by  Zdravka Evtimova

Perhaps I behave so foolishly on account of my confused childhood and the endless July evenings when I was alone with my enormous mass, with the pounds of lard swelling my skin like an interminable flat tire.

The trucks loaded with scrap iron would roar at night, reeking of gasoline; the windows would shake with the reverberating sound of the engines, and I could not sleep. I had the feeling that a row of two hundred trucks crept along my aorta to burst into my heart. I always imagined it was a defective organ putting its proprietress into trouble, especially if she were an adipose, really adipose girl like me.

The trucks were my father's; he was ruining himself to make a bright future for me, exporting pig iron from the metallurgy plant in the town, importing scrap iron -- scrap iron means heaps of rusty iron wires stolen on different occasions from different places -- in general, he was killing himself quite successfully. A number of squirts shot at him twice. He himself was no lesser squirt than them but he had a convincing excuse; he loved his fat daughter so much. You could ask him why, because I was a greasy bulldozer for whom the seamstresses sewed special jeans into which a hippopotamus could comfortably crawl.

Bombs exploded twice in front of our house. Once my mother was wounded and the skin of her upper arm was split; that is the reason why she spent twenty-five days in the hospital and after that particular event she left us and went to live with the doctor who made her wound heal.

My mother was a very beautiful woman, and had green eyes in which there were oak leaves falling in autumn and oak trees sprouting green in spring -- actually there was a whole calendar in her eyes but it was her interminable legs that compelled the doctor to fall head over heels for her. I have inherited her green eyes, but in my case they are almost invisible under the hills of fat over and below them. I have inherited something from my father as well -- he was enormous, with a gigantic back and a popping belly.

My mother left us before the time the trucks had started rumbling at night; after she beat it with all her belongings and boxes and bottles of make-up, daddy made up his mind to become the richest son of a bitch in town so Mother would swim in a lake of misery, saying to herself Why did I cut the throat of the hen who lays golden eggs for me?

My father could read and was quite familiar with the multiplication table, and that learning was perfectly enough for his business. Perhaps it was the hardness of his skull that made him the proud proprietor of 48 different trucks with which he sold iron, cucumbers, potatoes, condoms, medicines, etc. Mother used to tell the story that before she married him other guys beat him at least twice a week. However, I think she saw something else; mother saw in the eyes of the enormous illiterate man a swamp of sympathy for me -- I was his only child, with heavy breasts under which the greasy pillow of the belly began, below it the gigantic thighs jutted out, waddling like bowls of soup. Let me not speak of my behind, whose mass probably surpassed that of the sand in the Sahara Desert. For a certain time my swollen body did not put me in trouble; even when we were poor my father left rolls of bank notes in the drawer of the kitchen table. He never counted them, saying the money was mine. Mother, whose name was Kalina -- actually her name has not yet changed -- used to nod her head enviously, remarking that the number of the rolls in her drawer was smaller than the one in mine.

She had everything: the best massage expert in town, Maria by name, came to take care of her beautiful figure, the most distinguished beautician was responsible for her face, and the most famous artist in Pernik, a bearded guy with a supercilious bald head and the manners of a well-trained pug, had already drawn seven pictures of my mother in different postures. Her flesh twinkled on the canvas, and my father rushed towards her, his eyes first, then his body flowing hurriedly in her direction.

She was a shrewd woman, my mother. She graduated with a law degree from the local university even before she left us and started integrating herself into the cultural elite of the town. Perhaps she is integrating herself perfectly
in the house of her new husband; Doctor Hranov was one of the richest surgeons in the region, younger than her and tearfully tall. He worked in Pirogov hospital, had a shatteringly large number of private patients on his list, and unlike my father, he never swore.

Doctor Hranov made great efforts to diminish the fat under my skin; he was unaware of the fact that my lard thawed by ounces whenever I looked at him. Although my father often fought with other guys when brandy turned his brains into soup, although his chauffeurs time and again brought him home hashed, thrashed and very bloody, he looked at me as if I were not a fat female colossus but the most beautiful girl in the world. In the evenings, very rarely, he would put his enormous hand on my head. His palm was the size of a medium pillow and had an indefinite number of notches, scars and wounds from his fights, but on my head it felt softer than sugar. My father didn't say anything, but just looked at me peacefully. I suppose he might have felt sorry for me, because he knew women well and felt that a fat one like me had no chances whatsoever -- he just loved me as a big dog loves his puppy son no matter that it's still blind.

In happier days, when the guys brought Dad drunk and squashed after his regular sprees, Doc Hranov came to our house to patch him up. Of course, he got juicy fees for his services. My mother helped, doing her best, handing him bandages, rectangular pieces of gauze, etc. It was perhaps at that time that they fell in love, however that was not the subject of my curiosity. It is curious for me that after my father was shot, at his funeral Doctor Hranov and my mother stood by my sides looking so sad, as if they both had a shattering toothache.

It was at that time that Doctor Hranov let his hand drop on my shoulder. Compared to my father's paw it felt like the foul-smelling beak of a hen pecking at my hair. Doctor Hranov's eyes were brown; the color of frozen leaves which had fallen long ago from their autumn branches and had just commenced decomposing in the first warm days of spring.

As Doctor Hranov examined me, he stuck his forefinger into the lard of my belly, pointing to my mother that the finger went almost up to the knuckle. Perhaps his forefinger did not sink into her belly, because my mother's belly is flat and hard like brass leaf. Her green eyes were of the same quality and that was why I avoided looking into them.

The police didn't find out who shot my father and that was only natural. Perhaps he had thrashed and flogged many of his enemies, because before he died somebody set fire to the café he had built and a bomb exploded twice under his Mercedes, but finally they killed him in a perfectly normal way: two bullets in the forehead and that was all.

Doctor Hranov thought I went off my hinges but he did not choose exactly the same words to describe my diagnosis. Permanent shock, that was how he expressed himself. The truth was that I was not scared of blood; at least once a week father was brought home dripping and sodden with blood. I suddenly was aware that I would never again see his brown eyes that looked at me as if I were a perfectly normal, seventeen-year-old girl. I would do anything if he could come back to life. He loved me as the sparrow loves his little sparrows, not with his brains, because is it possible for a human brain to love twenty-five saucepans full of bacon? He loved me with his blood, which was spilled and splashed on the sidewalk.

My mother and my father slept in a spacious bedroom situated very far from my own but on the same floor of the house. In the middle of the night, I often heard creaking sounds and moans, so it was evident they made love. I felt my blood howling in my ears. I showered the flaming lard of my body but instead of getting cooler I had the impression that the water evaporated at the touch of my skin. The bathroom had mirrors on all its walls; mother had wanted it to be that way so that each square inch could reflect the perfection of her pearly body.

Sometimes I stayed with her while the massage expert labored diligently over her thighs, feeling transfixed, enchanted by her beauty. She looked at me, her eyes a green jungle whose lianas strangled my throat. I could not imagine how she looked in the spacious bedroom with the marble floor and pictures drawn by dubious painters who foisted their splotchy works of art on my father at fabulous prices. How could he know which picture was good?

My grandfather possessed seven nanny goats and one cow; my father's mother, big and strong like the motor of a BMW, herded the animals non-stop, silent, serious and morose. One day she had remarked gloomily: She will be the death of you, meaning, unambiguously, my mother.

I could not imagine mother under the silver canopy of their matrimonial bed. She might have been very good because she conquered the most prestigious catch, Hranov the surgeon, seven years her junior.

Doctors, artists and teachers in the provincial high school I attended cringed at my father, and the brilliant chic pedagogues in the private college I chose to study at did exactly the same, because he paid them well to give me training in fashion dances -- rock-and-roll and tangos -- me, under whose steps the parquet floor in the dancing hall came entirely unglued. My father could not correctly spell the word "address," but he had those rolls of bank notes which were stronger that the doctors, policemen and pedagogues, more powerful that the whole gang labeled the elite. He possessed rolls in abundance. So did I.

I had never bought porno CDs or porno magazines. I found some Italian ones which my mother kept at the bottom of her chest of drawers; looked at them for no more than ten minutes. The next night I ran a temperature, felt giddy, and threw up. And that is not an insignificant event, considering my imposing mass.

It was that night that I made the decision: what I could not achieve by myself, my father's money would make for me. How could I invite a man to my room, considering the fact that in all four suburbs of  town everybody worked for my father: the drivers of the 48 trucks, the petty traders of scrap iron, the owners of car services. My father watched everything closely. Businesses thrived under his shadow, the city cops and the best lawyers worked for him. Who could I buy and for how much?

My father had appointed a brawny guy named Dancho for my personal chauffeur. He drove me in my Jeep wherever I wanted to go. He was always with me, my very shadow. Once my Jeep was shot at; perhaps the guys had been mislead and thought my father was inside. One of the bullets splintered Dancho's left shoulder, ruining some nerve, for his hand drooped like a rag and he could not raise it to the steering wheel. He could not even clasp his fingers into a fist.

I had to get out of our living quarters with the tall houses, the only place in town where in the courtyards there were swimming pools. I could find the man I needed only in the eight-story blocks of flats; there lived the sacked workers of the steel combine, which went bankrupt three years before. Most of the men now were unemployed; my father hired a few lucky ones and the rest kept to the rooms of their small apartments in the daytime and in the evening drank in "The Last Penny," a cheap bar run by my father where lousy alcohol was sold. In those old apartment blocks I hoped to find my man.

Although legends about my father and me and my fat haunches sprang up almost every day, and songs about Mother were composed, and doggerels abounding in pornography and inaccurate descriptions of some parts of her body flooded the town, the people from this area had never seen me personally.

I lied to Dancho that I would visit the town library; however I pushed my way to one of the dozens of little shops selling secondhand clothes. Most of the town population bought their shirts and pants from there; anyway, who could even start doubting that the only daughter of Rayo the Blood would go shopping in the sleazy holes smelling of sweat and urine in the ground floors of the apartment buildings?

I dropped in at exactly eight burrows of this kind and intentionally hung around in the sleaziest one. The cellar of the brick apartment building was flooded, the water in it had turned into slime and pond scum, half of the first floor of the building was abandoned, and in one of the remaining empty rooms there was a second-hand clothes store. I suppose it would be more accurate to say fifteenth-hand or twenty-fifth-hand store; it was evident that the store clerk didn't know me. She was very dark and there was dirt under her nails, her face was wrinkled and hidden below a layer of mile-thick make-up.

"What do you want?" she asked me, adding acidly, "You are very fat and I don't know if there will be any clothes big enough for you."

"I'd like a skirt," I explained to her.

"Hmm, you'll be lucky if I find some dress for you at all. I don't have skirts that big. Try this dress on, but it's expensive, mind you. The only one I have that enormous, she wanted one lev for."

For the first time in my life I heard that something worth one lev was expensive. I paid her right away; the woman smiled at me like a dragon, which resulted in her make-up starting to melt and flow, mixing with her sweat, running down her cheeks towards her wrinkled neck. In a flash she offered me two more dresses, as enormous as the previous one, but this time she said they cost ten levs apiece. She showed me a pair of shoes and galoshes as well, so worn out that you could only hit a stray dog on the head with their heels or throw them in the trashcan.

"Wonderful merchandise," she boasted. "You can walk with these shoes for six years. They're already patched up so you don't have to bring them to the cobbler."

I did not buy the shoes; instead I chose a pair of slippers which were barely clinging to their heels and gave her five levs for them. The woman grabbed at the money, immediately stuck it in her bra, and scratched herself as if it scorched her. Then she jumped up, squeezed my arm and dragged me to the upper floor; there she had "classy merchandise for big babes like you, hon." She showed me a bathrobe mended in seven or eight places, worn and frayed as if a combat tank had passed over it several times. Then she unlocked a chest of drawers full of blouses: yellow, green, rose-colored, all faded as if all that "classy merchandise" were soaked in sulfuric acid.

"Five levs apiece," the woman announced generously, without letting go of my hand. Her palm was very warm; then she took hold of my shoulder with both of her hands and offered me a pair of bikinis the size of a tent. I bought the pair for ten levs and that made the woman gape at me. Perhaps a whole minute she stood dumbfounded, then hugged me and kissed my cheek.

"God bless you," she whispered, her mouth overfilled with saliva. "God be with you every minute of your life!" At that very moment it dawned upon me I could ask if she had a guy for me.

"What's your name?" I asked. Suspicion shone immediately in her eyes, black and slippery like a skating rink.

"Why do you ask?"

"Because I want to come back to shop with you again."

"My name is Natasha," she answered. "However, my true Gypsy name is Fatma." I thought that I could buy all her "classy merchandise," the whole apartment block, the slime and pond scum in the cellar, with the smallest roll of money my father had given me. The woman had planted her black eyes in mine and declined to let go of my arm. "You want something else. I can tell that by looking at you."

"Yes. Listen, Fatma. Can you find a guy for me?" She went on plunging her eyes deeper in my brain.

"You want a guy?" she repeated slowly.

"Yes," I answered. Her eyes left mine and crept along the hills of my breasts first, then balanced on the luxuriant greasy pillow of my belly and descended to my thighs. After that her hands let go of my shoulder, patted my stomach and back and, lacking any formality whatsoever, groped my behind as if it were a spacious, unexplored part of the globe.

"You are very fat." She clicked her tongue several times. "Very fat, very fat, I tell you. Tell me when you want to marry him and I'll tell you how much it will cost."

It was clear she had not understood. Her words made me shake, as a result of which my belly and the cushions of lard above my waist wobbled like sacks stuffed with cabbage.

"You are fat," she went on. "Are you ill, is it some sickness that makes you so fat?"

"I am healthy."

"Then you eat too much. That's good. It means you have much food at home. Haven't you, ah? You bought so many things. I wish I were fat myself," she sighed, and groped me once again, this time on the belly. "Can you breed?" she questioned me. I did not answer. The whips of suspicion lashed me.

"Does your monthly blood flow regularly?"  she added.

"Yes, it does."

"What sort of a guy do you want, a scraggy one or a fat one like you?"

"I'd like a scraggy one. But"


"I don't want to marry him."

"What!" She hiccuped heavily, then surveyed me carefully, her face below the make-up so deep in thought that the wrinkles stretched and shone like parallels and meridians on the globe of her cheeks. "Ah, yeah." She patted my arm once again and winked at me. "Yeah. I'll bring a married man to you, and you'll give him something for his kids. He'll be pleased and you'll be pleased. Kiro has five children. You have to fetch two donuts for each kid. I know a bakery where they sell them cheap."

"No. I don't want a married man." I thought about my father, about me, my mother and suddenly I was out of sorts, imagining the kids and the donuts from the cheap bakery. "I want to get to know a guy well," I lied to her.

"Oh, come off it," Fatma winked at me. "Do you want him now?"

I was not ready to make such a rapid decision, but perhaps tomorrow I wouldn't be able to extricate myself from Dancho. Mother had invited a brilliant family of lawyers to dinner; she studied law in her second year and our home was visited by many galaxies of bright constellations belonging to law. Any attorney or notary felt highly flattered to be her guest.

She had not yet graduated, but eulogies were sung in her honor, making note of her particular legal talents. I still cannot explain why she forced me to attend these dinners; my father usually stayed with us no more than eight minutes. That was the time he could endure without cursing, then somebody called him on his mobile to sign an important protocol to a business deal. It was Mother who always arranged that matter, selecting carefully the person who had to telephone my father. She chose my attire for the dinner as well.

"We'll hide the fat of the thighs with this," she would murmur, slipping a black skirt on me. Her theory was that the black color concealed adiposity. Alas, under the black skirt my legs were like ridges of the Himalayas. "And we'll hide the belly with this. Can't you push aside your belly a little?" she asked, very concerned. At such moments I hated her guts. "We must find a dancing partner for you."

Now Fatma, who was perhaps my mother's age but looked three times that with the plaster of make-up on her face and the parallels and meridians under it, repeated her question. "Do you want him now?"

I had to make up my mind.

"I want him now, I answered," meditating no further. "But where will we get to know each other? I can't bring the guy to my house."

"Your parents will object, eh?" Fatma winked and patted me on the cheek. "Your folks have fed you well, that's why they protect you so much. And they are right. Spread one of the dresses you brought from me on the floor. You'll get to know him within a minute." Then she scrutinized me from head to toe. "Baby, get out of my store." Her chin pointed at the old cardboard boxes full of rags. "You can steal my merchandise. Wait for me here. I'll bring the guy in a minute."

"How much will it cost?" I asked her. My father always started any negotiation with the question How much? US dollars or German marks?

"I want five levs. Give him, well, that's business between you and him. Suit yourself."

Fatma took me out in the corridor. People must have lived here, for there was a portrait of a family on one of the boxes: a father, a mother and three kids, evidently boys, whose hair was cropped to the very bone of the skull. I guessed they had had lice. There was purple wallpaper on all the walls with some variation of a horrible flower pattern that had surely brought both parents and children to the nearest mental institution. The wallpaper was ripped off and hung desperately to the floor; the shattered brick masonry covered by thick patches of mold was visible underneath it.

I thought about the wallpaper in my room, about the marble floor and my bed, which my father had bought for me from Austria. There was a button so I could lift it to a certain angle whenever I wished to sit up; there was another button that made the bed swing like an ocean liner. I had a waterbed as well that Mother had boought for me during one of her excursions to the USA and Canada.

I took out one of the dresses that I had acquired recently; it was dark red, faded and frayed at the hem. Mother wouldn't allow me to throw it into our trashcan for fear it was full of nits, tapeworms, ticks and other vermin. I could spread that dress on the floor, but where? Suddenly I was scared.
ZDRAVKA EVTIMOVA is 42 years old and lives in Bulgaria, where she has published three collections of short stories and one novel. Her stories have been published in the United Kingdom and in the United States, Germany, Poland, Russia, Greece, Turkey, Macedonia and Yugoslavia. She works as a literary translator for the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture and has translated 24 novels by American, English and Canadian authors into Bulgarian. At present, she is working on her Ph.D. thesis on Toni Morrison's novels. She is married and has three children.