My parents are going to say, “We told you modeling would ruin your life.”
From the tender age of 5, I practiced my catwalk poses in front of Grammie’s cheval mirror. As a teen, I imagined myself strutting down the fashion runways of Milan, draped in the latest designs by Missoni and Valentino. My parents, with their conservative Midwest values assaulted by the daring design fads of the 70s, refused to even consider submitting head shots to an agency, much less traveling into the big city for an open casting call. Modeling recruiters don’t often find their way down back-country roads like ours, so my high-fashion dreams gathered dust while I finished school with quiet resentment. When I finally broke free of the small-town stranglehold and signed with Ford Models Chicago in the 80s, I knew I was being cast as a “sophisticated modern woman,” which is industry-speak for “pretty, but past her prime.” At 25, I knew my chances of being the next Cheryl Tiegs were long past, but when Clairol called, my heart soared. I would be the face of the newest haircolor trend; on the streets, mousy-haired housewives would recognize me as the girl on the box of the same “Extra Light Silver Blonde” they’d just stashed under the bathroom sink, and their husbands’ covetous stares as I passed would spur hundreds of underappreciated homemakers to test for themselves whether blondes really did have more fun.
I didn’t count on one of those goggle-eyed husbands being a raging lunatic. I’m not sure when he began stalking me, but it seems he quickly learned my routine, and knew I jogged alone in the calm quiet of the pre-dawn hours. The unexpected attack occurred between the pink-orange pools of sodium light on the park’s deserted path, and was so violently brutal that it would have ended any chances of a normal life had I survived. It was quite a shock for the elderly man whose little terrier found my cold, broken body in the park’s bushes later that morning, but he recovered admirably when the reporters showed up with their camera crews to get his eyewitness account. In the edited video that ran on the evening news, he and his little dog enjoyed their fifteen minutes of fame while Chicago’s finest futilely scoured the park in the background for clues to my identity and the coroner zipped up my stiff black body bag.
Now tagged as a Jane Doe, I was shocked by how little effort the police put into identifying my ravaged corpse. Not that they had any shortage of murders to solve, but I vainly thought that being a young attractive woman would garner some extra attention for my case. The coroner took some new head shots, a model’s dream, but they were too disturbing to release to the papers for publication. My parents didn’t file a missing persons report because they had no idea I was missing; we didn’t communicate often since they steadfastly believed I had abandoned both them and my Midwestern morals in favor of a depraved life as a model in the Windy City. I didn’t even have a dog who would bark his displeasure when I didn’t come back to the apartment to feed him, so I’m not sure how long it took for my absentee landlord to realize I was no longer paying rent. The authorities remained apathetic about the mystery of my identity, and I became a cold case. After years of taking up space in the morgue’s freezer, my unclaimed, nameless body was finally signed over to a cadaver supply company.
Ironically, my dream of going to Italy came true at long last, though sadly my lithe model body, battered as it was, was not destined to be part of the journey. The cadaver company was contracted to ship 18 human heads to a research facility in Rome, where we’d be used by aspiring plastic surgeons learning the delicate art of facial reconstruction. My teenage vision of being hustled toward the catwalk while a passionate mob of Italian makeup artists dabbed finishing touches to my lipstick and dusted my décolletage was replaced by the harsh reality of being plunked down on a frigid stainless steel operating table and coldly regarded by a couple of emotionally detached medical students. Instead of my face being caressed by a flurry of sable-haired brushes and silky powder puffs, it was attacked unceremoniously with clumsily guided scalpels and tightly clamped forceps. Amateurish, uneven sutures appeared where only the highest quality cosmetics should have been. Having been victimized by these trainees, I can’t see why a model would voluntarily go under the knife in an attempt to prolong her career—I say embrace the crows’ feet and go out gracefully when your time comes.
When the indignity of this medical experimentation reached its conclusion, I was hoping to quietly return to Chicago with my 17 other body-less companions for proper cremation as required by the cadaver company’s contract. Unfortunately, a customs officer at O’Hare, assigned to scan the monitor for unusual results in routine x-rays of incoming cargo, nearly choked on his latte when he saw the 18 of us staring back at him from our crate. Per Murphy’s law, the accompanying paperwork that shows we’re flying into the country legitimately is nowhere to be found, and we are now in custody at the medical examiner’s office until further investigations are conducted. As luck would have it, when all we long for is ashes to ashes and dust to dust, we have finally found authorities who are anxious to solve a mystery. Who are we? Where are we from? Where are we going? Why aren’t we attached to our bodies? If I’d gotten this much attention when I’d been murdered, maybe I’d be resting quietly, still firmly attached to the rest of my slender model figure, amidst the other oak-shaded granite markers in my parents’ small-town Midwest churchyard.
This work is a response to yesterday’s FFF (Friday Flash Fiction) prompt on oneminutewriter.blogspot.co.uk The prompt was to create a fictional story from the point of view of one of the many unidentified heads that have been found around the world this week.
Photo credits go to my husband, Jim.