When locked up in the room, I can no longer imagine good things.
I take a piece of paper out of my notepad and cut it into small pieces. On each piece, I write: I am Belle. My father is holding me hostage at his home. I sign them all and fold the papers until they become small enough. I then scatter them around the room, under the closet, beneath the mattress, under the carpet, in the cabinets, and inside the drawers.
A few minutes later, I realize that all of the pieces I have hidden can be discovered in one sweep. If something happens to me, I want the police to know about my father. I start again. This time, I cut the paper into larger pieces so I can write a longer message.
My name is Belle Andresson. My father is holding me against my will at our home. My father is dangerous and unpredictable, and if something happens to me, he is to be blamed. Today is the eighth day, and most of the time I am trapped inside my room, with no means of communication.
I hide the papers in places they cannot be found easily: on top of the closet, taped to the curtain, and in a sealed bag in the toilet tank.
My fate is unknown to me. I can only think of escaping to survive, but before escaping, I must know why my father is doing this to me.
Part 1 Chapter 1
My father’s house is a hollow place with too many empty spaces and all the accouterments of the rich. The floor is a black and white mosaic tile that seems to go on and on, covering the soles of my feet with its cold kisses every time I set foot on it.
The furniture is grand and too big in some places; my bed could easily take four people. Everything sparkles – gold faucets, golden-white vanity brass, countertops, ornate railings, glimmering curtain rails. Everything.
There are three floors. My room and my father’s old bedroom are on the top floor, with some empty guest rooms. The second floor is disused, locked up. The first floor has our living room, kitchen, and dining room, and it also has my father’s new bedroom, his office, and another disused room which served as his office when I was a child.
It is an empty, cold, sprawling space, with more locked doors than open ones, and I hate it.
The place is a stark contrast to the room where I spent my days at the university. While brushing my teeth, all I can think of is that small, shared space filled with happiness. It is better than this vast golden place, void of life and kindness.
I stop brushing for a moment to look at the mirror. I am scared of what I might see, so I start from the golden frame of the mirror, tracing a line from the base to the right, and then up to the right-hand corner. At this point, it is impossible not to see.
My reflection is like an apparition. My eyes are sunken, and the black circles under them whisper of poor sleep. I’ve never been so thin – my ribs are showing, and my stomach has shrunk to grotesque flatness. My condition is worse than I had expected.
I hurry through the rest of my toiletry and leave the bathroom. It is 9:20 a.m. by the time I dress up. I glance at my watch, but leave it on my bureau.
I shut my bedroom door behind me. No, I shut the door of the bedroom I slept in while I was growing up. My real bedroom is in my small condo on the twenty-sixth floor of the Rave Tower on Main Street. Nothing in this room resembles who I am today.
My father, Richard, is leaving around ten this morning, so I still have to endure his presence for almost an hour. He is retired now, but still has a few errands related to his business to attend to. Or so he claims. Visit the bank, sit on a board, and whatnot.
Today, I am in a playful – perhaps spiteful – mood. Rather than stay in my room and avoid him, I want to irritate him.
I find him sitting on one of the high chairs around the island counter in the kitchen. He is dressed in a gray suit; the jacket folded carefully over the kitchen counter, and brown suspenders. His yellow silk socks are a perfect match with his tie. He has always been very particular about his choice of clothing. Everything in his wardrobe has been carefully selected according to the quality of their material.
His back is still straight from his days in the rowing team and then in the military.
“Good morning. How are you, love?” he asks, without lifting his eyes.
I can’t wait till he sees what I am wearing.
“Hi. I’m good, and you?” I ask.
“I’m fine,” he replies.
“You know, you look like Freud when you wear your reading glasses.” I giggle.
Marie, over at the sink, giggles as well.
Marie is my father’s long-time PA and, since a decade ago, his announced lover. She doesn’t live here, but she stays over a lot.
They announced their relationship after Mom passed away from breast cancer. Despite being in her mid-fifties, her skin still glows and her face is radiant. She is a freak for sports and the first on every health trend. For her, being up to date with every diet hype and exercise plan is a fundamental way of living. She’s slender but fit, with well-toned muscles.
Fuck every trend that has come out and will come out. I believe that your body is programmed to be one way or another. I am sick of people who spend decades trying to lose weight, and others like me fighting for every ounce we can gain.
Marie stands over the kitchen counter in her denim dress, slicing an apple into small pieces. The sound of the knife cutting through the apple and then banging over the plastic holder, combined with Richard’s nibbling of his crispy toast, irritates me.
For her, life is ultra-simple. Everything that Richard desires, commands, or even hints at, is a goal for her. Seeing them happy together makes me so jealous. I want that kind of love and devotion, and I deserve such a relationship, but I don’t have it.
“Jesus Christ, Belle!” Richard looks like he’s seen a ghost. He hasn’t. He’s finally seen my clothes, and the shock is written all over his face. “What are you wearing?” he demands.
I roll my eyes. “Clothes. Duh. What else would I be wearing? What I wear doesn’t matter, as long as you keep me locked in here like a prisoner where no one can see me.”
“I mean, why these? You haven’t worn them in a long time and... they look worn out; you look like a beggar. You are not a prisoner, honey, please don’t say that.”
I’m wearing a regular black cotton t-shirt that has the name of my favorite band, Angles, written in pink. Yes, angles, and not angels.
Angles is the reason for my heartbreak, my pain, and my current misery as a prisoner.
“What do you call it then?” I ask my father. “We imagine prisoners being held up in a cell underground where the air is sick and heavy, but anyone can be a prisoner. A marriage, a job, or me in this big, boring mansion.”
Richard rises from the chair, folding his newspaper. He puts on his jacket before walking over to me. The kiss he plants on my cheek makes my skin crawl.
“I will be back in a few hours. Don’t get any funny ideas, Belle,” he says, waving his phone at me. “Look at this – I can see the gates on my phone.”
I watch as he leaves the room. His broad-shouldered figure fills the doorway. The slim profile he has maintained all these years is impressive.
Marie pours each of us a cup of coffee, accompanied by chocolate chip cookies on a tray. “You shouldn’t take your meds on an empty stomach,” she scolds.
The pills are in a small transparent plastic container. There are four of them. Two are round, one is elongated, and one too small to be seen unless you look closely.
She places the tray on the coffee table and says that she forgot to bring me some water. She did not forget. Marie never forgets. She just doesn’t want to look me in the eye. She is an accomplice in shoving these drugs down my throat.
I close my eyes, dreading what is to come. The idea of chemicals passing into my bloodstream and traveling to my brain sickens me. Richard and Marie no longer trust me to take the medication on my own; they have to see the pills going down my throat.
“Come on, honey,” Marie says softly. “I want you to...”
“I know,” I interrupt.
I take the plastic tub and throw the pills to the back of my mouth as if they are a golden tequila shot.
“I know.” I open my mouth and take a chug of water, then open my mouth wide so she can see I have really swallowed the pills.
While I eat the cookies and sip the coffee, she drinks her apple ginger smoothie. I mentally rehearse what I want to say to her once we’re done. After she picks up her last cookie, I draw a deep breath and take the plunge.
“Marie, you have to help me,” I say. “Please understand the tough situation I am in. I took the pills and you saw me take them, so I am trying my best not to be difficult with you. You are not part of this. Actually, you can decide to stop this. I excuse you because you are only following my father’s orders.”
She tilts her head in sympathy, and she clearly feels awful for me. “You’re mistaken, Belle; your father is a good man and all that he wants is for you to be safe and well again.”
“Marie, please, I beg you to let me out of here. Or – no, you don’t have to do that, just tell me where my phone is and I’ll do the rest.”
“I don’t know where it is, honey. Wait for a week, just a week, and everything will be normal again. Keep on taking your meds.”
“Give me your phone then. Just one call.” I stare at her. I would do pretty much anything for access to a phone right now. The only landline in the house just connects to the gatehouse; Richard uses his cellphone for everything else.
Marie sighs. “I can’t do that, Belle, but who do you want to call anyway?”
“Never mind. Thanks for nothing.”
Gabe. If I had one chance to make a call before dying, I would call Gabe. The only problem is that he won’t answer me anymore.
Tick tock. I have eight minutes till dissolving is almost complete, and then a few minutes till absorption starts. The next five minutes pass slowly, and the only thing I can think of is getting this poison out of my body. I pace my breathing as I eat another cookie.
“Marie, I’m going up to my room.” Before she can say anything, I’m on the staircase, running upstairs with the rest of my coffee. In my room, I grab the water bottle from my nightstand and enter the bathroom. Two gulps of water, I place my finger at the back of my throat, and Tada. Done. Not everyone can gag, as I came to realize during my alcohol-soaked early years of college.
Rehydration is a must after vomiting, otherwise I will be dizzy and risk an ulcer forming in my stomach... but for a long while, all I can do is stare down at my cup of coffee and admire the undissolved dry cream particles floating on the surface. Gabe loved his coffee with fresh milk, or at least carton milk, and never with the dried creamer.
Yup and okay are the only words I have muttered since he returned home. We eat dinner in silence, and I watch him as he slowly chews every bite, enjoying and wowing at the flavors. I hate how much I hate him.
A few bites into dinner and I find myself out of appetite. I turn my eyes away from my father because if I don’t, I will either become mad enough to do something nasty to annoy him, or I will burst into tears. I stare up at the glittering chandelier hanging over the dining table. I wish its warm lights could dispel the gloom that has filled my soul.
My cutlery, resting on the gray and white marble, has food particles stuck to the tips. If Richard sees stains on the marble, he’ll be annoyed. I can feel my palms sweating, feel it prickling on my forehead.
“You haven’t spoken a word all night,” my father says.
I reply with a smile, but I can’t hide the disappointment behind it. Captivity breaks your spirits. Captivity makes you cherish small things that you were not aware you valued. Finally, after everything else, captivity crushes your morale.
If she was still alive, he would not even dare speak to me like that.
My mother never had the patience for helping me with schoolwork, or setting up pink balloons for my birthday. My father was the one who’d sat me down for French spelling, bedtime stories, and had even talked me through my trouble with boys. He had been the rock. She had never made much effort, but she would not have harmed me like he is doing.
They weren’t different people because of how they were brought up – they were different because of his approach to life. Any greedy businessman learns new millennial skills if they bring in more money. He controls the environment he operates in to ensure he achieves his goals. Discipline in hierarchy is a term he created to describe how an employee should have a soldier’s obedience with regards to company objectives. Without, he says there is no way to run any large company – and he had more than a thousand staff.
My mother was an artist who believed in autonomy and individual expression at any cost. Side by side, they were wolf and sheep, predator and gentle, peaceful grazer. I regret not spending more time with her before she passed. She could have warned me about the monster.
The power to converse with him about anything eludes me, and I struggle through the couple hours that I have to endure in his presence until he retires to his room. The moment I return to mine, I lie on my bed, close my eyes, and think of Gabe.
We met for the first time on a dry autumn day. If I had known who I was going to meet on that day and what he would do to me, I would have turned back… but innocent me had no idea.
It was the kind of clichéd meeting most hopeless romantics dream of.
The ground was carpeted with leaves, and I was surrounded by the huge oak trees they’d fallen from, trying to cram my way through the crowded main entrance to the university. The passage could probably hold a few hundred of the thirty thousand students registered in an academic year at once, and it was hot with the smell of excitement and sweat.
I am a shy person, but back then – there should have been a stronger word to describe how shy I was. I walked with my gaze on my feet, my hair across my face, my shoulders hunched inwards as others bumped and barged me from left and right. I walked as one who wants to be invisible, and has almost – almost – achieved it.
The last bump was hard enough to knock my notepad out of my hand. I bent to pick it up, and was faced with a hand that wasn’t mine on the pages. I lifted my head and saw Gabe squatting in front of me.
Our eyes met, and I felt the butterflies, felt my mouth turn dry. I crouched motionlessly, bewildered by how perfect he was. Without a word, he gave me the book and hurried away, looking at his watch. I told myself, this is fate. I will marry this man one day.
I didn’t want anyone else. I loved him before he became a superstar – and once he did, I adored him.
I wish I could to listen to his music, waltz into one of his shows, a casual observer with nothing to lose, nothing to care about. People die from broken hearts, but I haven’t died. Yet. I had never I imagined I could stay in love with someone for so long.
Am I right to blame my father for what is happening now?
I relied heavily on the allowance given to me, so I never thought of securing a steady job after I left home. Eight hours per week was the maximum I gave for any kind of income-related activity. I partook in organizing publicity for various arts events, read poetry for an audience… nothing serious. If I had been an independent person, financially at least, I would have been somewhere else – somewhere across the Earth, sipping some hybrid Mojito on an exotic island whose name I can’t spell.
The last seven years have passed in a flash. My most vivid recollections are of strangers laughing in the distance, while I taste cognac and choke on a cigar. All I have to my name are a couple of masters, and hundreds of books read. No, I am not proud.
Before I came here, I spent most of my days waiting for Gabe. Waiting for Gabe is like waiting for Godot. My days seemed glamorous and joyful on the outside, but inside, I was burning with the heat of love, rejection, and dismissal. His presence didn’t give me any satisfaction either. Felt and never seen, and sometimes seen and never felt.
Call me silly, I don’t care, but I believe I should have focused on being everything Gabe ever imagined me to be, or ever wanted in a partner.
The invitations for grand openings, art exhibitions, and whatnot lay on my coffee table. I always decided not to go to any of the events, and instead did what I do best. Reminisced.
In the final days before Richard manipulated me into coming here, I wandered the streets with self-help audiobooks murmuring in my earbuds, interrupted by occasional calls from Richard. “Are you taking the pills, Bells?” he would ask.
“Yes, but they make me sluggish. I don’t feel like myself.” I would tell him.
“Come here; we will take care of you.”
Gabe rarely came, and Godot never came.