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Inside the Rotten Apple

by Marina J. Neary

part 2 of 3

Sexier Than Thou

Leaving the hospital and returning to the real world was harder than I thought, even though I had met with the psychologist, who told me to expect anxiety attacks and flashbacks. The worst part was not being able to visualize the face of the attacker. I either had not seen him at all or simply could not remember him. That meant that anyone could be the attacker. He could be waiting for me outside my apartment building. I decided that I would not give my enemy, whether he was real or imaginary, the satisfaction of ruining my modeling career. He had no such power over me.

As soon as the swelling on the bridge of my nose came down enough for me to be able to put on a pair of shades, I took a train into Manhattan, expecting a hero’s welcome at the agency. I zipped passed the flock of wannabes who were sitting in the lounge, waiting for their turn to be seen and most likely rejected. I could tell how much time each one of them spent grooming and preparing for the initial meeting. I could tell which ones threw up that morning and which ones were having an adverse reaction to steroids.

They all conspired to hide their sufferings. Ah, the famous yellow envelopes in their hands, the auspicious twinkle in their eyes. Little did they know that most of their photos, some of which cost in the vicinity of $800, would be recycled, if not immediately after the interview then three months later. There’s just so much space in Trevor’s filing cabinets. Still, I did not think it was my place to burst their bubbles. I thought they should wait and find out on their own.

Suddenly, I heard the receptionist’s voice behind my back. “Excuse me, sir? Where do you think you’re going?”

Melinda, a failed model herself, was staring at me through the bulging filters of her Armani glasses.

“It’s me — Josh,” I said, removing my shades. “Didn’t you recognize me? I’m just swinging by to see Trevor, drop off the contract.”

“Trevor can’t see you right now,” she continued coldly. “He’s in a meeting with another candidate. He’s been there for the past hour. Please take a seat.”

I honestly thought she was joking. I mean, for Pete’s sake, this was Melinda, my most promising charity case. I’ve taken her out for drinks at the hottest clubs, escorted her on shopping rampages, introduced her to hair stylists, image consultants, makeup artists. Melinda had some potential — maybe not as a fixture in high fashion, not with her cheekbones — but definitely as a presentable staff member of a modeling agency. She was more than good enough to answer the phone and sort through the slush pile of headshots.

When she sat behind her desk so that you couldn’t see her lower body, she looked like a solid B+, all thanks to me. I was the one who convinced her to drop twenty pounds, pluck her eyebrows, bleach her teeth, cut her hair and throw in some highlights. That was my Pygmalion moment, and the end result spoke for itself.

Within a week of Melinda’s transformation, Trevor gave her a raise and ordered new business cards for her with her new look. And now she was acting she had never met me before, like all those nights we spent on the town drinking cocktails and making fun of the ugly people passing by had never happened.

I spent the next hour and a half flipping through magazines. One of the wannabes tried to strike a conversation with me, but I just put on my earphones. I didn’t want the freshman to think that we were of the same rank. While waiting for his interview, he picked the corners of his envelope to shreds. Still, it was better than biting his cuticles.

When I was finally allowed into Trevor’s office, I saw some blond Viking with steroid muscles and cheekbone implants. The header of his resume made me a little nervous: Erik Bjorn, DOB 1985, height 6’3,” weight 170 lbs. I had a good decade on him, even though I didn’t look my age. I switched to my emergency yoga mode and started chanting mantras in my mind to hide my nervousness, but it only kept escalating, especially after I spotted the model release agreement with Trevor’s signature. That piece of paper meant that Erik was one of the few candidates destined to walk away with a contract.

As soon as the Viking left the office, I plopped into the vacated chair that was still warm from his muscular Scandinavian behind. It was my chair after all.

Trevor glanced at his watch and rubbed his eyes before he deigned to greet me. “Joshua...” he muttered, fixing the stack of headshots only to deposit them into the trash bin. “What a surprise to see you.”

“Sorry, I was in the hospital. My cell wasn’t working. I couldn’t return any of your calls. I was banged up pretty badly.”

“So I heard.”

“Insane, isn’t it? I just got attacked out of the blue.”

Trevor shook his frosted head. “That was pretty irresponsible of you,” he chided me. “Walking in the middle of the night like that, all by yourself? That was a close call, Joshua. If I wanted to be a real jerk, I’d say you were asking for it.”

“But it wasn’t that late. That’s the thing. And the neighborhood wasn’t that bad. Anyway, my plastic surgeon says that my nose didn’t suffer too badly. There’s been some internal damage, some trauma to the septum. But who cares what’s on the inside, right? I’ll be as good as new in a few weeks.”

“That’s certainly comforting. What brings you here, anyway?”

“The contract?”

“What contract?”

“You know — the one for the Brooks Brothers catalogue? I had my lawyer look it over, and he gave me the green light. When do we start shooting?”

“And who exactly are ‘we’?”

“You know — me, and you, and the designer, and the photographer, and the publicist?”

“Yeah, about that... You got everything right except for the first part. Instead of you there will be someone else.”

“Who — that guy who just walked out of your office?”

“His name is Erik Bjorn. Fresh from Stockholm. Look, what were we supposed to do? The customer put pressure on us. They demanded an answer right away. And you were out of reach. How were we supposed to know you were in the hospital? We just assumed that you flaked out.”

I swiped Erik’s contract aside and leaned over the tabletop. Now that I could smell Trevor’s cologne, and he could probably smell mine, we were communicating on the level of pheromones. Still, that treacherous coward wouldn’t look me in the eye.

“Trevor, you’ve known me for three months, which in this line of work is an epic eternity. In all this time, did I flake out on you even once?”

“Look, Joshua, I don’t have the time for this.”

“You don’t have time? You just spent two hours schmoozing that piece of ham from Stockholm. And now you don’t even have five minutes to come up with a decent excuse for firing me from the project? I can’t believe it!”

Trevor got up from his chair and began shutting down the lights. “Well, you better believe it. Wake up, Joshua! That’s the nature of our business. If you can’t handle rejection, maybe you should consider a different profession. You snooze, you...”

“I’m going to sue you!” I shouted, jumping up and pointing my finger, like I did a week ago at the hospital. “This is not over!

Of course it was over. We both knew it.

To See Paris and Die of Starvation

The smell of chicken soup, latex gloves and hand sanitizer filled the halls of the hospital cafeteria that I had to pass on my way to the counselor’s office. Suddenly, I heard a familiar laughter and two female voices, both marred with slight accents — one Central European and one Haitian. My two least favorite women in the world, Rinnie and Josie, were sitting at a wobbly table, having lunch together.

There was a French dictionary between them, stained with mayonnaise. Watching those two third-world divas sharing a meal instantly gave me reflux. They were devouring pasta salad as if it were actual food. Didn’t they realize what they were putting into their bodies? Did it matter at this point?

I picked up my pace, hoping to sneak by before Rinnie could see me, but she must have sensed my presence. Maybe she had eyes on the back of her head. Or maybe Josie spotted me through the glass door. Either way, they both dropped their plastic forks and started making those jovial beckoning movements with their hands. I guess they wanted me to join them.

There was no escaping them. Reluctantly, I came inside the cafeteria, praying that the smell would not make me barf.

“It’s great to see you!” Rinnie began, blotting the mayo with a crumbled napkin. “You look great. The swelling is really going down. Guess what? I got a raise at work, so Josie’s been giving me French lessons. Bailey and I want to go to Paris next year, so I thought that at least one of us should be able to speak the language.”

“Make sure you sneak in plenty of granola bars with you. The food in France is outrageously expensive, and the portions are tiny.”

“Is that what they say?”

“Trust me, I spent a semester there. If you bring your hearty American appetite there, you’ll go broke very quickly.”

“Oh, good! Maybe I’ll lose those stubborn five pounds.” Rinnie straightened out and patted her ribcage. “What do you think, Josie?”

“Five? I say ten.” Josie delivered her verdict with a stiff face. “Fifteen would be even better. If you can’t be rich, at least you can be skinny.”

It wouldn’t surprise me if those two broads pulled up their shirts and started comparing stretch marks. I figured that my presence was no longer required and turned around to leave. Rinnie suddenly stopped her anatomical self-analysis, jumped from her wobbly chair and followed me.

Proceed to part 3...

Copyright © 2011 by Marina J. Neary

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