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Why it was then that she finally found him was not a question as they sat side by side, so close to heaven, in the clouds on a fully booked flight to South Africa. Or why he would be an incomparably handsome Israeli by the name of Ayal, and why he would tell her this name meant “stag”, or why she could not bring her eyes away from his for what seemed like and truly was many hours, long hours that stretched as they went backward in time across the Tropic of Capricorn.
She felt relief, curiosity, and after all this time the first dose of fear.
There was a town by the water, a cold place without much in the way of art or culture, a place where people never came to but often went from, its only defining characteristic the preponderance of physically attractive women with silky light blonde hair. As expected many were distantly related and since the population tended not to mix with newcomers, the gene pool was small. So these beauties with flowing pale sunshine on their shoulders crossed the streets and worked in the shops and raised their children and eventually grew the prettiest shade of silver grey with or without their happy husbands. Just like anywhere else there were the secrets and the lies and the in-betweens, just like everywhere else there was the occasional violent crime to scare and remind them to take care, watch out. They had to be especially protective of the little elfin blonde children, so fragile-seeming and angelic, such sweet, innocent souls to be guarded.
She was the anomaly, not because she was dark haired, not everyone was blonde, just a much larger percentage than usual, but because she was a strikingly beautiful girl along with the shining blackness of her long thick hair. The words that came to mind, like poetry: onyx, ebony, night was her hair and her skin the most pale porcelain against it, and eyes such a light blue they appeared at times colorless. These eyes with their pinprick pupils alluded to an inner coldness, fed by the ice of her surroundings, the perpetual winter of this northern town. From her childhood she stood apart from her classmates, from her siblings even, and her mother being a Godfearing woman was often disturbed by this surprise of her parentage.
But the boys loved her, oh the boys, and the men and the male teachers and the shopkeepers with their candy for this little girl, what’s her name, what pretty hair and those eyes. A heartbreaker! that word all the time and her mother had the disconcerting feeling of wanting to pull her close and push her away at the same time. And there was something about this daughter of hers, something hard to control, too many questions and an expression of–my Lord, is that doubt?–when the Bible was read each day, and to her mother’s embarrassment a lack of attention at church on Sunday! Already the girl was exchanging glances with the men in church, this girl named, in surprise when the infant was born with a full head of dark hair, Simone. Simone’s mother bade her warning; she told her what was in store.
Simone did not have to find a way out of her hometown, because the way out found her. She wondered at first if this man who approached her in the shopping mall was the one her mother told her about, and listened with attentiveness as he introduced himself as a model scout and placed his business card earnestly in her palm, then repeated it all again, very insistent. When he asked her age she told him she turned 18 in three weeks and he smiled and nodded his head.
Was her mother sad to see her go, did she try to stop her, it was a fog as she packed her things and said goodbye to this family that had clothed and fed her body and attempted to nourish her soul. Yes, she remembered her Bible. Yes, she was wearing her cross. Yes, she would write, and she did from the first day in the city of New York. No one looks at me here, she scrawled on hotel stationery, They dress very strange and speak in many languages. Tomorrow the agency photographer will take pictures of me in the park. They like my name but they want to change it so I only have one, no last name.
New York City struck her as a likely place to run across the one she sought, and she spent her first year there expecting it to be easy. But he eluded her even as she quickly made a name for herself in the decadence of high fashion and hedonistic art, her perfect face and body in the highest of demand and her willingness to push the boundary becoming something of a legend. Yet as the others fell around her, victims of self-destruction and bad luck, she continued to shine and glow. From this city she began to travel to others and always she found the deepest darkest spots, in her line of work not too hard, so often they handed her the key upon arrival, expecting this remarkable goddess to finally succumb to the filth that she surrounded herself with: yet no rock star romance dismantled her, no eating disorder or drug addiction could touch her. And still she was somehow aloof.
I am in Los Angeles, which in Spanish means Lost Angels, she wrote to her mother. I saw my picture on a billboard today. Yesterday there was an earthquake.
Her mother responded: Remember what Peter tells us in Chapter 5, Verse 8: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.”
Simone saved all her mothers letters, and nothing else. Not even the expensive jewelry her lovers bestowed upon her, or the couture clothes the designers begged her to wear, or even a single matchbook from a million establishments where she danced and drank and indulged all manner of substances, always with her eyes wandering the room for clues. They called her mysterious, they called her wild, they said she was sleepwalking through life. Through a charmed life, made charming by a perfect bone structure and the build of a goddess.
Sometimes she thought she had found the one, but it didn’t pan out. The brilliant painter with a penchant for blood, the nefarious politician with the obscene tattoos under his conservative suits, the drug dealer and con artist and soldier. At first it was paydirt, then as time progressed the cracks began to show and she moved on, sometimes they cared but usually they didn’t. Her friends questioned her taste in men, didn’t she play the bad boy game a little hard, did she see the danger for what it was, didn’t she want love?
I don’t know if I want love, she explained on paper to her mother, from a penthouse in Paris. I wonder what would have happened if I never left home. I wonder if anyone still remembers me there. Besides you of course.
The closest she had come was in the place she most expected to have success: Las Vegas. The word in her industry was that this was the hole of candy-coated failure, extravagance, and regret. And when she arrived it was almost immediately that the man she was warned repeatedly about requested her presence. A shiver went through her as she put on her blackest dress and reddest lipstick, shoes that would bring a fetishist to his knees, eyes darkly lined in kohl like the Egyptians of her mother’s Bible. She wrapped herself in a fur coat and cuddled the dead creature against her face as she rode in the back of the limousine he had sent for her.
The car left the pulsing lights of the city and traveled deep into the desert. Her breathing was heavy and she tried to keep her voice from quavering when the driver asked her name. So that’s you? You are that model? Simone?
She lit a cigarette to steady her nerves. She knew perfectly well this might be the last one of her life. She knew this going into it.
A real heartbreaker, the driver mused. Her own heart leapt in her chest. This was it! It had to be!
And better still the driver pulled off onto a dirt road and stopped in the seeming middle of nowhere. She kept herself from asking where she was, because what did it matter. The driver got out and opened her door, she began to slide towards the exit but instead he was coming inside. Cold desert air, chunky with dust, blew into the car before he got it slammed shut. He sat across from her and lit his own cigarette, out of a silver case. There were initials carved on the top of the case and she recognized them, and therefore him, at once. His disguise had been a good one and she complimented him on that.
He grasped one of her feet and set the expensive shoe on his lap, stroking the exposed skin. He offered her an extremely large sum of money to sleep with him. This was not unexpected, it was in fact what he was very well known to do with famous actresses, models, heiresses, anyone worth a high price, that was his modus operandi and only the very desperate sought him out as she had. But Simone wasn’t desperate. Not in that way anyway. Simone was actually quite patient, and would have to continue to be so because it became almost instantly apparent that this sad billionaire was not the one she had been seeking. His demeanor of thinly veiled eagerness tipped her off.
She gave herself to him anyway, wondering if such a transaction might bring her closer to her goal, watching shadows at play in the back of the limousine, catching glimpses of beasts among the shapes and forms.
I met W______ R_______ last night, she wrote to her mother. He was an interesting man. I’m sending you some gifts I picked up, I hope you like them.
Her mother may have been pretty once, but not enough to mean much in a town like theirs, you had to be stunning to stand out there, to mean something. From a young age she had been drawn to religion, to the perfect answers of the church, the lack of doubt and questions that came along with it. Her very first Bible was a small pink covered book given to her when she was five years old and it was the first thing she learned to read. She showed it to her daughter Simone once, this book her treasure and her light and her anchor, but Simone looked at it like it was just another inanimate object; stranger still this child looked at almost everything that way: dolls, jewelry, even little baby animals that no other girl could resist cuddling.
Simone’s mother lived for her Tuesday and Friday night Bible study groups. She brought her children with her on occasion and it was at one of these serious spiritual gatherings that the twelve year old Simone was shown the way. They were reading James and all became focused on Chapter 4, Verse 7: Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. As the others attempted to find deep meaning in these words and the ones surrounding them, raven haired Simone went deep inside herself and began to think very clearly. And the conclusion that she drew was this: But what if you did not resist? What if you did not cause the devil to flee and instead…embraced him?
This not being the first time that Simone had considered the devil; growing up with a righteous mother like her own she had been told of the devil for as long as she could recall. God was the star of the show but the devil was always there, in the details as they say. Simone’s ears perked up when Lucifer made his appearances at Bible study discussions, the group usually getting more animated and louder than usual. She drew from this that Satan was the most powerful, the most exciting, the enchantment that the goodness of God did not promise to her. She sought out books in the public library that dealt with this character outside of the Bible. From what she gathered, witches were known to fornicate with the devil. He came in many different forms. He was once an angel, cast out when he went against the rules of heaven. Now his wings were black but he was still an angel, now of death. Simone found herself thinking of this entity as she matured, as her friends lusted after the latest teen heartthrobs she had another in mind. And she knew that one day she would find a way to be with him.
And when the model scout approached her in the mall years later, promising a door that would open into the big wide world, Simone began to suspect that the devil may have had a hand in it.
She had gone to jobs in Africa before, she had flown first class before, she had even sat beside impressive and attractive men on flights like this, before. Sometimes they interested her but usually they did not. But it seemed that from the moment the plane took off that she could feel the energy coming from the dark man beside her. And he simply stared at her, made no pretense of being casual. She was used to being stared at but certainly not in first class. It occurred to her that he might be insane. But those things never deterred her before, what was this apprehension she was experiencing? This tremor in her chest, her hair standing on end. Never before…but then she knew.
It’s you, she said at once, finally turning to meet his gaze.
And it’s you, he laughed. For a moment she felt she had made a mistake, felt her face crumble a bit. My name is Ayal and I am originally from Israel, he said, smiling.
I’m Simone, I’m from nowhere. Still unsure, she made conversation: What takes you to Africa?
I do a lot of business there. And you?
The same. I’m a model. It’s very…vogue…there right now. I’m told.
So it is. Very.
The flight attendant refilled their champagne glasses. She offered them amenities to make the flight as comfortable as possible, then politely moved on to the next row of passengers. Simone looked out the window as the plane rose higher and higher above the beautiful endless clouds. How close are we to heaven? she said.
The farthest you can get, he replied.
She brought her pale eyes level with his black ones. I never broke a single heart, she said.
I know, he said, and when he touched her arm it was as if she were freezing and melting at the same time. And you never will.