In the Body Rub

It takes a long time to get your hands clean when you're one of the girls


Rating: NNNNN


When the doorbell sounds, all the girls jump. It’s a cheap bell, prolonged, and pregnant with scuffling as the girls around the room produce a multitude of compacts and flip them open in unison. Some powder their cheeks with an Egyptian bronze, while other girls, shyer ones, prefer to lightly dust with Cover Girl’s “Nude Shell.” Everyone wears lipstick, because it’s a sure sign of sexuality. A glowing shrine sits unnoticed in the corner, its golden Buddha placating a bowl of oranges. Beside it, shredded copies of women’s hair and beauty magazines lie, pages butchered for future haircut ideas.When the man finally enters the room, some girls look up. Others eat peanuts and casually glance up later in a casual way.

The man is wearing a tired suit and lets his arms hang loosely at his sides in a defeated way rehearsed to arouse sympathy. His hangdog gaze takes in every wet curl, every swatch of fabric stained with Teen Spirit deodorant, every wan cheek. He looks very tired. He’s the oldest person in the room by 20 years.

The boss, who has escorted him in “to see the girls,” taps him on the shoulder and murmurs for payment. The boss is a slight Chinese woman who wears a violet pantsuit with an air of propriety. She has built this business up from a two-line ad in the Toronto Star. Now she has more than 20 girls working for her. She collects the money. The man laughs awkwardly and hands her two 20s.

“Who you want?” she asks.

Tula is picked. She has round thighs and soft brown eyes. I met her two weeks ago in a Coffee Time at Yonge and Wellesley. We revealed too much in a short time. This is why I’m here. The other girls immediately slip off their heels and lie back on the couch.

“Good luck,” a pale blond says to her. “I had him last week and he’s cheap as hell and touches too much.” This girl’s name is Shira. She’s 17 but says she’s 21. She commutes every day from Ajax. She’s in grade 11.

In the hallway, the boss is vigorously spraying an aerosol can. With the pungent scent of pine she’s trying to rid the air of any trace of male sweat and desire. She points to the now-closed door and waves her hand in front of her face. “Stinky,” she says, meaning the man. I know him, a buck-toothed frozen food wholesaler who comes to Toronto to let loose, from a neighbourhood bar. Tula slips into the room like a skunk to view the naked man’s body on the massage slab.

Before seeing his face, Tula will squirt baby oil onto his back and knead his shoulders while she introduces herself. His cheeks will flush and he will flip himself over like a flapjack. At this point Tula will allude to “extras” the gentleman might indulge in: perhaps a nude or semi-nude what about a reverse, meaning “You massage me, sweetheart.” He will stare at his pants folded sadly over the chair in the corner. He wants to know how much everything costs first. He thinks he’s at a drive-in. She will tell him her prices in ambiguous ways, in case he’s a cop.

When he trots back and hands her the bills, folded shyly together, she puts them in her imitation Gucci purse and stalks around the room trying to make him feel sexual. He’ll tell her about his job with computers. She’ll play with his chest hair and check the clock. He’ll get about eight more minutes, she decides. When she slips off her dress, he is complimentary and grabs his own penis like an ape. She remains calm and gives him the requisite “happy ending.” He does not touch too much, and after his moment of exclamation he lolls on the bed for a minute, perspiring, and demands a hot towel. She will smile and leave him quickly.

Afterward, I watch her washing her hands in the decrepit bathroom for two straight minutes.

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