She's Not There
By: Dawn DeBraal
Ted Marks saw Mandy for the first time from a distance. There was something in her walk, attitude. White boots clacking on the sidewalk, her mini dress swayed with her hips. She had long brown hair parted in the middle, teased to make a rise at the back of her head.
He increased the speed of his walking so he could catch up to her. Eyeliner winging out from her eyes, blue shadow, the color of her dress. She was drop-dead gorgeous. He kept pace with her until she looked over his way. Not wanting to appear that obvious, he fell back. She walked into a store. When Ted walked by, he could see her putting on a name tag. She worked there, he surmised.
Ted was a student at the university, on spring break. His parents in Alabama could not afford to bring him home, so he stayed on campus, taking a job with the maintenance crew painting trim in the dorms. This schedule left Ted with a lot of time to see the sites. He'd been in Chicago for a year now, and never had the time to explore. He walked back to his dorm and turned on the portable transistor radio. "She's Not There" by the Zombies.
Singing something about no one telling him about this girl and the way she lies, about how she looks, but she's not there. He listened carefully to the lyrics. Interesting song. At noon, he hurried to the dorm he was to work on that day.
"Here's the can, and here's the brush. You are painting the trim around all the doors, in the Woodward Hall. Start on the first floor and work your way up." Ted took the gallon of paint, the drop cloth, and the tools with him. Spreading the tarp on the floor, he opened the can of paint dipping the brush. The trim on every door frame on every floor needed painting. All the students who moved their furniture in, nicked up the doorways. He set up his radio in the hallway. While listening to his favorite hits, he began the long and arduous afternoon of painting the door jambs.
When Ted finished for the day, he had paint in his hair and on his face. Once the paint was on his hands, he'd left it on his face wiping the sweat off his brow. Ted was cleaning up when she walked by. The same girl he'd seen that morning. He stepped aside to let her pass.
"You have paint on your face." She laughed.
"That's not the only place!" Ted answered. She turned and looked at him. "You're the guy from this morning. On my way to work, you followed me." She looked at him suspiciously.
"I didn't follow you. I happened to be on the street at the same time you were. I just appreciated a fine-looking lady. So, thanks for brightening my day twice!" She laughed at him.
"When will you be done?" She pointed to the paint brush.
"About a hundred years from now." He sighed.
"When you get cleaned up, come back, I'm in 109. We can catch some dinner." Ted smiled like an idiot.
He took a long shower, trying to scrape the paint out of his hair and off his hands and face. Ted was anxious as he knocked on 109. She answered. He was a little disappointed she had changed out of the dress and was now wearing more relaxed clothes and tennis shoes instead of those white boots which stirred his loins.
"You came." Her dorm room was similar in size to his. One side of the room was neat an orderly, while the other was a mess.
"I did. Which side is yours?" Ted asked, hoping Mandy's side wasn't the messy side. She pointed to the clean side.
"That side is my roommate Rhonda, nice girl, but she can be a pig. Shall we go?" Ted held out his arm, and they walked to a hamburger place, where they chose a corner booth. Ted searched the small jukebox display at the table. He put in a quarter.
"Pick out some songs." Ted wanted to see what she liked. She picked two Beatles songs and Pretty Woman by Roy Orbison. She loved the Beatles. Ted did too, and thought she was the epitome of a pretty woman. At first, they tried to stumble around topics, searching for a comfortable groove to get into. She was an art major with a history minor. She hoped to work in a museum, and paint on the side. He was a math major, he wanted to be an accountant. She laughed at him for being a nerd. She also told him the reason he caught her eye was that he was covered in paint, that was a real turn-on for an artist. They laughed as they ate their burgers. The ice had been broken and their friendship started on a solid footing.
Ted couldn't believe his fortune to be able to spend two weeks alone on campus with this beautiful girl. She was bright and engaging. They would have never met if the university had been full of students. It had been a wonderful two weeks. On the last night before the students returned to campus, Mandy invited Ted to her dorm. She offered him some acid.
"Where'd you get it?" Ted asked her as he stared at what she'd given him. He watched her swallow it.
"Ted! It's safe, I've done it lots of times. Just take it and come along with me." Ted took and swallowed it. In about a half-hour, he started to feel the effects. They were making out on her bed, and they tripped together.
Twelve hours later, he snuck out of her room, knowing it would be a long time before they could do that again. She was wild, mysterious, and independent, and she scared the Hell out of him. LSD wasn't too bad. It was pretty amazing, and he knew that he would do it again with her. He had managed to stay away from drugs all these years, too afraid to try even when his high school friends were doing it, he listened to the propaganda and didn't go down that road. Now all of his years of being safe, shot with one girl, who he knew from the beginning, would take him places he didn't want to go. He knew he would be unable to resist. He felt he was in love for the first time in his life.
With the return of their roommates, Rhonda and Nathan, spring break was over. Full class schedules and jobs kept them distanced more. Mandy and Ted still managed to find time to be together, even if it was in the library. Mandy gave Ted his birthday present. An ID bracelet she made herself. She had engraved his name into a plate attached to a thick chain. He loved it, he told her. He was impressed with the intricate design, and her engraving in the back, with her initials. He would never forget who made it for him. After he opened his gift, they sat next to one another doing their homework, sometimes holding hands, reading while he looked at the beautiful piece of jewelry she'd made from her heart.
They found moments to sneak away to be together when their roommates had a class or eventually in the back of the store that Mandy worked at. Katie, from Katie's Closet, was young once too. So, she let them meet in the small sitting area. Mandy would lock the doors and turn off the lights. Ted would meet her at the back door. Mandy let him in, and they talked for hours relishing in their alone time here, in this private spot.
It was during one of those times that Ted worked up the gumption to tell Mandy that he loved her. She stared at him. She almost looked angry; Ted didn't understand. A short time after his admittance of love, Ted started to see a marked change in his lover. She was impatient, mean and rude to him. How had she become this different person overnight? Was she freaked out at his profession of love? Ted didn't understand.
Mandy became too busy to see him, to have him come to the store after work. She had exams, and homework, there was no time for Ted, always an excuse to put him off. When they did get together all they did was fight.
Ted stood outside the store one evening. He waited for Mandy like he used to, he would walk her home and find out why they had been pushed apart. It was nine p.m. no telling who was out on the street, and he hadn't seen Mandy in over a week.
He watched her move to the front of the store. His heart leaped. She locked the door and then went to the back. When she didn't come out. Ted found himself with his hand over his eyes, peering in the windows. He could make out Mandy with another guy in the back of the store. Ted couldn't believe what his eyes were telling him. He wanted it to be a big lie.
He left the store going back to her dorm and waited outside the building to see what time she returned from work. It was one-thirty in the morning when the new dude dropped her off. Ted felt rage. Couldn't Mandy tell him they were over? Didn't she owe him that? She just moved on? He couldn't bear it.
Ted gave it a few days before he called her. Mandy agreed to meet him at the store after work. He hoped to convince her to come back to him.
At nine in the evening, Ted knocked at the back of Katie's Closet. Mandy let him in. They had a brief unemotional kiss like he would kiss his mother or a maiden aunt. Ted felt disgusted. This woman was the woman he professed his love to, and she was giving him the cold shoulder. He'd done nothing wrong. She locked the front of the building and came back to the sitting room. He tried to find a safe subject to talk about. He didn't want to hear from her that they were through, but he finally broached the subject.
"So, are we finished?" That's all he could think to ask her. She looked him in the eye, not feeling anything. There was nothing there as far as Ted could see. It infuriated him.
"I think you know the answer to that," Mandy responded coldly. Ted reached in his pocket and pulled out a couple hits of acid.
"One more for old time sake, just for fun." He took his dose, popping it in his mouth and handed Mandy the other, which she promptly took. "Can you at least tell me what it is that I did wrong?" He wanted to understand before anything hit, why it was ended. Mandy stood there looking down, and then she said quietly.
"You told me you loved me. You shouldn't have done that. This affair was supposed to be fun. You made it a big deal. I can't have that. I have too many plans for my life. I don't want to settle down now."
"Who's the other guy?' It killed him to ask.
"Just some other guy, nobody important. Someone who doesn't care as much as you do. He's of no consequence." She sputtered, wringing her hands.
"But you're sleeping with him." Ted raised his voice just a little. Mandy laughed out loud.
"You are a fool. Don't you get it? It means nothing. It's sex, it's a body. It could be you or anyone." Mandy stumbled backward, finding the chair, she sat down.
"Whoa, this is powerful stuff." Ted watched her closely. He played Russian Roulette tonight. Someone got the overdose of meth, and someone got the placebo. He didn't know when he handed it out, which one of them would die tonight. Mandy got the short straw.
He calmly sat next to her. Ted didn't want her to die panicking. He wanted her to go away quietly. He had planned this for weeks while he watched her messing around with other guys. He felt a little sad because he wanted the guy she messed around with to be him. This little plan was formed to put himself out of misery. But he'd left that up to God to decide who should live and who should die.
Mandy's breathing was labored. "What did you give me? This isn't acid!" She looked panicked and started to cry, rocking back and forth. For a split-second, Ted second-guessed his Russian Roulette game. He hadn't planned on her death being so freaky.
"Oh, my God." Mandy tried to stand up to head for the phone. She couldn't walk a straight line. She couldn't breathe, her heart was exploding out of her chest. She clutched her heart and fell to the floor. She panted a few times like a dog, and then there was nothing. He ran over and called her name. He shook her a few times, checking her pulse. There was nothing.
Ted was relieved it was over; it almost became unbearable for him. He opened the back door and brought in a large duffle bag. Turning on the transistor radio, he set it up on the end table and started to stuff Mandy's body into the duffle bag. She was over a hundred pounds. It was all he could do to get the zipper shut. He wondered now what he was going to do with her.
"It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty delta day." Ode to Billie Joe was playing on the radio. The words floated into Ted's mind.
"The day that Billy Joe McAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge," a soulful Bobbie Gentry sang. The idea came to him then. The Chicago River was only a few blocks from here. He could dump Mandy in the river. Ted picked up everything around him, wiping the doorknobs, and dragged the huge duffle bag out the back door, making sure that it was locked. There could be no evidence of foul play. It had to look as if Mandy left work as usual.
It was late, and the moon was coming up. Ted would have to push, pull, and carry over a hundred pounds for two blocks. He was already winded just getting her out the back door. He stayed in the shadows of the streetlights off the sidewalk and dragged the duffle bag behind him.
Ted's breath was heaving in and out, as he tried to get air into his lungs. Finally, he stood at the edge of the Chicago River. The transistor radio still playing in his pocket. The Zombies came on the radio. "She's Not There."
As Ted was rolling the big duffle bag stuffed with Mandy into the water, the RCA transistor played the chorus of "She's Not There" it echoed in his ears. Saying it was too late to say he was sorry, and why would he care?
Under the moonlight, the bag sank slowly into the river. Ted wondered how long it would be before the cops found Mandy's body. He waited until the bag was no longer visible. He was hot and sweaty as he walked back to his dorm. Suddenly, he regretted everything he had done that night. Why hadn't God given him the overdose? Should he have let Mandy pick first? Was he playing God by not letting her choose?
Two detectives stood outside his class asking him to identify himself. Ted told them his name, that was when he was shown his ID bracelet found behind Katie's Corner dress shop. The one Mandy had made for him for his birthday a few months ago. Ted was numb. It must have fallen off when he was pulling Mandy in the duffle bag. How could he be so stupid? He allowed himself to be taken away in cuffs.
As the squad car pulled back into traffic, the officers were listening to Bob Dylan's song The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carol. Ted got chills down his spine. The song was about a murder of a young woman, and they were bringing in her killer. And that it was too late for tears. Of all the songs he had listened too over the years, this one got to him. He was a murderer. He would never have believed that of himself.
Ted looked out the window in the back seat of the squad car, probably watching one of the last vistas he would see in this world from this side of the bars. Ted had already made up his mind to tell them what he had done and where they would find Mandy.
Perhaps God knew what He was doing, after all. Mandy was out of her misery. But Ted? Every day for the rest of his life, he would relive over and over what he had done to the only person he truly ever loved.