• Vol. 08
  • Chapter 03

Toxic Creep

You’re entering dangerous territory.

Ethan emails to confess he bought a medium popcorn at the movies tonight. His ticket was budgeted for, part of his fortnightly extras. The popcorn wasn’t. He’s gone over budget and he knows it.

I fire back an email calling him more worthless than a sack of rat entrails, and telling him the extras from Thursday’s pay are coming to me and I’m cutting the next week’s food budget in half.

It’s coming too easy.

If Ethan had kids, I wouldn’t do it. I state that upfront. I had one guy who lied about it, didn’t anticipate how skilled I am at prying open every aspect of my clients’ lives. He had three kids under five, living with his ex. I blocked him.

Ethan’s an adult, a paunchy, sun-reddened 47-year-old. He says he goes hungry sometimes, to skim a little more for me.

I don’t ask for that. He likes to push his limits. He pushes mine. Within the first month, I found myself calling him a shriveled toad scrotum and demanding he strip to his boxers, coat himself in peanut butter and send me full-body photos.

Ethan’s wife, I don’t know what her story is.

… dangerous …

I used to think I was headed somewhere, working towards some vague but essential future. I should have defined that future for myself. What did I actually want out of this, other than the obvious? The spa days, the holidays in Fiji, the cupboard filled – filled – with Moet & Chandon Esprit du Siecle.


Toxic Creep

I poured myself a bath with it once, sat there in a mauve one-piece, the bubbles tickling my skin as Ethan watched over Facetime.

You think you deserve it.

Can anyone anticipate how the years will change them? You try something new, discover you’re good at it, forge ahead. It’s only when you stop to look back that you realise how different you are from the person who started down the path.

Ethan replies, requesting one last task tonight. I pour myself a drink, twist my neck until it cracks, and click reply.