“Money From the Slick Man” by Max Kruger-Dull

At the slick man’s apartment, I had a fifty-dollar bill taped to my forehead. This was after the bill was safe in my hand and before the bill was folded into my mouth. The slick man—a heavyset, theatrical man; a gray-eyed septuagenarian—used double-sided tape to stick the bill to my forehead, which was after he asked me to put my phone in his pocket and before he asked for my phone’s passcode. The tape smelled like soap, or the money did, and I decided to use the fifty dollars for a new doorknob after he told me to be prepared “for a fucking” and before he told me “this is the only money you’ll be getting out of me.” 

1. While reflecting on this experience, it’s important to know why I think of him as a slick man. He is slick because of his ability to nudge a part of me—my hip, my nose—and guide us into the ideal position for whatever moment he wanted us to have. Usually positionings were my job.

2. Remember: I made a mistake when dealing with the slick man. I had the fifty-dollar bill safe in my hand. For that, I did harmless things. But then he behaved as if I hadn’t earned the fifty. And I felt as if I hadn’t earned the fifty. For the fifty I’d only done harmless things. So he asked if I wanted to really earn the money and, to be amenable, I said sure. I suppose what came then was harmless too. 

3. I was surprised by the nimbleness of this seventy-year-old man. But he was also surprised by me. I was taller than he expected, he said, more smiley than he expected. He told me I was less talkative than the “average whore.” 

4. When I was young, it was cool to care about money. After that it was gauche. And now it is cool again. 

5. I will buy a gold doorknob for my bedroom with the fifty dollars. The doorknob I like is square, flat, modern-looking, and sharp. For aesthetic reasons only, I appreciate doorknobs with sharp edges. My glass doorknob fell off just days before I met the slick man. For months, I’d been having sex with a loud man, three-hundred dollars a session. Volume was his main kink. He loved when I screamed and loved to scream at me. He’d make resonant noises with his flesh against mine as if he were practicing to record an album. Whenever he walked into my bedroom, he slammed the door to scare me. We laughed like friends when the glass doorknob fell off, producing the loudest thud. Then he asked me to be scared again.

6. The slick man taped the bill to my forehead to embarrass me and then stuffed the bill into my mouth for the same purpose but I don’t get embarrassed easily. Nothing could be more humiliating than the day I lost my favorite gold pencil in second grade; I wailed and made the class look for it on the floor and then in the hallway and accused the teacher of stealing my pencil because I scored poorly on a spelling test. 

7. I am getting better at acting embarrassed. I can make my face turn red without cause. In general, men come to me when they want someone to blush or cry or shiver at their provocations. If a man puts his hand on my neck, I know how to tint my gaze with fear—as is my niche. The real challenge when playing scared is restraint. “Overacting kills all boners,” a friend told me. Lately I’ve been practicing my expressions of gratitude. A presumptuous client said those will take me far.

8. Providing a service is an unappealing concept to me. When I think of my work that way, I feel part of such a strict, dull world. But I do provide a service, sometimes of great value, sometimes of negligible importance. In school, we were taught to work hard for a dollar. We were told, “Money won’t come easy to you.” I sometimes confuse that to mean money shouldn’t come easy. Perhaps that is why I didn’t leave his apartment when the fifty was safe in my hand.

9. When he put the fifty dollars in my mouth, I knew it was the bill, not the tape, that’d smelled like soap. I held my mouth open so all the spit would dry out and the bill wouldn’t get too damp. I curled my tongue back toward my throat to minimize the germs and taste. He was pleased by my discomfort. But then he fucked me on my stomach and his force made the fifty tumble out of my mouth. It rolled to somewhere on the floor I couldn’t see. So I reached over the side of the bed and felt around for my money. In the stiff position he had me pinned, I could only make vague, sweeping arm movements. There was a blanket on the floor; I rifled through its folds; I shook it out. “You move too much,” the slick man said, though he was moving more than I was. I slipped out of my meekness and said, “You made me lose my money.” Then I slipped my meekness back on again. 

10. The encounter could’ve been erotic for me. I enjoy most men to varying degrees and this man was strong enough and not that hairy. But too much was going on. The money. The tape. My phone in his pocket. His need for me to be whore-like. The pain in my back from a previous fuck. My resistance to seeming business-like. I never hold on to money as tightly as I need to. 

11. I was a child good at finding money on the ground: in grocery aisles around Christmas, by the register at lunch, flopping down the street. I used to pass on my findings to friends, keeping little for myself. To me back then, money was meant to dance sillily through the world. Whenever I had cash for my classmates, they’d squeal and stash it in their pockets as if I’d demand its return. Twice, I did demand its return. Once to buy a soda. And then to throw a twenty out of our zooming school bus. “Madman!” a kid yelled at me. I laughed at the twenty. But the bill slid against the window so reluctantly, like it was teaching me its worth.

12. I had tried to orient my life around interests. I took Mandarin classes after watching Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Around that time, I prematurely considered becoming a translator. I loved to recite Chinese tongue twisters although I often got mixed up. Yán jiū and yān jiǔ mean two different things. In the end, my ear turned out to be lacking in the perceptiveness needed to make it far with the language. But in the class I still made sweet friends.

13. Then I became interested in pleasure: my own and then others’. The friends from grade school who accepted my gifts became friends desperately interested in money after college. I never understood how they found money itself inherently compelling, but they did, or they seemed to. They sought out money as if it were a new culture. They could hold up their hands and funds would fly to them. Now, with effort, money flies to me too. 

14. After the slick man came in my hair, he let me search for the fifty as long as I allowed him to record the hunt with my phone’s camera. That was when he asked for the passcode. I still don’t know why he wanted my phone in the first place; perhaps just to test my deference. So I let him record me. I crouched down and combed the floor for the fifty like I needed it to patch a hole in my skin. “It’s just money,” he said in a cruel voice behind the camera as I crawled. I prefer all cruelness to stop right after a man ejaculates. 

15. I found the bill far from where I’d dropped it. Lately, the thought of lost cash makes me sweat.

16. When I left the slick man’s apartment, I still had double-sided tape stuck to my forehead. On the drive home, I played with the fifty as if it had no value. I tossed the bill at the windshield. I squeezed the bill like it could pop. The fifty made a good Q-tip for cleaning out my ears. 

17. The slick man called yesterday and offered to pay for another session: fifty-one dollars this time. “Fifty-one?” I asked. “Can I say something crude?” he asked. I said, “Go right ahead.” “More cash to shove in your mouth,” he said. I said, “Good thinking.” And he said, “Let’s make it fifty-two.” I might’ve found him enjoyable had money not been involved.

18. Remember: I still need blinds, a strong fan, fresh towels, a firm mattress, flat pillows, a fun shower curtain, more stain remover, A/C to keep men from sweating and stinking, and, in a perfect world, bright gold forks. 

Max Kruger-Dull holds an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. His recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in The MacGuffin, Litro Magazine, Hunger Mountain Review, the tiny journal, The Broadkill Review, and others. He lives in New York with his boyfriend and two dogs.