By Logan Shafer
Read somewhere that women sequester apricot-sized pockets of stress in our buttocks. And that must be why she’s taking particular care down, say, where no one has ever paid such attention outside of those most irrepressible flings. But even then no because it’s not exactly copacetic with the way things happen when they happen. What I’m saying is that I’ve never gotten my butt massaged outside of a professional setting where they’ve actually included the technique as one small part of what is, or how it is in my mind, structured coursework complete with diagrams of muscle tissue and flow charts, PDF printouts on the benefits of lymph circulation that have been amateurishly photocopied so every other page has like some obfuscating defect, tests and lectures and even a fleshy lifesize dummy with a kitschy nickname (“ANDY”) sharpied on his forehead on whom to practice.
Trouble with this article, ‘gluteal region’ in feature, is its being in a women’s editorial—not that it’s advertised as that sort of rag, few of them are so daringly explicit but let’s say we know who’s reading—which has a tendency to exploit our natural (national?) insecurities for the sake of sustained readership and that’s fair enough because who’s really guilty after all. Said nothing about men’s butts and what shape or fruit best describes their stress pockets. Seems like a relevant (germane?) piece of information. Even if they’re not present or part of the conversation (dialectic?) I for one would like to know. She’s finished there and gone back to the shoulder.
The shoulder is home base. If the topic of massage were to come up in her personal life. If on a slow March Sunday she lie on some lawn, on her stomach, deep in the throes of an exposé in which her line of work figured largely and, her friends, talking drolly about nothing really, if one asked another if they would mind so much giving a sort of back rub, it wouldn’t be necessary for the asker or the would-be masseuse to communicate what area said back rub would center. This much would be assumed. The shoulders, of course, and whether their friend, this girl, my masseuse, would condescend to the predictable scene is beside the point (though I want to say absolutely no question, of course she would snicker, if inwardly, that counts too you know). Also beside the point is whether or not shoulders warrant, scientifically speaking, this kind of universal attention. What matters, and the reason why I’m stuck on this shoulder business in the first place, is that after all this time (millennia) spent rubbing on one another and a contemporary even fashionable profession being molded from something like so primal, still at the fore is the pining sensation whenever she gets bold and ventures away from home too long.
Apricots huh like they couldn’t have picked a more perfect fruit, unassuming as hell. Petite smooth ladylike a little fuzzy. Or is that a peach. Hanging fruit, there ought to be a word for the dissonance that crops up those times when you need I mean really need—this by the funky pressure in my esophagus, I’m sure it’s different for everyone—to check to see or honestly just like participate, a word for these times when you have to, you’ve got to sit perfectly still and bear and pretend everything’s all good that you don’t mind hanging there, attached (to that branch, or whatever).
There was a man on the subway today dressed in maintenance garb like a jumpsuit cinched at the waist with a lopsided tool belt who, when people tried to get on, shooed us away to the next door. He had cordoned one section and would crouch, dip his hand into a white plastic pail and stand kind of hunched over as he distributed a medley of red, white, purple flecks onto the adhesive black floor as I imagine a farmer would seeds. The rest of us stood on the already flecked section watching the act like, oh, so that’s how it’s done—
She’s found a knot under or attached to the shoulder blade and seems to be following protocol. The room is larger than expected. When we came in she said something like you get the big room, as if I’d come into some great fortune. There are two tables in the big room (probably meant for couples) and very very low light, soft and warm. Music is playing now but she only turned it on before lathering her oil onto me—it was not playing when we first came in. She is a small girl, tan (unnatural no doubt it hasn’t been sunny in weeks) with dark hair hard to tell how long exactly with that chic little updo she has going on. She has those prominent collarbones I always wished I’d had Mom does so why not peculiar and unfortunate but I’m over it, they suit her. She asked me just now if the pressure was okay, to let her know if I’m in any pain. I told her she could go harder but this padded face holder limits the motion of the jaw which, we know, is kind of like a dentist asking how’s Mom doing but not quite. Only my voice sounded extra nasally and I blame the cushion—
But then they’re always comparing us to fruits aren’t they. The picture of Cori in a cherry orchard somewhere in the spotty shade of a cherry tree hugging an overflowing basket as if it were a pillow (yeah right fortuitous placement too pushing everything up like that) with a floppy hat and huge toothy smile, pretension incarnate. Hideous dress but she’s stunning no use pretending otherwise Johanna with a painfully standard comment—is this real life—‘course it is you tramp but through what filter, can’t place it. How to handle her texting Justin.
Say what you will it’s relaxing you just have to, I don’t know, submit, and she asks me to turn over onto my back. She raises the towel a couple inches and holds it over so that she isn’t tempted to peek I guess or to make me feel more comfortable—but to hell with that I feel exposed. Not that I mind, actually, I don’t mind at all, and that’s the weirdest because I’m not one of those girls who can step out of the shower, hair wrapped, strut around the apartment butt naked and make a snack. I’m not one of those nor am I the kind to relish the attention coming my way any time form-fitting clothes enter the equation. Sure I appreciate it to a point but like take that class my spin class for example I really liked until I had to change time slots because of those creep lunatics staring and sweating and staring and dripping just nasty and you can’t like move away because of the gigantic mirror that is the backdrop (it’s the entire wall, this mirror) so anyone can see anyone as long as they’re on a bike.
Then again I’m not completely sure what kind I am. I hold sacred this pretense that I’m smart, exceptionally so and smarter than anyone in the room. Naturally I feel stupid pretty often. Because anytime anything comes up that I truly genuinely have no idea about my mind habitually goes into this like hyperdrive and spits something out. Remember that sorry definition of a limited liability company asked, of course, because you are a paralegal (funny how you don’t yet identify as one). Or when Cori asked what the word meant, “atavistic,” to test me I suspect. Or Justin wondering aloud, synecdoche means what again. Remarkable really what it comes up with sometimes—
She’s turned me back over and gone to her station or bench or wherever it is she keeps her oils and what not. I could feel things drying up. Hands not sliding so freely anymore. Friction beginning to rear its head and I can also feel, strangely, her absence. Like I know she’s not just hovering over me, refraining from contact. I sense that she has gone over towards the wall there but, maybe, my knowledge of the surface’s condition has slipped the image of her uncapping unidentified bottles of jojoba, almond or apricot kernel (wouldn’t that be something) into mind. One of those truths not readily explainable, an intuition, shaded by circumstance and a little imagination, I mean, the wishful kind of thinking. It’s got a shiny aura too like an honest congressman or something. I say intuition’s just as susceptible as any. Listen to your body, so said the article, but I say the body’s a shifty S.O.B.
Right take a breath would you it’s in the locker, safe but well out of reach. I nearly choked on my spit just now when I made for my phone or, that is, came seriously close to making for it to look up a stupid definition (OED on “intuition”). This is supposed to be somewhat of a meditative experience and here I am some kind of cliché, slave to phone. It will be pulsing there ignored in the dark, I intuit, just as I knew she was away prepping my oil change, possibly right at this very instant individual messages coming in from Mel and Hannah because that’s what happens when a particularly talkworthy something or rather comes up on the group chat. And you know Jo, earlier she said how she was on the train and the man sitting next to her was homeless by scent and was also asleep. He jerked the way people do when they have certain dreams but repeatedly-like and the car was crowded and the man slept. And how Jo described it was the usually somber AM train car got a serious case of the giggles that was apparently so contagious that by the next stop pretty much everyone was laughing at the spasms.
Mel’s will be something along the lines of what a bitch Johanna is for laughing at a homeless man. Something like that because you know Mel doesn’t get Jo she’s too like hardheaded it’s what I love about her but then she can’t see how Jo almost always means well. She means well and isn’t what you’d call balanced. Her sleep cycle’s what you’d call dependent it wouldn’t kill her to conceal her habit like a normal person the yellow pills, or I should say the pale ones at least she’s not stingy with her script but I keep having to remind her, recycle the empties. Hannah’s response will be dismissive, asking how I plan to address the whole issue of Jo’s texting Justin, how she could ever think I wouldn’t find out. Does he want to go to this thing with her? A “lamp-show exhibition” of “objects made functional by their luminescence”—this music is soothing. If apricots had a soundtrack this would be it—the nerve really it’s hard even for me to believe the nerve because I told her once how he complained about my not doing anything weird or spontaneous. And she can afford this spontaneous front of course. The fireproof safe. Her dad invented the thing.
The maintenance man on the subway today made quick work. And it was a good thing too because the adhesive black on which the flecks were distributed, I figured out, was time sensitive. What I mean by that is like how most sticky things are sticky only for so long and this was no exception. I came to this conclusion not because of my familiarity with sticky surfaces but because when I looked down, in what was the first stage of my putting together just how this design came to be, I also noticed (how could I not) my cream-colored flats picked out the other day totally worth the price though it’s better not to think of the number but about how freaking cute, how if it rains like they say it will where I’ll go to avoid the worst of the usual discomforts of walking in the rain, how I’m crossing my fingers they don’t give me blisters or cut my heels, how they weren’t sticking not even a little to the floor. These flecks, not a one like the other and littered in sort of humble, disordered pledge to camouflage future blemishes. So the man, the most aware of the crucial interval, finished his section in the time it takes the train to go from one station to the next (about three minutes). His pace heightened the feeling that we were witnessing something not supposed to be seen.
The girl’s going to town on the side nearest her of the lower back and then, when she’s satisfactorily exorcised the tension—there’s something of relocation in that word, isn’t there, and so I wonder where to exactly, where does it go, is it absorbed into her own body to be stored away later in a kind of holding area/boiler room with a troublingly makeshift steam spewing mechanism comprised of steel, levers and pipes like from that eighties movie they remade with girls this time around, or, will she be forced to fling herself from the window—she moves on to its counterpart. The entire process is inescapably symmetric. Look how you’re calling her girl when she’s for sure like your age. It must be practiced, her maintaining a presence that, were it not for the shockingly intrusive and incessant touching, would never be noticed. The attention isn’t on her of course but on me, totally and completely. There is something un-American about this massage business. We’re an eager people. Take even the loneliest or the most depressed or apathetic. Or people who, in contact with others, suffer physical pain—imagine what kind of torture this would be for them, whereas I am now convinced of its benefits and wholly at the mercy of her sneaky-strong, dexterous hands—even they carry out their agendas with passion. I’ve seen it. They stay in undemanding places (cushions, polyester blankets and what not) doing fervently nothing, scarcely moving or, if they like, they watch a show that was years in the running to its completion in a matter of days. What am I eager for? The weekend, always. (Kyle’s going away thing, Saturday, what to wear?) It is how they say, a series of troughs and peaks. I mean that we’re generally a gung-ho bunch and to lay here and allow a stranger to intrude is to put oneself in a position of weakness (it’s arguably more intrusive than the most intrusive thing I can think of, getting waxed, because that’s like much more of a business transaction where both parties aren’t altogether psyched about being there so you do what needs to be done and skedaddle, which is as civilized as the situation allows although I do wish sometimes she was more considerate but it’s safe to assume repetition in that profession has a hardening effect). What we cannot stand for is to be left out of the joke. Or to be made fools of. I would be wary of consenting to this sort of rub down from a stranger were it not for the sterilized front desk with the cheerily accommodating receptionist or the tall plate glass doors, or, the others in the locker room chatting and going on like normal because this is normal. And all that’s not to mention how this girl’s studied to be in this room, with me. You’ve paid for the service, see, or Uncle Carl did for this year’s birthday (the massage he gifted along with those ginormous phosphorescent gold contextualizing “number” balloons) you’re only now redeeming. So it’s the supporting details that make me feel okay about it like a kind of repatriation. And something has changed, I think, since the break for more lubricant. Definitely not the word.
No I’m sure something is different because my head’s a-freaking-buzz. I’ve decided that it has almost nothing to do with the fact that she’s now using both her tools (all hands on deck) in staggered, outward circles which, with each revolution, send reverberating shockwaves up through my chest into my temple-area and almost everything to do with the fact that I am indulging knowingly. That’s how we, women, the future, stand apart or I should say above and no I don’t mean all women. Those of us who know enough to see the thing behind the thing. Lot of the time it feels like they must think us all so helpless as to stay tuned because the entertainment, you know like its grade, concentrate, is such that abstention is futile. Au contraire there is a constituency that absorbs and understands.
It’s how we can hear about fruit-sized shortcomings and best-kept secrets and partake in these sultry (let’s me and you be honest) remedies and pretty much like submit without ever losing the edge.
Tired criticism goes something like: to indulge or even experience subconsciously is to subject yourself to a corrosive phenomenon. Now I don’t suspect they make them like us anymore to get super technical I mean those who’ve had the experience of looking at any screen really while a parent or something resembling tells the stuff is rotting the brain, and then, without reaction, summoning that gruesome November pumpkin-like image and, later, learning that the rot may never have even happened and, if it did, that the rot is transcendable. The feeling itself is invigorating. And that’s how I suspect I know what’s going on here. What do you think would happen if I let my arm slide off and hang there waiting for her to return (to home base) from softening up my calves. And what would happen if I grazed hers, maybe preserving the sliver of chance that it was incidental. My god that’s good it’s crazy that guys can participate for them it’s harder to hide you’d have like a bulbous thing to contend with. To think this torture has been paid for will she touch me where it counts already she’s toying with me but, again, I know. And it’s wild that my knowing, my sentience makes it better it’s almost to the point, mother of god, where I need to start thinking of something else if I’m going to avoid one of those involuntary spasms on par with whatever was going on with the sleeping train car man Jo was on about. She has me right where she wants too that’s a wicked thought but am I supposed to want her like this, inside, up to my neck nearly like at Sara Ruth’s cabin when something had gotten into Justin. You never have, with a girl. Not even close really hard to say why when, nowadays, it’s pretty much encouraged or said to be but I hardly feel that way as far as it concerns us. If it was, if it did feel that way, then this wouldn’t be quite so good. Her every motion is deliberate, I haven’t once been tickled, I want her flat on top tits pressed against my back and we’ll feel one another reacting to the other’s every inkling. If someone were to walk in they would be forgiven for thinking that her arms that they’re holding me in place. My thinking the purpose of this in the first place is to remove something from myself was clearly wrong. Rather than an excavation I now understand it to be an insertion of sorts. That she is providing me relief by way of infusion. And so too the not totally unpleasant hurt, lurid, speculative carcinogen that might well be followed with a cough. And now, even if I wanted it all to stop, it is too late to turn back. Why on earth I would want it to, stop, I’ve no idea. She’s learned her subject. Like everything up to this point was exploratory. She knows where, from what angle to approach and just what amount of pressure. I’ve done it, what I feared I would, a shudder not so obvious or anything and not a peep out of her so maybe it passed unnoticed. Who am I kidding.
Dazed and somehow energized, I thank her for the session and she tells me how much she enjoyed working with me. Which, all things being equal, comes across a little frumpy. But she leaves me alone in the big room to gather myself I suppose and I do just that. I become reacquainted with my surroundings and reminded of the world outside me. It’s a wiggle your toes in unbelievably soft slippers kind of walk to the locker room. Inside my robe’s pocket is the key to my cubby. Attached is a curly elastic wrist coil, blue, that is a ton of fun to stretch and relax, stretch and relax. There’s no one else in the locker room. You’re never sure what time it is in here – it does not smell of chlorine. So many of them do because of proximity I guess and swimmers bringing it in on them – without anyone around it preserves that time of day when no one else is up. Some late afternoon sophistry. I can’t help loving the feeling of being awake before everyone.
I open my locker and confirm what I’d known about my phone and its messages. Except I couldn’t have predicted Jo’s admission. So she says please don’t freak I borrowed your dress last week, the black one, the bodycon one, for…in the parlor because he really had to go and ordered pizza while there because why not or because restrooms are only for… There is a break, and a newer, separate message. In it she says if she hadn’t fronted like that I wouldn’t have slipped…and like I said it seriously I promise couldn’t be helped you can ask Greg if you don’t believe but the stain is helpless says the lady at the dry cleaner’s and I believe her because…literally pathetic in like tears outside the dry cleaning. I imagine in earnest if and how and under what circumstances it would be possible for Jo to be more of a cunt. She had planned I assume to sneak back into my closet and return the dress and no one would be the wiser but the stain she says is indelible despite her best efforts, not serviceable for wear and will need to be replaced. In my hatred for Jo I am at a loss for pretty much anything and I do not even remember mishandling the key and letting it fall on the tile. I undergo something terrifying that is best understood as a memory, though not my own necessarily but a memory plenty common: the confused youngster at the adult table, having first settled into the certainty that the cross-table-anecdote and its hilarious reception was grasped to the same degree as the rest, if not understood on a more profound level, realizes indeed that she has been mistaken and that the whole mess of laughter was directed, harmless and clever enough to pass without reproach, at her.
When I bend to pick up the key, my robe disengages from its position (fixed, on account of the oily residue over the better part of my backside) and I see that the floor is similarly flecked. I see and I remember. This is how it happens. The man on the train. Different shade, another shade altogether, both the color of specks and the base but the pattern is a dead ringer. This brings to mind the wonderful rubdown I’ve just been fortunate to and a solution presents itself, I think, that is only Jo’s way and, in any event, that dress was all wrong for her. It’s beyond me how she could’ve thought she would pull it off, I’ll never know.
Logan Shafer is a Fiction MFA student at The New School. A San Francisco native, Logan’s work engages globalism and its plights, contemporaneity’s improvidence, and the ensemble of functions which governs American life. He has worked in film and publishing after graduating from Wake Forest University and lives in Brooklyn. He is finishing his first novel.