Hello?Katja it’s me. Please answer.Why do you persist in ignoring me?
The bins are heavy as I pull them outside. It’s a blustery day, and my scarf is struggling to escape off my head. The sunglasses keep sliding forward on my nose. I push them back impatiently. The disguise must remain. Even if it’s only 6 am, and no one is on the street yet. The disguise must remain. I place the bins, side by side, like two upright soldiers called to attention, one black and one blue. Rubbish and Recycling. I have gone through everything painstakingly. Shredded all the documents so that no trace of me remains in there.
I hobble back indoors. My back has been playing up again. Maybe it’s time to go back to physio. Except that I can’t bear to be touched or examined. Even by that gentle Indian doctor. So I will take the painkillers and soldier on. Ah! I smile to myself. The girl can leave the army, the army can never leave the girl.
After I eat my Weetabix in the conservatory, surrounded by my wonderful green garden, with it’s apple trees and flowering wisteria, I pull out the laptop.
Facebook. This nameless, faceless existence I have chosen for myself is at once obliterated.
There I am. In full technicolour. Blonde hair flying. Lips in a red pout. Gold lycra clinging to every curve. In my heyday, the most famous woman on the planet, and they will not let me forget it. Why did I agree to get hooked up to this infernal thing? Gert had thought it would be a distraction. Did he want to remind me of the good old days? Well, if anything, it makes my present course seem like the most sensible thing I have ever done. Yet I compulsively check it everyday. I read the good things and the bad. I look at all the pictures, and chuckle over the comments my many fans put on the site.
That life seems like a million years ago, and I am happy to leave it like that. I want to be a bystander to the circus now.
I scroll down the page to see what else has been added – old songs, photos, memories of people who saw me in concerts, messages pleadingly asking me to make a comeback. Then I see it. It’s him again.
Hello?Katja it’s me. Please answer.Why do you persist in ignoring me?
Looking back, the ascent to the top was really easy. Too easy. I got recognition before I even knew what to do with it.
As a child I was an inveterate performer. It did not take much persuasion from my parents to stand in front of a room full of guests and belt out a number. I basked in the glow of being admired, the compliments that I took as my due. Then teenage hood happened, and I retreated. In the sanctuary that was my room, I hid from the world and the incessant arguments between my soon to be divorced parents.
In the wilderness of those years, music was my only companion. Even when I signed up to the army as a direct rebellion to my mother’s party lifestyle, seeking order and discipline, I never abandoned my first love.
It was while I strummed and hummed that an army mate suggested that perhaps I was better suited to being on stage rather than on the frontline. I agreed, as the daily grind of military life had long lost its allure. She put me in touch with an uncle who knew a record producer, and before I knew it, my amateurish tape of home produced songs was winging its way to him.
The rest was a blur of performances, awards and fame. Too much fame.
You know I will find you. I always do. You are my one true love. If only you would give us a chance.
My hand shakes as I pour myself a cup of tea. How could he possibly know that I check the site? Is he hazarding a guess? My account is a fake one, and my profile picture is a cat. This is the third house I have moved to in the last five years. Each time looking over my shoulder, his shadowy presence threatening my every move. Gert thinks I am being paranoid. I have never actually encountered the man. But I feel him there- his eyes upon me, watching, watching, waiting to strike.
I punch in the number quickly. It rings for a while before Gert answers.
“I’m afraid Gert”
“What now?”, he sounds sleepy, and exasperated.
“He’s found me again”
“That’s impossible Katja. You know we’ve taken every precaution. There is no way on earth he could have found you. I am the only one who knows where you are.”
“He’s sending me messages on Facebook”
“On your private account?”
“No, on the public one. The fan page one.”
I can hear him breathe deeply before he responds. “Listen Katja, there are a lot of weirdos and nutters out there. Any number of people can write any sorts of things on Facebook. It’s an open forum. It doesn’t mean he’s targeting you. Hell, it may not even be him!”
“I know it’s him”, I insist.
“Like the time you were certain he was hiding in the rose bush, or when you thought he was pretending to be the postman?”
“I know you think I am a silly old woman. But he’s pursued me for so many years, and I can tell it’s him again. He calls himself KL. Just that. He’s using an old photo of mine as his profile picture, and it has a heart with a dagger superimposed on it. ”
“Ok, fine. What do you want to do? Move again? That can be arranged.”
The thing is that I have grown to love this house. I feel like I’m finally putting down roots. I am not a part of the community yet. It is too early for that. But this bungalow feels like home, and I don’t want to move. So I’ve decided to ignore this nagging feeling, and stay off Facebook for a while.
There are some beautiful nature walks near where I live, and I intend to make full use of them. The late onset of Summer weather means that I can cover up, and with my hat and sunglasses on, I look no different from the multitude of middle aged women walking around the lake in the morning.
The lake is like a placid sheet of glass, and I watch the few ripples that a lonely swan creates behind him. The dog walkers, the yummy mummies, the serious joggers and the semi- serious cyclists are all out in full force. It’s turning into a glorious day, and loath as I am to, I pull off my hat and scarf. It’s just too warm to keep them on, and no one has displayed an iota of curiosity in the middle aged woman ambling slowly amongst them. I feel buoyant in the anonymity. Perhaps there is hope after all.
Your hair is like spun gold, did you know? Even with the few streaks of grey in there. You looked beautiful this morning, my love. Fresh air and exercise are doing you good.
I slam the laptop shut, my heart thudding. He’s found me. How? HOW??
It takes a while for my shaking to subside. Then I retrieve the shoe box from under the bed, and slowly remove the lid. In there lies twenty-five years of obsession. Letters written in blood, photos taken when I was unaware, Valentine cards that spelt out in gory detail all that he would do to me once I was his. Everything signed KL. Katja’s Love.
Gert had always wanted to turn it over to the police. I hadn’t. At first because I laughed it off. And then because it was a constant reminder of why I’d had to leave that life behind.
Once again I ring Gert.
“I think it’s time to tell the police.”
My case officer is a pleasant young woman called Hillary. She is too young to register quite how big a star I was. She peers at me uncertainly.
“Miss Nilsson, why have you never spoken of this before?”
“I felt that if I somehow melted away….disappeared….he would too.”
“But he didn’t. I find it curious that he locates you each time. Do you think your manager, this Gert Peeters, could be letting things slip?”
“Gert isn’t just my manager, he is also my nephew. My cousin’s son. He’s family, and he knows how much I value my privacy.”
She looks doubtful but nods her head, and shuts the file in front of her.
“There is not a lot we can do till he contacts you again. We’ll be monitoring the Facebook site for any further messages. As and when that happens, it is fairly easy to trace the IP address, and through that get a fix on his location. Please take your usual precautions, but live your life normally.”
I nearly laugh at that. Normality was never an option.
Weeks have gone by without any messages. I can tell that Hillary is disinterested now, putting it down to an over fertile imagination.
I am, in part relieved, but anxious too. I know that as soon as the surveillance is removed, he will be back. I hope he gets impatient before then. I need someone to believe in me, and right now the chances of that are looking grim. I go about my daily business, which really amounts to a morning walk, watching some daytime television, making myself lunch, trawling Facebook, and then cooking myself dinner. It is a lonely existence, and the spare room full of my music memorabilia is a testament to how far I have wandered off my original path.
Sometimes I sit and strum the guitar, sing a few lines and then collapse into sobs. There is no way back. None at all.
The neighbour’s cat is a mangled mess on my doorstep. The blood smeared message says BITCH.
Hillary keeps making cups of tea for me, while the other officers take samples and clean up.
“Has he ever gotten this close before?”
“No…never…I’ve suspected that he’s nearby…but this….this….”
I can’t stop the trembling. This kind of violence is new. He is getting desperate, and I am desperately scared.
“We’ve posted an officer to watch over you. Don’t worry Miss Nilsson. We’ll be around. He won’t be able to come anywhere near you.”
The Press is swarming out there. All those years of hiding, and now they have found me.
RECLUSIVE KATJA DISCOVERED IN SURREY HIDE HOLE scream the headlines.
Gert is doing damage control from New York. I feel suffocated, claustrophobic, paranoid. I cannot even sit out in my garden for fear the long lens cameras will post more candid shots.
FAT AND UGLY- WHAT HAPPENED TO KATJA?
I examine myself in the mirror. Am I really that fat and ugly? A frumpish woman scowls back at me, lending credence to the screeching tabloids. When did this happen?
“You need to give an interview”, Gert commands.
“No…I can’t. Don’t ask this of me Gert. You know how much I hate all this.”
“Katja, satisfy their curiosity and they’ll back off. But if you keep up the Garbo act, they will hound you to your grave!”
“What about him?”
“Who?”, asks Gert impatiently.
“The stalker. KL. I don’t want him to know anymore about me. Anymore than he’s already found out.”
Gert only calls me Auntie when he feels sorry for me.
“The police is on it. And with the Press around, he won’t be able to get a look see. They’ll nab him soon enough. I told you, you should’ve gone to them ages ago.”
Suddenly I am exhausted from the hiding, the running, the fending off of people.
“Okay, I’ll do it.”
He sits across from me, the young reporter with the piercing blue eyes. I’ve already forgotten his name, and am too embarrassed to ask again.
“So, Miss Nilsson, may I call you Katja?” I nod in assent. “I must say at the outset, what a huge fan I am.” He seems too young to know my music. “I had a big poster of you in my bedroom as a teenager. I think you might have been every red blooded male’s fantasy back then.”
I flush. I should be flattered, but instead I feel uncomfortable. This was the sort of attention I had sought to escape. I’m old enough to be his mother. I don’t want to be spawning fantasies.
“Why did you, at the peak of your career, decide to retire?”
The well rehearsed answer sits on the tip of my tongue. The change of musical tastes, the evolution of the industry, the mass produced pop stars- everything Gert has made me practice over and over.
“I was tired”, I say.
“Tired of what? The music?”
“The fame game.”
“It was voluntary- this withdrawal from the public eye?”
“Yes. Yes it was.”
He leans back on the chair, and smiles. His teeth are white and even, and I think then that he looks like a shark.
“So, nothing to do with the nodules that were discovered on your vocal chords then?”
I stiffen. Sensing my unease, he leans in for the kill.
“That must’ve been so difficult for you. Discovering that you wouldn’t be able to sing those high notes anymore?”
When I don’t answer, he abruptly switches tack.
“I hear you are being stalked?”
Nowhere in the brief that Gert did with this particular newspaper were any of these points mentioned. This was meant to be a gentle reintroduction to the world, not a public mauling.
Twenty years ago I would have stood up and walked out, imperious and Diva like. Now I sit here like a deer caught in the headlights. For one thing, I have nowhere to go to. This is my home. Secondly, I am unused to throwing my weight about. I size him up, and then give him a tremulous smile.
“Yes, it’s true that I cannot sing the way I once did, but that does not mean I can’t write either. As you know, I wrote all my own songs. I could have still had a career had I wanted one. I just chose not to. As for being stalked, there are any number of strange people who fixate on celebrities for the lack of something in their own lives. Giving them undue importance is just that.”
Satisfied, I take a sip of my tea, a slight smile playing around my lips.
“Yet this is not just a run-of-the-mill obsessive fan, is it? He’s a long term stalker. Someone who’s been leaving you little presents lately.”
I exhale sharply. This man is too well informed, and his source must lie within the force.
“I really do not wish to speak about it. This is a police matter now, and I suggest we leave it with them.”
I am not surprised to read a less than flattering piece on me. He describes me as an ageing prima donna with delusions of grandeur. I laugh and throw it aside. So much for speaking aloud. Now perhaps they will leave me in peace.
They do, and they don’t. The press has had its fill. The public aren’t that interested to discover that behind all those mysterious years there lies another spent talent. It’s the music producers that start sending the feelers.
“Katja, I’ve been receiving so many phone calls from people who thought you’d fallen off the face of the planet!”, Gert shouts excitedly down the phone. “They want you to write for them, for the new singers. Come on, isn’t it time? Why are you burying yourself in some Godforsaken village? You have more talent in that little finger of yours than most of these young ones do in their entire bodies!”
I grimace at that. Gert is prone to hyperbole when he gets fired up. Although it does get me thinking. What’s stopping me now?
My second career is going so well that I have forgotten all about KL. Till he resurfaces.
This time it’s a bunch of roses outside the front door. All white except one crimson one. I start shaking immediately. I look around me furtively, and then pick up the bouquet. A note drops out.
My girl is writing again. Such lovely songs. Are they for me?
Hillary comes three hours later, by which time I’ve worked myself into a state. I’m pacing up and down. My hair is a mess, and she takes a step back at the crazed look in my eyes.
“Calm down Miss Nilsson. This has arrived how many months later? Four, five? We’ll send the note to the lab for analysis, but I really think he might be losing steam.”
I look at her incredulously. “Losing steam? The note is written in blood! This man will never let go of me. What are you doing about it? When are you going to catch him?”
“We don’t have a lot to go on. I posted a few plainclothes men here a few times, and they spotted no suspicious characters. The Facebook messages disappeared soon after you reported them. He’s a phantom Miss Nilsson.”
“One you’re supposed to find! How will I ever feel safe while he’s out there?”
I break down then. Sobs racking my body while she pats me on the shoulder and mutters something soothing.
There is a cool breeze and I pull the covers up to my chin, trying to remember if I’ve left the window open. My feet feel cold, and half asleep, I rub them together to warm them. There is a distant sound of music and laughter. A party, I think sleepily.
Suddenly I’m wide awake, my heart thumping. He’s in the room. I can sense him. I reach for the steak knife I keep under the pillow but it isn’t there. I panic, and squeeze my eyes shut, hoping he hasn’t noticed my laboured breathing. His hand reaches under the covers and touches my leg.
I wake up screaming.
I look around the room frantically. There is no one there. It’s the nightmare. The same one I’ve had since I was fourteen. Since Mama’s first boyfriend after the divorce, decided he wanted to play with me instead of her.
He was the first of many. Till I finally escaped to the army. Yet the ghost of him lingers in every nook and cranny of my life.
I start looking for houses. Somewhere even more remote and rural. If I have to run my entire life, I’m going to make it as difficult as possible for him to follow me.
Gert rings me on a Sunday morning.
“Katja, there is a favour I have to ask of you.”
“What is it?”, I am wary. I don’t like giving or receiving favours.
“It’s Papa’s 70th Birthday. We’re having a big party. The whole family will be there. I’d like you to come.”
The whole family. I haven’t seen them in years. Not since that spectacular falling out after which I severed ties with all except Gert.
“It’s time to make your peace Auntie. This is the perfect occasion to do it. Everyone will be there. It can be like the old times again. Please say you’ll come. I’ll book the flights and the hotel immediately if you do.”
I find myself agreeing reluctantly.
Five days later I am boarding a flight to New York. It’s been years since I was surrounded by as many impatient people, pushing and shoving, and getting irritated with my slow moving ways. I’m confused at the airport, with the new regulations of having to put liquids in plastic bags, and walk through metal detectors shoe less. I’m confused with the flight numbers, and the gates, and the Duty Free shops filled with perfumes and alcohol. I am confused and I am scared. The world has changed a lot since I became a hermit.
The flight is uneventful, and the overweight American man I sit next to snores the entire way. I try to concentrate on the film on my personal monitor, but my thoughts flit here and there, a jumble of memories and conversations, of accusations and anger.
A flight attendant walks by me, then stops. She kneels in front and I brace myself for the usual gushing.
“Are you ok? You look rather pale. Would you like some water?”
I nod gratefully. I needn’t have bothered with all that camouflage over the years. My body is its own disguise.
The car whisks me to a Manhattan hotel. Gert has spared no expense. He’s done well out of my royalties. I snooze on the King size bed, dreading the evening get together. The party is scheduled for tomorrow, but tonight is about getting re acquainted.
I dress carefully in the black dress I bought online. Even at size 18, it clings to every lump and bump of my misshapen figure. I apply some red lipstick that must at least be a few decades old. It smells off, just like I do. The phone rings just as I am spritzing on some perfume. It’s Gert. He’s waiting in the lobby.
We walk into his Penthouse apartment, arm in arm. Gert is tall and handsome with his salt and pepper hair, and I am short and stout, and visibly nervous.
They all come and greet me silently, a kiss on each cheek. Mama sits proudly in her wheelchair, ever the Matriarch, waiting for me to go to her. I do. I kneel down and kiss her proffered cheek.
“The prodigal daughter returns,” she notes dryly, her voice a mix of whiskey and cigarettes.
I smile and move towards Gert’s father. He greets me stiffly, still not forgiving the last fracas. Families. I sigh inwardly, and keep smiling.
Wine loosens tongues, and over time the awkwardness dissipates. I stick to soda water, and don’t add much to the conversation. I have nothing to add anyhow. Talk is about the extended family who I haven’t been in touch with, current affairs that I have no clue of, and people who have died, whose funerals I did not attend.
“Katja, are you taking your medicines?” I turn around, startled. Mama is smirking up at me. “Are you? You know it’s the only way to control your condition.”
Gert comes and lays a hand on her shoulder to hush her up. I turn and stumble out of the room. This was a very bad idea indeed.
I wake up with a hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach and a thumping headache. Last night I got very, very drunk after a very long time. I’m not sure what I said or did but I do remember the look of horror on Gert’s face. I remember him dragging me out and putting me to bed. I sit up, and the room spins around me. With a groan I fall back upon the pillow. Mama’s face swims into my mind, shock and disgust writ large on it.
Nausea hits me suddenly, and I stagger to the bathroom, and throw up in the toilet. Shaking, I move towards the basin to wash my face.
You naughty naughty girl.
My red lipstick lies abandoned on the side, the script on the mirror screaming its message out to me silently. Aghast, I back away.
I walk the streets of Manhattan for hours. At one point I find myself on a bench in Central Park, as a horse drawn carriage with a young couple goes by. There is a surreal quality to this morning. I feel everything is too vivid, the colours too loud, the sunshine too bright. The cacophony of the traffic is assaulting my ear drums, but I walk on, uncaring, unseeing.
The sun is setting as I wander back into the hotel lobby. The manager approaches me.
“Miss Nilsson, there have been several messages for you. Mr Peeters came to pick you up around noon, but there was no response from your room. We, uh, had to enter to check that you were okay. The room has been cleaned. Is there anything I can get you?”
I walk past him blindly.
There is a note on the dresser. It’s from Gert.
‘Come if you can.’
But I can’t. I flick through the Television channels, unable to comprehend anything. Finally, succumbing to the gnawing in my stomach I order dinner. And a double vodka.
KATJA NILSSON FOUND DEAD IN NEW YORK HOTEL ROOM
In what appears to be a suicide, Miss Nilsson, yesteryear superstar was found dead in the bathtub of her Manhattan hotel room. She had recently emerged from a self imposed exile. However, reports indicate that her mental state was extremely fragile. It appears that whilst Miss Nilsson claimed that she was the victim of a stalker, she was in fact suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. Her family had long urged for medical and psychiatric intervention that she had refused, choosing instead to barricade herself from the world. Her nephew and manager had this official statement to make:
‘It is with great sadness that we bid Katja goodbye. She lives on in our hearts through her extraordinary music, the legacy of a tragic, troubled life. Kindly leave us to mourn her in peace.’
A bouquet of white roses with a solitary crimson one in the midst, sits on the graveside of Katja Nilsson. The note reads: Dearly departed, Rest in Peace.x