The Model — Lauren Vandewalle

I was a nice person once, a ‘normal’ person.

Now here I am, handcuffed to my therapist’s chaise longue, pondering my catastrophic fall from some repressed Mary Sue to whatever I am now, unhinged according to the newspapers, undecided according to my therapist. I think her indecision is motivated in part by a fear of what I might do if she tries to call me crazy.

I had good grades and prissy friends called Sally and Fiona, I was quiet, a wall-flower. I played the fucking clarinet. If that doesn’t tell you everything about who I used to be then I don’t know what will. But it was bullshit and I didn’t even realise it myself until she walked into my life. I’ve been told not to think about her, it brings on violent fits. But I’m not the monster here.

***

“Ellen?”

I turn back to the woman sitting across from me, my attention momentarily stolen away by a rusted leaf floating down from the oak tree outside the window.

“Can you tell me about the first time you saw her?”

I can’t act the fool, can’t for a moment pretend I don’t know exactly who she’s talking about. I shift in my seat.

“At school.” I answer. My voice cracks, completely destroying the careful illusion of nonchalance I’m trying to create.

“Tell me about the first time.”

I glance up at my therapist, open my mouth, try to find the words. How can I possibly explain that day, or anything that has happened since?

It was the start of the school year, I remember the smell of fresh stationery and all my old classmates looking new, their faces glowing from holidays abroad and the twelve hours of sleep they sacrificed during the school year to finish their last minute calculus homework.

I had a handful of friends and together we made occasional trips to the Millwood mall cinema or the milkshake bar near school, but my life was fairly unexceptional. No boys had ever expressed an interest in me, perhaps I was considered too bookish to warrant their attention, but I didn’t particularly care. I’d spent most of my childhood rationalising unrequited crushes on the protagonist of my favourite book series and the ‘sweet one’ in a popular boy band, but other than that, my fifteen year old heart had gotten off relatively lightly, particularly in comparison to some of the other girls I knew, who had been the victims of sexting, revenge porn, and a variety of intriguing, terrifying assaults that I didn’t quite understand.

“It was the first day of school.”

My therapist nods in a slow, patronising way, trying to push the conversation out of me like toothpaste out of a tube,

“I was on the school field with my friends, waiting for the bell to ring, and then I saw her.”

This wasn’t entirely true. I was selectively withholding information, which wasn’t the same as lying. I’d heard about her before I’d even had the chance to see her. I’d picked up snippets of sexually charged teenage conversation all morning and remembered wondering who everyone was talking about. And then, half way through our morning break, she burst through the doors on to the school field, a flurry of seniors rushing to keep up with her.

“What do you remember about that first time you saw her?” my therapist prompts as the silence between us drags on.

I smile, my bottom lip trembling. I feel tears beading in my eyes,

“She was very beautiful.”

“In what way?”

“She looked like, I don’t know how to explain it, but it was the first time in my life… She didn’t look real. Everyone was looking at her… She was wearing this blue dress, and her skin… her hair was all

I instinctively raise my hands to better explain, but the handcuffs cut off the movement.

The therapist glances at my wrists, and for a moment I think she looks scared, as though I might rip the handcuffs off in some Hulk-esque motion.

“It sounds like she made a very strong initial impression on you…” my therapist says.

And the award for stating the fucking obvious goes to…

“And what happened after that? Did you feel yourself acting differently?” she asks, her gaze still fixed nervously on the handcuffs.

I shake my head and smile bitterly, “You already know the answer to that. I went out and I bought the blue dress. I never wore it outside of my room, but I bought it, with money I took from my parents.”

“Why did you do that?”

“I wanted the dress.”

“Because she had it?”

“Because I liked it.”

“All right then, could you explain the incident with the T-shirt to me?”

“Incident? Isn’t that a bit much?”

I purse my lips, resentful of my therapist’s tone. I turn back to the window, remembering the stupid fucking T-shirt. If only I’d known the trouble it would get me into.

It couldn’t have been more than two or three weeks into the new school year, and halfway to my Literature class I realised I’d left my sweatshirt in the girl’s locker room. I rushed back to the gym to check the lost-and-found box. If I went home without it I’d be grounded for days.

When I finally found it under a baggy Metallica T-shirt that smelled like BO, I noticed a pale blue polo T-shirt. Next to the designer label sewn into the inside of the shirt’s collar was another label, with her name sewn on to it in navy-blue cursive writing. I held it out in front of me, and even though it was several sizes too small, stuffed it into my gym bag.

As soon as I got home I locked myself in my bedroom, pulling the T-shirt from the side pocket of my sports bag and stretching it over my head. The material had been sprayed with an expensive perfume and I imagined her sprawled out in her chic all-white bedroom, fresh flowers on the bedside table. The perfume was intermingled with the hot summer air and sweet near-neon grass of the school’s playing field.

The shirt barely covered my stomach despite my 5’4 frame. I shuffled to the left until I could see my reflection in the full-length mirror that hung on the wall behind my door. The sleeves were too tight and my belly button and the mesh of my beige bra were visible through the tight jersey material. I decided to keep the T-shirt in the bottom drawer of my desk, pulling it out every now and then to inhale her aroma. A police officer eventually found it during a search of my bedroom.

My therapist is tapping her pen against the edge of her notepad in an offbeat way that makes me want to strangle her,

“What happened with the T-shirt, Ellen?”

I run my tongue over my teeth, feeling out the lies,

“I thought it was my T-shirt.”

“The police found something else, didn’t they?” she leans forward. Is she smirking at me? I feel the handcuffs tense against my wrists. 

“Your internet history- was that an accident too?”

A year ago, I would have blushed at the mention of this, but now, having rehashed the details so many times, I’ve stopped caring.

“There were no previous records of you watching pornography, and then a week after you first saw S-”

“DON’T! Don’t say her name…”

My therapist takes a long aren’t-I-being-patient breath,

“A week after you first met her, you searched for criteria matching her physical appearance, as well as extensive google searches of her name.”

I’m not sure how to respond, or what my therapist even wants me to say to these accusations. Illicit thoughts had quickly manifested themselves in frantic fumbling beneath the bed linen. It had quickly become impossible to look at her without imagining the ecstasy of raising my hand to her cheek, of tucking a stray hair behind her ear or rubbing my thumb along her bottom lip. I wanted to wrap my fingers around her neck and kiss her, I wanted to inhale the scent of her shampoo, taste the cherry lip balm I’d seen her slather her lips with.

The first time it happened I wondered if there was something wrong with me, I thought I might be some sort of degenerate, I couldn’t imagine Sally or Fiona thinking these thoughts, their minds firmly focused on our history assignment or band practice or the next episode of that show they loved with the guy from that movie. I felt ashamed at what I’d done and anxious about why I’d done it, or perhaps, anxious about why I hadn’t done it before. Why her?

And soon her became you, and thoughts became conversations hatched from my imagination, carefully crafted questions that were never answered. Is there a secret side of you that you hide away? Do you ever feel lonely? Do you stalk your ex-boyfriends or call them when you’re drunk? Who are all the boys you’ve ever loved? Do you ever think of me and if you do what do you see? What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done? Are you the same girl with your parents as you are with your friends? What sort of porn do you watch? What’s your deepest wish?

So slowly the things that lit up my life became smaller and smaller, until very soon there was only a single spotlight in the darkness, a spotlight on you, and though your performance was riveting it was so distant, clinging to the moments our paths would cross when you left Mr Finch’s math class and I was done with double biology.

“Let’s talk about the day it happened.” my therapist begins, and I wonder what her game is, jumping from point A to Z and then back again.

“What do you remember?”

I rearrange myself, shifting forward and stretching out my legs,

“We were both walking towards our cars, I was behind her. I’d decided it was done. I had to let go. So I was going return her T-shirt.”

“The one you stole?”

Dear god woman, pick your battles.

“Yes, the one I stole.”

My therapist pauses to let me fill the silence, but I take the opportunity to remember. I remember calling out, and you turn to me, cocking your head. I feel sick just looking at you, and I know I should just enjoy this moment, because they never last long enough, and as soon as they pass I’m orchestrating the next time. I’m completely beyond the point of pretending to myself this is anything less than all-consuming, and now my days start and end with the thought of you and I find myself thinking all sorts of sordid things that I never believed could cross my mind, like what do you think of when you touch yourself and what does your face look like when you finish? Or what does your voice sound like, do you talk or moan or stay completely silent? And though this could all seem perfectly sinister to an outsider, I can justify these thoughts to myself as an innocent fantasy, because I’m not being crude really, it all boils down to a desire to know you entirely, to know you in a way no one else does.

“I found this in the lost-and-found this morning and thought you might want it back.” I tell you. I hand you the folded up shirt I’d taken all those months ago.

“Thanks” you say softly, “It’s Ellen, right?”

You know my name. I can’t help but smile. I watch a school bus driving towards us down the road.

“Yes, Ellen.” I answer.

I lift my hands and shove you into the bus’s path. I’m still smiling. The driver brakes but not fast enough, and the bus hits you straight on, sending you flying through the air. I can’t explain the feeling I had then, a cocktail of dread and exhilaration perhaps? There were people around, at least half a dozen students saw me push you. They were shouting at me, running towards us.

I told myself I wouldn’t look, that it would scar me for life, but what if you were still alive? What if by some miracle you were unharmed, able to stand up and keep walking towards your car? I move towards the spot where you lie. There’s no blood. Some sort of medical anomaly I supposed, but as I move closer I can see great gashes all over you, your forehead split in half, your torso ripped open beneath the designer T-shirt you’re wearing. Wires burst from your torso, and the gash in your forehead reveals a circuit board. I could feel my legs shaking beneath me as I squint to make out a logo imprinted on the circuit board, the American Advertising Association Ltd.

I hear a voice calling my name. I’m back in my therapist’s office, stood up and shaking, the broken handcuffs dangling from my wrists and the splinters from the broken arms of the chair littered across the floor.

***

Lauren Vandewalle is a graduate student at the University of Oxford, currently completing her Master’s dissertation in Creative Writing. She enjoys reading and writing across all genres and has had previous work published in the Ash Tales online literary journal. Her favourite authors are those who capture the essence of their characters: Ottessa Moshfegh, Irvine Welsh, Hilary Mantel and Curtis Sittenfeld.