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The door slammed and Sophie stretched. She didn’t want to end up crinkly like the two $50 bills on the table by the bed. Or ugly like what they rested on, come to think of it. It was an ancient piece of indifferent wood, stained old-person brown with a thick layer of lacquer to seal it in. Her friend, the one she borrowed the apartment from, had no doubt inherited it from her grandparents. It was smooth, with round tapered legs, like you would find in the abodes of people who liked to boast about getting their furniture for free.

The table nevertheless was functional. It supported the weight of her reward for selling her fit body to perennially dissatisfied customers. Guys who knocked on the door hoping to find something they could not identify. And who kept coming back anyway, like junkies chasing the rush of their first time. That was probably the saddest part of this business. The grubby banknotes by themselves were nothing. But they represented so much existential misery.

Not for her, though. Good grief no. She was making great money for very little work. But she couldn’t help feeling sorry for her clients.

Like Gary, who’d just left her abruptly again like it was her fault for reminding him how inadequate he was. Or maybe he just enjoyed treating her with contempt, after he’d used her for gratification if not quite pleasure. It was surprising how many men felt that way. All self-conscious smiles before, all cold disgust after. They probably felt empty.

Gary was the name he’d given her when he first came to visit six weeks earlier. He’d since become a regular. Every Wednesday at 12:15, like he’d rushed to get there as soon as the lunch bell rang. Didn’t speak much, barely said hi, and you could tell it was a struggle. He was a gruff man with poor manners and the shave to match.

He wasn’t very tall, but what he lacked in height he made up for in girth. He must have weighed 200 pounds, and it sure wasn’t muscle. His hairy chest was dwarfed by his apple-shaped belly. He had the look and feel of the Pillsbury Doughboy if you added flabby man-boobs and removed the cute.

Gary was a heart attack waiting to happen, is what he was. Sophie could only wish he didn’t die in her bed. Well, OK. Her friend’s bed. That would suck balls. The shock it would be for his family. And the paperwork. Gah. That’d be the worst. She’d have to explain what had happened.

“Well, see, he was fucking as hard as he could, which wasn’t very hard mind you, and then he stopped suddenly and flopped down on my back. Yes, sir, he was taking me from behind. That’s not a crime, is it?” She could make the cops smile, at least.

Gary was nothing if not methodical. He always confirmed his appointment the day before, and showed up on time. Sophie never asked her clients what they did for a living. Her job was to make them feel better by letting them imagine a life different than what they were stuck with, not quiz them about their unfulfilled ambitions. The fantasy she was charging $100 a half-hour for would be ruined by this kind of interview. But she guessed, based on his clipped body language and the chinos and polo shirt he always wore, that he ran a medium-sized business. Successful enough to afford her, but not enough to keep a real mistress on the side.

He headed straight for the bed, where she sat demurely in her undies. He would drop his money on the bedside table and take off her bra. He had said on their first meeting that he really liked to remove her underwear himself. It was up to her to remember details like that. She made a mental game out of it; every day that she got a perfect score she rewarded herself with beer and french fries at the Belgian troquet down the street from where she really lived.

The love making made Gary’s body fat jiggle. His pale skin leaked small beads of sweat. His breathing was raspy. She worried about having to call that ambulance again.

She couldn’t feel him inside her very much. Not that she cared to. It was easier that way. She closed her eyes and thought of Aristotle.

Gary wasn’t especially skilled for a man who said he missed regular sex. Maybe what he meant was that he missed self-gratification, which in his case (as in so many other men) included giving his partner pleasure. Or at least getting a reasonably believable impression that he was. Acting skills are so crucial in this business. His fingers and tongue made her nipples feel like overly salted pepperoni, but she moaned anyway. It made the whole thing go so much smoother, and faster. He was usually done in five minutes. She imagined his Mrs, no longer interested in his clumsy fondling and tragic absence of staying power. There’s wasn’t much foreplay, and the actual playing was nothing to write home about. Sophie couldn’t blame her.

That was her lot, to act pleased for men who gave her money. To be a living sex toy for men whose performance never matched their fantasies. A role she’d chosen freely and did not regret one bit. The men wanted to see themselves as sex gods who made women beg for more. But all they could do was pay for a professionally indiscriminate vagina to masturbate in.

And really, when you think of it, who deserves your pity more? The woman who chooses to have her body parts available for hire or the men who felt so much shame dropping those crinkly bills on her ugly bedside table that they slammed the door on her without so much as a goodbye? As she emerged from her luxuriant stretch to clean up the condom he’d thrown on the floor again, oblivious to the DNA evidence a scorned wife would pay more than 30 minutes of Sophie’s time to acquire, she reminded herself that she was pretty sure it wasn’t her that needed anyone’s help.