Madeline Beach Carey: Alternative Therapies

Ferdinando Scianna, Umbria, Melezzole, MESSEGUE’s Beauty farm. Source:

Olga was a screamer. It’s nothing you would have guessed about her, at least not at first. Or perhaps some would. Maybe almost anybody could have told me to watch out for a beauty school graduate with a military father. But I was shy, and clueless, and young, excited to be in a new place, excited to date a girl.

We met at the beauty parlor on Calle Numancia, near the main train station in Barcelona. It wasn’t just a beauty parlor, it was a huge complex, three floors, opened from ten am to midnight Monday through Saturday and until three pm on Sundays. You could get anything done there: nails, hair, waxing, electrolysis, Thai massage, California or Swedish massage, Botox injections, fish pedicures. Olga did waxing and I was both the massage guy and the handyman. I fixed broken lamps and collapsing massage tables, dealt with circuit breakers, repaired all sorts of broken nail-clipping tools. The owner, Adele, a French woman who weighed about 45 kilos, hired me the August I arrived from Buenos Aires. She liked that I had long hair, a thick black ponytail. You seem New Age, she said, and asked if I’d be interested in maybe teaching her tai chi.

It was 2003, and I was just happy to have made it to Spain. Olga was new too, having recently moved to Barcelona from Murcia. The salon wasn’t busy in August. Most locals had fled the heat of the city. Once in a while we’d get a British tourist in need of a bikini wax at the start of her holiday, but for the most part Olga and I shared the evening shift and chatted. We were both obsessed with personality tests: Myers Briggs, Jung in 7 Minutes, Your Myth & Archetype, O-C-E-A-N. I photocopied different ones from magazines my mother mailed me, and we did them at the front desk, close to the AC unit. This was before smartphones, practically before the Internet. We took some of the tests twice, three times, happy when our results were always exactly the same, proving the accuracy of each system.

After a few months, we started sleeping together. Olga told me not to say anything at work. That it would be better if Adele, the owner, didn’t know, if no one knew. Obviously, that should have been a big bright sign that something was off, but I just told her eventually people would find out. Which, of course, they did. It didn’t matter though, we were happy by then, in the thick of it. I was tired of having roommates who didn’t clean or pay rent on time and Olga’s lease was up, so we looked for an apartment together.

I had left Adele’s and worked other places doing massage and actually teaching tai chi. Spain was booming, I could make 400 Euros in a few hours and then go to the beach for the rest of the day. Olga stayed on at Adele’s booming beauty parlor. Spanish women spent hundreds of euros on their hair and came every fourteen days for their full-body waxing. Once she learned how to do laser hair removal, it felt like we could afford anything. Olga started taking a course in Reiki, I got my certificate in shiatsu.

Olga’s father helped us move in. It was the only time I ever met him. He was silent, not even huffing, as we lugged the bed frame up the five flights of stairs. He drank three beers on the terrace once we had finished and told Olga I seemed decent but that it was strange that I didn’t drink.

My mother met Olga a few months later. We went to Argentina over Christmas, flew from the mild Mediterranean to the stickiness of Buenos Aires in the summer. Olga hated the food, said only animals could eat all that flour and meat in the heat. My Ma and sister stared at the table when she spoke, later they said she wasn’t nice to me, should have been sweeter, gentler. You’re kind, my sister insisted, you deserve someone sweet. My sister was getting ready to move to Spain too. Do ​not t​ell Ma, she said. And I didn’t. I didn’t tell them about the screaming either.

It started when we first moved in together. Once, we had gone grocery shopping and I had hauled everything up the stairs, in three different trips. Then I’d made dinner and only while we were clearing up did I realize we, or I, had left a sack of oranges down in the lobby. Don’t ask me why but that set Olga off something awful.

“Don’t just leave them down there!”

She went out to the terrace and I followed her. I had never lived with a girl before, she was only the second person I’d ever slept with, so I was concerned, but also curious.

Olga would not look at me. She stared down over the wall to the street below, “Go!” she screamed. “Go down and get them!”

She was in the bedroom with the door closed when I came back up. By the time I had done the washing up, she seemed to have recovered. We watched TV curled up on the couch and she rubbed my feet, telling me how sorry she was for overreacting.

In Buenos Aires it had gotten worse. She was always angry, about the weather and my sister, about the way men looked at her on the bus, or how her sandal rubbed her ankle raw. On the plane ride back to Spain we finally talked about it, about her bouts of hot rage and then the hours of sadness that followed. It was, she said, because of birth control pills. And there, 30,000 feet above the ocean, I felt my entire body lighten, a heaviness, a fear and sense of dread finally disappear. There was, thank heavens, a simple solution. I wouldn’t have to live my life under this reign of terror.

For months, the solution worked. Not only did Olga scream less, she was suddenly kinder, sweeter, just as my sister had hoped. When I worked late she would wait for me outside our metro stop with snacks. She decorated the apartment and cooked lunch every Sunday. She was even kinder to her father, calling him a few times a week, making plans for us to go visit him. She was happier, but also deeply sensitive: to smell and touch and sound, more delicate and yet also much more empathetic.

And then there was the sex, which changed even more than Olga’s personality. Suddenly she was receptive and searching. We luxuriated in each other. Our world shrank and blossomed all at once. I could make her come just by touching her breasts. Outside stimulus no longer mattered. We had all that we needed right there within each other’s bodies.

I mean, yes, she still got angry sometimes. But I could live with it. A few tears didn’t bother me the way the screaming had. What stressed me was my Ma still in Buenos Aires all alone. She’d been robbed at gunpoint twice leaving the school where she taught. My sister, in Madrid, and I tried to convince her to retire, to come to Spain, but Ma didn’t want to leave her neighborhood or the house where she had raised us.

Olga didn’t tell me directly when it happened. I came home from teaching a group of senior citizens a tai chi class and she wasn’t there. The apartment was immaculate; she had dusted every corner and the stovetop shined. On the sink she’d left a plastic stick, a pregnancy test that read ​pregnant, 5-6 weeks.

She answered the third time I called.

“Where are you?”

“I’m at work,” she said. “You know I work late today.”

Olga’s notebook where she kept track of both calories and her periods was open on the kitchen table, her calculations written in green ink, the whole month marked with circles for safe days and x’s for dangerous ones. She had told me it would work, convinced me of her careful calculations, given me all the details about basal temperature and cervical mucus.

Here is what I’ll tell you: at first, we were fine. I guess you just go on auto pilot. How I sat in that clinic and waited, how I got through that hour and thirty-seven minutes, I’ll never know. I didn’t read anything, I just stared at the TV and at the other couples in the waiting room: one Spanish and the other Moroccan, such sadness in the men’s eyes and the blank stares of the women, as if they had been turned off for a while.

Olga puked from the anesthesia on the taxi ride home. The driver looked at me like I was an assassin as I tried to clean it up with Kleenex. We slept for the rest of the day. When we woke it was dark outside, and Olga was starving. We went down to the street, ate falafel and went to the movies, trying our very best to act normal. For a few weeks, we succeeded, but then Olga got so so sad. And fat. That part bothered me, much as I hate to admit it. I mean we had decided not to have the baby so we could have our lives, but she just threw in the towel. At night, after work, she nested on the couch, stared at Spanish talk shows and ate digestive biscuits bathed in dark chocolate.

Sometimes we had sex, but it felt like we were swimming away from one another. Her body, once so volatile and reactive, just spread and floated away from me.

The most tortuous part of that time was talking to my mother on the telephone. My father died when I was twelve, but it was that spring, when I was 33 that I first heard loneliness in her voice. I wanted so much to say, “Hey Ma, we’re having a baby.”

Looking back, my mother would have been terribly upset by that news, she being smarter and tougher than me. But I was overcome sentimentality.

Olga left me six months after the abortion and I never loved her like I did the following year. At work, as I kneaded the backs of men on holiday from Leeds or tried to encourage bone-thin Spanish women—stressed out by their bosses and children and husbands— to breathe, I thought of her: the sharp, delicate shoulder blades and fragile arms, then the softness of her thighs, her dimpled hips, how kind she was to old people and how serious she got when singing along to the radio. I missed the way Olga searched for solutions to everything: cellulite and dust mites and heartburn and sleeplessness, as if we could actually change our destinies through sun salutations or the Alexander technique.

People—co-workers, patients, my few friends, Ma—felt sorry for me. Without the important detail of the abortion, I seemed like the victim in the story. Olga had left me for a policeman named Óscar. When they moved in together, I helped. I felt like I owed her. She was still fat—she’d kept on eating as if she carried through with the whole pregnancy—but she dressed sexier than before: tight jeans and low-cut tops, high-heeled ankle boots that I’d never seen. Honestly, she seemed happy with Óscar and I felt that I deserved to be alone. I went to the gym every night at nine and stayed for hours. I gave up sugar and dairy, needed almost nothing but routines, lean meat, and meditation.

Around that time an American woman started coming to Jacaranda, the spa where I was working. Nancy Baxter was literally tightly wound. Her upper back was so contracted that it was hard for me to believe she functioned or even walked, but she ran ten kilometers every morning. Her legs were lean and muscular and the only vulnerable, sweet, part of her was the fuzzy blonde hair along her thighs. At the spa, many women were sensitive, crying out if you applied too much pressure, but Nancy was stoic.

As I worked the knots out, asking “Is that ok? Tell me if it’s too much,” she remained face down, almost immobile and grunted, “It’s fine.”

Nancy came every Friday at 8:30 pm. She couldn’t come earlier or any other day because she worked late. I didn’t mind, touching her was the least lonely I’d felt in years, maybe ever.

At first, I mean for several months, we didn’t talk much. But eventually we became friendly. It turned out we were exactly the same age and had arrived in Barcelona the same year. Her personality, bubbly and agreeable, was the total opposite of her body, which was unyielding, hard, and defensive. Once, I brushed up too close against her thigh. She inhaled, shifted a bit and then went silent for the rest of the session. I was terrified that I had really fucked up: that I would be fired, or almost worse, that Nancy would stop coming. But the following Friday she was smiling at the receptionist at 8:30. I shook her hand hello as I always did and walked her to the therapy room, where I held the door open for her and said, “I’ll be back in five minutes. You can use the bathroom, get undressed—everything but your panties—.” And just like every other client, every single day, five minutes later there was Nancy, face down on the massage table, her ass and torso covered with a tiny towel.

That evening Nancy seemed in good spirits.

“Alejandro,” she asked me as she flipped over onto her right side. “How many backs have you seen over the years?”

“Let’s calculate,” I said rotating her left shoulder. “An average of five patients a day, over five years, let’s give it 300 days, because I mean some days I’m off, so 7,500. Well, but some backs repeat.”

“They repeat?” Nancy asked.

“Yes, I mean some are repeat customers, but also a lot of people have very similar backs. After a while they all run together.”

Nancy’s back wasn’t like any other back I’d ever seen though. It made me want to protect her, to lie down on top of her, line my kneecaps up with the back of her knees, cover her entire frame with my body.

Her back was a burnt reddish brown up top but a pale white lower down. That secret lower part was very delicate: the translucent skin and the bumpiness of the spine, the concave curve of the lumbar so extreme it seemed at once beautiful and excruciatingly painful.

But it’s not as if I was thinking about her back all that time. When she arrived on a Friday I was happy and the hour went by quickly, but I was busy then: teaching tai chi at two senior centers, training new massage therapists in shiatsu techniques. Plus, I had found a new flat with an extra bedroom where I had set up a massage bed and hung my framed shiatsu and tai chi diplomas, ready for business.

Nancy, while always charming to me, could be short with the receptionist, the ditzy daughter of the spa’s owner. Jacaranda was nothing like the beauty center where Olga and I had met. It was in a hipper area of the city and was tastefully decorated: all the original beams had been sanded clean and delicate light bulbs hung from coppery threads. At Jacaranda they used beautiful linens on the massage tables and gauzy curtains provided extra privacy. All the products—the almond massage oil and exfoliating lotion—were organic and extraordinary. However, the owner and her daughter were not very well organized. Often, we were paid late and sometimes they screwed up the agenda. That happened twice to Nancy. The second time she was irate.

“I switched days,” she admitted. “But I told them ​with​ ​Alejandro.”

She was undressed, but not relaxing. She sat up, gathering the towel around her chest, “I got some German guy who breathes heavily the whole time he’s massaging you.”

I stayed quiet while she readjusted and lay back down. That day I was extra careful not to brush up against her or linger, as I liked to, along the inside of her thighs. A window, I realized, had opened. When I finished the massage, Nancy was staring up at the ceiling so I gingerly covered her eyes with a washcloth and promised, “Rest, I’ll be back in five minutes.”

When I returned, Nancy was almost euphoric. After asking how she felt and reminding her to work on engaging her upper serratus as she ran, I rather submissively said, “I’m so sorry about the confusion over the appointments.”

“Oh, don’t worry. Those women are a disaster. But I keep coming for you.”

Two Fridays later, I mentioned to Nancy that I had set up a massage bed at home. After having said it I got the same sick feeling in my stomach that I had the first time my dick brushed her thigh. She was quiet, concentrating on something somewhere else.

I worried that Nancy would complain to the Jacaranda owners or stop requesting me, but our sessions went on for months and months, until one evening in December when we had finished the massage, I told Nancy that I was leaving.

“The pay here is pretty low, and I have other things going on.” She looked like she might cry. “But, if you want. Well, I wanted to say, I also work from home.”

“Personalities repeat too. Like backs,” Nancy said. “You learn that over time.” We were unhurried by then. It was a Sunday evening, around six, sultry outside, but cool enough in my flat.

It took a while after I left Jacaranda, but eventually Nancy began to come to my place for her weekly massage. She mentioned a breakup offhandedly, but it seemed to have upset her deeply. She was less confident than before, off kilter.

For me, what mattered was that she seemed to have more free time. Whatever had come apart in her personal life gave her more time, or reasons, to come to me.

By July, Nancy came over in short summery dresses and would start to undress while I was in the room. Not all the way, but she would unbuckle her sandals or loosen her dress as we chatted. Then eventually, and I was careful, and it took time, she stopped flinching when I lingered along her thighs. At the end of the session I would hop onto the table, sit sideways, bend her leg toward her torso and lean my chest into her thigh, let her sigh and tilt her head back. She was training for a marathon.

“Your hamstrings are like little metal springs,” I told her.

I invented reasons for Nancy to stay longer on Sundays: leftovers I needed to share, a restaurant that had just opened close to my apartment, my sister in town whom she just had to meet. Most of the time Nancy left after the massage, but once she stayed and had dinner with my sister. Nancy drank lots of wine and left at one am, saying, “Oh Christ, the metro’s closed. I’ll have to get a cab.”

She had reapplied bright red lipstick in the bathroom.

My sister wasn’t having it.

“You’re sleeping with her?” she asked me over the phone later that week. “She’ll destroy you. She just broke up with someone.”

There was so much my sister didn’t get though. First of all, we were not sleeping together. Second of all, I had no interest in having a girlfriend. When I saw couples waiting for one another after a massage at Jacaranda, holding hands at the cinema, buying bread on Sunday morning, it just reminded me of the abortion, of that waiting room where I had waited with the Spanish man and the Moroccan man for our women to be released. I wasn’t ever going back to that.

Nancy’s intimate life—her home, her thoughts or everyday needs were all secret to me—but I knew her back, her firm calves, her translucent spine. At times, I wondered if she had any physical contact with other people and fantasized that she did not. When she arrived on Sundays for her massage she often looked fatigued, but her body began to relax quickly beneath my hands. Even her face, the furrowed brow and sharp chin, opened up as I kneaded into her calves and then moved up towards her thighs.

My mother arrived in August for a six-week stay. She had finally retired from teaching Spanish literature to high-school delinquents. When Nancy came for her weekly massage she agreed, easily, to stay for dinner with Ma.

It was comforting to listen to them as I did the washing up. When I went back out on the terrace I was surprised, shocked really, to see Nancy smoking one of ma’s Camels and listening intently as my mother described her car trips with Pablo.

“So he was from Paraguay?” Nancy asked. Ma stubbed out her own cigarette and glanced at me. “No, from our neighborhood. But, we drove to the border, it’s a triangle, Argentina-Paraguay-Brazil, once a month.” Ma hadn’t spoken of Pablo for years. He was the only man she ever had any sort of relationship with after my father. When she met him, I was sixteen and pimply, very serious about lifting weights and martial arts.

Pablo was handsome in a brutal way: tall and dark with a pock-marked face. My mother said he smelled of turpentine and planting soil, so I knew early on that she loved him. He taught studio arts at the same school as Ma and lived a few streets over, all alone, in a house big enough for a family. He was always buying home appliances at flea markets and repairing them: toaster ovens, electric fans, even big things like refrigerators and washing machines. His yard was cluttered with appliances. Once, at lunch, my aunt Lila said he was a sad sexy cowboy and I wanted to punch her in the mouth.

He drove Ma home from work at night, for which I was thankful. But then there were the weekend trips to the border, Ma packing pork sandwiches and sliced quince jelly with cheese for them in a cooler, Pablo loading the car up with appliances and covering them with boxes of paintbrushes and books. I never worried too much about it, but my sister went crazy, accusing Ma of being involved with drug deals, of risking everything for some man.

Once Nancy had left, Ma and I folded up the little camping table I used for guests and blew out all the candles on the terrace.

“It’s funny you told Nancy about Pablo. You never talk about that time,” I said. Ma paused and said, “She’s easy to talk to.”

“You two were an odd pair,” I said. “Were you like a couple?”

“Are you two?” Ma asked.

Just as my mother had once accompanied Pablo to Paraguay, I accompanied Nancy to places I never would have gone without her: the theater, once to the opera, even to Thanksgiving dinner in a huge suburban house. All of our outings were very chaste and oddly public. We met outside the theater, at the opera metro stop, when we drove to the house in the suburbs Nancy picked me up near the highway entrance ramp closest to my neighborhood and dropped me off later that night at a metro stop close to my place. She was a distracted driver, fiddling with the mirrors, asking me if and when she could get over. She seemed frazzled, distracted and yet somehow still very much in charge. She sent all her friends to me for massages and got me a gig at a fancy physical therapy clinic uptown. It was as if we had some sort of pact, to which I was not fully privy.

We never talked on the phone, but every Sunday Nancy came for her massage and paid me the agreed upon “friend price” of thirty Euros. Every Sunday I let myself rub against her, brushing her leg or her protruding hip bone, and then worried for hours afterwards about what she would do or eventually say.

Once in a while she texted about television shows we were both watching or about meeting up during the week. When we did meet she always greeted me with a kiss on the cheek and always had to be home by ten pm.

“I’m dead tired,” she tended to say.

Soon after Thanksgiving at that strange suburban house full of children and dogs and jowly men, Nancy threw a Christmas party. I texted a few hours before and asked if she needed anything.

“Actually, your folding table! And, of course, YOU, Ale,” she wrote back.

I had never been to Nancy’s apartment before. Like me, it turns out, she didn’t have an elevator so I was sweating by the time I reached the door, with the table under my right shoulder and Nancy’s gift in my left hand. A scruffy looking Catalan guy greeted me, relieving me of the table and the gift. I didn’t catch his name or any clue as to his relationship to Nancy.

It was unseasonably warm and the terrace, lit with white votive candles, was packed with people and small tables. It was hard to see and I feared tripping as I stepped outside.

Nancy, in a sleeveless black dress, was parading about with a tray serving tiny cups of liqueurs to people. Her face was flushed and her knobby shoulders glowed as she carefully explained which herbs each liqueur contained. One kind was made in Majorca, the other was a traditional digestivo from Galicia.

“Alejandro,” she said, rushing toward me, “perfect. I want you to meet Marta, you two are both obsessed with alternative therapies!”

Nancy handed one of the miniature drinks to Marta, who had excellent posture and eyes like an owl.

Marta, I learned quickly, taught yoga and natural childbirth.

“Lots of people here,” I said.

Marta concentrated on rolling her cigarette, holding the filter between her teeth, and nodded, “The woman is never alone.”

Inside, in Nancy’s minimalist bathroom, someone hadn’t flushed the toilet. I blamed the scruffy Catalan guy for the dark yellow piss, but I didn’t let Nancy off the hook entirely either. I was angry at her. She could so easily have been happy, with her individual pursuits, with her few true friends, but she surrounded herself with these fools who droned on about the best local wines and their favorite holiday spots along the Costa Brava. Amongst them, she seemed suddenly rich, spoiled, and ordinary.

I left Nancy’s furious with those frivolous strangers. But I was angriest at myself for the silly gift I’d given her: a handbound notebook, in which I’d pasted a photograph of the sea at sunrise and a quote from Borges: ¿​Es o no es el sueño que olvidé antes del alba?​

For several months I’d been keeping a dream journal and I had thought Nancy might like to have one too. When I’d mentioned it during a massage she, face-down, had cooed, “Sounds like such a cool thing to do.”

Waiting for the metro, I wanted to punch the wall. I had no idea if Nancy liked dream interpretation, or Borges, or personality tests, or what she called alternative therapies. Did she even believe in the effectiveness of shiatsu massage? Perhaps her body was just sore after running and it felt good to have someone rub her legs down. Perhaps she didn’t mind that I touched her the way I did because she was a floozy, or depressed, or horribly narcissistic, or perhaps, and this was actually perfectly plausible, she didn’t even notice that I touched her the way I did. She made me hard, each and every time, but perhaps she was totally unaware of the fact.

She most definitely hadn’t a clue that her body parts—her back, her lean thighs, her perfectly arched feet—appeared to me in dreams. Or that I coded the parts by color, red for back, blue for thigh, black for any other area, in the early hours of the morning in my own journal.

The next morning Nancy texted me, “I love the lovely Borges quote. You are the best!”

I went to the gym without eating or drinking any coffee. Fasting intermittently can really help to reboot the metabolism and I was beginning to feel a bit pudgy. Once I had finished lifting, still angry, I texted Nancy back and asked if I could come get my folding table.

Nancy, it turned out, still had company: the scraggly looking Catalan guy, another woman I remembered vaguely from the party, and an older British man someone had told me was a journalist.

“It’s great that you came,” Nancy said to me as we folded up my table out on the terrace. “Joe is going through a divorce and it’s really hard to get him to leave. I asked them over for brunch, but Jesus Christ.”

The scraggly guy and the woman left soon after I arrived, but it took us a while to get Joe out. I liked being on a mission with Nancy. She was scraping quiche into the kitchen trash can and I was drying champagne flutes, when Joe called from the living room, “I wouldn’t mind just a teeny bit more coffee.”

I made a shooting myself in the head gesture. When Nancy gave me a real smile, I almost forgave her sloppiness the night before, her tight dress, those exposed shoulders, and all the other men.

Joe left as the sun was going down. Nancy shut the door behind him and said, “Well, at least we got rid of the leftover booze. Shall we go have a walk, get some dinner?”

Nancy said it was the first day she hadn’t logged miles in almost three months, but that she felt good: calm, rested.

I wanted to ask about all the people from the night before, the pair of Australian dancers, the gregarious Spanish photographer, and the Iranian guy who knew exactly where her napkins and matches were kept, but I stayed quiet and let Nancy choose where and what we would eat.

The restaurant she chose was run by a compatriota of mine and everything was overpriced and yet devastatingly simple: polished cement floors, angel hair pasta in clam sauce, two choices of white wine, two reds, tarta Sacher the only dessert.

“Oh shit,” Nancy said. “Your table! Well, you’ll get it later.”

An oversized sweater hid all the usual tension in her shoulders. She sat cross-legged on her stool and dipped a piece of bread in a puddle of olive oil.

“Tell me, Alejandro,” she said. “About your life. You never tell me​ anything.​”

What I could have to told Nancy was that my mother had just been diagnosed with breast cancer, that the lump I had noticed while giving her shiatsu in the summer was not a calcium deposit along her clavicle but a tumor as large as a peso. That my advice to meditate and roll out her shoulders every morning had served no purpose. That in November she had finally gone to a doctor and was now beginning chemotherapy, almost exactly a year after retiring.

But I didn’t tell Nancy that story. Instead I told her my other sad story: the one about Olga and our failed experiment with fertility awareness planning.

“Does your mother know?” Nancy asked me.

We had finished our dinner by then.

“No,” I said. “Only you do.”

Nancy didn’t flinch at that. She just said, “Yeah, I wouldn’t tell my mother either.”

“I feel like I just blabbed on about me,” I said as we left the restaurant and headed toward the metro. Nancy, it seemed, had no intention of letting me back upstairs for my folding table.

“Not to worry,” she said, zipping her coat all the way up to her throat.

She seemed like a stranger, generically pretty and no longer magical. It was Sunday, the next day she’d be up at six am to run and then off to the office.

I didn’t tell Nancy that I was leaving the next day for Buenos Aires where I would spend the next few months caring for Ma. I did text her from there, about an American television show Ma and I were watching in the hospital and she texted back, “Oh j’adore!”

When I got back to Barcelona, devastated and free, I could have texted Nancy but I never did. Ma never asked about her. She did, just once, ask about Olga, who it turns out had a baby with the policeman.

These days many women come to my place for shiatsu treatments. I can’t complain money-wise. Other Argentines I know here really suffered with the Spanish financial crisis, lost their jobs or took significant pay cuts, but I’ve got plenty of clientele. With most I don’t do anything out of the ordinary: just my classic 55-minute massage, perfectly executed. People always leave happy and come back regularly, eventually recommending family and friends.

With some of the women—and I make sure they are at once attractive and slightly insane—the massages are erotic. I don’t mess around anymore though. These days the pacts are spoken, explicit, consensual. I know where I can touch, when, for how long. Client and therapist are both clear about the benefits of this alternative therapy: the sensation of relief, the release of tension and pent-up rage or fear. It does get routine at times, the careful approach, the slight changes in breathing—hers and mine—get repetitive as backs. Nowadays there is no longer mystery or mischief, just the bloom of their pleasure, surprisingly similar each time.


Born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland, Madeline Beach Carey studied literature and creative writing at Bard College. Since 2000 she has lived in Barcelona.