"MARBELLA" by Erin Horgan

©2003 by Erin Horgan vcaoriginals@yahoo.com.au

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Written in Australia. I welcome all comments. Post a review and/or e-mail me at vcaoriginals@yahoo.com.au. This chapter includes an evening on a floating restaurant.


Life was peaceful after that. To the public eye, we were a perfect family, with two parents dedicated to their daughter and family life, as well as to their careers. And I was a "delight" to all who met me; "winning over" the many people I was introduced to.
But it was all too superficial.
I learnt this when I was fourteen. We were hosting a gathering on a "floating restaurant" - a restaurant on a boat that went around on the water, and came back to the starting dock when the evening was through. We were hosting a celebration for an awards nomination my father and his working partner had received. The film was of the "art house" variety, a dark tale set in a Gothic atmosphere with a family being slowly torn apart. I had seen it, and I'd actually liked it.
My father drove us to Williamstown, where the dock was, in one of Saab's newest models, the metallic silver glittering as we passed by streetlamps. I knew the A-list - the A-list of Australia, and perhaps New Zealand, anyway - would be here, and so would a few select members of the media. I would have to smile all evening, making small talk with people I couldn't care less about. I hated this. I had been to evenings like this before, had even attended awards ceremonies, such as the Australian Film Industry Awards, and the BAFTAs in Britain and the Oscars in America. I rarely ever payed attention to what was happening. I got bored with extravagance, the time wasting and delaying, the speeches that were so horrendously long… it was enough to make any real person want to sleep for an eternity.
"Layla," my mother called softly from the front passenger seat of the car. She turned her head to the right to look over her shoulder at me, her white satin hair following.
"Yes?" I replied quietly.
She smiled gently. "Try to smile tonight, won't you, dear?"
And so to show her, my smile was minimal, lips closed, with only the very corners raised upwards.
"You'll have to do a bit more than that, but you're making a good start."
She was being encouraging. This was the way things had evolved over the past year. She didn't hassle me, but went around her requests with seemingly kind-heartedness. Mama had known me long enough to know that I would never respond to force - if force were required, I would be silent, and I would take the force. Gentle requests, with perhaps a "please" thrown in for good measure, and I would respond, usually positively. It was an unspoken arrangement between us… and it meant that I had some sort of power, a foreign concept in regards to myself.
Mama turned her head back to face the front, and I saw a cringe come on as she did so. She tried to hide it from me, but I knew it, I could see it glinting at me like a gold dollar coin on the ground. I picked up on it. I knew what her problem was. She didn't like my scars… my obvious, in-your-face scars.
Dr Rajah hadn't been lying when he'd said there'd be scarring. This was permanent scarring from which I couldn't escape, and my mother certainly could not. My scars were like part of a stamp collection, each with its own separate colour. I had looked at myself in the mirror regularly since that fateful day, and I had seen my scars as the bandages were removed. I had white scars, pink scars and red scars in various positions on my skull, with a good section of them on my forehead, and there were a few tiny white ones of my cheeks where splinters of glass had attacked.
They were the first things people noticed about me when they saw me. I could see people's eyes instantly flock to the reddish scars on my forehead, feasting on them like the Last Supper. They wouldn't say anything, though. In fact, they steadily avoided talking about me at all. People tended to avoid me at all costs. They knew what I was… or at least they knew what they'd read and been told. My parents had informed people that my scars were the result of an "unfortunate accident," though that "unfortunate accident" was not described at all. But I had heard the whispers, I had read the newspapers, I had seen enough television to know what the public thought - I had attempted suicide. Child abuse never once was mentioned. How could it be mentioned, as I had parents of such angelic virtues?
I exited the car with them. I had looked at myself for a long time in the full-length mirror - which had replaced the old one - on my mother's bedroom door. I had seen my non-descript features and noticeable scars. My mother had tried to smother them with foundation and concealer, but I wouldn't let her touch my face. I wouldn't let anyone touch my face… not that anyone had really tried, of course.
Mama had called for her stylist to make a home call, and tend to myself as well as to she. And so Marina Koslevska had gone to work on my hair, saturating it with endless washes of moisturising, fortifying shampoos, conditioners and treatments. We were in my mother's private bathroom, and all the while she sat on the edge of the spa-bath while my hair was washed in the sink.
"How about some mahogany highlights?" Marina had turned to ask her, holding some wet locks of my hair in her hand.
Mama tilted her head to one side, a thoughtful expression on her face as she examined me with magnifying eyes. "That would go well with her skin tone…"
"No," I spoke up. "Just leave me be."
Although I was still quite passive, I wanted my faults to be on display, to remind me, to remind my mother, of what had happened one year ago. Even if my hair were nothing special, it would remain nothing special.
Of course, Marina was the one to make the decision, considering she had my hair in her hands, and the showerhead nozzle wasn't far away. She could easily drown me in the sink if she really wanted to… or my mother could…
I didn't get my way in this matter. And I didn't try too hard, for fear of drowning. Instead, I was a mere passenger as Marina applied the cream that contained the chemicals that would give my hair a "lift," as she called it. "And make sure she uses that treatment on the bench there every day - it'll help stop split ends, and over time it will give her hair a glossy shine," she said to my mother. I might as well have been a robot that they could programme to obey. This was playing pretend for adults.
I had a feeling my mother would accompany me to every hair washing I had while she was still in our state of Victoria.
After the cream had spent its time in my hair and was washed out, they decided that my hair would need a cut. At this stage, my mind was turned off, and I let everything happen without a single sound of disagreement.
"Not a full cut," my mother spoke. "I'm thinking just a trim to get rid of those split ends, and then let the hair grow… midway down her back?"
"Mm," Marina agreed. "Good for outdoors in a gentle breeze, dancing in the wind… very arty."
My mother had pre-selected my outfit for the evening. She had been keeping a close tab on my eating and exercise habits, noticed if my clothes hung off me or needed more room. Therefore, when she handed me my garment to wear, it fit perfectly - too perfectly - as did the shoes.
The dress wasn't too extravagant - and it was very easy to look too extravagant when one was fourteen. The dress was midnight blue satin, and hung straight from my hips to my ankles. It was tight around the front (which was what my mother wanted - though my breasts were small, she wanted them to be somewhat outlined… but the garment was so that it didn't make me look like a teenage whore), and was halter style - there was a bangle around the neck that held the dress on, and the bangle could come unclasped for easy removal. The footwear was like the ruby-red shoes in The Wizard of Oz, though mine matched the colour of my outfit.
Once blown-dry to Mama's idea of perfection, Marina twisted my hair up in a fashion so elegant that I would not be able to try it myself later - the twist I could figure out, but how to clasp it in place was beyond my knowledge. The two of them debated over makeup, something that I'd always resented. Makeup was for the superficial; those who wanted to appear not as they truly were. I held most of the world's females in disregard, for even a hint of mascara or lip colour was enough to have me disrespectful of them. Maybe I was just difficult to impress. But at least no one could ever accuse me of being cheap, though some may have viewed me as uptight.
Blue eye shadow to match my clothing would not match my eye colour, but green eye shadow wouldn't match my clothing. They insisted on applying layers of foundation and concealer, but I tried to leave the room, and shrieked hysterically when either of them attempted to touch my face. They knew then that I was serious. I thought that they both believed me to be a madwoman, someone to be wary of. It was a well-known stereotype that people with scars weren't quite on the level. Even if the people were perfectly kind, and the scars had come from some dreadful accident out of their control, there were still people who were nervous around them. And as a Scarred One, I could frighten people with a scowl, or just unsettle them with a blank expression. Even a smile from me would make them wonder what I was hiding, what evilness was I planning. Though I didn't quite know whether this was because of my scars, or just my dourness at times. I could be most lively when I wanted to be, however.
I followed my parents with my chin held up, with a slight smile upon my face. My satin-covered pocketbook, whose braided long cotton handle I had hooked around my head so that the pocketbook brushed against my right hip, was close against me. I had everything in place, and I smiled more widely when people came by to greet us as we walked towards the docked boat that contained the floating restaurant, and I softly greeted people once spoken to, or when my parents introduced me.
We were a tight-knit group of three once the boat had set sail, and we were in a large dining area. As I ate risotto, I looked around, while keeping a close ear on conversation, just in case I was mentioned, or if my parents - for some wild reason - wanted to include me. The three of us were on the long table down the centre of the room, the oak table seating at least twenty. Sitting directly opposite us were my father's work partner and his wife and son. Joachim Pettersson was in his late thirties, and he had married young. Both he and his wife Eva were Swedish. Joachim had been a film student in California, and Eva had been an au pair there when they had met. My father had been Joachim's teacher, and they continued on to become work partners. Eva stayed in Stockholm mostly, and their son was born and raised there. Like me, Anders Pettersson lived his life comfortably in his native country.
I knew Anders particularly well. We had attended many functions that our parents had taken us to, and usually we were the only people there our age. I felt comfortable in his presence, and we always found something to laugh about, whatever the conversation. However, we'd have been in serious trouble with our parents if they were ever to hear what we talked about. We were judgmental of everyone around us, and we commented when we had privacy.
I hadn't seen Anders in over a year. My parents had kept me out of the public spotlight mostly since "my scarring," as I referred to the event. He was about two years older than myself, and he was growing a lot faster than I was. But I was still fourteen, so my time would be coming soon. He'd always been big on sports, mainly soccer and ice hockey, and it was evident. As the years went on, the competition in sport grew tougher, and he'd clearly added more to his training programme since I'd last seen him. He had the healthy glow of someone who enjoyed the sun, though that golden colour could've been due to good genes. His white-blond hair was cut short, the colour reverent of my mother's, thanks to her Scandinavian background. Anders resembled his father more than his mother, for Eva was actually a Swedish brunette, and not stereotypically white-blond like her husband and son were. Eva was also extremely short, but in a pretty, dainty way that people described as petite, and the men in her life towered over her. Anders was also myopic like his father, and both wore glasses whose frames resembled miniature speedways, with black, thin-rimmed rounded edges. And he still had a ready smile that he shot my way across the table.
I fleetingly wondered if it was possible that he had not noticed my scars. Surely they were like neon under the gentle amber lighting, glaringly garish and hideous… just the way I liked them. With most people, I noticed as their eyes flicked upwards to my forehead, and then flicked away rapidly. I looked most people in the eye, which was how I could tell. My mother almost always looked people in the eye, so I did, too. Yet, at this dining table, I never noticed Anders' eyes flick to view the "modern art" upon my forehead. However, I was paying attention to my meal, while keeping my ears in action.
After dinner, dessert and the numerous speeches, my family and I split. Anders and I sat outside on a small bench, watching the water of the Port Phillip Bay, and catching up on what we'd been up to in the past year. He never once asked me about my scars, and I never mentioned them. Instead, I told about moving from a public school to a private school. I mentioned participating in a small, local drama production of Les Miserables, something that my parents had been rather proud of. He told me that he was thinking of joining a cross-country skiing group soon, and could drop ice hockey instead.
I enjoyed listening to him speak. I had a particular interest in foreign accents for they hinted escape, escape from where I felt trapped. They held promises of other places out in the world, where freedom could be found alongside kindness and goodwill. They held undertones of serenity and peace. At least, that was the impression I got from the Swedish accent that all three of the Petterssons had. The Australian accent that I and my fellow country folk had symbolised fun and friendship and general liveliness, but not something to be taken seriously. Perhaps the world's people viewed us as one big joke, something to criticise behind turned backs. If you wanted a good time, you could always have us, but what else were we good for?
Our discussion was answered by a heavy splashing sound, coming from the other side of the boat. Anders and I both instinctively stood, and we soon heard the clacking of heels along the decking. We followed the direction of the sounds, and soon heard a scream. We arrived at the scene to see other people crowding my mother, who must've been the one to let out the sound of fear. She burst into hysterical tears, and murmured words that had me quivering in my shoes.
"Grant… I thought I saw him out here, and… then he…" She almost choked on her tears, or were they her words? "He jumped!"
I was emotionless. This was my way of coping with the bad things in life. Don't let anyone know you're suffering… Mama's advice from a supposedly forgotten time came back to flood my ears in waves. I let myself be swept away by those waves, let them carry me to where I was no longer a bystander, but drifting to nowhere in particular.
"Launch the anchor!"
"Call the water police!"
"Get her a blanket!"
I could hear the voices, yet I didn't move to make a sound. How could I? There wasn't anything I could do, really. Other people could take care of the requests random voices had called out. I could slip away into the night's darkness, and there'd be none the wiser. I didn't really have a reason for being here this evening, other than appearing dutiful to my parents.
I felt the boat stop suddenly, and I gripped onto the boat's guardrail. The anchor must've been thrown. I saw men wearing bright yellow lifejackets over their eveningwear climb over the guardrail and launch themselves into the unclear water below. A woman with a torch shone the light onto the water, following along the guardrail onboard, trying to spot a body. The men in the bay swam in the direction we'd come from. In the distance, I could see a speedboat coming nearby, and as it came past, I saw that it was a police boat, with people shining torchlight over the water, a lifesaver ring and rope in hand. One of them, lifejacket securely on, fell deliberately backwards into the water to go on a search. They were all a bit of a distance away now, but I could see splashing going on. Soon, almost incredibly, I saw three life-jacketed figures lift a thoroughly saturated tuxedo-wearing form onto the police boat. From there, the boat sped back in the direction of the dock.
"Layla!" I heard my mother tearfully cry.
I immediately went to her open arms, and we held each other as she muffled sobs in my shoulder. She trembled all the while, and soon I felt a blanket being wrapped around us. A long time later, she parted the hug, and she led the way inside again. I silently thanked people for having the tact not to bother us. The boat had been moving again for a while now, and I knew we were going straight to the dock. This evening was certainly over.
As we sat in our quiet corner, her tears having lessened now, Mama cleaned her face with tissues and murmured to me, "Why aren't you crying?"
I didn't know what to say. "What… what d… what do you mean?" I asked fearfully, hesitating. I knew that I had done something wrong in her eyes.
"This is your father, Layla… why aren't you crying for him?"
"He's not dead," I said softly.
She glared at me, straight in the eyes. "What makes you think that? He jumped overboard, Layla. No one pushed him." She sighed huffily. "If he's not dead, he at least tried to kill himself. Doesn't that bother you at all, or are you the same emotionless bitch you've always been?"
My first move was to look around frantically, to see if there was even the possibility of anyone hearing that sentence. There was a dull murmur all around the room, glamorously dressed people in clusters, clearly discussing what had happened to my father.
"You probably drove him to this, you know?" she added. "You know you're to blame for your own scars, but you don't hide them. You want to rub them in my face, want to bring this family down. We're well-respected people, Layla, but you keep trying to destroy us. I thought we'd made progress over the last year, but you were clearly setting things up for a big finale. Well, is this it? Is this what you wanted, driving Grant Westfeld, famed film producer, to his fate? You like having people kill themselves, Layla? You like seeing horror and destruction and death all around you? Is this what you wanted?" she repeated, her words grating me into slivers.
"We're docked!" I heard a voice call from outside. Movement followed, everyone making their way to the nearest exit to leave this prison. I stood up to follow them, and I felt Mama's hand grab a handful of my dress.
"Watch your back, Layla," I hear her say in a low, husky voice, with a vicious undertone screaming decibels into my ears.