"Ah. Flashback humor." - Tyler Durden

The girl I could've saved

It's Saturday evening. The sun's just set, descended below the barrier of scyscrapers visible from my livingroom window, and I'm going through my boyfriend's personal possessions. See, a week ago I discovered a secret place of his in my flat, where he's been living with me for a few months – a box beneath our mutual bed, wherein he, apparently, stashes everything he doesn't want me seeing. Well, bummer for him I've had boyfriends before, and I've learned something important. It only takes you so long to figure this out for yourself, but I'll tell you: there's always a secret box or shrine or whatever. No matter how honest a person you are, there are things you don't want to share with anyone. Hence the many uses of an eventual cardboard box, for example. So now, I'm searching for any inkling that the person I know as Logan – button-down, neat and trendy, in a safe and reliable way – is an alterego. That his real persona, ipso facto, is something completely different than what he's so avidly showing me.

I'm not paranoid. I'm just being realistic. You'd never have known just by looking at Ted Bundy he was such a sick motherfucker. Oh, and by the way, this isn't snooping. It's just a healthy form of insuring myself that I have nothing to be afraid of.

Maybe "Logan's" favourite pastimes include killing his unsuspecting girlfriends, or worse, he's a plushie. I only ever heard of plushies once but the image stuck in my mind like it had been nailed to it; the notion of people getting off on humping stuffed animals, well, how could I ever get past that trauma. Anyway, it's Saturday evening and I'm actually getting a kick out of this. I mean, come on. Who doesn't sometimes wish they could learn their partner's secret shames and indiscretions and whatnot? Anyone who denies it is a big fat liar. Also, somewhere inside every woman – at least, that is, every woman I've ever had the questionable pleasure of knowing – lies a dormant masochist, just waiting to burst out. Why else, one could wonder, would I go searching for proof of deceit in the man I'm planning to marry? I am very very happy, so please hit me. It's true, I've always wanted love to be hurtful.

Trouble is, going through his personal belongings, I'm not finding anything unexpected. No confessions to unsolved mind-boggling crimes. No birth certificates proving Logan's really the son - albeit bastard son - of the king of Whereverland. Nothing except old newspaper clippings featuring a really young Logan winning the state championships in some sport, and breaking some or other record. Long distance running. Yeah, well, whatever. I'm not looking for any more proof that this guy is mister Perfect. I already knew that, right? At least that's my delusion, if it is indeed a delusion.

This is where I start regretting that I didn't just go lesbian a while back. See, not that many guys keep journals, and I haven't managed to find the golden exception, from what I can gather. No incriminating evidence of any kind, and no journal – that means what's in that handsome head of his, whatever he's not telling me, stays there.


I'm just about to give up, stuff the harmless things I'm still not supposed to have seen back into the shadows where they belong, inside their box, when I find it. It's right there between the paper clipping and an old tattered book stating in childish handwriting: Deutsche Wörter, Logan Hammond, 8th grade.

It's a porno magazine. It looks just like any other porno magazine. It has the same glossy paper as the majority of all other porno magazines. The picture on the cover of this ordinary, run-of-the-mill porno magazine depicts a girl wearing a boatload of makeup and practically nothing else. She's a bleached blond but the roots of her hair are dark, and I can tell she's wearing blue contacts. Everything possible done to conceal her, to make her as unlike herself as possible. She must be just about my age, I imagine. And her eyes screaming at me from the cover, a ghastly clash against her pouting red lips and come hither pose, I almost fall backwards out of shock when it dawns on me.

The terrible truth: I know this girl. She was my classmate, 4th to 9th grade. Her name is Shelley and she had a mother who worked as a waitress and who never came to parent nights, and a father who used to beat her like there was no tomorrow. Of course no one knew that last bit for sure, it was just generally assumed by everyone. Every now and then she would turn up with her arm in a cast and say she'd fallen down the staircase – even though everyone knew her house only had the one floor – or a suspicious bruise on her face that she had allegedly attained walking into a doorpost. Ha ha, I'm so clumsy. Like it was all a big joke. She had a sexual vibe going for her even in 6th, 7th grade. The boys all worshipped her, the girls envied and despised her, and the teachers actually seemed to fear this little woman in the making.

I realise I've taken to staring at the picture and my eyes are starting to hurt, but for some reason or other I can't look away. Gina. Her name was Shelley and she was my classmate, but now she's Gina, pornstar extraordinaire, and according to the sleazy magazine in my hand, she'll take it wherever you want to shove it.

Well, maybe I didn't know her that well. Saying I knew her, well, that would really just be flat out lying. She wasn't the kind of girl you invited to your home for slumber parties. Not the kind of girl you were best friends with, not someone whose hair you braided while talking about everything and nothing and listening to some boyband on the stereo. She wasn't popular, or impopular for that matter. She just was. There would be times when she was just gone, gone for weeks, and noone would notice. Noone would exactly miss her, but there would be a definite lack of tension that, crazy as it may sound, actually was missed, because everyone had got used to it.

I don't think about the past that often. Actually, I tend to try to avoid it. Reminiscing just makes everything harder, at least in my opinion. It prevents one from letting things go. Leaving things be. But finding this magazine, and seeing Shelley on the cover, has set me on a trip to memory lane that had been pretty much inevitable, I guess.

It's like this, though. Of course I expected at least one dirty magazine, and I mean dirty both literally and metaphorically. And of course this is the part where I'm supposed to feel degraded. But really, I'm not. And this is the part where I'm supposed to go, oh my God, my fiancée jerks off to these busty unnaturally sexy girls, now I feel so insufficient. I couldn't care less. It's still me he goes to bed with and wakes up next to in the morning. But yeah, that's why it's taking me a bit by surprise, the fact that I'm reacting at all to this find of mine.

Thing is, I don't think anyone really knew Shelley Kensington, the girl he drew stars all over her notebooks and liked to wear her hair in a ponytail with a bubblegum pink band. Noone ever cared to look beneath her unattainably perfect surface for something to like. Blah blah blah, all of that fucking bullshit. I'm not sentimental. I'm not going to sit here, all teary-eyed, looking back at things I can't change and probably wouldn't even if I got a second chance at it. I've never cared for sentiments – and it's got me this far, so I can't be all wrongheaded, now can I – but I can't help but wonder how things might've turned out if I'd actually made an effort to get to know Shelley. Would she still have ended up a pinup girl, would she still have become what she is today – flaunting everything she has for money and some sort of gratification – if she had just had one childhood friend who cared for her?

I close my eyes and I'm back in gradeschool, and Shelley's sitting in the back row with me, like she used to. I glance at her, and she meets my gaze but doesn't smile. She never did smile much, except when she wanted something, or someone. She used to tease the boys to madness as she made lots of invitations but never followed through with anyone below the age of 25. Anyway, there's a fresh cut on her cheek that she's tried to cover with makeup, but she's only thirteen years old, she has no clue how to use powder, concealer, whatever. I, my thirteen year old self is grinning widely and my braces are showing, the ones I remember hating with such a fiery passion, but for once I just don't care that everyone can see I look just like Jaws. And Shelley, she just looks at me, like some animal locked inside a cage she looks at me, her entire being pleading, just like always: please.Unlock the door. Cut through the bars. But this time, instead of looking away – just like most people do when they catch something seemingly complicated and possibly tough to engage in – I keep smiling at her, flashing those godawful braces, and after a while, she starts smiling back. Just a hint of a curled lip at first, and then it's just like she can't help herself: her eyes even have the tiniest spark in them as she smiles, and I notice how different this Shelley looks compared to the old one, the one with the screaming eyes.
And after that, well, it's just one big wonderful stairway to la la land. Picture the scene: two teenage girls, just like any teenage girls in the world, having pillow-fights, giving each other manicure, gossiping about boys and who's taking who to prom. And Shelley, she's glowing.
We study together. We party together. We're practically inseparable all the way to college. She looks so happy and content. She's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen.
Bells ringing, fireworks, the dulcet choir of pretty little birdies. The whole fucking shebang.

That could've been us. We could've been that pair of girls, laughing, not a care in the world, playing with fire, playing with each other, playing our way through life. All the choices I've made, if I'd made them differently they could've lead me to this alternate reality wherein Shelley was all right,and I...

Me, had I been happier? I would've been different. I would, with all probability, have been someone else. Someone who maybe hadn't gone to that charity ball and met Logan, the handsome young solicitor with enough money to buy himself and me a very respectable future, and still have a couple of million dollars left to have fun with. A college fund for our future kids, a yacht to get away on whenever things get dull here in the big city.

And then, flash. Back to reality. Me still on the floor, my legs starting to ache beneath me from the pressure of my admittedly light but still existant weight, and in my hand a by the looks of things well-used picture of a bleached blond naked girl that could've been my best friend, had I made other choices than the ones I made back ten years ago. A girl I could've saved. In the picture, this girl is twisting a stud run through her left nipple. I'm thinking how much that must've hurt, and also that that stud couldn't have been her idea. None of this, her carrier as Gina, the bleached hair, the stud, nothing could possibly have come from her. She looked so innocent on our class group photo, 8th grade. Biting her lip in a pseudo-sultry manner, the way that could've been cute if it hadn't been so goddamned creepy. Oh well.

And Logan will be home in a matter of a few hours, he'll just waltz in through that door like any other day, like nothing's different. And really, nothing is. Is it?
I put the magazine back in its box, quickly, shoving it where it belongs under the bed. Just like that, Shelley's out of my life, her silicone-improved body and sweet, corrupted face just gone again.
The girl I could've saved.

There's a lot to be done before Logan comes home. I have to cook dinner. I have to clean up after him, do his laundry. Iron his shirts. Make our bed the way it's supposed to be made. And then start packing all of his stuff in cardboard boxes. Piece by piece, wrap the valuables in paper, the records and the ugly china with floral patterns we got from his parents in terrycloth towels so they don't break on the way back to Michigan, or wherever the fuck he's from, I can't even remember. He'll come in the door in about five hours and he'll drop his suitcase on the floor, loosen his tie and go into the livingroom, where I'll be waiting on the sofa, legs crossed. A cigarette in one hand and a glass of red wine in the other. Playing the femme fatale one last time. And he'll ask, his jaw dropped, why are all of his things packed? And I'll say, Logan, sweetie, the dinner's on the table and when you've finished I want you gone. What? he'll say. Why? Well, I'll answer, taking a sip from my glass of Merlot, I don't want to marry someone who'd jerk off to my best friend.

Short story by Liv Sol Möller
Read 764 times
Written on 2006-09-26 at 09:58

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