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He was an old man. Through exercise, diet, genes, and luck, he remained trim and unbent. The calendar told the truth. Eighty-five years were behind him, and seven years since his wife died. He checked his watch, and downed the blue pill with the bottle of water provided in the back of the limo, as he rode toward the brothel on the outskirts of Las Vegas. His name was Alan. He had flown from the East Coast for no reason other than his current purpose, and shook his head as he realized he was going through with it.
A one-story, light brown building with faux clapboard siding, punctuated by several oddly placed windows, and surrounded by desert with tower-studded hills in the distance, appeared ahead. In the desert heat, the building and landscape shimmered, seemed to merge into an endless expanse of ugliness. Alan had selected the smallest and most remote brothel he could find, to remain as anonymous as possible, and he chose well. He had arrived at nowhere. The limo driver pulled into the parking lot, where two cars occupied the long row of parking spaces in front of the building.
"Here you go," the driver said. "You sure you don't want me to wait?"
"No thank you," Alan said. "I'm all set." Alan had arranged for another limo to pick him up. He could not bear the thought of riding back with the same driver after he was done.
He walked inside to a low-ceiling, softly lit, L-shaped space, decorated with dark wood paneling. To the right was a large well-stocked bar. Small square tables with two chairs each, were scattered around the center space. Large replica paintings of classic nudes, hung on the walls, a brothel version of the sad eyed children prints. The place had looked elegant on its website. No one was at the bar or the tables. As he wondered what he should do, a door beside the bar opened, and a Rubinesque, fiftyish woman with tinted gray hair that shone even in the subdued light, walked over to him.
"Welcome," she said. "You are right on time. Follow me."
She led Alan down a long corridor, and gestured toward the room at the end. He entered, and was met by another woman, tall, blonde hair, lean face and body, with hazel eyes and a prominent nose, perhaps in her late twenties. She wore a short red dress and black undergarments that showed through the gossamer fabric. She held out her hand.
"I'm Julie," she said.
He shook her hand.
He sat in the chair in the corner of the spacious windowless room, a third of which was taken up by an over-sized bed, covered by a plush purple comforter. The only other furniture was a small night stand beside the bed, and to his surprise, a large bookcase filled with titles he did not recognize.
"I had asked for someone older," he said.
"I'm old enough," Julie said.
"Do you mind my asking, is Julie your real name?"
"You may call me anything you wish. In here, I am Julie."
When Alan said nothing further, Julie moved closer and stood directly in front of him.
"Do you want to get right down to business," she asked, "or play a little first? Or you can tell me what you would like.”
She rested a hand on Alan's knee, and looked him over as she waited for his answer.
"Can we talk a little?" he asked.
"It's your time," she said.
"I've read a lot before I came here," he said, "about." He paused, uncertain.
"Sex workers," she offered.
"I hope you want to be here."
"I'm here by choice, as you are."
"I read that most prosti, sex workers, were abused when they were young."
"I'm nobody's victim," she said.
Alan stood up, and put some distance between them.
“I need to explain why I’m here.”
“You don’t,” she said.
“Yes, I do. Since my wife died, I've had no one to hold, no one to touch, to look at. I tried dating, but that went nowhere. With every hearty conversation in my health club locker room, breakfast at the senior center, with every solitary night, I find it harder to breathe."
Julie kept the space between them.
"Loneliness," she said. "Yes, I understand."
She took off her clothes with a practiced casualness, a small peformance with each garment, and motioned to Alan to do the same. He undressed and followed Julie onto the bed. They felt each other for awhile, then Julie slipped a condom onto Alan, and guided him inside her.
"Thank God," he said.
Tears tumbled down his cheeks onto Julie's breasts, tears that extinguished his desire, tears that would not stop for his shame. Julie kissed him on the forehead, so gently that he was unsure what he had felt. She gave him what he could not give to himself. Absolution.
"I forgive you," she whispered.
Kenneth Margolin is a former attorney, father of two adult daughters, and lives with his wife, Judith, in Newton, Massachusetts. His publications include articles in professional journals, monographs, a book chapter on Facilitated Communication, and a journalistic essay in Sport Literate Magazine. Margolin is relatively new to fiction writing and has had short fiction published in PIF online magazine, Peeking Cat Poetry Journal, Short Fiction Break, and Evening Street Review.