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Our Longreads Member Pick:
Yellow, by Antonia Crane



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Introduction

This week's Member Pick comes from Antonia Crane, the Los Angeles-based writer whose work for The Rumpus has been featured on Longreads in the past. We're excited to feature "Yellow," a story about her relationship with her mother, about stripping, and about loss. The piece will be published in Black Clock #17, due out this summer, and it's adapted from her forthcoming book Spent

Thanks to Antonia and Black Clock for letting us share this story with our members. 


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YellowAntonia Crane | Black Clock | 2013 | 14 minutes (2,959 words)Illustration by Kjell ReigstadWhen I met Joe at Pleasures, my mom had been dead four months. Mom never lectured me about being a stripper, but I don't think she would have liked Pleasures—it was dirty, smelled like spilled beer and bug poison, and the cheap body spray used to cover the stink of puke.
 
Jutting up through the tops of tables, the poles were precariously near the mirrors. They would have been easy to smash, and that day, I wanted to smash them. Onstage I grabbed the pole and hoisted myself upside down, staring into my gray eyes in the mirror that looked exactly like Mom's, except mine were wild with the rage of losing her. Fuck everyone who's not my Mom, I thought, flinging off my bra and lowering myself to the ground, balancing on my black stilettos. Accountable to no one, dancing free of the weight of self-preservation, I welcomed the darkness inside Pleasures. I wasn't grieving according to plan. Which stage of grief is reckless fury? The grubby red carpet spun beneath me as I walked toward the blur of men slumped in their seats as if they'd been there weeks. It was dead inside Pleasures.
 
Then I caught him looking—pasty blond kid in khaki shorts and baggy surfer t-shirt. Must have a fake ID, I thought; he sipped clear liquid from a rocks glass and said he was from San Diego, two hours away. "How'd you get here?" I asked.
 
"Train," said Joe. He whipped a phone out of his pocket and showed me pictures of his two cats. He told me about his mother's boyfriend, their arguments and their pot smoking. "My dad's here in Pasadena" and he slid his arm around my shoulders while an Asian girl in thigh-high boots twirled the pole, bikini ribbons flying behind her like blurry pink antennae. "I'm a virgin."
 
"No you're not." I squeezed his knee, scooted closer to him and crossed my thighs. Not Mom's legs, I thought, shimmering in their Hanes control-top panty hose; her voice looped through my mind beneath the music and over the DJ.
 
"I swear," he insisted, two vodka tonics brave. He probably ordered them because it seemed mature. "Can you show me?" Legally we couldn't touch or be touched, though the customers tried. "I'll pay," he said. 
 
Hooking was for brittle, damaged girls with no options. What would Mom think? I wanted to feel whole. I wanted to feel worthy, loved. I wanted Mom's legs, her lips that I would never see again. "Yes" spilled out of my mouth before I could take it back. By the time he bought a couple more lap dances from me, Joe was drunk.
 
I gave him my phone number. He suggested we meet at my apartment where I would teach him how to kiss, show him how to fuck. It wasn't a lot of money but then it's never only about the money; it's about drying the dishes, emptying the garbage. It's about a childhood of digging through my Mom's purse and chewing all her skinny red sticks of Dentyne, playing in her treasure chest of Avon lipsticks—pink and brown frosts that she layered to make the right shade of bronze for her plush mouth. I wanted Mom's lips so I smeared her peach stains together and turned my lips orange while she brushed rouge on my cheeks for third-grade picture day. At school Sister Jean yanked my Dr. Pepper-flavored lip balm from my hand and threw it in the trashcan. "Precocious" was the word Father Brady used on the phone with Mom; I wrote it on my hand so I could look it up later. On the other end she explained that she had given me permission to wear the makeup, and now he glared at me, handing me a Kleenex.
 
"Wipe it off," he said after he hung up. I smeared my lips onto the tissue and walked back into the dark school hallway, hot from the tips of my ears to my inner thighs with the shame of being bad. Back in class, when Sister Jean turned her back to explain long division, I smeared my mouth again with Bonne Belle and the next morning, and for many after that, Mom patted down my neck and stomach with perfumed body powder while I watched her curl her thick brown hair into waves like a Breck shampoo model. "Pay attention," she said.
 
I am.

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