A selection from a novella I’ll likely never finish.
She introduced herself during the height of my recklessness, and she seemed custom made for another bout of irresponsibility. Her photo revealed her red hair, green eyes sunk in behind too much makeup and a healthy dose of cleavage. We swapped emails and were soon chatting on an instant message program.
Conversation never went subsurface. We seemed to sense it was best to keep the dialogue limited to music, movies, and what we might do to each other alone in the same room. When she decided I was worthy, she began to send me photos of herself in various states of undress, holding a knife to her neck or with a belt tied around her breasts. Not exactly my thing, but her experimental nature only made me more attracted to her, probably because she seemed easy.
“I don’t do everything,” she told me once, after we had exchanged phone numbers, “I might let you pee on me, but I’d have to really like you. And I never do scat.”
“What the hell is scat?” I asked, choking the last word out with a laugh.
“Like, shitting on people?”
“Is there a high demand for that?”
“There is with the guys I meet.”
“Well rest assured,” I said, “I don’t think we’ll have that issue. I’m not looking to shit on you or anyone else.”
Our one and only date was a lunch meeting at a popular gourmet pizzeria downtown on Pelissier near University. She said she had a job interview that afternoon and the restaurant was close by.
I arrived early, as I usually do and grabbed a corner table in the back. For some reason I’ve never understood I always have to position myself in restaurants with a full view of the room. I guess if a saloon-style gunfight breaks out, I want to be sure I see it coming.
Sasha barged in about fifteen minutes after me. She wasn’t hard to spot, with the red hair, brown patterned skirt and matching knee high stockings, an ensemble destroyed by the mustard scarf she had tied around her neck. She brushed her stringy hair out of her face and surveyed the clientele. I raised my hand and she responded with a wide lipped smile that stretched supine across her entire face. She was beautiful, and I knew immediately that I had no use for her.
She sat across from me and shook my hand as formal introduction. Her fingers were covered in silver rings shaped like animals, the sort bought in stores reeking of patchouli and nag champa: a gecko coiled around her middle finger, a butterfly embracing her index with its wings. Three days previous she had sent me photos of her spreading her labia before her webcam, so I found the handshake a little strange.
“Hi! Am I late?” she said, removing her purse from over her shoulder but leaving the scarf.
“No, no. I’m early. I’m a tad neurotic about punctuality.” A tad neurotic? I was always saying shit like that. Why could I never speak like a normal person?
“Have you ever eaten here before?” she asked.
“Once, I think,”
“Yeah, shows you how long ago it was. I couldn’t tell you what I ordered or if I even liked it.”
“I love it here,” she said, “they have awesome tapas. Do you want to split one?”
“Sure.” She began adjusting her jewelry. “Quite the set of hardware you have,” I said.
“What, my rings?” She held her hands up to make sure her accessories were aligned in the proper fashion. “Yeah, I like to weigh my hands down. It makes me feel like I’m working out when I do everyday tasks.”
“Uh-huh.” I was trying to will the waiter over with the powers of my mind when I noticed some ink peeking out from under the leather cuff she wore on her left wrist.
“What’s your tattoo?”
“Oh, it’s just my little joke with the world,” she said, unfastening the cuff and holding her wrist out for me to read.
“‘In case of emergency, cut here?’”
She laughed, “Yeah. Just a reminder that there’s always a solution to any problem.”
I would imagine that most men in my position at this point would have heard the wail of sirens and seen a strobe of flashing red lights with a chorus of cherubs gesturing urgently to the door, and bolted out of the restaurant leaving nothing but a silhouette of dust behind. But the sirens were drowned out by the buzzing of the neon sign I had placed over her head reading ‘EASY SEX HERE’ and I was determined to stay the course until I reached the promised land.
We ate our meal in relative silence, talking about the food we were currently eating and popular television shows, none of which I watched. Every once in a while I would try lay down some smooth double-entendre, but Sasha refused to take the bait. She just briefly chuckled before changing the subject to some video she saw online. We finished our meals and I paid the bill.
Sasha removed and retied her scarf around her neck, pulling her hair out from under it in a fiery whip. “Do you have any plans for the rest of the afternoon?”
“Not really, no,” I said. “I was thinking of stopping by the office, but I’m not
scheduled. It won’t make a difference if I show up or not.” Which was true. It made little difference if I showed up at all, the way my journalistic career was going.
“Well, I don’t think my job interview will take very long, and it’s just up the street. Do you want to wait til I’m done and then go for a walk or something? I don’t want to go home yet, I’m having a really good time.”
“Yeah, so am I.” A total lie, but that sign kept flashing its promises at me, and I was just being pulled along. We walked out and headed left toward Wyandotte. “Where’s your interview?” I asked.
“Right here,” she said, pointing at a quadplex of storefronts. In the top left corner, a pair of women in tight fitting miniskirts and thigh high boots sat smoking on the balcony.
“What, at the massage parlour?”
“Yeah, they had an ad in the paper, and it looks like good money,” she said. “I’m barely making rent these last couple months, and my landlord’s kind of a perv. He’s always suggesting that a squeeze of my tits could thwart the threat of eviction for another month.”
“You’d rather get paid to deal with pervs?” I asked.
Sasha shrugged, “I guess so. If I’m going to have dirty middle aged men try to stick their hand up my skirt, I should probably get something out of the deal.”
“But aren’t these joints just glorified brothels? You know, rub and tugs?”
Sasha spit onto the sidewalk and looked at me, annoyed. “Look, I appreciate the concern, or whatever it is you’re doing right now, but I’m not an idiot, okay? I know the sort of reputations places like this have. From what they tell me, yeah, some of the girls take it a little far, but it’s completely up to the girl. I won’t have to do anything I’m not comfortable with. If I don’t want to jerk anyone off, I don’t have to.”
“But you’re not opposed to doing that.”
She sighed, “If any of this makes you uncomfortable, you can leave right now. No hard feelings.”
“No, no, it’s not a big deal,” I lied, “it’s just…a little unusual for a first date, would you not agree?”
“I’d call it ‘memorable.’”
I adjusted my shoulder bag and wiped at the corners of my eyes, deciding. “So how long do you think this will take?”
“Shouldn’t be more than twenty-five minutes.”
“All right,” I said, “I’ll go browse CDs at Dr. Disc or something and meet you back here in twenty five minutes.”
“If you don’t come back, I’ll understand,” she said. Her eyes were encouraging. She was making it clear she was offering me an out. All I had to do was take it.
“No, no, I’ll be here.”
“Okay,” she said, “I’ll see you in a bit.” And she headed into the parlour without a look back.
I never made it to the record store, opting instead to mooch a cigarette from an old man waiting at a nearby bus stop. I was only a casual smoker at best and only usually did it when drunk or under duress. The old man lit the DuMaurier for me with a gold Zippo. I watched the entrance to the massage parlour from up the street as I took a long deep drag and tried to figure out what to do.
One thing was clear: I was completely out of my depth, and found this woman as terrifying as I did seductive. I was already tallying up a list of positions to put her in, but was a potential rub and tugger with a pro-suicide tattoo who reeked of patchouli really anything I needed in my life? In the end, I did what any self-aware man in my situation would do: I looked, with complete objectivity, whether the sex would be worth the baggage.
Yes. Yes it would.
Her interview actually took 15 minutes, but from the corner I was hiding behind I saw her coming and walked out to meet her.
As we walked north to the Waterfront she told me the interview was about all she expected. She would be responsible for winning over prospective clients, and it was up to her what sort of extra services she would offer. Bearing in mind, potential clients aren’t prone to hiring girls who won’t give them their money’s worth, but Sasha seemed confident that she had a unique enough look to win them over without the extra favours, and that even her cut from a few basic massages would pad her wallet enough to keep her landlord out of her pants.
By 4.00 in the afternoon she needed to catch a bus to her other job uptown at a women’s clothing store in the Roundhouse Centre, so I walked her to the bus stop.
“I had a really good time,” she said, tilting her head to the side and playing with the tassels on her scarf.
“Yeah, so did I.”
“Can I call you when I get home from work?”
“Yeah, sure, if you want. Absolutely.”
“Okay.” She moved in to hug me, and I made a play to kiss her. As my lips neared hers, she turned her head and gave me the cheek. I pulled away, surprised. Sasha just smiled and bounced on her heels before turning to get on the bus. I was puzzled. Online she had no problem sending me photos of her with her legs bent behind her head, but in person I couldn’t get a peck on the lips? What was that about?
It was after 11.00 when she called. I had been dozing off during a biography on Dylan when the phone startled me into an upright position. I checked the caller ID even though I knew it was her. She hadn’t called before 10.00 once since I met her. “Hi-hi,” she said, in a sing-song voice, “did I wake you?”
“Yeah, but it’s okay. I shouldn’t have been sleeping anyway.”
“Because you knew I was calling.”
“Something like that. How was work?”
“Christ, these bitches I went to high school with came in the store, and from the second they saw me I just knew they were judging me. Like they were so thrilled to see me working some shitty retail job because it’s exactly what I deserve.”
“Why would they think that?” I had begun alphabetizing some out of place DVDs with the phone cradled in my neck, disinterested.
“Oh, why does any high school girl hate another high school girl? I was a bit of a hellraiser who liked sex and gained some notoriety.”
“Notoriety? For what?”
She laughed. “Stupid high school stuff! It was nothing. As much as I’d like to say I was caught blowing some guy in the back of the chemistry lab, it was nothing that scandalous. The worst thing I ever did was walk around with a kilt and no underwear.”
“Oh my God, you went to Catholic school?” I asked.
“Yeah, my junior and senior years.”
“It’s all coming together now, it all makes sense.”
She laughed again. “And what is that supposed to mean, wise ass?”
“Nothing, nothing. At any rate, I’m sorry those women made you feel bad,” I said, not caring.
“Ah, it’s fine. I just—sometimes I just wish I could get out of here, you know? Hit the road, head for Toronto or somewhere and reinvent myself.”
I rolled my eyes. How many times had I heard that reasoning in my life? At least four of every ten people I’ve ever met in my life once said the same thing. Like Toronto would fix every little problem you had in your life; like urban poverty would act as a panacea to everything that ailed you. I told her as much, which quieted her down.
“It’d still be better than this shithole,” she said, finally.
“Yeah well, newsflash, kiddo: If you can’t be happy here, you won’t be happy there. If you can’t be happy with yourself it won’t matter where you live.”
“Oh, and you’re the fucking spokesman for self-satisfaction, now?” She was starting to get heated. I took a breath and reminded myself to keep my eyes on the prize.
“I’m not saying that. I’m just saying I’ve known a lot of people who hit the 401 looking for meaning in their lives, and all they get is an empty checking account and a barrel of burned out brain vessels.”
She was silent again. “I appreciate your concern, but it’s not like I’m going anytime soon, so let’s just drop it.”
I sighed. “Fine.”
“Are you working at all tomorrow?”
“I have a shift at the paper, but that doesn’t start until four o’clock. Why?”
“I’m on two to nine tomorrow. Did you want to meet for lunch?”
Out for lunch again? I thought, Does this broad know how to make a sandwich? I did some rough math in my head, determined I really couldn’t afford to go out for another meal, then agreed to meet her at Devonshire anyway for 12.30 the next afternoon. We said our goodbyes and hung up.
At over a million square feet, Devonshire Mall is Windsor’s marquee consumerist behemoth, simultaneously illustrating all that is awful and awesome about shopping centres. Packed with all the typical soul bludgeoning amenities found at any other mall, it is the giant of local commerce, a grotesque monolith on the retail landscape sprawling its obscene mass along Howard Avenue just off of E.C. Row Expressway, recognized by Guiness as the shortest expressway that took the longest to construct at 16 kilometres in 16 years. What a uniquely Windsorian distinction.
I found Sasha in one of the mall intersections, leaning on a fountain that had sat dry for at least the previous three years. Since she was headed to work following our meeting, she was dressed more conservatively than she would normally have been, in a navy blouse with black slacks and chunky flats. She had her hair tied back in a simple bun and wore glasses with frames of thick black plastic, straight out of the hipster closeout bin. She greeted me with a hug and stonewalled me on a kiss again, which I half expected.
“So I was thinking,” I said, “I really don’t have a lot of disposable cash to be eating out all the time. I still wanted to hang out, so I’m here, but unless you were looking to go somewhere dirt cheap, I’ll probably just watch you eat.”
“Actually, I wanted to go to the Zellers restaurant. Doesn’t get cheaper than that.”
“Zellers has a restaurant?” I stammered in disbelief.
“Um, yeah? I thought everyone knew that.”
“I don’t think I can eat at the Zellers restaurant.”
“What? Why not?”
“Because the entire store smells like a forty dollar tire, and I don’t consider that conducive to a quality dining experience.”
She was irritated again. “Listen, professor, my pockets aren’t exactly swollen, either. I’m hungry, I don’t have time to shop for groceries and I need something I can get cheap and in a hurry. So if you want to see me today, you come to the Zellers restaurant.”
Ten minutes later I found myself seated in a vinyl booth staring at a barely cooked grilled cheese laid on a nest of greasy fries that stained the checkered wax paper beneath it transparent.
“Not bad, eh?” said Sasha, spitting bits of her club wrap onto the table.
“Fantastic,” I said. “Look, I don’t think any amount of ketchup will save this, can I have a bite of your wrap?” I reached across the table and grabbed her untouched portion.
Sasha lightly slapped my wrist, “Hey now, I don’t share food like that. I’ll save you some when I’m done.”
“Huh? What’s the big deal?”
She scrunched her nose. “I just don’t like the idea of your spit mingling all over my food.”
“Good God,” I said, laughing, “we’re on the fast track to fluid exchange here, and you’re worried about a little spit on your club wrap?”
She didn’t laugh, just stared at me, puzzled. “What are you talking about?”
“You know. This,” I said, gesturing at the her and I, the table, the food, the restaurant. “Us. I mean, why are we here, right? Where’s this headed?”
Sasha squeezed her unplucked eyebrows together, “Do you think I want to sleep with you?”
Even if I had tried to lie, the look on my face would have answered for me, “Well, yeah. I mean, look where we met.”
“I don’t go on that site looking for sex,” she said in a measured, even voice. “I go there to meet new people.”
“Oh come on, you can meet new people anywhere, that’s not why people go there. But fine, let’s say I believe that. What about the pictures, the way we used to talk online, what about that?”
“That has nothing to do with wanting to have sex with you.”
“What? How the hell do you figure? You sent me pictures of you sucking some random guy’s dick! You told me flat out you couldn’t wait to do the same with me. But everytime I see you, you shut me down completely.”
“I sent you those pictures before I met you in person,” she said.
“Really? All right, fine. So you’re not interested in me like that.” Once the neon sign above her head switched off, I was repulsed by her, and by myself for ending up in the situation in the first place. “So what are we doing here, Sasha?”
She stared at her food, the puddle of ketchup and vinegar next to her fries, the discarded toothpick that held her sandwich together. “We’re here because I thought we were friends.”
I stood up, pulled out my wallet and fished out a 20 dollar bill. I didn’t care how much money I was wasting, it was worth it to me to be out of there.
Part of me felt foolish in the same way I used to feel standing just over Mark’s shoulder as he made the girls in our class laugh, but mostly I felt foolish for allowing myself to become the asshole who drops a girl when she won’t put out, for every allowing myself to be in such a position in the first place.
“You know what?” I said, tossing the money on the table, “I have enough friends. I really do. So, it was nice meeting you, and good luck with your blossoming career as a masseuse and that whole, ‘escaping your reputation’ thing.”
“Why are you putting on such a show?” she said, looking up at me. Her eyes weren’t glassy, she wasn’t about to cry, I don’t think she was hurt in the least. I think she felt sorry for me, which only irritated me more.
“I’m putting on a show because you lied to me. I started seeing you with a certain idea about where this was headed, and you knew that. You felt the opposite and said nothing. So essentially, I wasted my time.”
“Why can you never say anything with authority?”
I stuck my arms out and looked at the ceiling. “Lord help me, what the hell does that mean?”
“‘Essentially,’ ‘practically,’ ‘you know,’—every sentence that comes out of your mouth has some sort of qualifier, like you want the other person to be okay with what you’re saying, or you’re hedging your bets in case you’re wrong. Why can’t you just say what the hell you want and stand by it?”
“Is that why I don’t get to fuck you?”
She refused to be injured by my blunt weaponry. “Partly, yes.”
I threw on my shoulder bag and hat. “Yeah, well, at least I can sleep soundly knowing my dick won’t be featured in the next photographic exhibit you pass around to the next series of random guys.”
A tight, thin smile extended across her mouth and she narrowed her eyes at me and shook her head slightly. I left the restaurant and didn’t think about Sasha for four years, when the cops called me in for questioning.