“What name are you going to work under?” the receptionist asked. Eve hesitated. She had given it much thought. She tried to pretend it didn’t matter, but she knew that it did. It mattered a lot. A name spoke volumes. A working girl’s name, that she could select herself, was like the birth of a new persona. The launching of her new career needed a name you would want to christen with a bottle of champagne. Eve had already had a change of name, but that hadn’t been her choice. She had not been happy about it then, so this time she was determined to get it right.
Eve had been born Stevie, when her mother still wore tie-dyed muslin skirts and attended three day rock festivals. Named after the legendary lead singer of Fleetwood Mac, she remained Stevie until she was twelve, when her mother, whose lifestyle had become more conservative as her daughter started to resemble her teenage self, had been Born Again. The muslin skirts and crocheted shoes were replaced by active wear and items constructed from manmade fleece.
Born Again, in the image of her stepfather, a Pentecostal preacher, Stevie was to receive a Christian makeover. Her charismatic new stepfather had no problem with rock music, as long as it was Christian Rock. His rock played homage to the Big J, so Stevie was promptly baptised, christened and saved from sin. She lost her ‘St’ and emerged as Eve.
The change in name, alas, had little effect on her behaviour, though she did notice how the name elicited a different reaction from people when she was introduced to them. The main difference was that they always repeated the name in a reverent tone, and then made a stupid crack about Adam, apples or temptation. Often they mentioned original sin. Perhaps that repetition was the oral equivalent of planting a seed.
Now, faced with the opportunity to have another go at naming herself, Eve knew that this was an important decision. She knew too that her choice of name was important on many different levels, and she had already had several conversations about it since her interview yesterday morning. She had discussed it with her flatmate Kevin and his boyfriend. She had discussed it with the other girls working on the nightshift when she had gone in for training. Even the parlour owner had weighed in.
Naturally, the parlour owner’s opinion was swayed by the economic aspect of the subject. “We had an Antoinette,” he said “but she left to go private. She was very popular though. Loads of regulars. You might be able to pick up some of her clients if you work as Antoinette.”
“Do I look like her?” Eve had asked, but apparently she didn’t look like Antoinette at all. Eve questioned the wisdom of using the name of someone much liked, who looked nothing like her, and who wasn’t even there. “If the clients ring and ask for Antoinette, and then come in, and I am not that Antoinette, won’t be they pissed off?”
“Who cares?” he replied with a shrug. “By then they will have paid, and then you will just have to make them happy.” Eve decided that highlighting the obvious flaws in the plan was pointless. Bosses, she thought, were all the same. Whether it’s selling beer, burgers or a bonk, they are all about the buck.
Eve’s flatmate Kevin and his current boyfriend, Juan, pronounced with a hard J, had been in favour of the iconic when it came to a name. “Mae or Marilyn,” Kevin suggested. “You can cut your hair, wear scarlet red lipstick and that white dress. That’s what men want to fuck. That’s sexy. Classic heels, pointy tits, the whole Marilyn fucking meals deal! OMG! You can run an ad, like lunchtime Marilyn Happy Meal Deal, with a free toy!” he carried on, laughing. He was on a roll and there was no stopping him. “Birthday specials – you can sing happy birthday and wear faux diamonds and …”
As he paused to regroup, Eve managed to shout, “No! No Marilyn.” She was surprised when Juan agreed with her.
“Good God no!” he said dramatically. “Marilyn will only get her wrinkly old men. She doesn’t want to attract the old clients.” He made a gagging gesture, doing a good impersonation of someone throwing up into their own mouth. “Not Marilyn,” he continued, “she needs to go way more “now”. More recent. Think The Girls Next Door. Men want to fuck Playboy Bunnies. Kendra, Holly or maybe even Bridgette.”
Eve was not convinced that either of them was on the right track, and she certainly had no intention of dying her hair and turning into some kind of brainless blow-up doll. Also, she wasn’t convinced Kevin or Juan were the best authorities on what straight men wanted to fuck.
She noted that some of the girls had gone for the exotic and the famous. She had already met a Ngapuhi Rihanna, and a Somalian girl who bore little resemblance to her namesake and fellow countrywoman, Iman. There was even a red headed Bree, a petite and vaguely Latin looking Gabby, and an uncannily convincingly Susan, meaning they were only one Desperate Housewife off a full set. Privately, Eve wondered how many men were aware of the reference, and if they did make the connection, whether a desperate housewife was good marketing in a brothel. She figured, just quietly, that anything pertaining to a “wife” might not be a good point of sale.
It was Charlotte, one of the older workers, and Flo, the receptionist at the Parlour, who gave Eve the sagest advice. Flo’s perspective, in particular, was all business and practicalities.
“Not all girls have a working name,” she told Eve. “Some girls just use their own name, but I think it pays to keep the two names close. If someone does see you out in company, it’s pretty hard to explain to your friends why this person has walked up to you calling out Portia.”
Eve nodded, acknowledging the common sense of Flo’s words.
“Also, keep it simple,” Flo added. “After all, you want the clients to remember it, so they can ask for you again, right? This is a simple act and men are simple animals, here for a good time, not a long time. One syllable. And keep it female. None of the Sam or Toni names. Nothing ambiguous. Simple and believable. I mean, seriously – Shania, Cher, Shanarquai. Really? So street hooker stripper! Oh, and nothing cutesy, like your Candy or Mindy. They scream lap dancer.”
Charlotte, who had helped with Eve’s training, agreed with Flo completely, but added some advice of her own.
“I work as Charlotte,” she said, “but that’s my real name. Charlotte the harlot.” Laughing at the rhyme, she said, “I wonder if my parents realised it was a prophecy. Meant to be?” Still smiling, she looked at Eve thoughtfully, and said her name out loud, slowly, “E-v-e”.
As she said it, Eve, who used to be Stevie, wondered what her mother and stepfather would make of this conversation, but the thought of her parents gave her no real pause for concern. Just as they were happy being saved, Eve was more than happy to embrace a life of sin.
Eve truly believed that there had been something serendipitous at work when her name had been altered. Perhaps, she thought, her parents had not really considered the implications of their rash decision to strip her of her ‘St’.
At that moment Eve felt a warm, nervous feeling of anticipation in her stomach and she realised she was excited and happy to be embarking on her first shift. There was something about the place and the atmosphere that made her feel alive, and also comfortable, almost as though she had finally arrived where she was supposed to be. It was almost, she mused, like a feeling of returning home. That’s when she knew for sure that there was really only one choice, and the progression was so blindingly obvious there could be no consideration of any alternative.
“Eden,” said Eve.
“I will be Eden.”
Published in My Madeline by Pania Press (2012).