A Story About the Body Ch. 01byCallMeBambi©
Author's Notes: Well, here we go. I'm halfway done the third part of this novella-length story, which will be five parts long (and should approach somewhere in the neighbourhood of 35,000 words at its conclusion). It has a long build-up (nothing technically happens until the second part) and a strange and brisk first part. Might not be worth reading, but hopefully if I put it out there it will at least give me the impetus to finish it.
Indebted thanks to my good friend, who has waded through what I have finished and been altogether very helpful and encouraging throughout the process.
It was a late autumn afternoon, and I was sitting in a quaint coffee shop off of Main Street. My head buried in my laptop and the open word processor in front of me. For three days, with little sleep and a great deal of caffeine I had poured over this short story, about a young girl who sought out her father in Ireland after being abandoned by her mother, and, like everything else I'd written in a long time, it too had been rejected from publication. The only indication that someone had even read the manuscript I sent was the scrawled words "too unclear" written on the top of the first page of the physical copy I had at home.
So there I was, like every other failed writer, penning out my great works in a café on my laptop. Normally I hated to be that person, but, as a young woman trying to make it on her own as a professional writer, not having had anything published in nearly a year was something of a problem. Most of my very modest income was made doing editorial work and ghostwriting for internet fluff.
But today I was determined to discover what exactly it was about this story that made it "too unclear".
I sat alone at a corner table, as I always did; hunched into a little ball, as I usually was. Most days I found myself in this small café, though most days I chose the company of a book over my own shortcomings as a writer. I enjoyed the small establishment for its ambience and my status as a regular patron. If people wanted to talk to me, I'd let them. I wasn't unapproachable, in fact as a young, fairly attractive woman, I thought I was fairly inviting—and any other day I would have enjoyed a conversation with someone.
But today there could be no interruptions.
And then Cassandra appeared.
Sitting down at the table nearest to me so that she was within reach of my body, she delicately pulled on a segment of my long, teased blonde hair. I jumped in my seat at her touch, promptly closing the screen of my laptop so she couldn't see what I was doing.
"I love your hair!" she blurted out. Gently she continued to tug on my locks.
"Um ... thank you," I said, tilting my head away from her trying to show that I wanted my hair back. "Are you—"
"Like, I love, love, love your hair," she swooned through my words. I was becoming concerned about what her intentions were. Quickly I stole a glance at her hands to make sure there wasn't a pair of scissors lying there in ambush. "It's so long, and soft and ... it's so, so beautiful!" She rubbed my hair against her cheek as if to further test its softness.
I looked around uncomfortably.
There was a table of girls on the other side of the coffee shop, maybe six in number, who were all trying to be quietly oblivious, though their rather obvious laughter made them stand out.
"Thank you," I repeated, this time more sternly. I found myself becoming very quickly annoyed; I wasn't here to be the amusement for some pretentious bitch and her entourage. Again I tried to pull my hair out of her vice-like grip, tilting my head away from her; and, still, she held on to it, stroking my hair with her free hand, like a greedy child who had stolen someone else's candy just to tease them. Determinedly I placed my hand on hers to signal my intentions to reclaim my hair.
And had she been anyone other than Cassandra, she probably would have let go.
For the first time then, I really looked at her. What I wanted do was loudly tell her to let go, but instead, I said nothing. She was a petite girl with strawberry blonde hair and a colourful plaid-style scarf draped around her neck. She smiled at me when I looked at her, and her pale freckled cheeks dimpled as she did. It was her eyes, though—those large dark swirling brown orbs—that kept the words in my throat, and my hand on top of hers.
Suddenly I felt incredibly foolish and guilty.
"How do you keep it so soft?" she asked with innocent guile.
"I, um, I just do—Sorry, who are you?" I asked much too quietly. I took my hand off of hers, letting her hold on to my hair, and found myself considering an apology.
"Oh, right! That might make this more fun!" she laughed. Taking her hands off of my hair she clapped them together. "My name's Cassie, but you look like the kind of girl who's going to call me Cassandra—so you can call me that, if you'd like."
I opened my mouth to speak for a minute, and then decided against it. I didn't know what that meant exactly: what does a kind of girl like me look like? Is it a bad thing? I found myself very worried that it was.
"And you?" she asked with a sweet smile.
"No! Wait! Don't tell me! Let me guess," she said throwing her hands into the air. Cassandra leaned in close to me and whispered. "I'm psychic."
The sweet smell of her perfume flared my nostrils as she leaned towards me and I took a deep breath, trying to inhale as much of the aroma as I could. It smelled of citrus and sugar, and made my nose crinkle as I inhaled. In a way, it smelled like Christmas, and left me feeling warm and bubbly.
Cassandra puttered and purred, a finger pressed to her lips, her brow furrowed as she tried to divine my name from nothing. I looked at her too, examining her more closely. She had style I realized, with an expensive-looking brown fall jacket and a pair of thigh-high dark brown boots that, alone, were probably somewhere in the same price range as my laptop. As I realized just how disparate our incomes were I protectively pulled my laptop closer towards me.
Even still, I found myself amused as she stared at me, her small frame trying to look tough and determined, as if she was staring me down in an interrogation room.
"Hmm," she purred, leaning closer to me. Instinctively I tensed as she neared. I felt nervous. Strange questions raced through my mind. Did I smell okay? Had I showered this morning? Did the cappuccino stain my teeth? Were my teeth already stained?
Her free hand came back to my hair, and she softly stroked it once with the back of her hand. "You're a tough one!" she admitted.
After purring out another sound that must have been crucial to the divination process, she spoke again. "Let me ask you a question: did you buy your top at La Fontaine's?"
I eyed her curiously. The shirt I was wearing was a simple tee, with large horizontal stripes of colour that alternated with thick white stripes. How she knew where I had bought such a mundane item surprised me.
"Yes," I said, trying to sound smooth, as though I expected nothing less from her; instead my voice cracked as I spoke.
"Hmm ... " she purred again. "Very cute, by the way." Her hand reached over and gingerly patted the top of my knee before retreating back to her lips. "Now, would you say that you prefer to be seduced, or to seduce?" she asked me.
"I don't—what? What does that have—" I huffed.
She giggled to herself and touched my knee again. "I'm only teasing you, Serena," she assured me.
My jaw slacked. "What did you call me?"
"Serena?" she said with a big smile. "That's your name, isn't it? It's very pretty."
Her guessing my name was ... surreal. She was surreal. The entire situation was surreal. And there it is, I thought to myself; this is a sequence in a dream; I'm dreaming. It had to be a dream. Nothing this strange could be real. I was in a dream; probably in a coma—maybe dead.
I was probably dead.
"Who are you?" I asked for what sounded to me like the third or fourth time.
"I told you," she laughed. "I'm psychic!"
"We must have met ... or are ... are you stalking me?" I was aghast, reeling back from her, trying to understand how any of this made sense.
"Maybe," she teased, twirling a strand of her own hair in her fingers and biting her lip. "Have you ever been stalked before?"
My eyes widened in fear and, as I began to protest in the unintelligible syllables of no known language, she reached over with her arm and put it on mine and whispered with a sly wink. "Would you like to be?"
A long silence passed.
This had become too weird for me. In my mind this being a dream was suddenly a best case scenario, offset by increasingly worsening alternative scenarios, the pinnacle of which was that I was to be the first victim of some beautiful young female serial killer who approached other young women in coffee shops, killed them and dumped their bodies in the swamp.
But that was the worst-case scenario.
I realized then, as my paranoia kicked in, that the gaggle of girls on the other side of the coffee shop had stopped their stifled laughter altogether, which meant they had most likely stopped paying attention. Personally, clutching my laptop more tightly in my fingers, I hoped they were watching, or that at least that someone was paying attention to this abduction-in-the-making.
"Serena, I'm not stalking you," she giggled. "You're really not my type."
I exhaled deeply and felt more at ease, until I realized that that is exactly what a serial killer would say.
"Good, because you're not my type of serial killer," I shot back, though it had sounded much less juvenile in my mind.
She laughed once, looked at me curiously and then laughed again.
"Even so," she continued with another small giggle. "I think we should hang out sometime! For example: this weekend, at the dinner party that I'm hosting." She looked at me with those deep brown eyes, her shoulders hunched and I couldn't help but see her as suddenly very delicate; as though my direct refusal would shatter her into a million tiny pieces.
"What?" I did a double-take. "What?"
"You. Dinner party. Saturday. Yes?" she said with some rudimentary sign language.
"Cassandra—it's Cassandra, right?" She nodded her head. "This is the weirdest ... anything, that I've ever had." I tried my best not to sound torn, but I wasn't. This was crazy. She, was crazy.
Like a puppy she tilted her head and looked at me. "How so?" she asked.
"You just—a coffee shop—my hair ... touching ... dinner party!" With great exasperation I tried to sort through the chain of events that led us to this point in the conversation.
She shrugged her shoulders. "Makes sense to me!" she said, wide-eyed and smiling.
I just kept looking at her. I was really confused. I had been approached, in a public place, by a glamorous young woman who had proceeded to complement my hair, stroke it, and then insist that I hang out with her at a dinner party that was happening in the next two days. To even try to wrap my head around the blitz-like attack of friendship I was undergoing, gave me heart palpitations.
I started to wave my hands in front of me. "I ... I just—I don't know—it's short notice, and I'm pretty busy, and ... I have absolutely no idea who you are!"
Hindsight being what it is, I shouldn't have yelled that last part as loudly as I did. But it was true. I didn't know her, and I wasn't much to do things with people socially. I preferred the concept of friendship, to acts of friendship.
"Oh," she said, slouching into the chair, but, as surely as I thought I had started to talk some sense into her, her resignation was replaced by a quick glimmer of hope and she lit up. "But! If we got to know each other better ... then you'd have to come!"
"Well, I—I guess, but it's—"
"Perfect!" She grabbed my hand. "Come with me!"
Despite being smaller than me, she already had me halfway to the door by the time I managed to stop her and explain that I couldn't just leave my laptop behind.
My lungs filled with the chilly autumn air as we left the café. I took a deep breath, relishing the smell of damp leaves and frost.
"La Fontaine's?" she asked when I had finished fumbling through my jacket's buttons.
"What, right now?" I asked.
"Right now!" She repeated excitedly, and began to walk away with me in tow. "We're going to get you something super cute for Saturday!" she told me.
"We're what?" I grabbed her by the arm and stopped her.
She turned around to face me. "We're going to La Fontaine's ... To get you something cute to wear ... For Saturday." She said it slowly, trying her best to help my obviously inept mind process the information.
"But I don't know you!" I blurted out. And for some reason, I started laughing. Cassandra looked at me weirdly, and then, slowly, she too lost herself in the madness and started laughing. A few full minutes passed as we stood in front of the café, just laughing at each other, and every time we thought it was over, one of us would catch the other's eye and we'd start all over again.
"You're ridiculous." The last few laughs escaping my body.
She laughed a few more times herself. "Yeah," she smiled at me broadly. "I hear that a lot."
"Just insane," I said, getting control of myself. And as I regained that sense of control over myself, I saw the situation for what it was and stopped smiling.
This was just too weird. "Cassandra, I really can't go to your party Saturday."
"Why not?" she asked softly.
"I don't know you," I repeated, trying to remain expressionless. Truthfully, she was melting my heart.
She smiled kindly to me, hooked her arm underneath mine, and started walking me in the direction of La Fontaine`s. "So, talk with me!"
I could have pulled away from her I suppose; could have taken my arm back, or pushed her away and just avoided the situation but a part of me was really enjoying her bizarre company. As we walked, her arm still wrapped around mine as though we were the oldest of friends, we began to talk
"So, really," I asked. "Have we met before? Did we share a class at the school, or meet in a bar somewhere, or something? How did you know my name?"
She raised her head and seemed to consider the question thoughtfully for a few seconds before answering. She took a deep breath. "Well, small confession: I lied. I'm not actually psychic."
"I figured that part out."
"I guess I must have heard it somewhere in the coffee shop one time. I go there all the time too, and whenever I come, you're always sitting by yourself, in that same corner, alone. So, as I was leaving today I thought to myself: 'Hmm ... she seems like the type of girl who wouldn't mind a nice casual dinner party.'"
I took a minute to digest what she was saying. I guess I was pretty introverted. I didn't have very many actually close friends, and most of my days were spent either reading at the coffee shop, or at home, writing; but I didn't think of myself as lonely. I liked my introversion, and the friends I did have understood and didn't mind.
"Of course, if you're not the type of girl who enjoys a casual get together with super delicious food, then you don't have to come—but you will." I could see the smile creeping across her face as she spoke.
"You seem to think you know a lot about me, for just meeting me," I said. She looked down at the ground, still smiling.
"I'm pretty good with people," she admitted.
We walked and talked the rest of the way. Eventually she slipped her arm out from under mine, seemingly content that I was going to be a good girl and stay at her side on my own. As we walked she told me about her life. She was 23, and a chef. She owned her own private catering company. She was born in the city and had lived here for all of her life, except for the four years she had spent studying culinary arts in Paris. She had been finished school for only a year, but seemed to already be doing very well for herself, considering her age and the competitive nature of her profession.
As she told me more and more about her life, I began to find myself becoming ever so slightly jealous of her. I was 24 and the most I had accomplished in my professional life was a small number of published short stories and a number of failed novellas, which a myriad of publishers and literary agents had decided were either too unclear, or too refined.
I don't know if she had sensed how I felt about her job, or if she just didn't care, but not once did she ask about me, and it left me with a feeling of gratitude. The worst part of meeting any one new, I always thought, was trying to explain my professional life in a way that didn't leave me sounding like the biggest hack in the world. It felt like walking into an interview for a job, with no idea what the job was or what you were supposed to say, and at the end of every conversation with a new person I met, it felt as though I was leaving without the job I had wanted.
As the walk drew on, I found myself listening intently as she told me a story about one night in Paris when she and her roommates had snuck down to the red light district and the Moulin Rouge to see a late show that night. She told how they slipped in through the back entrance, and waded through the parade of mannequins and clothes racks in the back, admiring the different fabrics and jewels and garments. Among the throngs of people backstage, the girls somehow slipped through security without trouble. Everyone seemed too busy to bother with anyone else. The performers were applying last-minute touches of makeup, or making last-minute adjustments to their costumes. Everything glittered. It was like, she said, the kind of glimmer you see from the ocean in the moonlight, a thousand little glimmering patches of light reflecting off a thousand sparkling surfaces. Before not too long, all of the performers started moving towards the wings of the stage and the girls followed. As the performers took to the stage, they watched from the wings, mesmerized by the show.
"They were amazing!" Cassandra said as we continued to walk. "They had so much grace and raw, raw sexuality. It was so, so incredible. Even their costumes were just, ugh! It was just amazing."
"And then, after watching for a few minutes we decided to leave—before we got caught. So we start to leave, going back the way we came, through the staging area where they all the costumes were and then past the dressing rooms to the door. Only, it was deserted this time, so Madeline—one of my great friends there—she stops by one of the headdresses that the dancers wear. It's this big sequenced hat, I guess, and she puts it on. And, before long, we're backstage at the Moulin Rouge trying on all of these different costumes—these gorgeous, gorgeous costumes. And no one stops us! It was so, so amazing!"
"Wow ..." I said. It sounded really unenthused, but actually I was just teeming with the teeniest bit of jealousy and trying not to show it. She had gone to one of, if not the, most famous burlesque houses in the world and tried on the performers' costumes. I don't know why I was jealous, exactly; it wasn't like that was one of my dreams in life, but that she had done it, it just seemed too incredible to be true.
"Yeah, but that's not even the best part of the story!" she told me. I could see it in her eyes, the rabid excitement of telling the story. She was practically drooling to tell me. "After a few minutes of trying on these things, we start to all get a little weirded out, right? What if someone comes and finds us? We're in the Red Light District of Paris! So we put everything back like we found it, and start to leave, when I hear this quiet, faint moaning. So naturally, I follow it. It's getting louder and louder with every footstep, and it leads me to this slightly ajar dressing room door. Now it's so loud and I can tell it's definitely a woman; it sounds like she's moaning right in my ear as I stand there in the hallway and its giving me goose-bumps just listening. So I peak my head in the room, and I see the most gorgeous man. He's naked and glistening in little beads of sweat standing behind this beautiful, leggy brunette. They're both completely naked and I can just tell they're both dancers. He has this incredible body; completely toned and just, amazing. And she's just beautiful, with these soft rosy cheeks and a beautiful pale body. I can see the scratch marks across his perfect, glistening chest, and I can see the way she's shaking from the pressure of his body.