Miss

Fiction / B. Domino

:: Miss ::

It’s Sat­ur­day. I have an appoint­ment with a new client tonight, and I haven’t washed any of my work gear. My boots and out­fits and tools smell like sweat. It’s all made of fake leather, so when you leave sweat too long, it starts to get that funky cheese smell. Not good cheese. Feta. My gear smells like feta.  

I nudge anoth­er mov­ing box out of my way. I haven’t begun unpack­ing, which tells me that I prob­a­bly don’t need most of the stuff in the box­es; they’re full of mem­o­ries, and open­ing them won’t do me any favors right now. Lit­tle paths between them lead from room to room through­out the apart­ment, my own lit­tle obsta­cle course. I set my gear on the kitchen sink, next to the pile of dishes—another thing I have yet to do. Even though it’s six in the evening, I’m still in my paja­mas. If my clients could see me now, I’d nev­er get booked.  

Lucille Ball runs back and forth on the TV screen in the cor­ner of the room. As always, Lucy’s pan­icked about some­thing fic­tion­al but real­is­tic. The episodes work in a cycli­cal for­mu­la. She does some­thing autonomous and freaks out because she knows Ricky will be mad. My ex, Dan­i­ca, played this show at our old place all the time; it used to bug the shit out of me. I Love Lucy was the back­ground of our lives. I used to be afraid of being a Lucy—relying on some­one else, unable to make my own deci­sions, unable to func­tion with­out approval from some­one else.  

My phone chimes.  

Mis­tress. I have been eager­ly await­ing our appoint­ment for sev­en days. I shall see you tonight at 9:30pm.  

For some rea­son, they all think they need to be in the Anne Rice fan club when they talk to me. Indeed, Mis­tress. I shall, Mis­tress. It’s annoy­ing. I’m about to text him back and say, Just call me Leah, when the TV catch­es my eye. My gray-scale, red-head­ed girl stands in front of her love, beg­ging. I envy her. She has some­one. I curse myself for tak­ing this book­ing, but I need the mon­ey.  

I type, Be ready, and press send.  

I scoot the dish­es aside so I have room to wash my work attire. I have a few more hours before I have to be some­one else.  

*

This client’s name is Rudolph. Of course it is. It’s almost so vanil­la that I expect­ed to find a real name when I ran his back­ground check. Aiden or Steve. But no. Some­one real­ly named this guy Rudolph, and Rudolph’s inter­net sweep passed with fly­ing col­ors. He’s a banker. He lives alone in a town­house in the Heights, which means he’s got mon­ey. He doesn’t have a crim­i­nal record, and from what I can tell, he’s nev­er booked any­thing like this in his life. Most of my clients are Rudolphs. Bankers, CEOs, lawyers—a lot of pow­er and no per­son­al lives. I assume it feels good to let the pow­er go some­times.  

Last week I set up a con­sul­ta­tion to screen the book­ing and hash out his wants and needs. He chose a cof­fee shop in the cen­ter of town called Slash Cof­fee. How fit­ting. Maybe he did that on pur­pose. He was easy to spot. The shop sim­mered with peo­ple in con­ver­sa­tion, lean­ing into lap­tops, or hunched over phones. Rudolph sat in a suit with both hands wrapped around his mug. He’s a skin­ny man because of genet­ics but round and soft in the mid­dle with age. Though he is only forty-three, his bald spot sports a gray­ish tinge, sug­gest­ing years of bad sun­screen habits. He sank into his chair and scanned the café as I took the seat across from him.  

Relax,” I said. “I’m dis­creet.”  

He had one of the soft­est voic­es I had ever heard, and his lit­tle eyes grew with every ques­tion.  

What about safe words?” he asked. 

We can use what­ev­er you’re com­fort­able with,” I said.  

He blushed. “Yel­low for the lim­it. Red for stop.”  

I marked it down. Rudolph was not a guy who want­ed to stray off the path. As we set our sched­ules and said our good­byes, he stum­bled through one last ques­tion. I had to lean in and half-read his lips.  

Can you tell me about you?”  

I thought of my tiny, new apart­ment. My world of card­board box­es and microwave meals.  

No.” What else could I say—this job has ruined my life? Thanks for book­ing me?  

*

After scrub­bing down all my gear, I hang it to dry over the show­er rod and head to my favorite bak­ery over by my old apart­ment. It’s the one I hit up before every book­ing to calm my nerves. Dan­i­ca start­ed tak­ing me there as a tra­di­tion. We would run around the cor­ner, and she’d grab me the same éclair and say stuff like, “We can be healthy when you don’t have to do this any­more.”  

When I walk into the bak­ery, the mix of flour and eggs and sug­ar takes me back. It’s wel­com­ing for a moment. I order a cup of black cof­fee and a few danishes—not éclairs. The first time I came to the bak­ery solo, the bak­er asked if Dan­i­ca was com­ing. I start­ed to explain our breakup, which dis­solved into me telling him that he’ll be see­ing more of me because I got the bak­ery in the split. Breakup log­ic. He doesn’t ask me ques­tions any­more. Today, he just smiles as he opens the reg­is­ter for my change.  

Leah?” For a moment I think I’m hear­ing things. Or maybe I just hope I am. I will the bak­er to move slow­er so I don’t have to turn around, but he hands me my change like it’s a bomb that’s about to go off, and that’s how I know. It’s Dan­i­ca. My name used to sound like hon­ey when it came out of her mouth.   

I turn around, and there she is. She sits in our cor­ner. Our booth. Her hair falls in an ele­gant mess along the sides of her face, sweep­ing down her shoul­ders. It was one of the first things I noticed about her back in the day. It’s black and curly like mine but grace­ful. I trace the lines of it along her cheek­bones to avoid star­ing at the girl who sits across from her.  

Hey,” I say. 

Hi.” Dan­i­ca leans back. This chick looks between us. She’s blonde. Young. Which, in some cir­cles, means hot, I guess. She is the poster girl of rebounds. If she were the star of a movie, it’d be called Danica’s Revenge.  

How’s it going?” I ask. I should walk away, but for some rea­son I don’t.  

Great. Great. Leah, this is Avery.” 

They exchange a look and as their heads turn, I see that they both have bed­head. Avery extends her hand. Part of me wants to rip it off. But I don’t.  

Nice to meet you,” Avery says.  

Dan­i­ca looks down at the pas­try bag under my arm. “Work­ing tonight?”  

There’s no escap­ing the truth. I nod.  

Thought you said you were going to be done with all that,” Dan­i­ca says.  

Yeah. Well. Had to pay for mov­ing expens­es, didn’t I?”  

Avery perks up a lit­tle.  

Oh! You’re the one that does the—” She makes a lit­tle wrist move­ment. It’s a whip­ping ges­ture. Again, I want to rip off that hand. She knows about me. It occurs to me that this girl might not be a rebound.  

You know, babe, why don’t you head out. I’ll be there in a sec­ond,” Dan­i­ca says. Her voice has an edge on it. Avery grabs both their cof­fees and pas­try bags and almost kiss­es Dan­i­ca on the cheek. She stops her­self. The air in my lungs thick­ens as I watch her walk out the door and around the cor­ner. Pre­sum­ably to my old apart­ment.  

Wow. She’s got my old key already, huh? And you always made me feel like the slut­ty one.”  

You’re thir­ty-two years old, Leah. Are you even look­ing for a real job?” 

I ignore the ques­tion and look around the pas­try shop. “You’re even tak­ing her to my spots. That’s cold. Babe.”  

Dan­i­ca shakes her head and scoffs—a sound I had become used to hear­ing at the end. Every­thing I said became tired and obvi­ous.  

What?” I ask. 

You’re going to get your­self killed some­day,” she says. 

Bull­shit, Dan­i­ca. I’m smart about this and you know it.”  

Yeah. Go ahead and feed me that line about how empow­er­ing your job is.”  

Well, it’s cer­tain­ly not as empow­er­ing as that min­i­mum-wage fifty-hour-week paper-push­er job you got. But we can’t all be so lucky.” 

Her eyes red­den and shine. This is anoth­er one of her spe­cial tal­ents. She reserves these spe­cial, wound­ed pup­py eyes for ass­holes and ex-girl­friends. It makes me hate her. And it makes me hate me.  

Well. I hope it’s worth it,” she says. She books it out the door and around the cor­ner to our old place. To her place.   

*

I down two more pas­tries in Rudolph’s dri­ve­way before walk­ing to the door. I’m about to knock, but he opens it like he was ready for me. His fore­head shines and his shoul­ders creep up toward his ears.  

Hey,” I say. I’m out of char­ac­ter. Nor­mal­ly we begin the agreed-upon sce­nario imme­di­ate­ly, but his slack mouth looks like he’s about to say some­thing. Or scream, maybe. He breathes through his mouth as he shuts the door behind me. The tools inside my duf­fle bag clink against my leg. I keep my jack­et on. My keys and a few self-defense items sit ready in both pock­ets.  

What’s up, Rudolph. You good?”  

Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine.”  

Yeah? You don’t look fine.” 

I don’t?” 

Nope. You look a lit­tle ner­vous.”  

I’m not.”  

Then why are you stand­ing in front of the door?” I fin­ger the han­dle of my switch­blade in my jack­et pock­et. He looks at me and then the door, then scur­ries to the oth­er side of the room.  

Sor­ry. I guess I am a lit­tle anx­ious.”  

It’s cool. Just got to make sure you’re not going to turn me into a skin suit or some­thing. Not a psy­cho, right, Rudolph?” He chuck­les a lit­tle. His shoul­ders drop away from his ears a tiny bit.  

That’s bet­ter,” I say. “Shall we begin?” 

Rudolph tells me he would pre­fer we start in the bedroom—not an uncom­mon request. I fol­low him through his house. His dec­o­ra­tions look placed very strate­gi­cal­ly around the house as though to give a pre­sen­ta­tion of iden­ti­ty. Dark knick-knacks sit between nor­mal house­wares. A white sofa. A sleek stoneware plate set. An Addams Fam­i­ly movie poster. Skull para­pher­na­lia scat­tered among the Ikea fur­ni­ture. It almost looks like Rudolph’s one of those peo­ple reen­ter­ing their ado­les­cent angst phas­es as an attempt to recap­ture their youth. Or maybe he nev­er ful­ly inte­grat­ed into his life as a banker and became some­thing in between the two worlds. There’s a sprin­kling of very adult things—a check­book. A pile of bills.  

We reach his bed­room, which match­es the rest of the house, except the lights are low. White walls. A tie rack. Black bed­sheets with fresh pack­ag­ing wrin­kles in them. And some­thing shiny on top. I can’t quite make it out in the dim light. As I step into the room, some­thing beneath my feet crunch­es. Plas­tic. Long sheets of it. He’s cov­ered the bed, the floor, every sur­face. Every­thing comes togeth­er in my mind right as he clos­es the door behind us. A heat and a ring­ing fill my head. It’s like a night­mare where my feet don’t work but I man­age to turn and face him.  

His hands flop against the but­tons on his shirt like they’ve lost all their bones. He smacks his tongue against his lips like he has cot­ton­mouth.  

Oh fuck no.” I reach into my jack­et pock­et and pull out the blade. “I’ll kill you. I swear, I will.”  

Wait, what?” he asks. His hands go straight up into the air.  

You picked the wrong girl, ass­hole.” Blood burns through my body. He stands between me and the door. I trace the path­way through the house in my mind. I can drop my bag. I’ll be faster if I drop my bag. “This is how this is going to go. You lis­ten­ing?” 

Yes, Mis­tress.”  

You’re going to back the hell up against that wall. Got it?”  

He moves slow­ly. “Is this. Part of the sce­nario?”  

I said back the fuck up!”  

He gets to the wall. I inch toward the door.  

You’re going to let me go. Got it? I’m faster than you. I got more weapons than you. I have no prob­lem cut­ting your ass if you come at me.”  

Wait, you’re leav­ing?”  

I dive for the door and I yank the nob, but I hear some­thing before I run. It’s painful. Light. Weak. It doesn’t fit into my night­mare, so I look back.  

Rudolph’s lit­tle eyes have widened, just like they did at the cof­fee shop. It’s like they’re mak­ing way for some­thing to come out of them—like he’s boil­ing over. He sinks against the wall. Sec­onds stretch in front of me before I get what’s going on. Tears. He’s cry­ing.  

I wrecked it. Didn’t I?”  

I real­ize I haven’t tak­en a full breath in a moment. My knees feel wob­bly and my face tin­gles. Rudolph’s sobs roll out of him. His head sinks between his knees. I don’t move. Not to him. Not to the door either.  

What the fuck.” 

He chokes on his own breath and spit. “I’m sor­ry. I’m so, so sor­ry.” 

Rudolph. Why the fuck is there plas­tic every­where?”  

He pulls his head up and looks around. A fresh wave of tears comes spilling out of him with a string of incom­pre­hen­si­ble words. Final­ly I make out a soft, inter­rupt­ed whis­per.  

I just didn’t want a mess.”  

I’m no stranger to see­ing a client crum­ble to the floor of their own bed­room, but I have nev­er seen any­thing quite like this. Rudolph’s not the pow­er­ful CEO or the tight­ly wound guy who needs to chill for a few hours. He’s that guy you read about online—the one no one gets. He’s not dan­ger­ous. He’s just, I don’t know, strange.  

It takes me almost half an hour to get him to breathe nor­mal­ly again. The wet trails on his cheeks make him look rounder and younger in the dark. I can’t under­stand him when I ask if he likes piz­za, so I order it any­way. When it comes, I bring it back into his bed­room and set the box on the plas­tic. He hasn’t moved much, but after a few slices, he can speak in full sen­tences.  

I didn’t mean to fright­en you,” he says. 

Hey, back at you.”  

He chuck­les a lit­tle, which turns into a hic­cup. The smile on his face looks unprac­ticed.  

My ther­a­pist thought this might be good for me.”  

Hir­ing a dom­i­na­trix?”  

Not exact­ly. She want­ed me to do some­thing social.” Rudolph shrugs. “Can’t get reject­ed if you pay, right?”  

I have no idea what to say. The chime on my phone goes off, sig­nal­ing the end of the book­ing. I silence it.  

Can I ask you a ques­tion?” he says.  

How could I deny him now? I nod and brace myself.  

Does your fam­i­ly know what you do?”  

I think of Dan­i­ca. “Yeah.” 

Do they hate it?”  

Oh yeah.”  

Do you?”  

Rudolph’s lit­tle eyes still shine from his red­dened, swollen face. His lips tight­en with wor­ry as he waits for me to answer. He’s no one’s Lucy either. And maybe that’s okay. The plas­tic crin­kles under me. The tools that I’ve spent years col­lect­ing sit in my duf­fle at my side.  

No.”  

He nods. 

It takes a while, but when he’s ready to stand, he insists on walk­ing me to the door. A first.  

Maybe we can try again some­day,” he says.  

You think you’d like that?” I ask.  

No idea.”  

I reach out and slap the back of his hand. “Let me know if you feel like you’ve been bad.” 

I’m the worst.” He lifts his chin a lit­tle and he smiles. It doesn’t quite fit his face yet. But it looks real.   

*

When I get back to my apart­ment, it’s almost mid­night. I have nev­er stayed after an appoint­ment. Dan­i­ca would have lost her shit, so I always hus­tled home. But my phone has no mes­sages on it and my apart­ment is emp­ty. I set down my duf­fle bag full of clean gear right inside my door. I’m wired and my entire body aches. My TV glows in the cor­ner; I had queued up the end of a par­tic­u­lar­ly affec­tion­ate episode before I left. Lucy stands, smil­ing, embrac­ing her Ricky. It looks false now—glossy some­how. Unhap­py. She embraces him for the cam­era. For the audi­ence.  

I hit the pow­er but­ton, throw­ing the apart­ment into com­plete dark­ness. Then I flick on a light and rip the tape off the near­est box. 

 





From the writer

:: Account ::

Through­out his­to­ry and through this very moment, sex work­ers of all fash­ions, gen­ders, and forms have been pushed to the mar­gins of soci­ety. We die on streets and in cars and clubs while the enter­tain­ment and art indus­tries prof­it off of our aes­thet­ics and our game. They tell our sto­ries to paint dark­ness in their strait­laced pro­tag­o­nists or a grit­ty stain on an oth­er­wise clean nar­ra­tive palate. It’s those appro­pri­a­tions that lead us fur­ther into dan­ger in the dark. Sex work­ers deserve dig­ni­ty and respect.   

We are con­stant and his­toric. We will remain, despite the best efforts to reduce us to laymen’s per­ver­sions. We are stu­dents and fam­i­ly mem­bers. We are peo­ple who make a liv­ing. We are not the sum­ma­tions of worth, cal­cu­lat­ed by our access to oppor­tu­ni­ty. We may be details in an ocean, but we are beau­ty. We are art. And we can tell our own sto­ries and shift our own nar­ra­tives.  


B. Domi­no just grad­u­at­ed with an MFA from the Uni­ver­si­ty of New Orleans but lives in the desert, paint­ing, writ­ing, read­ing books with fam­i­ly.