She ought to have known better, really. Truly, who was she to believe that she could ever finagle genuine luxury without some sort of unpleasant caveat? In this case, a woman who very obviously seemed to be a lesbianic molester. It began, as all sinister things do, innocently enough. Blanca, as her name turned out to be (though it seems strange that anyone Spanish should be named “white”), was ostensibly as gentle and professional as any masseuse in the U.S. might be (minus the consideration of the Massage Envy debacle). But soon the gentleness gave way to a roughness of the sadistic variety, therefore stripping away any remaining level of so-called professionalism. But Serena, as was frequently the case with most unpleasant realities, ignored the inappropriate intensity of the movements, becoming so strong that the table, already predisposed to creaking, rattled and squawked to the point of comical excess. Blanca pretends there is no strangeness in this, asking nonchalantly as though this is a completely normal massage, “How is pressure? Good?”
“Uh huh,” Serena chokes out in between an extremely pinching knead. There is no point in saying anything to the contrary, of denying that she could possibly be receiving anything other than pleasure. Bad massages can be like rape that way. And of course the line becomes even more blurred when it’s woman on woman crime. Serena, wanting to give all females the benefit of the doubt for being in possession of decency (but then, she knew better considering such figures as Leona Helmsley), did her best to write off these sexually tinged, accosting squeezes with a combination of body clenching and dissociation. In point of fact, one could say a combination of body clenching and dissociation is how she dealt with life overall. Most especially throughout the divorce proceedings with her now ex-husband, Cromwell (yes, his British father, who hated Catholics just as much, had named him after Oliver).
The long, drawn out process of legally dismantling the relationship was the reason why she had uncharacteristically decided to get a massage in the first place. She needed something to officially release the stress that had been mounting and settling entirely in her back to the point where it felt like she could barely even move when she woke up in the morning. So it was that her friend, Elizabeth, had been the one to suggest “this adorable place in the West Village”–Serena never imagined she’d be friends with someone who said “adorable.” Maybe she was referring to the hooey Buddha decor or maybe the all-Nepalese staff (Nepalese was the new Asian when it came to the beauty service industry). Whatever her inspiration for calling it this department store copy adjective, Serena wasn’t buying it from the moment she walked in and encountered the overly zen, neo-Miss Cleo type (in attire at least), who greeted her with, “Welcome to our relaxation resource center.” It did little to alleviate the aforementioned tension in her back. And yes, even Cher Horowitz’s masseuse, Fabian, probably would’ve commented on Serena’s–but Blanca was too concerned with releasing her own tension in this perverse fashion to notice the depth of Serena’s. Which was augmenting by the minute as Blanca added insult to injury by lightly moaning as she jarred Serena’s bodily senses with her arbitrary grabbings.
Serena channeled her focus onto Cromwell, strangely calming to her now in this scenario despite being the very source of stress that had led her here in the first place. She recalled the first time she had ever laid eyes on him, all those years ago at a since defunct pub in New York called Telephone Bar (ideal for playing up the British theme with those signature red phone booths). He, in the narcissist’s manner she would come to know so well over the next period of her life, took the liberty of introducing himself and going right into a joke about his name, looking directly at Serena’s backside as he commented of Cromwell, “He dismissed the Rump Parliament by force, you know.” Serena rolled her eyes. It was cheesy, sure, but she had to admit it was a slightly original come-on for its historical value.
In the months that followed, they would experience the inimitable honeymoon era that we all seek so desperately to re-create when it slips inescapably out of our hands due to its basis entirely on the novelty of another human’s mind and body–a novelty that fades almost as rapidly as the ephemeral hour of a massage. Except in Serena’s instance, for this massage was beginning to feel like the Hundred Years’ War battled out on her back. Her trapped trapezii and denigrated deltoids unable to endure this not so mild torture for much longer, Serena turned her neck to say something in protest against this entire affair just as Blanca started to use both elbows to pierce her, as though wanting to bore holes entirely through her flesh.
If ever there was a justifiable moment to speak out, this was the one. Nobody could accuse her of being overly sensitive or “overreacting.” And yet, one of the very things Cromwell had conditioned her to believe about herself was that she was “too uppity.” Too ready to complain about the slightest perceived offense, as he described it. Even in the aftermath of coming home from a drunken night at the bar to turn her over and fuck her like a blowup doll despite the fact that she would have much preferred to remain asleep. She became conditioned to stop speaking up about the things she viewed as objectively wrong or immoral, because Cromwell (again, like Oliver) was such a strategic gaslighter. Thus, when Serena finally reached the point of knowing herself well enough once again to get out while the trance had worn off, it seemed like she would never again go through the pains of self-imposed silence for the sake of “not making things awkward.” But with this hellacious anti-luxury massage, the nature of her meek, weak sense of self made itself known once more. Or was that merely all of humanity, packing this infuriating need to remain silent for the sole benefit of not fucking with the invisible social order we had all been infused with adhering to since the days of elementary school?
Serena wanted to believe it was the latter as she paid for the massage that had made her even more worse for the wear than when she had entered the establishment, tipping a generous twenty percent for her pain.