Burning from the Inside (Envy)
by Alex S. Johnson
Don’t stop–you’re almost there.
But the integument was sticky and hard to handle, and she was working from a medical textbook, the lines of type blurring, completely winging it, besides the over-reaching mental hammers from the blow.
Lines. She snuffled and the cocaine-flecked mucus dripped onto her tongue. A tingling, metallic sensation.
Chemical hammers smashed her brain when she needed more than anything precision, a hand that didn’t shake, eyes that didn’t flash with demons.
The “rock star” lay on the gleaming, sterile operating table, silent as Stephen in that Chris and Cosey song. But unlike Doctor John, Sondra wasn’t taking trophies simply to get off. There was much more to it than that. She was giving herself the face she deserved, had worked and sweated for. The well-padded industry audience expected a cynical indulgence, a vanity fair. Not Liquid Bambi, who reports in Billboard said was missing in action. When Bambi strutted down from the Vampire Room in glorious boudoir gear, they’d lose their shit.
Fat beads of blood on stainless steel, running into the grooves. Because her nose was acting up again.
More lines. Color within. Don’t stray from the path. You can do this thing.
Next week was the showcase at the Whiskey. Granted, she had paid–again, through the nose, as it bloody were–but that was the way the game worked these days.
If only she had the talent encased in the semi-conscious artist on the slab.
If you cut her, you will come.
Nice, Sondra, a good jest, but it won’t lift the face intact.
Screw this. She reaches and pulls. It’s a nice little moment, straight out of Les Yeux Sans Visage (which had just played at the Hollywood Forever cemetery).
Finally, the idol’s mask was free.
Dripping wet as sex, smeared with the red, red krovvy, but fully wearable once it had been cured. And a little juju, dark, rich, opiate bloodrush with the spirit of her great-grandmother howling inside, bent over backwards with the force of the loa as it pounded and pounded.
Sondra put it on. And gazed at her reflection in the metal. And sought a mirror to primp and preen before. And nearly vomited with the rush. It was everything, sex magic heliotropes blazing across the last stretch of land before the Pacific tide, salt, kelp, sacrifice. Where the sun went down melting the horizon.
She gyrated in her white lab coat and did a striptease, Doctor John’s Traveling Apocalyptic Nightmare, starring Sondra De La Guerre, late of New Orleans, West Hollywood’s finest.
Oh the stunning eroticism of her body, so lean and skinny her ribs ran like window slats beneath her breasts. She photographed so well.
She had thought and pondered and considered how to replace Bambi. It was easy in this town to find someone, or a few someones, brutal, degraded and greedy enough to kidnap the star from her Beverly Hills Hotel under some simple pretense and shuttle her out as an emergency–make way, make way–shove her into the waiting ambulance driven by an ex member of the Polish Mafia, gun the engine and burn rubber to the hole-in-the-wall porn store on La Brea where they carried Bambi’s limp body into a storeroom, tied her up and texted Sonda with the code.
Sondra could not wait for showtime.
Backstage she ignored the ponderous critique that she might lay off the Bolivian until after the gig. Apparently glazed over with ennui, the label reps would regard her coldly, assessing her every move. If she stumbled on this one, her career, which had budded several times without flowering, was finished. Then she’d have to return in shame to her home in the Lower Ninth Ward and sell her skeleton to johns who liked their whores with a little less flesh on their bones.
Even behind the narcotics, she realized her secret plan was completely insane. Wearing the actual face of a real rock star to shock-start her own rocket to the top of the charts was madness maddened, and she would never get away with it. But. It had never been done before. Combining the cutting-edge aesthetics of an Ed Gein with Bowie body English, traces of the Runaways, a little Trent Reznor, a dash of Manson, Sondra’s performance would make headlines and focus the nation’s attention on her. Her, not that–admittedly talented–twat whose visage she’d snatched.
Industrial beat, rubber drums, the sh-sh-sh of digital cymbals. Floodlights. Flashbulbs. A strange, high buzz in her inner ear.
She grabbed the mic and tossed her long, raven-black hair, feeling spectacular now in a red vinyl jumpsuit that accentuated her curves and streamlined her gaunt torso. Right horrorshow. The Diva of her time.
The crowd was silent. Nobody said a word.
“How are you feeling tonight?”
More flashbulbs. Sonda blinked.
Something was wrong.
She felt the Bambi mask writhe and seethe against her skin. Hot filaments pierced her forehead, her cheeks, her eyes. She screamed.
She could barely hear the din of the audience. Sirens in the smoky distance. The crackle of police radios.
Bambi’s face began to devour her own. It burned like acid, like napalm. She smelled sizzling flesh and brought her hands up, screamed again with the pain as her fingers stuck to the mask and through to her skull and she pulled and it came away in flaming ribbons, tassels of fire…until the red bundles of her face muscles gleamed forth and she opened her mouth and a beautiful, sweet song poured out, but it wasn’t her own.
It would never be hers.
The limelight. The glamour. The accolades. All reserved for the real rock star, as the fingers of pain thrust down Sondra’s throat and opened her up, all the rotten green stuff within slopping out. The color of money, of jealousy, greed and envy.
Which was, in the end, her entire legacy.