Kris looked around at white tiles, working hard to control her breathing. I’m fine, she repeated to herself. I’m fine. But she wasn’t fine. She could feel vomit pushing its way up her throat. Pressure built mercilessly behind her eyes before exploding in a spray of coke-colored chunks. Her body heaved as it violently rejected rum, hot wings, and curdled looking ranch. A kaleidoscope of regurgitated, half-digested regret swirled before her eyes as she leaned over cold porcelain and gasped for air. She heard knocking at the door and ignored it. Ocupado, bitch.
On the next fateful breath she inhaled the tiniest fleck of something. It made its way straight to the back of her throat with tickling fingers triggering another round of heaving, coughing, gasping, but Kris couldn’t catch her breath. She knew her eyes were probably going to pop out of her head and splash into the bowl at any minute, bloodshot and covered in tears. As her ribs seemed to crack with the effort of separating air from soupy liquid, one thought sprang to her mind: you can drown in a teaspoon of water. She felt bad for the poor bastard that would find her dead body, forever kneeling at a white throne.
But she didn’t die. In a final heroic cacophony Kris saw the speck, a piece of vengeful poultry, burst past her smeared red lips and land soundlessly in the stew.
It was over, and she had lived.
Kris reached out shakily and flushed everything to the sea. She wiped the corners of her mouth with a white glove and left tangerine sauce streaks and red lipstick pressed into the fabric.
Damn it. She really should’ve changed after her shift, but what the fuck did it matter? That birthday party had been absolute hell, and she had needed a rum and coke way more than the tattered remains of her dignity or self-respect. Washing away a full face of makeup would’ve taken too long, so fuck what anyone thought. She was off duty and done fulfilling fantasies for the day. Her body ached from too many little boys clinging to her, begging her to show them more, always wanting more, but once that time slot was up Kris peeled them off like the greedy soul-sucking slugs they were. With dwindling patience she pushed one last “happy birthday” past her painted on smile, grabbed the cash, and dipped straight to the bar just a few blocks away.
It had been fun when she first started. The pay wasn’t terrible and Kris had always liked attention, but one day as she was scraping the birthday boy’s puke off her chest a thought hit her in the head like a giant rubber mallet. Nobody respects you—nobody. And just like that the worm of dissatisfaction began eating its way through the apple of her brain.
That was two years ago. Now Kris studied her appearance in the dingy bathroom mirror. Knocking again. “Just a minute!” she snapped. It was only three in the afternoon but she looked rough. Like Pennywise the Clown, rough. The thick powder on her face was clumping from sweat. Her eyeliner ran down her cheeks, streaky evidence of the time she’d just spent on her knees, and the gaudy, garish outfit was truly an eyesore, no matter how much her customers loved it.
She gripped the edge of the sink. Tomorrow, she told her bloodshot eyes, we’re quitting. Kris lowered her head and drank some water from the tap. She straightened her electric pink pigtails and tried a smile.
The rapid rat-tat-tat on the door grew louder. Mumbling a defeated sounding ‘fuck it’ under her breath Kris pushed the door open and stared daggers at the chick who’d been knocking for the past four minutes.
“Holy fucking hell!” A blonde girl screamed as she jumped back. “Why a bar? Why?!”
Her friend, the knocker, laughed. “I told you, Jen! I fucking told you there was one in there!”
Jen cowered behind The Knocker. No one respects you. The thought played on a loop.
Kris opened her eyes as wide as they’d go and gave her biggest, toothiest smile staring at Jen. “Hiya, kiddo!” she sang out in her best stage voice. “Do you want to see a trick?” She shot out her arm and snatched Jen’s drink from her trembling hand. She took a swig and shot a mouthful of pink, vauguely vodka liquid straight into the air. It almost touched the ceiling before Kris caught it back in her mouth and swallowed with a dramatic gulp.
“TAAA-DAAAAA!” She waved a stained covered hand in their faces. Poor sweet Jen was almost in tears and The Knocker looked like she might be regretting her recent choices. Kris laughed in their faces, part performance, part unbridled drunken hysteria.
“See you out there, Jen!” she screamed, before turning to stumble back down the narrow stairwell to the bar. She heard a loud slap as she descended and Jen sobbing.
“Why the hell did you tell it my name? What the fuck is wrong with you? You know I hate clowns!”
The Knocker laughed, a little uneasily. Jen cried. And Kris began to whistle “Entry of the Gladiators” as loudly as she could. She relished the whimper that came from above as she swirled Jen’s drink in her hand. Her tongue tasted like cranberries, and for the first time in months her mood matched her painted on smile.