Kara Dorris

The Glitter Factory
(or, she had always suffered from someone else’s prophecy)

She had always suffered from someone else’s prophecy even though her gift was tracing futures, telling fortunes, reading lifelines. Late at night, she liked to sit on the tiny fold-out table barefoot & blare death metal through big black boombox speakers. Felt, through her feet, the beat heartbeating the van turned prophecy tent turned bedroom.

Growing up in a carnival, the daughter of a clown & an elephant tamer, she had learned early to listen to animals. Her parents had dressed her up as one or the other, but the mask & the whip never suited, never fit her skin like the future tense. But she had tired of traveling, always a new city, sometimes two or three small towns in a week.

Stripping was not unlike reading tarot cards: both gave customers what they wanted, both relied on body language & cold reads. But in the prophecy tent at Bluebeard’s Famously Fabulous Freak Carnival, more & more customers got angry when she misheard itch my back for bitch get back, or soul mate for bowl grape or true love for shoo glove. & then scoffed or made references to eHarmony commercials or The Princess Bride. At least with stripping she didn’t need words to communicate. & the less she heard from the customers’ mouths, the better. She knew the mishearings were less disturbing than reality. After her first stage dance as Cassie Luck, she heard someone say tide my solar, & she imagined a surfer riding waves on the Milky Way, the dark club as vast as any galaxy. 

She felt at home at the Glitter Factory; the mirror ball hanging from the ceiling glinted light like hanging crystals. The stripper pole was just a larger, vertical version of the oh shit handle in the van she slept in. Strobe lights stunned & vanished like sunlight between opening tent flaps. Everything smelled like cotton candy. & she hadn’t left the carnival fortune telling too far behind; her look was future dark. Heavily outlined eyes, Medusa hair, & glimpses of tarot cards painted on her body. A card decorated each wrist & each hip, as if holstered. T-formation across her back. The lovers, the hanging man. In the end, entertainment was entertainment.

Once upon a time, when she had started at the club, she thought she’d have the opportunity for someone to get to know her, without the expectation of freak in her job title. Here, sexual allure, not otherness, was the draw. But it seemed, whether the lens was strange or sex, the results were the same: customers only cared about what they could get. She had learned slowly that expectation was the mother of all evil. & she was filled with expectations. So, when she first saw him, she already wanted more than he could give, but she couldn’t see it. Expectation’s trap: cognitive dissidence.

Fog collected around the edges of the room, hovered a few feet from the floor. From the stage, it seemed like a crystal ball. It was his stillness. It was the beard that hid his mouth. It was the way he stared in her eyes, not at her tits or ass. As she swung her legs above her head, twirled down & around the pole, she thought it was a cheesy, romantic thought.

He was every stripper’s dream: a plastic surgeon. When she got closer, she could read it, the precision, the urge to reach for beauty & perfection, in his hands. When she got closer, she could see his mouth barely moving, as if singing along with the song or dictating where to cut & splice.

Her stage dance over, she threaded through tables, accepting money. Listened to call-outs of nice bass, zap trance, teeth sneaks, maybe maybe. She stopped at his table. It was her favorite. Cornered, shadowed.

He didn’t ask for a lap dance. He asked to see her hands. Then to lift her chin. Inspected the bone beneath flesh, hardness beneath softness.

He called flesh a tarp. She heard carp at first, imagined a pond filled with bodies to be baited. 

He spoke of cover stories. She heard flurries, bits of cold blurring vision & stinging eyes.

At the end of the night, he drove her to his office. Led her through examination rooms, minor surgery suites, halls lined with before & after. The before pictures were always depersonalized by dotted cut lines outlining problem areas. All ended the same way: perky breasts, pert noses, tight chins, tummies, & foreheads. 

There was an operating room waiting; instruments sterilized, music playing. She wondered if he wanted to wear the faces of others or just have sex on an operating table.Was he just another DM, another ringmaster?

After all, he kept skin & fat from his patients. So many glinting specimen jars lined walls. She half expected to see bras & panties hanging like toe tags, but his trophies were more personal. But not as personal as choice. He took fate, something that had been in encoded at conception, the magic of DNA. & collected it.

Fates traded for a present escape.

Hadn’t she been doing the same? Collecting other people’s futures, their potential, their words, stitching together strips of ghost bride dresses.

She wanted to be neon green go & red stop sign all at once.

Lemon drop & strawberry.

Not a field of flesh & blood paint samples drying.

She wanted to witness, be the thing dropped in surprise & then forgotten.

Dewy lawn grass just cut clinging underfoot. 

As they toured, she collected bits of his soul. Even mice & elephants & guard dogs had bits of soul. She left those alone. She could teach nothing but self-knowledge & shame.

She’d been prophecy, fortune teller, stripper, knew only need revealed our souls. She’d add his bits to the other bits she collected in her heart’s specimen jar. She felt parts of her own soul leave & take up residence inside his body. It had always been this way. A straight exchange. Sometimes she wondered if she had any soul left at all; she had to, of course, how else could she comfort his tiny, malnourished bit of fluff, tell it the light only hurts at first, when coming straight from the darkness.

About the Author

Kara Dorris is the author of Have Ruin, Will Travel (Finishing Line Press, 2019) and When the Body is a Guardrail (forthcoming, 2020). She has also published five chapbooks. Her poetry has appeared in Prairie Schooner, DIAGRAM, Puerto del Sol, Crazyhorse, and Nine Mile as well as the anthology Beauty is a Verb. Her prose has appeared in Breath and Shadow, Waxwing, and the anthology The Right Way to be Crippled and Naked. Currently, she is a visiting assistant professor of English at Illinois College. For more information, please visit karadorris.com.  

“The Glitter Factory” will appear in Dorris’ forthcoming chapbook, Carnival Bound [or, please unwrap me], co-written with Gwen Paradice, and will be published by The Cupboard Pamphlet in 2020.