Fantasy Givers by Jennifer Sears
Martin always stays with me. That’s the first rule. I set the limits. That’s another rule because even when the perfect little fantasy is worked out on the phone, a gentleman asks for more. No one ever touches me. I don’t break laws, it’s not part of my nature, although I suspect Martin might enjoy watching some illegal action.
“Don’t you ever get bored?” I ask as we pull off the Interstate in search of a hotel north of Boston, our usual realm.
Martin shrugs instead of answering me, preoccupied with finding the place.
We glide down the exit ramp and roll beside a stretch of forest. Neatly painted houses with family cars parked in driveways appear in manicured clearings. “Hello, Suburbia,” I say, half hoping it will answer me.
A hotel thick with colonial shtick appears when the forest ends, just as our gentleman d’jour promised it would. “Not bad,” Martin says as we pull into the lot. “Didn't even know this place was here.”
“We should remember it,” I say.
I dig through my lingerie bag for the silk rose I clip above my left ear in case a reservation’s gone awry, and I need to be spotted quickly in the lobby by a certain gentleman.
Martin opens his door. “You ready?” he asks.
I pull down the sun visor and peek into the mirror to fix my fragile flower. “I hope this one's not boring,” I say. “I’m really not in the mood for boring.”
“Vamonos, Ruthie,” Martin says, giving his door a slam. Always, before we go in, he gets this funny tone in his voice.
Drawing our dreamers through a discreetly worded ad, Fantasy Givers, we work primarily in pictures and film, but I'm always game for adventure. I love props and themes. Martin hates to get involved in the show aspect of things--we rarely do a double bill although he's been known to unleash a disarming Little Boy Blue.
Inside the lobby, Martin heads to the front desk as I wait beside a fountain. A porcelain replica of a pilgrim ship sits in a pool made bluer than blue over turquoise tiles. Three enormous goldfish, all finlets and fairy tails, dart through a porthole. Such tight, tasteless quarters, but they’re clean. Someone around here cares about them, it seems.
This scheme was all mine, but Martin never had objections. It started with our wanting the same thing, a down payment on our very own place. We’re so close I've picked one out, a modest bungalow on the west edge of town. Sided in sweet peace-of-mind lilac, that happy dream home has a sun porch with fancy skylights that let in all kinds of light. In my mind, potted palms already sit in one corner of the porch beneath Martin’s long Belgian wind chimes. The bay window off the breakfast nook will bring out the best from my poor gardenia bush, which hasn't had sufficient UV to bloom in years.
A dime flies over my shoulder, nicks the prow of that pilgrim ship, and bounces off into the too-blue water.
The biggest fish flicks her tail just out of the way. “Martin!” I say.
“You're supposed to make a wish,” he says, heading for the elevator behind a sweet little chambermaid, her hips swaying in a perky Puritan style I catalog for future shows.
“I just want us to wish for the same things,” I say. “That's all I wish for.”
As we ride to the tenth floor, I put my arms around Martin’s waist thinking of wishes and fishes and how close we are to living in our very own home.
Everyone I know is making love or money on the side, sometimes both. I don’t fault anyone for bending that straight and narrow, not even my Martin. We’re all desperate for shelter from the indifference of this world. We all need more cover. Martin laughs when I talk about shelter. He says I use the word in made up ways. Obsessed, is what he says.
“We’re almost there,” I say and plant my smile into his chest as if we were riding our way up to some honeymoon suite.
“Ruthie,” Martin says.
Martin's sleeping with a girl from his office. A young thing is all he will tell me. And innocent, no doubt. I was suspicious for a while--I know what my man looks like in love. Finally, I asked, and he told me the truth. I'm thankful for his telling me the truth.
When the doors open, we walk down a corridor and find the day’s dream chamber. Three sharp knocks and our gentleman appears, jacket off, tie loose. A lawyer, he confessed on the phone, a bona fide veteran of make-believe.
Eyeing the false bloom above my ear, he says, “Fantasy?”
“Your one and only,” I say, entering the room.
A colonial-style quilt covers a king-sized bed shadowed by a giant Paul Revere style lantern, ready to light up one-nighters, honeymoons, and other unmentionable midnight rides. A camera sits on a collapsible tripod. Two set lamps, rentals no doubt, hang from cheap stands and brighten a white sheet secured to the wall with thumbtacks.
Assuming I admire his set up, Allan says, “I'm a professional.”
“I can appreciate a pro,” I say.
“Can we talk first?” Allan asks, sizing up my unthreatening Martin, my shiftless chevalier, taking his seat on the quilted spread.
“Didn't we work it out on the phone? You said a bare back shoot. No frilly under-nothings.” Hoping to tempt him with my cachet of cliché tricks, I open my lingerie bag and give each girly item a flick, but our legal eaglet is not at all moved.
“What I do is Art,” Allan says. So many of them do. He picks up a notepad and goes on about lights, color scheme, and other shoots he’s done. He wants high contrast nudes in black and white. Long limbs. Long lines.
Bo-ring, I mouth in Martin’s direction. I kick off my high heels and pull off my dress.
True “professionals” are heavyset, walleyed men who carry high-end point-and-shoot deals, pay me extra to sign a written release, and reveal no personal information, which Martin says is because no one in this fantasy business has personal information, but I refuse to believe that's true. In my heart of hearts, I believe even our pros walk away from me as happier husbands better able to make happier homes--that they kiss their wives on their cheeks and tuck children in bed as visions of my sugarplums dance in their heads.
Poor Allan drones on, using aesthetics to justify his needs.
“For Christ’s sake, Al,” I say. “Just tell me what to do as we’re doing it.” I slide the rose out of my hair, go between the lights, and hit my starter pose, a classical Spanish diagonal. “Surrender to the moment, Counselor,” I say.
Allan steps toward his tripod with a face full of sulks. Our gentlemen pay me to listen and right now I'm not. Chin down, eyes up: I give him my best schoolgirl smile. He puts his eye to the camera. I turn slowly, working the line of each movement to my toes.
He smiles. Once the work is underway, and they see how I do what I do, our gentlemen always relax. There’s a passive quality to paying dreamers--something in them wants me to run the show.
One of my favorite jobs involved an evangelical motorcycle gang on the Cape, charismatic “Cruisers for the Lord” producing a calendar to finance their mission. Wearing nothing but white lambskin shorts, I straddled two Harley Davidsons and folded my hands in prayer. “Hallelujah,” I cried out. Looking down at those lights, those men, and my wide-eyed Martin, I felt like the Virgin Mother providing necessary closure for their Wholesome Threesome-- Jesus, the straight center line down that never-ending highway, a woman sweetly saddled on back--their Trinity.
Coming home that day in standstill summer traffic, I was telling Martin how powerful it could be, providing beauty and pleasure, enriching people's lives. It was so hot outside, I must have gotten a little heady, too full of myself, because Martin yanked the car off the road. He came around to my side and pulled me out of my seat, holding me close, saying over and over, “You scare me.”
Allan sidles left and right, catching all angles of my work. “You enjoy this,” he says.
“I like making people happy,” I say. Gentlemen do enjoy that particular response.
I proceed with an acrobatic sequence I call myPhantAssMagoria. I feel that good old adrenaline rush but hold back. It's surprising how little men want once a woman stands naked in front of them. A little strutting and eye work for the most part, broken up with the traditional hair toss. I push my breasts together and pucker my lips like I'm blowing a bubble.
The worst of our times involved a quiet little gentleman who wanted nothing to do with pictures. One of our repeaters, he wanted me naked except for a pair of Italian stilettos, lip synching to Maria Callas as he conducted with a brass baton. The first time, Martin and I laughed out loud in the middle of that scene and made the little gentleman cry.
What kind of Fantasy Givers were we, he demanded, if we didn't respect his desires, if we didn’t help him believe dreams could come true?
At our last engagement, that gentleman forgot his recordings. Moving his baton to the vibration of that hotel’s hum, he traced my silhouette, the downy hair on my arms lifting to meet the cold metal as it passed over my skin. His hands shook. When I looked up, there were tears on his face. After that, I had Martin tell him to stop calling. It was beginning to break my heart a little.
Remembering Allan’s initial request, I introduce my Art Trilogy. “Arbus and Avedon first,” I say, giving him a sequence of apathy, snarls, and lanky profiles.
Allan makes noises of approval.
For my “Nod to Mr. Wegman,” a masterpiece of brevity created for one of our half-hour Humberts who preferred the pooch position, I drop to the floor and turn my hips suggestively, donning a blank, doggie stare
Allan’s face grows flush. He’s blossoming into a healthy first timer.
For the last segment, a nod to the classical tradition, I crouch, an animal arch igniting my spine as Allan zooms in on my heavenly haunches.
“The Gymnosophical Sphinx,” Martin clarifies.
I hold fast, infinitely alert, infinitely calm.
“Buck naked and complicated.” Martin says.
Allan puts down his camera. “I'd like to do film,” he says.
“Film” is when a gentleman wants you to do yourself, to “show pink” as the pros say, which costs even more. Or, possibly, he'll ask to do himself while I watch, which is double more and choreography has to be specific because nothing touches me, and Martin won't watch for anything.
“Film is extra,” I say. “We didn’t talk about that.”
“Extra,” he nods.
Martin stares at his thumb, readying to set his teeth on a hangnail.
In the past, Martin would have demanded numbers, asked Allen to “show him the money” and lay the bills on the bed. It's an argument that's left us sleeping back-to-back at night. Martin wants his money up front, but I’m too much of a working girl. I don't like to see cash till we’ve earned it.
“You have a theme?” I ask instead. “Live action is always better with a theme.”
“You pick the theme,” Allan says, steadying the video camera on the tripod “You know what you do best.”
“Yalla!” I say. Martin snaps to attention.
We begin with Little Girl at the Bus Stop, an early composition. Delicately pointing my pettitoes, I sashay impatiently in front of the camera, stop, and gaze into the make-believe distance. Pretending to see Allan for the first time, I pull up my skirt and wink. Martin winks back from the bed, which makes me smile for real.
“It’s more powerful when I’m prepared,” I explain after our first run-through. “The whole bus stop scenario really swings into place with the purple cheerleader skirt.”
“Props,” Martin insists, backing me up. Allan shrugs off the detail.
I segue into the Miss X-rated America Interview Challenge, acting out the parts of three excited finalists while Martin interrogates me from his quilted lair.
“Bravo!” Allan shouts. Gentlemen always love little Miss “Pink” Tennessee.
“A court scene,” I announce to our lawyer and bend on one knee, calling up a dialogue memorized for a filmmaker'sMiller Fantasy.
This Crucible bit always gives Martin a kick though, truth-be-told, that filmmaker frightened me as he shouted stage directions and paced the room, purple erection in hand, no doubt dreaming of some underage Betty in a community theatre league.
“Murderer!” he shouted, hoping to ignite a greater “sense of tragedy” from me.
“It were only sport at the beginning, sir,” I say pitifully.
“Murderer!” Martin laughs from the bed, remembering that scene.
Breathing harder, Allan kneels to the ground.
“It were only sport at the beginning, sir!” I say. “But then the whole world cried, 'Spirits, spirits!”
“Time’s up,” Martin cuts in.
“Spirits, spirits!” I say, still dreaming up old Salem: lost ships, lonely girls, tiresome sea.
Allan moves closer to me.
“Time,” Martin says again.
Afterward, Martin and I walk through dim corridor. He lets out a whistle once we’re in the elevator, staring at the bills in his hands. “You get a load of this tip?”
As we pass the fountain in the lobby, I tell Martin to stop. “I need another wish,” I say.
He opens his wallet and hands me a dime.
“Don't you want to know what I'm wishing?” I ask, but he’s already heading toward the front door.
The fish trio circles their cheap pilgrim ship. Sheltered so deeply inside their bluer than blue, they don’t even twitch when I throw in my dime and watch it sink to the bottom without sound.
Martin blares his horn outside the front door.
“What we need is a good meal,” I say, buckling myself in next to him. “We need something real in our stomachs.”
We find a steak house and hustle in, ordering two plates of prime rib. I laugh with the waitress, making conversational jokes to feel sane, but as soon as she leaves, it’s not right again.
He inspects his beer like it's something interesting.
Years from now, we'll be lying in other people's arms. We'll look back and laugh, remembering these times, trying to imagine what had ever been “us.” What people won't do, we'll say to our friends, trying to talk it out of our systems. It will be me who betrayed us. I put heart and soul into what we wanted. I even had a little fun. I thought this was our game.
I grab Martin’s wrist across the table. “You think less of me than you used to,” I begin.
“Stop, Ruthie,” Martin says.
© Jennifer Sears, 2014
Jennifer Sears’ fiction publications include Ninth Letter, Fence, Barrelhouse, and Sequestrum, and are forthcoming in Fiction International and Witness. She has received awards from the Millay Colony for Arts, the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation, the Money for Women Fund, and George Mason University. In addition to many years of teaching yoga and dance, she currently teaches English at New York City College of Technology and can frequently be seen picking apart sentences on the subway.
Fantasy Givers was read by Jennifer Farrugia on 3rd October 2014 for Hearth & Home