“The Anteater” by Micheala Walsh

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Detail, The Garden of Earthly Delights, Hieronymus Bosch

DD puts out her cigarette and looks at me through fog-colored eyes. She has been talking to me for half an hour about her massage business, the year it took her to get her Tantric license, her client load. She waves her hands while she talks. But she blinks slowly. I don’t know if it’s that her rhythm is off or if it’s that she’s trying to be seductive. I take in her slight body as she tells me about a client whose wife came to her business and accused her of being a whore.

“You see,” she tells me, “Tantric massage is an ancient Buddhist art.”

I nod, feeling the heat of frustration move to my face and wondering why I’ve driven all the way to South San Francisco for another “Plenty of Fish” hit advertising the need for laid back connection and laughter. DD runs her slender fingers through my long almond colored hair and leans forward to underscore the seriousness of her statement. She tells me that Tantric massage is one of the deepest forms of healing. I picture ancient illustrations of Asian men with long hair, wispy beards, and big eyes doing the downward facing dog over women who lie supine, hands grasping toes in the happy baby position.

“I help my clients open their chakras, channel their sensual energy, and find their heart space.”

Her place was a small apartment with purple scarves for wall hangings, red vixen candles neatly lined across the mantle, and a few spider plants desperately in need of water. But DD had shown me the studio she shared with her co-owner.

I’d peered into the two rooms at the shelves of oils and bottled water. Before noticing the Hustler magazine on one of the tables, I hadn’t thought anything of what DD had said about charging for extras.

“Heart space?” I ask.

“Yeah…like, you know,” she says, setting down her bottle of Sierra Nevada and placing her hand just above my left breast. “Many of my clients have trouble with love. They’re lonely, and shut down.”

I stare at her.

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She blinks as she moves her warm hand in a circular motion. Her pupils are the size of shooter marbles. I know that I should leave—know that I shouldn’t have followed her back to this crummy apartment that smells like vanilla, cigarettes, and sandalwood.  Know that Tantric massage, Hustler, and “extras” spells out new age hooker, but it’s Saturday night and I don’t feel like being alone. The idea of sitting at Dago Mary’s and drinking vodka tonics—searching for small talk and waiting on the hope of meeting someone with good politics, a sense of humor, and a job—depresses me. But I also don’t feel like settling into the comfort of an evening with my friends who are all engaged or married, and who are probably relaxing into one another’s casual embraces as they sit around the living room playing board games and drinking red wine. I’m too restless.

This is the longest that DD has been quiet since I met her, and through the space of our silence, I imagine driving across the city to Paco’s mom’s house then hanging out with him on the beat-up leather couch that smells like sweat and sleep. I imagine talking to him about the inanities of work, my fear of leaving the architecture firm where I’ve done the books for the last five years, how what I really want is to work for a nonprofit. The thing about Paco was that he listened. The thing about Paco was that, even though he worked construction, his hands were always clean and soft. I don’t think about how it drove me nuts that the man still lived with his mom, or that he was too cheap to take me out for a lavish dinner. Instead, I think about the familiarity of his mom’s basement—how nice it would be to share a joint over a game of darts, fuck quietly on the blankets on the floor, and then go out for Chinese food. DD’s hand is still on my chest and I wonder whether she can feel my heart beating.

“I help them open these different places on their body,” she continues.

Raising her eyebrows at me, she smiles. DD leaves her hand on my chest, closes her eyes, and takes a deep breath that she holds for a few seconds. Slowly exhaling, she removes her hand.

“How does that feel?” DD says in a breathy whisper.

She looks at me without blinking while I search my mind for something to say.  I feel worse. Never mind that I haven’t dated anyone seriously since Paco, who was an overweight drinking buddy of my father’s before he was my lover. He was from Sweden, and I still don’t know how he got the name Paco. Never mind that I promised myself after my last Tinder date with a guy, who broke out into hives when he came back to my place and saw my two pet rabbits, that I would take a break from online dating. I’m here with DD, the Tantric whore who is trying to wedge open my heart space with the soft fingers that probe and explore her clients’ chakras for 200 dollars a session. I look at my own hands, my fingernails—which I absentmindedly bite when I’m crunching numbers—then at DD, whose eyes are now closed.

“I know.” She breathes. “It’s big, isn’t it?”

She opens her eyes for a moment to find my hand, which she holds in her own. She places it on the right side of her chest, just above her small breast. “Feel my heart,” she says. “Feel me.”

The cigarette that DD set down in a chipped seashell continues to burn, and before I can tell her that her heart is on the left side of her chest, she grabs my upper arm with her free hand and pulls me towards her mouth. It isn’t my first time with a woman, but it has been awhile. The softness of her lips surprises me. I taste the beer and the cigarette in her kiss and try to push from my mind the image of sweaty middle-aged men or forlorn repressed women who pay her for “extras.” We sit like this—me getting a fifty-dollar kiss for free and DD massaging her breast with my hand—until my mind gets the better of me and I lean away from her. She smiles at me serenely then, picking up what’s left of her cigarette, excuses herself to the bathroom.

“I’ll be right back, sweetie,” she says.

It’s the third time that she has gone to the bathroom in an hour. I wouldn’t have thought from her response to my posting—which was about her desire for cuddling and connection and which enumerated her holistic approach to a healthy lifestyle—that she would be into blow.

“I’ll be here when you get back,” I tell her, wondering why she doesn’t do her lines in front of me.

 

Lighting what’s left of a joint on a candle that has melted into her mantel, I walk towards the window and stare out onto the street and think for the fourth time that night about driving home. But I can feel the pull of the weed relaxing me, and although I know that this date isn’t what I had in mind when I drove out here, something in me is curious. I wonder, for example, where DD is from. If she is thirty or really twenty. I wonder what DD stands for, what people pay to fuck her, and if it’s worth it. Before taking another hit off the joint I open the window. The breeze feels cool, makes the hairs rise on my arms. I think about dating— how this one compares.

There was Bundi—the Hungarian man who had a beautiful body and who I still wanted to fuck—even though he gave me genital herpes. There was Steve, who I dated for a year. He was a kind, trust-fund baby, who gave money to the animal shelters and took me to Europe. But he had a hoarding problem and sometimes begged me to pee on him. There was the balding nurse who told me he understood that I wasn’t attracted to him, but that I could stay the night after the bottle of wine.Cold repulsion haunted me when I felt his fifty-three- year-old hard-on pressing into my twenty-seven-year old back when he spooned me.

From the other room, I can hear the toilet flush. DD clears her throat, opens the fridge, and pops open another bottle of beer. I close my eyes and feel my feet sink pleasantly into the floor, and in the moment before she wraps her thin arms around me, I remember the planetarium my parents used to take me to when I was a kid. The thick silence that would fill the room when the lights turned off and the stars emerged revealing a skyscape—the kind you only see when you’re camping open-faced to the night warm in your sleeping bag. I would hang onto the arms of my chair, neck craned to the Pleiades, feeling like I was drowning in stars.

“What are you thinking, sweetie?” DD asks, pulling herself closer to me. “You’re so quiet.”

I almost tell her about the planetarium and that feeling of claustrophobia from there being too many stars in the sky. Part of me thinks DD will understand. That she will appreciate that feeling of being overwhelmed by something so vast or that, at the very least, she’ll nod soulfully at me and tell me that what I’ve said is beautiful. From fear that she’ll go on about the constellations, astronomy, and the lost city of Atlantis, I say nothing.

“Sheep got your tongue?” she says, maneuvering herself in front of me.

To say something, I ask her what DD stands for, and before she can answer, I can’t keep my stoned self from asking if it’s short for Ding Dong. It takes a moment for her eyes to narrow in surprise.

“Be nice Lori,” she says.

“It’s Tori,” I tell her, not sure if she has forgotten my name.

When she smiles coyly at me, laughter erupts from my stomach in terrific spasms because I’m so stoned, and because I’m in this apartment with tie-died sheets for curtains, and because Ding Dong DD may actually be clever. She laughs, too. High pitched hiccups that bubble up from her flute-like neck. And, for the first time since we met, I feel connection. Maybe it’s because the laughter feels honest. Or because, even though she’s a cokehead, gives hundred-dollar hand jobs, and thinks that she can see my aura, DD has a sense of humor. I wipe my eyes, and for a moment, recognize in DD a kind of strength I hadn’t been able to see.

Shaking my head, I apologize to her for being retarded and tell her that I should be going. That I’m tired and stoned and need to be at work early in the morning to organize Friday night’s art show for the firm.

“Nat-nah, honey,” DD tells me. She sounds black.

I almost start laughing again.

“Stay with me and try some of this.” She fishes around in the pocket of her magenta satin kimono.  A nickel bag of powder, which she tells me is pure Special K.

“Isn’t that a cat tranquilizer?” I ask, wondering if this is what she has been snorting all night and why she’s only offering it to me right now.

“It’s moon dust,” she says, reverting to her psychic talk. “It’ll make you feel like you’re coming.”

DD leans her head back, exposing her neck, and for a moment, I imagine snorting a line of the moon dust with her,  taking off her kimono, and giving up all pretensions of caring about her profession—but I can’t.

“I’m going, DD,” I tell her, peeling myself away from her grasp.

She stares at me, taken aback,  then reassures me that the drugs are clean. She got them from a client that she has a massage/Special K exchange with.

“This shit will blow you away,” DD says. “Come on, sweetheart, share it with me.”

When I shake my head no and explain that I’m only into herb, and that I want to beat traffic that we both know doesn’t exist at this hour, she searches the floor.  A horn honks outside and I think about the commute across the city, how I need to stop going out on weeknights. Just when I think DD is going to cry, she smiles at me.

“At least stay for a film,” she tells me. “It’s a short one…you like animals, Tori,” she says, referencing one of our earlier exchanges when I told her I loved going to the zoo. “This film is about the African wild.”

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She takes my hand and guides me into her bedroom, which is decorated with batiqued tapestries and statues of fake jade Buddahs that she probably bought in China Town, and which she has strategically placed around the room so that it looks like you’re always being watched.  I sit on the edge of her bed, not quite ready to lie down, and wait for her to queue up the screen.

“You’re going to love this,” she tells me. “It will give you an entirely different perspective of animals that you’ve never even given a thought to.”

I imagine thick lesbians with python-sized strap-ons sucking each other off or naked men wrestling alligators and lassoing heifers. I almost tell DD that I’m not into porn, but my curiosity gets the better of me. I wonder what she’s into.

“Cuddle up to me,” she whispers, leaning into me as a British voice announces the entry of Africa’s most puzzling creature – the anteater.

I stare at DD’s flat screen. It’s cracked, and the images have a green hue. When I ask if it’s the anteater’s aura, DD bites my ear.

I can smell the thick scent of patchouli in her hair.  The animal in the film that looks like a cross between a pig and a dog as it waddles down a dirt path. It has sludge colored, bristly fur, and a long slender snout that juts downward. The announcer intones the accolades of the anteater—how it lives in the eastern parts of the country, how it consumes three pounds of ants daily.  “That’s over 15 billion ants,” he exclaims.

DD’s fingers are unclasping my belt buckle with ease when I finally understand, after five minutes of watching the great African anteater foraging for anthills with its tremendous snout, why this film is her favorite.

“The anthills rise approximately one foot from the ground,” the voice says. “As you can see, they look like mini volcanoes spilling with black molten lava ants.”

The camera zooms in on a puddle of obsidian ants spilling in and out of a hole at the top of the mound.

DD has found her way into my underwear and tickles my pubic hair with her soft fingers. She’s kissing my neck, but I can tell that her eyes are still fastened to the screen.

“Hundreds of thousands of ants inhabit these hills, which takes the colony upwards of three days to build.”

DD’s breath is hot on my neck, and I can’t decide whether to succumb to my desire and return her wet kisses or watch the green ants meet their doom. At some point— between when the anteater plods up to the hill, aggressively pokes its nose into the breast-like mound of dirt and begins to rapid fire flick its sticky tongue into the hole, and when DD puts her face into my pussy—I think about the relationship between the suspense woven into these shows that makes something as boring as an anteater’s quest to sustain its body weight in ants seductive and the dating scene. How we’re all motivated by a desire to consume, to be consumed—and if deep connection grows out of that hunger then so much the better. But I know I’m not right. On DD’s bed with my pants at my ankles, and her face between my thighs, I feel empty of desire. To consume. To be consumed. What I feel is exhaustion, mild disgust, and sadness.

Gently pushing DD’s head away, I try to get off the bed, away from the slimy anteater, creepy smiling Buddhas, and away from this night. I feel dirty. Pausing from her conquest of my cunt, DD asks me if I’ve come yet.

“No.” I tell her.

“Is it not good, sweetie?”

“No, it’s good,” I say, “I’m just not into it right now.”

Her eyes droop, whether with disappointment or exhaustion, I don’t know. She rolls off me and lies on her back staring up at the ceiling. The anteater is still eating—the announcer tells viewers about what it weighs at birth, how big it grows to be. I wonder if he jacked off to this video while he did the commentary.

“You think I’m weird?” DD asks, reaching for my hand as I fasten my belt. Her voice is soft. She sounds like she’s coming off her high, and I wonder who she is when she’s sober. If there would be any connection.

I stare at her hand, the carefully trimmed fingernails, and I wonder what fortune she would tell me if I held her palm. But I don’t. I leave her hand hanging and finish buckling my belt.

“Yeah, DD. I do think your weird.”

She continues to stare at the ceiling, her breasts hanging out of the kimono.

“Will you stay?” she asks. “Stay the night. We’ll just sleep, I promise.” She rolls onto her side, eyelids already heavy with dream. “I like you.” Pulling a pillow to her chest she fights a yawn. “Tori?”

“Yeah?”

“Did you like the anteater video?” She sounds like a little girl.

“It was very interactive.”

“Will you stay?” she asks.

I think about the long commute home. How good it will feel to drive with the windows open. I measure the feeling of lying in my own bed, the cat curled up on my chest, spending another night alone, with my longing for companionship – even if it’s not real.

“Yeah, DD.”

She smiles hazily at me, and snuggling into the blankets, tells me thank you.

“I’ll be right back,” I tell her, heading for the door, hoping that she falls asleep before she realizes that I haven’t returned.

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Michaela Walsh is a professor of Ethnic Studies at Bowling Green State University. Her work has been featured in The Iowa Journal of Cultural StudiesHuman CommunicationCritical Ethnic Studies, and Anthropology and Humanism, where her piece “Phantom Homes” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Walsh completed her MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing at the University of Iowa. She dreams of leaving academia to become a professional surfer.