| Jessica is a foot model. Ever see a photo of someone wearing shoes in a shop window? That's not just anyone, that's a foot model. Jessica mostly does high heels. Not everyone can do heels, but Jessica sure as hell can. Her arches are at a perfect angle. Her toes are pristine; always pedicured and painted to match the shoes. She gets about 3000 dollars per job. Although about half of that pays for her monthly supply of foot healthcare products. When she's not working, she has to wear ugg boots and avoid excessive walking.
I remember the first weird night was when Marcy dropped by Jessica's by this one Friday night.
''Marcy!'' Jessica says upon opening the door. The two women hug each other and squeal in unison.
I go see what the fuss is about. Marcy looks at me, and Jessica looks at her looking at me. Awkward silence ensues.
Jessica snaps out of her stare. ''Marcy, this is...''
''This must be the fella,'' Marcy giggles, shaking the hell out of my hand. ''I'm Marcy, glad to know ya, fella.''
Turns out Marcy and Jessica go way back. Marcy is a hand model. They worked together with Christian Louboutin, Jimmy Choo and Channel. Imagine that. We discuss all this over cocktails. I've stepped into an episode of Sex and the City.
''Remember our first gig?'' Marcy says with that glossy glint of nostalgia in her eyes. Cue harp music, we got a flashback coming up.
''Oh that was a long time ago now,'' Jessica laughs.
''You know, they only called me at the last minute,'' Marcy says. ''They wanted the dress model to do the opera gloves too, but her biceps were too flabby, so they got me!''
Jessica laughs some more. She never laughs this much. ''Remember the heels I wore?'' she says.
''The ones with the spike heels? Oh God, they were gorgeous!''
''And they were so high...but you know what Christian told me? He said he beliieved that there ain't no heel high enough!''
The conversation continues as such for as long as it takes for Jessica and Marcy to drain a bottle of vodka, which thankfully isn't too long.
''You should have a real drink,'' Marcy nudghes me as I pour my third glass of diet coke.
I shake my head. ''I don't really like real drinks.''
''Last time he drank,'' Jessica says, ''he ate beetroot and puked it up all over the place.''
''So it was all purple?'' Marcy grimaces. ''That's gross!''
Jessica gets up and staggers over to me. I catch her just before she falls.
''You know, Marcy,'' she says, nestling into my shoulder, ''I love this fella!''
I try to ignore that. She is wasted, right?
''You love him?'' Marcy says. ''Does he know you're married?''
''She already told me,'' I say.
Marcy laughs. ''And what about the list?''
''The list?'' I look down at Jessica, who jumps out of my arms and makes for the bathroom. Marcy chases after her. Then I hear it; I hear vomiting and choking and spluttering. Marcy's telling her to get it all up, go on, there's a good girl. I stand in the living room and look at the ground. I take a sip of my diet coke. I try not to think of the horrible things I'm prone to thinking of. Like my 9mm shoved into Marcy's mouth.
Five minutes later Marcy reappears in the sitting room.
''She alright?'' I ask.
''Yeah, she's fine. I put her to bed.''
Marcy stands there, waiting for something to happen. ''You should probably leave now,'' she says, smiling.
''It's past midnight. You ought to go home.''
''I want to make sure Jessica will be alright.''
Marcy smiles again. ''I can do that, don't worry.''
I turn to leave. ''Hey, what's the list all about?''
''Oh, the list?'' Marcy laughs, waving a hand at me. ''That's nothing.''
And then I left. I called Jessica the next day, but no answer. I called Sunday and a man answered. I hung up so quicky I smashed the phone off the keys before getting it back in the cradle.
Stan asks me about Jessica over Starbucks coffee.
''I don't know,'' I say, pouring a third sache of sugar into my latte. ''It's kind of weird. Not that it wasn't before. I guess, now, it's more weird. Or a different kind of weird.''
''I see,'' Stan says. ''What does she do for a living?''
''She's a model.''
''No shit,'' Stan smiles. ''That's off the hook. You're having an affair with a model?''
''Well, she's not a model model.''
''Then what is she?''
''She's a foot model.''
''Man, that's equally as impressive.''
''Sure as hell is. Body part models are really important.''
''Yeah,'' Stan says as if I should know that already. ''You ever see that poser for The Graduate? The one where Dustin Hoffman is looking at Anne Bancroft as she's putting on her stockings? That isn't Anne Bancroft's leg, it's Linda Gray's.''
''Huh,'' I say. ''Isn't that Sue Ellen from Dallas?''
The next time I talk to Jessica is in Starbucks. It's one of the few times we meet in public. I ask her about the list.
''It's nothing,'' she says.
''That's what Marcy said.''
''Seriously, slick. Forget about it.''
We sit in silence for a while. Maybe too long.
''Is everything alright?'' Jessica asks.
''Yeah, I guess. I don't know...ever feel like this...''
''This is what?'
''I don't know.''
Jessica looks at me. I look away. ''Just tell me,'' she says. ''Say what you have to say.''
''This magazine rejected one of my poems,'' I say. ''But I didn't mind, because the editor actually wrote it himself rather then send some stock reply.''
''What did he say?''
I take it out of my pocket and read it out: ''Nice work here, kid. But folks don't buy Juggs for this kind of poetry. Either consider steaming things up or submit to another magazine. Yours sincerely, Craig McCarthy.
Jessica laughs a little. ''Juggs?''
I shrug. ''They don't have a submission fee. And I sort of thought hey, how hard could it be to get published in a tna mag?''
''What was the poem?'' Jessica asks.
''It's called Under the Stiletto.''
''Huh...sounds steamy. If you use your imagination.''
''No,'' I laugh. ''It's nothing like that.''
''What's it about?''
''Do you really want to know?''
Jessica crosses her arms. ''Come on, slick. I know you mentioned this for a reason. Stop playing around. What's the poem about?''
''The poem's about you.''
Jessica's surprised at first, then she smiles. ''Wow...thanks,'' she says, sounding as if she were asking a question.
''I'm sorry,'' I say, not knowing why.
''Don't be,'' Jessica says, putting her hand on mine. It's rare for her to touch me outside the bedroom.
''When are you going to end this?'' I ask.
Jessica pulls her hand away. ''What?''
''Feels like it might be soon,'' I say, staring into the foam of my latte. ''We both knew I'll never break it off. It's up to you. You're the one in control. You always were.''
''Last Friday night...'' Jessica bites her lip. ''Did I say something?''
''What did I say?'' Jessica says, her voice slightly raised.
I try to swallow the rock in my throat. ''You...you said you loved me.''
Stan asked me if I knew why high heels were so sexy. I said no and he started to tell me about lordosis. It's this posture used by female mammals to indicate that they're ready to be mounted. Stan's words, not mine. Female humans have long since grown out of lordosis. But when wearing high heels, the ass sticks out and the back arches into a pose reminscent of lordosis, and this makes the caveman part of men's brains go crazy. That conversation had gotten me thinking about high heels. I started writing a poem about them, and it ended up being a poem about Jessica called Under the Stiletto. She made me take her to my apartment to show it to her after that little chat we had in Starbucks.
''It's pretty good,'' she says, looking up from the parchment paper I originally wrote it on.
''Thanks,'' I say.
''No, I mean it's really good,'' she reads through it again. ''But this poem isn't about me.''
''What do you mean? Who else could it be?''
Jessica sighs. ''Who you're writing about here is a goddess...I'm just a woman.''
''I don't have any illusions about you,'' I say.
''Let me take you somewhere.''
That's how I went to Club Mystique for the first time. Jessica, of all people, brought me there that night. Said her husband went there. When she found out, she said it was the first time she was actually mad at him. As time went on, she encouraged him to go there - to let off steam.
It was my first time at a strip club, but exactly as I had imagined it to be like. We sit way at the back as happy hour begins. I ask Jessica if she wants something to drink.
''You should get something to drink too,'' she says. ''I'm starting to feel ridiculous drinking on my own.''
''I don't know,'' I say.
Jessica smiles. ''Tell you what, I know the perfect drink for you.''
Before I can protest, Jessica goes to the bar. She comes back with a cosmopolitan for herself, a glass of whiskey for me.
''Whiskey?'' I say, rotating the glass in my hand.
''Not just whiskey,'' she says. ''It's called Writer's Tears.''
I laugh and take a sip. The liquid is so hot it nearly burns a hole through my tongue. I cough a little. ''So why are we here?'' I ask.
''I wanted to teach you a lesson,'' Jessica says. ''About women.''
''You're a writer, slick, which is real nice and all, but you can't go around thinking of women the way you do.''
''What do you mean?''
''The poem you wrote has nothing to do with me. It's about the idea you have of me.''
''OK,'' I say, taking another tentative sip of whiskey. ''But why are we here?''
''You've never been to a place like this before, have you slick?''
''No, I haven't.''
''Well, I wanted to point something out. You see all those girls dancing?''
''Yeah, I do.''
''And all the men who've come here to watch them?''
''Here's the kicker, slick,'' Jessica says, her head bowed. ''You're no different from any of those men.''
''Jesus, Jessica,'' I say. ''How do you figure?''
''The way you wrote about me, I may as well be up on one of those poles dancing in body glitter while you drool over me.''
''It's not that kind of poem,'' I say, a little louder than I usually speak.
''I know,'' she says. ''But nonetheless. You might think you are in love, but you're not. What you feel is just infatuation.''
''Who are you to tell me how I feel?'' I say, taking a big gulp of whiskey which burns its way down my oesophagus.
''That's not what I'm trying to do. What I'm trying to point is that...''
''You know what? I think I got it. You're too damaged or withdrawn or whatever to allow someone think you're worth anything. No, I'm probably not in love with you and you're right, you're no goddess, but that doesn't mean I'm not still fond of you.''
I never went to Club Mystique again with Jessica. The second time I went I was so drunk I can only vaguely what occurred. I know that I met Chantelle and I established our arrangement. What else we talked about or did was a mystery. The third time I went I get down to business. I bawl and sob and weep and Chantelle sits there and strokes my hair and says everything is going to be alright.
''What did we do the last time I was here?'' I ask, just about ready to stop crying.
Chantelle shrugs. ''We just talked.''
''About what you wanted to do with me,'' she smiles.
''To do what you've been doing all this time.''
''You don't mind?''
''Don't mind what?'' she asks, raising an eyebrow.
''What I'm doing?''
''No, not at all. It's your money.''
I remove my head from her lap, so we're just sitting opposite each other in this big fancy champagne room. We exchange awkward glances.
''So what now?'' I ask.
''Whatever you want, really,'' she says. ''There's still half an hour.''
I nod, try to think of something to say. Anything. ''Do you enjoy your work?'' I ask.
''Sure,'' she replies quickly. ''It's not forever, I just need some easy cash at the moment.''
''If you don't mind me asking, what is it you hope to do with yourself?''
''What do you mean?''
''Well,'' I say, pausing to think. ''What would you like to be?''
''I don't know,'' she says. ''My major was philosophy.''
Chantelle laugsh. ''Wow...that's the first time anyone hasn't been like...''
''I don't know. Most people would just smile and say that's nice, or that's interesting. Drives me crazy.''
''Well my major was English...until I dropped out,'' I say. ''But I'm something of an armchair philosopher.''
''Is that right?''
''Oh yeah. I discovered Nietzsche when I was a teenager,'' I shake my head, look to the ground. ''Haven't been the same since.''
''I got into philosophy after reading Simone de Beauvoir. But studying it in college is such a drag. And no one can actually become a philosopher anymore.''
''Well aren't you whatever you think you are?'' I say.
''Yeah, but a person has to face facts. I'm a disillusioned graduate in an economy where the only way to pay off my student loans is to strip in front of strangers.''
''Or let them cry into your lap,'' I say with a weak laugh.
''Exactly,'' she says with a smile. ''So what made you drop out?''
I sit back and fold my arms. ''Usual nonesense, to be honest. At least, the usual kind of nonesense you could expect from a person like me. I didn't feel...challenged, or stimulated. I don't know. It wasn't really cause enough for me to storm out the way I did.''
''What did your parents think?''
''Well they don't. They're dead.''
''Oh...I'm sorry, I...''
''No, no, you don't have to...it's no big deal.''
Chantelle looks at a big gold clock on the wall. ''Well, I hate to say it, but time's up.''
I went to Chantelle at the same time the next week: Sunday at 9pm sharp,and the week after that. It become sanctified ritual.
Chantelle massages my neck as I try to let go, try to lose myself that is the oblivion of the Club Mystique champage room.
''Have you talked to Jessica?'' she asks, ''since the, eh...''
''No. Actually, I'd rather not talk about it..'' I say, ''at all.''
''Right,'' she says. ''Sorry I asked.''
The next few minutes are just swell. The darkness opens up in front of me and I jump right in. I'm falling, fast and slow all at once. I look up to see rock bottom, moving further away from me as I fall into unchartered depths. Everything's in place. God loves his children, I think to myself. But God isn't light, God is darkness. Embrace the darkness, embrace God.
The next time I see Chantelle I bring a poem I wrote that week and read it to her. It's called Pinup Girls:
''A pinup girl is quite the character,
With a flawless Barbie doll figure.
She has this facial expression, the same one constantly,
As if to say wow, a birthday cake, just for me?
She lives in a fantasy world,
In which everyone's soul has been sold,
Living lives of raucous absurdity,
Macho men ogle at the pinup girls in the city.
A pinup girl, upon noticing she's being noticed,
Will keep on walking but will look back with mock embarrassment.
If she carries one, she'll twirl her umbrella,
Blinking long beetle leg lashes till someone shouts hey, ragazza bella!
Her walk is a sight to behold, a sight quite comic at least,
Waddling well tapered legs clumsily a-jut from a wasp thin waist.
Walker of streets, but not a whore, naive as the virgin but by no means an angel,
She's a pinup girl.''
Chantelle laughs. A hearty, genuine laugh which is a symphony to my ears. ''I'm sorry,'' she says, wiping a tear from her eye.
''Why?'' I ask.
''I don't think I should be laughing...''
I frown. ''Why not? The poem's supposed to be funny.''
''Is it though?'' she says.
hristmas. How touching.
Before I went to see Harley, everyone-doctors, nurses, even the janitor-came to offer information. I told them thanks, but no thanks. Whatever I learned about Harley would have to come from her cherry blossom lips.
I made my way to her room through screaming, white corridors. The sound and sterility of the environs seemed turned down a notch. I may as well have been walking through Eden.
And into Hell.
As I entered, Harley hung limp from the light bulb. Another suicide. Except suicide victims don't usually leap from light bulbs onto their beds, as Harley did with a ballerina's grace. She assumed a Playmate's pose, biting her lip and arching a brow.
"What's up, Doc?" she purred.
The next hour passed like a whirlwind. Harley yapped like a terrier but avoided my questions like the plague. Once the session was over, I scurried out to the carpark and smoked half a pack.
Despite the length of her stay, Harley was still HRP-high risk and priority. She had to be seen everyday for an hour's counselling and was observed anytime she left her room. She was as infectious as smallpox; cooking dinner, brushing my teeth, tying my shoelaces, she was somewhere in the shadows, inquiring "whatcha doin?"
I asked Harley what she liked to do in her spare time. She confessed to a love of contortionism, which she practiced daily. Subsequently contortionism became all she'd talk about.
One evening I stayed late, thoughts of Harley infiltrating my skull as though it were made of eggshell. I longed for the days when I'd clock out and the word 'patient' meant nothing until nine o'clock the next morning. How Harley was so disconnected from reality; it was almost beautiful. But then the ugliest of thoughts occurred to me. I had to tell Harley something.
"I think you're no good at contortionism," I told her the next day.
"Don't be silly," she waved a hand at me. "I'm the best on the ward, maybe even in the world."
"No," I put a hand on her shoulder. "You are not a talented contortionist."
After a moment's reflection, she stamped her foot and collapsed onto her bed in a fit of sobbing. I spent the rest of the hour wondering what I had done. I had pulled the pin of a grenade, and it exploded in my hand. Question now was could I piece the shrapnel back together?
For the next week Harley honoured a vow of silence. A truce was needed, but Harley wouldn't be where she was if she could accept the concept of 'I'm sorry.' In spite of this, I apologised.
"May I have a cigarette?" she asked.
"What? No you can't. Did you hear me say I was..."
"If you are sorry, you'll give me a cigarette."
"I have none. I don't smoke."
"Oh please, just 'cos you're a doctor. The smell on your breath, the yellow skin between your fingers, the gravel in your voice-which I love by the way..."
Harley was hell bent on this cigarette. So you know what? I gave her one.
I waited until nightfall when the nurses were changing shifts to sneak Harley out into the carpark. I held a lighter to her hard won cancer stick. She inhaled deeply, closing her eyes. As she exhaled, smoke gave way to blue, blue eyes.
She put the cigarette into my mouth, turned on her heel and ran.
"Where are you going?" instinctively I took a drag., I should have ran after her. I might have saved her from running onto the road into an oncoming bus. I eventually did run. However, when I got to her she had bled enough blood to drown Dracula. My ever critical eye wouldn't turn off. Cracked hip and ribcage, ruptured spleen, internal haemorrhage. I never seen someone so dead.
I walked back to my office, deaf to the bus driver's pleas for forgiveness. I opened up Harley's file. She was in St. Nicholas' in lieu of jail. Originally trialled aged fifteen for the murder of a teacher who said she wasn't Medical School material. On the contrary, she had been a straight A student. Next week she was applying for release, and with a strong psychiatric evaluation this was highly probably to go through.