by Kenneth Weene
All Lucien’s efforts and stalking have increased the intensity of Belinda’s indifference. “If that guy were the last man on earth,” she says dramatically, “I’d prefer a convent or perhaps Siberia.”
She takes a gulp of beer. “Why can’t I at least have a better looking stalker?” she asks.
Maggie, Belinda’s publicist/secretary/companion, rolls her eyes. “Well he sends nice flowers,” she says with a tinge of irony.
Belinda, caught in her own mind, can only comment. “Roses again? He has no imagination. What a bore.”
Lucien has also sent a card, a profession of love everlasting.
Belinda glances at it, fixes her mouth in a pouty sneer, and drops it into the trash.
Lucien’s importunations and invitations have gone unanswered. Still, “I love her,” Lucien insists in a voice full of treacle and pathos. He cannot accept, only obsess.
“Fool,” the last of his acquaintances had commented. There are no longer friends, only acquaintances: people he has met, charmed for the moment with his romantic fantasies, and bored thereafter. The obsessions of others seldom hold attention.
Worse for Lucien, he can see Belinda’s likeness everywhere. The shirt campaign is in full swing. The billboards are everywhere. Posters: Belinda wearing nothing but a man’s shirt; long, perfect legs. “Oh, my God, what a smile, what life-filled hair, what...” He stands before the store windows and rhapsodizes until the manager asks Security to move him along.
Two men, one on each arm, walk him to the corner; he twists and turns for one more glimpse of his desire.
“Really you should consider,” Lucien’s mother tries to counsel.
“You must stop,” his father adds. “It isn’t appropriate. Consider the family name.” The family, well known and wealthy; theirs a name not to be tarnished with obsession.
Lucien understands. He accepts the psychiatrist’s diagnosis, erotomania. He promises and promises. Still, here he stands at the corner, down the street from Belinda’s apartment, hoping for a glimpse, perhaps the joyous agony of a moment’s eye contact.
“That guy is standing on the corner again,” Maggie comments as they alight from the limousine.
“Again? How droll.” Belinda draws the word out in affectation. Midwestern and unknown before that reality TV show with its shot at fame and what now seems like endless fortune. She enjoys her moment.
“That producer, the one I met last night.” The lonely man at the corner seemingly instantly and again forgotten.
“What about him?” Maggie asks.
“Do you think he liked me?”
Belinda cuts her off. “Perhaps he’d like to take me out for dinner.”
He couldn’t care less. Maggie completes her sentence in her head. Out loud, “I’ll set it up.” Maggie shakes her head but makes a note in the little book filled with Belinda’s whims. She takes out her key and opens the door of Belinda’s apartment.
Belinda walks in ahead.
Smiling to herself and thinking how unlike her parents’ her life has become, Belinda walks to the window and looks out. She smiles to realize that he is still there, leaning against the lamppost, watching for a glimpse, worshipping her. “Pathetic,” she says with relish.
“Should I call the police? You can get a restraining order. What do you...?” Maggie offers the stock suggestions.
“No, he’s harmless. Besides...” She runs a comb through her blonde hair. “I enjoy...” She doesn’t bother finishing.
Thinking about yourself. Maggie finishes the thought. That’s all she ever thinks about: herself. I’m so sick...
Maggie looks out the window. He may be crazy, but I wish I had a guy that devoted to me. It has been two years since her last boyfriend. It seems a lifetime.
Maggie slips out of the apartment and walks the block to where Lucien is standing and hoping. There is a coffee shop on the corner. She grabs his arm and drags him inside. “So Belinda can’t see us,” she hisses. The model’s name works its magic on him; Lucien allows himself to be pulled along.
“You know her?”
“I work for her.”
“You do?” He is bewildered but excited at unspoken possibilities.
She smiles a warm smile that shows her less than perfect teeth and lights up otherwise nondescript brown eyes.
“Did she send you?”
“Oh.” His eyes go dull.
“I’m sorry.” She squeezes his hand. “You deserve better. You’ve sent her such lovely cards and flowers.”
“She’s beautiful,” Lucien responds in a voice of suffering adoration.
“That won’t last.”
“Everybody says that. Still...” He shakes his head. “She’s the most beautiful woman I know.”
“She’s not that beautiful; not inside, not where it matters.”
“No, that doesn’t matter.” He pulls away. “I love her. Don’t...”
“And she loves herself.”
“Why are you telling me things like...?”
“Because you seem like a good guy.” She again takes his hand. He doesn’t pull it away.
“Thanks.” Lucien’s voice is flat. Perhaps it is only the reflex of manners.
“Would you like a cup of coffee?”
“I know. You want to know all about her.”
“Yes, about Belinda.”
“That isn’t her name.”
“Of course it is.”
“No, not really. Her name is Jackie. The show — when she was on — they told her Jackie Strauss wasn’t a name. Now she’s Belinda. Belinda Mason. The Mason part only if they have to use a last name, but really just Belinda. It’s like a trademark.”
They order: She an Americano. He a latte. She uses Splenda. He adds two packets of Sugar-in-the-Raw. She tries to pay. He holds out money. They both laugh in brief embarrassment.
There’s a table in the back. They sit. They talk. Lucien knows everything of Belinda’s career and nothing of her life. Maggie adds bits and pieces: home town, high school, father’s occupation, sister’s love for horses, Belinda’s plastic surgeries.
“I’d better get going.” She rises.
“Oh. I have more questions.”
“Yes, another time.” He sounds hopeful.
“Jackie Strauss?” he asks as Maggie starts to walk away.
“Yes.” She turns back. “Yes, Jackie Strauss.” She opens her purse, takes out a key and slips it into Lucien’s hand.
“That’s good to know.”
She nods, smiles, and turns away.
As Maggie reaches the sidewalk, a woman passes. The woman has a pit bull. The dog pulls on his lead and rumbles. “Good boy,” the woman says as the dog pulls against her. “What a good dog.”
Maggie walks down the street.
Lucien follows her out of the coffee shop. For a moment he watches Maggie; then he turns his attention back to the apartment building where he imagines Belinda is waiting for him.
Belinda sits in front of her makeup table. She peers intently into the mirror. Frowns. There is a possible blemish. She daubs at it with a Kleenex. “Maggie,” she calls.
There is no answer.
“Damn it, Maggie.”
Maggie walks past the apartment building. She glances into the foyer and smiles to herself.
She walks away.
Lucien has followed her and now stops in front of a Korean deli. He checks out the flowers on display in front of the store. “I wonder if Jackie would like some tulips,” he asks the air. “Yes, tulips, much nicer than roses. I’ll bring her some.”
A diesel coughs black smoke in reply.
Copyright © 2012 by Kenneth Weene