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Clutch -- Short Story
 

Clutch -- Short Story

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The short story I wrote for my Writing Fiction course at Babson College.

The short story I wrote for my Writing Fiction course at Babson College.

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    Clutch -- Short Story Clutch -- Short Story Document Transcript

    • Ross Andrew Simons Professor Mary O’ Donoghue ENG3605: Writing Fiction 11 November 2012 Clutch There was a knock at the door. Well, it’s hard to describe it as a knock.It was more like anapprehensive tap, just slightly more audible than a golf clap. The first knock from a newcustomer was always like that.She began to walk to the door, so quietly that the new customerwould not know. Then came the second trio of knocks, a little louder this time. Again, sheignored them. Then came the third. Clunk clunk clunk. Yes, that was what she was waiting for.Early on, she had found that if she answered the door on the first knock, the customer wouldenter the room with the same apprehension they knocked with. If she only waited until she heardthe clunking knocks, they would enter the room with much more conviction and confidence. Aminor detail, but an important one in her line of work. “Coming!” she yelled from the living room. Her heart always beat harder, the clunking type of beat, not the tapping type, as she walked tothe front door to greet the new client. It was fifteen feet away, but it felt more like fifty. Herthoughts bouncedaround, like a jumping bean, before expending their energy and sinking to thesoles of her feet. She’d open the door. Hi, how are you! I’m Jackie, nice to meet you Arny. Did you findthe place okay? Come in, come in! Just follow me, right this way. You can sit right there in theLa-Z-Boy, it’s very comfortable, isn’t it? Are you cold; would you like me to turn the heat up?Would you like something to drink? I have water, tea, chocolate milk; if you’d prefer something 1
    • stronger I can also make you a Jack n’ Coke. Chocolate milk? Okay! Now you just makeyourself right at home, I’ll be right back with your fresh chocolate milk, my mother’s personalrecipe, actually. That was basically how it went, give or take a little variety in the questions she asked.Sometimes she asked them about their family, though that was often a risky subject. Inintroduction emails, if they seemed like they were the type of person who lived for theirprofession, she asked them a few quick questions about their work: how’s your day off? Workingon any exciting projects? Does your job let you travel a lot? Those types of things. It always paidoff that she had a knack for understanding how to make others feel comfortable. These first fewmoments were so important. If she didn’t make them feel comfortable, things inevitably turnedawkward half an hour into their session.One thing that never changed was the drink question.She always asked it, without fail. It revealed a lot to her. If they refused the drink, or asked for water, she knew she had work to do. It was mostlythe uneasy customers who declined. They would be troubled, quiet, and often backed out beforethey went through with their session. That always sucked. She would lose a valuable thirtyminutes which she could have spent with a paying customer. If they answered tea, it revealed to her that they were happy enough with the situation toask for a drink, and would likely end up as a paying customer. It also revealed that they werenormal,well, as normal as a person enlisting her services could be. They’d come in, drink sometea, answer some questions, go to the bedroom, pay, and then leave. She had the goods; they hadthe needs and the means to obtain them. Bing bang boom, a simple transaction. The customers that ordered chocolate milk were her favorites. There was somethingchildish, infantile even, about a grown man asking for chocolate milk. They were mama’s boys. 2
    • They reached out to her, pulled her close, and wrapped around her like an octopus. They baredtheir souls to her. They let her in so she could fill every precious crevice. She was happy to dothis. She was willing to take their problems off their mind for a while. At a price, of course. Thetruth was, the chocolate milk wasn’t even her mother’s recipe. It was 2% Borden milk, withOvaltine chocolate powder, and a tiny pinch of salt. Describing it as her mother’s recipe wasreally just a ploy to make them feel closer. It’s the tiniest details that make the difference. Her least favorite customers ordered the Jack n’ Coke. Ah, those customers. She’d ratherthem be a water-drinker and just leave. But nope, they ordered the Jack n’ Coke and she knewthey would get grabby; something about the drink’s masculinity indicated the type of customerthey would be. She explicitly said in the Craigslist post that this was not an escort service. Firstwith one exclamation point. Then two. Then three. And then ten. She was a professional cuddler,and that was it. No kissing, no touching, and certainly no sex. But the Jack n’ Cokers alwaystried to ask for more. Please, they pleaded, with desperate eyes. I’ll pay extra, they pleaded, witha fat wallet. I’m big, they pleaded, with a lewd gesture. Just ugh. Vom. No thank you. They leftsoon after, feeling like they got ripped off. Some paid. Some didn’t. If they seemed a little tooaggressive, she didn’t even bother asking for payment. Her safety was worth more than that.Luckily for her, today’s client ordered chocolate milk. She had a lot of stuff to thinkabout.Adding a jack n’ coke to the mix would just be unreasonable. She had been pretty lonely. For years, really. She lost all desire for dating. Really,relationships just created complications. What happens if he doesn’t look like his profile picture?What if he lies to you? What if he’s secretly married? What if he has kids? What happens if youend up alone at his house? How many dates do you go on before you have sex? What if you feelobligated to fuck him because he spent so much money on you? 3
    • The last thing she wanted was to end up getting pricked by some prick. The last time thathappened was a big mistake.He hit it and quit it, for lack of a better phrase. It was less like a one-night stand and more like a one-hour stand. She had just broken up with her boyfriend and wasdrinking long island iced teas at the bar down the street. She was eighteen. Despite having a fakeID, she didn’t realize the long island was four types of alcohol with zero types of tea. He may nothave given her his real name, like she could remember it anyways, but she remembers the voice.It oozed the expectations of a boy that always got his way. It stretched out with tendrils, snakeddown her spine and slithered across her inner thighs. He leaned over to her ear with whiskeybreath, and whispered, “I’m going to make you mine tonight.” Her drunk mind thought it wassexy. Her sober mind regretted that. It lasted one hour. Fifty-eight minutes for brief conversation,traveling, undressing, and dressing. Two minutes of sex. Two months of pregnancy. Oh, and sixyears of regret, can’t forget that. Guess she got the shitty end of that transaction, huh. So, yeah. No sex for her. But things got lonely. She really wanted someone to just laywith, clutch close, and talk about the stuff going on in her life. You can’t really do that withoutcomplicating things, though. Feelings developed. Feelings got shared. Then it was either one oftwo things: sex, or awkwardness. Sometimes both. Why did it have to be that way? She knewother people must feel the same way. That’s where the idea for Snuggles R’ Us came from. Itwas great. Really, it was. She got to cuddle, she got to ignore her loneliness for a brief time, andshe got paid to do it. A pretty sweet deal.It was definitely a nice way to make some much-neededincome on the side. A thousand a month, or $12,000 a year. Not much, but when you added it toher $27,000 a year as a secretary, that’s a completely respectable yearly salary. Not bad, huh?Good teachers go to schools for years for that salary.An hour a day keeps the bill collectorsaway. And she had bills. 4
    • Specifically, $90,000 in bills and the cost of living in the still-pretty-expensive-outskirtsof New York. She got a BA in fashion design from The Art Institutes. It should’ve been a BS,not a BA. Not because fashion design was more science than art, but because that degree wasbullshit. She couldn’t get a job anywhere with it. No one told her that a fashion design degree isuseless unless you get it from Parsons or Pratt. Of course, those schools are $40,000 a yearbefore room, board, and living expenses. The cuddling gig opened up doors. She could put a little money away. She could putherself back through school, a few classes at a time. A useful degree this time, maybepsychology. Maybe even business.Perhaps she’d open up her own little boutique store in SoHo,That would be the dream. Think of all the things she could make and sell. Sundresses covered insunflowers. Unique ties, like an ultramarine blue one with mini maroon elephants, made out of aperfect mixture of silk and satin, matte and gloss. Navy peacoats, with metallic bronze buttons,and three inside pockets with zippers, to store phones, wallets, and spare business cards.Sweaters, no argyle please, woven from cashmere, with elbow pads, and a v-neck that vees forjust the right distance of 7inches. Cardigans that hugged the curves of beautifully curvy women.Heels, oh the heels! She could design heels that were actually comfortable, that didn’t make yourfeet bleed after a long day. If business classes brought her closer to that dream, thenshe had to go to business classes.She didn’t feel comfortable just going for it. When she thrust herself into decisions in the past, itdidn’t really pay off. She had to think carefully about what she would put in, to get what shewanted out of it. She was going to go about this the right way. Take some classes. Build up aportfolio.Sell some items on Etsy. Build up an online customer following, with some fantasticproduct reviews. Sell some items at festivals. Then, and only then, would she open up the shop. 5
    • Maybe if she put in those efforts, she had a shot at getting some serious money and enjoymentout of Lauren’s Loot. But she had to make money first to pay for those classes. That’s what Snuggles R’ Uswas all about, right? Making money, right? Just a stepping stone to her ultimate goal. So back toArny, the new client with the chocolate milk moustache. “Here’s your chocolate milk Arny, a glass for you and a glass for me. Did you find theplace okay?” “Yeah, the 4 train took me basically to your door step.” She lived in Morris Heights. Justpast Harlem, just before Jerome Park. Yeah, her clients did have to get off the train sandwichedbetween the aptly-named businesses of “The Check Cashing Place” and “African-AmericanHalal Supermarket”. But if they just walked a little further, they would see that her apartmentwas right across from the more symbolically-named “Mt. Hope Playground”, on the corner of E177th Street and Walton Avenue. “Great! I’m very excited you were able to make it!” Enthusiasm was important. “I reallylove that sweater. Argyle is one of my favorite patterns!” So was flattery. “It’s new actually. I just bought it last week. I braved the Black Friday crowds to get itfrom Gap, nineteen bucks. Valiant, I know.” He smiled when he said this. It was cute, a littlecrooked. One side of his mouth curved up just a little higher. Tiny wrinkles clenched around hiseyes. Genuine smile, interesting. A hint of sadness, though, in the way his shoulders cowered. “You’re practically my knight in shining armor!” She giggled when she said this. It wasforced, but it seemed like banter, and banter was good. “And then you braved the ride all the way out from Astoria just for me.” Astoria reallywas a long way, about an hour. 6
    • It wasn’t the longest commute she’d seen though. One of her regulars, Steven, came allthe way from Staten Island. That’s at least two buses, a train or two, and three hours, just to getto the shady part of town, on the other side of the city, to cuddle a chunky chick. Thirty-fiveyears old. A widower. No kids. The first time he came to her, he was like a shelter dog. Inchedcloser to her. Sniffing her out. Everything he did, he asked if it was okay. “Yes, honey, you’rewelcome to touch anywhere except my breasts, butt, or groin.” she reassured him. She’d feel badfor him, if that was in her job description. But it wasn’t. Her job was to make all of that go awayfor however long they were with her. So that’s what she did. He was sweet too. He came backonce every couple of weeks, with green curry and Thai tea from his favorite place in Chinatown.Often, their pre-cuddle conversation would go long. Or he would catch her in the middle of amovie and they would just finish it together. At no charge, of course. The clock didn’t start untilthe bedroom door closed, and they’d been spending more time off-the-clock than usual. Back to Arny from Astoria. “Yeah, you know, it wasn’t that bad actually. I was in theCentral Park area already anyways. I needed a new briefcase, and I heard about this placed called“Brief Encounters” on 71st and Columbus.” “Hey I know that area! The best coffee in New York is just one block down Columbus on70th, a placed called “The Sensuous Bean”. Are you a big coffee drinker?” “C’mon, what kind of question is that?! You can’t live in New York and not be. I’ll haveto give that place a try next time I’m in the area. 70th and Columbus, you said?” “Yup! Try the Dolce Iced Latte, my favorite.” She was on top of her game today.Enthusiasm, flattery, banter, and now she even gave him a coffee recommendation. She wasgetting better at this. “So you said you were a curator at the Museum of Natural History? I’venever met a museum curator.Can you tell me a little bit about that? It seems really interesting.” 7
    • “Yeah of course. Basically my job is—” She knew this was going to be a long one so shelet her mind stray a bit to the stresses of the week. About two months ago she had put SnugglesR’ Us up on the internet. A simple webpage with a few pictures of her, her pillow top bed, sometext, her hourly rates, and a contact form. Craigslist was getting exhausting, really. She had beenposting advertisements in the “Women Seeking Men” portion of the Personals section.Half theresponses she got were bots. 80% of the remaining were either sketchballs (“how bout I pay youto blow your mind, then you throw in the cuddling for free?”), or self-righteous (“Whore!”). Butthat was okay, even if she ignored all of those, there were a solid 10% of responses that hadpotential. Still, not ideal, so up the website went. Over the past few weeks, the visitors went up by over 10,000. Apparently someone foundher website, sent it to a popular blogger at The Good Men Project, who wrote an article about it,which was then posted on Facebook, and shared, and then reblogged, and then Twittered, andthen Tumblred, and then reblogged again and again, before ending up in the Local section of TheNew York Times. Before long, her phone was ringing all day long. People were intrigued. Somejust wanted to know why she did it (“Because cuddling is therapeutic. In my opinion,everyonecould use a good cuddle every now and then.”). Others wanted to know if it was actually alegitimate business and not a practical joke (“I assure you, it’s legit.”). Many people wanted toactually try it out (“Sure, I’d love to have you as a client!”). Actually, a few people wanted towork for her business (“Um, let me get back to you on that. Please send a short e-mail explainingwhy you’re a good candidate to Careers@SnugglesRUs.com”) An interesting proposition,definitely, since she did seem to have entirely too many customers now. Maybe taking on anemployee wouldn’t be such a bad idea. She could be the czar of cuddling. Or, a cuddling mogul.Or, better yet, the CEO of a cuddling conglomerate! 8
    • Then again, she could just quit her day job as a secretary and take over as a cuddler full-time. That might be nice.Her boss was obnoxious. He was a pin-stripe, three-button suit kind ofguy, his body anchored to a tie with a Full-Windsor knot. Always a solid red tie, of course. Thicklapels. She could feel her ass being ogled. Giving this job up would be a big risk, though. What ifall this excitement around Snuggles R’ Us was short-lived? It seems like it would be short-sighted to give up her secretary job. But, she could make so much money if she exclusivelycuddled. She could make even more if she lowered her prices a bit. Then again, what if a Jack n’Coker got too aggressive one day and she was forced to stop? Where would she be then? But,she could put herself through business courses faster then, bringing her closer to owningLauren’s Loot in SoHo. So stressful. She suddenly craved some green curry and Thai tea. She focused again on Arny as he finished explaining his job. “Wow, that’s really cool!Makes me wish I had gone to school for that instead of Fashion design. Hey, it’s a little chilly inhere. What do you say we go and get under my extra down blanket in the room?” She kept theapartment cold, even in the winter. It gave her a really good excuse to take things into thebedroom, without making anything awkward. Arny seemed happy to do it. “Thank god you suggested that. It’s freezing in here!” She led Arny to the room. This room was the most important room in the house, becauseit held her bed and her armoire, her present and future. Her room was painted the color of darkchocolate, with hints of burnt sienna. Her dresser and night stand were seal brown. Her armoire,filled with her handmade clothing, was beige, meant to stand out against the darker browns in theroom. Her bed, well, that was the moneymaker. She couldn’t skimp on it. It was king-sized,beige, with an enormous burnt sienna down blanket. The mattress was the exact same mattressused in Marriott hotels. And it was covered in an even mix of firm and soft pillows.She had his 9
    • favorite movie waiting in the DVD player.She usually sent a questionnaire to new customers,and it asks for their top five movies. By playing one of her client’s favorite movies, it showedthat she took the time to get to know them, while also giving them something comfortable in anunfamiliar place. Everything went smoothly with Arny, though. They cuddled face-to-face, andhe fell asleep halfway through the movie. She woke Arny up as the movie ended. He apologized profusely, explaining that her bedwas just really comfortable and warm. She assured him that it wasn’t a problem, that she haddozed off a little too.They walked to the front door, his hand at resting at the bottom of her back.They hugged, clutched each other close for five long seconds. Then Arny from Astoria, themuseum curator with the new briefcase, left and began the trek back to Astoria, or wherever itwas that he was going. Maybe he’d be back sometime, maybe he wouldn’t. At this moment, shedidn’t care. All she cared about was that even though she had just had a cuddle session, she stillfelt alone. All the cuddling in the world couldn’t give her someone to talk to, and that was whatshe needed right now. Her parents didn’t agree with her profession. Unsurprising, of course,since her parents grew up in the south, and had traditional jobs. Her mother, the housewife, andher father, the plumber, shot disapproving glances at her whenever she worked up the courage tohave dinner with them in Jersey. Her friends, well, she didn’t really have many. The ArtsInstitutes wasn’t the typical college experience, and most students were disconnected from eachother. Really, the only person she had been able to talk with lately was Steven. She picked up thephone and dialed out a number. “Hey Steven! It’s Lauren.” “Hey Lauren. I’m happy you called, what’s going on?”She was so glad he answered.Hehad this voice thatwas slow, methodical, and deep, like the steady hum of a wordless lullaby. 10
    • That was one of the things that she really enjoyed about him. When they laydown in bedhiseyelashes seemed to gain three pounds, forcing his eyes closed. They tried to talk longer, but hisvoice would falter off, and words would be skipped. Finally soft, contented half-snoring. “There was a cancellation, so I suddenly have an opening. Would you like to come in fora free session? Bring green curry and Thai tea, my treat.” “Yeah! That sounds awesome. I’ll see you around…six-ish?” She was so glad he saidyes. A good talk and a cuddle with her favorite client was what she needed right now. “Great, can’t wait.” She hung up the phone, settled down into her La-Z-Boy, and waited for three buses, twotrains, andthe three hours for Steven to arrive. 11