I lead them into the third room. Second from the back, not the best space but they only give that one to larger groups anyway. We exchange pleasantries. They seem disinterested in their drinks, never a good sign. I am of course also disinterested as it tastes like nail polish remover. Nevertheless it's become a necessity in scenarios such as this. I delude myself into seeing it as a personal custom, bordering on religious practice. I urge myself to find the beauty in the consumption of overpriced, over branded battery acid I wouldn't be able to legally procure for another year in my country. Like a pre-concert vocal warm-up, or a dangerously under-washed jersey on game day, I cling to my clear, burning tradition. I throw back the luke warm pre-amble and cover my grimace with a laugh, though neither of them has said anything funny. Or anything at all.
"May we see?" one of them asks.
Such gallant inquisition, I think. "MAY we" as if the queen herself had asked me to undress.
"Sure. If you'd like." I say in a tipsy semblance of coyness. I begin swaying slightly to the music and turn away, knowing my face is not what they've journeyed cross continent for. I get about thirty seconds of interpersonal avoidance before they interject.
"May we see now please." The other one says in a tone I couldn’t identify as a question.
I shimmy onto a cushion positioned in front of them. A sort of make-shift stage in this particular set up. I continue to wobble slightly because I've been told by the other girls that “movement is sexy.” A co-worker had given me the advice: “Always be moving. It keeps them on their toes, makes it harder for them to touch you.” Several months ahead of me in the game, I considered her an authority on the matter.
"Open please" he utters. I cannot remember names and quite honestly struggled to differentiate between the two in the moment. They were carbon copies. As uniform in gelled, even hairstyle and fresh pressed suits as they were in tact. I lay back and opened my legs, zoning out as I usually did at this point.
I oblige, begrudgingly wondering when the last time was either of them had to split themselves in two atop a glorified throw pillow.
They make sounds like they haven’t eaten in days. Jumping between predator and child like, delighted and surprised by the candy treat their parents had brought home. I am still in tact but I feel layers of myself peeling away. Like a band aid that’s been left too long. The grey sludge up around the edges, leaving you wondering how such a thing could reside on or be produced in part by your own body. You pull it slowly, feeling every microfibre strain against your skin until finally you are free. Left with an itchy, red ringed outline to remember.
I try to move, shuffle a few inches here and there, a futile attempt to diffuse focus. I am quickly reprimanded. Nicely though. Quiet and matter of fact. Their softness is almost worse than the usual gruffness of local customers. It makes it harder to feel indignant, like they are my enemies and I am above them with their brute, animalistic needs.
"May we see inside?" They ask, clinical as a doctor requesting symptoms.
I was dumbfounded. Most patrons weren't so brazen. Most were content with what you offered them. There was implicit power in the hands of the client and more often than not, that suited them. The suggestion of control was enough without outlandish petitions for deeper anatomy. It seemed I had no choice. I'd come this far. After all, I'd put myself in a position that allowed them to believe they had the right to demand these things. I felt I had to accept some degree of responsibility.
I set my mind on it. This is procedure. This is a means to an end. No room for insecurity in business. Is there also no room for humanity? Or discussion? Or a millisecond of critical thinking? I push the questions out of my mind as they do little to fill my bank account or fight back the tears. I reach between my legs and place one finger on either side. Both digits stretch outwards. I know logically that time observes a certain set of principles. It adheres to numeric values; 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour, and as far as I know, it follows a linear pattern (pumped up masters students and time travel advocates, I look forward to your letters). But I swear in the moments that followed, things changed. Extra seconds wriggled in, found room where scientists once thought there was none.
I feel like a cadaver. On display with nothing to say about it. No ability whatsoever to commandeer the situation. I am struck by the plight of science class frogs. Lain on a pan, pins in their legs, some testosterone soaked pimple popper ogling their insides for grades. I suddenly wish I had taken those drinks off their hands.
Years pass in my head. Spring turns to summer, summer to fall and still they show no sign of boredom. Their unrelenting stares are peppered with heart warming remarks like "hmm" and "they're different in Japan." Somehow the singularity of my demonstration brings me little comfort. Originality is rarely what one strives for with ones' genitals.
I do my best to ignore literally everything around me and await the whimsical chime of a security guard's voice telling us our time is up. In the meantime, I revisit my friend in the high school lab. My stomach wrenches with the sorrow of it all. At least I could get up after this humiliation ended. My poor amphibian cohorts could not. Unlike me, they didn’t get to close their legs, look their dissectors in the eye and say thank you. They did not get to rise on shaky, landlocked legs and face the day. Maybe what I felt wasn't sympathy, but jealousy? Maybe I wanted this to be the final stop instead of simply the next one. Perhaps I wanted to sink into the floor and leave this behind instead of watching Man 1 wipe sweat from his brow while Man 2 put a stick of gum in his mouth without blinking.
My assessment is cut short as security (not his birth name) raps his fist against the wall before pulling back the curtain.
“Times up fellas. Did you want to extend?”
I know it’s his job to ask that but I sometimes wished he wouldn’t.
“Yes. Another 30 minutes please.”
Security grunts his approval and takes his leave.
The three of us smile at each other as I flex my feet to keep my hamstrings from going numb.
“Would you guys like me to do anything else? I could dance, or we could talk, did you want another drink?”
“No thank you. Just stay there please. Don’t move please.”
Thrilled to continue my career as a statue my mind returns to wandering. What was that Mary Kate and Ashley movie with Eugene Levy called? Was he a full grown adult man literally chasing teenage girls through several city jurisdictions? Who hired him to do that? Why was that a chill form of employment that the audience, myself included, just accepted?
My head snaps up. “Hey, do you guys know Mary Kate and Ashley?”
“They work here? We only want one. Thank you.”
It seems Eugene is off the hook for today. My speaking seems to annoy Man 1 and Man 2. They would never say that but a big part of this job is reading people. I stay quiet for the remainder of our time together. Eventually we part ways. They thank me three times each and hand me $200 dollars as a tip. I take it easy for the rest of my shift and cash out early so I can get a veggie wrap across the street before it closes.
I cut across the square, then the park, swapping concrete for slightly less concrete. I gingerly enter my apartment, trying not to wake anyone up. I go into the bathroom, smudge black down my cheek with the back of my hand and think about how weird it is that water is see through as I cover my face by the handful with soap in between. The contoured illusion of cheekbones washes down the drain. I get into bed, pulling my computer onto my lap. I sink down against the pillows, inch my duvet into place and settle in to watch the timeless classic (the name of which I now remembered); New York Minute.
Stoness Verda is currently based in Toronto, Canada. She is a queer anti-capitalist and intersectional environmental advocate interested in writing, performing and mixed media installations. They want world peace and clear skin, but will settle for a pet pig if anyone has the hookup.