Published in Overland Issue 224.5 Spring fiction · Uncategorized Make my back burn Fikret Pajalic I lost my job. I sat on the sofa in my flat and watched telly all day long. It was summer and I watched a lot of cricket. On the screen grown men rubbed their balls with a ball. They raised their bats, they appealed to umpires. At night I watched soccer from Europe. On the screen grown men faked their injuries and hugged each other after they scored. Friday and Saturday nights I watched music videos on Rage. I rented heaps of movies. I got stoned, I got drunk, and I got stoned some more. I got drunk and stoned at the same time. People came to my flat late at night and we played poker. Not for cigarettes, but for real money. Sometimes it was for a favour, like lending something to someone, even if you didn’t want to, because you knew it would come back to you ruined. Spoiled. Broken. I rented the flat to younger blokes for two hours at a time, twenty bucks a pop. They still lived at home with their mums and dads, and their sisters and brothers, and cousins and aunties, and their decrepit grandparents. They all came from large wog families; a family like mine, and had no place to fuck. For twenty bucks, they did it at my flat. I gave them a mattress and one clean sheet in the empty spare room. That was it. There was nothing else in the arrangement. They could not smoke or drink or eat. They had to clean up and leave the bedroom window open. They could use the toilet, but no showers. I wasn’t going to turn my place into a whorehouse. I could have, though. I had no guts for it. You must have guts for it. You must have a plan in case you get busted. I had no plan. I was too lazy to have a plan. I had no plan or guts. My mother called me nearly every day. ‘You’ve been out of work for too long now. Have you been looking?’ Her voice was demanding. As far as I was concerned and if I am completely honest, I was never in work. Even when I worked I wasn’t in work. I was there only in body. I wish I could tell you my mind was someplace else, drifting on the beaches of Rio or climbing some huge mountain peaks, but it wasn’t. I was there in my body with my mind as blank as a castrated donkey. I mean what’s there to like about sorting out plastic, carton and glass every God-awful-day after fucking day. No, I tell you, I was never in work. I liked the money but not work. And I’m not a real honest type of guy. In fact, if I’m real honest, I am a liar and can be a prick. I’m a bad prickly liar. I really don’t know how to lie, but do it anyway. I answered mum that I had two interviews lined up, a lie if there ever was one. She was happy and we ended our talk on a good note. I made the poor woman hopeful. My own mother, for fuck’s sake. I thank Jesus, Mary and Joseph my father is long gone. At least I don’t have to lie to him. I couldn’t live with myself if I had to lie to both parents. That would be real awful. Honestly. One day this young bloke did his naughty business with his girlfriend, and while he was still zipping up his pants he paid me and then he paid her and then the bastard walked out. It took me a few moments to understand what happened. I stared at the girl. Heavy make-up, but not over–the-top, slutty enough, so there was no mistaking what she did for a living. Her lips were thicker than my finger and on permanent pouting mode. She had one of those tops with thin straps across her bare shoulders. The top was too tight and left marks on her olive skin. Her cleavage seemed endless, like I could get lost in there, thanks to a push-up bra underneath. I knew it was a push-up bra; a girl her age wouldn’t have such perky tits. I know a bit about women’s underwear, probably more than a regular bloke. Not sure if I’d qualify for a pervert because of it. I mean who didn’t beat off looking at the Bras N Things catalogue. ‘I’ll give you twenty bucks for every customer,’ she told me, business-like and cool, ‘but you have to get a bed and extra sheets and I get to use the shower.’ I was flabbergasted, unable to respond, my ears waiting to hear police boots rushing up the steps to bloody get me. ‘And,’ she said, ‘I’m yours once a week, free of charge.’ Her name was Alex, she told me. Not her real name, of course. If she got to know me better she might tell me her real name, she added and winked. She was older than me, not much, and if you want to know the truth, she was pretty. Pretty in an I-haven’t-been-with-a-woman-for-way-too-fucking-long way pretty. In any case I was ready to take up her offer, right there and then. Take my payment in advance so to speak. I am weak and not very bright in addition to being a liar and a slack-arse. She’s up for it. Why wouldn’t she be? She wouldn’t have to do it in the dark corners, breaking her heels on the cobblestones of Fitzroy’s back lanes. So this arrangement lasted a while. She didn’t work on Mondays and Tuesdays, had a handful of customers from Wednesday to Friday afternoon, and then she got real busy on the weekend. I mean, there was a line. You couldn’t find parking on either side of Holden Street. How the fuck did the police not see this? I talked to her about being dobbed in by neighbours, being busted, and she told me not to worry. She told me coppers were her best customers. Mum kept calling, but I got myself one of those fancy phones where I could see the number of the caller. I also got an answering machine. When mum called I let the machine pick-up, or lifted the handset and hung-up. She left a wailing message about me being a bad son and a bad boy. She said she couldn’t believe I came out of her. She came for a visit a few days later and I sent one of my mates to tell her I didn’t live there anymore. She screamed from downstairs. She screamed in her mother tongue that she knew what was going on. ‘I know you are up there,’ she screamed, ‘you devil’s offspring.’ Alex brought a cat one day. Some black skinny cat off the street or from the pound, I can’t remember. I wasn’t happy, but the cat rubbed himself against my legs and jumped into my lap for pats. He purred and got all cuddly with me, so I let him stay. The cat became a real fatso, real quick. I mean all he did was eat and sleep. At night he was chasing girl cats. Some life, he had. Sometimes Alex cooked for us. She cooked some purple coloured God-awful looking concoction that she claimed to be a specialty in Ukraine. Once you got past the look of the dish it tasted bloody great. It had every kind of vegetable in it as well as every kind of meat, with a truckload of German speck – bacon with more lard than meat. The first time I tried it, I screwed up my face. ‘Don’t be so precious,’ she said, ‘how do you think you got a melon as wide as it is?’ She knocked my head gently with her knuckles. ‘Big Slavic head like yours grew up on potatoes, kranskies and sauerkraut. You got a big head and I got these.’ She cupped her breasts and lifted them proudly. I stared at her natural wonders. I wished some other part of my physique was big. We both farted loudly after we ate and laughed even louder, and she opened the windows before her customers arrived. I wiped my bowl clean with bread. One Monday morning, before our regular bedtime together, she asked me to take her out to lunch. ‘Someplace nice,’ she said, ‘where they still serve pancakes for lunch.’ The only place I knew was Maccas, but she said, no, not there, they stop serving breakfast at eleven. She told me I should be more imaginative. ‘Think of me as your girlfriend you are trying to impress so you can get into my pants.’ I thought that I wouldn’t like my girlfriend to sleep with every halfwit off the street. I thought I should tell her, but I didn’t. I didn’t have the guts. Like I said, I’m gutless. How would we live anyways? I took her to Northland Shopping Centre to a Pancake Parlour joint, a chain restaurant, but classy. She was happy and told me I’d get a special treat afterwards. ‘I’ll make your skin tingle,’ she said. I ate spicy Cajun chicken breasts with cottage fries, crispy bacon bits, shaved cheddar cheese, chives and a side salad. I drank apple juice, no ice. She ate a long stack of buttermilk pancakes with a ball of butter on top and a vanilla milkshake. She licked her lips after every mouthful. She clicked her tongue in satisfaction with the taste. My groin ached watching her. I managed some guts and I asked her how she got into all this. Being a streetwalker and all. Pretty girl like her, I added, and meant it as a compliment, but it came out all sleazy and wrong. I get clumsy with my tongue when I talk to pretty girls. ‘It was my fate,’ she said. ‘I could not escape it.’ She told me how when she was born she didn’t cry at all, not even a whimper. Everyone in her family thought she would die before she started school. ‘Most babies cry when they’re born because God sends an angel to them and this angel shows the baby its whole life and the baby cries. Most people’s lives are fucked and a pure waste. This angel flashes their whole pitiful life in like a second. In that moment before they’re yanked out of the darkness of the womb into the brightness of this shitty world, the baby sees its future. It’s like a super-fast film of your life. Everyone cries, of course.’ When I was born I must have cried like a baby pig seeing its mum being slaughtered and turned into chops and sausages. ‘Those who don’t cry,’ she goes on, ‘see only the first few months or years of their lives when everything is hunky-dory. They don’t see the rest. There’s no rest. They die early, usually before they start school. When I didn’t die, they said I was cursed, touched by the wicked one. The dishonourable one.’ She made the horn sign with her fingers and scoffed. ‘Soon after, my parents stopped loving me and to cut a long story short I am selling the only thing I have to sell.’ I regretted asking. I ate my chicken and wondered if I was going to be able to do it after hearing this sad story. I am also very selfish, I forgot to say. I mean, there was no way I was going to do it face-to-face with her now, looking into her sad brown eyes. I got worried I wouldn’t be able to do it doggy-style either. What a bummer. I really liked doing it face-to-face with her, but I didn’t like this feeling in my chest when I was thinking about her. I liked her full crimson lips. She always put on make-up that I like. But I’m not real fussy. I liked any kind of make-up on a girl. The sluttier, the better. She even let me kiss her when she was in the mood. I wasn’t just a customer for her. I think she liked doing it with me. She let me kiss her nipples once and squeeze her tits. Boobs, she called them. Her nipples were dark brown and the size of a fifty-cent piece and her skin was hot. After I paid for lunch, she stood up, took my hand and asked me if I was ready for my special treat. We went back to my place and I hit the shower. She told me to take my time. She had things to prepare. While I soaped up my nether region, I hoped it was the nun uniform. I told her about my nun fetish. I reckoned all men have a fetish for uniforms. Same goes for women. Firemen and policemen for them. I wondered about the curves under those long nun robes. I mean, hidden and forbidden is always more alluring than open and available. At least in my case. Plus, I watched too much porn and every nun in porn looks like Cindy Crawford. I don’t have a very healthy or realistic picture of nuns. I mean you’ve seen nuns on the street. No offence, but models they’re not. Same goes for me. I am being honest here. There’s not much to see. I’m short and kind of have a chicken chest, but I know how to dress to hide it. Recently I started combing my hair in a special way trying to cover a bald spot on top of my head. She knocked on the door while I dried myself and asked me if I was ready. That story about her sad childhood was still in my head and I prayed to God she was out there in a nun outfit. I kind of got hard, thinking about it, but not fully. I was at half-mast, semi-erect, not fully warmed up for the game. You get the picture. She took my hand and led me into the bedroom. She wasn’t in a nun outfit, but in a white camisole. She was all in white and kind of looked like a bride without the wedding dress. She had a flower in her hair. The bedroom lights were off but the room was bright. There were dozens of candles all around the place. Some were scented and they made the air thick and relaxing. She led me to the bed and lay me on my back. She sat on top of me and grabbed a candle. I opened my mouth to protest but she put her finger on my quivering lips. She poured hot wax on my chicken chest. Wax rolled in the cleft and mixed with the few hairs I had there. It burnt my skin. It burnt it bad. It burnt it good. ‘You need to be punished bad boy,’ she said and poured more wax right into my belly button. Holy Christ on the cross, now I know your pain. I do. She got off me and flipped me around on my all fours like a pillow. ‘Alex,’ I moaned her name in expectation. She came up behind me and I could feel her pubic hairs on my scrawny butt. She leant into my ear, her divine breasts touched my back and they burnt my skin hotter than the wax. ‘My real name is Sasha,’ she whispered in my ear. Her vanilla breath was warm and inviting. ‘Sasha. Sasha.’ I repeated her name, panting like a blue heeler on a hot day. I couldn’t lie down on my stomach. All the blood, not just from my brain, but from my whole body was in my dick and balls. I begged in my head for her not to touch me there. I was ready to explode. ‘I’m gonna make your skin burn bad boy,’ she told me slowly raking the length of my back with her fingernails. God don’t ever let her stop. Yes, I thought to myself, do it. Don’t tease. Do it Sasha. Get more candles. Get all the candles. Cover my back in wax. Make my back burn. Make it burn. Image: ‘Flame’ by Shawn Clover / flickr used under CC BY-NC 2.0. Read the rest of ‘The idea of women’ fiction issue: ‘The world is fire’, by Ariane Both ‘If someone told me I was dying I would drink myself to death’, by Judyth Emanuel ‘Raining price’, by Sally Breen ‘The crucible’, by Vivienne Cutbush Fikret Pajalic Fikret Pajalic came to Melbourne as a refugee and learnt English in his mid-twenties. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Meanjin, Overland, Southerly, Westerly, Etchings, Sleepers, The Big Issue and in USA journals Hotel Amerika, Florida Review, Minnesota Review, Nashville Review, Wisconsin Review, Antipodes, Fjords Review, Sheepshead Review, Bop Dead City and elsewhere. More by Fikret Pajalic › Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places. If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate. 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