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.”
“Nope. You look a little nervous.”
“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?”
“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?”
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.
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.
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.