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Among other things, Molly informs me that Sass disavows my involvement in prostitution. It’s difficult getting used to these mental gaps, but I am trying to think of them as hiccups – annoying but basically harmless. On the other hand, I’m relieved to learn that I was not actually a hooker. Paul does a terrific job of accommodating my checkered past, but I’ve always worried that it would eventually cause a rift between us.
After the nine o’clock rush, I leave Lexi to hover blank-eyed over the snack bar as I run the rounds of the waste cans. I’m in the backmost hallway next to the Woody Allen movie when the door opens and I feel a hand on my rear. I turn to find a patrician-looking gentleman in a brown leather jacket.
He gives me a sly smile. “I’m sorry. Seeing you at the counter brought back some very pleasant memories.”
“So you… know me?”
His eyes light up. “How could I forget the popcorn girl? You were stupendous.”
I force myself to focus – to think like a lawyer. I give him my fast-trigger smile, the phony one.
“So tell me…”
“Anthony. What was it that you enjoyed the most about my… services?”
He chuckles and traces a thumb along his jawline. “I suppose it was, well… you had this way of seeming very innocent – awkward, even, like you had never done anything like that before.”
I tap his nose with my finger. “I know how you rascals are.”
He eats it up. “Well, I’d best get back to the wife. Do you… Are you still in the business?”
“I’m afraid I’ve retired.”
“What a shame. The world has lost an artist.” He kisses my hand, even though it’s holding a garbage bag, and returns to the door.
“Anthony. Tell Mack I said hi.”
He tilts his head. “I’m sorry. I don’t think I know a Mack.”
“Oh! Somebody else. Bye.”
He slips into the theater. I stand there, running a Geiger counter over my memory banks. Tick. Tick.
Molly’s latest trick is to rub her earlobe like a worry stone. I imagine that psychologists have seminars in this stuff: 25 Simple Gestures for Conveying Deep Thought.
“So you met this… gentleman at work.”
“And it appears that you actually did have relations with him?”
I can feel the blood rising to my face. “I… yes.”
“Do you remember that night?”
“Well, yes. But I had sort of lumped it in with the rest of my made-up prostitutions. It doesn’t make any sense.”
Ear tug. “Was there any fallout? Any self-injury?”
I find myself employing my own thought-gesture: reaching across to scratch my shoulder. “Self-injury requires a boiling pot. In this case, the lid just blew right off. I showed up at Paul’s door, sobbing my head off. He was an angel. Actually, that was the beginning of our friendship.”
Molly takes off an earring and tosses it onto her desk. “Damn things. Itchy as hell. Okay. I’m going to paint a picture here. You tell me if I’m full of shit.”
“Smartass. I think at some point in your murky past, somebody convinced you that you are an evil girl. A harlot. A Jezebel. You internalized that image so completely that you had to find ways to ease the conflict between that Inner Jezebel and your actual, good self. When you met Sass, the world of prostitution gave you exactly that, and a way to identify with your foster mother. I also notice that most of your imagined clients were older men, and don’t even get me started on daddy issues.”
I have to smile. “Sometimes I don’t think we’re paying you enough.”
“I know you’re not. But stay with me here. Your brain did such a thorough job of rewriting your life that you evidently saw this guy’s proposition as just another day at the office. Faced with the actuality of a naked, horny senior citizen, the conflict between reality and fantasy blew your circuits and sent you off, rather serendipitously, to the very man that your good self deserved.”
Sparks are going off in my head. “Okay.”
“Now, Anthony said he didn’t know Mack, correct?”
“Okay. I’m really stretching here. Bear with me. But after intensifying your self-loathing Jezebel fixation with an imaginary foursome on a yacht, you apparently decided to cut yourself a break. So you fabricated Mack: high-class kept-woman thing, older guy who treats you nice. This allowed you to hang onto the Jezebel ID, and to fight off your feelings for Paul – because your self-image told you you didn’t deserve him.”
“That poor man.”
“That poor man loves you.”
I laugh. “No, I mean Mack. I mean, the guy I thought was Mack.”
“You’ve had… encounters?”
“Yeah. I saw him at the Depot one day and gave him a rash of shit.”
Molly starts laughing. I swat her on the knee. “That is highly unprofessional, young lady.”
“Well, you have to admit…”
She lets out a sigh. “It’s all right, Jasmina. We’ve got a lot of unwinding to do. You’re not crazy, you’ve just got a brain that’s done a lot of mischief on your behalf.”
I start to cry, despite myself. “It’s just so hard.”
She passes me a box of Kleenex and lets me go for a while. I return the box to her desk and spot the earring, a tiny sun with a smiling cartoon face.
“Gift from my mother.”
“Well, it was a nice thought.”
“No. Copper. It…”
“I have no idea.”
“That’s all right. Kept your impulse log this week?”
I arrive to pick up Jasmina for Valentine’s dinner, but she doesn’t appear to be home. After a full loop around the premises, I find her in the studio, seated before Anna’s ceramic menagerie like a queen. She wears a red halter-top dress that hugs her waist and descends to her knees in cloud-soft pleats. She sees me at the window and gives me the good smile, the smile that wavers. She opens the door and greets me with a kiss.
“Hi. When I’m having a bad week, I arrange a conference with the animals.”
“Are you having a bad week?”
“It just got better.”
She holds me for a long time, taking in medication. I look past her shoulder to the puffin on a muffin, which always makes me smile.
I have secured a waterside table at Horizons in Sausalito. We dine on artichokes and Sauvignon blanc as San Francisco lights its candles across the Bay. Our milk-fed blonde waitress arrives with our entrees: wild boar steak for me, salmon filet for Jasmina. The waitress gives us a tired smile.
“It’s the end of my shift, so I’ll be handing you off to another waitress. Have a great Valentine’s Day.”
“Thanks,” I say.
Ten minutes later, we are greeted by a tall black woman with close-cropped hair and pronounced cheekbones.
“Hi. Are you ready to see the dessert menu?”
“I don’t know,” says Jasmina. “I’m awfully…”
I suppose all prostitutes are actresses at heart, and I give Sass a lot of credit for staying in character. After ten seconds of stunned silence, however, even Deniro would break. She unwraps a broad smile and says, “Hi, darlin’.”
Jasmina stands too fast and sends her wineglass smashing to the floor. She buries her face in Sass’s shoulder and begins to cry. The dining populace is divided between the puzzled and the amused as the black waitress and the white customer begin to sway. Sass strokes Jasmina’s hair and makes hushing sounds, exactly like a mother.
Photo by MJV