Welcome to chapter five of Bump and Grind. If you’d like to listen, rather than read, CLICK HERE.
The ceiling in the subterranean rehearsal hall was surprisingly high. At one end of the room thick ribbons of silk dangled next to a large hoop rigged for aerial acrobatics. A table was set up along the mirrors, where Bruce and Eureykah sat with a stack of notes before them. A lone cameraman from the E-Network had set up a tripod off to the side of the table. There was a sunken lounge and a small kitchenette at the opposite end. It was here that a group of women waited, curled up like a pile of cats. These women were without a doubt the ones who’d invaded my dream.
I inhaled sharply. The ringing came surging to my ears, and I had to grab Mocha to steady myself. The goddesses taking the waters, alive and in the flesh, including the angry woman with turquoise hair. How on earth had I pictured them so vividly? Had I seen a photo of them on the E Prime Time special?
Leather led Mocha over to make introductions. I hung back in the doorway, frozen in place. I’d never seen these ladies before, yet I’d dreamed them in vivid detail. How was that possible?
Bruce finally noticed me and seemed to come alive. “Ladies, this is Karen Peters,” he said.
Leather took a seat beside Bruce and crossed her arms over her chest. “She is the champion of the Eureykah contest,” she said.
As Leather fixed me in her ice blue gaze, I didn’t dare to take a breath, afraid she could see my soul. Every eye was on me. Eureykah was all business. Stiff and disinterested like countless other casting directors I’d auditioned for. To her, this was simply another day at the office. I wasn’t anything special. I could have left right then, but Mocha piped up.
“Actually, ladies, this is none other than Anna Britannica and she’s gonna blow your mind.”
Leather looked amused.
“Anna Britannica. Cute,” said Leather. “What shall you do for us this evening?”
I’d been called “cute” twice in the span of minutes — but “cute” wasn’t going to land me a plum role in this sexy production.
“I…have a short song that I’ve worked on and choreographed?” I didn’t mean for it to sound like a question.
I fumbled with my phone to locate my music. Mocha plugged it into the speaker as I carried my chair to the center of the room, angling it the way I’d rehearsed at home.
If I was going to make it through this, I had to ignore the pile of dream women in the corner. And the camera. I closed my eyes, and felt that serene blue light flicker inside me. Then I conjured my most sultry librarian, and began Zeppelin’s “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You.”
At the first crescendo, I undid my hair. It was the kind of thing I’d seen sexy librarians do in the movies. I pushed myself to relax, but fear had me on a leash. This was usually the point in the audition where everything would fall apart. Self-doubt would erase any of the work I’d done to prepare, and I’d crumble, but now I was out of chances. If I couldn’t land this role, I’d be walking away from everything I’d worked for. Wasting my life suddenly seemed more terrifying than an audition.
I flung my hair around in time to the music, straining toward my inner wild woman, but not quite landing in my body. Finally, the music felt like it was part of me. The crew of people watching dissolved and all that remained was the sound and the way it filled me to my marrow. It was like soaring, arms spread wide. Air rushing around me. I wove the story of a woman shattered by love and loss, and as the song reached its end, I finished as I’d started; legs crossed, hand on glasses. I finally looked at Bruce and Leather and Eureykah, and every single one of them looked bored.
The room was silent. I got the feeling they were all waiting for something, and when I stood up to collect my things, everyone exchanged glances.
“Well,” said the leather goddess. “That was unexpected.”
I blinked, feeling the tears spring into my eyes. Her expression was unreadable. I couldn’t swallow. I didn’t know what I’d done wrong, but I knew I’d blown it.
Mocha picked up my resume. “You have a lovely voice…” she said, like it was a consolation.
“I’d like to do that again.” I heard the words come out of my mouth before I realized I had spoken them.
Eureykah’s eyes lit up. “Karen, this is your moment. If you’re comfortable, of course. Don’t let anything hold you back.”
This wasn’t an audition for musical theatre. The audience for this gala wasn’t a collection of adorable blue-hairs in some sleepy small town. This was a sexy, edgy cabaret produced by one of the biggest names in media. I couldn’t get away with some PG-rated pouting. The choreographer for this show was none other than Mocha. Her empire was built on blending charming rat-pack era bump and grind with modern, unapologetic feminism.
“Go for it girl,” Mocha said softly.
She walked over and took me by the shoulders. A tantalizing heat accompanied her touch, like I’d slid into make-out second base. My fear was replaced by something that felt like the moment I took my neighbor by the hand and led him back to my apartment.
This was my last shot at making something of the dreams I’d held onto for so long, even if it meant I was about to push myself way beyond my comfort zone. Thank God I’d worn incredible underwear.
Imagination kicked in, and I conjured an audience of high-rollers and supermodels. Bond-movie danger and devastating good looks. It wasn’t a stretch, with this group of stunning humans who had somehow infiltrated my dreams. The room was transformed into a smoky lounge in a chic supper club. The first article of clothing I went for was my cardigan. I slid my hand up my torso and popped open the buttons in time to the music. I removed the sweater and hung it over the chair, hoping I didn’t look like Mr. Rogers.
The blouse was next. I slid my hands up and down my thighs before easing the fabric free. The room melted away. I looked at the panel of directors, rolling the blouse off one bare shoulder, stunned by Bruce’s stare. The look in his eyes hit me harder than any performance rush I’d ever felt. A kind of deep longing that made me want to pull the audience close, like lovers. They were in the palm of my hand, and my confidence surged.
I slipped out of the blouse by peeling each arm free, and tossed the bundle upstage where it fluttered gracefully to the floor. Now I was down to pearls, pencil skirt, lacy pink bra, and of course the glasses.
The knot of twisted waves on top of my head was liberated and my hair tickled as it danced across my shoulders. I was a screen siren. A fertility goddess. This was powerful magic, this exhibitionism stuff. Was it possible that I looked as incredible as I felt?
My hands slid over my curves and I peeled my skirt down over the roundness of my ass. With a look to my audience, I pulled it up again in a lacy game of peek-a-booty. Just a tease was all they’d get. Where had this power been all my life?
I knew my final moment was a photo finish; messy hair, chewing on the arm of my glasses, in only a lacy bra and pencil skirt. This librarian had a wooden ruler in her desk drawer, and she wasn’t afraid to use it.
The directors and the group of women in the lounge applauded. They finally seemed amused, and Leather murmured something to Mocha. Eureykah watched as I pulled my shirt back on and fastened the zipper at the back of my skirt.
“Why did you stop there?” she asked.
“Because…your late fees are so damned high. If you’re a good girl and return your books on time, I’ll give you the full show.” I popped my glasses back on and peered over the rim at her.
Eureykah laughed, deep and throaty.
Leather came around the table, extending her perfectly manicured hand and for a second, I felt like someone had hit “Pause” on the universe.
“I am Mistress Valhalla, Artistic Director of Cabaret Clandestine.”
Bruce joined us and pulled me into a hug. “That was perfect,” he whispered.
“My thanks to you for such an impromptu display of thy…talents. I would not ask my performers to expose themselves until they were completely comfortable doing so. We shall be in touch regarding a rehearsal schedule.” With that, Valhalla launched into a conversation with Eureykah and Bruce.
I gathered this was goodbye, so I collected my belongings, and of course, my chair. I mouthed a thank you to Mocha as I headed out. My heart was still pounding, and my hands were trembling.
Atilla the security guard was sweet enough to carry the chair up the stairs for me. I was shaking, glad the audition was over and that it hadn’t been a total disaster. Somehow, I’d found the kind of boldness that used to ooze out of me before the accident.
“That shit was crazy!” Atilla grinned as we emerged from the lower level. “You were a pro.”
I realized one of the security cameras must have been trained on the rehearsal hall.
“How are you feeling after that?” he asked.
“I think it went well, under the circumstances.”
I’d left the directors smiling. Best case scenario, and an outcome I hadn’t enjoyed in years. I’d managed to push through my fear, and be present enough to show them what I was made of.
“Do you think you got a good part?” Atilla asked.
“I think I deserve one after that, don’t you?”
He pushed open the door. A black town car rolled up in front of the bank, startling me until Atilla informed me that Eureykah had arranged for my ride home. He packed my chair into the trunk and held open the door to the back seat.
I had no idea what kind of plans the Clandestine Cabaret might have for me, or how I’d managed to see them all in my dreams, but in that moment, I felt like I could take on anything.
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Bump and Grind is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.