Knead Beats Love With a Stranger in a Cheap Hotel

He was a stout Israeli, 55, sitting at the end of the bar at a San Francisco restaurant called Scalia’s. He wore gray flannel pants and a striped, Chiclets-colored shirt, and he had on many tangled necklaces, all made of tortoise shell; one was a Mogen David. It was about midnight; I was staying in the hotel upstairs and had come in to order some takeout. He gave me his seat. ” Shayna maidela ,” he said, throwing down his cigar, “you are in such pain! Ach! I am crying!” And he started massaging my head.

It crossed my mind that this could be his idea of a come-on. I’m pregnant, and showing, which made it even stranger. ” Bubeleh , relax,” he said. “I am massage therapist. One twenty-five an hour, but for you? You are already like mishpocheh ! I do it for 75.”

Before I could respond, he commenced to kneading my neck with hands that felt like they could halve a turkey. “I massage Shirley MacLaine, Magic Johnson,” he said. “I massage millionaires! But for you I make an exception. I also work in immigration.”

“Ach, how you need it,” he added with a hiss. He was right. I hadn’t been paying much attention to my body, which was responding with waves of relief. I wanted him to touch my hip. There was a shooting pain there-probably the result of the new weight I was carrying-which I’d been hoping every night would just go away by morning.

“Look how everyone is jealous of Avrahim touching you,” he said. I glanced up and in the mirror above the bar saw the entire restaurant (four tired drunks and some out-of-towners seeking a snack) looking at me, a trifle alarmed. My food came, and he went out to his car. “Don’t go anywhere!” he said, but before I could decide to run away, he’d returned, panting, carrying the a large green table wrapped in plastic. He also had a gym bag. “Do you have microwave?” he asked casually, as we rode up in the elevator together. “I have oil.”

I figured if he tried anything, I could just scream, and someone from the hotel would come save me. Now we were inside my room. “Do you mind if wear shorts?” he said.

“Um-” I said.

He started setting up the table, and I went in the bathroom to change. It was a cheap hotel, and there was no phone in the bathroom. I wasn’t sure who I’d call. I put on my nightgown and went back out; now he was wearing only shorts-no shirt or shoes. He had a beach-ball belly, blanketed with hair.

“Don’t you think it’s hot in here?” he said.

“I-”

“Are you ready?” he asked cheerfully, rubbing a plastic bottle of oil (“Almond Evenings”) between his palms. Not knowing what else to do, I started to climb on the table. “Oh, but you must remove your nightgown!” he protested. I stammered something about not wanting to be naked, because I was pregnant. “Ach!” he frowned. “Cindy Crawford had massage when she was eight months pregnant, believe me. Why not you?” And he pulled my nightgown over my head, like a grandma, and I let him.

He started working on my back.

“Are you Jewish?” Abraham said.

“Yes,” I said, head down in the table.

“Yes, this is the ass of a Jewish girl!” he said approvingly. “You ever been to Israel? You should go. You would see all your sisters there.”

“Your husband Jewish?” he went on.

“Yes,” I lied.

“Good,” he said. “We make nice husbands. We are warm, we give. I am married to the same woman for 25 years until two months ago. She is too old for me now. I want to go out and have fun! We have one son; he is 20; he is deejay.”

He squeezed my ass.

“Ach, feel these pain muscles!” He gasped. “Why is your husband not massaging you?”

I didn’t have a husband, but I didn’t think I better tell him that. “I didn’t know I needed it,” I murmured.

“Oh, bubeleh , this you need!” he said. “Bob Hope he gets massage every day for three hours, and he is 97 years old. All his friends-Sammy, Frank, Dino-all dead! But he is going strong, shalom aleichem .”

“You from New York? I used to live on Fifth and Park,” he said.

“That’s impossible,” I told him.

“On 40th Street,” he corrected himself. “I did not like it, I came running here. I have clients they fly on the Concorde every 10 days to see me! They say, ‘Oh Avrahim, I love you, baby.’”

I didn’t know what to make of his claims of being a celebrity massage therapist, but I knew how he was making me feel: I was in heaven, I was melting. All the weight seemed to be falling off-of financial concerns, of pregnancy concerns, of being alone. I was floating. Then he touched my hip; I inhaled a sharp breath-

“Oh, baby, this is bad over here,” he said. “You have to take better care of yourself, you are going to be a great mother, I see because you have so much love in your body. But you must learn to love yourself.”

All I said was, “O.K.”

We fell into silence. He gently turned me over, and started working on my neck and shoulders. My hand flew up. His hairy belly was smashing in my face.

“Oh, I am sorry, shaynala ,” he giggled. “I forget, I am bigger than you are! Do not worry. With these hands I can apply 50 pounds of pressure, but you will only feel one pound …” He began to massage my belly. And I felt a little thump … it felt like having your name called when you least expect it, like being suddenly awakened.

I almost sat up. “Did you feel that?”

“Of course I felt that,” he said. “She is like woman’s soccer player. She’s trying to make a goal.”

“I never felt it before!” I told him. “I mean, not like that!”

“Ah, it’s affirmation,” said Abraham. “She is saying, ‘Yes, Mommy, please take care of yourself.’ She’s going to teach you a lot, this baby.”

After that, I was happy and I fell asleep. When I woke up, I was in my bed. He must have carried me there. I opened my eyes and looked over at the desk, where he was, in his clothes, fussing over a billfold.

“You see, I am carrying 1,000 dollars, I have no time to go banking!” he said, laughing uneasily.

I got up and put on my robe.

“I never made a lot of money. I have to work for money, but I am not complaining,” he said. “To complain is an insult against God. Look, see … Four hundred forty dollars I got for three hours of massage! I have no time to cash it …”

“Oh Abraham,”-I realized-”I forgot to pay you!”

“I would do it for nothing, shaynala , but I-” He looked sad.

I told him how he had helped me. I told him how much it had meant to me to meet up with him tonight.

“Yes, we are each other’s karma,” he said, smiling. “And tomorrow, believe me, you’re gonna be saying, Avrahim, I love you, baby.&quot: We hugged like mishpocheh .