Account Past-Due

by

AUGUST 2020

Late in the workday I’m outside my office fetching nicotine gum from my truck, an errand interrupted by a shiny black Lexus that wheels into the parking lot and takes a vacant space among the employee parking. The driver’s door swings open, followed by sandaled feet and familiar, muscular calves beneath a mid-length brown dress, sleeveless and trimmed with white lace like the summertime clothes my mother might have worn though not fitted so closely.

The woman’s standing on the pavement, pixie-cut blonde hair shining in the late afternoon sun, the same blonde hair — though sometimes shoulder-length, sometimes down her back, and sometimes in pigtails — that bounced and flounced above the instructor’s platform during the aerobics classes she taught and I attended for twenty-six years at Fit Zone Sports Center in Atlanta.

I think, What’s she doing here? And, Funny seeing her outside, and in these types of clothes.

And then my mind drifts, to workouts past… and present?

* * *

MARCH 1986

She arrived at the gym about the time I took up aerobic dance, following the advice of an orthopedist who warned against continued jogging on my gimp right knee. Freshly graduated from Georgia Tech (varsity cheerleader, Tri-Delt Sorority), she quickly established herself as “Alpha Female” among aerobics instructors. This was accomplished as soon as she walked into the Group Exercise Room and stepped onto the instructor’s platform.

Slim, athletic and blond, all arms and legs with perfect posture, she was a living breathing Barbie with ballet-dancer breasts, an air-brushed image of feminine perfection from the pages of Woman’s Health magazine, which — had I been editor — would have showcased her calves, thighs and ass on six covers per year.

Genetics and scientifically-prescribed exercise had sculpted her body, especially the lower half, into an ideal balance of hard muscle and feminine curves. Not by accident, it seemed, had she majored in physiology. Less obvious was her motivation for undertaking a second degree in psychology. Under careful scrutiny, her ankles might have appeared slightly too solid (I’m talking “slight” here; very fuckin’ slight). The ankles projected a maternal aspect, i.e. that here was a package capable of fucking your brains out then nursing you back into shape (which would have taken all of two minutes back then, though as for now, and with 120 mg of Cialis in the system, about half a day).

Her nose was straight; neither too big nor too small, and a bit narrow, as if to avoid any suggestion of sensuality. Her ears — small, beautifully-sculpted and lobeless — presented a similar economy of flesh, as did her upper lip, narrow to the point of invisibility but for pink lipstick. Into this nicely-proportioned, if prim, arrangement were set two preternaturally large blue eyes, deeply recessed into their sockets, suggesting, for one thing, the sort of spiritual strength you might see in the eyes of an angel painted 500 years ago. Particularly when framed by perfect blond ringlets into which she with god-knows-what labor and/or expense sometimes curled her hair.

A face like an apparition of angelic purity! Which she, deliberately or not, profaned by over-application of eye-shadow and mascara, aligning herself cosmetically with the type of girls from 42nd Street before Mayor Guiliani ran them off. A crude, perhaps unconscious, attempt to express her (substantial) chthonic side? An involuntary confession of inability to comply with the body-versus-soul fundamentalist dogma which held such appeal for her?

Sex! God! Trash!

Contradictions sufficient to cause your mind, as well as your dick, to twitch!

Fifty-dollar monthly gym dues gave you access to her four weekly aerobics classes, each an hour of flesh and hair and sinew gyrating to 1980’s music eroticized by lyrics such as Salt N Peppa’s “Push It, Baby, Push It Real Hard” over which she’d scream “Don’t stop! Don’t stop!” sometimes sending me home to attack — an unopened tube of K-Y jelly in hand — my wife in our all-glass shower.

Those were the early days of the aerobic craze ushered in by Jane Fonda’s workout videos and sensational exercise costumes: low-cut tops, fluffy leg warmers, headbands and, most importantly, thong underwear worn OUTSIDE skin-tight Lycra leotards, defining and exaggerating the butt cleavage. Under the guise of health and exercise, the Sex Rev had burst into Atlanta’s leading gym, suddenly a forum for unabashed display of feminine wares.

Her classes were invariably packed with dolled-up females, twenty-and-thirty-somethings: young moms, singles, whatever the hell you want. And always a handful of guys, attending for the visuals as well as the intense exercise. Hell, EVERYONE was there for the visuals. Why else would the walls be lined with mirrors?

Eyeball and be eyeballed: that was the aerobics mantra, unlike yoga where, at least theoretically, participants focus on their own mats, their own selves. No, aerobics was a big disco dance, co-ed and mid-day, stimulated not by alcohol, weed or cocaine, but by the thrill of viewing, comparing and judging social equals bending and squatting in garments that, in any previous era, would have been deemed unfit for public display, fashions designed explicitly to create and maximize sexual excitement.

She was to our gym what Marilyn Monroe had been to Hollywood, an irresistible beacon of natural beauty amped by outfits and make-up, supercharged by extreme sexual self-confidence, overwhelming lesser feminine lights, drawing men like mosquitoes to a high-voltage zapper. And like Marilyn, she would go to unnecessary (but appreciated) lengths to ensure her public’s appreciation of her potent blend of sex and beauty.

Prior to “holding court” after classes at the gym’s snack bar with admirers (male and female) she would typically retire to the women’s locker room, strip off her sweaty sports bra, and return with naked breasts beneath a zip-up sweatshirt.

AND SHE’D MAKE SURE WE KNEW SHE’D DONE THAT.

No, we never saw them. We didn’t need to. Low-scooped athletic tops revealed most of her chest during workouts, everything but the nipples, hidden from direct view by some miracle of sports bra design, but always emerging in relief mid-workout beneath the moistening Lycra as penny-sized rosettes, stiffening when chilled by evaporating sweat, each extruding a bud like a holly berry as she stood hands on hips, exhausted and panting at the end of class.

Now and then she would neglect to wear a thong over her exercise tights, enlightening me as to why women wear thongs — either inside or outside of their leotards. One Friday afternoon at her post-workout conference, as she sat on a bench yip-yapping to us about this and that and one thing and another, the topography of her vulva appeared in relief, labia-distending Lycra already stretched to transparency, pink gummy worms crammed into a blue-tinted cellophane bag.

I remember the early days when she was single and dating: occasionally a new guy would inexplicably show up at her aerobics class and stand in the front row, tongue hanging out even further than mine; I figured she’d probably fucked him the night before, an assumption probably correct more often than not. It’s also likely she’d commanded him to attend her next workout. None of these saps lasted more than a class or two.

Sun and moon aligned with the constellation Scorpio at the moment of her birth; she was instinctively drawn to apparently passive types whom she might bend to her will, the more completely the better. From General Patton to Joan Crawford to Charles Manson, Scorpios exemplify leadership of a dictatorial sort, always relentless, sometimes edged with brutality.

I was happily married with young children during those years, and therefore an unlikely acceptor of her amorous attentions. I sensed, however, that my lockstep compliance with her shouted instructions during aerobics classes — a manifestation of my adaptive Piscean personality — identified me as a candidate for DOMINATION, her preferred method of relating (erotically or otherwise) to persons and situations.

But all that aside, no doubt she sincerely appreciated that I attended so many of her classes.

She sometimes followed me out of class for private conversation. Encounters which might have been pleasant except that I, face-to-face with the real-life protagonist of home-wrecking narratives that arose like lethal mushrooms in my brain as she leapt, kicked and strutted across the instructor’s platform, could rarely manage a comment more interesting than: “Good class today.”

To appreciate my verbal paralysis during these unsolicited “interviews,” imagine a small fish in a shallow stream beside which suddenly appears a scorpion, of fair size and hungry, clicking her enameled claws into the water, waving her poison-tipped tail in the airspace above; a lively show, but too close for comfort. The fish wants, above all else, to remove himself.

In 1994, she married a DKE who graduated Georgia Tech a couple of years before her. Six-foot-five, All-SEC tennis, good job, family money and absolutely pliable, a requirement for a relationship with her.

Of course, I crashed the wedding ceremony.

It was at Holy Trinity Church, where I slipped into an aisle seat on a pew halfway to the altar. The service was traditional, the bride in white proceeding slowly forwards, clenching the bridal bouquet as if it were the lifeline by which she’d to be rescued from a lifestyle of godless hyper sexuality, pre-marital sins — as well as the necessity of earning her own living — to be written off with the words “I do.” Forehead piously down-turned, she’d peered timidly through her veil from side to side, as if seeking absolution from guests oblivious to her sexual history, and in any case not inclined to judge conduct typical of late 20th century singles. Hidden within a floor-length gown, blanched by imagined guilt, subdued by matrimonial pageantry and deprived of the glamorizing lights, music and mirrors of aerobics class: a first-magnitude star viewed through a fog of religion, formality and convention. The grip of her visual charm (temporarily) loosened, I was able to restrain myself from crashing the wedding reception to which I’d also not been invited. An absence for which she chided me upon her return from the honeymoon.

Social and financial status secured by the sacrament, free to follow with impunity from gentile criticism her sharply-defined if previously-latent religious inclinations, she left her mild Episcopal congregation for an aggressively-evangelical Pentecostal sect. Despite my Jewish heritage, I was never offended by her mid-workout shouts of praise for “him,” by which she meant JESUS. Rather, I regarded these exultations as exotic and entertaining, appropriate within the framework of musically-based aerobics classes which from the beginning had reminded me of African tribal dance, usually intended to appease one deity or another. Or even the orgiastic frenzies of otherwise respectable Greek matrons lured from their homes by Dionysus, frantically following him through the streets and into the forests for weird nympholeptic celebrations.

Her hallelujah’s aroused complaints from attendees expecting separation of God and Gym, but management, deferring to her overwhelming popularity, never intervened. She had a keen sense of what she could get away with: she spoke (shouted) as she pleased in her own classes. I took her at her word when she, quoting Jean Harlow, once advised that, “She was not as dumb as she got paid to be.”

She turned to fundamentalism for the same reason nations irreconcilably divided within sometimes turn to fascism. Alarmed and exhausted by internal contradictions — in her case, straight-laced Christianity diametrically opposed to her sex needs — she simply amped-up her religious views to a level sufficient to repress her sexual inclinations. While not precisely “on-trend,” fundamentalism was not socially suicidal, as her tendency towards unrestrained sexual adventures might have been. And, like all who’ve excluded a portion of their psyche to embrace a particular point of view, she was not quite convinced of her own conclusions, an unease she compulsively sought to dispel by pushing her ideology onto others, i.e. Evangelism.

In fact, she gave up sex altogether. Or at least within her brand-new marriage. I know this because her husband complained to ME that she “wasn’t giving him any.”

Naturally, I was pleased by her husband’s lament. Here was a guy paying her bills, obliged to marital fidelity by law and religion and enduring her dictatorial (if charming) personality and getting the same amount of sex from her as I. None.

This was predictable, it seemed to me, insofar as his mildness and stability, essential qualifications for lifetime partnership with a borderline-fanatic wife, may have held little or no appeal to her sexual tastes which, I guessed, ran to less predictable, perhaps more elusive types: targets that might be challenging, not guaranteed to succumb to her straightforward predatory manner of advance. These speculations aside, she was a paradigm of self-absorption. The only person really interesting to her was her.

I imagined her showering after he left for work on a typical day, slipping into silk pajamas and climbing into their bed. An admitted germaphobe, she would have lain in bed momentarily before compulsively returning to her bathroom to wash her hands with very hot water before getting back between the sheets to masturbate at leisure, I was sure, gratifying her boundless libido with long graceful fingers until it would have been time to re-shower, apply make-up, fix her hair and dress to the nines before hosting the ladies of her Bible Study group in the lovely stylish home her husband provided for her. Or, alternatively, wiggling into leotards and a sports bra before heading to the gym to lead the likes of myself and dozens of horny Buckhead Forest housewives in the day’s aerobic exercise.

In any event, they never had children.

By the time she retired in 2012, I had attended 1,800 or so of her classes.

* * *

AUGUST 2020

My adrenals constrict at the sight of her, pumping epinephrine into my system, overriding afternoon weariness, physical and mental energy suddenly available to conduct myself with the cold Machiavellian precision necessary to achieve a positive outcome given the unexpected arrival of the object of thirty-two years of frustrated desire.

Double Scorpio. Who cares? I’m ready.

“We’ve a workout room inside,” I say. “Wanna teach a class?”

She ignores my attempted humorous greeting and approaches, crisp stride broadcasting pissiness through the parking lot if not the entire business district. She halts, stamping a heel against the asphalt, presenting what could have been a Hitler salute had her fingers been extended instead of clutching a letter on blue stationary, one of our notices requesting payment of an account past-due, a $25 medical co-pay she’s overlooked.

“Pay inside,” I say flatly.

She nods, frowning, and walks past me, pausing to inspect herself in the glass door before shoving it open and disappearing into the office. Her legs have lost nothing, it seems to me. It also seems late in the day to be paying a bill. I resume my original errand, heading to my truck for nicotine gum.

Re-entering the office, I’m silently amused she’s being attended by one of our Latino collectors; that a person of color is taking a past-due payment from a lily-white, protestant snob who lives in a gated community.

I ignore all that — I’m the boss, after all, a Jew boss whose Catholic employee is taking money from a gentile debtor. I proceed to my personal office where the Venetian blinds are half-closed against the late afternoon sun. I sit on a little stool in front of my desk and attempt, preposterously, in view of the hormonally-agitated blood lashing my cortices, to review business reports, an effort which quickly lapses into self-recrimination.

I feel I’ve wasted a singular opportunity to re-connect. Had I received her more deferentially, opened the front door for her, forgiven the debt she came to pay, or even paid it myself, she might have responded favorably, even… affectionately. Chimerical nonsense, of course, as that sort of reception would have yielded nothing more than a faux-gracious thank-you and quick departure, perhaps, but good-natured generosity, which is my tendency, is misapplied with this particular female, who, to the extent she notices kindness, simply accepts it as her due. It could be an impolite characterization, filtered into oblivion by the mental conditioning of my upbringing which, however benevolently intended, aimed at preparing me for a law office/synagogue/happily married lifestyle where unconditional conviviality is generally adaptive. Which is a lifestyle for which I, drawn to all forms of excitement, am unsuited.

Clear-eyed appreciation of persons and circumstances has been the goal of my adult self-education. And that’s an education which is, in fact, about to be tested.

* * *

There’s a faint tap on my open door and there she is, smiling and awaiting invitation to enter, which I casually issue.

I pop four milligrams of nicotine gum — chemically-equivalent to four cigarettes – into my mouth, and I extend a hand toward my recamier, a yellow suede backless couch on a mahogany frame inlaid with bronze palmettos, rosettes and acanthus leaves, like the divans on which Romans reclined to eat, drink, fuck and occasionally view gladiatorial contests. It’s a furnishing you’d more likely find in a Houston whorehouse than a 21st century debt collector’s office, a malapropism of decor reflected in my guest’s raised eyebrows which, after registering socially-appropriate curiosity, descend over a blue-eyed, what-goes-on-in-here? I squint and pretend not to notice.

She tosses her purse, a classy red leather item with a brass clasp, onto the recamier. It bounces once then stops, poised at an acute angle as if weighted by lead. Only a few grams as it would turn out, a pound of nickel-plated steel the main ballast. She sweeps the purse against her thigh as she sits, tucking her sandals beneath herself.

The rim of one sole precisely bisects her bottom, permitting her to entertain herself with nearly undetectable back-and-forth movements. So positioned, she waits until our eyes meet before shoving her brown dress between her thighs, perhaps to suggest there’s nothing but flesh beneath the dress. Or, maybe like millions of women, she is simply comfortable sitting on her feet, the self-stimulatory possibilities of her posture and the incompleteness of her sub-midriff wardrobe existing only in my imagination.

I get up to close both doors to my office and sit back down, reversing the stool so I’m facing her, about three feet away. Her eyebrows, carefully pruned during the aerobic years, appear untended, matted near the bridge of her nose, arching away like shaggy tails of comets, dipping then diminishing to sharp hairy points at her temples. Her mascara, previously excessive, is now conventional. The “natural look,” I suppose, wondering, wrong-headedly as usual, if the same adjective can be applied to her generally.

She asks if I’m still exercising regularly. And whether my right leg, on which I treaded gingerly during her aerobics classes, is still lame.

“Jesus can fix that,” she adds gratuitously.

“Dr. Greenberg already fixed it,” I reply, raising a pants leg over an eight-inch vertical scar marking recent insertion of an artificial knee, a show-and-tell she regards — per the instantaneous enlargement of white around her blue iris — as de facto rejection of her recommended miracle cure, behavior that’s insubordinate if not blasphemous. Her pretty head pivots from side-to-side, blond bangs swinging like a grass skirt across an angry pink crease where two ridges of puckered flesh meet at the bridge of her nose.

“You people just don’t get it,” she says.

“Get what?” I ask, contemplating the cleft over her brow.

“Truth.”

“I’m open to truth.”

A careless statement of the obvious — anyone will accept a point of view that happens to match their own — which nonetheless seems to relax her, dissipating her righteous indignation, smoothing her forehead into flat impassivity. The deep rift between her brows melts away along with lascivious fantasies I’ve conjured in response to its gynecoid appearance. Eager optimistic buoyancy fades, my momentary pipe dream of easy success deflating like a punctured tire. But, like a run-flat tire whose reinforced sidewalls bear weight after a blow out, I roll along in pursuit an evangelical zealot who equates open-mindedness with persuadability and may be more interested in converting me than fucking me.

I turn the subject to yoga, mentioning my favorite female instructor, a one-quarter Japanese with straight black hair and eyes like aquamarines. Jacked on nicotine, I explicitly describe the yogi’s hips, thighs and hindquarters as displayed in “Puppy Pose,” a head-down-ass-up kneeling position designed for quick repetitive contraction and relaxation of the Kegels. I figure my guest is more interested in feminine physiology than yoga, which she regards as a pseudo-spiritual system antithetical to the Gospel.

Not that my belief system — aside from Judaism which offers scant supernatural guidance except to the devout – is any less fucked-up than hers, the proposition that being born Pisces makes someone a pushover being no more verifiable than Jesus’ alleged Virgin Birth. Yet, I buy the astrological myth of Piscean deficiency as surely as she buys the Fundamentalist equation of sex with evil. To absolve myself from my burdensome astral preconception, I became a debt collector, an occupation in which you cannot, as a general rule, give in. More interesting, to me, would be to discover the latest turn in her lifelong struggle to free herself from the guilt arising from her sincere enjoyment of sex, made all the more painful by her characterization of her own sex drive as betrayal of the one deity who could forgive her.

Insofar as astrology ascribes personality to time and place of birth and Christianity assigns sinfulness universally, we inhabit separate mental prisons of our choosing. Peas in a pod, two nicely-educated and well-advantaged adults masochistically accepting the most self-destructive aspects of their respective spiritual traditions.

“Cute, isn’t she?”

“Who?”

“Your yoga instructor.”

“So what?”

“When she’s in Puppy Pose, what do you see?”

“A yoga instructor.”

“You see her naked don’t you? In your imagination.”

“Considering the outfit, that doesn’t take much.”

“But you won’t do anything about it. You’re harmless.”

In point of fact, I’m not entirely harmless. But I’m pretty sure the yoga instructor, who is married, doesn’t want me to ask her for a date. Or rush to the front of the yoga studio and fuck her after class.

Whatever the case, “harmless” is a label no man enjoys, especially a man astrologically-convinced of his inadequacy. She’s thrown me a wicked pitch, high and inside, chin music.

I step away from the plate, tap the bat against my cleats and scratch my balls to make sure they’re still attached.

When debtors verge on insult, silence is a collector’s most useful response. We call it “dead air,” an unexplained pause in conversation. Debtors have no idea of what’s coming next. If their remarks have been rude, they anticipate unpleasant reactions. Disagreeable outcomes (lawsuits, wage garnishment, foreclosure, imprisonment, exile, torture) most of which are impossible or illegal, parade through their minds. Some offer to pay simply to break the silence, to end the suspense.

I watch the carpet for a couple of seconds, grinding my gum for whatever nicotine boost is left, allowing my irritation to dissipate.

“What about me?” she asks.

That’s a good pitch, a hitter’s pitch. I watch it go by.

After a couple of beats, I answer: “You? You’ve retired from athletic instruction.”

A non-committal reply intended to send a cool breeze of non-interest, of possible rejection, back to the mound, setting up MY pitch: “You were the best.”

* * *

She smiles and motions me to sit on the recamier.

Side-by-side, we discuss people who attended her aerobic classes. Who’s divorced, who’s sick, who’s dead, who’s moved away, that sort of thing, a quarter hour’s background chatter as she shifts and re-shifts her butt over her folded legs. I keep half an eye on my crotch, glad, for once, I’m not ten years younger.

Conversation wanes. She sighs deeply and swings her fine tanned legs over the edge of the recamier, toes resting on the narrow red Moroccan rug spread over the gray office carpet. She’s sitting ladylike now, hands folded in her lap, as if it might be time for her to leave, to close up shop. I toss my gum, exhausted of flavor and pick-me-up, into the office trash can.

Neither of us can think of anything to say. Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” imprinted on my desk-light lampshade — a gift from my girlfriend — glows softly. Honeysuckle wafts from a candle burning on top of my printer. Trance quietly pulses from my computer’s Pandora app, about 120 bpm. Across the room, resting on my credenza, are 18-inch industrial wrenches, two of them, stainless steel painted bright red except for the gleaming serrated teeth, brutal instruments shaped like question marks. It occurs to me none of this would be happening were we both sophomores in college where varsity athletes, not lawyers collecting debts, ruled the roost.

She leans forward, cupping her kneecaps with her hands. Strong hands bronzed by sun or Lancome. Privileged hands that grip tennis rackets and leather-bound steering wheels. Fortunate hands that daily caress, wash and wipe her whatzit and thingamabobs, massaging hypersensitive prominences, offering gentle reassurance as spasms build, peak and fade. Hands that now grasp my forearm, pulling it across her thighs, rotating its white underside upwards to receive chocolate fingernails which drag along bluish vascular ridges thickened by three decades of vigorous aerobic exercise. Her nails sweep back and forth coquettishly, perhaps indicating she’s considering other similarly-capacious blood vessels that sustain sturdy musculature which she plans to harvest. A harvest to which — like most else she desires — she may feel entitled, given the cardiovascular benefit I received from HER aerobics classes.

Yeah, she may want flesh. For which she’ll give flesh. But she’ll want something else, too. With her, no trade will be straight up, Even-Steven.

Her fingers whisk from my arm to the purse on the far side of her thigh. There’s a metallic snap I deliberately ignore, disciplining my eyes straight ahead, fixed on weirdly-shaped green plants silhouetted against horizontal bands of orange sunlight slicing through the slits in my Venetian blinds. Something smaller than a fingertip pushes across the belly of my forearm, depressing the flesh in its path, looping and circling like the tip of a figure skate on soft ice. Incision by razor would sting, it seems to me, but as I’ve never attempted suicide, that’s mere conjecture. It’s time to pause my feigned disinterest and take a look.

In big blue cursive letters on the flat underside of my forearm, she’s penned: “Gethsemane.”

“The garden where the Jew mob nabbed Jesus and hauled him off to Pontius Pilate. Matthew 26.”

“You read the New Testament?” she inquires.

“Tenth-grade Bible class. Westminster Academy.”

“You want to see it?”

“Westminster Academy?”

“No, you dope, Gethsemane,” she says, grabbing the hem of her dress like the bottom of a curtain, lifting the fabric past her smooth shaved calves, halting just below her knees. I shift my eyes to framed illustrations on my office wall, enlargements of comic book covers, motivational stuff: the Twelve Labors of Hercules, consecutively Fetching the Golden Apples, Taming the Man-Eating Mares, Removing the Girdle of the Amazon Queen, etc.

“Pagan comics? You can do better than that,” she remarks. “I’m about to show you the Garden of Gethsemane.”

Figuring I’ve pushed the nonchalant act as far as it will go, I turn towards her and hoist my repaired right leg, bent double at the knee, onto the recamier. I’m facing her directly now. As instructed, I cast my gaze downward.

The curtain resumes its slow deliberate ascent, moving horizontally after it glides over her knees, ruffling fine blond hairs matted to her upper thighs by light afternoon perspiration. These flip back to their naturally-skewed alignments as the fabric proceeds to the garden’s lower limit, a fleshy notch grassed with dark-golden Bermuda which spreads like a lawn upwards over a gently-sloped mound and then outwards, delineating an upper edge. Here, the curtain pauses again, lacey white fringes fluttering in a slight breeze from the office fan, dancing above the palm-sized mossy landscape which gyrates slowly as if powered by irresistible subterranean processes, a barely perceptible circular motion, apparently pivoting around a dime-sized spot of red flesh visible in Gethsemane’s northern latitudes where the silky whorls are less-closely situated, revealing the milky smoothness from which they arise.

I place a fingertip on the red spot. Her pulse is strong.

“It’s a birthmark,” she says, “the spot where Jesus knelt as he prayed.”

“Really?”

“Take a closer look,” she says, rising from the recamier and hoisting her dress arm’s length over her head, baring her lats, traps, delts, biceps and triceps, advertising the magnificent contours of her upper body, standing like a classical statue, weight shifted to one leg above which her butt curves like a small melon, a pose she holds for a moment before shifting her weight onto her other leg from which she launches into a pirouette: her naked body whirling beneath her upraised dress which balloons like a parachute until she sweeps it down like a fishing net, capturing my head, neck and torso in a twilight zone scented like a freshly-diapered infant.

Gethsemane’s equilateral outline appears as my eyes adjust to semi darkness. I notice a tiny phosphorescent cross glowing in the center of her red birthmark. Phosphorescent tattoo ink?

Before I can reflect on the significance of the luminous cross, her hands press against my ears, steadying my head as she thrusts her pelvis to my face, the soft Bermuda grass engulfing my eyes, mouth and nostrils which, irritated by a substance like talcum, coordinate with my lungs in a violent sneeze, propelling my head backwards as far as her dress allows. From which vantage I read the tattooed words: “I accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior” followed by a blank signature line, inscribed on the smooth white flesh rippling over her lower obliques.

State-of-the-art Evangelism, I figure, wondering how many glamorous young television Evangelistas have been similarly inscribed.

If there’s a reaction to my sneeze other than her cheerful laugh, I don’t see it, my head still wigwammed beneath her dress. Energized by an unusual surge of self-confidence perhaps derived from the proximity of Gethsemane’s narrow cleft, I bring my hands into the canopied shrine, grasping her hips, slim and fit as ever. My fingers curve around her ass, gently jostling the lobes, similarly well-preserved. Meanwhile, on the reverse side of her pelvis, inches from my eyes, her labia purse like lips waiting to be kissed, rounding into something like the rim of a chalice, a vessel not silver but flesh, a relic no longer carrying her own (monthly) blood or, insofar as it symbolizes a holy medieval artifact, the blood of Christ. Yeah, this IT and here I am.

I pause.

The problem is not consensual. Within the last minute, she’s rammed her naked pudenda into my face. Signs indicate she’d like me to return the favor.

Rather, the problem is agricultural: the pig likes the trough but is suspicious of the meal. So I pull myself backwards, her dress slipping up, over and off my head, falling to its original mid-calf level, eclipsing my view of the sacred landscape and the abyss which yawns thereon.

As a debt collector, I’ve developed reasonably good sonar. I sail along antagonizing thousands who remit millions, along with hate letters, death threats, expletives screamed into the phone and once even a prosthetic eye from a debtor convinced our client had overcharged him. I stay in trouble with half a dozen state and federal regulatory agencies and am defending six or eight lawsuits at any given time. In a sea of complications, I’ve survived thirty years, perhaps because I can sometimes distinguish rough waters from tsunamis, submerged shipwrecks from coral reefs, routine difficulties from real danger.

It’s a business culture approximating that of an 18th century pirate ship which, in turn, is far too tame and conventional to represent, in an archetypical sense, what’s unfolding in my personal office this evening. For that, you’d have to retreat to a dusty bookshelf somewhere in a minor university where you might find, never translated from the original Latin, an inferior medieval romance depicting a demon disguised as an evangelizing damsel between whose legs is what a would be Galahad believes is the Holy Grail lodged within the golden lawns of Gethsemane. So a cautionary tale somebody someday may write up and send to the American Collectors Association for publication in Collector Magazine.

Returning to the events at hand, her expression is business-like, which is to say there’s no expression. Her eyes fix diagnostically on mine, as she once again lifts her dress, this time past navel and breasts, clutching the bunched fabric at her throat, breasts swaying as she stoops, reaching with her free hand into her purse for her blue pen.

“Sign while you still can,” she says, relaxing her abdominal muscles, undulating the signature line towards me. Then, with a shimmy of her shoulders, she presents me with the pen.

It’s not easy to say “hold on a sec” to nipples nodding enthusiastically, my reserves of will power largely and lately depleted by my voluntary self-exile from the Garden of Gethsemane. Yet, the “pause-and-think” feature, hard-wired into my brain over the years by non-reciprocating debtors and strippers — the former requesting credit removal BEFORE payment, the latter requesting cash BEFORE performance — has been engaged by her imperious tone. My thoughts proceed with uncharacteristic rapidity and apparent lucidity.

It’s not unlikely she wants to fuck me. But she WILL NOT fuck me, as her metaphysics prohibit sexual intercourse except for a scripturally-approved purpose. Such as procreation within wedlock of a Christian child. Or, just possibly, saving a soul for Jesus.

I must CONDITION my written acceptance of Jesus upon her fucking me. Under those circumstances, the sacrifice of her chastity — such as it is — would be a sort of MARTYRDOM, which, per the mental gymnastics of a lust-besotted religious nut, might be OK, or even GLORIOUS.

Conversely, if I sign BEFORE she fucks me, if my soul is already “in the bag.” So maybe she WON’T fuck me, which is the real danger. Because, under those circumstances, she would lose her EXEMPTION from the general prohibition, her own desires being not only irrelevant, but downright wicked.

I figure she’ll eventually take a selfie of my signature and crop out Gethsemane, then Photoshop the image so the signature appears to be on paper when it’s published on a roster of “Jews for Jesus” or somesuch, evidence of another soul she’s saved. Good for her.

Assuming the tattooed signature line on her lower abdomen is permanent, it may have been signed — in ordinary washable ink — previously, perhaps many times previously. No telling HOW MANY guys (and/or girls) she’s fucked for Jesus, a practice identical, if we disregard Jesus’ gender, to that of priestesses in the Temple of Aphrodite in old Corinth, sex surrogates for the Goddess.

All of which seems to make very good sense at the time, perhaps indicating my understanding of cause and effect is intact. In terms of sensory perception, however, my nose has been convinced by the office candle I’m immersed in a dense field of blooming honeysuckle. Meanwhile, my index finger explores the recamier’s suede surface, tracing the valley between two folds to where they intersect and are tacked to the base by a bronze rivet which, impossibly, swells at my touch then begins rhythmic contractions which continue half a minute or so, an illusion beyond the pay grade of over-stimulated gonads. It may be — as they used to joke at NASA — that Tang’s gotten into the computer.

I address my reply to her request for my signature to the nodules on her nipples:

“I’ll sign after we–.”

My head tilts sideways, nearly resting on my shoulder. My spine slumps backwards over the side of the recamier, my legs hanging like tubes of sausage from the other side, all muscles slackened but not quite overwhelmed by a strange lethargy I might have resisted had I sufficient motivation. Given my considerable interest in whatever might be the next stop on the itinerary, however, she’s apparently planned with considerable care. Which is not to say I’m worry-free, recalling that the centipede injects its live dinner with a paralytic, as do certain snakes and spiders, preferring food that doesn’t wiggle. Does she intend to eat me? Probably not. Because my role is more likely mate than food.

Bill Cosby comes to mind as I consider likely additives to the baby powder she sprinkled onto Gethsemane. Perhaps curare, the Haitian zombificant. Or ketamine, a youth drug combining mild hallucinations with short-term paralysis. Whatever the chemical, it’s not unpleasant.

She tosses my legs up and onto the divan, then tugs my arm towards herself so that I come to rest lengthwise, flat on my back, arms at my side, head slightly inclined on a small pillow. Her sinewy fingers unbuckle my belt and drag my trousers to my knees. Her mouth drops onto my groin like the half-open beak of a robin gobbling an earthworm. But it’s a fleshy female mouth, a warm moist sucking chamber in which a tongue whips like a viper, an environment in which the earthworm, unlike the motionless torso to which it’s attached, springs upright like an enthusiastic convert, arising from its seat, eager for Baptism.

Noticing (of course) I’m sufficiently inspired for Christening, she wipes the saliva from her lips with her dress which she tosses onto the office carpet. Then she pivots away from me like a ballerina, leaning forward while extending a leg backwards, becoming a horizontal column of naked flesh in the center of which Gethsemane opens like the cave into which Jesus was deposited after crucifixion then morphs into a hairy arachnid mouth, images that alternate like channels switching back and forth on TV, all of which is amusing given my narcotically-induced euphoria and my fundamental understanding that what’s above me is nothing more (or less) than a mature vagina.

She holds the arabesque for a long moment, her body perpendicular to mine, then gradually bends the knee of her sturdy standing leg, reaching a hand beneath herself to guide me into Gethsemane as she settles onto my pelvis, where, fully-supported and transfixed, she kicks the genuflected leg forward while maintaining the horizontal backward position of the other leg: a full split. Our bodies, joined at the point of penetration (or, conversely, at the point of absorption) form a cross, perhaps, in her view, absolving us from blame, a mere point of interest to me, more than sufficiently impressed with reality.

A conjugation of this sort, enhanced by emotional, psycho-chemical and perhaps spiritual sensations cannot continue for long, especially when the lining of the socket feels like a velvet-lined Chinese finger-trap to the bolt over which it has been placed and is incrementally twisted.

Eyes closed, I enjoy a moment of post-Baptismal bliss, reflecting on events thus far:

Under cover of paying $25 — a check for which she could have mailed in the self-addressed envelope that accompanies every dunning notice we send — she’s arrived at our office well after most employees have left for the day. Why the personal visit? Why the timing?

She came for two things: a body and a soul, both of which belong to me. She’s gotten one and, in her view, will remain in a state of Mortal Sin until she gets the other, to which she no doubt now feels entitled, per the (non-existent) doctrine of contract law known as “I Thought You Understood That….”

I’ve never promised to sign anything. Her performance has been unilateral. I’m obligated to nothing. In fact, whatever I’ve done has been involuntary, i.e. I was drugged. An open-and-shut case. In a court of law, that is. To which our present situation is as close as earth is to the moon.

In fact, uppermost in her mind, as she guides the blue pen she’s pressed into my hand to her abdominal signature line, may be the rarely-acknowledged but often-asserted principle of femininity known as: “I-just-fucked-you-so-now-I-own-you.”

There’s nothing possessory in my hesitancy to sign. A soul, to my mind, is no more transferable than the Brooklyn Bridge. That’s not going to change. And I’m fairly confident her desire for me — if it exists independently of her lust for my soul — is intact after thirty-two years and unlikely to diminish, whether or not I sign. Nonetheless, it’s my intent to refuse. Which does not mean I’m oblivious to the fact that a physically-powerful dominatrix intent upon obtaining what she regards as her entitlement is unlikely to passively accept resistance. And that partially-paralyzed, I will be vulnerable if she upgrades her method of persuasion from what, legally-speaking, has been rape to old-fashioned physical violence.

Which, as I open my palm releasing the pen, is precisely what occurs: a snub-nosed Ladysmith, apparently withdrawn from her purse, appearing at my temple as she announces, Godfather-style, that “either your signature or your brains will be on my abs within 10 seconds,” a crime from which she might well be exonerated given circumstances which might make difficult a determination as to who raped whom.

Yelling for help seems ill-advised. From the corner of my eye I see the half-depressed trigger. An oily scent suggests the gun is no toy. Cold steel against my skin, nine grams of lead scheduled for immediate delivery: no time to list pros and cons, take a yoga class and think things over. She wants a decision now, a signature now. While I’m doped up and fucked down. Definitely the “hard sell.”

Drugs then sex then bullets: the woman is relentless.

If you overlook narcotics, prostitution, loan-sharking, hijacking, murder-for-hire, health care fraud and corruption of labor unions, the Mafia’s business is pretty much the same as mine: debt collecting, as its business partners can be slow with the dollar. The Mafia collects for itself, “in-house,” as we say in the industry. Which is what she’s doing now: collecting for a service she’s rendered and for which she believes she’s entitled to compensation. She flatters me by imitation even as she intimidates me. In fact, as a debt collector, she’s above my level. She’s up there with Don Corleone and Tony Soprano, 90-Caliber-Pezzonovantes, guys willing to use extreme, even self-destructive measures to secure payment (or achieve any objective) even when comparatively little is at stake, their real goal being a reputation for ferocity, which, in the world of the Cosa Nostra, helps them transact future business – debt collection or otherwise — more quickly and smoothly than otherwise would be possible. But it’s an approach, when applied to Evangelism – unless you’re affiliated with the Spanish Inquisition or the Puritan Witch Burners — is likely to be counter-productive. She knows that.

She lives comfortably within Atlanta’s upper-economic strata. A fearless and determined sociopath, she’s not psychotic. Shooting me would entail extreme social and legal complications. She knows that, too. What’s more, she’s OCD, obsessive compulsive. I’ve seen her halt an aerobics class to insist that a wad of lint, perhaps from an attendee’s navel, be removed from the exercise floor. Or that a handprint be wiped from the mirrored wall. Messiness disgusts her. The LAST thing she wants is blood and brains anywhere near her.

She’s not going to shoot me. The revolver is unloaded, a stage prop in her extortion-for-Jesus routine.

Very melodramatic.

Very Scorpio.

A bluff.

But that’s merely MY assumption, one horse in a race of various possibilities, the horse on which my survival rides.

It occurs to me our brief initial encounter was unlikely to have exhausted her capacity for nervous satisfaction, which, like her athletic endurance, must be considerable. Were she more at ease, perhaps she could think more clearly. If I’m betting my life on what she does next, I’d like her to consider consequences in a careful if not ethically-sensitive manner. What can I do to smooth her sensibilities, to help her relax? The office fan drones soothingly in the corner of the room.

“Before you shoot me,” I volunteer, “is there anything further I can assist you with?”

A creamy tanned thigh swings over my head onto the recamier followed by a second which settles on the other side of my head. The ciliant hemisphere hovers momentarily then sinks onto my face, squirming to find a suitable promontory then settling on my chin over which it shuttles like the horizontal bar on a textile loom, speed and pressure provided by conditioned haunches. Consumed with her own pleasure, she rides my chin like a sex toy, eventually working herself into a back-stretch lather, activating gardenia body wash she must have applied earlier in the day, a scent which briefly diverts me from the relentless repetitive scrubbing, my chin rubbed raw by Gethsemane’s wiry friction. I’ll be looking for cold cream

If I survive.

Rapid breathing, quickening thrusts, “Thank you, Jesus!” and collapse over my legs indicate her arrival at the tape where she remains momentarily, apparently spent and becalmed, before reversing herself so that we’re lying side-by-side like any intimate couple if you disregard my partial paralysis, her 38 Special and the tongue lapping my chin as she explains, pressing 55 year-old breasts against me and confiding like a ten year-old who’s failed to finish her homework: “I like to taste my own.”

Assuming my audio cortex is functioning properly, she’s acknowledged a culinary preference shared by more women than you might think. But to which very few would admit, fearing self-identification as “eccentric” or, in their language, “yucky.” Which is a designation more reprehensible (to women) than whatever label might be applied to a female who’s drugged a guy then jumped around naked and fucked him, a rigmarole Cosmopolitan Magazine recently recommended as one of “10 Ways To Celebrate A Romantic Occasion.”

Yes, she’d managed her rep a bit aggressively — with the aerobics crowd — in her mid-twenties, naked waist-up (under a sweatshirt) after workouts and telling us about it. And occasionally neglecting the standard obfuscating thong either over or under her diaphanous leotards. She was MARKETING then, advertising commodities superior to those of other bachelorette vendors, landing an A-grade husband at age thirty, by which time plenty of pork had been processed in the nicely-gated abattoir.

And, yes, instead of applying her sexual vigor to conventional use — creation and maintenance of a family – she’s reserved it for Jesus, using her favors to purchase souls, to endow “missionary ventures.” Undertakings no doubt hidden from friends and acquaintances (not to mention her husband!) likely unsympathetic with and critical of her methods.

Publicly, it’s always been correctly-fashionable clothes.  She substitutes “dang” for “damn” and goes grocery shopping for “adventure.” The role of Junior Leaguer circa 1952, played with retro-cool and Hollywood flair, a show that’s run continuously through the 1980’s through 2010’s. A lifestyle aimed at comfort and financial security, exceeding in its conservatism community standards, a paragon of church-going normalcy with particular emphasis on sanitation.

“Cleanliness is next to Godliness” was likely coined by a preacher hectoring the church custodian or a mother encouraging her daughter to wash behind her ears. She, however, accepts the phrase as an ELEVENTH COMMANDMENT, protecting herself from anything “unclean” — bacteria, air pollution, bodily excretions, ordinary dirt, flying insects, etc. — with multiple daily showers and wardrobe changes, handling doorknobs with tissue paper, avoiding glassware in restaurants. Perhaps her post-workout sports bra removal aimed not at titillation but at hygiene: no matter the dampness was HER OWN. Same rationale, perhaps, for her neglect of thongs, limiting, as they must have, fresh air to her privates.

And what’s with her post-orgasmic tenderness, nuzzling breasts against my chest and whispering into my ear like a girl given a diamond in a schmaltzy chick flick?

Have the prigs, prudes and priests infesting her psyche been sent on lunch break? Perhaps that’s what sex does for her. And why she adores it.

Or maybe her peculiar confession has been intended to distract me from the sweetness of her kitten-like thank-you for use of my chin, a gesture which, if sincere, she may regard as submissive, out of sync with her customary brassiness; I’m-here-to-please-myself commentary in the manner of Humphrey Bogart, typically citing self-interest as his motive for good deeds, the tough guy (girl in this case) with the heart of gold.

Bogart’s (or his screenwriters’) grip on moviegoers derives in part from the suggestion through dialogue of multiple explanations for his behavior, cloaking his motives in ambiguity until the end of the narrative, only then revealing his actual good-hearted purposes. Suppose that’s what going on here: her ultimate intention, manifest most recently in the placement of a gun to my head, is not to CONVERT me but to ENTERTAIN me on what amounts to our “first date.”

Long aware of my peculiar preferences — debt collecting over law, Congo travel over Disney World, strip joints over country clubs – she’s occasionally told me I’m “dopey,” a mild, even affectionate reproof of my tastes which, in her view, run to the useless. Or perhaps her intent this evening goes beyond fucking and converting me. Perhaps she wants to show me a really good time ON MY OWN TERMS, which, as she cannot know but would not be surprised to learn, derive from the shocking covers of men’s adventure magazines displayed on drugstore racks in the 50’s and 60’s.

In less than 90 minutes she’s arranged a scenario — here in the familiar comfort of my personal office — that approaches, in emotional intensity, that of an explorer whose canoe overturns in the Amazon amidst a school of piranha or of a horizontal G.I. writhing beneath a massive iron swastika suspended from a crane operated by a wild-eyed blond Nazi, Adolf’s apples round ripe and fervent beneath her Hitler Youth blouse (somehow these guys survive, but you had to buy the magazine to find out how).

Tonight it’s naked female athletic display preceding non-consensual pharmaceutically-enhanced sex-capped with a gangster-style death threat: perhaps that’s her idea of MY IDEA of “an evening’s entertainment.” Or maybe her purpose is strictly evangelical. Or, failing that, homicidal. In fact, I don’t know WHAT the fuck she’s up to. She’s shown me the Land of Milk and Honey, more beautiful than I’d imagined. She’s guided me into it, pleasure surpassing expectations. She’s blessed me with her MOST PRECIOUS GIFT upon receipt of which I’ve balked at her single request, compliance with which would be effortless, spiritually insignificant and legally-inconsequential.

Perhaps I DESERVE to be capped.

A familiar pattern, straight out of the Bible: God gives the Jews something nice, like the Garden of Eden, the Exodus from Egypt, the State of Judea, etc. And they promptly fuck it up: eating the apple from the Tree of Knowledge, worshipping the Golden Calf, fucking someone else’s wife (King David). Then, with flood, plague or massacre, God obliterates half of them. Even when God offers (and sacrifices) HIS ONLY SON, generously providing an exit strategy from the Old Testament assist-then-destroy Historical Cycle, the Jews refuse to sign on, preferring business as usual to Forgiveness, Salvation, and Eternal Life.

As a general rule, Jews are not stupid, duller genetic material extinguished in higher proportion than the brighter by millennia of persecution. Perhaps the Jews’ resistance to Jesus was, on some level, sensible. Perhaps they were (and are) holding out for something more. Or clinging to something important to them, like reality.

So much for the recap of Jew history. My mind snaps back to present and very real difficulties, including the possibility I’ve ingested more dope during her just-completed gallop, irrelevant, of course, if I’m to be shot through the head.

Hope she’ll withdraw her ultimatum endures until the revolver returns to its initial target, within which rattles the only question worth considering: is prolongation of conditions that would (theoretically) allow her to fuck me again worth the present risk? And, while we’re at it, perhaps another question: Who’s collecting from whom?

Outside my personal office, on the collection floor, a few employees continue to secure payments for our clients, our only leverage our ability to list debts to credit reports. Some debtors, remitting fragments of what they owe, demand their debts be marked PAID IN FULL. Unreasonable requests my collectors counter, suggesting a more-or-less convenient means by which debts can be REPAID IN FULL: payment plans.

“I’ll sign after twelve Baptisms.”

“Twelve?” she asks, impatiently shifting the muzzle to my jaw.

“With me it takes twelve. Twelve Days of Christmas. Twelve Stations of the Cross. Twelve Apostles. Twelve Tribes of Israel,” I say, pulling all of this out of my ass, so to speak, aware that a signature that will erase a mortal sin AND add a name to Jesus’ Roster is worth what you can get for it. Which, in the present case, depends upon how much she values SALVATION, contingent, perhaps, upon the entry of “Soul Saved Thereby” beside her recent Negative Listing in St. Peter’s Book. And also, of course, upon her ability and willingness to pay.

Pointing the revolver at the ceiling, she snaps the ammo cylinder away from the barrel dropping five 38-caliber slugs like greasy unused suppositories onto the office carpet. She clicks the cylinder back into place and drops the revolver into her open purse. The brass clasp snaps shut.

“OK,” she responds, eyes sparkling as she slips back into her dress and prepares to depart. “See you soon, my present friend and future Duodecian Christian.”