If my mouth had swung open any wider, my chin would’ve bounced
off the macadam parking lot where I stood stunned and weak-kneed,
teetering with my two plastic bags of groceries. The girl in the
window above me was sinfully young and achingly beautiful and
artlessly sensuous in her movements. (And she was moving, I noticed.)
A lambent angel in the gray evening sky.
She was also, I noticed, as close to being naked as any young
man would’ve dared to wish for.
It was a Thursday in early summer, the dusk misty and warm. I’d
just finished buying my usual quota of uninspired staples at the
Superfresh—cereal, tuna fish, TV dinners—and I was
headed to the far, dim corner of the lot where I’d parked
my pickup. I never parked close to my destination; I liked to
walk, and I especially liked to walk when my head was loaded with
chemicals, as it usually was in those days. My job got me high.
I stripped furniture for a living, and all day long I breathed
fumes that put the world on a tilt, and made me feel sad when
I shouldn’t, and caused me to think that my sinuses—and
even the inside of my skull—were coated with a thin, shimmery
layer of silver or frost or one on top of the other.
When I drew near my truck, a pink light came on above me, and
it shot through my fuzzy mind that this—the sudden wash
of pinkness—might be another effect of the methylene chloride.
But then I looked up and saw a large lilac bush, heavy with thick
white flowers, and behind it a wooden apartment house, and above
the white-tipped lilac, two stories up, a casement window glowing
softly with a warm pink light. In a moment, the girl stepped to
the window. She was wearing only a low-scooped bra and thong panties—white
or possibly pink. Not a stitch more that I could see. As I stared
up at her, she began to move, to stroll back and forth with a
kind of slow, languid, musical rhythm. Sometimes she’d turn
away from me, and that’s when I saw she was wearing a thong.
“God up in heaven,” I whispered.
It never occurred to me that what I was doing might be wrong—or
that what she was doing might be wrong. I was caught up in the
moment, and while it lasted, nothing else seemed to matter.
At first I didn’t think she was aware of me, but then I
began to suspect differently. Her graceful movements—the
strolling, the strutting—began now to evolve into something
else. Into dancing. Very gradually and subtly, she’d begun
to dance, swaying and stretching and undulating in the window.
Her movements were slow and controlled, yet they were passionate
too, especially when her long auburn hair swept across her full
breasts, and her slender hands, as if of their own volition, passed
down over those same breasts, to her taut belly, to her lush thighs,
and then lovingly back up again. She kept at it for five or ten
minutes, maybe more, and then suddenly the light cut out, and
the window was dark.
Her performance had clearly been aimed at pleasing her one-man
audience, and I could’ve mused that she was simply following
in the grand tradition of Gypsy Rose Lee, Blaze Starr, Lilly St.
Cyr—the great exotic dancers of the modern era. But at the
time no such musings came to me.
“Good God up in heaven,” I whispered.
Eventually I noticed that I’d set my grocery bags down on
the macadam. Without enthusiasm, I picked them up and carried
them to my truck.
“You’re missing some spots,” my boss said sharply.
“Look here.” He’d turned the chair completely
upside down to expose the shoddiness of my work. “And look
here,” he said, his probing finger finding still more flecks
of dull blue paint.
I was skeptical. My nostrils felt clogged with ice-cold silver.
“You really think anybody’s gonna turn that chair
upside down and look up in there?” I said.
“Damn straight they will.” He was pretty fired up.
His face was a bright, patchy red, and when he spoke the word
straight, a bubbly strand of spit flew from his teeth. “This
here’s a ball-and-claw-foot dining chair, a hundred years
old! Mahogany! Folks are gonna study every square inch of this
I studied my boss, though I didn’t particularly want to.
His name was Calvin Pickering, “Mr. Pickering” to
me, and he was the proprietor of Auntie’s Antiques. He was
a sight to behold, a tall spidery man in his forties, old enough
to be my father, with protuberant eyes and bucking incisors that
kept his mouth slightly open all the time. Because of the problem
with his eyes and mouth, he always appeared mildly surprised,
as if he could never quite accept what life was forcing him to
see or hear at a given moment. He was essentially bald, but he
made it his sorry habit to comb a few remaining hairs from the
area of one jug ear up over his pate to the other jug ear. The
effect was at once disturbing and funny. Watching him, I vowed
right then that if I ever started losing my hair, I’d shave
my head clean, or, like that Japanese writer Mishima, have someone
decapitate me before I ever resorted to a comb-over.
Mr. Pickering wondered out loud in a tone that approached despair
why I hadn’t used a putty knife any better than I had, and
I wondered to myself why I was working for somebody like Calvin
Pickering in a place called Auntie’s Antiques. To this point
in my life I’d accomplished only what was minimally expected
of me, which was almost nothing. My family and friends had done
little to distinguish themselves (they all drank a lot, they all
had broken relationships or none, they all worked menial jobs
or didn’t work at all), and my example was no more stellar.
But Auntie’s Antiques? Was this where I truly belonged?
Even the name of the place annoyed me, called up oppressive images
of perfumed and prunelike old dowagers, clustered together in
some ancient drawing room, murmuring inanely about sewing or flowers
or recipes for apple crumb cake. Why not Larry’s Liquors,
I asked myself, if we’re going to be alliterative, or Hootie’s
Harleys, or Bob’s Big Boy, or—
“Just what the hell kinda stripper you wanna be?”
Mr. Pickering demanded of me. “Huh? A first-class stripper
that takes it off smooth and gorgeous the way you’re supposed
to? Or a stripper that can’t strip?”
Truth is, I was beginning to think I didn’t want to be a
stripper period, but I didn’t figure that answer would’ve
lifted my boss’s spirits.
A few days later, when I made another trip to the Superfresh,
I saw the girl again. This time, of course, I was watching for
her. Once again it was summery twilight; a sprinkle of lightning
bugs winked at me, and in the distance I could hear the sounds
of a small-town baseball game: the postmodern plink of an aluminum
bat, the collective shout of a crowd. As before, I was lugging
a couple of bags of groceries to the far recesses of the parking
lot. I noted that the girl’s house was one of three that
faced me from the opposite side of a narrow street adjacent to
the lot. All three houses were dark and quiet; no one seemed to
Then the pink light came on, and the girl was in the window. (Had
she been watching for me as well?) Like last time, she was clad
in a skimpy bra and panties, neither of which provided more than
technical coverage. They were a rich, devil’s-food-cake
black on this occasion, and she had a sheer black scarf around
her lovely neck. Soon she began to move, to dance, and I became
conscious of my heart, which began thumping against the walls
of my chest as if it wanted to escape.
She’d evidently been practicing, because her dancing was
more advanced than before, more stylized. She did things, for
example, with the scarf, flicking it this way and that, drawing
it across her golden skin, even working it back and forth between
her thighs, against her crotch. She appeared to be listening to
music, and I wondered what song it might be. Or maybe there was
no music, just a self-generated rhythm that flowed inside the
dancer and nowhere else. More than before, I tried to glimpse
her face, which wasn’t easy since the window’s rectangle
tended to limit my view to just the center portions of her curvy
body. But now and then I did spy her face and was struck not so
much by its youthful, understated beauty as by its look of pure
and innocent rapture. Her eyes were half-closed and her lips parted;
she seemed lost within herself, or perhaps outside herself, and
blissfully happy. Yet I was certain she was also aware of me.
Toward the end of the show, she stripped off her bra and danced
topless, her round, uptilted breasts gently heaving. Then the
window went dark.
My own chest was heaving as much as hers. For a long while I stood
there at the edge of the dim lot wanting to do something but not
knowing what I should do, exactly. I considered erupting into
a raucous round of clapping and whooping but was afraid I might
draw more attention from the neighbors than from the girl, and
unfriendly attention at that. I weighed walking over and knocking
on her door but wasn’t sure if this response would be welcome
either. (Was she alone in there?) I had no precedent for how to
act in this situation, and the chemicals in my head were clouding
my thinking, feeding my doubt. So I continued to just stand and
stare up silently at the dark window. In the end, I picked up
my bags, carried them to my truck and drove away.
Not surprisingly, I began dropping by the Superfresh several evenings
a week whether I needed groceries or not. I’d always arrive
at the same time, about eight o’clock, and I’d always
park in the same location; I wanted to be consistent. I also made
it a point to go into the store and buy something, however trivial:
a pack of Juicy Fruit, a roll of Tums, a carton of Winstons. Buying
something allowed me to tell myself that I was there for a legitimate,
defensible purpose and not just to watch some delightfully misguided
babe dancing and stripping—or stripping and dancing—in
But I knew the real reason I was hanging around that parking lot,
and I’d bet hard cash the girl did too.
Sometimes she’d put in an appearance, and sometimes she
wouldn’t. (Mondays and Thursdays, I discovered, were the
most reliable nights.) On the nights she didn’t show, I’d
feel foolish and confused. I’d mope outside my truck in
the gathering gloom, smoke a few cigarettes and ask myself a whole
succession of harsh, prosecutorial questions. How could I justify,
for instance, being a furniture stripper, especially since the
job paid dirt and I didn’t even care about furniture? What
was that methylene chloride doing to my brain? Why hadn’t
I gone to college? Why hadn’t I moved on to a real city
at least, with real opportunities and amenities? Most of all,
as the minutes collected on me like the bumps on a rash, I wondered
what kind of moron would spend his evening loitering in an ill-lit
parking lot outside an empty supermarket waiting for nothing.
One time, in a burst of frustration, I flung a roll of Tums about
fifty yards into the dark, an act which itself made my stomach
Of course, on the nights the girl did appear, all this negativity
went somewhere else. Life was good. I could temporarily forget
who, what and where I was, and I could abandon myself to what
was happening within the four borders of that pink-glowing window..
For me, the experience wasn’t sexual, or wasn’t primarily
sexual. It was more about having a peek into an alternate universe—about
seeing something that logically shouldn’t be occurring but
was. The experience spoke of alien possibilities, of fabulous
new dreams and vistas that were dancing, just as the girl was
dancing, in plain view before me, but ever so slightly out of
As I often brooded about myself, I likewise puzzled over the girl.
Who was she? What was her name? And what did she do besides entertain
me? Was she a secretary? A nurse? Maybe she was a student at the
community college. I didn’t see her as an up-and-coming
executive; she was too young, for one thing, and her general demeanor
didn’t hint of one who was bent on crashing through some
corporate glass ceiling. Petersburg was a small town, and I was
positive that plenty of people knew her, or knew of her at any
rate. But at the same time I was wary about asking around.
One night I was gaping up at her, murmuring wistfully to myself,
when suddenly a male voice spoke up from just beside me. “Man,
that’s something, ain’t it?” the voice said,
and I almost collapsed in fright. Was it a cop? Worse, was it
the dancer’s boyfriend? Her husband?
I turned and saw a dumpy-looking guy about my own age wearing
a Mighty Ducks baseball cap and a dark, wispy goatee that looked
as if he’d inadvertently smudged his mouth and chin with
soot. His draft-drinker’s belly filled his T-shirt to capacity
and beyond, and the stalklike legs that sprouted from his Bermuda
shorts seemed overmatched by the weight they were assigned to
support. He was whomping on a chew of tobacco. I immediately concluded
that this was no cop, and no boyfriend or husband either.
“It really is,” I said, and let my eyes trail back
to the window.
“She do this often?”
“Fairly often. Yes, she does.”
We said nothing more till the performance ended, and even then
we didn’t gab too much.
“Well!” he offered, a minute or so after the light
had gone out.
“There you are,” I said.
I guess we were both still trying to process the lingering, dazzling
image of the girl’s grand finale: a prolonged shimmy move
that caused her bare breasts to quiver back and forth rapidly
and hypnotically. It was the kind of vision a man might carry
with him for decades, one that could easily survive auto accidents,
stock market crashes and the loss of close family members, one
that could heat the imagination deep into old age and debility.
The guy stuck out his hand. “Hal Sprague,” he said.
We shook hands and went our ways.
Soon enough, though, I got used to meeting Hal beneath the window;
like me, he was hooked. It turned out he was a pretty solid guy—worked
for the railroad, had a house on the river and German shepherd
named Creampuff. Loved to bowl, loved to fish. Sometimes we’d
arrive early and shoot the breeze for a while. I told him I was
a furniture stripper, and he didn’t react much to this disclosure
one way or the other. “We all got bills to pay,” he
Before long, in fact, other guys started to take in the shows
with us. Two or three at first. Then seven or eight, ten or twelve.
Maybe Hal spread the word about what was happening, or maybe the
others had simply noticed us standing there at the edge of the
parking lot staring up at something moving in a pink window; maybe
they wanted to find out what the attraction was. Some of the guys
would have groceries with them and some wouldn’t. Most of
them, I learned, were single.. By and large, they were straight
shooters, regular people. Fred McElroy was a mailman; Del Snider
was a truck driver with the paper mill. I remembered Del from
several weeks before when he’d brought me a rolltop desk,
medium oak, to be stripped. They all came shambling over in their
rumpled T-shirts and loose-fitting jeans or shorts and gazed up
at the girl in the window with the same profound awe one might
evince in peering up at some fantastic extraterrestrial craft
that’d fixed itself in the evening sky, slowly rotating
with a play of eerie pink light.
In all honesty, I didn’t mind the company. Certainly I had
no personal claim on the girl, and I rather enjoyed sharing my
discovery with others. We’d show up early and have some
ripsnorting bull sessions: sports, movies, politics, the economy.
It was really quite pleasant. Some of the guys took to bringing
snacks from the Superfresh. Doritos chips, salted peanuts, chicken
wings, Coke and Yoohoo—that sort of thing. Two or three
times Hal brought his gas grill and cooked us all some hotdogs
and hamburgers. Funny how food always tastes better when it’s
cooked outdoors. I’d have three hotdogs and then three Tums,
one per dog, and wash them down with a bottle of Lipton’s
But when the girl took her place in the window (and even before;
we could usually sense when the moment was at hand), a hush would
descend on us. It was as if we were in church and the sermon was
about to begin. Once she got going, wending her way through a
routine that was never the same twice and never less than riveting,
someone might occasionally let go with a soft grunt of approval
or a stifled cry of delight, but mostly we kept ourselves in check.
More often than he should’ve, Boomer Nazelrod, a cattle
farmer who was prone to drink, would holler out: “Lookit
them ta-ta’s! Lord, Lord!” but he always said it in
a wholesome way, I’d argue, never in a vulgar way. When
she finished dancing, our applause would be sincere but not boisterous.
The shows went on like that for weeks, and then abruptly they
ceased, all at once. No warning, no explanation. A half-dozen
evenings in a row we congregated beneath the window with our snacks
and banter, our hopes and shortcomings, but nothing happened up
above. The window stayed dark.
Maybe she was sick, we speculated. Or maybe she’d moved
away. Maybe the man in her life—surely she had a man—had
learned of what she was doing and put a stop to it. Maybe the
police had gotten wind of the burlesque shows and shut them down.
As with so many facets of the world’s business, we just
didn’t know. I recalled that in her last performance, the
girl had stripped down absolutely to the buff, the only time I’d
seen her do so. A lot of impressed fingers dropped a lot of food
that evening.. Had the nudity been her way of saying not just
goodnight but goodbye? Had it been the glorious capstone to what
she meant as her farewell performance?
Well, as I say, we didn’t know. Didn’t know her name
or anything about her, other than she was easy to look at and
wasn’t opposed to stripping in a public window—or
up till now she hadn’t been. The scant knowledge I had of
her left me feeling somewhat guilty, though I couldn’t have
I told Hal that he and I should get together sometime under different
circumstances—go bowling or fishing or maybe just sip a
few cold ones—but I doubted we ever would. And, as it happened,
we never did. The other guys I’d hung out with all seemed
to vanish as well, and on the rare occasions when I bumped into
one, we found we had little to say to each other. After a while,
my trips to the Superfresh shrank away to what they’d been
before the advent of the girl. I went there only when I needed
groceries. If I thought about it, I’d glance up at the window,
which nowadays was always dark, but mostly I didn’t. I felt
sad that a special epoch in my life had ended, but I wouldn’t
have traded it for the moon or the stars or all the antiques in
Speaking of antiques, I recall with singular clarity the last
time I saw my boss, Mr. Pickering. Or, to put it more accurately,
I recall the last time he put his bulging eyes on me.
The quality of my relationship with the boss tended to parallel
the quality of my stripping, and, by mid-summer, both were in
breathtaking decline—the sort of decline you get when you
drive a car headlong off a cliff.. On this particular afternoon
he’d turned a table made of tiger maple upside down—he
was a great one for turning things upside down—and was registering
dismay at my handicraft.
“You’ve scratched the wood!” he said, letting
his mouth dangle open about an inch wider than usual.
“I wanted to make sure I got all the paint off,” I
“My God, you got all the paint off and half the wood!”
I tried to explain to him that when people used the table, they’d
have it right-side up and wouldn’t be able to see the scratches
underneath, but he never did give this type of argument much credit.
“You can’t strip!” he said from his kneeling
position next to the table. His tone was one of both outrage and
sorrow, but mainly outrage. “You cannot to save yourself
Right about then two of our better customers, Mrs. Deffinbaugh
and Mrs. Seilhamer, came wandering back into the stripping room,
I guess to see what the commotion was about. I noticed them all
right, permed hair and pressed outfits, but even their presence
couldn’t dissuade me from doing what I’d already started
to do. My pent-up frustration with life, the chemicals singing
in my head, and my own poor judgment had blended together into
a perfect storm of misbehavior.
“I can so strip,” I said. “Check it out.”
And I began to glide through the room, swinging my butt, pouting
and vamping. I imagined myself moving to the throbbing, brassy
sound of that timeless classic “The Stripper.” My
hand went to my goggles, which were strapped around my sweaty
forehead, ripped them off, whirled them repeatedly overhead and
tossed them at Mr. Pickering. They missed him but horseshoed around
one of the table’s upright legs, spun once and clattered
down. Next I took off my rubber gloves, inch by inch, fondled
them a bit and cast them aside. I never stopped moving; I’d
seen this done before. Still in full strut, I removed my toolbelt,
flipped it this way and that and dropped it at the ladies’
feet. Popeyed, they both sat back against the edge of a shipping
crate and watched me intently.
Mr. Pickering stood up. He was watching me too, his permanent
look of surprise more focused than I’d ever seen it. “James?”
But I couldn’t be stopped. I took off my workboots and socks
and flung each in a different direction. I was wearing one-piece
denim coveralls, and my hand found the zipper and tugged it down,
lower and lower. When I got the zipper to waist-level, I stood
straight and let my coveralls fall to the dirty floor in a heap.
The ladies gasped audibly, and Mr. Pickering looked as if he wanted
to say “James” again but couldn’t summon the
strength. I was wearing nothing now but a pair of paisley boxer
shorts—not the most powerful effect, I’ll grant—and
I meant to shed those as well. So I sashayed around the room twice
more, tossing my arms, tossing my head, and pranced into the restroom.
Out of sight, I yanked down my shorts, chucked them back into
the stripping room and hung my naked leg out the doorway.
A moment passed, and Mrs. Deffinbaugh said in a scattered, winded
Another moment passed, and Mrs. Seilhamer put in: “There
I waited to hear Mr.. Pickering’s comment, but he never
said a word. He didn’t have to.
One evening a week or two later I was pushing my shopping cart
through the Superfresh lost in thought. My former job was just
a fading memory at this stage, and I was concentrating more on
what lay ahead for me. I was venturing back to school in the fall,
and not the community college either; I’d been accepted
into the state university two hours away. The chemicals had left
my head—I felt natural again—and I was thinking more
clearly than I had in ages.
I was rolling along toward the meat section when suddenly wham!—my
cart collided with one being pushed by a young woman. I said excuse
me, though it was my impression that neither of us had been watching
where we were headed. She had shoulder-length auburn hair and
warm brown eyes that said nice things to me just in the way they
blinked.. She was wearing a pink tank top and tight denim shorts,
and something about her hair, her golden arms, the way those shorts
molded themselves to her hips . . . She looked like someone I’d
known years before, and she was staring at me in the same hesitant,
She said: “You’re one of the guys in the parking lot.”
Astonished, I took a step backward to have a better look at her.
She seemed shorter, more petite, from this angle. “You’re
the . . .” I didn’t know what to call her. “.
. . the girl in the window. The dancer.”
“Lisa Broadwater,” she said, and offered her hand.
“Jimmy Long.” Like her eyes, her hand was warm. “I
haven’t . . . seen you lately.”
“I quit,” she shrugged. “Retired. It was fun
for a while, but you can’t build a life on stripping in
I nodded. It occurred to me that you couldn’t build a life
on watching someone strip in a window either.
“What you did was artistic,” I said. “Communal.”
I fumbled along at some length trying to convey my notion that
there’d been more going on with her dancing than met the
eye, but I don’t know if she took my meaning.
She said she was going back to school to become a veterinarian.
“I want to help sick little animals,” she said.
I told her I was going back to school myself.
“To study what?” she asked.
“I don’t know.” At the time, I really didn’t
know, and it was fun just pondering the savory menu.. “Something
The moment had come for me to strip away my inhibitions—to
get down to the naked wood.. In this regard, I was more capable
than some people would’ve believed. She gave me her phone
number, and in the days ahead we’d get together again, more
than once. But the important part of what would happen between
us had already happened, and that was enough.
Hands on her cart, she tossed her hair in a way that made my blood
jump. “It was nice seeing you,” she said.
I watched her as she pushed the cart up the aisle. “It was
nice seeing you,” I said.
the years, Greg Jenkins
has had 40+ stories and three books published. He's the author
of Stanley Kubrick and the Art of Adaptation and Code Green: A
Novel. He lives in western Maryland, where he teaches English.
© 2009 by