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by Jo Withers

I could tell you the load and force of every movement, how much energy it takes to climb, how much is expended on the descent. While I’m on the pole, I complete equations from memory, calculate the angle of my limbs and gravity’s impact on my position. I dangle upside down with measured precision, seeming ethereal and weightless, watching as they gape below, waving their cash; the cause to my effect.

We’re all the same here. The topless girl behind the bar studies English Literature at Oxford, sticks scribbled notes beneath the beer pumps so she can cram Chaucer between men. She wears her flame red hair braided down one side like Arthur’s Guinevere. It whips round like an angry rattlesnake when she’s on their laps. She has a feral fierceness, like some Viking warrior; she’s the only one of us who hasn’t called security in the private rooms. She’s beautiful, but most nights she’s off her face before the shift ends, sits sniffling on a stool, half the average weekly wage bulging from her thong. Sobs that she is Ibsen’s Nora, pirouetting in the doll’s house they’ve provided.

The new girl takes to centre stage in feathers. She’s on a scholarship from Romania, her European drawl has the old guys piling in whenever she works the door. They ask her if she’s Russian and she does the same blank smile every time and whispers that she can be anything they want her to be. She’s a mathematical genius, can do long division to five decimal places in her head. She can calculate our rates by the second. Says on a busy night like tonight, we rake in twelve pence a second — better than any lawyer in the land.

I slide softly down the pole, balancing my mass delicately on one pivotal point. When I reach the bottom, I arch my back, hands and feet on polished floor, forming a perfect perpendicular triangle. I hold it, hearing their low whistles as they catch an eyeful; slow my breath and count to twenty while the money rolls in, wishing I could calculate how much would be enough.

Jo Withers writes flash, poetry and shorts from her home in South Australia. Recent flash fiction has appeared in Ellipsis Zine, Molotov Cocktail and Reflex Fiction. Jo occasionally tweets @JoWithers2018.