Isabelle Olin’s
The Big White Elephant
Lives in My Closet Too


What is your legal name? What would you like to be called?



She had decided she would be Sydney. Sydney like a man’s name. Sydney like Australia. Sydney from Paris. But she learned quite early on in this place of raucous music and naked breasts, that eyes worked harder than ears, and she learned that she hated it when people called her Cindy, but that it would happen, and often.

She could not choose the price of a lapdance, nor its duration, nor whether or not a man would unceremoniously decide to take her to the back room – mid-mindless conversation, and make her night worthwhile, but she could elect her name and construct her persona, and so she went mad when people refused to lend any respect to that.

Or rather frankly refused to care.

She hated when they didn’t play by the rules, didn’t play along, although every once in awhile someone would tilt their head at a sharp angle and repeat “Sydney, from Paris?” with an ironic smirk on their face, and those were the clients she loved best. The ones who did not only look at her nor through her, but perhaps at least tried to glance some of what was inside of her.

The little bit that she cared to show.

A cigarette in her hand to pass the time, she would sit at the bar and contemplate this place, the garish lights, the men and women mingling in an unnatural and mock mating routine, with the DJ as chief officiator.

The flirtations, the penny-a-piece-words, the obvious, obvious sham of it all. She did not mind so much approaching men, or vast tables of them, but she knew where she was not wanted, and she never ventured there. She also was never so audacious as to promptly undress once she greeted a customer, ensuring the transaction of twenties would commence immediately, like so many of the Russian girls did, and this won her some small fondness amongst the crowd.

Nonetheless, she had an exceptionally hard time knowing when to step up and away from a client who wanted nothing more than cheap talk and gazes free of charge, who had no concerted intention of ever pulling out his wallet and making her time, time well spent.

She had difficulty reducing people, even submerged in the dark expanse and neon lights, to nothing more than a dollar sign, a business transaction to be lost or won.

This lost her some small money, and time, and peace of mind.

And though dancing was in most ways infinitely preferable to standing sedately at a podium for twelve-hour shifts, though the money had afforded her her first apartment with her absent husband, that’s not to say she didn’t eventually get tired of stripping also.

The fear and recklessness, even sadness, the insecurity and that pinch at the pit of her stomach.

She even got bored of that or rather became blasé, immune to it all, though she could not bring herself to walk out of the club’s heavy darkness quite as easily as she had walked out so many revolving restaurant doors. And so rather than discard the experience, the life, rather than simply walk away and vow to forget, to hardly ever look back, she enhanced it, sharpened it and made it more insidious.

More her own.

Used it to fill the hollows in the sides of her waist, the empty corner at the bottom of her heart. The hours, the loneliness, the feeling of time dragging on, and of being the only person who truly feels, and is crushed under the weight of it. The crooks in her apartment which echoed with the absence of Him who Was Not There, filled only with the sounds of the sand colored puppy who whimpered, but never spoke.

She began going home with the clients. Not to screw, or fuck, but just to not be alone. Just to save herself that ache, those solemn hours when it is not quite morning and yet not quite night. When everything hangs in the balance, when the ghosts come out to play.

It always begins like that, and it always ends with hands that slip into places where they do not belong, and a shame that is less something you walk around in, and more something you inhabit.

One particularly substandard night, in which money had been made with a creeping and sporadic propensity, she decided to take the plunge. It was 3:47 am and she could think of nothing better to do, no better way to shed the cobwebs, ward off the ghosts, to escape the night and herself. Breaking the cardinal rule of not going home with clients. A rule which had been enacted, she was never quite sure, more for her safety or for that of the club.

He was not even one of her regulars, not even a face she had laid eyes on for longer than the duration of sixty seconds. He simply strolled in thirteen minutes before last call, strolled in when the crowd was thinning and most girls were either in the President’s Lounge or already in the powder room, exchanging their tawdry ballgowns for their ruffed up converse and jeans. Wiping off their makeup and counting out their share of house fee, eleven starched and sweaty bills of twenty. Just strolled in and threw her a line about getting out of here, chatting, having some fun, and that sounded like just what she needed.

His name was Chris or Jason, she could never quite recall. He was a CFO and young for the pay grade, with a face that would have been called kind, or in the least boyish, and who’s likeness was most probably hanging on the crumbling face of a fraternity wall.

After all the horny jerkoffs, the dirty old men, the lusty Arabs with their grease and comb overs, he was infinitely more desirable. More sane looking.

A specimen of seemingly more temperate and wholesome taste.

He had an apartment in Murray Hill, in one of those high rises, politely tucked amidst the bulk of the centric floors. A small space, with a balcony looking East, onto the grey and sleepy river. He had a collection of coke and weed and a few bottles of red wine, and as they stumbled through his front door near the stroke of four, they made a firm and unanimous decision to sample them all, at once.

Lucie had an exceptional ability of forging arcane and immediate bonds with absolute strangers, driven on by the mutual feeling that these two random people have been flung together by fate, in this particular moment, for some particular and vastly imperative reason.

There is a harmony, a communion in these types of moments, which is by nature ethereal and never lasting, which is like a spell that is cast and can in an instant, be broken. Which is a sort of trance in which both parties act and speak and commune, and bare their very souls, but cannot, for all the world, remember the next morning what was so special, what bound them and kept them so entranced, the strange force which led them to act and speak as naturally and absurdly as they did.

It is by definition the Circumstantial and Beloved, Severe and Passing Friendship.

And it was somewhere within this span of sifting time, somewhere between the lines, the laughter, the sprawling atop his balcony’s plastic lawn chairs, that she had stumbled to his bathroom to splash her face with frigid water, to sink to the hard tiled floor and catch her breath and count the beatings of her heart.

Erratic and misinformed, so many skulls and crossbones making their way through her cerebral cortex.

It was in the moment that she was desperately searching the cabinets for eyedrops, ripping open draws and doors and exploring the space below the sink, that her phone had rung, that the number had been long distance, and her father’s. It was in that blink of history that he had plainly communicated to her that he knew about her tendency towards girls, that he had seen it on her MySpace page. That someone had told him. That he could not bring himself, for all the world, to understand what it all meant.

When you are two great continents apart, it is hard to take much of anything seriously, especially when you are hunkered down, shoeless, on a strange bathroom floor, and your blood is diluted with a river of white powder.

White, like freshly driven snow.

She had laughed, as if it had been an exceptionally droll conversation she was in that moment immersed in, a joke, something that must be clarified to be rightly grasped, and explained to him but girls are beautiful and love is not meant to abide by the rules of gender and sex and social norms.

That love had no vision and no bounds. That it cannot be confined, nor defined. That in love nothing can be unnatural or wrong or looked-down-upon.

She said something like that. Or something like that is what she intended to say, though she was not quite sure is he was getting her or if it was all just coming out as rabid mumbling.

In the language of freshly driven snow.

There was a long pause, occupied by the expiration of sound, and a chorus of shallow, light breathing. And then, even through the broken connection, she could hear the disappointment in his voice, the welling tears, like a waterfall in reverse, the Bruce Willis scowl. She was made to understand, despite the skulls and crossbones, despite the freshly driven snow and the senseless rambling, that she had, once again, failed to inhabit the mathematical cyphers in a mode that was deemed correct, that the equation was off, that something must be added or taken away to make the proof work again. To return the world to its level tilt, a few degrees off axis.

She had returned to the balcony, where the sun was just beginning to stretch up over the sleepy East River, and from beneath her false blanket of security, had blurted the whole thing out. Had cried as he offered her another line, as he filled her wine glass up again to the top, and the city began to be alive.

It was too bright to stay and keep on drinking, and snorting, and smoking, and laughing, and too real to leave, and face the world, and the morning hustle, and the suits with starbucks in their hands, rushing off to their 8am conference calls.

To a world in which the axis never seemed to tilt, or diverge, or outright betray its tendency toward sharp and frequent deviation.

He took her hand with care and led her to the living area, to the greying walls and the suede taupe couch. Where he put a disc in the player and she kept on talking, bewildered and unmanned. When she turned to face the tv screen it was filled with writhing bodies and graphic close ups of large boobs and cunts being penetrated, deeply, repeatedly, and often. His right hand was groping the front of his grey sweatpants, the other circled tightly around her shoulder. An air of vacantness, of determination on his strung-out face. The whole scene laid out so clear in the harsh morning light, with the half empty crystal glasses, the baggies and joints strewn haphazardly across the coffee table’s humble surface.

She felt she should get up to leave but instead she just watched, looked on, mesmerized and blank, unable to adequately process it all.

When she finally did make to get up and move towards the door he led her to the bed. Not in this state, he said. Not like this. You’re not feeling well, you should rest a little, I know you’re hurting. Sleep it off he said, as he laid her down beside him and circled her in his tight grasp once more.

A show for the comfortless.

Silent and determined.

There they lay, wooden beside each other for a moment, perhaps minutes, until he pulled her closer, facing him.

It was then that he pinned her down next to him. Pulled out his dick, and started masturbating. She lay there silent, like a corpse, while he held her. And raped her over and over and over in his mind. His hot breath in her face, his arm clenching her like a vice. She wanted to combust, to sublimate. Be anywhere but there. Give back the freshly driven snow, take back the closeness, the fake blanket of security, toss it to the corner and run.

Rewind the night.

As she walked stiffly out the door, half stumbled, head like a kite, she heard his breath quicken, then strangle. He fell back against the bed panting, while along the edges of his hairline there dripped beads of luminous sweat.

She never wanted to go back. Never wanted to see his face again. His bed, his dick. His sweaty breath. Not for all the coke in the world.

“Sydney ….” He croaked.

She slammed the door behind her.

She didn’t know why she had gone in the first place. Didn’t know how she could be so lost, how she could have had her compass so off center. With her blood pumping with snow, she stumbled her way to the subway, her heart heavy-laden.

Her body broken, transfixed, marred.

Like the body of a lover who’s already been had, and tossed aside.

She hoped to God she could forget this night. Hoped that this was the exception and not the rule, Hoped that she could one day get out.

And she should have known, should have realized then that Hope is this lifeline which holds us up, which some call by the name of Faith, the harness from which we dangle, the carabineers, the elaborate knots, the steely stakes. Yet sometimes we have unwittingly driven them into shaky ground, sometimes we are floating on little more than air, balancing precociously from the peak of a summit. We fall in love with Hope and entrust everything to it, this Eternal Optimism, this misplaced dependence, this foul and fickle friend. Like a lucky penny on the angle of a dirty street, we believe that someone will pick us up, and put us in their pocket, and take us where we are meant to go.

We hope, we believe, we trust, with superlative and rabid blindness, and suddenly we find ourselves in a freefall, plummeting downward from the highest heights.

Sometimes we are badly mistaken, sometimes we are flung down, and we can’t seem to pull ourselves back up.

Sometimes we find ourselves brittle and broken, a pile of dust and bones, and we wonder how it happened, how it ever came to this.

Falling can feel a lot like flying, yet flying does not leave you shattered and limp, like a ragdoll left too long out in the rain.

And if she could go back and face him, face all of them, this is what she would say.

– Lesson 1: Just because I smile it doesn’t mean its ok.

– Lesson 2: Just because I’m a stripper doesn’t mean I’ll fuck you.

– Lesson 3: You’re a poor, wretched prick, and I wouldn’t even so much as glance in your direction if it wasn’t for the six figures molding away in your bank account.

And that’s the Bible truth.



Isabelle Olin was born in France and raised in Africa. She studied in New York… A child of the world, she travels, often. St. Andrew’s Cross (, which appeared in Smoke Signals last year, was the first publication of her fiction.

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