Sunday, July 28, 2019

Shower Buddies

     [A short story for you today. Perhaps it will stimulate some thoughts...or some outrage. In either case, here it is. You can download it from here.-- FWP]

     The strip mall was half deserted. The state had recently divided the feeder road on which it sat with a concrete barrier. That had been the death blow to several businesses that had been there from the beginning. Most of the ones that remained were barely hanging on to viability. Yet Calabria’s Pharmacy remained there, doggedly defying the trend toward chain stores and enclosed malls. Estelle would go nowhere else for her toiletries and the few cosmetics she still employed. After thirty years her habit was ingrained too deeply to break.
     The storefront adjoining Calabria’s had been vacant for many weeks. Apparently it was empty no longer. The modest sign that graced it came as a surprise:

Backs, Ears, and Feet Our Specialties
Ask About Our Subscription Plans

     Estelle had to read the sign three times before she was certain she was seeing correctly. Even so she had to lay a hand on it to assure herself that it was real. The display in the window behind it held bars of facial soap and squirt bottles of bath gel, towels on heated racks, a mini-fountain that pumped a stream of water through a shower head...and two sweetly beautiful blondes in bikinis, with bath sponges in their hands and brilliant smiles on their angelic faces.
     The door to the shop was open.
     She ventured inside hesitantly, uncertain of her reason for doing so and uncertain what she might encounter. At first she saw no one behind the counter, but only a moment later a curtain parted and a young woman, definitely one of the two depicted in the window, came forth wearing a bikini and a smile of pure delight. A thin hiss of running water emanated from the back of the store.
     “Good morning! Welcome to Shower Buddies. How can we help you today?”
     “Uhh...” Estelle started back toward the shop door.
     “Please! No need to be so nervous.” Before she realized what had happened, Estelle found the young woman standing before her, with their hands intertwined. “What can we do for you?”
     “Do you...” Estelle coughed, gathered herself, and started over. “Do you really shower with your customers?”
     “Yes, we do,” the young beauty said. “I’m Vaia, by the way. What’s your name, dear?”
     “Ah...Estelle Lackland.”
     “A beautiful name for a beautiful lady! And,” Vaia said, “our very first customer. Today your treatment is at no charge. If you enjoy your visit, for this week we’re offering our weekly and monthly plans at a discount.”
     Beautiful? Me?
     “Ah, Vaia,” Estelle faltered, “I only wandered in out of curiosity. Anyway, I’ve already showered for the day.”
     “What!” Vaia pretended shock. “Someone who only showers once in twenty-four hours? Are you an ascetic of some sort, or does soap give you a rash?”
     “No!” Estelle marveled at finding herself on the defensive. “It’s just—”
     Vaia shook her head. “Estelle,” she said as she drew Estelle gently but irresistibly toward the curtain that concealed the mysteries in the rear, “I really must insist that you give us a try. Remember, there’s no charge for your first visit.” Her smile became delicately suggestive. “Besides, we can use the word of mouth.”


     The rear of the store proved to be multiply chambered. First Vaia led Estelle to a room lit by the orange glow of several salt lamps. A massage table stood at its center. Vaia bade Estelle to undress completely, took the older woman’s clothes, and placed them on a platform that immediately vanished into the wall. She told Estelle to lie prone on the table. To her considerable surprise, Estelle did so without a moment’s hesitation.
     Vaia anointed her hands and set to work on Estelle’s back and leg muscles. The oil possessed a warming quality enhanced by the gentle warmth that radiated from the table itself. Vaia’s touch was equally compelling. Before she was fully conscious of it, Estelle was telling the young beauty about everything of importance to her. She spoke of her widowhood, her futile attempts to connect socially with her neighbors and parishioners, her reluctance to court embarrassment by seeking new love, even her phases of uncertainty about her faith. Vaia listened with only the occasional murmur of encouragement as she kneaded and soothed Estelle’s musculature.
     Presently the young woman said “It’s time to turn over.” Estelle did so. Vaia relubricated her hands and went back to work. She methodically moved from Estelle’s neck to her chest, and thence to her thighs, calves, and feet.
     It was the first time anyone had seen Estelle completely unclothed, or had touched her so intimately, since Henry’s death. Yet she felt no tension at all. The tale of her years poured forth from her utterly uninhibited.
     When the massage was complete, Estelle felt she could hardly move. She was utterly relaxed and at peace, in a state of contentment she hadn’t known for decades.
     “Do you feel ready for your shower?”
     Estelle opened her eyes. Vaia stood over her, hands clasped over her breasts and smiling gently.
     “Are you really going to shower with me?”
     Vaia nodded. “Have you ever had someone else wash you from head to toe?” Estelle shook her head. “Well, you’ll love it, I promise. Now let’s move before Mirielle gets another customer into the shower before us!”
     Vaia reached for Estelle’s hand, helped her off the table, and led her into the next room. In it stood a shower stall whose like she’d never seen.
     The stall was perhaps ten feet by fifteen, made of spangled black granite. The front wall was of clear glass. It seemed to have jets everywhere. They sprouted visibly from three walls and the ceiling.
     Vaia giggled at Estelle’s expression, nudged her, and pointed to the stall floor. Surrounding the central drain were still more jets, faired into the granite so as not to endanger the occupants.
     “It must use...quite a lot of water,” Estelle murmured.
     “When you shower with a Shower Buddy,” Vaia said, smiling brilliantly, “you get the best of the best. One moment while I program the flow rates and temperatures.”
     The young woman stepped toward a control console in the corner and made a series of swift keyboard entries. A light at the top of the console went from red to yellow. Vaia shed her bikini to reveal breasts more perfect than any young man’s fantasy and a heart shaped, perfectly depilated mound of Venus, slid open the glass door, and turned to Estelle.
     “Follow me!”
     They stepped into the stall. A moment later the jets came to life.
     They were instantly bathed in an invigorating, three dimensional spray. The jets emitted pulses that amplified the effects of the massage even as they seemed to drive new life into Estelle’s tired fifty-six year old body. It took her a moment to notice that the liquid was foaming against her skin.
     “It’s a blend,” Vaia said. “Our soap is compounded from healing oils, mint and eucalyptus, a dash of emulsifier, and of course mixed with plenty of water.” She touched a granite tile, which sprang open to reveal a hidden compartment, and pulled out a large bath sponge. “Just relax while I treat you to the best bathing experience of your life.”
     That was exactly what it was.
     Vaia laved her from head to toe as she’d promised. Estelle merely did as the young woman directed, bending, stretching, turning this way and that, lifting one limb or another, and luxuriating in sensuous attention of a sort she’d never before known.
     Vaia took her time. She lavished careful, reverential attention on all of Estelle, not excepting the private areas no one but Henry had ever seen, much less touched. As she worked she hummed softly. The tune had a hymn-like quality, something that might have come from the mind of Handel or Bach. The combination eased Estelle further into a state of mystical contentment.
     After an period of unending bliss, yet over far too soon, Vaia proclaimed Estelle’s shower complete. The jets ceased to pulse as she spoke.
     Estelle remained as she was. “Are we really done?”
     “With the shower? Yes,” Vaia said. “Now we go to the polishing station.”
     “What happens there?”
     “You’ll see. Come on!”
     Though she was offered neither towels nor a robe, Estelle found that she was warm and dry. She followed Vaia to the next room, noting in passing that she had completely relaxed to going about the store unclothed. It didn’t surprise her that the young beauty who’d pampered her hadn’t bothered to resume her bikini.


     At the center of the room stood a well padded, multi-adjustable chair of a sort any hairdresser, manicurist, or cosmetologist would envy. One long wall was mirrored; the other was lined with cabinets. Estelle mounted the chair without being told.
     Vaia giggled softly. “I think you’re enjoying this.”
     Estelle smiled. “I am. What now?”
     “Now,” the young woman said, “I polish you!”
     “Hm? My nails, you mean?”
     “That, girly girl,” Vaia said, “is only part of it.”
     Girly girl?
     “Ah, what’s involved in being...polished?”
     Vaia opened several cabinets, drew out a variety of implements of unknown uses, and proceeded to demonstrate.
     Never thereafter could Estelle describe sufficiently for reproduction exactly what Vaia did to her. The treatment was all-encompassing. It involved many tools, creams, and lotions, including a few Estelle could not identify. The young woman declined to specify what they were for. Yet none of the applications caused Estelle the slightest discomfort. She watched, awestruck, as Vaia tightened her pockets and flaps of sagging skin, scoured away her scars, and removed all traces of the age spots and other blemishes that had made her reluctant to sunbathe even in her own fenced yard.
     To conclude, Vaia clipped, shaped, and polished Estelle’s nails to a brilliant red, humming melodically all the while.
     Estelle had completely lost track of time when Vaia said “Time to move on, dear. But have a look at yourself first.”
     Estelle dismounted and stood on slightly shaky legs before the mirror wall.
     The image in the mirror was still the one she knew, yet it had been improved in a myriad ways. Overall she looked tighter, straighter, and more vital. Gone were all the signs that she had neglected her body, allowing it to deteriorate prematurely. It was the beauty of maturity, that concedes the passage of the years without unconditionally surrendering to them. But the most distinct difference was in her expression.
     She was happy and looked it.
     Vaia embraced her gently from behind.
     “Do you like what you see?”
     Estelle turned in the young woman’s arms and reciprocated the embrace.
     “You know I do.”
     Vaia’s eyes twinkled. “Then let’s finish up.”


     The last room contained a single item: a luxuriously dressed full-size bed. Estelle halted as she spied it.
     Vaia giggled. “Hop on up there.”
     “None of that!” Vaia took her by the shoulders and ran a fingertip down her nose. “This is the most important part.”
     Estelle did as she was told. Vaia immediately joined her and pulled her into her arms.
     “Hush, child. Relax and let me hold you.”
     She laid her head upon Vaia’s shoulder and relaxed. An interval of total peace came upon her.
     “You think yourself useless because of your age,” Vaia murmured after a time. “Nothing could be further from the truth. Age need not drain the utility from a woman. Properly used, it augments her virtues while diminishing her demerits. Did no one ever tell you this?”
     “No,” Estelle whispered. “But how is it done?”
     “Through self-conservation and self-improvement.” Vaia trailed fingertips along her cheek. “You must protect and maintain what you have while adding to it.”
     “Classes of some sort?”
     Vaia chuckled. “Hardly. The womanly arts are not taught in classrooms. They are those of growing, healing, and nurturing. These are the skills that produce civilizations, when they’re properly cultivated and respected. Unfortunately,” Vaia said, her expression darkening, “there’s been a general decline in respect for them—among women.
     “What I did today was to restore your body, to make it what the body of a fifty-six year old woman who truly values herself would be. I pampered your body in its entirety, treated it as something infinitely valuable, in the hope that by doing so I might awaken your mind and heart as well. Have I succeeded?”
     “Maybe,” Estelle whispered. “I’m not sure.”
     Vaia smiled enigmatically. “I think you are. I think you’re just a bit muddled about what would constitute a proper showing of humility. It’s a common problem. But Estelle,” she said, “proper humility doesn’t require one to treat oneself as worthless. It merely asks that we treat others as having a value equal to our own.
     “Yes, you’re a widow in your fifties without commercial skills. Yes, you must get by on your savings and what remains of Henry’s death benefit. Yes, it’s easier to find love before the bloom of youth has departed. But none of that implies that you are of no value, or that you should carry yourself that way. It certainly doesn’t demand that you treat yourself that way.”
     “Who...what are you?” Estelle whispered.
     “Does it matter? Would any answer make what I’ve been saying more or less true?”
     Estelle started to speak, checked herself.
     “Humans are funny,” Vaia said. “You attach yourselves to the strangest things, hoping to find value in them. Possessions, credentials, prestige, fame, money. Worst of all, other people’s opinions of you. It’s a chimera, Estelle. It degrades and kills as it seduces, body, mind, heart, and soul.” She pulled Estelle closely against her. “Your value is innate, given to you by God. Only one person in all of existence can take it from you.”
     She took Estelle’s face between her hands and kissed her softly.
     “Will you remember that?”
     Estelle nodded. “I will.”
     “Then it’s time for you to go.”
     Vaia rose and touched a spot on the wall that opened a hidden compartment. It proved to contain her purse, a complete set of clothes, including lingerie and stockings, and a pair of mid-heeled pumps. Estelle elbowed herself to a sitting position.
     “Those aren’t my clothes.”
     Vaia smiled. “They are now. Dress.”
     She hopped off the bed and did so. When she was fully clad she turned to Vaia to hug and thank her, only to find that the young beauty had departed.
     No charge for today’s service.
     A door opened in the short wall, letting her out onto the strip mall’s sidewalk. She stepped out, noted that much of the day had passed, and proceeded to Calabria’s Pharmacy.
     The attendant at the cosmetics counter recognized her at once. Her eyes opened to their widest.
     “Good afternoon, Mrs. Lackland. You look absolutely beautiful today.”
     “Thank you, Clarice,” she said. “I feel beautiful.”


Copyright (C) 2019 Francis W. Porretto. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

     And may God bless and keep you all.


Ed Bonderenka said...

That was good.
Glad it didn't go south.

HoundOfDoom said...

I fel better just for reading this!

Ragin' Dave said...

A story that didn't make "Priestesses"? Still a great short story.

Francis W. Porretto said...

(chuckle) Actually, Dave, I wrote the stories in Priestesses many years ago. I wrote "Shower Buddies" on the day I posted it. Really and for true!