By Dolores Fuentes
DENISE BELLE, 32, stares up at the ceiling in lacey, black night gown, hair disheveled, black eye makeup smeared from crying. Her blue eyes are transfixed at something above her, as if studying something above her although the ceiling shows nothing there. Her pupils dilate to an unnatural width.
She is lying on a wooden bench, head dressed in a dirty, once white bonnet, untied and a mess amongst her raven black hair. She sits up on the bench and looks around the hay-covered cell, filled with only a bucket of dirty liquid in the corner. As Denise cleans off the brown sheet with holes she is dressed in, a door bursts open letting in a group of men lead by a man with no face, a face always in shadow. He introduces himself as REVEREND ADAMS and tells Denise he’s to take her to her execution.
Denise jerks up from the motel bed in a trance, an absent look on her face as she starts to make her way across the hotel room to her suitcase.
Walking out of the jail cell, Denise looks around to see men, women, and children surrounding her exit all dressed the same way she is, colonial style. At first they stare with amazement at her. Then they start chanting and yelling random insults to her calling her a devil, demon, devil’s whore, WITCH while throwing rotten food and garbage in her face. She is escorted on both sides by two rough looking men through the crowd toward the blurred vision of a hanging block amongst a dreary, cloudy dusk.
Denise walks toward the bathroom in the seventies styled motel room, towards the pea green linoleum walls that can be seen through the door. She walks in and turns on the light, which flickers but then illuminates the tiny compact room. She turns to look down at the bath, which makes up the entire right wall.
Walking up on top a makeshift chair on the wooden platform, Denise is also is walking up on top of the green bath, holding onto the side walls to steady herself. A tie, which is blue with green stripes, is in her hand and she starts to tie a noose around the shower curtain rod above her. Her face stares blankly at the wall across from her, showing no emotion or life within her expression or her eyes.
A man covered in a black executioners mask finishes making a noose above Denise’s head as she stares blankly at the wooden floor below her. He loosens the noose, puts it around her neck.
Denise ties the blue and green tie hanging from the steel shower curtain rod around her neck.
The crowd below still continues to taunt her with insults. Face still hidden in shadow, Reverend Adams announces to the crowd that this witch will finally pay for the crimes she has committed to the community, for the death she has brought upon her family, and for the way her mind controls the fate of others at the cost of her own demise. As the crowd erupts with approval at his words, he ends with a sudden kick at the chair…
Denise’s feet slip from the bath, night gown waving, her red-painted toenails clenching and her feet swinging in the air…
Her pupil dialates then condenses as Denise's daydreaming is interrupted and she is startled by a sharp, schreeching voice telling her to stop being lazy and get out of her chair. Dressed in a plain beige work suit, with mousy brown hair pulled back and glasses on, she looks up at the towering image of a blonde, hazel eyed beauty with a scowl on her face. MS. HELLEN yanks her off the desk chair and tells her to shape up her attitude or she's going to be without a job soon. After whispering yes ma’am to Ms. Hellen, Denise immediately picks up a notebook and pen and starts following Ms. Hellen out into the hallway. An entourage of girls surround her jotting down notes and observing her admiringly as Ms. Hellen rambles on and on about suggestions for the next issue of Dream Magazine. As Denise follows her, she is buried in her note taking.
Suddenly Ms. Hellen stops, grabs Denise by the chin and looks sternly into her eyes. “THIS is who we are attracting girls, the pathetic excuse for a business woman. The woman who has no sense of self, the ANTI-WOMAN who desperately needs a life transformation.” Denise’s eyes swells with tears as Ms. Hellen pushes her chin away and continues on down the hallway decorated with covers of Dream Magazine. She stands there rigid and unmoving, watching Ms. Hellen walk away amongst her entourage, face twisted in rage.
Denise sits in an overstuffed beige sofa, buried deep in a self-help book. The book reads: HOW TO BE MORE ASSERTIVE IN THE WORK PLACE. She is dressed in red flannel pajamas and chewing on a pen, taking notes in the margins every once in a while. A small TV on top of a brown coffee table sits in front of her showing scenes from the movie LOVER COME BACK, Doris Day‘s voice booming loudly in the neatly decorated apartment. As she brings up the book in front of her face, a black skirt steps in front of her. Her sister EVE BELLE, 28, takes the book away from Denise’s hands.
Startled, Denise hits Eve with the back of her hand as she sits down on the couch next to her. Eve pushes her brown and blonde highlighted hair back over her shoulders, and stares disapprovingly at her as she examines the book. She reads the title aloud and asks what Denise needs such a ridiculous book for. Before Denise can even answer, Eve gets up again and wanders around the apartment. Dressed in high fashion black skirt and sweater with heels, Eve starts rambling on about her date, describing the evening while oblivious to Denise’s silent crying. She is a better version of Denise, younger looking with a sharp bone structure and no visible flaws. Finally after looking in a mirror to check her hair, Eve notices how upset Denise is in the reflection. She sits close to Denise, hugging her and comforting her asking her what is the matter. Denise opens up and tells her that her boss treats her like shit and tells her what happened that day at work. Grabbing her face with both hands, Eve says to Denise, “One of these days Denny, she’ll get what’s coming to her. What goes around comes around. You’ll see.” The sisters embrace and Denise smiles with her eyes closed.
Denise rushes down the Dream Magazine-covered hallway and barges into a meeting being held by Ms. Hellen. She is presenting to a group of men in business suits and tells them that Denise is there with copies of the agenda. Denise hands papers to Ms. Hellen, flushed and out of breath. Ms. Hellen gives her a glare as she starts handing out the agendas. As she continues her presentation, Denise settles down into a chair by the doorway of the conference room. As she watches Ms. Hellen’s every move, studying her graceful movements in explaining what is showing on the board, Denise’s eyes dilate suddenly.
Ms. Hellen is suddenly standing in her underwear in front of all the executive board of Dream Magazine. When she looks down at herself, she starts to scream and rushes toward Denise with both hands going toward her neck. Denise stands up lets in a group of doctors with a straight jacket into the conference room and tells them to take the crazy lady away, she will be taking over this company from now on. All the men at the table applaud Denise as she bows, and Ms. Hellen is carried away in the straight jacket, yelling and screaming at the top of her lungs.
“Denise… Denise… DENISE!” Ms. Hellen and all the executive board is staring at her. Ms. Hellen tells her to get her a cup of coffee from the lounge, asks if anyone else would like some, and after the whole room agrees at the idea, tells Denise to make a whole pot and bring it in with some cups. Muttering under her breath, Denise leaves the conference room. Ms. Hellen then goes on to describe the new cover of Dream Magazine, explaining its sexiness and vitality. As she does so, she starts to open her blouse button by button. The executives start to mummer and whisper amongst each other at her display. Emphasizing her words on how human and NAKED the cover shot is while motioning to the screen behind her, Ms. Hellen whips off her blouse. She asks everyone what all the commotion is about, why they were all staring at her. Then she looks down at herself.
Denise is startled, dropping the pot of coffee and cups onto the carpet outside the conference room door, as Ms. Hellen flies past her in a sprint, screaming and holding her blouse up to her naked body. Denise stares wide eyed and open mouthed down the hallway after Ms. Hellen, coffee all over her once beige skirt. Her mouth slowly turns into a crazed grin.
Flash forward to Denise’s apartment. The place is transformed into a posh, trendy apartment decorated with red walls and black furniture. In walks the new Denise Belle, dressed in an all black business suit with bright red shirt underneath. She has grown out her hair, dyed it very black, and her face is fresh and made up. She no longer wears the thick glasses that made her eyes look too small. She walks over to the kitchen and gets out a bottle of Kristal and two long stemmed champagne classes. As she turns around, Eve walks by to get to the refrigerator in Denise’s old flannel pajamas. She is still beautiful despite the way she is dressed, and Denise notices this by looking her up and down as she poars the champagne. She gives her a ugly look.
Eve asks her what crawled up her ass and died. Brushing it off, Denise goes into a story about how she met the most perfect man Thomas Adams, the editor of Masculine Magazine, at a company party last week. She tells Eve to either get out of those hideous rags or out of the apartment because he is coming over for a very special evening. After reminding Denise that the pajamas she was wearing were once hers, Eve decides to go out instead of having to put up with relationship mush. After Eve leaves to her room, the doorbell rings a Moonlight Sonata tune, and Denise’s very made up face lights up. She rushes to black door and lets in the handsome, dark featured THOMAS ADAMS, 35. He is wearing a crisp black business suit with a blue and green striped tie. He kisses her on the cheek and hands her a dozen red roses. She gushes and follows after him into the apartment.
“Now about that proposition you made earlier at the party, Julia…” Thomas wanders around looking at photographs of Italy and Spain on the walls. Denise corrects him and tells him her name is Denise, asks him if he’d like a glass of champagne. He nods and yawns at the same time, looking disinterested as he seats himself across from her at the bar in the kitchen.
Thomas continues on about what a wonderful idea it was to combine Masculine Magazine and Dream Magazine for a winter issue. As he is doing so, Denise’s eyes again wonder off into a daydream.
Denise is staring into the eyes of Thomas with a lit bonfire in the background. They are on the beach with stars overlooking the sea below them, kissing and expressing their undying love for each other. Finally Thomas jumps up and screams that he can’t take it anymore, he can’t let Denise get away. He pulls out a tiny box from his opened white collared shirt pocket, blue and green tie still in tact, and proposes.
Denise is interrupted by Eve as she storms into the kitchen to ask Denise if she can borrow her black skirt. Thomas stands up quickly, admiring Eve in her red peasant top and red flannel pajama bottoms. A part of the top is down, showing the black bra she is wearing underneath. Eve blushes and quietly says excuse me, while looking shyly yet flirtingly at Thomas. Denise is livid at Eve for interrupting her daydream, yells at Eve for interrupting them, then trying to calm herself, introduces her to Thomas. For a moment they lock eyes and smile at each other but Denise doesn’t catch it because she is too busy trying to push Eve out of the kitchen, telling her that next time she spends the night to be more courteous of her visitors. Thomas smiles to himself and then his face becomes clear as if getting an idea. He then asks a flustered Denise out to dinner so they can talk more privately. Overexcited, Denise accepts.
Four months later, Denise is at the large desk Ms. Hellen used to sit at in the modern, window-walled office. GANINE, 22, a tired, overworked and plain looking girl, rushes in and asks her if she needs anything. Denise asks if Thomas answered the call she asked her to make, and with a no ma’am, the girl hurries out the door. Denise has a troubled look on her face. Hair up and messy, she continues working on papers in front of her. She looks at the clock on her desk. It reads 12:25 am. She then presses a button on her phone and tells Ganine she can go home now, she’s calling it an early night. I can’t take the pressure anymore, Denise thinks to herself. She then looks down at the diamond on her left hand and smiles. At least she’s got Tom, she thinks.
She starts to pack up her suitcase when she stops and starts to dial a number on her phone. Standing up and telling herself aloud she forgot to call Eve, she hears Ganine open the door and tell her that her sister called and said she is going to stay in tonight and watch movies. Just as Ganine says that, Eve’s answering machine answers, but Denise doesn’t leave a message. Why doesn’t she answer the phone, Denise wonders to herself.
Denise screams for Ganine to get her driver, Eve might be in trouble. Ganine just stands in the doorway and stares at Denise in amazement. She starts to ask if everything’s alright but is interrupted by Denise’s saying, “Do it or you’ll never see yourself working for this company again.”
As Denise looks out the window of her limo, Thomas’s face is shown above an image of a female’s back. He runs his fingers down all the way to a leg, bringing it up and kissing it on the knee. Denise is overcome with emotion, sitting in the black limo with a content smile on her face. She sighs and rests her head on the seat as she watches the city go by.
Denise walks up the narrow stairwell to her sister’s apartment door. The door is slightly open, revealing a faint orange light into the hallway. As she opens the door slowly, she hears laughter inside. Smiling, Denise walks into the living room of the small apartment. The living room is littered of movie rentals and pizza boxes, with a scene of PILLOW TALK playing on the flat screen TV mounted on the wall. Doris Day has just found out Rock Hudson wasn’t who he used to be and that he tricked her into getting her to fall in love with him at their get away cabin.
Denise lays her black dress coat onto the loveseat by the door, picks up a leftover slice of pizza, and tip toes to the door of Eve’s bedroom. The light is coming from her room, which is barely open. Eve’s laughter gets louder and she yells, “STOP! STOP!”
Denise barges in scared and finds Thomas on top of Eve on her bed. Denise drops the pizza in her hand to the floor. Eve and Thomas scramble to get dressed under the covers as Eve tries to explain what happened. She tells Denise it was spontaneous, it just happened. They had too much to drink and one thing led to another. Finally she is interrupted by Thomas yelling, “THAT’S NOT TRUE! We were always in love Denise since the day we met. You were too busy for me. You thought you could rule our relationship as WELL as the magazine. But we fell in LOVE, Denny. I could never give you the same affection, even if you MADE ME!” Thomas stands in front of Denise defiantly in his boxers, as Eve struggles to get her pajamas on.
Denise looks up from the floor and her face changes into rage. “YOU MESSED WITH THE WRONG PERSON ASSHOLE! And you…” She grabs Eve by the chin, telling her she is a tramp and she’ll get what she deserves, she’s got it coming to her.
Denise runs down the stairs and tells the driver to leave. She starts walking and crying hysterically down the street. Its raining on her, her makeup is running, but she is doesn’t care. She stops in her tracks suddenly and looks up at the light to her sister’s apartment. The window is open.
Denise imagines her sister’s legs sticking out of the window. She looks away hurriedly, shaking the image from her mind. As she walks further down the sidewalk, a huge plop is heard, along with muffled breaking. Terrified, she stands still as a scream echoes above her. Its Thomas’s scream. She turns around and her pupils come into focus, showing in their reflection the image of a red flannelled body.
Denise lies on the motel bed staring at an unknown object on the ceiling. Flashbacks of her old life are going through her mind, Ms. Hellen yelling, first meeting Thomas, Eve hugging her on her living room couch telling her its going to be alright.
“No its not, Eve. No its not.”
Denise’s feet flail about the bathroom trying to push herself up on top of the bath below. Her feet keep slipping.
REVEREND THOMAS ADAMS’ face, in the shadows, comes into focus in front of her asking her if she did it, if she made Eve jump. Tears fall from his eyes as he grasps her purple face while she chokes. Denise barely utters the words I loved her to Reverend Adams. His face looks at amazement into her eyes. Suddenly he pulls out a long knife and cuts the noose above her.
Denise falls to the green tiled floor of the motel bathroom, choking and the blue and green striped neck tie still on her neck. The other half of the tie is still tied to the rod above her, torn. She mutters over and over to herself I loved her as she continues to cough and cry. Hugging herself, she wanders over to her hotel room bed and lies down. As she turns over on her side, Eve lies right next to her dressed in her red flannel pajamas. She caresses Denise’s cheek and says, “Yes it will.” Denise blinks and the figure is replaced by herself, her old plain self. Make it go away, her old self says. Turning on her back, Denise’s eyes dilate, expand wide, and finally close. She falls asleep, tie still around her neck.
© Dolores Fuentes