An original story, published here for the first time.

 

Jennifer Lofquist

August 5, 1999

Laura

I competed daily with the memory of Laura. Laura, the ideal. Laura, the beautiful. The one person Alex could never forget.

It might have been easier if Laura had been real.

But how do you compete with a figment of someone's imagination? With someone who not only couldn't breathe, but who couldn't make a mistake? Fact is, competing was never even an option.

Laura was a compilation of women. The perfect woman who would complement Alex's imperfect soul. I would have been jealous, but what is there to be jealous of? Paper cuts? No, instead, I smiled and glowed at every comparison Alex made between her and I, trying in my own way to become her. I never succeeded.

I met Laura during the second incarnation of "Alex and me." It was summer. I was freshly scrubbed of moral implications from my first year at college. The summer you realize that even after you have slept in the same bed with a man, and woken in his arms and found out how repugnant each other's morning breath is, you are still the same girl from back home who loves it when your dad makes you oatmeal. Nothing changes.

So I came home. I forgot how Alex filled my life. Oh, yes, then he called me. And that was all it took for me to reenter that world of waiting for him to call, waiting for him to come by and, all in all, waiting.

'He missed my legs.' That was one of his casual lines that would send me careening back at break neck speed. I drove to his place and entered the inner sanctum of his room. Alex's parents spent summer weekends at the beach house that they had built on this remote little off shoot of North Carolina. So the weekends belonged to Alex. Leaving him free explore the inner workings of a girl.

I entered his room: Blue shag carpeting. Amazingly similar to that in my parent's den. With wood paneling. Lots of wood paneling. How can you possibly feel romantic about wood paneling? And the orange couch and the loft he had brought home from his failed attempt to go away to college. He recreated his dorm room within the walls of suburbia. We watched taped reruns of Remington Steele.

Laura. Introducing the first incarnation of the goddess.

Laura from Remington Steele. How Alex's eyes would glow over looking at her. She was his ideal, or part of it. She was the girl who created a man who could love her. She was Pygmalion. Remington Steele was Galatea. That, my dear, was power. To create the perfect man, then to have him come to life. This was woman that could capture your heart. And she captured Alex's. More completely than any woman of mere flesh and blood could. Much less me.

'Isn't she wonderful?' Alex asked, his face carved in blue light from the alarm clock.

'I like that show,' I answered, as non-committally as I could. I didn't see what was so great about her, actually. She was mildly pretty, though awfully short in my opinion, with an unusual taste in clothes. And honestly, with Pierce Brosnan there, I couldn't trust a woman not trying to get into his bed. God knows, I would have been locking my office door and sweeping the desk clear of inconveniences.

But Laura didn't do that. Laura was a virgin. She was beyond that.

'I just love her,' Alex said. 'She's my ideal.'

'Really,' I replied, still focusing on his arms wrapped around me. They were, in my opinion, ideal.

'I have a book about her.' He got up and went to his bookshelf. Out came a brown leatherette bound artist's portfolio. It was heavy. He turned on the light and sat beside me. His face lit with expectation and excitement. I felt like he was giving me access to his soul. 'There she is,' he said opening to the first page.

Within those brown covers were pages covered with pictures cut from magazines, newspapers. All women. Perfect idealized women. Words. This was Laura. Cut outs from ads for Remington Steele and Twin Peaks. Laura Palmer, I was to learn, was another incarnation. Together these images and stories had created in Alex's mind, the perfect girl. The ideal discovery. The one woman who could never betray, hurt or leave him. This was Laura.

'Laura is the woman I'm waiting for.' I, on the other hand, was a finely ground Laura substitute.

'Oh.' (I was so known for my way with words). And then he kissed me. With the book still in his hands, his lips were kissing me. He laid the book open on the floor and we went to lie on the uncomfortable rough orange couch. Turning off the light, he was lit from the blue light of the alarm clock again. He removed his shirt.

If there is nothing else I remember of that night, it is the image of Alex, shirtless with blue light pouring over him. He was beyond beautiful. Beyond anything I had ever known. He was the Greek god that we all dream of having touch us. His skin was warm and, amazingly, he was looking at me with passion. He took my breath away. And even now, years and lifetimes later, I still remember that moment. That moment that I saw my vision of beauty, and made it real.

It was then I began to worship him. All the doubts I had of me were vanquished, because this living marble statue of perfection was caressing me. And I thought to myself, 'Laura be damned. I can compete.' After all she was fantasy. I was fact.

He could try finding her. Of course, I knew that. But how? How could you find someone you had created? That was Laura's power, not Alex's. I could win out. I was real. Blood flowed, heart thumped, lungs breathed. Despite the jealousy I had for her. I knew I could win. How could I fail? And I drowned myself in his passion, never realizing that the entire time, he was looking over my shoulder at the open book. I had never won at all.

Years passed, I watched as that book traveled with us to every home we had. I learned to hate that book. I hated her. Laura. I hated the posters in his 'study'. I hated the stills from movies. I hated every videotape he owned.

One time I even gave him the movie 'Laura', in my twisted effort to be understanding. To conquer my hate of her by loving him. Hoping that he would see this beautiful woman in front of him, loving him, as I knew, no Laura ever could. I believed if I showed my understanding and my acceptance of this two-dimensional rival, perhaps he would no longer need her. This was just what he was using until he found me. I flattered myself that I was all Laura was, and more. I could find his heart and make it my own. She was an incomplete idol and I was a lively woman.

But that book remained. In every home, in every space. There it would stand in the bookshelf. And I would notice, every time I saw it, that dust never collected on it. That despite me being the woman who loved him, shared his name, lay in his bed, cooked his food, told him which ties went with which jacket, talked to his friends, picked out his gifts, planned his parties and was supposedly his wife and partner, I couldn't replace or even push off the damn pedestal, the goddess Laura.

There she stood. I merely held his hand while he worshiped her.

 

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