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Dar’s little sister

Strip joints, tattoo parlors, pawnbrokers. That’s how you can tell you’re near a military base, and the area around Fort Kirkley was no exception. Dareen had driven past this stretch of highway a few times and it was a repulsive, alien world to her. At least the strip joint aspect of it. Sad women parading around in bare breasts for drunk, sleazy guys. That was the picture in her mind’s eye. She had seen ads in the papers. “Gentlemen’s clubs,” they called themselves. What a misnomer!

Dareen had never taken note of the names of these topless clubs, but Elly knew where Janie’s was. Dareen was at least relieved to see it was one of the fancier-looking places, shiny and pink and white with chrome, almost like a diner except with no windows and lots of bright lights above. Elly was in a fiery mood as she drove them up, skidded to a halt as she parked, and stormed in. In a minute she was back in the car, still fuming. “I can’t believe she did this.”

Realizing that Elly would give Lourdes a piece of her mind in a moment, Dareen said, “Elly, control yourself. Take it easy. The last thing she needs is to be yelled at.” Though Dareen really had no idea what would possess Lourdes, a shy, intelligent teenager, to do such a thing. She exchanged looks of puzzlement with Hillel, who was in the back seat and seemed embarrassed to be near such a place.

The door to the club opened and out came loud disco music. And out came Lourdes, her purse over her shoulder, but not in her usual outfit. She had on a minimal, lacy black bra, and tiny pink shorts. Very tiny, as low-rise and short as her usual jean shorts, hardly more than panties, and made of spandex stretching very low across the wide “V” of her delicate hip bones. And high platform thong-style heels. Coming out with her was a woman who looked about 30 or so, with skin almost as dark as Lourdes’s and a blond wig, wearing a loose black dress.

Despite her changed costume Lourdes still had that shy walk, a shyness that increased as she neared the car with the realization of how she looked in her new outfit. She slid into the back seat and immediately took out a thick wad of money and held it out to Dareen.

“My first night. Muy bien. Two hundred. We can use it for food and for to pay the rent.”

Elly looked at the money like it was a bottle of poison. “We don’t need it. What has gotten into you?”

“She did good,” the woman said, leaning against the open window next to Dareen. “Started a little slow, but the crowd loved her.” She had a Latina accent. “They like shy girls. I’m Rosa.” In greeting she clasped the hand of a still-puzzled Dareen, and glanced ever so quickly down at Dareen’s chest.

“She’s a friend old of Cruz, my big sister,” Lourdes explained. “The old job of Cruz was here.”

Dareen said to Rosa, “I don’t want to sound like this, but Cruz did not do too well, from that Lourdes has told me.”

“Yeah, she got into some bad shit. Mostly drugs, then she started to hook, so we had to fire her. But she got turned around. She stopped in a few months ago to say hi and she looked fine.”

Dareen said, “I don’t think this is a good idea for Lourdes.”

“She’ll be O.K. I’ll watch out for her. She says she needs the money. It’s better to do it this way, than some other stuff like Cruz did.”

The door to the club opened again, loud music again, a girl in a bikini and very high heels called out. “Ro! Janie needs you at the bar.” She darted back inside, to reveal a very large and very strong-looking man at his post.

“O.K.!” Rosa called back, then turned to Dareen and Elly. “Gotta go. I have a tough boss. How do you like her new outfit? It’s from us. She couldn’t go on just with what she had. Well, she could, some guys like that earthy look, but she needs a bigger selection. We have more. She didn’t want anything more covered up.”

“She’s allergic to clothes.”

“That’s what she says. That makes her a natural for this work, doesn’t it? Adios!” And Rosa hustled back into the club.

They drove home. Apologizing for the dramatic interlude, being that Lourdes would not be in Hillel’s story, Dareen drove him back to the street in front of the old apartment to get his cell phone, which had bounced into a little alley. Then took him to where he lived, way on the other side of town, a modest apartment building near the University of Atlanta.

Driving back to Sherry’s, Dareen was relieved that she seemed to have made a good choice in picking a reporter to tell her story. She had seen the Jewish Times at stationery stores, though she’d never had reason to read it. The headlines seemed to be straight news, though aimed at an audience that wasn’t her. Very much “other side of the tracks”. She didn’t know any Jews, at least not well. She was turned off by the anti-semitic talk she sometimes heard around her relatives. Which was probably matched, she knew, by what Jews were saying about Arabs. It was a conversation she just didn’t want to be a part of.

Hillel seemed conscientious, and said he’d talk to his editor and show her a draft of his article before it got printed. Actually it would be more like a series of articles. He hadn’t settled on a title yet.

And, he was kind of cute. Dareen had had her boyfriends, but none with blue eyes. They were so interesting to look into.

It was now almost two o’clock in the morning and as she climbed the stairs to Sherry’s apartment her thoughts turned back to Lourdes. Her teenage friend was lying on the couch in white bikini panties and her little bikini top. She was facing sideways on a pillow as she watched Spanish music videos, the sound turned on low, Elly being asleep in the bedroom.

Dareen kicked off her shoes and sat on the coffee table right in front of Lourdes. Being the youngest child herself, Dareen had never had to straighten out a little sister, but now it was time. She leaned over and turned off the TV then looked at Lourdes with as stern an expression as she could manage. She looked down at her own stockinged feet and fought her feelings of pity and guilt, sitting there fully clothed as she confronted the shy teenager who was confined to such skimpy scraps.

“Lourdes, this is crazy and stupid. You shouldn’t be working at that place. It’s not for you.”

Lourdes had apparently thought this out. “I want to be useful. Now we are a little family. You take good care of me. I am 18 now. I am adult, I should work like you all of you do.”

“You should be in school and get your diploma.”

“I can’t go to school.”

“Didn’t you go with Elly?”

“Yes and the principal he say no. Then Elly talk to him and he say he will decide. But is not possible. I no can walk around in that school with not enough clothes.”

“You’ve got to try. How can you dance like that? Show yourself like that?” Dancing in a topless place was so degrading that only desperate or screwed-up women would do it. Not good girls like Lourdes!

“They have merengue music on the machine. I dance my three songs and I close my eyes and pretend I’m in Santo Domingo at a birthday party. I was always a good dancer. And with the other girls dancing I am not lonely. It is not so bad.”

Dareen looked at Lourdes’s big, earnest eyes and thought of her as a four-year-old dancing in a pink party dress for her adoring relatives. And now to come to this. The sadness was almost too much to bear.

Then Lourdes looked down. “I need to get more, how do you say, used to in front of the guys with my legs. And showing my . . . cuca.”

“Your what?”

“My cuca.” The teenager’s hand made a motion to her white panties.

Dareen’s mouth fell open and her face went slack. “You dance naked??”

, for the last song we take off even the panties. That is the rule there. They say a lot more money they give that way.”

“Oh, Lourdes . . . you don’t have to do this.” Dareen felt her eyes getting wet and she leaned over to hug her young friend. Lourdes sat up and they held each other, Dareen imagining the longing that the feel of her sweatshirt must produce in the mind of the teenager.

“I want to, I have to,” Lourdes said, her voice quivering. “I have to work, and there is no other job for me now. But I think of you, I think of you helping people and saving people, desnuda. NakedGirl, you proud of your body. During the last song I close my eyes and I think of that and then I am more strong.”

Dareen sighed a ragged sigh through her tears and looked out the window into the night sky. Then she hugged Lourdes a little tighter as if to protect her from the world outside.

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