A thicket of rangy weeds flourishes beside the riverbank. I put on gloves and goggles. I wear my jaunty boots.
Upon my return, outside the Tropical Delights Day Spa and Massage, I leave the entrance sign turned to “closed” and congratulate myself. No one’s around. Perfect. I utter sweet curses, weaving swears together like lyrical strings. The hollow stems are long, uncooperative and slick inside. Latex gloves impede my usual skillful dexterity. Thank God I’ve got a fine supply of these damn gloves, triple-thick, every blessed size.
Afterwards, I tinker with the latch pins on unit number four, ratcheting the hinges so that upon testing and re-testing the locking mechanism jams immobile. The lid sticks frozen shut every single time.
After this, my acquaintance from college, Arlene Davidson, waddles in.
“Right on time.” I indicate the massage table. “Hop up.”
She strips, levers herself, settles in the prone position, beached on a slab abdomen, limbs elongated like oversized lobster appendages.
“I’ll do your backside first.” I pull on the newest gloves which are creamy and feel like satin.
I drape blue linen sheets. “More efficient.” I’m steady at every turn. “Got this fantastic herbal lotion especially for you.” I refold towels and pour out scented oils. “Fragrant essential emollients are guaranteed to invigorate your complexion.”
“I’m ready.” She sighs, resting her square chin atop her overlapping forearms.
“Luxurious fragrance. I’ll massage the oils around your neck and your shoulders first. Exotic ingredients purify the epidermis. For your wedding, you’ll be positively glowing. Won’t your Kenneth be impressed.”
She’s spread-eagled on the table, lolling like a torpid beast.
I continue massaging, reaching alongside, down her legs, behind her hideous knees, to the soles of her feet.
“You know,” she says, “Kenneth never did tell me why you two broke it off in 2004. Shattered his heart, I think.” She turns her head. “He still gets upset. We don’t — he won’t explain.”
“Makes no difference.”
“No worries, my dear. It’s only long-forgotten and useless ancient history. No problem. You’re the perfect match for Kenny boy. You deserve each other. Really. Okay, flip-flop now.”
She grunts and roils upon her back, the jellied flesh of her thighs settling last.
“You’re going to be the shining radiant bride! You must be excited for the wedding day!”
She smiles at me and then beyond me to the ceiling tiles before her eyelids droop as if in peace. Perfect.
I shuffle around her then bustle, knowing that the noxious milky sap that exudes from the hollow stems of giant hogweed — knowing that should the secretions make contact with skin and then skin be subsequently exposed to sunlight, a fascinating purplish burn erupts in painful suppurative blisters. If toxic residue, even a minuscule amount, is carried to the eyes — blindness — permanent.
When we’re finished, Arlene slithers contentedly off the massage table. She’s relaxed now, like a giant carp. I guide her towards the tanning beds.
“Number four. Climb in.”
Katrina Johnston is the winner of the CBC-Canada Writes, True Winter Tale. Works of short fiction may be found at several online journals. She lives in Victoria, BC, Canada. The goal of her fiction is to share.