Updated: Aug 15, 2022
“It’s nothing, chica. It’s the body God gave you, you’re just showing it. You’re no puta. You’ll still be a virgin! And it’s for a good cause!”
Remembering Rosa’s comforting words did not help. It was her third dance and it was now time for Guadalupe -- stage name “Naughty Nina!” -- to take off her G string. She said a short prayer and, careful to keep her hips gyrating, balanced her petite body carefully on the clunky, ridiculously high heeled sandals. She bit her lip as she placed her thumbs over her hips and sidled the sparkly strings down, prompting loud, gross howls from the mostly White crowd in cowboy hats. The nervous teenager stepped out of the strings, almost tripping as they got tangled on the heels, forcing her to hop on one foot, her disproportionately large breasts bouncing side to side, turning in a circle with the result that everyone got to see her cute little butt jiggle. The ten men sitting around the stage sipping their long-neck beers, and the dozen or so others at the tables, were enchanted by her awkwardness, which they took as an act, though well-played. Also taken as well-played was the fear in her spotlit eyes, which turned to amazement as she saw tens and even twenties thrown her way, instead of the usual fives and ones.
It was her first time nude onstage. It had been enough of a trial showing her breasts. But she had been encouraged by Rosa and the other girls, who had taken a liking to the shy teenager despite her being such stiff competition, what with her Playboy body and beautiful face. She had always gone off shift at 1 a.m., when La Chiquita Peligrosa stopping serving alcohol and became an all-nude club. But on this Saturday night in May, she steeled herself and told Enrique she would stay until closing at 3 a.m.
She knew she was not a “puta” (whore) but it was still scary to feel air hitting her lower crevices, places that had been uncovered only for a few moments while changing or in the bathtub. She had been working here for two months, ever since she met Rosa at that church picnic and they commiserated about how to get an education. Rosa, the pastor’s cousin, seemed out of place at that event, a little too flashy in a short skirt and a low cut peasant blouse that showed a hint of cleavage. She gave her a phone number.
Guadalupe was determined to go to college. She was a good student but her parents were against it, particularly her father. College kids were doing weird, sinful things these days and he didn’t want his daughter exposed to all that. She should get a job in town, find a husband. “Everyone knows you’re smart,” he pointed out. In a month she would be the first in her family ever to get a high school diploma. Both here and in Mexico, hers had been a family of farmworkers and truckers, quitting school early because they had to. With that diploma she already would be a step above them, with better job prospects. To some extent the desire for a college education -- to be part of the world she saw on TV -- made her feel guilty. Her parents did love her. They were proud of her. They did want only the best for her.
And now here she was, trying to balance on “puta” shoes, seeing more cash than she had ever seen in her life being thrown at her. Cash she would hide in her room. By now she had enough to register at the local community college, over in Lordsburg, and maybe enough for the first semester. She didn’t know much about how college got paid for but once there, people would help her out.
Of course her parents didn’t know about her dancing. To explain her lateness coming home on Saturdays she had been telling them she was “over at Lisa’s”. But the exceptional lateness tonight needed a different explanation. She had hatched a plan. Today she told her mother she would be staying overnight and going to Lisa’s church in the morning. Lisa was a classmate from the White side of town, and she assured her mother that Lisa was Catholic. Then, at 3:30 or so, when she came home, she would tell her parents that she changed her mind, she wouldn’t feel right unless she went to the Mexican church, sitting with her family and receiving the Body of Christ from Padre Solano. That would impress her parents a great deal. Unfortunately she could play that trick only once. And it was a lie. What about next Saturday? She hadn’t figured that out yet. She was beginning to think that soon she would have to tell them the truth. She was not looking forward to that.
The 11 a.m. Mass at Iglesia de Santa Maria was attended by practically the whole Mexican side of town. It was the high point of their week. Everybody knew everybody. It seemed like half the grownups were godparents to half the kids. Her whole family went, all dressed in their best clothes, parents and grandparents and all six children, and her aunts and uncles. All except those who had to work on Sunday, like her great uncle Jorge, who had to spend Sunday mornings making deliveries to restaurants with his refrigerator truck. He and great aunt Julia went to the evening Mass at 6 p.m.
Yes, she told herself, staring into the lights, I am naked, dancing for loud, crude men, but I’m making money for college. I’m not a puta, I’m a good churchgoing girl. I was even named for the Blessed Virgin Mary (a.k.a. Our Lady of Guadalupe). She set her little jaw in determination as she finished her set, hands behind her head, bouncing breasts thrust out, with two bumps of her hips. She gathered the money in her pouch, waved to acknowledge the hoots and cowboy calls, went into the dressing room to put everything in her locker, then came out again.
This was the part she most dreaded. Dancing on stage, being on display, was in a way solitary. She could pretend she was somewhere else. But to mingle, all naked, with clothed men! She felt like a sinful, bad girl. Talking with them at the tables, pretending to be interested in what they were saying, and being sure to keep straight in her mind the details of her life, fabricated along the lines Rosa recommended. Her real name was Gloria, she was 22, divorced, with a little boy at home being watched by her mother. The girls said this type of life story got you bigger tips. Not that Guadalupe was all that convincing. She still came off young and innocent, like she did when she first applied here. Enrique wouldn’t hire her until she showed him her Green Card which proved that she had turned 18 the month before.
As she sat with Hank, a lanky man in boots, jeans, jacket and cowboy hat, and her completely naked but for her shoes, with him sneaking little pinches to her nipples as they talked -- strictly speaking not permitted, but to get the big tips you had to put up with things like that, and pretend to be turned on -- she kept pushing back feelings of shame. No nice girl should be naked. Last night she dreamed that she had to go to school like that. She would die! What got her through was thinking of people who had it worse. Like that sweet boy Rodrigo, who lived down the block. A few months ago he had to stand up in English class to give a recitation and the kids giggled -- his penis stiffened at inconvenient times and was very noticeable. On top of that it was really big, running halfway down to his knee. Guadalupe didn’t giggle. She felt bad for him as the poor boy, blushing, almost in tears, had to recite for five minutes. Mrs. Stanton, clueless, did not know what was going on. Maybe because her desk was behind him she didn’t see it.
This was not the first time Rodrigo had “popped a rod” (as the White boys put it) in public. Guadalupe couldn’t avoid hearing all the cruel chatter. He had been suffering these incidents since sixth grade. The Mexican boys teased him by calling him “Ariete” (battering ram).
Thinking of Ariete -- or rather, Rodrigo -- and his ongoing personal Hell, Guadalupe didn’t feel so bad as she listened to Hank talk and talk and talk (this time it was about baseball). There was no danger of anyone she knew walking in to this place. Unlike Rodrigo, her shame was anonymous. After Hank there was Jeff, another regular. Then the silk-shirted Tomás, who at least she could talk Spanish with, though he all but boasted about making huge amounts of money selling drugs, and kept wanting her to go out with him.
Finally, at last, 3 o’clock rolled around. Enrique shooed the men out and the girls, Rosa and Harriet and Carla and Guadalupe, went to their lockers and changed into their clothes. They had all done three sets nude. Guadalupe supposed it was rude to count money in front of the other girls but she guessed her pouch held about two hundred dollars!
Rosa brought Guadalupe out the back door which opened up to a rickety little porch. The club was outside of town, basically a big old cabin perched on the edge of a huge sand pit surrounded by weeds. There was a rock to prop the door open with. After Rosa kicked it into place she said, “How was it?”
Guadalupe, by now overdressed in her blouse and jacket, covered her breasts as if she were naked again. “I - I don’t know if I can keep doing this.”
The two young women, ages 27 and 18, looked out onto the darkness, the lights of town on the other side of the pit, maybe three miles away, shimmering and blinking in the warm air. On a desert night one can see great distances. Guadalupe had never been out on the porch before and was struck by the sight.
Rosa lit a cigarette and looked down at her little teenaged friend. “You have to get used to being naked. Did you ever walk around with no clothes on before?”
“Well try it. Someplace where no one can see you.” After a drag on her cigarette, Rosa said, “You can make really big bucks, with that face and those tits.”
“Oh Rosa -- don’t -- ”
“Sorry for being so crude.” Another puff. “I gotta go. Want a ride?” Guadalupe didn’t have a car, and didn’t drive. She always got a ride with one of the girls, who dropped her off a few blocks from her house.
She didn’t want to leave yet. She had an idea. “No, I’ll ask Harriet. Or Maria.” (Stage names “Delicious Dara!” and “Curvy Carla!”) Harriet and Maria always stayed a little late, cleaning out the bar, for which they got paid extra.
Rosa and Guadalupe came back inside, and now the girl found herself alone in the dressing room. Her older friend was right. She had to get used to being naked.
What was really wrong with nudity anyway? It’s the way God made me. Adam and Eve were naked in the Garden of Eden. She decided to be naked for two minutes, out on that porch. She got to it fast, before she could talk herself out of it. When would she get another chance? She took off all her clothes, even her sneakers, and stuffed them into her locker. Then she stepped outside.
No one could see her here. It was just her and God, her and creation. It felt good, the warm desert air wafting over every inch of her body. No gross cigarette smoke, or loud music, or dirty old men. She shut the door behind her and raised her arms up and prayed. Please God, help me through this.
She walked to one end of the little porch, then to the other, making sure not to catch any splinters on her bare feet. Then she prayed again. God, I am doing this for good things. I am not being a puta.
Guadalupe exhaled. Yes, Rosa was right. This did help. Now back into the dressing room to get into clothes.
The door was locked.
Now she knew why Rosa had propped it open with a rock. She grabbed the knob with both hands and twisted as hard as she could, then pulled and pulled. This made her breasts bounce which shamed her, reminding her of dancing. Please . . . she would hate to knock to get help; they would know she had locked herself out with no clothes on. One more pull --
She tugged too hard and her hand slipped off the knob. Her body fell backward, and the flimsy cross-piece of the porch snapped with the impact of her shoulders. Backward and down, onto the scratchy cushion of weeds, and then she rolled down, down, down, tumbling, tumbling, down, down, toward the vast sand pit. Somehow she got to her feet but it was such a steep dropoff that her momentum forced her to run, unable to stop. In the dimness ahead she glimpsed a boulder, which she might have cracked her skull on, but running forward she hopped onto it and then down past it into what seemed like a rushing waterfall of weeds, crackling under her soles. She ran and ran and ran and tried to stop, without success. Finally she found herself on more or less flat ground, a dark, endless basin on this moonless night, and slowed down and stopped. She leaned on her knees, catching her breath, and turned. La Chiqua Peligrosa with its broken porch was far up and maybe hundreds of feet distant. And now she recognized the lights of Harriet’s car as it drove away. The place was now deserted and dark. Maria must have already left, each thinking the new teenaged dancer had gone home with the other.
And, her eyes still not used to the dark, she sensed something rapidly slinking toward her, hissing and rattling.
[to be continued]