Dancer






Melissa L. White




 

© Copyright 2023 by Melissa L. White

Photo by mp Mediaphotos
"Photo by mp Mediaphotos"


A warm Santa Ana breeze blew in the half open bedroom window, stirring the curtains and tinkling the wind chime which hung outside on the patio. Amanda sat on her bed painting her toenails fire engine red while listening to the Lakers game on the radio. When the phone rang, she turned down the volume on the radio and answered the phone on the second ring.

“Hello?” she said, screwing the cap back on her nail polish.

It was Summer, Amanda’s older sister, who lived in New York and designed dresses for Ralph Lauren.

Summer? How are you?”

I’m worried about you. You haven’t been the same since Mom died.”

I’m not any different,” said Amanda. “I miss her, that’s all.”

I know you do. We all do.”

Are you working this weekend?” asked Amanda.

I’m drawing,” said Summer. “I need fifty sketches by Monday at 10:00 am.”

You work too hard. When was the last time you took a vacation?”

I don’t know, Amanda. But maybe if you came up for a visit, I could take some time off. It’d be fun. You might even find a job here. I can help you if you let me.”

Thanks,” said Amanda, “But I don’t need any help.”

Summer was four years older than Amanda and she earned upwards of $175,000 a year. Compared to her sister, Amanda considered herself a failure. It had been two years since Amanda completed her master’s in fine art and she still had not found a teaching job. Her confidence waned and she had stopped looking for work as an art teacher; and now she worked as a dance hostess at a nightclub in downtown Los Angeles.

Amanda hated her job, but it allowed her to pay the rent and to paint all day if she felt like it.

Are you working tonight?” asked Summer.

Yes, and there’s a Lakers game. I’m certainly not looking forward to it.”

What does a Lakers game have to do with anything?” asked Summer.

There’s nothing worse than all those drunken basketball fans pouring into the club after the game. I have to go.” Amanda hung up the phone and painted on cherry red lipstick, dreading the thought of going to work tonight at the Flamingo Club. It was located just a few short blocks from the Staples Center where the Lakers played. Basketball nights were awful not only because it meant more of a chance for groping and pawing out on the dance floor; but invariably the tips were low or else nonexistent.

The only reason Amanda continued working there for the past four months was Dr. Chu. He was a regular customer, and he tipped exceptionally well. Dr. Chu was a middle-aged podiatrist, and he liked to sit in the TV Lounge, as far away from the dance floor as possible and engage in long conversations about the meaning of life while he gingerly massaged Amanda’s feet.

Amanda turned up the volume on the radio and listened to the play by play as she got dressed for work. She hoped Dr. Chu would be at the club tonight though he usually did not show up on Sundays. When she left her apartment in Hollywood twenty minutes late for work, she was in a mad rush, driving too fast as she pulled onto Highway 101.
Please God,” she whispered, “Don’t let me get another speeding ticket.”

She parked her car in the lot across the street from the Flamingo and greeted Max, the homeless man who worked as a bodyguard of sorts, keeping other homeless men away from the dancers as he escorted them across the street and up the stairs to the club.

“Evening, Miss Amanda,” said Max. “You’re looking sweet tonight.”

“Thanks,” she said, reaching into her purse for a couple dollars. She gave Max his tip and he left her at the front door.

“Have a good evening, Miss,” he said.

“You do the same,” she said then went inside the club.

It was dark and smelled of cigarette smoke. She took her timecard from the rack and punched the clock.

The manager looked up from his newspaper where he sat behind the front desk. “You’re late again.”

“Only twenty minutes. I won’t take a break tonight,” she said.

“Be on time, Amanda. It doesn’t look good for the other girls.”

“Sorry,” she said, then hurried into the dressing room where she glanced in the mirror, brushed her strawberry blond bangs from her face and put her bag in her locker. She hurried out into the club and scanned the bar for Dr. Chu. She wanted to find him and get away from the dance floor before the Lakers game ended. But Dr. Chu was not at the club tonight. Reluctantly, Amanda took a seat at the bar and ordered a glass of cranberry juice.

She sipped her juice and thought of her mother. It had been almost a year since her mother passed away and Amanda missed her terribly. Sometimes she would pick up the phone to call her mom, but then would remember that her mother was dead. Amanda closed her eyes and felt like crying.

“Excuse me,” said a man’s voice beside her. “Would you like to dance with me?”

She opened her eyes. A tall handsome man stood beside her, wearing a white dress shirt, faded jeans, and Italian leather shoes with no socks. He smiled, revealing perfectly straight and very white teeth. He was tan and had short brown hair and blue eyes.

Amanda smiled at him and nodded. She stood up from her bar stool and held out her hand to him. “I’m Amanda. What’s your name?”

He shook her hand. “Jack.”

“Nice to meet you, Jack,” she said.

“Likewise,” he said then he signaled the bartender. When the bartender approached, Jack offered him twenty dollars if he would keep his motorcycle helmet behind the bar while he and Amanda danced together.

Jack then took Amanda by the hand and led her to the check-in desk where she “clocked in” so that the club could charge by the half hour for her time on the dance floor. With the meter running, she felt like a human taxi, selling herself minute by minute.

They entered the dance floor and Jack took her in his arms. She liked the way he smelled, just a hint of after shave lotion on his face.

“I’ve never seen you here before,” she said.

“I used to come here a lot last year, but then I started seeing someone.”

“Oh,” said Amanda. She looked up at him and wondered if he was still seeing someone. Guys this good looking were almost always taken. Or else they were a perpetual ladies’ man and not the type of person that Amanda was interested in. But the older she got, the less particular she was about men. She was always looking. Always keeping her eyes open for an eligible man. She was tired of being single and wanted desperately to meet someone.

“We split up two months ago,” said Jack, as if he could read her thoughts.

“I see,” said Amanda. “Lucky for me.” She smiled up at him and he stopped dancing. He looked suddenly serious.

“Do you mean that?” he asked.

“Of course,” she said.

Jack took her hand and led her off the dance floor and into the TV lounge towards the back of the club. They sat down on a love seat, and he held her hand in his and said with all sincerity, “We are perfect strangers, it’s true. But when I saw you from across the bar, I thought you looked amazing. And I said to myself, ‘Don’t let this one get away.’”

Amanda blushed.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet. “Here’s my card,” he said, proffering his business card.

She took the card and read it out loud, “Jackson E. Downing, Esquire.” She glanced up at him. “So, you’re an attorney?” she asked.

He smiled. “Does that make a difference?”

“It shouldn’t,” she said, “But I’d be lying if I said I would be just as happy with a ditch digger as I would with an attorney.”

He laughed.

“You’ve never worked as a ditch digger, have you?” she asked.

He shook his head. “The worst job I’ve ever had was tutoring high school students in English grammar and composition. It was awful, but I did it to put myself through law school.”

“What about you?” he asked. “What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?”

Amanda held up her hands and glanced around the room. “You’re looking at it,” she said. “I’d give anything if I could find something better than this.”

“Can you type?” he asked.

She shook her head. “I’m a painter. I got my MFA two years ago and thought I would teach art. But with this economy, it’s a lost cause. So many art teachers are out of work it’s scary.”

“Could you earn a living selling your paintings?”

“That’s my ultimate dream,” she said, leaning in towards him. “I’d give anything to be able to sell my work at a gallery in Venice or Santa Monica. There are so many galleries in this town I just know with the right connections, I could make it happen someday.”

Jack checked his watch.

Amanda’s smile faded.

“Look, I’m supposed to meet some friends, but I want to continue this conversation. What time do you finish working tonight?”

“Two am,” she said, feeling certain he was losing interest in her.

As if sensing her disappointment, he stood up and said, “I’ll be back before 2:00. Maybe we could go out for breakfast, or at least a cup of coffee. I know an all-night diner near the USC campus. What do you say?”

Amanda smiled. “I’d love to.”

Great.” He checked his watch again. “I’m late, so I better go, but I’ll be back before closing time.”

After Jack paid his bill at the check-in desk, Amanda watched him walk across the room to the bar and retrieve his motorcycle helmet. As she stood there watching him leave, she caught herself wondering what he looked like naked.

She sighed then hurried into the locker room to freshen her lipstick. From inside the locker room, she could hear loud yelling out in the hallway. The Lakers game must be over, she surmised. She blotted her lipstick, put her makeup bag back in the locker then returned to the bar. Just as she was passing by a crowd of rowdy frat boys wearing Polo shirts and Lakers jerseys, one of the guys staggered into her, knocking her off balance.

“Hey! Watch it!” she yelled.

The guy did a double take at her then his eyes grew wide, and he grabbed his stomach. He then vomited on Amanda, spraying puke all over her dress and shoes.

“You sonofabitch!” she screamed, pushing him in the chest.

Vomit trailed from the guy’s chin. He wiped his mouth with his hand and said weakly, “Sorry lady.”

Tears filled her eyes and she stormed away from him and back into the lady’s room. She pulled a handful of paper towels from the dispenser and tried to clean the vomit from her dress. It smelled disgusting, like nachos and stale beer. She suddenly felt nauseous. Dabbing soap and water on her dress only made it worse. She was so angry, she started to cry. She threw the paper towels in the trash and grabbed some more and cleaned her shoes.

“I cannot effing believe this,” she said to herself then decided to just call it a night and go home. She tossed the towels in the trash and washed her hands. She hurried into the locker room, grabbed her bag then headed out to the front desk where she found the manager, Lou.

“Look what some stupid drunk Lakers fan did to me,” she said, pointing at her dress. “I need to go home and change.”

“God, you poor thing,” said Lou. He took his keys from his pocket and opened the office door behind the counter. “Come with me,” he said, holding the door open for her.

She followed him into the office and found a wall full of cocktail dresses and high heeled shoes for sale.

“What’s this?” Amanda asked. “I’ve worked here for four months and never knew you sold clothes here.”

“It’s only open during the afternoon shift. Agnes sells this stuff on the side for the occasional emergency, like a strap that breaks, or a zipper that gets stuck. You can pay me later if you don’t have the money right now.”

Amanda picked her way through the rack until she found a little black dress in her size. It would look good with her red high heels and red lipstick. She checked the price. “Thirty-five dollars?” she asked, incredulous. “I could buy a week’s worth of groceries for that.” She reached into her purse and pulled out half of the money Jack had given her as a tip. “Here,” she said and thrust the money at Lou.

“Sorry Amanda,” he said. “If you’ll point out the guy who threw up on you, I’ll ask him to leave.”

“A lot of good that does me now. I need a shower.”

Lou opened a cabinet and pulled out soap and perfume. “Need any of this?” he asked.

“Forget it,” she said. “I’ve wasted enough money here tonight already.” She took the dress and stormed out of the office and back down the hallway to the ladies room where she peeled off her soiled dress and rinsed it in the sink, then sponged off with soap and water. She doused herself with Chanel Coco from her purse then put on her new dress. She fluffed her hair in the mirror and took her soiled dress back to her locker.

The rest of the night Amanda danced with several new customers and tried to remain pleasant and charming so she could meet her quota in tips. She still did not have rent money yet and it was due in six days.

After five hours of small talk with strangers, Amanda was ready for a drink. She wanted to go home and take a nice hot bath and sip a chilled glass of Pinot Grigio.

Fairly certain that no one else would ask her to dance tonight, Amanda took a seat at the bar. She checked her watch and saw that it was ten minutes till closing time. Sorely disappointed that Jack never came back, she ordered a diet coke and wondered if she would ever be able to get that puke stain out of her red dress.

“Thank God you’re still here,” said Jack, walking up beside her.

Instantly relieved, Amanda turned to him and smiled. “I thought you weren’t coming back,” she said.

“No way,” he said, sitting on the barstool next to her. “I left without getting your number. I absolutely had to come back.”

She grinned at him, noticing the monogrammed initials on the pocket of his white Oxford shirt.

“You look different,” he said.

“Some drunk threw up on me. I had to change clothes.”

“No wonder you hate this place,” he said. “Let’s get out of here.”

Jack waited in the foyer as she gathered her things from the locker room, then he escorted her downstairs to the parking lot. He walked her to her car and said, “I’m on my bike and I’ve only got one helmet with me.”

“Do you want to ride with me?” she asked.

He shook his head. “My vintage Harley would be stripped by the time we got back if I left it here. Just follow me.” He leaned in and kissed her on the cheek. Amanda got chills down her shoulders and arms.

“What’s your cell number?” he asked. “In case we get separated.”

She told him her number and he promptly entered it into his phone.

*****

At the diner, Jack ordered black coffee and Amanda ordered oatmeal and toast. She poured honey onto her steaming oatmeal and let it melt into the cereal.

They talked for two and a half hours as if they had known each other all their lives. They talked about their parents, and their siblings. They talked about their childhoods and their favorite authors and discovered that they both liked Raymond Carver short stories and Brian De Palma films, especially Body Double.

“How old are you?” Jack asked suddenly.

“Twenty-six,” she said. “How old are you?”

“Thirty,” he said.

“Oh,” she said. “Same age as my sister.”

“The designer?”

“Yes. You’d like her. She’s very driven.”

Jack smiled. “So, you think I’m driven?”

Amanda thought for a moment then said, “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

He laughed. “Is this a test?”

She shrugged. “Maybe.”

“Okay,” he said. “I see myself married, with a couple of kids and I’ve just made partner in my firm. Eventually, I want my own firm, so I guess maybe I am a bit driven. What about you?”

Amanda tucked her hair behind her ears. “I want to be a wife and a mom. And I want to sell my paintings in a local gallery. Pretty simple goals.”

Jack took her hand and kissed it. “Run away with me,” he said.

She laughed.

“I’m serious. We could elope. We could laugh about it in twenty years. It’s definitely something we could tell our grandkids about.”

She thought for a moment, imagining what it would be like to have grandkids with Jack.

“She’s thinking it over,” he said, grinning. “That’s a start.”

“Do you mean a quickie Vegas wedding? That’s not exactly what I’ve always dreamed of.”

“How about San Francisco? We could leave right now and get married at the courthouse tomorrow. Then spend the night making passionate love in this great little hotel in North Beach. What do you say?”

Amanda looked into Jack’s eyes as if searching for the answers to questions like ‘Will we be happy for the rest of our lives?’ or ‘Will you make a good husband and father for our children?’ or even ‘Do you have a criminal record?’

Jack returned her gaze until they both started laughing.

“It’s definitely a bold move,” she said.

“Takes a lot of guts to trust your instincts and follow your heart like this,” he said. “I’d say ‘Think it over,’ but I’d rather just dive in and go for it. I don’t want to let you get away, Amanda.”

She hesitated then laughed out loud. “Okay,” she said. “Let’s do it.”

He leaned over and kissed her on the lips. She kissed him back and felt certain for the first time tonight that she was making the right decision.

As they drove down the 101 Freeway to Amanda’s studio apartment in Hollywood, they passed under the Santa Monica Boulevard overpass and Amanda checked her rearview mirror. Jack was still behind her on his Harley.

But as she neared the Sunset Boulevard overpass, Amanda saw a city bus stopped in the middle lane. When she reached the bus, she saw a man lying in the middle of the freeway. She pulled over onto the shoulder and parked her car. She got out and ran to the man who was semi-conscious and gasping for breath. He lay flat on his back, wearing only a pair of gym shorts – no shirt or shoes. He reeked of alcohol. Jack parked his Harley behind her car on the shoulder and ran up to her.

“Is he dead?” asked Jack.

Amanda shook her head.

Several other passersby stopped, one of which was an off-duty paramedic.

“He’s going into shock,” said the paramedic. “Do you have a blanket?”

“I’ll check my trunk,” said Amanda, knowing full well that her mother’s sunflower blanket was still there from when she took it with her to the beach three weeks ago. She retrieved the blanket from the car, hesitating only a moment before giving it up to the paramedic who then covered the victim. Amanda watched the paramedic render aid until the victim began gurgling blood. He then stopped breathing. He was dead when the ambulance arrived.

Jack took Amanda’s hand and put his arm around her shoulder. “Don’t look at him,” he said as Amanda’s eyes filled with tears.

“Let’s go,” she said. “There’s nothing more we can do.”

Jack hesitated. “Don’t you want your blanket?”

She shook her head emphatically.

They walked back to their vehicles, and he hugged her before she got in her car.

“You okay?” he asked.

She nodded. “I live just ahead on Beachwood. It’s the Gower exit.”

“Okay,” he said. “I’m right behind you.”

When they reached her apartment, they hurried upstairs to her studio where she quickly threw some clothes in a bag. She glanced at Jack then sat down beside him on her bed. He looked over at her and gently put his hand on her knee.

“You haven’t changed your mind, have you?” he asked.

She shook her head then quickly smiled.

“I mean seeing that guy die on the freeway. It’s pretty disturbing. Enough to burst our little bubble.”

“It just makes me feel all the more transient,” she said. “I mean life is so precious and fleeting. It could be over in the blink of an eye.”

She looked at him and he took her hand.

“I don’t want to be alone anymore,” she said, hoping he wouldn’t notice the desperation in her voice.

He put his hand on her face and kissed her slowly. She reached up and put her hand on his shoulder. He kissed her deeply until suddenly pulling away from her.

“We should go,” he said.

“Are we saving ourselves for marriage?” she asked, then raised her left eyebrow in a coy fashion.

He laughed then kissed her fingertips.

“Come on,” he said. “I live off Mulholland. Not too far from here.”

They stood up to go and as Amanda turned off the light she hesitated in the doorway, looking around before she shut the door.

“What is it?” he asked.

“Just looking,” she said. “The next time I see this place I’ll be a married woman.”

He laughed. “Wait till you see my place. I think you’ll like it.”

She smiled and shut the door behind them.

She followed him to a small guest cottage behind a mansion off Outpost Drive and Mulholland. He drove into the back driveway and a garage door opened. He pulled his bike into the garage and parked beside a shiny black BMW convertible.

“You can park in here,” he said, fishing his car keys out of his pocket. He then backed his BMW out of the garage and Amanda pulled inside. As she parked her car in the garage, she noticed all the law books on the shelves and several athletic trophies lined up beside the books.

“I’ll only be a moment,” he said. “Come on in. Do you want something to drink?”

She shook her head and followed him inside. The cottage was small, but it had a wonderful view of Outpost Canyon. The place was immaculate. No clothes on the floor or towels draped over the backs of chairs like at Amanda’s place. She wondered if Jack had a maid. She watched him take a leather duffle bag from his closet and carefully place his laptop inside it. He folded two dress shirts and a pair of slacks and put them in the bag. He tossed in some socks and underwear then went to the bathroom.

Amanda walked over to the bookcase holding his stereo and glanced through his CD collection which included everything from Tony Bennett to Smashing Pumpkins to Adele.

“All set?” asked Jack, emerging from the bathroom with his toothbrush in his hand. He stuck it into his bag and zipped it shut.

Amanda held up a Van Morrison CD. “For the road?”

“Excellent choice,” he said.

Jack turned out the light and locked the door behind them.

“What’s your middle name?” asked Amanda, as they got into his car.

“Edward,” he said. “What’s yours?”

“Caroline.”

They drove in silence until they reached Interstate 5. As they pulled onto the 5, Amanda turned to Jack and said, “Do you think we’re making a mistake?”

“Nope. Do you?”

She looked out the window. “Tell me about your mother and father,” she said.

. “Okay,” said Jack. He told her how his parents met on a blind date, and how they eloped and how they had been married for 35 years.

He told her about his great grandfather who came from Ireland in 1919 and became a policeman in Baltimore. Then he asked her about her mother. How old was she when she died? What kind of cancer did she have, and did she suffer for very long before passing on? They talked for the entire six-hour drive until reaching San Francisco.

It was just after noon when they finally pulled onto Mason Street in North Beach. Jack found a parking spot right in front of the San Remo Hotel and carried both of their bags upstairs to the lobby. They checked into their room and Amanda said she wanted to take a quick shower. Jack pulled his laptop out of his duffle bag and went online to the San Francisco County Courthouse website and discovered that blood tests were not required for marriage licenses and that civil services were performed at City Hall weekdays until 3:30. They had just enough time.

When they reached the courthouse, they paid their $92 marriage license fee and filled out the application. Amanda watched the other people waiting to be married. There was a young Hispanic couple and an elderly Asian couple in line in front of them. When they finally got their paperwork approved, they made an appointment for 2:30 with the Judge and they were told that the services were being held in the Rotunda today. Amanda was glad because the Rotunda looked more appealing than Room 168 of the county clerk’s office.

She pulled her cellphone out of her purse and asked the young Hispanic woman to take a picture of Jack and herself. The woman obliged. When Amanda looked at the photo on her phone’s screen, she told Jack that it didn’t look like her, and that her family wouldn’t believe her when she sent them the photo. She was worried that her elopement would upset her father, but she said nothing about this to Jack.

At 2:30 the clerk called their names, and they approached the judge and the witness. The clerk took their paperwork and checked their photo IDs, and the judge asked them if they were ready. They both agreed that they were ready so when the judge began reading the vows it came as a surprise to the judge and the witness, but especially to Jack, when Amanda interrupted the judge and said in a panicked, shaky voice, “I’m sorry. But I think this is a mistake. Please excuse me.”

She ran out of the Rotunda and down the front steps of City Hall. Jack ran outside after her and finally caught her on the steps.

He took her by the arm and held her. She was crying.

“I’m sorry,” she said, and sobbed into his shoulder as he stroked her hair.

“It’s okay,” he said. “I thought you were getting cold feet at your apartment last night, then again this morning. Maybe I’m rushing you. Maybe you need more time. I’m a reasonable guy, Amanda. We don’t have to be this impulsive.”

“It was so romantic though, but completely irrational. I mean, what if we end up hating each other?”

Jack hugged her. “I don’t think that’s possible.”

“Please take me home,” she whispered.

“Are you sure?” he asked. “Maybe we should go back to the hotel and sleep.”

Amanda turned away.


“I must have lost my mind running off like this with a perfect stranger. My rent is due in five days. I need to work. Please take me home.”

Jack planted his hands on his hips. “I can’t believe you’re in such a hurry to get back to life as a taxi dancer. You could quit that job and stay home and paint if you lived with me.”

Amanda backed away from him, “Please don’t pressure me. I’m shaking.”

“You’re probably just tired and hungry.”

“Probably,” she said, wiping her eyes.

“I’ll take you home if that’s what you want.”

“Thank you.”

They rode in silence until they reached their hotel. They hardly spoke at all as they checked out. Amanda fell asleep in the car and slept until they reached Santa Clarita, then she woke with a start.

“I was dreaming,” she said softly. “We were in the hotel, and it caught on fire.”

Jack nodded.

She stared at him, but he kept his eyes on the road.

“Are you angry at me?”

He shook his head.

“You’re not saying anything.”

“I’m tired, Amanda. You’ve been asleep for the last five hours.”

Amanda sank down into the seat. They were silent again until they pulled into Jack’s driveway. He parked the car and walked around to the passenger side and opened the door for her. She thought of Jack’s parents eloping and staying married for thirty-five years. She thought of the Flamingo club and began to panic. Just like at the Courthouse. Then she wondered why she was so afraid to trust her instincts.

She got out, took her bag, and got into her car. Images of her and Jack’s children flooded her mind like ephemeral clouds, there one moment, then gone. She rolled down her window and smiled at him wistfully, holding onto the moment for just a bit longer.

“I’ll call you,” Jack said.

Amanda nodded, knowing without a doubt that he wouldn’t.



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