UKArchive ID: 34069Nothing Personal by sirat
Originally published on December 5, 2014 in Fiction    

Never let the truth get in the way of a good story Mark Twain. My response to the current challenge in the Prose Challenge Forum

Simon switched on the voice recorder and concealed it beneath the leaves of the potted plant in the corner. It was amazing how small these things had become, and how well they picked-up, he thought. No bigger than a box of matches, and it wouldn’t miss a thing. From the smallest intake of breath to a full-throated scream of pleasure or pain. Marvellous.

He glanced around the room. Neat and bland, with a bed, a built-in wardrobe, a mini-bar, a wall-mounted TV, his open suitcase and closed laptop on the desk and his jacket slung over the back of the chair. The perfect stage set for what he had in mind. He took a few bottles and glasses from the mini-bar and placed them on a small tray in readiness, after which he sat on the edge of the bed and waited. Her knock, when it came, was muted and discreet.

“Please come in.”

She was more attractive and a great deal more conventional in appearance than he had expected. Mid thirties, regular features, straight shoulder length dark hair, large eyes made even larger by the skilled application of makeup, but nothing crude or excessive. Quite a conservative beige business suit with matching shoes, medium heel. Small tasteful silver earrings. She could have been the cashier at the bank or the receptionist at a more star-endowed hotel than this one, his child’s teacher or the local vicar’s wife. She made immediate eye-contact and smiled.

Simon instinctively stood up and took her hand. He wasn’t prepared for an attractive and perfectly normal-looking human being. It threw him a bit.

“I’m Simon…thanks for coming…you look…great.”

“You look good too. I’m Monica. Pleased to meet you.” She sounded confident, matter-of-fact. She continued over to the desk and removed her jacket, folding it and laying it neatly beside Simon’s suitcase. Then she returned and perched on the edge of the bed, smiling up at him. “I like to get the business side of things out of the way first. For two hundred pounds I stay the whole night, and you get to do whatever you like, subject to the usual rules. You wear a condom, there’s no kissing on the lips and no anal. And of course no BDSM or violence. Is all that clearly understood?” As she spoke she took a small packet from a purse that he hadn’t noticed before and placed it on the bedside table.

Simon was perspiring slightly. “Of course.” He swallowed. “Would you like a drink?”

“Not for me, thank you. But I’ll have a fruit juice to keep you company if you would like one yourself. Will we get the business side of things out of the way before we do anything else?”

“Of course.” He fetched his jacket from the back of the chair, produced the agreed fee from an inner pocket and hung the jacket back. She took the notes and put them in her purse, seemingly without counting them. Hesitantly, he sat down beside her. She took his hand. The drinks seemed to have been forgotten.

“You haven’t done this very often, have you?” she asked in a gentle tone.

“Is it obvious?”

“A bit. But it doesn’t matter. We’ve got all night. Take as long as you like to get comfortable.”

“Have you…been doing this for a long time?”

“Long enough. But I think I should make something clear. I don’t talk about my personal life. I’ve got one, of course, just like anybody else, but that’s nothing to do with my work. The two are separate. That’s how I like to keep it. If you want to talk about your own personal stuff that’s fine, but I won’t reciprocate. No offence, it’s just one of my rules.”

He was surprised to hear her use a word like “reciprocate”. This woman was articulate, well educated. What a pity she didn’t want to tell him her story. He was certain it was a fascinating one. Just the kind of thing he was after. Maybe she would weaken though…afterwards. Maybe then she would break her rule.

“Would you like to undress me?” she asked.

It seemed very fast. He had assumed she would want to use the bathroom first, to do whatever it was that women like her did in preparation, but evidently not. He reached up hesitantly, put his hands on her shoulders, felt the warmth of her body through the thin blouse, let his hands travel down to her bare arms.

“I hope my hands aren’t too cold,” he said, wondering how the words must sound.

“Very nice of you to ask. No, your hands are fine. Gentle hands. You can put them wherever you like.” Without prompting, and with total confidence and familiarity, she reached over to the light switches on the wall and turned the main light off and one of the bedside lamps on. The atmosphere immediately became more intimate. Simon hesitated for only a moment, then, slowly began to unbutton her blouse.


Simon slackened his embrace and let his body relax. He took a moment to recover. “I know it’s a terrible cliché, but was it all right for you?”

“You know it was. Very all right.”

“I suppose men always look for reassurance.”

“There’s nothing that men always do. They’re a very diverse bunch.”

It might be the opening he had been hoping for. He thought for a moment before he spoke again. “Are most men okay, or are a lot of them horrible?”

“I wouldn’t try to answer a question like that. I would count it as personal. You know my rule.”

“But it’s just part of being human, isn’t it? To want to be liked. To want approval.”

“I’m not in this profession to look for approval or to give it. I’m here to get paid. I try to give good value for what people pay. Like I said, this isn’t part of my personal life. This is my job. That’s all there is to it.”

He stroked her naked back and pulled her a little closer. “How can you do it? How can you keep your feelings out of this?”

“Too many questions,” she scolded. “I have nothing more to say about it.”

“But you like it when I hold you like this, don’t you? When I stroke your back, when I kiss your neck. I know you do, I can sense it.”

“I didn’t say that I don’t enjoy my job. I do sometimes. But it’s still my job. What I do for a living. You’ve got to understand that.” She paused. “But if it’s reassurance you want, you’re right. I like being with you. You’re a kind, considerate lover and you treat me with respect. I’d be happy to see you again. Any time you like. But it’s morning now. It’s time for me to go.”

Damn, he thought, she’s leaving and I haven’t learned anything. I don’t know the first thing about her. One more try. “Before you go, can I know just a tiny bit more about you? Nothing very personal – just ordinary things. Like how many brothers and sisters you’ve got. Whether you have children of your own…”

“Nothing very personal? Sounds pretty personal to me.” She started to climb out of the bed as she spoke and crossed the room to sort through the clothes she had left on the chair by the bathroom door. Sexually, Simon was exhausted, but he could still appreciate the beauty of a shapely young female body. He sighed in admiration.

“Listen, Simon. People who hire me usually have a fantasy of some kind about me. Things they would like to be true. Assumptions, preconceptions. But what if the real me isn’t like that at all? What if I tell you things that destroy the fantasy? There’s no point in my doing that, is there? It’s your fantasy. Your dream. Think whatever you like about me. See me as whoever you like, whatever you like. That’s what I’m here for. Don’t ask me to mess with your dreams. Okay?”

She pulled on her knickers, slipped her blouse over her shoulders without buttoning it and headed for the bathroom. “I’m just going to have a quick shower. I’ll get rid of the used condoms too. All part of the service.” It was obvious that in a few more minutes she would be gone.


Alone now, Simon erased the useless sound file of his long night with Monica and switched off the recorder. He showered and dressed, made himself a cup of coffee from the sachets and the rudimentary equipment provided, and opened his laptop. He glanced at his watch. Just over three hours before the deadline for the magazine section. As the machine booted up he thought about what his opening sentence should be.

Last night, he began, I invited a sad, abused and addicted young sex worker to my hotel room. I will call her Monica but that is not her real name. Although I paid her pathetic fee I refused her degrading sexual advances and instead we talked about her wretched and despair-filled life at the mercy of cruel pimps and violent drug-pushers on the freezing winter streets of this heartless city…

© sirat (sirat on OLD UKA)
UKArchive ID: 34069
Archived comments for Nothing Personal
bluepootle on 05-12-2014
Nothing Personal
I think this is brilliant. It starts in exactly the right place, just to intrigue us, and then pulls the neat trick of making us just forget that voice recorder as we get involved in the action. It creates two strong, believable characters and the end felt profound, and real to me. Great story.

Author's Reply:
That's very generous of you, Aliya. A great comment to wake up to. Glad you liked it.

sirat on 05-12-2014
Nothing Personal
Many thanks to whoever nominated this story.

Author's Reply:

Mikeverdi on 05-12-2014
Nothing Personal
Agreed! Great story line, the sharp dose of reality in the 'Pulled on her knickers' ending worked well for me; and I never saw the ending coming...just thought he was recording it for later use 🙂
One bit of you really need the words 'he thought'in the first bit?

Author's Reply:
Glad you liked it, Mike. Many thanks.

I tried it without 'he thought' and if you leave it out you produce a bit of uncertainty as to whether or not there is a separate narrator explaining things. I don't think it's needed every time his thoughts are given but I think it's useful there at the beginning, just to make the setup clear. Similarly in the last paragraph, I felt I needed to make it clear that this was what he was writing on his laptop, no longer his actual thoughts.

Rab on 05-12-2014
Nothing Personal
Excellent story. The characters and Simon's reactions are utterly believable and the ending carries a great twist which. like Mike, I didn't see coming.

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Rab, I'm very pleased with how the story has been received. I must have got something right.

Nomenklatura on 05-12-2014
Nothing Personal
I saw this one coming all the way David, most likely because I've read something similar, somewhere or other. I would say it was exceptionally well done. I also agree with your thoughts on 'I thought'.

Author's Reply:
Thanks very much Nomenlkatura. I don't mind you seeing the ending coming. I wasn't thinking of it as a 'twist in the tail' story. My interest was more in the way that stereotypes get reinforced and the truth becomes irrelevant. Fantasy, prejudice and reality. Give your readers what they want. That kind of thing.

Nomenklatura on 05-12-2014
Nothing Personal
In that case I'm even more on your wavelength than I thought.

Hmm... of course, that might not be a good thing for you! 🙂

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 08-12-2014
Nothing Personal
The writing is of course very good, and it's worked through convincingly. I didn't regard the ending as a twist and took the message. But for some reason it didn't particularly engage me. With many stories, you get a resonance, you think about them, the questions they pose, human behaviour, what would you do? Here, I grant that his dilemma (if you can call it such) is a seed for such wondering, just I didn't. It could be that the image of a cynical reporter is far too familiar so you don't even imagine he could do anything other than he does.

Author's Reply:
I'm happy with that reaction. Different situations and scenarios engage different people. Thanks for the feedback.

TheBigBadG on 08-12-2014
Nothing Personal
Yeah, I enjoyed this one as well. I think the end was well-pitched (if maybe a bit sudden?), the cynicism was a good foil for the genuine encounter. I do wonder if we should find out more about Simon though given the resolution is centred on him? He has the potential to be more interesting and he is the one who creates the story after all. Monica is likeable enough, but the hooker with a brain/heart angle isn't entirely fresh. The journo existing either side of the line between reporting and creating a story, however, strikes me as more fruitful - you can also explore it without losing anything of Monica.

Anyway, just some thoughts. Good read already.

Author's Reply:
I'm always very loath to make a story longer. The comparison I'm fond of making is with painting. The novel is the great big Constable landscape with every blade of grass carefully represented. The short story is the little pen sketch by Erik Satie. It's just a few lines that suggest the person or the scene, almost everything is filled-in by the viewer. I only wanted to hint at the psychology of the two characters. If I can start you thinking about Simon's decision to fabricate a story, substituting a received stereotype for a real woman that he can't understand, or Monica's rigid refusal to talk about her personal life, then I think I've done my part of the job as a short story writer. Everything else needs to come from the reader. To quote Monica: 'What if I tell you things that destroy the fantasy? There’s no point in my doing that, is there? It’s your fantasy. Your dream.'

Many thanks for the comment.

e-griff on 09-12-2014
Nothing Personal
I moved on from thinking what didn't work for me to what might (just for interest). Although there are several aspects to this story (I liked the whole description of him and monica , thought it worked really well), the punch line would be more interesting for me if for instance it was a clergyman with a parishioner, a doctor with a patient a social worker with a client. But that would be a different story of course 🙂

Author's Reply:
Yes, it would be a different story – very much a 'twist in the tail', which I'm very ambivalent about. In the first version I had Simon do a bit of soul-searching, feeling upset that she wouldn't let him get any closer, wondering if he was a little bit in love, that kind of thing, but I liked the trimmed-down version where he just starts writing his article a lot better. The more I practice this craft the more strongly I feel that 'less is more'.

sirat on 22-06-2015
Nothing Personal
Many thanks to whoever nominated this piece for the Anthology. Much appreciated.

Author's Reply: