The Drowning Gull 1 - Page 37

costing more than four hundred per hour for personal training- but he’s generous in private. That dude decided that teaching me calisthenics would be his annual charitable act.

I’m cool with a Ukrainian hunk giving me money to keep me in shape. However, since I try to keep my establishment drug and alcohol free, Vyachi never gets varenukha here. In balance, I supply that muscle man with a hot cup of water-based sbiten every time he visits.

When Vyachi left, I was sweating and shaking. I didn’t think a woman of my age could sustain a plank so long, let alone complete more than one hundred lunges.

Alan Kieven is next, luckily. Alan seeks nothing more than hearsay. To that man- boy and would-be international blogger, there is nothing sexier than canard wrapped up in a rhetorical basque.

Over the years, thanks to Alan, I have learned all sorts of impressive sayings and have added a full college degree’s worth of vocabulary to my brain. Of course I accommodate him when, once in a great while, he asks to try on blindfolds or to practice putting handcuffs on the edge of my favourite chair. Alan is an easy and mentally stimulating client. I ought to pay him.

Leland Brown, a pastry chef, too, is a regular. He unfailingly books appointments, every Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday for the hour between the end of his shift and his commute home. Leland’s joy is puff pastry. He actually showers money on me to eat those delicacies fresh from his bakery. Leland asks only that he is restrained while I inhale his glorious calories. He says it’s worth my “inflated” price to witness someone appreciate his creations.

I don’t know how a bulimic would be able to relieve that man. My blood sugar takes a full day to stabilize after each of his visits.

Around five, I take time off for dinner and to shop online. Every other day, I have Meat and Herbs drop off groceries to my apartment door. I also use the Internet to make sure dry cleaning, newspaper delivery, and other sundry tasks get completed; it would be unpleasant for Howie if my long work hours cut into my domestic duties.

Evenings are my busiest time since most of my clients are office workers. I often get home after midnight, so Uber’s private car hire has been a real boon to me.

Wayne Matly, for instance, has booked and put a deposit down on all of my weekday

seven o’clocks for the next three years. He says talking to me is cheaper than therapy and that I am a lot prettier than his former analyst. Wayne claims venting after work, but before getting home, has saved his marriage, and has made him a better dad.

He insists I stay completely covered while he exorcises his feelings and that we talk near the waiting room fish tank rather than in my office. The arrangement suits me as long as he clears the premises at least five minutes before my eight-thirty client, Randolph Dans, shows up. Wayne suddenly “forgets” about time when we’re together and it’s important to me that I get into costume before Randolph, a traditionalist, arrives.

Every other week, Randolph is followed by Ted and Ned Kadlec. Teresa and Natalie, as their mother named them, are shy twins. They hire me to teach them how to enliven their marriages. So far, we have gotten to how to unbutton the first three closures of a business shirt.

The trouble with the twins is that they are conflicted. They say to want to learn spice from me, but half of our time is given over to their jib jab. Those sisters get so intensely caught up with each other’s lives and with their imaginings of how the human body works that I often have to stop our lessons. I’ve accepted that they come into my shop as much to connect with each other as to pick up skills. I make sure the coffee pot is running before they arrive.

I asked Ted and Ned how they manage to take so much time, on a regular basis, away from their busy households. They shrieked and giggled in answer, saying that their husbands thought they were enrolled in a dance class; because their men felt guilty about having accomplished wives stay home to raise kids, their recreation plans never get questioned.

My eleven o’clock is sometimes filled by Bao. He’s a performance artist. “Mimesis,” he lectures at me, is all about subtleties. He’s offered me street status and nickel bags in exchange for my consent for him to film our interactions. I always offer him the door in response.

There are times when he doesn’t whine or wheedle about being unable to capture our activities for an audience. When he arrives high, I merely have to share with him any YouTube home repair show. He’ll stare contently at my smart phone’s screen for the better part of his hour.

I usually close up after Bao’s gone. Sometimes I accept a twelve fifteen. Only one person is permitted in that slot, and her name is Annabelle Tanner.

Annabelle is a street person. She “pays” me for her hour of warmth and unlimited cups of Earl Grey, plus all of the leftovers I stash from Leland’s visits, with stories. She’s seen an alligator climb out of a sewer pipe, a cop give a drug runner most of a six pack of doughnuts, and the splat that used to be the person that jumped from one of our city’s highest buildings.

That wizened lady likes to try on my feather boas and six inch heels. We laugh together, too, as she pronounces her imagined uses for my chevalet and my sawhorse. Most of those applications are directed at the nasties that demand graft from the homeless. None of those visualisations include safe words.

When her session is over, Annabelle helps me- while wearing the latex gloves I always insist that she don for her own protection- sweep up all manner of debris from both my office and my lobby. I wish I could afford to hire her, even on a part-time basis, to be my cleaning lady. I wish I could rent an apartment for her-- or, in the least, cut through the red tape that keeps her from finding a spot in the closest shelter. I wish, too, for world peace.

Sometimes, Annabelle eyes my stack of sleep sacks and mutters that it would be great if I could spare an old one; that the bridge she lives under is cold in the winter. If hydration was not a safety issue with such toys, I would gladly give her a new one. Other times, she looks at my row of hobble skirts and asks if I have an extra to spare. Again, concern for her well-being makes me always say “no.”

Tonight, at least, I have that basket of kittens she can choose from. I give her the one she holds to her chest. I know that Annabelle’s kitten will run away from her cardboard box and might, consequently, drown in the river. I can’t decide if giving Annabelle is a pet is a kindness or a cruelty.

After she leaves, I gently set the rest of the wee felines into a carton that I had punctured with holes. Howie will be surprised. What’s more, we'll have to find a pet sitter for them while we visit Mammoth Spring’s karst system and otherwise gambol among the bare peach trees of Oregon County’s December.

Issue #1