The Game Maker – Kitty Thomas

The phone in my pocket has stopped ringing by the time I manage to unlock the door and stumble into my apartment, kicking the door shut behind me. In my arms are my last bags of groceries. I sit them on the floor and dig out my phone. One new voicemail. I recognize the number of the missed call. It’s Carolyn, my landlady. A pile of eviction notices in an array of neon colors is stacked neatly on my kitchen countertop. I should have thrown them away, but I’m a masochist like that. I press the speakerphone button and dial in to my voicemail where the robotic voice helpfully announces that I have one. new. message. I love how each word is its own sentence. I take a deep breath and press one to listen. “Kate, I need you out of the apartment by the end of the week. I’ve already got someone who wants to move in.

I’m very sorry about your situation, but you have to find other arrangements. I don’t want to have you forcibly removed; please don’t make me the bad guy here.” I slide to the floor and break down and cry. How did this happen to me? I once heard that nobody ends up truly homeless unless they have a drug problem or a mental illness. Well, let me just say, that is a big fat lie. I have no addictions and am the most puttogether person I know. And yet, here I am. It’s hard to explain how someone becomes this isolated. Especially in a city of millions. A few years ago, fresh out of college and mourning the death of my parents—car crash—I decided to move to the city and put my advertising degree to good use. I have a few friends back home, but they’re casual acquaintances—not the kind of people I can ask for help. And here in the city? I’m a workaholic. I was working in an agency with far more men than women. What few friendships I have, again, are shallow and not a hey, can I crash at your place sort of situation. And I’m the best goddamned advertising exec in a sixty mile radius.

I didn’t lose my job because I was irresponsible or bad at it. I lost my job because of Andrew, my boss. Because I made the mistake of dating him and then breaking up with him. The sex was fucking awful. I would rather be single for the rest of my life than suffer through shitty sex with a man who doesn’t know which end of his dick does what. Or where my clit is. You learn so many useless things in school, but where to find the clit is probably the most useful knowledge many men could gain for practical life use. Followed by how to stroke it, tease it, lick it. Alas, Andrew missed that nonexistent day of class at Shit-you’llactually-use school. When he fired me, I told him to go fuck himself, if he could figure out how, and flounced off in a huff. I thought it would be easy with my reputation to find a new job, but Andrew beat me to it. I’m pretty much blacklisted in this city. I thought, no problem, I can move. I have no attachments here. But the economy isn’t the greatest, and I can’t give Andrew as a reference, so all that hard work and reputation I built? Gone.

And now I’m out of time. Out of savings. I’m going to be out on the street in five days if I don’t figure something out. I wipe my eyes with the back of my hands and struggle to stand. I am not that girl— the one who crumples and cries at every little struggle—the one who needs other people to fix her problems. I will figure something out. But I’ve tried. I’ve tried jobs outside of my industry. I’ve tried jobs that are “beneath me”. Nobody is hiring, and the few places that are I’m overqualified for, or the pay is so low I’d still be homeless with the cost of living here. I put the groceries away, get dressed up in a little black dress, and go out. Even though I only have five more days in this apartment I have to get out. Half an hour later, I find myself sitting at a bar. Such a stereotype. Except I’m sitting at the bar of an extremely nice restaurant.

To be honest, I’m surprised they even let me in here. You have to have a reservation, but they do have a bar, and I guess I just looked like I knew where I was going, and nobody stopped me. I’m not sure why I’m here. Is this some last ditch effort to somehow land a man who can keep me off the street? Is this the level of pathetic desperation I’ve reached? I’m on my third gin and tonic when I spot a woman at the other end of the bar who I am nearly a hundred percent sure is an escort. I don’t know why I’m so sure about this, but there’s something about her that screams regularly paid for sex. Hey, I’m not judging. An escort. I roll that thought around in my mind for a moment. It’s the one industry I haven’t sought work in. But wouldn’t it be better than homelessness? I can’t get pregnant at least. When I first learned that at sixteen I was devastated. And maybe it’s why I’ve thrown myself so much into my work because I knew children weren’t in my future, so I’d better build something else to be proud of. This escort thought continues to roll around in my mind. I’m not blind to my own attributes. I have long, wavy, naturally blonde-streaked hair.

Women pay hundreds of dollars for highlights like these that I have naturally. Blue eyes. Long dancer legs. Pouty lips. Natural, not injections. Not sure about the boobs though. I mean I like them. I might be the only woman on the planet who likes her breasts just as they are. I’m a B-cup, which I’ve always thought was the perfect size. Outside of work, I almost never wear a bra, and they stay where they’re supposed to. But lots of men like bigger. Probably most of the men paying for it. And being an escort is likely to be far worse than being with Andrew because then instead of having bad sex with one person I’d be having it with hundreds. The reality of the fantasy I’ve just spent the past several minutes exploring loses its luster as quickly as it came on. It’s like most fantasies that way.

The vast majority of them I would never act out because I know the real thing isn’t anything like what’s in my head. When it’s in my head, I’m the one in control, and my imaginary partners fuck like gods. I scroll through the depressingly short contact list on my phone. Andrew is still in there. And maybe it’s because I’ve had three pretty strong drinks, but I can’t stop myself from pressing the call button. “Hello,” he answers brusquely on the third ring. He has a posh British accent that fools people into thinking he has decency or class. “Hey, it’s me,” I say. “What do you want?” I don’t know how I imagined this conversation would go down, and my head isn’t clear enough to navigate it in any kind of intelligent way. I’m aware that I’m making an absolute fool of myself. I know how pathetic this is. There isn’t enough alcohol in the world for me to not realize that. I feel the tears coming, and I can’t hold them back. I know I sound weak. I don’t think I’ve ever appeared weak to my former boss, not once until now.

“I didn’t have anyone else to call,” I say. “Call about what?” His voice is guarded and threaded with more malice than I expected. Even after firing me and ruining my life, even after two months since the day I walked out of the agency, he’s still angry. “I’m being kicked out of my apartment this week. I can’t pay rent. I need…” I trail off. “I already filled your job,” he says. “O-okay,” I whisper. I can’t ask him to take me back. It’s just not in me. I can’t beg a man I can’t stand to take me back. The thought of his hands on me makes the bile rise in my throat, even as I know if I could only get past my pride and beg, I might be sleeping in his extremely nice apartment with all my needs met indefinitely. He saves me from this groveling. “I don’t have a job at the agency, but you could be my whore.” The cruelty in his tone makes me want to lash out and spew a string of curses at him.

But I bite my tongue just in time. Of course I can’t be his girlfriend again. Only his whore. Fuck this guy. I want to slit his motherfucking throat so badly I can barely think straight. “Kate? Are you still there? I will take care of you. I will shelter you and feed you and clothe you and take you out to nice places. And you will service me whenever and however I like in return. Deal?” The tears are streaming down my face now, and people are starting to stare. I hate this man so much. It wasn’t just that he was bad in bed. It’s that he’s a first-class asshole. He treated me like shit when I was his girlfriend. How much worse will he treat me now? But I truly see no other options, no other escape. My life has fallen apart so fast I have whiplash from it.

I remind myself that I don’t have to do this forever, just until I can find another way forward. I glance over at the woman across the bar, contemplating once again trying to get a job as an escort. I mean, I’ll be a whore anyway, so what difference does it make? Would it be easier with strangers or with a man I already know is a piece of shit? The man she’s supposed to go with has arrived. It’s clear they’ve never met before, and he’s taking her out of the bar and out of the restaurant. She’s got large, perky fake tits, and his eyes are drawn right to them, reconfirming that I could never compete in that industry. “Kate, tell me where you are, and I will come get you,” Andrew says on the other end of the phone. Defeated, I give him the address and name of the restaurant I’m in. “I’ll be there in thirty minutes,” he says. He disconnects the call before I can change my mind. I have a fourth drink because I’ll need a fourth drink for this. Then I step outside into the crisp fall air to wait. But the fourth drink was a mistake. I feel woozy all of a sudden and go down like a pile of bricks.



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