BAS Fiction- It Pays
by Allyson Darling
Violet-colored feathers encircled my eyes; the elastic tied around my head pulled at my hair — a Mardi Gras mask wasn’t exactly the item I had imagined wearing to protect my identity. I lied on my stomach with my feet splayed out on a pillow, like a platter of appetizer escargot at a wedding.
I forced myself to laugh with each tickle motion to my toes grasping, raspy noises that sprung off the grand ceiling. The spider-less corners whispered in curiosity, what are you doing? They wanted to know. I wanted to know, too, as I avoided looking at the framed photographs of his children on the mantle.
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Nothing was right. I was supposed to share my life with my bearded boyfriend, writing in our woodsy home, while he took photographs. We discussed this while admiring the light on the folds of the sheets in the mornings and the cat that always snuck out onto the windowsill. He was the one and I knew it.
Eventually San Francisco was too much. The energy was too much. I was too much. He left. I cried in a matching gray sweat suit. I cried on the bus. I cried on the jagged carpet in the hallway that scraped my face. I responded to an ad on Craigslist entitled, “It Pays to be Tickled.”
I tied and re-tied the scarf around my neck outside the apartment building until Larry opened the door. He had a soft voice and a potbelly that lived inside of his red polo shirt. I walked inside and saw four pairs of high heels perched on the couch next to an array of nylons, like eyeless accomplices.
After putting on the stockings. After checking all of the prescriptions in Larry’s bathroom. After discovering that almost every crossword puzzle in the bathroom was completed. After taking a deep, deep breath. I was ready. I told Larry that this was my first time foot modeling (as he referred to it) so could he please direct me.
I meant it in a professional sort of way, and not a sexually dominating one. I also announced it with what I imagined were church-girl undertones.
He led me to the couch and I mentally prepared myself to giggle on command. That was the purpose — to laugh. He didn’t want to tickle my feet and try to make me laugh. He wanted the certainty of creating laughter. The purpose was the laughter itself, not the attempt.
Over and over and over again, I laughed, and declared, “That tickles!” “That is so ticklish!” He responded with apologies that were not absolute, and were perhaps the purpose of such a fetish.
One hour. One hour to delve into the archives of my mind’s memories. One hour to regard any humorous event that I had experienced in my entire life and any one that I could possibly examine that way.
I, first, of course, laughed because I was allowing an architect named Larry tickle my feet. I laughed because the man I was supposed to marry left me. I laughed because I wanted a tweezer extraction of all memories of him from my brain and I didn’t know where to purchase such a thing. I laughed because I checked under my bed every night. Just in case. I laughed because my life was equal parts sensitive and careful and furious, all at once. I laughed because honesty was what I wanted. I laughed because time changes everything. I laughed because I had to.
I knew that it was almost over. I could not see Larry from my position lying on my stomach when suddenly he stopped.
“Do you want to tickle my feet instead?” He asked.
(I did not.)
“Do you want any cheese and crackers?”
(I did.) I was hungry and I wanted to eat anything, but I wanted to leave more.
Would I like cash or a check? I told him a check, please. It felt better, more professional than accepting a handful of cash that had traveled to so many other places before.
I felt a sense of camaraderie with Larry and his bathroom filled with finished crossword puzzles. The past hour had been terrible, and a little bit funny. And empowering. For an hour I got to choose what my suffering looked like — I had left that folding mystery of depression, that joyless, cave that had lasso-ed me in, and I had laughed about it.
Larry walked me to the door. He handed me a check for $100. I said goodbye. I walked down the stairs and noticed in the memo section of the check he had written “Design Consult.” Larry had written his foot fetish off as a work expense.
Allyson Darling’s pantry describes her as a lovely, ferocious, and usually hungry writer. She writes nonfiction essays about sex, relationships, anxiety, and other life altering matters, such as the underrated act of crying on the floor. She strives to connect with others through the written word because she wants you to feel less alone. Her work has been published in Red Light Lit, Thought Catalog, The Nervous Breakdown, Oregon Home, xoJane, and Writtalin.