“Oh-em-gee, you have to try the Okay Spa,” said my editor friend Nicole as we left the coffee shop. “It’ll relax you like never before. It’s…beyond.”
“This isn’t a prostitution sting, is it?” I joked.
She slapped me playfully on the arm, sending spasms from my shoulder blades down to my kidneys. I was in bad shape. Working 100 hours a week just to make rent. I could no longer vouch for the quality of my story pitches. For a men’s publication: thirty-seven reasons why it’s healthier to pee sitting down. For a literary magazine: you’ll be shocked why bookmarks are bad for books. For an Asian arts review: why so-and-so is the next great Asian, middle-grade, steampunk autofiction novelist. Each a thousand words for $10 a piece. I was beginning to think that my chosen profession was an elaborate way to commit seppuku without having to sully steel.
Nicole handed me a gift card. “Trust me,” she said, “you won’t regret.”
At first, I didn’t see what was so special about the Okay Spa. A smiling ponytailed young woman walked me into the locker room to introduce my “journey launchpoint.” Dark wood finishes. The smell of lavender and Vaseline. Rolled up cold towels in a ceramic bowl. Fluffy robes and massive rubber slippers. Why was it called the Okay Spa? Did it compete with the spa that was Not Okay? I’d always felt like an imposter in these places.
Alone, I undressed. After I locked up my clothes, I indulged in a naked pee in the urinal. I felt like lavender-fogged, petroleum-jelly-scented wildlife. Was I being hunted? Only by capitalism.
The young woman had highly recommended the complimentary steam room, so I put on my slippers, wrapped a towel around my shame, and swung wide the heavy clouded glass door. Inside, the steam enveloped me. Drops of hot water pecked my arms. I sat on the tiled bench. The room was lit with a glowing circle high on the wall that resembled an eclipsed sun. I started to relax some. I had been feeling doomed recently, like I was destined for an accelerated decline before I hit thirty. I had nightmares in which I clung to ledges by long fingernails, only to have them break whole before I woke up. I had no prospects, no permanence. Hadn’t had a girlfriend in years. Too busy to date. But I was in The City and that was something. I was where I dreamed I would be as a teenager. Now that dream, once achieved, seemed unworthy.
That’s when I heard them. Voices I recognized.
“You’re going to hit it big soon.”
“No one else can do what you do.”
“You’re SO funny.”
My mother? My first girlfriend? And some dude I’d met once at a reading. They were speaking aloud their comments on my social media feeds.
No one else was there. What kind of steam was this? I felt the tiles, searching for speakers in the murk to no avail.
Disturbed, I exited, put on my robe, and waited in the lounge for my masseuse.
I nozzled up a plastic cup of water infused with slices of cucumber and orange. As I sipped, I heard myself saying: “I’m so humbled to be published alongside…”
The rest of the utterances of this voice in my head was interrupted by my swallowing mechanism, jettisoning water through my mouth and nose. I looked around to see if anyone else was in the lounge, but still, there was just me.
“I’m really honored to have my short story ‘Edifice Orifice’ in Highlands Literary, the web journal of West Felchville State University,” said my inside—now outside—voice, as I dried my face with a sleeve.
“Are you ready for your journey?” asked a man, startling me. My masseuse. A stocky fellow, with enormous hands and long fingers.
“Do you hear those voices?” I asked.
The masseuse smiled. “No,” he said. “But that’s why you’re here. To get Okay. I know it’s disconcerting at first. You should embrace it. Embrace the—”
Eyes shut, the masseuse nodded.
“But how is this happening?”
He placed a finger on my lips and shook his head. “Proprietary technology. And you can’t get Okay by asking questions.”
“Okay,” I replied.
I followed him into a room named Okay TheraPlatform 1, disrobed, and wedged my face in the donut pillow. As the masseuse began to knead my shoulders, the voices came more rapidly and loudly, so fast I couldn’t assign faces to words.
“You’re going to make it.”
“Thinking about you!”
“You’re the best!”
Happy emojis exploded behind my eyelids.
Afterward, I was given a gift card for a free journey to pass on to a friend. Indeed I felt much better. My muscles had unknotted. And suddenly, I couldn’t wait to get home to work on my article “Thirty-seven reasons it’s healthier to pee sitting down.”
“How was your journey?” asked the young woman behind the counter.
“Okay!” I replied.
I met Nicole for coffee to pitch her dozens of new listicle ideas and told her the Okay Spa had really done the trick. I felt so encouraged. Doubts about my chosen profession had been muted.
Nicole smiled. “I told you!” She handed me another gift card.
“This is payment for your last article,” she added. “Sorry. Ad clicks are down. Hope this is okay.”
Leland Cheuk is the author of the story collection LETTERS FROM DINOSAURS (2016) and the novel THE MISADVENTURES OF SULLIVER PONG (2015), which was an Amazon National Bestseller in Asian American Literature and published in translation in China (2018). His newest novel NO GOOD VERY BAD ASIAN is forthcoming from C&R Press in 2019. Cheuk’s work has been covered in The Paris Review, VICE, Poets and Writers, Electric Literature, The Millions, The Rumpus, and Asian American Writers Workshop, and has appeared in or is forthcoming in publications such as Salon, Catapult, Joyland Magazine, Kenyon Review, Prairie Schooner, [PANK] Magazine, among other outlets. He has been awarded fellowships and artist residencies at The MacDowell Colony, Hawthornden Castle, Djerassi Resident Artists Program, Caldera, I-Park Foundation, and Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts. He is the fiction editor at Newfound Journal and the founder of the indie press 7.13 Books. He lives in Brooklyn and teaches at the Sarah Lawrence College Writing Institute. You can follow him on Twitter @lcheuk and at lelandcheuk.com.