‘Femme Fatale, Megan speaking, how can I help?’ I sat at reception feeling like a teller at a bank. Outside, the neon sign winked on and off in the window of the ranch slider: Erotic Massage.
A male voice through the creamy holes of the receiver, ‘do you have anyone who squirts?’
‘What do you mean?’ I asked, jingling my bracelet and forth, checking out my reflection in a nearby mirror.
‘Do you have a squirter?’ he sounded wheezy.
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ I frowned. I’m pretty certain he frowned too.
‘Well, if you don’t know what I’m talking about…’ Click.
I waltzed back down the corridor to the lounge, my tight trousers swishing. The girls were congregated on the black leather couches.
‘What’s a squirter?’ I asked, standing in the doorway, still holding the cordless phone.
The girls shrieked with laughter.
The worst thing wasn’t that I didn’t know some women could squirt when they cum. The worst thing was that Rox, sitting on the couch in a black dress and silver ankle boots, was one of them. I had just missed a sale.
‘Have you ever been a working girl?’ the boss asked.
‘No. Do I look like I have?’
I sat on the corner of a double bed that was covered in a black sheet. The boss sat on a chair nearby, holding a small black book. I averted my eyes from the crouch of his black jeans.
His shoulders shrugged inside a grey V-neck jumper. The walls were also painted grey. Obviously, he had decorated the place.
He went over the rules. ‘Don’t become friends with the girls.’ He advocated a maternal stance. Firm, but fair. He told me he’d run the parlour for nine years. I told him I was available to work seven days a week.
The boss never laid a finger on me but I later found out that he’d been having an affair with a pint-sized hooker called Paige. ‘Mate, the passion,’ she said. ‘We went at it on the floor for hours. My back’s covered in carpet burns.’
The girls lolled on the leather couches in the lounge smoking cigarettes and drinking black coffee. A calligraphic painting of a goldfish pond hung above one couch. The TV was tuned into a soft porn channel playing The Invisible Man. An anonymous blonde mimicked making love to an invisible stranger. Her body rose off the silk sheets in waves.
The parlour had no windows. During quiet times, I watched dust accumulate on the glass surfaces in the lounge. If I’d been more proactive I would have got a wet cloth from behind the bar and wiped down the leaves of the rubber plant in the corner. It was the one thing the cleaners always missed.
Pupils dilated and contracted. The world turned. I stood behind the bar waiting.
‘Personally, I don’t want to be taxed on fucking,’ Holly said.
Thirty-two, beautiful and self-contained, wisdom accumulated like ash at the end of her cigarettes.
‘I’m wondering if I should start working,’ I said. ‘But I’m worried I will feel dirty.’
Holly flicked ash from her cigarette into the tray. Even her eye shadow was smoky.
‘Don’t,’ she said. ‘Because you will feel dirty and it won’t come off.’
Good advice from a friend.
Books Holly read at work:
The Judas Child by Carol O’Connell
Snow Falling On Cedars by David Guterson
And a memoir by a New Zealand prostitute that I’ve forgotten the name of.
‘What’s it like,’ I asked, standing behind the bar, drying an ashtray.
‘It’s just another hooker with a heart of gold story.’
In a drawer at reception, I found a list of all the girls’ fake names, alongside their real identities, addresses and next of kin. Outside the ranch slider, evening was drawing its eyelashes down in a slow fade. I sat on the swivel chair at reception until the boss arrived.
‘You look like you’re catching flies.’
I was fired in room number eight.
‘I told you not become friends with the girls and you did,’ the boss handed me a brown envelope that contained my final pay.
Inside the envelope: a thousand dollars. My holiday pay.
I lined up an interview for a barmaid job at Showgirls. I arrived in heels, tight pants, a push-up bra and plunging neckline. My face covered in slap.
‘You’re tall, you’re good looking and you’re going to make me lots of money,’ the boss said.
He required a bottle of Evian served to him each night, in a serviette with the cap still on. ‘Other places they call it sexual harassment,’ he joked. ‘Here we call it sexual enjoyment.’ Sometimes he’d look over at me and say, ‘all this one here needs is a boob job.’
I moved to London in 2001 and began to turn my experiences into art. Like a child figuring out a jigsaw puzzle, I spread countless paper cutouts on the floor of my flat: bras, boobs, tanned arms and legs. I preferred the models from Mayfair Magazine because their poses were reminiscent of Showgirls stage routines. The Mayfair photo shoots also had great clarity. I could easily get my scissors around the edge.
I made a homage to Les Demoiselles d’Avignon incorporating fragments of masks. A brunette called Veronica lies in the foreground, her vagina a wooden hole. This image is brutal; my humour on its haunches. I replicated Picasso’s cubist angles, his slash and grab. I was very proud of the light switch flung on at the top of the collage. Picasso didn’t think of that. He wasn’t a pragmatist like me.
I let it all hang out in these collages. I cut out the eyes of princesses in Walt Disney picture books and re-applied them to the Mayfair models. The Slumber Party is my masterpiece. I chuckled as I placed two white teddy bears in the upper arc of the rotunda as though on a white water bed. Each blonde is shown in the act of slumbering; their eyes are closed because they are dreaming and the viewer cannot inhabit their dream.