(Featured in; nominated for Pushcart Prize)

(WARNING: Contains adult content and themes)

Same visceral reaction, regardless of the city. Pavlovian response to the jarring neon “Open” sign flashing against blacked-out windows.

“Heavenly Delight Spa.”

“Eastern Happiness Massage.”  

New York had whole districts competing to jerk you off. The thrill was in the hunt in lesser cities and suburbs. Rub and tugs nestled among high-end consignment shops and frozen yogurt joints in puritanical Connecticut. Their denizens coexisting with soccer moms and industry titans. Derek’s ex-wife questioned his knowledge of these illicit massage parlors. It was one of many arguments during the divorce procedure.

On business trips, there was the possibility of a fellow lost soul burning off her per diem at the hotel bar. Maybe they wanted a nameless, faceless person who’d be gone in the morning. A zipless fuck. Massage parlors were a sure thing. Minus the small talk.

Hidden among strip malls and pawnshops, they were all the same. Hand job franchises replaced failed real estate or insurance companies. Flimsy walls separated the rooms. Blackened windows, security cams, and locked doors to slow the approach of police officers not on the take. Dim lighting. The ubiquitous ceramic cat with the upraised paw for good luck (a not so subtle phallic reminder). A Chinese or Korean wall calendar. Mini fridge stocked with off-brand water. Obligatory dish of mints, as if anybody gave a shit about their breath.

Mamasan sized Derek up. Undercover cop? Drunk? A penchant for violence? Cash businesses were dangerous; nobody used credit cards and left a paper trail. You never who was going to roll the place. Police weren’t sympathetic or quick to protect illegal businesses, kickbacks notwithstanding.

Eagerly greeted by Mamasan, she guided Derek to a room careful to avoid any active “sessions.” Derek once bumped into another client in the dressing room post-massage. Red, flaccid manhood dangling in post-release shame. The awkward exchange about “relieving work stress.” Bullshit small talk. Quick exit, no eye contact. 

Squeezing his stringy arms as she led Derek, she cooed, “So strong… You been here before? Shower first?” Derek wanted the smell of sex on him; he could get lucky back at the hotel. He placed four twenties fresh from the airport ATM in her gnarled hand. 

Glowering in the mirror, he undressed. Some muscles still hidden among the paunch. He was doing them a favor. He wasn’t one of those sloppy bastards who couldn’t screw their own wives.

Faint sounds emanated from other rooms. 

Vague, Asian muzak. 

Pan flutes. 

“El Condor Pasa.” 

The padded table clean; no dried semen from previous users. A towel a few grades better than sandpaper draped over his ass. He left enough skin showing to declare his intentions. He hated putting his face into the “donut.” Countless drooling bastards hung their heads there, all frothed up, cumming too fast.

“Sunny,” entered in silence. Always named Sunny. Delicate features bordered on haggard but attractive nonetheless. Sometimes the “girl” was 60, with jagged ochre teeth. Her breath, a rancid combination of dried fish, unfiltered cigarettes, and coffee. Whispering to him to “turn over,” the breath hovered. A death cloud. Nauseating and all-consuming, he fought to maintain his erection. But not Sunny. He’d consider meeting her at the hotel bar for drinks. Only after he accomplished the immediate mission. No reason to wreck a sure thing.

The lights dimmed to almost total darkness. That usually signified when “therapeutic massage” became a “happy ending.” Her hands lithe, strong. Focused. Intentional. This wasn’t a typical hand job assembly line massage aimed at turning out patrons as fast as possible.

Sunny dispensed with his towel immediately and worked his body with rhythmic strokes. He lay so his cock was not at an awkward angle when he got aroused. She worked his legs; fluid strokes from his calves to his ass which he tightened against her touch. Fingers brushed against his cock or balls by mistake. Or purposely. 

Message sent. 

Message received. 

Derek would rescue her tonight. Take her back to the hotel; a brief taste of luxury from what he assumed was a dingy existence. No sleepover. Maybe cab fare home. She probably got to the massage parlor with a half dozen other girls in a minivan from Queens.

Aroused, he spread his legs a bit wider. Sunny climbed on top of the table grasping a steel bar hanging from the ceiling. Like a tightrope walker, she paced his back. She dug vibrant, pedicured toes into his shoulder blades. Kneading his thighs and his ass, ripping open muscles without shrinking his erection. 

The rhythmic kneading of his ass. The grinding of his junk against the table. Thoughts of her surrendering in his hotel room. Pressure built. Derek wanted to put on a show but hovered on the point of no return. He would cum too fast. So what? He would never see her again. If they mocked him as he left, he didn’t give a shit.

His incessant hardness was problematic. She struggled to keep one foot perched on the base of his neck and the other on his rising ass for balance, her toe burrowing into his asshole. She didn’t recognize the profound pleasure it caused. 

Derek arched, imploring her to finish him off. 

Equilibrium lost. 

Tumbling, falling. 

Her weight landing on his neck. The sound of walnuts cracking. 

Bile filled Derek’s mouth. Searing pain ebbed and receded, replaced by an infinite nothingness. 

Sunny struggled off, repeating, “So sorry, so sorry… Please don’t tell. I take care of you.” She tugged on his flaccid penis. He was crying. She tried sitting him up. Deadweight of imploring, crazed eyes. Rasping, “Help me help me help me.”

Feral waves of panic flooded her. One last pitying look, before she left the room, the door silently closed behind her. Mamasan unaware, ushering a new client to a room. 

Sunny left her belongings behind and padded out the front door. 

A ghost disappearing into the night.

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