Girls On Film

 

'Another weary day at the office', I thought, as I picked up my handbag and left, locking the front door after me. I wore jeans and trainers, a headscarf and dark glasses. In my job I spent all day and often much ...of the night in a succession of uncomfortable outfits and high heels, trying to twist myself into torturous postures, so comfy clothes were a rare luxury.

Whichever designer I would be modelling for that day would have his own ideas about the best way to demonstrate his genius to his adoring public - which meant I often I felt like some sort of plasticine voodoo doll, bent every which way under the unforgiving lights of the studio.

I caught a cab at the end of the street, sinking down onto the sticky upholstery and trying to pretend I couldn’t smell last night’s vomit drying on the carpet. I pulled a corner of the headscarf across my nose and mouth, which helped a little, the scent of my own brand of perfume making me smile. The terrifying journey took only a few minutes, but felt like hours as the taxi driver dodged lanes and shot between parked cars with millimetres to spare. I asked myself, as I did every morning, why I risked my life in a London taxi when I could have walked.

As always, we arrived without accident and I said a quiet prayer of thanks as I paid the fare, remembering to get a receipt for expenses. As the taxi pulled away I took a moment to catch my breath and clear my lungs of the stench.

The studio was an unpretentious red brick Victorian semi, the blacked out windows the only clue to its present use. I ran up the steps, taking them two at a time, and rang the bell, annoyed they hadn’t seen me arrive. Usually the door opened the moment I reached the top of the steps - the day couldn't start until I arrived. I shouldn’t be standing out here where any paparazzi could photograph me: no make-up, hair all over the place. It was more than my career was worth.

At last Georgie opened the door and I stalked past him without speaking, still angry. Immediately afterwards the guilt stabbed me, because Georgie was always so good and took all our tantrums in his stride, never complaining. I turned to flash him a smile, the sort of smile that should have made his day, but he wasn’t looking my way. His had head down, turned partly away from me. If I hadn’t known him better, I’d have said he was crying, but Georgie had the sunniest nature of anyone here, even though he never spoke.

I went along the corridor to the dressing and make-up rooms at the back, finally registering that something was different. It took me a moment to work out what it was, then I had it. It was the silence. Usually the place would be buzzing by this time in the morning, with hairdressers, make-up artists and costumiers all fussing over the other girls. The babble of excited voices and giggling, with Tony trying and failing to keep order, was a constant background every morning. But not this morning.

Unless I was first here, which I knew was impossible - I was always fashionably late, as befitted the star of the show - then something was seriously wrong. My trainers were silent on the thick carpet of the hallway, so when I pushed open the door at the end no-one had heard me coming. I took in everything at a glance, a frozen tableau.

Everyone stood around, looking down at a figure on the ground. I remember thinking, inconsequentially, that I didn’t remember us having a red carpet and then the reality hit me. The place was a soaked in blood.

It’s an over-used expression, ‘soaked in blood’, and you find it in every cheap paperback crime novel, but there is no other way to describe the scene before me. Everything: the floor, the walls, the furniture, the costumes, was drenched in the stuff. I could even smell it, taste it on my tongue. Years at the top told me this was the moment I should sigh to get their attention, and then fold artistically into a dead faint, making sure there was someone nearby to catch me.

Unfortunately, beneath the delicate bone structure of my world famous face lies the brain of a scientist and the constitution of a farmer, so I missed my moment. Besides, I didn't want to land on the blood-soaked carpet.

“What's happened?” I asked. They all turned as one to look at me and I saw the shock on each and every face. They didn’t expect to see me there. Why? I took a step forward to see what they were looking at.

She wore identical clothes to me, from the fleece jacket to the worn trainers and next to her head lay broken sunglasses, just like mine. They had thought it was me. The face was so destroyed, it was impossible to tell what she had looked like, but I knew. This was the South African girl, the new girl, who had ambition to be the most recognised face in London. She'd come over here full of confidence, certain her beauty and grace would propel her straight to the top, fuelled by her daddy's millions. She'd had her eye on my position.

Well, now she'd succeed in her thirst for recognition, because sure as hell her photo would be plastered across all the newspapers over the next twenty four hours. The speculation was going to be rife: was the attack aimed at myself? An attempt to bring down the fashion house? Arguments between the girls? A lover spurned? Apartheid motivated, because she was from a wealthy white family who had somehow clung to their fortune through all the changes in power?

It wasn’t any of these. I knew what it was.

I should.

I was the one who put her there. Silly little girl, to challenge me like that. Now she’d have the fame she wanted.

(c) Kerry Buchanan 2020

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