I walk in through the nondescript storefront and am surprised to see a diner, rather than the massage parlor I was expecting. There is a single table in front of the window next to the door
to my left, a lunch counter and grill stretching ahead to my right and a single row of tables against the wall across from it.
I see a middle aged man and woman sitting at a table about halfway down, wearing standard food service uniforms. This isn’t what I was expecting, but I walk up to them and deliver the memorized Chinese passphrase. They look at each other blankly, shrug and laugh. The woman stands briskly, “You want to eat? Follow me.”
She walks back toward the table in the window without waiting for an answer. I follow; she points to the table and walks away. No sooner do I sit down, I look up and a much younger woman appears in a waitress apron.
“You want soup?”
“What kind of soup do you have?”
“Noodle soup,” she says, making a single mark on her notepad. “You want eggroll?”
“No thank you.”
She turns and walks away. I’m in a different place. The general layout is the same, only larger and lighter; more open. I’m seated against a wall facing the window, looking out over an alcove that now has 2 rows of three tables, plus one on either side of me. To my left is a staircase leading up to the lunch counter stretching out on the right and an open balcony across from it with 3 rows of tables, 5 deep. I stare out the window until she returns with a bowl of soup.
It’s Ramen! I eat quickly. I am hungry after all. Somehow she manages to return with the guest check right as I swallow the last bite. She leaves the check on the table without comment and walks away.
$10 for a bowl of Ramen! At this point I’m thinking the whole thing is a scam, but having been around the block a few times, I’m happy to get off for $10. I leave a single $10 bill on the table, stand up and turn to leave. She’s blocking my way.
“How was your meal sir?”
“Very tasty,” I say evenly. Not even a little bit of sarcasm or fake enthusiasm to offend; just the smallest hint of sincerity that I can get away with. “Do you have a restroom I can use?”
She points to the stairway, “Last door on your left.”
I walk up the stair, down the hall, and enter a small room. There are tools covering the walls, and lo and behold, a cheap massage table in the middle. It looks more like a set from Dexter than the Penthouse Letter I’d envisioned. This is not the restroom I was looking for.
As I turn to leave, she's standing in the door. “So sorry, I meant to say last door on your right.” She’s blushing like she actually made a mistake. “My Father practices Acupuncture,” she says, motioning to the tools on the wall.
“I was actually looking for a massage today,” I say, rubbing my shoulder and waiting for her reply.
“I am in massage school, but I don’t have my license yet.”
“I’m a Systems Analyst on Wall Street,” I say, still rubbing my shoulder, “And I just can’t seem to get the knots out.”
She stands motionless, looking back blankly.
I hold out a $20 bill. “The soup was very good.”
She takes the money. “I guess I could practice on you,” she says, “Please sit,” pointing to the table.
After a couple minutes on my shoulders, she pulls my arms over my head to stretch them and presses against my back at the same time. Just then the old man bursts into the room, lets loose a barrage in Chinese and leaves. She says, “Time to go,” and rushes me to the door.
As I reach for the doorknob, she puts her hand on my shoulder to stop me, leans in close and whispers in my ear, “Next time ask for Noodle Soup.”
© Copyright 2016 Zarathud523. All rights reserved.
Short Story / Literary Fiction
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