This is how I solicit outside the laundromat. Or what I whisper into the ears of the loneliest looking souls at the bowling alley, to those coming out of a bar at 2 a.m. on Tuesday night, or to those colored blue under cheap halogen light, pushing a squeaky-wheeled cart through linoleum aisles.
And you’d be surprised how many people express an interest. You’d be surprised how many people need a cuddle.
$11 an hour I tell them.
Then I lead the way, through dark avenues, the side streets, to the place I live, and down the cellar stairs to my cuddle den.
In darkness it’s incredible what you can find. The things to be discovered. How the other senses heighten in the absence of sight. You wouldn’t believe the smells, what I have felt.
There are rules. New customers read the list on the door. Returning clients know the drill. I have pepper spray in case there is a wild one too big for me to handle or an elderly with fragile skin and brittle bones that I don’t want to damage but need to control.
No Bodily Fluids (tears excluded)
I’ve gotten to know many of my clients. And I don’t mean their name, or their job, or how many kids they have. I’m talking about their contours, their shapes, the sharp edge of an ankle bone, the squish of their love handles. Big spoon or little spoon.
I have my own rule: No Attachments.
But there is the girl who comes straight from yoga. This is an invisible force, attraction, magnetism, a true feeling. Usually I don’t allow whispering. But there’s always a tingling in her skin. A tingling that even I can feel, a tingling that after a few sessions needed to be explained.
“Why can I feel your tingling with my hand,” I asked.
She said, “Prana, life force.”
And I whispered, even though my rules say not to, that I’m falling in love. She whispered back, and I shouldn’t have let her, but I did, even though my rules say not to.
“This is your cosmic place,” she told me.
“Then I want you here, with me,” I said.
She pointed to the list on the door. “You made them for a reason.”
Normally there are curtains. That night they were drawn back. And the moonlight shone through onto our snuggling bodies, our underground bodies.
The yoga girl slid toward the end of my beanbag bed. Her leg – her perfectly toned, smooth-skinned leg that tingled with life – stretched, only for a moment, into the rectangle of silvery blue light. In the glint her skin looked like metal; some make-believe metal that I’ll never know.
Dennis Scott Herbert is a winner of the Toy Wilson Blethen Fine Arts award and recent MFA graduate from Minnesota State University, Mankato, where he hosted the Writer’s Bloc Reading Series and served as managing editor for the Blue Earth Review. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Paper Darts, the Minnesota Review, Smokelong Quarterly, and Hobart among others.