I had a crick in my neck. Needed a pair of healing hands. I found the Golden Lotus Spa on the internet. My regular place was booked up. Must’ve been a convention in town. I got the Golden Lotus Spa on the line. Lady said it was fifty bucks up front and she was excited to see me. Excited to see me, I thought. I went down there. It was on the Lower East Side. The door was locked so I rang the bell. This was the middle of the day. They buzzed me inside. Ferns and fake flowers everywhere. A large bowl of mysterious mints. Calm strange music emanated from the walls. The woman at the front desk wore a white golf shirt and black jeans and did not smile.
I called about a one hour massage, I said.
One hour, she said.
I followed her to a room. The wallpaper was cherries and bananas.
Undress, she said.
Her eyes judged me. I shut the door and I got naked and laid down on the massage table and put a towel over me. The pain was radiating from my neck to the crack of my ass. I got comfortable and rested. My face through the face hole, I exhaled. The masseuse came in and shut the door.
Fifty dollars, she said.
Okay, I said.
Credit card and driver’s license, she said.
Why do you need my driver’s license, I asked.
For the credit card, she said.
I looked up, she was already digging through my clothes. I’d never paid for a massage up front before. She got my wallet from my pants and handed it to me with a tiny nod. I gave her my cards. She was in a small blue dress. That’s all I could see cause she was out the door so fast. I lay down and put my face back through the face hole. I thought about my wife. Something didn’t feel right. This place was different. I could hear a shower running in the next room. My mind drifted. I thought about my new racing drone. The door opened and the woman walked in and touched my head.
Happy to see you, she said.
She had long fake fingernails and began to rub her hands along my nude leg. Slowly tickling my thigh towards my business.
Hand, mouth, or pussy, she whispered.
What, I asked.
Handjob, blowjob, or sex, she said.
Massage, I said.
She made a disapproving noise.
You don’t even want a handjob, she asked.
I know what you’re thinking. I should’ve gotten dressed and walked right out of there and never come back. But you don’t understand the pain.
Regular massage, I said.
How much will you tip me, she asked.
Normal amount, I said.
How much is normal, she asked.
I don’t know, I said. Ten?
She sighed. Long and slow like a mother to a petulant toddler. She walked out and I could hear her speaking to the woman at the front desk. They were talking fast in a language I couldn’t understand. Every now and then they would say the words regular massage in English and laugh. Finally the woman came back.
Thirty dollar tip, she said.
Whatever, fine, I said and pointed to my bad shoulder. She touched me and began. I could feel her boredom. I pointed to my bad spot again but she didn’t care. I thought about all the awful years it took to bring us together at this moment. Drops of water fell on my back. It felt like warm summer rain. It took me a second to realize it was coming from her wet hair.
That’s enough, I said.
Handjob now, she asked.
No, I said. I mean, no thank you.
She left and as I got dressed then looked at myself in the mirror. I had decent hair and a few brain cells but my back was a mess. I got dressed and walked to the front desk and gave the woman in the white golf shirt and black jeans my credit card again for the tip. Exoitc fish swam beside her in a small blue tank. Two small turtles hugged in a white dish beside the tank. The girl in the blue dress came out and giggled something to the woman in the white golf shirt and black jeans.
Regular massage, she said.
They both smiled. I smiled too. Out of embarrassment. She ran my card and the machine started beeping weirdly. It beeped faster and faster as if it were going to explode. The women started talking faster too. Arguing with each other. Although I didn’t speak their language, I could tell they were blaming the other for what was happening. The credit card machine was printing out all kinds of paper randomly.
Accident, the women in the white golf shirt and black jeans said.
Accident, I asked.
I ran your card wrong, she said. Double charge.
An old man came in and sat down in the waiting room and started smoking a small brown cigar. I couldn’t tell if he was a customer or he owned the place.
It’s fine, I said. I have to go.
No, she said. Regular massage. I’m going to make it right.
I just wanted out of there, but she insisted. It took about twenty minutes to refund my money. I was out seventy bucks and the pain in my back felt like lightning coursing through my veins. Outside, it was getting dark. I got the train uptown and let the wheels on the track become music. I drifted to sleep. Well, almost. Just as I was about to start dreaming, an acrobatic dancing troupe of teens started up their music.
Show time, they yelled.
They did crazy flips, their bodies through the air, spinning down the subway poles, arms and legs half an inch from my face. When I got up and moved to the other side of the car, I noticed a woman about my age. A blonde. You know sometimes how you pick out one person on a train to fall in love with just for the ride. She was that kind of woman. A red beret and camera. A French tourist, I thought, some kind of intellectual. She actually seemed to enjoy watching the dance troupe flipping around, which surprised me because I found them idiotic. Years of city life had hardened my heart. Was I truly jaded, I thought. Or was that the pain in my neck? I couldn’t tell. The dancers got bolder in their dancing. Flipping with ease and precision. The girl in the beret smiled and I couldn't help but smile too a little but I caught myself. She clapped when they finished their first song and another one began. The dancers now moved aside as the tallest and oldest of them walked to the center of the car. He looked to be their leader, their coach. One of the originals from the 90’s maybe. His moves were impressive but lagged a little. He didn’t have the same precision as the younger guys. The girl in the beret loved him the best. She got closer to get a better look and took a picture with a disposable camera as the train moved into the station.
Then things slow down in my memory. The dancer, the old guy, started his last move. No one was paying attention except for the girl in the beret. He did two quick splits into a major jump, the big finale. The music soared through the boombox. The other dancers were egging him on. Go for it, they said. The guy went up big for a full twisting backflip right down the middle of the car. The girl in the beret moved a little to snap another picture as the man came back into what was sure to be a perfect landing. Instead, he kicked her right in the face. She went down hard. Blood poured from her nose and mouth. The train made a full, hard stop into the station.
Oh my god, someone said.
He killed that lady, a kid said.
Hush, the mother said. She’s okay.
The dancers ran for the exit. A few other passengers got off and went to another car. I went over to the woman in the beret. She was nearly unconscious.
Hello, I said. Can you hear me?
She mumbled and I picked her up.
Are you okay, I asked.
I got her to her feet but she couldn’t really stand. She fell back into my arms. I carried her like a groom with a new bride over the threshold but the doors shut so I had to stick my foot in between them to stop them from closing all the way.
Stand clear of the closing doors, the voice said.
They opened again and almost hit her head and had to stick my foot in between the closing doors again.
Stop holding the door, one of the passengers yelled. I’m late for work.
I’m trying to help this poor woman, I said. I’m really trying.
I finally got her off the train and carried her up the long stairs of the station out into the air. There was blood all over my shirt. All over her too. I hailed a taxi but it sped by. I hailed another and got her in the backseat.
To the hospital, I said. And quick.
We’re here, he said.
We’re where, I asked.
At the hospital, he said. It’s right there.
He pointed out the back window of the cab. He was right. I’d gotten off in a strange part of the city and hadn’t noticed the ER was right behind me. I got the woman out of the taxi and into the hospital. It smelled damp green, like a greenhouse. It wasn’t what I was expecting. The nurse at the front desk called for a gurney. The nurses put the woman in the red beret on and rolled it back into a room down a long hallway. I tried to follow but they stopped me.
She was kicked in the face, I said. By a subway dancer.
Wait right here, the nurse said. We’ll take care of her.
I sat in the waiting room for what seemed like hours. Patients came. Patients went. Outside, darkness filled the streets and the lost souls of the city began to congregate in groups around fire. The bars and restaurants were empty and the distinct feeling of morning was in the air. Finally I walked up to the front desk.
Where is she, I asked. Is she okay?
Who, the nurse asked.
The woman I carried in here, I said.
Oh that woman, the nurse said. You’ll need to talk to the doctor.
Why, I asked.
But the nurse didn’t answer me. She got on the phone and paged a doctor. After a few minutes a young doctor, much younger than me, arrived. He looked like the most exhausted man on earth.
I’m not sure how to break this to you, he said. But your wife didn’t make it.
She’s not my wife, I said. What do you mean she didn’t make it?
You’re not her husband, he asked.
No, I said. She was kicked in the face on the subway and I brought her here.
The young doctor suddenly got tense.
How do you know this woman, he asked.
I don’t know her, I said. She was on the train. She’s a stranger
A stranger, he asked.
A stranger, I said.
I’ve revealed too much to you, he said. And I’m sorry.
He began to walk away.
Wait a minute, I said. What happened to her?
I’m not at liberty to say, he said. You’re not next of kin.
And yes, I admit it. I put my hands on this young doctor. Not to hurt him but because I wanted to know how a beautiful woman in a beret gets kicked in the face and dies? It made no sense.
Please let go of me, the young doctor said.
And yes, I’ll also admit that I grabbed him tighter and shook him and screamed in his face. What in the holy hell was going on? I was removed by hospital security.
I walked home, almost twenty blocks, to my small studio apartment where my wife, Linda, was sleeping. I had the late shift handling baggage at JFK airport and didn’t have to clock in until the afternoon. So I made myself a stiff drink and listened to my wife, a large beautiful woman, snore at an obscene volume. Tomorrow, I thought, I’ll get up early take my new racing drone out to the park and fuck around before anyone’s awake. I looked out the window at the dumbass moon. The crick in my neck was killing me.
Michael Bible is originally from North Carolina. He is the author of The Ancient Hours, Empire of Light, and Sophia. His work has appeared in the Oxford American, The Paris Review Daily, LARB, Al-Jazeera America, and New York Tyrant Magazine. He is a former bookseller at Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi, and lives in New York.