Bobbi Kobeski stepped out of the shower, toweled herself off, and then took a quick moment to admire herself in the row of mirrors above the sinks. She supposed that even with all of the work she invested in it, you couldn’t call it a perfect body, but close. Pretty damn close. She saw the up-tipped breasts, large and unaugmented by any surgery, the candy-colored nipples and areola. Nice, very nice down to the flat stomach, the cute little eye-wink of a belly button. None of that vulgar protruding nonsense that some people had. The hair that bisected her thighs was light and curly and her thighs were shapely. Yes, it was a beautiful body, she told herself. Believe it and don’t be ashamed of your arrogance.
Her face needed a little more work. Bobbi would be the first to admit that. Oh, it was attractive, alright. Enough men had told her that. But there was something brassy about it, too. Whorish was the word her sister used to describe it. The sister who was a member of the family that did not support each other. Her sister, as she understood, was screwed up with her hatred for Bobbi (and which Bobbi devotedly returned) with forced competition for everything from money to cell phone minutes to parental love. But whenever she was alone with herself and the mirror, as she was now, she thought maybe she could understand what her jealous sis was talking about. The too-thick lips, the wide set blue eyes not only innocent looking but uncomprehending as well seemed to shout Bimbo!
It didn’t matter, Bobbi assured herself. She would dye her blonde hair to black in two years when she graduated from college, and that would take care of that bimbo business. She was not one of those baby faced types who was destined for whoring or pornography or God knew what else. No, her beauty was classic. The kind that belonged to magazine covers like Elle or Vogue. Soon the whole would know it too. She was confident of this. It was her dream.
A sudden shuffling noise at the door. Bobbi cursed and quickly hid in a shower stall. At 3am, it was most likely someone stumbling in needing to vomit after a hard night of partying. Or maybe a guy who sneaked in from the male side of the dorm just panting to see a juicy, piece of ass like herself. Maybe even a lesbian, hoping to catch her in the act of taking a shower.
The shuffler departed. Evidently it was a false alarm. Bobbi rewrapped her towel around her body and then imagined herself as Scarlett Johanson, (or perhaps even Marylin Monroe) peering shyly from some movie-made Eden and about to reveal herself in her nude, breathtaking glory, when she realized she could see into the next stall only a few feet away.
A woman hung by her neck between the sliding doors of the shower. Dead. Quite obviously dead. The belt from the terry cloth robe served as the noose and it wrapped around her neck, her blue oxygen-starved skin and purple bruises. A woman with black hair. A dead woman.
A fear that she had never known before slammed into her heart, making it seem to seize up and contradictorily beat at an incredibly fast rate. She didn’t know that terror the size of this could exist in the world. It seemed bottomless. Each time she thought she reached the absolute capacity, that she could feel no more, the terror would wash over her again sweeping her down into new terrifying depths. It was like falling eternally, drowning.
How many minutes had she actually stood there, frozen in fear? It seemed like years, centuries. At some point it did occur to her to close her eyes until she could gain some sort of control of herself.
I didn’t see that.
But she did see it. Reality or hallucination made no difference. Denying it’s existence, she sensed, was futile and even dangerous. Once she got control of herself, Bobbi figured it would be safe enough to prepare for the comforting return of reality. Then she could make her way back to her dorm room with a stomach that felt like it had a bowling ball in it. She silently counted to ten and then opened her eyes.
The body hung silently. Mocking and horrible and still there.
Again, she waited, paralyzed …for what? For death? For that woman to lift one dead hand, the painted nails like claws and scrabble for Bobbi’s throat? Bobbi stared deep into the dead woman’s eyes, not looking for an explanation, or even mercy, but as a way to demonstrate her own complete supplication. There was never a lamb more patient for the slaughter.
Then, with no cause or explanation, the body disappeared like a magic trick. Once again, she could see the hair clogged in the opposing shower’s drain. A plump cockroach rooted among the fibers. She detected the faint odor of mildew.
No longer caring about her naked glory, Bobbi rewrapped the towel around herself and walked to her dorm room on legs that felt as if they had gone through two hours on the stair master. She opened the door, went immediately to the mini-fridge and took a greedy swig of water from the plastic bottle as if it were booze. She laid down on her bed with hands folded across her stomach. Even in the extremity of her fear she was aware of the perfection of the pose. The beautiful, virgin sacrifice.
Her brain froze in a time warp, thinking and not thinking about the shower incident. Despite her trying to shove the thing deep into her subconscious, it bobbed up to the surface of her mind again, like a balloon on the end of a string. What was the big deal anyway? So she had a hallucination. When you came from a classically dysfunctional family, that sometimes meant you weren’t too mentally stable anyway. Part of her sickness must have reached out from her mind and decided to express itself in front of her eyes. Again, what was the big deal?
Because it was myself, I saw myself. That woman was me. It was …
Now that she allowed herself to acknowledge the truth, she thought she would at last be able to scream. She stood up and dramatically pulled in a huge breath, an opera singer getting ready to let it rip, and a bubbly burp forced itself out of her lips. Giggling, Bobbi ran to the garbage can and vomited.
She felt a lot better when she was through. She supposed her body desperately needed to express her fear in some way. If not through screaming, then through up-chucking. But what was that thing then? A ghost of some sort? A warning?
Bobbi brushed her teeth and then began to dress herself, and just the act of moving, of getting something accomplished made her feel even better. She had agreed to meet Damon at this incredibly late hour because he needed her. That was the stupid excuse he used on the phone, waking her from sleep, insisting that she come and visit his dorm room ” …right now”. Probably he just wanted sex. She didn’t mind though. It didn’t take a lot of effort to imagine his call as a request for a romantic interlude from a man who desperately loved her. Imagination! That was also how one survived in a family that did not support one another.
No, not a ghost. Even though she was trying to keep her mind on pleasant subjects like Damon, her mind chose to wander relentlessly on the dead woman, like vultures coasting around their prey. I’m obviously alive so it couldn’t be a ghost. And not exactly a warning either. More of a presentation …an image. Of what? The future?
He was the perfect guy. Not particularly likable. But for Bobbi’s needs, which were admittedly shallow, he was perfect, very good looking. A truly gorgeous man, and she thought together they made a good team; like peanut butter and jelly or bubbles in champagne. His devotion showed in his little gifts, asking about her health and welfare, often declaring that they would one day be married with such smug ease that he made it seem like it was written in the stars. With most of her friends complaining about men who forgot birthdays and anniversaries, men who were players and ran around with other women, it felt good to have a boyfriend who knew how to pamper a girl like herself.
But there were some things about him that were kind of annoying. Persistent, like a bothersome fly. Sometimes he could become possessive, and he had a bit of a mean streak. Once, when they were sitting in his car waiting for some damn thing or other, he had slapped her. With no warning or provocation of any kind, he had slapped her and told her to stop staring out the window at some guy’s crotch. And she had slapped him right back and called him an asshole. There was a tense moment while she waited to see what he would do next. Damon began to smile, then he chuckled, and they both laughed together. Laughed uproariously. It was all bullshit anyway. Neither of them had meant it.
She chose a belt made out of copper chains from her closet and then fingered it, tracing the endless circular pattern. It probably wasn’t even me, anyway …that woman. No, it definitely wasn’t me. I don’t look anything like that, damnit!
For the first time a new kind of fear entered her, a fear more dreadful than what she felt towards the dead woman, because it resembled pure resignation. Like a deep, physical cut …so deep it could never heal.
Will you stop it? I’m the master of my fate. And I know I’ll never do such a thing. I’m going to be a successful model and even if some stupid shit happens and I don’t become one, I’ll teach. That’s why I’m here at college, so there’ll be something to fall back on. You have nothing to fear. Believe me. Alright?
Besides, how could she live without Damon? How can anyone possibly be a model and not have a boyfriend? The idea was ridiculous. To Bobbi’s mind a male companion was as necessary to a modeling career as golf clubs were to the golfer. You needed someone, a good lookingsomeone, to demonstrate how loved you were, how beautiful. Otherwise, how could anyone believe that you really did have those qualities, that you were special? It became a status symbol.
Her cell phone rang and in the deafening silence of her thoughts it sounded like a human scream. Her heart revved up like the motor of a race car and she told herself to stop being so ridiculous, so melodramatic. She answered, and of course it was Damon. He asked if she wanted him to come up or should he wait in the car? With a greedy sort of defiance (but still feeling a cold sense of dread) she told him to come up to her dorm room.
And she waited for him, trusting tonight was the night she would not get pregnant, and if she did get pregnant, she would get an abortion. And if she couldn’t afford an abortion or was simply too paralyzed with fear (the same way she had been paralyzed by that dead woman) she would give the baby up for adoption. And if she made the mistake of holding her infant daughter, feeling her warmth, she would drop out of college and marry Damon and he would bring her and their child triumphantly home like a caveman with his raw kill. And if Damon’s mean streak turned into a violent one, she would get angry and bear it, shout and scream at him, but bear it and slowly come to the realization that this was how it worked for those pathetic, battered wives she had once been in the position to feel sorry for. How at first you really were pissed and all set to leave him, but then as he apologized and slapped you and begged forgiveness and hit you, it began to wear you down like a violent river smoothing a rough stone. And you began to forget how to be you …how you were like …who you were. And how one day you would look in the mirror and not recognize yourself.
Bobbi opened the door and waited for him with arms outstretched. But her arms trembled and despite her private self-assurances, she could not stop the trembling.
Chere Taylor lives in Orlando, Florida and shares her home with her teen daughter, two chihuahuas, five cats and one X-ray Tetra fish. She has always harbored a sneaky respect for the inexplicable.