Opal reaches across the cocktail table and clinks her bottle of Coors against mine. “Forty is the new thirty!” she says and I force a smile but really, why did Opal think I wanted to go to Ladies’ Night at Fantasy Island Showgirls to celebrate my birthday? With this big Henry-sized hole in me, sleep-walking through life, I don’t ask her. Anyway, she meant well, blindfolding me until her Buick pulled into the parking lot. “It’s been a year and it’s time you had some fun!” she continues. She doesn’t understand that grief doesn’t ever go away, it’s like a Polaroid that fades over time, but the ghost of the image remains.
“Or have you been here before?” she teases. What’s weird is that I have – this building, almost tucked under the 405, once housed Kelbo’s Hawaiian BBQ, decorated inside with fish nets and tiki statues and outside with a lighthouse. (Fantasy Island kept the lighthouse, going with the whole Tattoo “de plane” theme.) In the bar, five years ago, Henry and I sipped from a wiki waki flaming bowl like two teenagers sharing a malt and watched old people dance to an Elvis impersonator. Women with feathering coral lipstick and men in high-waisted pants hung onto each other for dear life, shuffled in orthopedic shoes. Henry and I danced with them, his breath soft against my cheek as he sang with the impersonator, “Searching for you in the cold Kentucky rain.”
But now, at Fantasy Island, “Stayin’ Alive” cranks up. The disco ball throws reflections against Opal’s brassy hair and the women huddled around tables bristling with bottles, because the waitresses serve the two drink minimum all at once. Two men dressed like cops come out, looking just like Ponch and Jon. The Jon type is so tall and skinny that he doesn’t really have a butt and the other, Ponch, strains the buttons on his shirt. Silver badges flash as they strike a Travolta pose.
Opal yells, “Hey Jon, take it off!” and then, to me, “I wanna climb him like a tree.” The strippers gyrate and whirl their shirts above their heads. I wish Fantasy Island still had tiki statues in the corners for me to hide behind. The other women scream as the strippers rip off their pants to reveal blue camouflage-print G-strings. If Henry were here, he’d laugh. The strippers start working the tables and a woman in a tube top slips a rolled-up dollar into the tall guy’s G-string.
Ponch thrusts his hips at us. Folded bills stud his G-string; his bare chest is a rug of hair. Opal slides her hand into the front of his G-string and she doesn’t even have a dollar. At night, I’d press myself against Henry’s back, unable to separate my skin from his, arm around his hips, cupping him in my palm. Ponch turns to me. He’s pungent with Hai Karate. I can’t stop looking at that bulge under the G-string. What am I supposed to do? “Give him a buck,” Opal yells. His eyes are as blue as Henry’s. I wrap one arm around his neck, one arm around his waist, and we stand there in an awkward high school slow dance as the women quiet. When I close my eyes, I hear Henry singing “Kentucky Rain.”
Lori Sambol Brody lives in the mountains of Southern California. Her short fiction has been published in Tin House Flash Fridays, New Orleans Review, WhiskeyPaper, alice blue review, Atticus Review, and elsewhere. You can find her at lorisambolbrody.wordpress.com or on twitter @LoriSambolBrody.