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The Paths We Take #14: The Dollhouse

May 15, 2018








The “XXX” blinked in fluorescent magnificence against the obsidian sky. It was a red beacon of hope for the sex-starved, downtrodden, and desperate men who needed to escape into an X-rated fantasy. The Dollhouse was partially hidden from Route 15 by the trees and might have been disregarded completely if not for the sign screaming on the hillside.

The parking lot was a flat mass of cracked pavement the size of three tennis courts, just large enough for the truckers to park their semis for a few hours. The building itself was an old barn, semi-renovated, with several stages, a bar, second-floor VIP section, and a set of smaller rooms in the back, where the real money was made. Candy, a brunette with several strands of violet that hung down over her face, was working the front desk, a temporary spot until she graduated to dancer.

“It’s ten tonight hun,” she smacked as the mound of pink gum tumbled around in her mouth, her red lips wet and glittered with fresh gloss. “Thanks, hun,” she said as I handed her two five dollar bills.

Joe Snyder, the owner, was standing just inside between the main stage and the bar. Joe was a local, he always wore his long blonde hair in a ponytail, and everyone in town knew that he had his hands dirty with more than just a titty bar. In the nineties he was suspected of helping a few of his fellow Breed Motorcycle Clubbrothers throw a local banker down an abandoned mine-shaft with his kneecaps smashed to bits. He was never charged for lack of evidence, and like most other tragedies in Red Pines, it was forgotten in a week.

Joe was also known for finding local talent from Covington to work at The Dollhouse. He married one of them a few years ago, and last I heard, she was getting ready to have his second kid.

“Luke, it’s been a bit man. What’s up?” Joe asked as he extended his hand. I shook his hand as I peered around at his kingdom. A thin blonde dancer had just started her acton the main stage. I imagined Claire there on that stage, but her image just didn’t fit the scene. I knew Joe didn’t like people asking him about the girls, so I tried to be as casual as I could.

“Joe. Good to see you. I just dropped by to check out this new girl that was supposed to be here now. Leon told me her name is Claire. She working tonight?” I asked. Leon Toler was known to frequent The Dollhouse and was drunk every time I had ever talked with him.

“We have a couple of new girls, but I don’t know any Claire. Maybe he was talking about Kara,” Joe said as he pointed to the blonde on the center stage who was now hanging upside down with her legs wrapped around the pole.

“Maybe,” I replied, not wanting to pry further or I might have been next to have my kneecaps smashed with a ball-peen hammer. “She looks like a nice girl.”

“I only hire nice girls,” Joe said as the smirk spread across his face. “Enjoy yourself,” he said as he disappeared into a door marked with “Employees Only.”

There were about two-dozen patrons there, most of them jeans and flannel shirt crusaders. They were local mechanics, factory workers, small-business owners, spending their weekly earnings on cheap booze and half-rate lap-dances. There looked to be about six girls working the floor, most of them younger. A group of five guys in suits, probably a bachelor party, were in the large booth that sat just off the center stage. One of the guys had two of the girls on his lap while his buddies drunk-laughed and cheered as the girls kissed each other.

As I panned the room, I recognized Lilly as soon as I saw her. She was sitting on the lap of keg-bellied man with glasses. Her head tilted back when she laughed, and she was caressing her long coal-black hair with one hand and was pushing the man’s wandering fingers off her hazelnut skin with the other as he tried to make his way up her thigh. We took a few classes together at Red Pines High, when she felt like slumming and deviated from her honors courses anyway. We kissed once in the back of the bus on a field trip to one of the museums in Philly, but when the field trip ended, so did our romance.

Just as my eyes met Lilly’s, I watched a glass mug fly through the air beside me, amber liquid and white foam trailing the mug like the tail of a shooting star. The glass shattered against the wooden wall sprinkling shards of glass across the wine-colored carpet. One of the suited bachelor-party men was throwing punches at a flannel-shirted country-boy with a bushy red beard and a cigarette behind his ear.

I watched as the two groups struggled to pull their respective members apart. It seemed like just seconds later when the music thumped, and the girls started making their rounds again, seemingly undisturbed by routine fisticuffs. I didn’t see Lilly anymore. The fat man with glasses had a different girl on his lap already as he slouched in the leather armchair.  A few other girls asked me if I wanted a dance, and after I declined, I asked if they knew of a Claire. The attempts were met with glares or complete disregard as they made their way to their next prospect. After thirty minutes and another drunken brawl, I decided that I would be better off trying to find answers somewhere else.

As I walked out, I smelled the cigarette smoke tickling my nose. I looked over to my left and saw Lilly standing there, cigarette in one hand, the other lodged deeply in the pocket of a black down parka with a faux-fur ruff.

“I was going to ask you if you wanted a dance, but I didn’t want to chance that you remembered me,” she said. Her father was a Japanese professor and her mother was a local Red Pines pediatrician. Her exotic looks gave her an allure which only seemed to improve with age.

“Knew it was you when I saw you,” I replied. “You look good.”

“You’re damn right I do,” Lilly blurted out. “You can still have that dance if you want. I’ll give you the friends and family discount,” she laughed.

“I didn’t realize people took advantage of discounts like that here,” I said as I zipped my coat up to cover my neck from the icy night air. Lilly shook her head as she flicked the cigarette butt onto the ground. The parka only covered her thighs, and I could see her calves shaking as she stood in her stilettos. I smiled and started to walk towards my truck when I heard Lilly call out.

“I know a Claire,” she said. “I heard you talking to Joe. She doesn’t work here, but she does work just down the road at Phil’s.”

“What does she look like?” I asked, hoping that Lilly and I were talking about the same Claire.

“Real pretty, blonde, perfect body, the kind of girl that has a lot going for her. I told her that she could make five times more than she makes at Phil’s in just one night here, but she is one of those girls who thinks that she is too goody-goody to work at a place like this,” Lilly said before taking a long drag on her cigarette. “I usually see her after my shift ends when a few of us want to grab some coffee and pancakes.”

“Have you seen her recently?” I asked. Lilly shook her head and wrapped herself tighter in the parka. She kept looking at the door, and I knew that she had to get back inside before Joe came out to get her.

“You her boyfriend or something?” she asked.

“No. Just a friend.”

“I hope that everything works out for you,” Lilly smiled as she opened the door to go back inside. I could feel the warmth pouring out and I could taste the Victoria’s Not-So-Secret body spray in the air.

“Me too,” I whispered as she shut the door. I looked up at the blinking red sign again. “Dream Big” was written underneath “The Dollhouse” in bold black plastic letters that flapped in the night breeze. The letters were grimy and sun-faded, and fitting of anything but the words Dream Big.

Dream big, I said to myself as I sat in my truck. The message dream big was the kind of thing that was found in self-help books and preached in TED Talks. I thought of all the people in my life that had dreamed big and where they ended up. I wondered if dreaming big was truly the answer.


© Josiah A. Miller 2018. All Rights Reserved.