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First Impressions

What is my life like? My life is constant information, whether or not I want it. My life is knowing without wanting to know. And even though I understand people the second I see them—not only hear their thoughts, but also feel their emotions, taste their personalities, and see their auras—my life is primarily solitary.

I wake up alone in my bedroom with white, empty walls and austere lines. My dresser is plain and black, and my clothes are drab: just white shirts, black suits, black ties, and gray pants. I can’t stand any variation or personality; I am bombarded with it the minute I walk outside.

The thoughts and natures of others decorate my mind and interweave themselves with the stitching in my clothing until suddenly I feel I am wearing a mural of myriad emotions, motivations, and characters, each more vibrant and confused than the last.

Some days I want to stay indoors, sit on my long, black leather couch, and just be. Not think anything, hear anything, see anything, or feel anything. Just sit with my hands above my knees, knowing nothing and being completely satisfied.

But I’ve done that to death and it doesn’t change the fact that I have to go outside and interact with others eventually.

With a sigh, I open the door and wait for the onslaught.

At first I only feel Mrs. Galloway, my plump, redheaded next-door neighbor. Overall she is a delightful, grateful woman. She is whistling as she waters her plants, and I can feel that she is content. Her aura shows a bright yellow ring around her body, which I can understand because she has just received a phone call from her son.

I hope he gets to decide where the wedding is, she thinks happily. Jessica can pick the flowers and the music and everything else, but he must put his foot down about where.

Mrs. Viola Galloway has been widowed for over ten years, and in her deepest thoughts I have heard of suicide and self-inflicted injuries. I thank the heavens that today she is well.

Without warning, I am bombarded by cursing and negativity. I can feel a man who is generally self-centered and pompous. I briefly look around and see a red car speed by, and I hear busy rap music. The cursing is about his roommate whom he just left, and though it is not directed at me, I internalize it and carry it with me.

I drive to work instead of riding the bus, and I never listen to the radio. People always try to express themselves through their songs. They are always singing about emotions and feelings, when they were hurt, when they triumphed, when they fell in love. They try to use words to get across what is deep inside; their purpose is to let others know how they feel.

For me, every second in the car is a precious moment void of other people’s emotions. But as I stop at a light, they seep through the windows like a vapor, and I am suddenly conscious of worry, grief, indifference, and irritation.

My foot hits the pedal the millisecond the light turns green, and I speed away as if I am being chased.


I enter through the back door and set up my table quietly. Fresh white linens on a solid black table. I attach the lotion bottle to my side and turn on the soft, gentle tones of new age music.

Most of the massage therapists ask the receptionist who their next appointment is, but I make sure she writes it down and leaves it in my room. That way I don’t have to learn about her current boyfriend, whether he is wonderful or a misogynist pig, or whether or not her mother recovered from her second heart attack. Her aura is either a hot pink or a dark red; I am not a fan of pink.

I look down at my schedule.

My first appointment is in fifteen minutes. I prepare my hands and mind for the extensive one-on-one time.

I sit on the office chair next to the door and wring my hands and rock back and forth slowly. In just a short twenty minutes, I have already felt too much. I don’t know if I can take my appointment; a fear creeps up my throat that the feelings and thoughts of the patient will be too much for me to take.

But I breathe deeply; if I couldn’t handle it, I wouldn’t still be alive.

The day after I turned seven, my little brother died. He drowned in a neighbor’s swimming pool. I remember sitting at the front of a large room filled with people, some of whom I knew, and others I had never seen before. I could see many black auras and hear people wondering why such a small child had to die. My mother hugged me, wondering over and over again what she could have done to save Daniel. She kept seeing his body floating in front of her face, his eyes cold and open and his skin discolored and clammy.

The old lady in the row behind us remembered when her father died. She had been a young girl then; she recalled sitting in a white chair next to her mother, who didn’t look at her for a long time. When she finally did, she saw that her mother’s eyes were full of tears. She recalled the terror that filled her heart when her mother told her the news. I can still remember the mother’s beautiful large red lips and deep hazel eyes.

The other people at the funeral had similar thoughts. I didn’t have time to mourn my little brother’s death, as I kept seeing other people dying in the thoughts of others.

I have never been to a funeral since.


Fifteen minutes have passed. I take a deep breath and reach for the doorknob.

I hear three thoughts: from Gabrielle the receptionist, Emilie another massage therapist, and my client, Tallie.

Gabrielle’s aura is somewhere between red and pink. She is having a frustrating day; so far her dog has escaped the backyard, her son has gone to school without his assignment, and her boyfriend has asked her to leave work early so they can visit his mother.

Emilie is oblivious to Gabrielle’s problems. Surrounded by a bright yellow aura, she stands next to the receptionist desk and talks excitedly about how her last patient told her it was the best massage she had ever received.

If she thought that was a good massage, she should come back when I have more than three hours of sleep, Emilie thinks.

Gabrielle is only humoring Emilie, and the more Emilie talks, the deeper red Gabrielle’s aura gets.

I look over at Tallie, who wonders if it is going to be awkward to have a male massage therapist. I can feel her discomfort as she shifts in her chair and looks at Gabrielle.

I try to give her a smile because I’m not going to lose a client if I don’t have to. If she doesn’t request a female, she is going to be stuck with me, and I’m just fine with that.

Tallie’s aura stays the same dark green, but her cheeks turn a shade of red.

“I’m David, your massage therapist,” I say calmly.

What kind of massage therapist wears a suit? Emilie thinks as she eavesdrops.

Tallie stands up awkwardly and puts her small brown purse under her arm. She follows me to the room, where I tell her to strip to her comfort level and lay under the sheets.

I leave the room, walk past Gabrielle and Emilie, and head straight for the bathroom.

I go to the second stall, put the seat cover down, and hug myself in silence.

The moment I saw Tallie I had her figured out, just like everyone else. There are no surprises anymore. Tallie is timid, genuine, witty, and optimistic. She is twenty-five years old, lives with her mother, and only eats organic food. Before she realized I had come into the lobby, she had been trying to dislodge a piece of broccoli from between her molars.

I force myself off the toilet and go back to the front room. Emilie has just left; I can tell because Gabrielle is muttering in her mind about how loudly Emilie talks.

One of these days I’m going to go deaf, she thinks dramatically, but at least then I won’t hear Dallas yell at me . . .

I quickly walk by to avoid more information.


I tap on the door of my massage room, and Tallie tells me it is all right to enter.

She is fully clothed. This shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me, but I nonetheless appreciate being surprised.

Tallie is awkwardly thinking how she should sit, lay, or look.

“Is this your first massage?” I ask.

She nods.

“Just relax and lay down,” I say in a calm voice. “Are there any areas you particularly want worked on?”

Of course I already know she has no problem areas. She struggles to come up with a specific answer to that question.

This is too awkward, she thinks as she squirms on the table.

“I can just work your back and neck if you want,” I say.

She nods, which moves the headrest linen.

Her mind is spinning as I rub her upper back.

That feels good . . . Is he offended I left my clothes on? . . . I didn’t even know that muscle existed . . . should I have my eyes open or closed? Plus numerous other thoughts.

I keep all of this to myself, as always.

That almost tickles . . . this is good . . . How much does he get and how much does the company keep? There is no way they pay him enough . . . but he is wearing a suit.

I’ve worn many different things during massages and it doesn’t matter what I wear, the client almost always thinks about it. I’ve found that the plainer my clothing, the less they think about it. Which is why I wear a suit. What is plainer than a suit?

I work her shoulders and neck, applying trace amounts of lotion. She relaxes more and her aura changes from a dark green to a lighter shade. Her thoughts flow into one another.

I hope I don’t fall asleep during this. I wonder how often that happens . . . Does this guy think I’m attractive? I wonder if anyone does. I can’t believe I left my mother sitting in front of the television. Judge Judy . . . I wonder if he massages my butt if he’ll find the quarters. I hope he doesn’t massage my butt. I’ll bet rich people come in here all the time. I wonder if it’s lame to do this on my birthday.

Another surprise. It is her birthday.

I massage her lower back, avoiding her buttocks, and I begin to wonder myself. Two surprises in one day, after years of predicting and knowing. I had sensed she was a witty person, a trait that is difficult to understand, but I didn’t expect this. I smile; I haven’t done that in weeks.

As I rub her arms and hands, she sighs.

Before she realizes what time it is, the massage is over. I take a few steps back.

“How did that feel?”

Her head lifts slightly and she looks at me through tired eyes. All she can do now is nod and wonder where the time went. I smile politely.

“I’ll meet you in the lobby,” I say.


Gabrielle is clicking away at the keyboard, fully immersed in the numbers. I am grateful that I just have to hear numbers, names, and the occasional swear word.

Tallie enters the front room and looks up at me awkwardly.

I wonder if he dates anyone he massages? she thinks. Her aura flashes a brilliant turquoise and then changes back into the normal dark green. I have never seen anything like it, and I can’t help but be intrigued.

“All you have to do now is drink lots of water,” I say. I wonder how to communicate that I never date anyone I massage without letting her know that I understand practically everything about her. It usually embarrasses people.

I remember being young, with my parents fighting constantly. And rather than getting a divorce, they just filled our house with negativity and anger. But just the same, I knew they always loved each other, no matter how much they thought about other men or women.

Once, my mother wondered if my father had cheated after he had been out all night. We were working on a science project, and her mind kept wandering back to my father in suggestive poses with other women.

Of course, I knew my father hadn’t been cheating. He had been thinking about getting them a hotel room just the other day and it disgusted me to no end. Besides, it frustrated me to keep struggling for my mother’s attention. So I told her.

And when my father came home, he presented the plan to her.

Ever since then, my mother has known about me. She filtered her thoughts and quieted her emotions so I couldn’t get inside. Whenever she let something slip, her face turned red and she hurried to leave the room. Soon she became so guarded that I barely talked to her. Since I moved out of the house, I have never seen her.

“I hope you come back,” I say as Tallie leaves the building.

She nods, but thinks, If I ever have the money again.

I watch her leave, get into her small white car, and start the engine. It sputters and threatens to die, but then succeeds and she drives away. Despite the fear I feel from Gabrielle and the annoyance from Emilie, I feel myself getting disappointed.

What am I disappointed about? I suppose because deep inside I finally feel something of my own. When Tallie was here, I was surprised, I was smiling. And now, the moment she leaves the parking lot, I feel a loss, I feel compassion, I feel love.

Copyright © 2007 by Shelly Jasperson


Shelly Jasperson

Shelly writes:
I am typically a shy person. When I recently started a new job with a tight-knit staff, I began to wish I had the ability to know people without talking to them. No one could ever get away with lies or betray me. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how much of a curse it would become.

Shelly Jasperson is a starving student author. She has had and will have short stories published in Alien Skin Magazine and Bewildering Stories. She has also had articles published at She loves to play "Settlers of Catan" with her husband and doodle on empty notebooks. She can be contacted via email at:

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