The Saddening

Matthew Kirkpatrick


Champion sat on the edge of the prostitute’s bed and listened to the sound of her saddening. He liked to watch the prelude especially, liked to watch her red lips quiver and her eyelids so tightly closed. The silence of the room, so soft and warm, helped him to focus.

“Cry for the children and their mother and the dog that died in the fire, ” he said.

She sobbed a little sob. Champion leaned forward in expectation. She opened her eyes, now red, but not wet with tears.

“Give me a minute, okay?” She closed her eyes again and showed him her clenched fists. She was trying.

Champion appreciated the effort and awaited her constipated tears. He leaned forward in anticipation of authentic sadness. His feet only in brown dress socks, his shoes untied and next to one another at the edge of the bed in the deep piles of the burgundy carpet, he felt only warmth. One reason he so often visited was for his cold feet and the softness of the bed, with her in her bra and jeans, her bare feet, her unpainted toenails, her eyes fogged with deliberate tears.

“Cry for me for all those babies in that bus. Think of them bouncing around in there, flying through the windows and screaming as the bus falls off the cliff into the icy waters below.”

“What?” She opened her eyes. “That didn’t happen.”

“Please. I’m paying for this. It’s happening right now in my mind.”

“Bullshit,” she whispered. She closed her eyes and wondered for the third time that day what had happened to the fucking. Most of her customers asked for sadness, but some, like Champion asked for other emotions, too: laughter, anger (her favorite), fear, angst (the hardest), and despair, her least favorite and the most obnoxious request. She had long suspected her clients no longer felt anything for themselves.

Plentiful tears streaked her cheeks, trickled over her lips and into her mouth, lucky for Champion, who saw it as a sign of authentic sorrow. He relaxed. He sat with his back against the headboard, which felt loose to him. He would offer to fix it.

Champion would admit he used to enjoy fucking the prostitute or trying to fuck the prostitute. Those fond memories contributed to his comfort in her apartment. More than the fucking, it was her portrayal of various emotions in the extreme that now gave him release. Release for him was intimately coupled with warmth, but also the clean décor of black, grey, the subtle splashes of dark red, the imitation mass-produced Danish modern furniture, the prostitute’s stunning color photographs of wedding cakes.

At first, she thought the cakes might bother her downtown day clients, the good customers she invited to her apartment, until they told her how much they liked them, how the cakes gave small pangs of something like feeling. Sometimes they told her they liked the photos because they made them feel guilty, or at least reminded them that they should feel guilty. Most of them complained the only thing they could feel was comfort, even though they wanted to feel other things, too. They often asked her to feel guilty and would confess things from their own lives so she could feel guilty for them. When she told them she didn’t know how to portray a physical expression of guiltiness, that she was not an actress, really, they told her it was enough to tell them that she felt shame, or they asked her to switch to anger. That helped, too.

Champion was no different. He told her his assistant had killed himself and he had walked past the body floating in the fountain in front of the office for three days straight, ignoring the dead assistant, even leaving him voicemail messages and reporting him for unexcused absences even though he knew he was dead. In addition to knowing he should feel guilty for ignoring his dead assistant, he also felt he should feel guilty for reporting his assistant for bad behavior at work when he had a legitimate excuse for not getting his work done.

He said, “I don’t feel anything, really, except that I have to find a new assistant. That bothers me, but on the other hand, Dale wasn’t very good at much.”

“I’m not your therapist.”

“But then, a new assistant might be okay. I don’t really care. I just don’t want to have to fill out any paperwork. I don’t want to attend any meetings, but I also don’t want to have to go to sensitivity training. It’s not like he was murdered. He killed himself.”

“What do you do, anyway?”

“They sent me to the Gentle Hands facility for reorientation the last time something like this came up. That’s what they called it, but it was really just a lot of sitting around and holding each others’ hands.”


“I’m working on a very important project. I can’t tell you about it.”

“That’s fine. Your time’s almost up. Do you want me to feel guilty for you?”


“I’m not sure what that looks like.”

“Maybe a little like sadness, but also a little like despair.”

“I can try that.”

“Can you shake your fists at the ceiling like you’re cursing an angry God?”

After a bit of sobbing, Champion asked her if she had time for a little anger. She looked at the clock and saw that his hour was up.

“Are you ever going to pay for fucking again?”

“I pay for fucking all the time.”

“It’s been months. I get worn out by the crying. It’s dehydrating.”

“Why do you do it then?”

“Because nobody pays for fucking anymore. I don’t understand it.”

“Can I have some tea?”

She stood and he followed her into the kitchen where she turned on the burner under the teakettle. A fly flew around a dirty saucepan on the edge of the sink. Coffee grounds dusted the counter. Outside the sky darkened. Against the window, thick balls of gray hail smacked against the glass.

“I just have green.”

“That’s fine.”

“You need to be out of here in fifteen minutes. I have another client coming.”

He handed her an envelope from his inside jacket pocket.

“Maybe on Friday I can get an hour?”

“I’ll let you know.”

“Do you print these yourself?” He nodded at one of her photographs.

“I wish the water would boil.”

 “Me too.”

He watched her breasts and her beautiful body as she stood waiting for the water to boil. He felt a rare movement in his penis and wanted suddenly to put his arms around her, bend her over the counter, pull down her jeans, and fuck her in the kitchen. Even though he was paying her as a prostitute, this thought disgusted him. After watching her perform so many emotions over the weeks, it was as if they had crossed some territory now that their passionate phase was over and had entered a surer phase of subdued intimacy. He didn’t know how to go back even though, as he was thinking it, he remembered all that was between them was a transaction. On Friday he would ask her to cry for him about the state of their relationship, the space between them, and the love they would never have. Maybe then he would ask her to have coffee with him, knowing she would refuse him.

He stood behind her, close enough that a stray strand of her hair touched his cheek. He could put his arm around her and pull her toward him, but his time was up. Instead of closing the space between them, he waited for water that would never boil.