Renee pulled her car to the curb and double checked the address on the GPS. It was a house. The woman on the phone made no mention of working from home. Renee got out of her car and walked up the driveway, the concrete chewed up from too much salt, Renee watched her step, careful to not let a heel disappear in a pockmark.

     The front door matched the drive. Disrepair, paint peeling away revealing other colors, each one an uglier shade of faded. Renee hesitantly pushed the doorbell. Please be the wrong place.

     The door opened and a tiny woman stood on the other side “Hi. I’m Armand Fell. You must be Renee. It’s a pleasure, please come in.”

     Inside, the house was tidy. But it was still a house. Renee felt odd and resisted the urge to turn tail and go back to her car. “You have a lovely home,” she said with only the slightest bit of snark in her voice, “Armand.” The word tasted wrong on Renee’s tongue.

     “Thank you.”

     Armand led Renee to a door, the basement door. Renee followed her down the steps into an unfinished space flanked by laundry baskets, cardboard boxes and a washer-dryer combo stacked on top of one another. Handing Renee a crisp white sheet, “You can undress over there.”

     Over there was behind a sheer, strung to the rafters. On the other side was a bench and a coat hook. Renee couldn’t take it any longer, she wanted to leave.

     “You alright in there?” Armand’s shadow moved on the other side.

     “What? Oh, yes. Just one second.” Weary of staying and too ashamed to walk out for fear of what her friends might think if she chickened out on what they all described as the best massage of their lives; Renee undressed and wrapped the sheet around her body.

     The concrete floor was cold on Renee’s bare feet as she tip-toed to a foldaway massage table arranged in the middle of the room. Armand was moving clothes from the washer to the dryer and seemed in no hurry. “Go ahead and lie down, I’ll be just one second.”

     “Well I never,” Renee thought. Then Renee did. Face down on the cold vinyl table while the massage therapist hung a pair of pants and started a new load. The smell of bleach stung Renee’s nose. Then she felt something. Cold. Wet. On her feet.

     “Brewster. Scoot! Go lay down.” Armand stomped her foot as she spoke and the click-clack-click of an animal marching led out of the room.

     “Just so you know I’m allergic to dogs.”

     Armand washed her hands and lathered them in a thick coat of moisturizer. “Don’t worry about Brewster, I’ll keep him out of here.” Armand dug in. “First we’ll start with some light Aston Patterning, release some of that ugly tension built up in your neck, back and legs.”

     Armand’s hands moved over Renee’s muscles, the fingers poking and prodding, untying knots. From the doorway, an unfamiliar voice shouted. “Mom! Aunt Diane’s on the phone. She wants your potluck potato recipe!”

     Unfazed, “I can’t talk right now. I’m with a client. I’ll call her back.”

     The voice, a young girl, shouted down the steps again. “She says she needs it for tonight. She’s at the grocery store.”

     “Fine! The recipe’s in the drawer next to the fridge.”

     With that the basement door slammed shut.

     “Okay, now that we’ve loosened you up a bit, let’s work on some deep tissue movements.” Armand went on about her business and Renee focused on not whimpering when Armand’s small but strong hands grazed tender spots.

     At some point Armand flipped on a radio, the sound of music drifted into the room. Easy listening patched in with advertisements for vinyl siding and the latest tour of reality show castoffs coming to town. Armand kneaded Renee’s muscles with precision.

     “Honey? Where are the barbecue chips? All I can find are the sour cream and onion ones. You know I hate sour cream and onion.” A man’s voice boomed down the laundry chute.

     Pressing firmly with her palm on the back of Renee’s thigh, “They’re in the pantry, behind the pasta.”

     This time at the basement door, “I looked there, I can’t find them.”

     “Did you actually move the pasta boxes and look behind them?”

     Silence. Then, “Um. Thanks hon.”  

     Refocused on Renee, “Now we’re going to shift gears a bit and use some light shiatsu massage to really work these poor muscles.”

     Renee didn’t say anything as Armand sent shivers of therapeutic pain up and down her spine. Instead, she mumbled to herself, inside her head. What kind of dog and pony show is this? But as much as she wanted to speak up or better yet stand up, get dressed and storm out, she…

     “Mom! Jimmy’s practicing his sword swallowing again and he won’t let me watch.” The whine of another little girl, her voice painful on unaccustomed ears.

     Armand sighed and began to work with one hand, the other applying pressure to the back of her own neck. “Tell your brother to let you watch and if he says no, tell him he can kiss his fire breathing lessons goodbye.”

     In the chipper, vindictive way that siblings speak when they one-up one another. “Okay!”

     Two hands back on Renee. Working harder. More firmly. The sound of a boy shrieking in agony over his little sister getting her way echoed through the floor. Followed by the scraping clank of someone tearing down the steps.

     “Robert Matthew Greer! What have I told you about wearing your skates in the house?” Armand fumed.

     Instinctively, Renee pulled the sheet tighter attempting to camouflage any parts of her that had come uncovered. Robert talked fast. Too fast. Everything he said blurred into one long mish-mash of a word. “YouWon’tBelieveWhatHappenedToddWasGoingForALoosePuckAndWeDidn’tHaveTheWholeRinkSomeFrooFrooIceBalletThingWasPracticingOnTheOtherSideSpinningInCirclesAndShitAndAPrettyOneJoeSaidHerNameWasTiffanySpunReallyFastAndCaughtToddInTheHandWhenHerSkateCameDownAndCoachWellMike’sOlderBrotherHe’sUnofficialAssistantCoachHeThinksToddMightLoseHisPinkyPlusHeGotTiffany’sNumberFuckYeah!”

     “Watch your language and take your skates off in the house.” Armand’s words fell on deaf ears as her son tore back up the steps.

     The sound of the door slamming was followed by a loud crack and crash. A horn blared outside.

“Hey Honey? The mailman just crashed into our mailbox. What do you think I should do? He’s not moving,” Armand’s husband shouted down the laundry chute, “No. Wait. He’s moving. I think he’s okay. Nevermind.”

     Armand neverminded and pushed hard with her thumbs. Working up and down Renee’s spinal column, flexing the joints. The joints of her own hands popping with each effort.

     A little girl, one of many it seemed, yelled from the top of the steps. “Brewster ate his tail. He really ate it! It’s gone. And I think he ate Miss Garvillo’s cat, he keeps coughing up calico colored fur.”

     “Calico isn’t a color. Just stick him in the back yard. He’ll be fine.”

     Another girl chimed in through the laundry chute. “I think he’s been into my doll collection, all of the Barbie’s are bald now. Even Tropical Princess Barbie. She had the prettiest hair!”

     Turning her face up to the laundry chute, Armand shouted back, explaining that Brewster didn’t shave her Barbie’s, if anything it was probably her brother and pleading with her daughter and anyone else who might be in earshot, “Will you please leave me alone? Can’t you see I’m with a client?”

     “No. It was Brewster. He’s coughing up Barbie colored fur now. I think I should put him outside.” The girl replied and then dropped a pair of dirty socks and a now useless Barbie wardrobe including a white coat belonging to veterinarian Barbie, possibly butcher shop Barbie down the chute, the miniature uniform landing on Renee’s head.

     Armand brushed the sock and coat away and continued pressing and pulling. Smoothing and tugging. For a few minutes it was just the two of them and an instrumental mix of “Copacabana” on the radio.

     “Mom! Grandma’s at the door.” It was the boy.

     “James Ryan, that’s not funny. You shouldn’t joke about the dead.”

     Indignant, “I’m not joking. She’s scratching at it. She doesn’t look happy.”

     “Hey hon? He’s not kidding. It’s your mom alright.” The husband assured her.

     “Oh? Well, open the back gate and call for her. She and Brewster can play until I’m done down here.”

     “Alright.” Said the boy.

     “And Jimmy?”

     “Yeah?”

     “Don’t let Grandma eat the dog,” then thinking for a moment, “And don’t let the dog eat grandma.”

     Renee had had enough. She lifted her face, the skin on her forehead sticking to the vinyl as she pulled away. “This has been one of the least relaxing…”

     Armand cut Renee off. “My deepest apologies. It isn’t normally like this, but kids are kids. And husbands, well they’re husbands.”

     “That doesn’t excuse…”

     “Let me make it up to you. Let’s call it half off this session and your next?”

     Renee thought for a moment. The massage itself had been decadent. Her muscles had never felt so relaxed after an hour at the spa. But the chaos. She wasn’t so sure there was going to be a next time.

     “Not sold? Half off today, half off next time and I’ll even throw in a happy ending. How about it?”

     Renee turned seven shades of red and pulled the sheet tight. “Well I never. I should report you. This. This. I.” She couldn’t spit the words out until the ones she couldn’t imagine herself saying came out, “Um, okay.”

     Renee turned over and pulled the sheet up covering her face, uncovering everything else while Armand went and reapplied some lotion. “Before we wrap up here, should I go ahead and schedule you for the same time next week?”

-END-

Renee pulled her car to the curb and double checked the address on the GPS. It was a house. The woman on the phone made no mention of working from home. Renee got out of her car and walked up the driveway, the concrete chewed up from too much salt, Renee watched her step, careful to not let a heel disappear in a pockmark.

     The front door matched the drive. Disrepair, paint peeling away revealing other colors, each one an uglier shade of faded. Renee hesitantly pushed the doorbell. Please be the wrong place.

     The door opened and a tiny woman stood on the other side “Hi. I’m Armand Fell. You must be Renee. It’s a pleasure, please come in.”

     Inside, the house was tidy. But it was still a house. Renee felt odd and resisted the urge to turn tail and go back to her car. “You have a lovely home,” she said with only the slightest bit of snark in her voice, “Armand.” The word tasted wrong on Renee’s tongue.

     “Thank you.”

     Armand led Renee to a door, the basement door. Renee followed her down the steps into an unfinished space flanked by laundry baskets, cardboard boxes and a washer-dryer combo stacked on top of one another. Handing Renee a crisp white sheet, “You can undress over there.”

     Over there was behind a sheer, strung to the rafters. On the other side was a bench and a coat hook. Renee couldn’t take it any longer, she wanted to leave.

     “You alright in there?” Armand’s shadow moved on the other side.

     “What? Oh, yes. Just one second.” Weary of staying and too ashamed to walk out for fear of what her friends might think if she chickened out on what they all described as the best massage of their lives; Renee undressed and wrapped the sheet around her body.

     The concrete floor was cold on Renee’s bare feet as she tip-toed to a foldaway massage table arranged in the middle of the room. Armand was moving clothes from the washer to the dryer and seemed in no hurry. “Go ahead and lie down, I’ll be just one second.”

     “Well I never,” Renee thought. Then Renee did. Face down on the cold vinyl table while the massage therapist hung a pair of pants and started a new load. The smell of bleach stung Renee’s nose. Then she felt something. Cold. Wet. On her feet.

     “Brewster. Scoot! Go lay down.” Armand stomped her foot as she spoke and the click-clack-click of an animal marching led out of the room.

     “Just so you know I’m allergic to dogs.”

     Armand washed her hands and lathered them in a thick coat of moisturizer. “Don’t worry about Brewster, I’ll keep him out of here.” Armand dug in. “First we’ll start with some light Aston Patterning, release some of that ugly tension built up in your neck, back and legs.”

     Armand’s hands moved over Renee’s muscles, the fingers poking and prodding, untying knots. From the doorway, an unfamiliar voice shouted. “Mom! Aunt Diane’s on the phone. She wants your potluck potato recipe!”

     Unfazed, “I can’t talk right now. I’m with a client. I’ll call her back.”

     The voice, a young girl, shouted down the steps again. “She says she needs it for tonight. She’s at the grocery store.”

     “Fine! The recipe’s in the drawer next to the fridge.”

     With that the basement door slammed shut.

     “Okay, now that we’ve loosened you up a bit, let’s work on some deep tissue movements.” Armand went on about her business and Renee focused on not whimpering when Armand’s small but strong hands grazed tender spots.

     At some point Armand flipped on a radio, the sound of music drifted into the room. Easy listening patched in with advertisements for vinyl siding and the latest tour of reality show castoffs coming to town. Armand kneaded Renee’s muscles with precision.

     “Honey? Where are the barbecue chips? All I can find are the sour cream and onion ones. You know I hate sour cream and onion.” A man’s voice boomed down the laundry chute.

     Pressing firmly with her palm on the back of Renee’s thigh, “They’re in the pantry, behind the pasta.”

     This time at the basement door, “I looked there, I can’t find them.”

     “Did you actually move the pasta boxes and look behind them?”

     Silence. Then, “Um. Thanks hon.”  

     Refocused on Renee, “Now we’re going to shift gears a bit and use some light shiatsu massage to really work these poor muscles.”

     Renee didn’t say anything as Armand sent shivers of therapeutic pain up and down her spine. Instead, she mumbled to herself, inside her head. What kind of dog and pony show is this? But as much as she wanted to speak up or better yet stand up, get dressed and storm out, she…

     “Mom! Jimmy’s practicing his sword swallowing again and he won’t let me watch.” The whine of another little girl, her voice painful on unaccustomed ears.

     Armand sighed and began to work with one hand, the other applying pressure to the back of her own neck. “Tell your brother to let you watch and if he says no, tell him he can kiss his fire breathing lessons goodbye.”

     In the chipper, vindictive way that siblings speak when they one-up one another. “Okay!”

     Two hands back on Renee. Working harder. More firmly. The sound of a boy shrieking in agony over his little sister getting her way echoed through the floor. Followed by the scraping clank of someone tearing down the steps.

     “Robert Matthew Greer! What have I told you about wearing your skates in the house?” Armand fumed.

     Instinctively, Renee pulled the sheet tighter attempting to camouflage any parts of her that had come uncovered. Robert talked fast. Too fast. Everything he said blurred into one long mish-mash of a word. “YouWon’tBelieveWhatHappenedToddWasGoingForALoosePuckAndWeDidn’tHaveTheWholeRinkSomeFrooFrooIceBalletThingWasPracticingOnTheOtherSideSpinningInCirclesAndShitAndAPrettyOneJoeSaidHerNameWasTiffanySpunReallyFastAndCaughtToddInTheHandWhenHerSkateCameDownAndCoachWellMike’sOlderBrotherHe’sUnofficialAssistantCoachHeThinksToddMightLoseHisPinkyPlusHeGotTiffany’sNumberFuckYeah!”

     “Watch your language and take your skates off in the house.” Armand’s words fell on deaf ears as her son tore back up the steps.

     The sound of the door slamming was followed by a loud crack and crash. A horn blared outside.

“Hey Honey? The mailman just crashed into our mailbox. What do you think I should do? He’s not moving,” Armand’s husband shouted down the laundry chute, “No. Wait. He’s moving. I think he’s okay. Nevermind.”

     Armand neverminded and pushed hard with her thumbs. Working up and down Renee’s spinal column, flexing the joints. The joints of her own hands popping with each effort.

     A little girl, one of many it seemed, yelled from the top of the steps. “Brewster ate his tail. He really ate it! It’s gone. And I think he ate Miss Garvillo’s cat, he keeps coughing up calico colored fur.”

     “Calico isn’t a color. Just stick him in the back yard. He’ll be fine.”

     Another girl chimed in through the laundry chute. “I think he’s been into my doll collection, all of the Barbie’s are bald now. Even Tropical Princess Barbie. She had the prettiest hair!”

     Turning her face up to the laundry chute, Armand shouted back, explaining that Brewster didn’t shave her Barbie’s, if anything it was probably her brother and pleading with her daughter and anyone else who might be in earshot, “Will you please leave me alone? Can’t you see I’m with a client?”

     “No. It was Brewster. He’s coughing up Barbie colored fur now. I think I should put him outside.” The girl replied and then dropped a pair of dirty socks and a now useless Barbie wardrobe including a white coat belonging to veterinarian Barbie, possibly butcher shop Barbie down the chute, the miniature uniform landing on Renee’s head.

     Armand brushed the sock and coat away and continued pressing and pulling. Smoothing and tugging. For a few minutes it was just the two of them and an instrumental mix of “Copacabana” on the radio.

     “Mom! Grandma’s at the door.” It was the boy.

     “James Ryan, that’s not funny. You shouldn’t joke about the dead.”

     Indignant, “I’m not joking. She’s scratching at it. She doesn’t look happy.”

     “Hey hon? He’s not kidding. It’s your mom alright.” The husband assured her.

     “Oh? Well, open the back gate and call for her. She and Brewster can play until I’m done down here.”

     “Alright.” Said the boy.

     “And Jimmy?”

     “Yeah?”

     “Don’t let Grandma eat the dog,” then thinking for a moment, “And don’t let the dog eat grandma.”

     Renee had had enough. She lifted her face, the skin on her forehead sticking to the vinyl as she pulled away. “This has been one of the least relaxing…”

     Armand cut Renee off. “My deepest apologies. It isn’t normally like this, but kids are kids. And husbands, well they’re husbands.”

     “That doesn’t excuse…”

     “Let me make it up to you. Let’s call it half off this session and your next?”

     Renee thought for a moment. The massage itself had been decadent. Her muscles had never felt so relaxed after an hour at the spa. But the chaos. She wasn’t so sure there was going to be a next time.

     “Not sold? Half off today, half off next time and I’ll even throw in a happy ending. How about it?”

     Renee turned seven shades of red and pulled the sheet tight. “Well I never. I should report you. This. This. I.” She couldn’t spit the words out until the ones she couldn’t imagine herself saying came out, “Um, okay.”

     Renee turned over and pulled the sheet up covering her face, uncovering everything else while Armand went and reapplied some lotion. “Before we wrap up here, should I go ahead and schedule you for the same time next week?”

-END-

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