The Napkin Project (Summer Vacation Edition): Bryan Washington

The Napkin Project: Bryan WashingtonPhilip Friedman


He booked a single room for the entire month of July. We didn’t get many occupants—it was my aunt’s motel. I’d moved back after another breakup. This man was the first new person I’d interacted with in weeks. Guys from the apps came and went, passing along the highway. So when he asked if I wanted to make a little money, I didn’t blink. Not the way I would now. All I had to do, he said, was keep him company in the evenings. Monday through Friday, weekends off. He had a thick accent. A cellist’s hands. The number he gave me made me choke.

First night was the hardest. He laid everything on the bed. A harness. A belt. He fit the mask over my head, and I looked ridiculous, like a dog. When he entered me, it wasn’t like other guys I’d been with. Like I was being torn from the fabric of existence. Afterward, he was gentle again. Paid me, flicking bills. When I saw him the next morning, in the lobby, he hardly broke stride.

He brought out a rope the second week. A chain. Whips. He’d bark at me if I came too quickly. Slobbered too much. I’d never been used that way—it felt like I’d discovered a new color. Felt like there was power in that. One night, he didn’t offer any instruction—we just did it. Things I wouldn’t tell my husband now. When we’d finished, I felt like a new human.

One night, he got a phone call. We’d already started. But he broke character, for the first time, to ask if he could take it. That scared me. I was like, yeah. And I heard him grunt over the phone with a nurse. A doctor. The waiting music. I didn’t need to hear what was said—I just watched his face. No relief. No disappointment. Nothing. That terrified me. When he hanged up, he asked if we could do something different, and he laid on my lap. Just asked if I could hold him. We stayed that way, while I hummed for him—I don’t know why, it was something another man had done to me, that’s how we learn these things. When we woke up, his head was on my chest. I ran my hand through his hair til it thinned.

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