Mayhem Literary Journal is proudly sponsored by Te Whare Wananga o Waikato, The University of Waikato

Burlesque - Erin Doyle

I’m not sure I like this. The women around me are clapping and emitting high pitched yowls of appreciation. I don’t really see why. It’s weird. The chair I’m sitting on is black and hard, and because it’s normal sized and I’m a bit short, my lap slopes downward, forcing me to hold onto my sketch book and pencil with tired, sweaty hands.

The woman in front of me is wearing a fur coat, of all things. She keeps shuffling, moving in her seat, blocking my view. She and her friends have brought strawberry cider with them, their pee coloured bottles sit under their chairs. I had thought this thing was going to happen at a bar, that there would be tables, and drinks, that I could split a bowl of curly fries with my friends. Instead, it’s in a bare room, with stackable chairs and a small stereo on a rickety table in the corner.

The music stutters again, throwing off the illusion of the one woman show before us. This time she doesn’t look up, only tries to carry out her choreography unaccompanied. One by one she grips her gloved finger tips with her teeth, pulling the fabric loose. She rests her high heeled shoe on the seat of a chair, and steps on the fingers of her glove, sliding her arm free in one slow, fluid motion. She swings the glove over her head and sends it flying into the audience. My friends yowl. I uncross my knees for half a minute, then cross them the other way. The music resumes. I’m not sure that I’m into this.

The second glove lands by my feet. The woman unties the black ribbon lacing at her back. The knot holds, and she abandons it, turning in circles with a flourish of her naked hand.  The turns don’t work with the music, she must be trying to cover the awkward struggle with the ribbon. I look down at my sketch book and the faceless pencil woman, seated in a red, wing backed chair with a black furred cushion covering her from bust to knee, the lines of her massive thighs worked and reworked.

When I look back up, the woman is opening the front of her corset. The ribbon was just for show. The audience yowl and clap as she reveals her pasty wobble of a stomach. I feel bad that I’m being judgemental, and quickly decide that while I’m not impressed with the view, I am impressed with the woman’s courage, so I join the clapping. My pencil rolls across the sketchbook and hits the floor. I try not to scramble after it, I try to pick it up in a smooth movement, but my sketchbook is in the way, and it takes me half a minute of shuffling to get it. This wouldn’t be happening if we were at a bar.

The woman unhooks her bra, a black thing with a fringe of white tassels. She slips her arms out, and holds it onto herself, her fingers spread out across the fabric. She turns, she steps towards the audience, leaning forward, shaking her breasts. People clap and call. She spins away, and flings the bra off. Her breasts are smaller than I had thought. She’s wearing pasties, stick on nipple covers. They look like green felt bullseyes, looking down at her toes.
I don’t think I’m into this.

Catcalls and clapping follow her off stage, not that there is a stage, just an open floor space. She returns with the bra back on, and poses, side on, straight backed, hands on knees. Throughout the audience pencils fly over paper. I rub out the first line I make. Someone told me once that every time I draw a person they look like they have Down syndrome. All the drawings will go on display at the end of the evening. I try not to draw these women fat, it’s bad enough I’m drawing them retarded. I leave empty space where her hands, feet and face go, and focus on the curves of her back and legs, the lines of her bra. The MC announces that there’s only a minute of drawing time left. I glance at my friend’s page. She catches my eye and holds up work a thousand times better than mine and laughs at how bad it is.

I’m not into this.

The MC announces the next dancer, the headline act, as it were. Just back from the Miss Burlesque 2013 competition. I saw a documentary on it once, so I expect to see some real skill on display. The woman who comes out of the back room is old enough to be my grandmother.

In a room of thirty or so people, she dances to a song I don’t recognize, but I love the irony of the chorus using the phrase, “For your eyes only”. She’s wearing a cheap mask, with three purple feathers sticking up to form a lazy head piece. I wait for her to use it, to tell a story, but she doesn’t. She takes her gloves and corset off in the same way as the others. She’s wearing pale blue high rise knickers that look like they’ve seen better days, but that could just be the colour. They could be new.

I’m bored. I flick through my drawings trying to decide if I can make them any better in the time I have left. I rub out a few lines. Add a few smudged suggestions of eyes, so they look a little less faceless. The old woman whips her bra off. Her breasts hang, wrinkled skin over deflated balloons. I make an effort to keep my face politely blank, try not to let my eyes go wide, scream “Holy shit!”

I’m really not into this.

The audience yowls and claps, she sweeps a braless bow and people cheer. I clap too. This woman is brave. I like bravery.

The MC invites us to bring our drawings up to the front of the room for all to see. I only bring up two of mine, strange faceless pencil beings in detailed lingerie. I hide them at the back where no one can see them properly. Prizes are given for the best three. I talk to some of the dancers. I am given a business card by a woman with breasts the size of my head exploding out of a red, white and blue corset. Her pasties are hearts of red glitter. She tells me dance lessons start in a month. I say, I’ll be there! Because, I’m not at all into watching other women take their clothes off, but I would like to be brave.

Windows - Erin Doyle

Cheryl Ward has a lovely voice,
Delicate and precise.
Cheryl Ward speaks softly,
About the adaptations of horses.
Cheryl Ward looks like
Alice.

Alice fancies older men,
Who break her heart again,
And again.

Another 
Alice sits in the crowd,
And smiles when the speaker looks her way.
She wears a scarf that blends into her
Hair.

The Alices have no accents, not
Like Cheryl Ward.
Cheryl Ward has an accent, the same 
As Jeff’s.

Jeff breaks all the rules, 
He doesn’t think they are important.
Jeff calls you foolish
With his superior, twitching,
Librarian nose.

The second Alice has a lovely nose, 
Though it is often red 
In the mornings, when she talks 
About the genetics of cows.

The first Alice doesn’t care for cows, or for horses,
She much prefers her office.
Her office has windows that overlook the city 
And a photo of an older man, about to
Break her heart, 
Sitting by the telephone.

In Cheryl Ward’s office, a picture of Jeff sits
Between the computer monitor and a tray of paper clips.
Cheryl Ward’s office is underground.
Cheryl Ward has no windows.

The American Woman - Erin Doyle

The American woman stands in front of the room. She is wearing a sun shine yellow quilted jacket, the thread outlining circles that the thin padding swells to fill. I imagine it is plum instead. Straight lined wrinkles radiate out from her upper lip, pulling the eye into the thin curve of lip. When she stops talking to listen to a question, her tiny mouth looks like a soft red beak.

The flesh on the backs of her hands is withered, and almost solid brown with liver spots, except where it stretches white over the fine bones that run from fingers to wrist. She has old lady finger nails, strangely translucent and oval. She leans on the table, her fingers together, pressing against the wood, and they look more flexible than fingers should. Her knuckles are knobbly and wider than the lengths of bone that separate them.

Her hands dance as she talks, and I don’t hear a word she says.

I imagine her hands masked by grey coloured clay. I imagine her right hand shaking beyond control, the pale skin on the pads of the fingers deflated, descending toward me, whipping my wet skin with the tips of the fingers. I imagine her hands wrapped around the metal handle of a walking stick.  I imagine her hands buttering bread, and placing a cold cloth on my forehead. I imagine her left hand resting on my own, feather light, to still my twitching. I imagine those hands curled around a tiny posy from the garden, folded over a still chest.

I miss the American woman when she goes.

Contributor's Note

Erin Doyle has been a cake decorator, and a florist. She is now studying towards a Masters, majoring in biology, at the University of Waikato. Her work has appeared in JAAM and Brief.

 

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