Rubbing

Scenes From a Massage Spa

Photo by Bas Peperzak on UNSPLASH

Once upon a time, there was a massage spa with therapists and clients and managers and sales associates, and it was good. All of it was good. The environment was chill (except for when it wasn’t), and it was serene (except for when it wasn’t), but it was always a fun place to work.


MICHELLE & ROBERT

“Tell me wench, the fare, golden-haired, maiden Princess Tricia, that hath requested my healing touches on the morrow, hath she expressed the wishes for particular attention on her feet – sore from standing hours serving the wretched drunkards in tavern that sits on yonder pavilion?”

“Robert, why don’t you speak like a normal person? Yeah, Tricia the tramp from Chili’s has said she would like the Soothing, Sugar Scrub service, you dork.” Michelle laughs as Robert stares over her shoulder at the day’s schedule of appointments.

Michelle tries to elbow him away. “You know you can see this back in the break room, you goof?”

“Yes, child, I knoweth all … Oh damn, I’m seeing her again today,” Robert pokes the screen with his finger while lowering his voice in case a client comes out from a service and overhears such unprofessional chatter.

“What’s the matter with her?” Michelle whispers. “She’s always nice to us?”

She means the sales associates that work the front desk here at Massage Time, which is counter to the norm. Typically, most of our clientele are sweet as pie to the therapists, but venomous, ungrateful wretches and vipers to the underpaid, underappreciated front desk staff.

“One, horrible tipper. Two, high maintenance. Three, it’s impossible to find her pressure – it’s always just a tad more or a little less, please. She’s like Goldilocks, I swear. Five, did I mention the tipping?”

“You did, and that’s only four, you idiot. Now go away; I have to do confirmation texts. Shoo. Shoo. Back to your books in the back.”

Robert turns to go but then stops and turns back towards Michelle.

“And you’ll …”

“Jesus, yes, I’ll try to get your three o’clock slot booked. Didn’t I already say that like a million times? Now shoo, I banish thee, thou ne’er-do-well rogue to the hinterlands of the break room.”

Robert laughs, turns to go.

“Not so fast, young knight. Rumor has it that the ill-mannered ‘dragon’ in two is again committing chaos and mayhem throughout the kingdom,” Michelle says to him as she hands him the new toilet plunger still in its Home Depot plastic shopping bag.

“Oh, my mortal enemy, Reombarth. How I’ve nurtured my hatred for you nigh on decades now. Today we do battle again, and when I emerge victor, ye shall remain banished forever.”

“Now kneel Knight Robert and receiveth my blessing, then go slay Room-Barf, or whatever that nasty thing’s name is.” Michelle un-bags the plunger and holds it reverently across her chest.

Robert drops to one knee before her, and she solemnly knights him by tapping both of his lowered shoulders with the plunger. As he rises to his feet, he wonders not for the first time why he ever agreed to be a lead therapist. Yeah, it was an extra two bucks an hour, but it mainly meant you had to write up late therapists, you were always doing laundry, and that you occasionally had to slay the dragon. He accepts the plunger from her, shoves its handle under his lotion holster belt, and does a little gentleman at court head gesture to Michelle.

“If I am slain today, if I fail to kill Reombarth, this foul dragon from the bottomless pits of hell, I fully expect you to … you know, … throw yourself weeping and gnashing on my funeral pyre or whatnot.”

“Godspeed, goodly knight, the maidens far and wide will today sing praises of your unparalleled bravery,” Michelle answers him and laughs.

Again, he turns to go, and again he stops and turns back. “Oh, and if anyone makes a lunch run, I would love tacos. Maybe Torchy’s?”


JONATHAN & GIL

“There, there, Mrs. Peterson,” Gil says as he taps the back of her head with his barefoot. He slouches in one of the two chairs in the couple’s massage room. He’s pulled the chair next to the massage table. She quickly fell asleep and, as is Gil’s norm every time she and the even older Mr. Peterson come in for their monthly massage, massaged her back and neck by resting his bare feet on her and gently shaking her back to sleep each time she stirs.

Across the room, the newbie Jonathan is giving Mr. Peterson a Swedish massage. He is every bit as much asleep as his wife of 57 years and is also snoring loudly.

Gil nods with his head towards the room’s second easy chair, implying he could work a lot less hard than he is.

Jonathan shakes his head and returns to his effleurages, petrissage, and kneading techniques. Several times he’s almost laughed at Gil. Gil is the older therapist; he’s been here for 15 years.

Gil’s foot slips a bit – too much lotion – and nearly shoves Mrs. Peterson’s wig up and over her head. It looks poised to fall to the floor, but Gil deftly pulls the orange wig back onto her head with his feet. It’s still skewed comically to one side, and Jonathan has to look away not to laugh.

Gil is scrolling Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat on his phone while Mrs. Peterson sleeps away the last twenty minutes of their 90-minute massage. He reaches down with his free hand and picks his beer up from the floor, catches Jonathan’s eye again with a slight toast gesture, and takes a big drink from his now lukewarm beer. The belch comes almost immediately, and Mrs. Peterson stirs again. Gil moves both feet back to her bare back and gently rocks her back to sleep.

Jonathan hates to admit it, but Gil’s technique looks quite relaxing. The funny thing is that Jonathan knows Gil is a first-class therapist. He’s seen him quickly, almost effortlessly help ease symptoms of sciatica, migraines, nonspecific low back pain, carpal tunnel, etc., in other couples massages he’s performed with the older therapist. Gil had explained his theory of massage to Jonathan on his first day at the spa last Monday. Most people want to relax and go to sleep. Or they are seeking a therapeutic massage that will help them deal with pain or discomfort from some acute or chronic condition. That’s the entire spectrum of clients in Gil’s philosophy.

“But, and here’s the secret, brother,” he had whispered, “You can’t do effective therapeutic or structural work without first invoking a parasympathetic response.”

“What?”

“If you want to do deep tissue or neuromuscular or any therapeutic massage really, you’d better first make them as relaxed as possible.”

“But what about the Lynette’s of the world?” Jonathan had countered, sure that he had just spoiled Gil’s philosophy.

“Ah Lynette, she’s one of the exceptions.”

Lynette was a frequent visitor at the spa. She came twice a week and received almost three hours of massage every week. Most people need to be coaxed into a relaxation response before the more challenging (i.e., ‘painful’ work). Lynette can voluntarily move there with the power of her will alone.

“What do you mean?” Jonathan had asked.

“She knows the benefit of enduring the challenging bits and can therefore accept the work right away. But that in no way invalidates my assertion that there are two kinds of massage clients. Lynette wants the therapeutic work. She wants as much as she can get, and that’s why she’s here twice a week. We should be so lucky to have dozens of her kind here.”

Jonathan found he couldn’t argue with that. He had already worked on her once. Last week Mike’s back had gone out, and the front desk associates had suggested Jonathan to her as an alternative.

“Be careful in there, kid,” Gil had teased him just as he was about to enter the session. “She eats new therapists like you for breakfast. Ah, fresh meat.”

Then he did that weirdly accurate but hilarious imitation of Anthony Hopkins’ most well-known character, Hannibal the Cannibal.

Jonathan had to stifle his laughter in his hands and compose himself before knocking and entering room  11.

Ninety long minutes later, Jonathan had emerged. He had been tested, but he had been found worthy. Lynette had informed him that if it were alright with him, she would like to rotate her second weekly massage on Fridays to alternate between him and Mike. Jonathan is no fool and understood intuitively that the ‘repeat clients’ are the best clients to have – regardless of how well they might or might not tip. Without repeat business, you cannot make it in the massage business. And so, he happily consented to the standing appointment suggestion.

“You look like a changed man,” Gil had said to him as Jonathan washed his hands thoroughly in the break room.

To Jonathan, the words had felt like fine praise indeed.

“It wasn’t too bad. I did my thing, you know? Mostly myofascial with integration and relaxation to end. Always slow, of course.”

He tossed the paper towel in the trash and fist-bumped Gil. That was their tradition already. Right from the start, they had recognized a kindred spirit in the other. They both agreed less lotion was better – unless you wanted to give a purely relaxing massage, and they agreed – slower was infinitely better than faster.

“Preach, brother,” Gil said as he wiped a bit of moisture from the back of his fist.

That had been his first week here. Jonathan was sure he could learn a lot from Gil and was happy about working here.


RYAN & JILL

Jonathan and Gil turn to leave the break room. Before they can leave, Ryan & Jill enter. Ryan sees Gil and approaches him with a swagger.

“Well, if it isn’t Fluff and Buff,” Gil says as he looks at the two therapists in mock disgust.

“Wait a minute, I thought I was Fluff,” Jill says. “Please tell me I’m Fluff; I’m far too pretty to be a Buff. Oh, I need to get a real job.”

Jonathan laughs. He loves the banter and wisecracks the therapists, all of whom are friends honestly, effortlessly engage in every time they meet.

Ryan stops right in front of Gil.

“My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father by…, you know…, giving him an awful massage. Prepare to die,” Ryan says deadpan, right in Gil’s face.

“Subtlety isn’t your shtick, is it Ry-Ry?” Gil says and laughs. “But if you two are here, who’s selling cotton candy to the plebes out front?”

“Ha-ha. That’s funny. I think I’ll tell that to your mom tonight.”

“No moms, you know the rules, Ryan…,”

“Right after I…, MASSAGE her.”

Everyone laughs.

“So, how’re tricks, Rugburn?” Ryan asks Gil.

“Ryan, I’ve told you a thousand times, it’s DOCTOR Rugburn,” Gil says.

“And this must be the new guy? Your new intern, Renfield to your Dracula? A new plaything to receive all your mind-fuckery and wacky-ass theories about massage?” Ryan says to Gil while nodding towards Jonathan. “Rugburn junior? Didn’t Terryn tell us the new hire was also a myofascial guy?” he says to Jill.

“That’s what I heard,” Jill says. “I guess he also does scraping and cupping?”

“Actually, it’s Jona…,”

“Bup, bup, bup. Hold it, new guy. I’m the one who gives nicknames here, and I think you will be…, mmm…, RJ., Rugburn Junior writ large,” Ryan says.

“RJ? I like it,” Jill says.

“Come on, RJ, let’s get out of here,” Gil says.

Jonathan is positive his name is now RJ’

“Nice to meet you, Jonathan. I’m Ryan, and this is Jill. We like to have our fun here,” Ryan says, shaking Jonathan’s hand. “It’s all light, cool?”

“I love it here so far,” Jonathan, AKA RJ, says.

“We, Jill and I, are mostly Swedish. You probably gathered that, I guess. But, oh, hey, Did Gil tell you about the party Saturday? It’s at Laura’s new place. Make sure you get a flyer from her or Michelle at the front. Our parties are always a blast. I hope you can make it.”

“I’ll be there,” RJ says.


ROY, SALLY & THE ‘TRIGGER POINT KID’

“So, did Ian help you with your back?” Roy asks Sally.

“Oh, hey Roy,” Sally says. She hadn’t heard him come into the break room, and she was washing her hands at the sink.

“Yeah, he helped me a lot. But wow, that was a challenging a massage as I’ve ever had.”

“I told you,” Roy laughs. “He’s the trigger-point kid, isn’t he?”

“Ha. That’s a perfect nickname for Ian.” Sally laughs as Roy washes his hands.

Sally laughs, pulls her arms behind her, then extends them forward, flexing and extending her back. “Well, whatever he does, it’s like magic. I have zero pain right now.”

“That’s why he’s been the therapist of the year here two years in a row. Well, that and he works an obscene number of hours,” Roy says over one shoulder from the sink.

Sally walks over to the appointment screen, verifies that her four o’clock slot didn’t book, turns back to Roy.

“Hey, thanks a lot for showing me that hip stretch sequence last week. I tried it on both my roommates, and they loved it. Especially the internal hip rotation bits. You got a minute? I’d love to show you my technique so far and get you to critique it.” She looks back at the screen and sees that Roy’s on his lunch break.

“That sounds great. I’ve been doing that technique for years, and I keep hoping someone would learn it so I can feel what my clients feel.”

“On top of the sheets, okay with you?” she asks.

“Of course, I’ll grab a clean one and meet you in…, eight’s open now? Isn’t Mary gone for the day?”

They turn and exit the break room.


A LAST GIFT FROM HIS WIFE

“Damn, his wife died? Did he say how?”

Even as the question is exiting his mouth, Gil regrets asking it.

“Never mind. It doesn’t matter,” Gil quickly fills in the silence, quick to smooth over the uncharacteristic slip.

“No, but he wants to relax. And this is the worst bit. He’s using a gift card that she bought him for his birthday, which is tomorrow,” Michelle says.

Notwithstanding the earlier slip, Gil has already begun checking his ego. He will massage the man. Gil has already resolved to give him the most relaxing massage ever. Earlier on in his career, he disparaged Swedish as fluff, as not real massage, etc. He cringes from the memory of his ignorant, myopic perspective.

“Meet people where they are,” his mentor Jorge had advised him. “If they want to relax, give them what they want.”

It had been good advice then; it was good advice now.

Michelle hands him his massage holster and says, “Good luck in there.”

He buckles his massage lotion holster back around his waist and pulls a hot towel from the towel warmer. He warms his hands with the towel.

“My eight o’clock slot never booked, right?” he glances at the screen. “Do me a favor and block that hour, please.”

Michelle looks away, blinking something out of her eyes.

Her last gift to him was a fifty-minute massage, and Gil was determined to make it the best fifty-minute massage ever, which might mean going over a bit.


HANK MASSAGES MRS. IDLEMAN

Hank’s loose fists sink in slowly to Mrs. Idleman’s back, one on each side of her spine, then begin their long slow trip down her back and to the top of her hips. Her breathing has already markedly slowed, and she sighs deep breaths of contentment as His hands nudge her muscles towards releasing some of their tension.

He makes several slow strokes like this, working the entire back, warming it, slowly working the muscles in the way the therapists have termed ‘stripping.’ (He remembers it as “stripping the muscles of tension.”) Then he works her left side. He again opts to use his loose fists but rather than in a side-by-side orientation he puts one in front of the other. He likes to think of them as two ships sailing close together. His loose fists form one large tool with which to move his client to relaxation. He suspected, and she confirmed it was likely her sleeping posture that had led to the tension imbalance between the two halves of her back. He will encourage her to adopt a different sleeping posture or somehow try to even it out by adding a symmetrical posture to her other side.

Now that her tissues are warm and a bit more pliable, Hank switches to his forearms and elbows. Stooping low, he gently nestles his forearm ever so slowly into the junction between her shoulder and neck. He settles his arm there like a cat looking for the optimal napping place on a rug in the afternoon sun. Gradually he leans further into the posture, shifting his weight from his back leg to his front as the elbow describes slow, small side-to-side displacements. Working with minimal lotion as he is, he releases as much of the trapezius fascia as he can. His technique is more finesse than brute force. He pushes the tissues to the first barrier and just holds a sustained pressure until the muscles soften, the fascia begins to ‘melt.’

He loves this work the most. He can see and feel the tension drain from the trapezius, first on one side, then the other. He works semi-dry so that the skin on his forearm can find some purchase with the skin on her back and tug it with a sustained gentle pressure until release occurs. Later he will add more lotion. Later his objectives will be different. He will coax her body to integrate and accept this new lessened state of tension, if not permanently; at least something that might see her through until her next massage.

For now, his focus is fascia and his strokes occur with only the natural oils in her skin or a few drops of lotion or cream, slow intentional strokes that seek to relax the overly tight muscles on one side while activating or ever so slightly adding a little extra tension to the muscles on the other side. Different strokes, different intentions, but combining to move his client towards a position of wholeness, a position with less pain.

“Would you like more pressure here, less, or is it about right?” he asks her.

She sighs contentedly. “It’s pretty perfect where it’s at; I wouldn’t go heavier, though,” she says.

“Okay, just let me know if you want any modification to the pressure or pace,” he tells her and then switches his entire focus onto her back. His eyes, his arms, his guiding hand all focus on subtle shifts in her posture. He prides himself that once he has found her ‘sweet spot’ of pressure and pace, he doesn’t need to ask her again. He puts it as ‘he asks her tissues directly,’ how the pressure is.

Hank thinks about Gil & Jonathan and smiles. While outwardly his massage is perhaps more similar to theirs, he also realizes the importance of Jill and Ryan’s pure relaxation approach or even Ian’s heavy emphasis on resolving trigger points. ‘It all comes down to intention,’ Hank says anytime someone asks him about ‘his’ approach. He feels that if his intention is pure, if he finds some resonance with his client, then his technique matters much less. If his intention and resonance are present, if he’s being mindful, then it’s way more likely the client will have a good massage, way more likely they will rebook with him. So far, he has the clinic-high stat for rebooking percentage – he’s over 90%. So, he seldom talks about pure modalities anymore. It all comes down to intention. He insists you can have flawless technique, but if you’re distracted and not mindful during a massage, then it’s likely you will never see him or her again. One of his favorite quotes describes massage as a ‘slow collision between two separate nervous systems; the client’s and the therapist’s.’

Her fingers occasionally flutter, some small sign of pleasure and relaxation. Then all movement stops, her breathing slows. Hank recognizes she’s achieved a parasympathetic response. The mental state the brain shifts into when focused on rest and digest. In the opposite state, the sympathetic response is the body’s flight or fight, hyper-aware, tense mode, honed through millennia of evolution to ensure continued survival in less than serene environments.

He slows his strokes to match her newly deepened state of relaxation. Now his strokes up and down her back take over a minute to complete. By scrutinizing her breath he can modulate how much of his weight he gives her through his forearm – so that the in and out expansions and contractions of her lungs aren’t impeded by his pressure. This technique he visualizes as a surfer balanced adroitly atop an up and down wave of inhalations and exhalations. By working with her breath in this manner, he can gently sink in deeper during her exhalations and ease up during her inhalations. Each inhale/exhale cycle will see his forearm move a fraction of an inch only or sometimes not move at all if he judges that the muscle cells under his forearm still have a little extra tension he can release.

He switches side to side, left to right, then back to left so that he doesn’t overwork any of her sore muscles. Always slow, always deliberate, and always with as much of his attention as he can deliver.

‘It’s the difference between working with tissues and working on tissues,’ he likes to tell the new therapists that inevitably seek him out once they hear his clients rave or see him work during a couple’s massage.

Frequently a fellow therapist will book a massage with him immediately following working a couple with him. The intentionality, the commitment, and the pride of craft are recognizable by seeing how glacially slow and deliberate his motions are. They recognize excellence when they see it. One thing was for sure: they could all tell that he loved what he did.

“Is this sore here?” he asks as he nudges a spot to the side of her spine gently one way, then the other.

“Just a little,” she says.

Good enough, he thinks. He shifts the massage into relaxation and integration. He makes several feather strokes across her back, squirts a generous amount of cream into his hands, warms it, then spreads it out across her back and upper hips. Before he worked slowly, deliberately, deeply, and with minimal lubricant, now his work is lighter, quicker, with long flowing Swedish strokes delivered with more lotion. He spends several minutes working her back, finishes with some gentle kneading, petrissage, and fulling. All Swedish strokes, all designed to cement the work just done and make nice with the muscles he pushed and prodded so deeply.

He eyes the clock, then shifts his focus to her hips. She had requested a full body massage, so he re-drapes the back, lowers the table a bit, and begins working her hips, legs, and feet.

“Is this pressure okay here?” he asks her as he slowly sinks his forearm into her glutes, gradually tugging outward, working from the SI joint to the side of her body.

‘It’s heavenly,” she says. “I mean it hurts, but in a good way. Does that make sense?”

He tells her it does indeed make sense.

He palpates the hips, sees the left one still a tad higher than the right, and begins alternately pushing one leg, and pulling the other to try to level both bony landmarks.

He gently shakes her body from the sides, gentle rocking motions side to side from the new position of less tension. He removes the bolster, spreads the drape down tight over her shoulders, and says, “Okay Mrs. Idleman, if you are ready can I get you to scoot down so your head is over the table then turn face up.”

She does as he asks.

“And how are you feeling so far?” he asks.

“I’m so relaxed I think I could just sleep here for a few hours,” she laughs.

He re-inserts the bolster so that it sits under her knees and helps minimize any pain she might have in her low back.

“Shall I save a few minutes for a scalp massage today?”

“Mmm, yes, please.”

__


Standing by the side of the table, he undrapes her right arm. He gently shakes it, suggesting to her wordlessly to release any tension in the muscles there. Then holding her wrist and forearm in both his hands, he gently pulls the arm to the first barrier, until her head almost tilts towards him. He releases it and repeats the gently pull, roll, release cycle several times. Finally, he adjusts his stance, pulls to the first barrier, before her head tilts towards him again, and just holds for several seconds. When he is still, as he is now, he feels like he can perceive a big release in the neck and arm tension. He knows that at most, the physical release of anything is fractions of millimeters but when he’s still, it feels like several inches. He calls the state being zoomed-in.

He finishes his work on her arms. Gently re-drapes both arms and begins massaging her neck. He slowly sequences through light stretches, range of motion movements to help loosen the musculature in her cervical region. With a loose fist he slowly, dryly strips up the upper fibers of the trapezius on both sides of her neck.

His neck work is what he is most proud of. It’s like a rhythm he sinks into. Working slowly enough so that the client is dissuaded from helping with any voluntary movements of her own, yet quick enough to enhance circulation and warm the tissues for deeper, more focused work.

__


Finally, he looks up just as his timer counts down to zero.

“Alright Mrs. Idleman, that concludes our session today. Please be mindful as you stand up. We did some extensive work on your back and your nervous system might play catch up for a few hours now. I’m going to raise the lights in here, so keep your eyes closed for a few seconds here. I hope today’s massage has helped and I’ll have some water for you as soon as you’re up and dressed.”

__


“Some water for you?” he asks as she comes out of the treatment room.

“Oh yes, please and thank you.” She accepts the bottle from him, and they walk to the front of the spa.

“So, I’d recommend that any light stretches you can do today might help integrate the work we did today. If your back is still sore, come see me again next week otherwise I guess I’ll see you again, in two weeks?” he says.

“Sounds good, and I will. Thank you so much,” she says as she hands him a tip envelope.

“Thank you, Mrs. Idleman. I’ll see you soon.”


Hank & Jonathan

“So, you’re just going to pull the client’s limbs, their arms, and legs, for what? Two minutes? Or even longer you’re telling me?” Jonathan says to Hank, incredulous.

“Well, there’s more to it than that but essentially I guess that’s a way to describe it.” Hank smiles.

“But … is that massage, quote, unquote?” Jonathan asks.

“Well, that’s a good question for you to answer. That’s a great question for EVERY therapist to answer. ‘What is massage?’ Come back to me when you have an answer and talk, we will,” Hank says sliding seamlessly into a decent Yoda impression at the end of his sentence.

But Jonathan is hungry for knowledge and doesn’t want to let the senior therapist go that easily. He senses in Hank someone who has a real passion for bodywork and he is greedy to learn from the seasoned professional while he has him here.

“But I want to know? I’m not making fun of the technique; I just want to know more. The school I went to wasn’t the best and I want to know more, so? Tell me more, please? And I will take your assignment and come up with a working definition for massage, scout’s honor.” Jonathan lifts three fingers of his right hand in the time-honored Scouting tradition.

“Well, it’s like Gil is always saying, the fascia is the thing. To which I say well ‘It’s the fascia AND the nervous system. If your intention is set and you treat both the fascia and the nervous system, your rebooking rate will skyrocket. It worked for me.”

“Go on,” Jonathan says. “Specifically, about the limb pulls?”

“Go read Myers’s book? Do you know the one? On the ‘trains?’ By gently holding a sustained, gentle, and that’s the real key, you got to be gentle bro, but by moving to the first barrier and holding the stretch, you’re engaging all the muscle trains, all the fascia trains from the wrist to the occiput or from the ankle to the thoracolumbar fascia, or possibly even higher, if you’re pulling the leg. It’s a shortcut to affect a melt on all the fascia at once. You just got to be patient and trust the process. We are talking about stuff that Barnes did after all.”

“And then what?”

“Well, you don’t space out during the process. Stay mindful. When the tissues soften and stretch, you stay present with them and you take the extra slack they give you, you gather up that melted slack and ease back the millimeters so that you stay at the first barrier. It’s an engaging, back-and-forth dance in a way.”

“But what if the client engages?” Jonathan says.

“They almost always will,” Hank laughs. “I just jostle the limb to discourage the nervous system from engaging or pulling against my stretch. But I’m still convinced that the technique will work even if, or when, they engage. Maybe not as effective but it will still be of some benefit to them.”

“That sounds amazing. Will you show me, please?”

“Sure, I have a couple of minutes before my shift starts. Hop on,” Hank says as he points at his table.

Hank gently shakes Jonathan’s body piecemeal, working superior to inferior up and down both sides of his body. Jonathan feels himself unwind and relax.

Then, standing by his side, Hank gently takes his right arm by the wrist and forearm and gently leans back until Jonathan feels the side of his head want to tip into the pull. He can sense Hank play with the tension, varying it minutely to cause his head to make the tiniest little back-and-forth oscillations. When he feels the muscles and fascia warm, begins to ‘melt’ he takes up the slack as he said and stays perched at the first barrier like a surfer riding a wave.

“This is so trippy for me,” Hank says softly. “When I’m mindful and still like this, I can feel the release, but it feels like your arm has just stretched eight or nine inches when in reality, of course, we are talking about millimeters. I feel zoomed in and the tiny displacement feels huge. When this happens, it makes me think I’m ready.”

“Ready for?” Jonathan says sleepily. If he’s ever been more relaxed after just three minutes of work, he cannot recall it.

“Oh, ready for craniosacral work. It so hard to detect the cerebrospinal fluid rhythms. We are talking twenty-second periods or longer? You have to be still to detect it. The only time I can sense it in myself is when I first wake in the morning. Before I get out of bed, before I move at all, sometimes I can get that same sense of exaggerated scale, the same sense of being ‘zoomed-in.’ If that makes sense. I can feel my spine grow longer and longer and longer. In reality, we are talking about fractions of millimeters. FRACTIONS. And yet it feels like I’m growing several inches taller.”

Jonathan says nothing. He is asleep and already gently snoring.

“Going to call it. The client went DEEPLY, tragically even, parasympathetic at 10:24 AM,” Hank whispers. Then he exits the treatment room, leaving Jonathan to enjoy a brief nap.


GIL GOES OVER, MICHELLE NOTICES

At last, Gil emerges from massaging the widower.

“I see you went over,” Michelle says, her voice filled with admiration.

“Almost an hour, I guess. It was the last gift he will ever receive from her. How could I not?” Gil says, careful to not meet her eyes.

“Well, that’s sweet of you,” she says. She turns to the computer and clocks out. Her shift is over, but she’ll be back tomorrow. Of all the places she’s worked, this is her favorite. From the regular clients, her coworkers like Gil, Mike, and the rest, she loves everything about the spa. She is already expecting the joy of returning here tomorrow.


Once upon a time, there was a massage spa with therapists and clients and managers and sales associates and it was good. And as the sun settled yet another day at the magical little kingdom of Massage Time, the people of the land were grateful for their most chill and righteous place to work.

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