No. 2
March 2005
Firefly Journal
Because the End Times Never End and Everything is Still Possible
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valentine's day

excerpt from a novel-in-progress
by Lisa Tilley

Le Bidet, photograph by Kyle Rand
Le Bidet, photograph by Kyle Rand

Lynn-Kim lay on the floor with pillows under her head and the phone on her chest. Lying is better for your body.

Yes, we have a blonde today, said Lynn-Kim. Yes, what we offer here is a full-body massage. She massages every part of your body and she does the massage in lingerie. In lingeray, sir. It's just a massage, sir. I'm just the receptionist, sir. No. Goodbye.

Lynn-Kim's voice was like sugar and tap water. She turned. When I say blonde, they're thinking pale yellow.

I'd like you to say blonde, said Lycra.

The morning sun striped across Lynn-Kim, sheened Lycra's two blonde streaks and stretchy blue dress. She was eating corner store sushi and drinking coffee. They took turns meeting men at the door, if the men didn't ask for someone in particular, like usually Lycra. Crystall was a bit blase and Molly should stop wearing those white canvas shoes and should powder her face more. Lycra powdered hers about every five minutes. If she had time, she showered and did herself over for every man. It annoyed Lynn-Kim, who thought she was neurotic. Or else what was she doing with the men that she needed so many showers?

At first she thought Molly would steal because her personality seemed fake. But Molly just wasn't good at acting real. Ugh, she'd say, I hate it when they touch your face with their greasy hands. I say, Excuse me, you're going to give me pimples.

They are sprawled at the kitchen table, if it is a kitchen. It has a sink, fridge, and stove. The radio is set to Q-92. Lynn-Kim said it kept her sane.

If you could hear some of the fucking morons I have to talk to. Du-uh, what colour pan-tees are you girls wearing? Are you wet right now?

They are good-humoured about the idiotic vileness of the men.

After the massage, we should hand them a complementary roll of toilet paper. With an instruction manual.

We should whip out a camera. Smile! We could put together a little booklet. One guy per page, with a quote. Ooh, you're so beautiful. Do you think my penis is big enough?

We could have smell samples. Like in perfume ads.

Look! There's a special on baby-wipes at K-mart. We could use those to wipe them off. That would humiliate them.

No, they wouldn't care, said Lycra.

That's her, reapplying her lip liner, adding lipstick and gloss. Big deal.

She used to start crying when she told anyone. That didn't mean it was bad, it wasn't that simple. Tears seemed to bridge the gap that was there, between her and the person she'd told, that had been hidden. Lynn-Kim said, just don't tell anyone. It's not worth it.

It was Lynn-Kim, on the floor, who counted out the dirty towels, seven to a basket. She measured out the half-cup of Dollar Store detergent, that didn't even begin to cut the sperm, the heated stink of it, the waxy film it left on the towels. The masseuses took turns running down to the basement in their bare feet, bending over the washer and dryer in their skimpy clothes like the first five minutes of a horror movie. On slow days Lycra dawdled so somebody else's man might see her and ask for her instead.

The place was a dive. The man climbed the stairs, saw the bolt twist, the girl. He was asked to take his shoes off on the mat. Upstairs, a base guitar thumped out My Sharona. She walked ahead of him to the room, carrying the towels like a waitress with a platter of burgers. The man watched her spread them on the massage table, place the smaller ones on the night table, next to the oil and alcohol. I'll give you a few minutes to get comfy, she said, and then I'll be back. Pronouncing the k in back.

Bob from the Radio Station was a rare and famous visitor. He gave her a 100 dollar bill as soon as they were alone. He acted the way men do when they fall in love in Hollywood movies. Eye-searching, earnest, regretful.

It seemed from the look of surrender on their faces that they had no other happiness to protect.

Bob was glad it was her first day. Girls get hard fast here. And then, when they meet someone nice, it's too late. He said, Ooh, I like to see nice little girls be bad. Ooh, they like being bad. Itís my fault.

She gazed at him with kaleidoscope-blue eyes. It was a bit of a challenge, making her eyes look that open. Like a small child would look at its mother who was about to murder it. Not trust, but self-abandonment.

Another guy actually said that Dostoyevsky was his favorite writer. That was scary. But didn't Dostoyevsky visit places like this too?

The guy asked her if she liked Tolstoy. Oh, Tolstoy, she said in the sweet little voice that she uses here. Actually, he sort of annoys me. All his brittle society women getting destroyed by men. And the ones who don't get destroyed are totally unrealistic and putrid. Cute little Kitty and earth goddess Natasha.

The guy lost his erection. He got it back after a lot of manual encouragement, but his face was strained.

So, you're a feminist?

Well, I guess. But I still like men and everything.

Some of the men seemed okay. She didn't mind the quiet ones, with the cheap suits and horribly tense backs, like engines covered in a rubber blanket. Their eyes watered as she tried to smooth out some of the crunchiness. Sometimes, if they asked her how much it was for her to take her clothes off, she said, Well normally itís forty bucks. But what the hell. I like you. And took her clothes off. It seemed like they probably couldnít do anything much more vigorous than this. It seemed from the look of surrender on their faces that they had no other happiness to protect.

Her mom called to say she had moved out of the retirement home, put all her stuff in storage, and bought a 30-day Greyhound pass. Lycra freaked. Lynn-Kim said, Tell her you're a telemarketer. Lots of telemarketers do twelve-hour days. If she starts asking questions, say it depresses you to talk about it.

She had opened an account at the bank and deposited her wad before her mom arrived. She had pulled it out of a manilla envelope in front of everybody, two hundred twenty-dollar bills, sweat was running down her face. The bank teller had hesitated before touching it.

She took her mom to a lot of all-you-can-eat buffets. Her mom always said, Oh, should I go back just one more time? Are they looking? Of course you should, said Lycra. The waiters watched as her mom headed back to the buffet.

Her mom said that if she were to write an autobiography she would call it In the Company of Losers. She was talking about the men who let her crash at their houses. Lycra had met them, a steady stream of men who proffered their dumpy apartments to women with nowhere much to go. After which they were overtly rude, somewhat as a flirting technique, to establish familiarity on par with that of a mom changing a childís diaper. If you yawn any harder youíll shit your pants. You donít have to be scared of me, Iím a nice guy.

Iím not scared, Lycra's mom had said firmly.

Well, youíre acting weird. Did I say something wrong?

No, no.

Well, have another beer. Get the rod outta your ass. I feel like you donít like me.

George was back the very next day with presents. Twinkling in his rich and modest tie, his tie stud, his complex cologne. He must have primped for so long to come here, very yuck. It must have meant so much to him when she cried. He didnít realize that it had nothing to do with him. He was just some old dork who happened to be there, who held her and wiped her tears.

He winked conspiratorially and allowed her to escort him back to the massage room.

She said she thought they should get to know each other first. He said he could take his time. He told her about his world-view, in which people were like machines that either worked or didnít. Too many tax dollars were wasted on those that didnít. Save the ones worth saving.

Middle-aged men do not look their best when sitting on massage tables in nothing but dress socks. She asked him if heíd read Camusí argument against capital punishment. Oh, yes. Heíd read Camus, and heíd read Sartre. Sartre was a hypocrite, he said, nodding wisely. That was when she knew for sure that she wouldnít call him.

She said she didnít want to kiss, not here, but his mouth kept coming at her. He said, it doesnít matter where we are, itís who we are. Look at me. It has nothing to do with us.

He gave her a book called The Prophet, with a passage underlined that ďexplained his behavior the day before.Ē It talked about how Reason and Passion are conflicting impulses, at war with one another. Duh, she had a degree in Religion, sheíd heard enough about that to give her diarrhea for the rest of her life.

Painting by Kate White
Detail from a painting by Kate White

Some men got mad when she didn't call them. They had their pride. They came to see other girls on days she was working. Jean, who had brought her sushi, did that. When he came to see Molly, Lycra was massaging a guy in the next room. The guy said that he had given her his number months ago, but when she didn't call him he'd realized that she probably got thousands of numbers. Lycra said, well, not thousands, but actually I never have called any of them. I just don't think I could, even if the guy seemed okay or uh nice. I'm a shy person really.

The two massage rooms were only separated by a sliding door. She hoped that Jean could overhear, so he would realize he was being a dumb asshole. All she could hear from the next room was, Softer. Sof-ter. She knew Molly didn't care what the men liked. It made her happy that Jean, in his attempt to punish Lycra, was suffering through a lousy massage and listening to her giggle in the next room. One in the eye for Jean and others like him. If they were so sensitive they shouldn't be here.

With her mom in the next room she couldn't sleep. She lay in bed and imagined herself in love with someone, like being totally alone under a black sky. She wanted to call Josh. He was so cute when she woke him up. But Linda, she should call Linda and tell her how sad she was, she had really wanted them to be together. But Linda was too good for her. David. But some things could never never never never be. Was she thinking that? Of course it could be. She had just been acting wrong, before. No. That could never be.

She got up to go to the bathroom and her mom came and stood in the hallway in her dishrag-like t-shirt and underpants. I read an article the other day, she said. Oh. Do you want to hear it? It said - do you know that ducks sleep with one eye open? It doesn't matter if you close your eyes, you can get plenty of rest just lying in bed.

I'm not getting any rest.

What's wrong? Are you still sad about David? But Lycra just looked at something else.

It's me, isn't it. It's okay, I can leave a bit earlier. I have a 30-day Greyhound pass, it's good any time.

When Lycra quit she knew that some of the men would miss her. She could think of a few who would definitely miss her.