Spying on Melissa as she sat at the pool bar with this handsome guy; listening to them; the first thing that struck me was her confidence.
When she started working for me back in England as a cleaner, Melissa had been timid and withdrawn, her self-image a mess. Her gargantuan weight, her uninspired dress sense, her near-poverty and her short-sightedness all crushed any chance she had of feeling good about herself. All of those things were in the past now – taking over my life and wealth, and doing all her training had achieved that – and now she seemed more self-possessed than I had been in years. Maybe more than I ever had.
The only reason I could think for that was that she had effectively undergone a fairytale transformation, from an ugly servant to a beautiful princess. She was like an actor on the stage. It was near-fantasy, the life she was living, and that meant she had nothing to lose.
I had to admire her. But that admiration was something more. I acknowledged that she was doing amazingly well but this was beyond that and the sense that she was doing it better than I would was out there now. I felt... envy; maybe even jealousy. I... resented how well she was playing my part. I felt like an understudy to it, as though she was the one who had been chosen; that I was only the back-up; and looking at myself; at the flabby folds of belly, the quivering fat on my arms and thighs, the features of my face that were drowned by fat on my face; I realised that I couldn’t play the role of Dahlia anymore, even if I was called to.
She looked uncannily like Dahlia with only a couple of facial features out of place. I didn’t. Nobody who saw me could ever have guessed that I was her. I wasn’t her in the least anymore in any way, physically or mentally.
I didn’t even recognise my psyche now; it had changed so much. I had been a confident and successful model. Now I was an obese, fetishistic obsessive who had destroyed her own beauty and health to chase after a self-destructive and preposterous goal.
But her confidence was only the first thing I noticed.
The second was her voice, because she didn’t sound like she used to at anymore. It was months since we had started recording our memories for one another. We had been meant to be practicing emulating the other’s voice and I had done as instructed. This was the first time I really sae her do it in a public arena.
Maybe it was the drop in weight or the increase in self-belief, but she spoke exactly like I used to. Her tone was exactly the same, but more, she used the same words and phrases. And as she chatted to this bloke I heard her make little references that identified her as the genuine article.
She chatted to him about her life as a model, giving various juicy anecdotes about her time on the catwalk and backstage. It was entirely convincing to him and intimidating to me.
Could she fool someone who knew me well?
Maybe not in person... yet... but over the phone? Yes. Definitely. If I closed my eyes then the woman I was listening in on was Dahlia Western, no doubt about it.
The more she talked, the more I realised that she had accomplished everything she set out to do here in Greece. She had become me in every way that mattered. And yes, she excelled at it. She did it better than I had for a long time.
The contrast was like a regular unceasing tapping against my forehead, pointing out the contrast between us; how far I had come myself.
She fit in here; she really did; and I didn’t. At this moment it felt like I never could again. How could I? I was gross. I was disgusting. She was beautiful.
She was flirting with the guy but it was more than that. She had already slept with him. She was planning to do so again. Part of me felt awful about that; violated; as though it were my reputation in question; almost that she was doing it with my body (which in a way she was). But the rest of me knew that she had more right to that persona and form now than I did. It wasn’t my life she was living; it was hers.
She really was Dahlia Western now and that meant that I wasn’t.
Was I fully Melissa Chapman?
Maybe I was. Though it didn’t yet feel complete.
I had to get out of there. I couldn’t listen anymore. It wasn’t just that I was watching her. Witnessing this was having a weighty impact on my own self-image; casting me further away from my origin and into this new life I had borrowed. It made it feel like it wasn’t just a temporary loan; that it was a permanent trade.
That scared me. It scared me very much.
I turned to go; to creep away in the hopes that she didn’t see me; but as I started to leave I heard something that chilled me still further; that made tears break out and stream down my cheeks as I lumbered back to the front of the hotel and down to the bus stop. It made me hate myself and look down on myself too; made my self-image plummet still further.
The man. The man said, “I’ve seen you talking to a repulsive obese woman with thick specs occasionally. She comes to see you. Who is she?”
Melissa laughed, tilting her face to the sky. “Oh her? She’s nobody. She’s nothing,” she said. “She works for me. But you’re right; she is hideous. I’m embarrassed to be seen with her. To be perfectly honest, she disgusts me. I despise people like that with so little self-control; so flabby and crass. I wish I didn’t have to see her. She’s beneath me.”