The Parlor

   The girl who was to give me the special massage was young. It was hard to say how young. She could have been twenty-five, could have been twelve. She also could have been one-hundred, or one-hundred and twenty, an ancient person on the verge of returning to the source of bloom. My guess is that she is twenty or twenty-one.
   She has pin-straight, dark hair, and a wide, flat nose, with cushiony give. I look down at her hands. They are small and pale, the nails unpainted and rounded into half-moons.
   She tells me her name is Jasmine.
   I ask her if that’s her real name.
   She says she doesn’t understand.
   I ask her if Jasmine was the name her parents gave to her.
   Oh yes yes, she smiles, nods.
   Then she gestures toward the massage table and tells me to lie down.
   Should I take off my shirt?
   Yes, unless you don’t want to.
   No, I do.
   I take off my shirt.
   How about my pants?
   It’s up to you.
   I leave my pants on. And lie down on my stomach and fit my face into the hole at the head of the table.
   The carpet on the floor is a burnt orange color, reminding me of Halloween. I can’t see Jasmine, but I can hear her. She is squeezing liquid out of a bottle, and then she is rubbing her hands together. I imagined Charly’s recorder capturing the sounds.
   I feel Jasmine’s liquid-slicked hands press down on my back, just below my shoulders. She begins kneading the muscles with rhythmical insistence. She works over the whole of my back with democratic fluency, and then starts in on my left arm. She reaches the halfway point, just above the elbow, when my arm is suddenly seized by cramps and starts convulsing.
   Are you okay, Jasmine asks.
   Yea fine, I say and try to shake out the shakes. When I’m done I allow my arm to fall prone by my side, and immediately there comes another series of paroxysms, this time accompanied by a searing pain in my left shoulder.
   Try to relax, Jasmine says, and places her hand on my trembling shoulder.
   I can’t, I say, and the tremors spread to others parts of my body—my leg, my foot, my face—all on the left side.
   I use my right hand to push myself up and fall off the side of the table and onto the carpet. I can now see Jasmine, who sees me, and screams. As if she’s looking at a ghost.
   Her scream cuts through me, and I scream back—What is it, what-what?
   Your face, Jasmine points, as she backs away. You have no face.
   I rise to my feet, the left side of my body still in the grips of a seizure, bolt through the doorway, nearly knocking over Katie who was about to enter the room, make my way down the hallway to the bathroom, where I click on the light, look into the mirror. My face is there. It is my face. Save for the twitching of the eyelids, everything was normal, the same as always.
   Charlie comes into the bathroom.
   Danny what happened?
   I turn to him.
   Do you see my face?
   Yea I see your face, why?
   Is there anything different about it?
   Different, what do you mean?
   Anything wrong with it, anything missing?
   No there’s nothing wrong with it, everything’s there. What the fuck’s going on?
   I tell Charlie what happened in the other room, and how Jasmine had seen me with no face.
   That’s some freaky shit, Charlie pipes in. What kind of place did Jake bring us to?
   A place where people lose their fucking faces, I quip.
   Charlie gives my face the once-over, smiles—Well it’s all there now.
   My tremors having mostly subsided, I go into the waiting room and sit down on the couch.
   Katie returns, followed by Jasmine, who is holding a tissue near her eyes.
   Katie hands me my shirt, which I put on. Then she tells Jasmine to apologize to me. Jasmine softly apologizes.
   It’s okay she didn’t do anything wrong, I say to Katie. I don’t know what happened.
   I replay the story for Katie and when I get to the part about Jasmine seeing me with no face, Katie begins speaking to Jasmine in Chinese, Katie’s voice sharp and crescendent during certain points in their exchange, as if she’s scolding Jasmine.
   When they are done speaking Chinese, Katie asks me if I’d like to continue with my massage. With Jasmine, or with someone else.
   I tell her no I’m fine, then turn to Jasmine. You said you saw me with no face? I don’t understand. No face at all?
   I’m sorry I’m sorry, Jasmine responds quietly, sometimes I see things . . . I’m sorry. Jasmine lowers her head and exits through the curtained doorway.
Photo by Anthony Distefano

About John Biscello

Originally from Brooklyn, NY, writer, poet, performer, and playwright, John Biscello, has lived in the high-desert grunge-wonderland of Taos, New Mexico since 2001. He is the author of four novels, Broken Land, a Brooklyn Tale, Raking the Dust, Nocturne Variations, and No Man’s Brooklyn; a collection of stories, Freeze Tag, two poetry collections, Arclight and Moonglow on Mercy Street; and a fable, The Jackdaw and the Doll, illustrated by Izumi Yokoyama. He also adapted classic fables, which were paired with the vintage illustrations of artist, Paul Bransom, for the collection: Once Upon a Time, Classic Fables Reimagined. His produced, full-length plays include: LOBSTERS ON ICE, ADAGIO FOR STRAYS, THE BEST MEDICINE, ZEITGEIST, U.S.A., and WEREWOLVES DON’T WALTZ.
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