• Tom Batt

Vanity Fare

She loved the flash of the camera, each time it shone its bright white light she knew a special moment in time was being captured for all eternity. Her essence was being preserved for future generations to appreciate and she would live long into history.

Tanya pulled another pose as the photographer moved around her snapping away with relish. He made sure he caught every angle of her stunningly beautiful features; full lips, thin nose and bright blue eyes. Her long flowing hair draped over her shoulders like some greek goddess. She was wearing the most outlandish clothing, a multicoloured dress that barely covered her crotch, but was liberal with material around her shoulders, yet she could pull it off. I look amazing in anything, Tanya thought as the photographer took several shots of her standing with her hands on her hips and a sultry look on her face.

Three hours later Tanya and the photographer were standing in front of a computer monitor looking at a series of thumbnails laid out in a grid. The photographer was smiling to himself as he scanned through them.

‘I think I did a really good job,’ he said.

Tanya raised an eyebrow.

‘You did a good job? All you do is point the camera and click. I’m the one putting myself out there, risking my reputation on your eye. People don’t even know your name.’

The photographer had to bite his tongue. He desperately wanted to retort with some snide remark, but she was the talent after all and she had the power to ruin his career if she wanted. She could make sure no one hired him ever again. Tanya was oblivious to his scowl pointing out three of the thumbnails on the screen.

‘I like these three. They best capture my essence. Send those,’ she ordered before turning and strutting away like she was traipsing the catwalk.

The photographer selected the three photos and dragged them over to a trashcan icon removing them from the collection. He smirked to himself as they disappeared.

Tanya sat in her agent’s large office which was styled like some Japanese dojo. She seemed uninterested in the overweight and sweaty man sat before her as she filed her nails. He was sifting through papers on his messy desk.

‘We have been inundated with offers. Everybody wants to work with you,’ he wheezed.

‘Can you blame them?’ Tanya replied without looking up from a task she considered more important than looking someone in the eye when conversing with them.

‘You’re going to have to turn some of these down,’ he said trying to collate the papers in some kind of order.

‘Well, I don’t like to disappoint people, but if that’s what’s needed.’

The agent put on a pair of thin glasses that almost looked as though they would break wrapped around his fat head.

‘I’ll run off some of the names, you say “yay” or “nay”. Estelle Moda?’

‘Sure,’

The agent made a note and turned over to the next page. He continued to run off names and Tanya gave a simple “yes” or “no”, although some warranted a “no way” or a “definitely”. At each one she maintained her focus on her nails until a name spilled from his lips that demanded she pay more attention.

‘Paulo Vicenti?’ he asked.

Tanya leant forward in her chair.

‘Wait, Paulo Vicenti wants me?’

The agent read the document more closely to ensure he had read it correctly.

‘Uh yeah, he wants you for his Christmas campaign. But it’s an exclusive contract.’

‘Are you serious?’ Tanya almost screamed jumping up from her seat.

‘That’s what it says.’

Tanya paced around the room a huge grin forming between her soft sculpted cheeks.

‘Reject everything else. I want that job,’ she ordered.

‘Are you sure? It’s better to spread yourself across multiple brands. It would be more lucrative for me…I mean, for you.’

Tanya slammed her fist down on the desk and shoved her face in close to the agent’s. She was at least four times smaller than him and yet he found her incredibly intimidating at times.

‘I don’t care about the others. I want Paulo Vicenti. Tell them I’ll do it,’ she said through gritted teeth.

‘If you’re sure,’ the agent replied with a stutter as he picked up the phone and dialled.

The apartment was modern, but sparse. Tanya didn’t feel it necessary to purchase too much furniture for somewhere she barely spent any time. The one thing she did need however was mirrors on the walls in every room. Everywhere she goes, everything she does, she can watch herself while she does it.

As she stepped through the front door she caught sight of a flyer on the floor. She picked it up and read “Maintain your youthful looks. We provide a variety of products at our new store, Au Naturel. Never age a day!” Tanya laughed as she crumpled the leaflet in her hand and tossed it across the room.

Having worked hard during the morning the rest of her day was spent watching cooking programmes (staring longingly at a chef bake a chocolate cake while she munched on a light salad) and sweating off as much weight as possible on her cycling machine. Watching herself as she did of course.

Horror struck in the evening however. She stepped into the bathroom and was stunned to see something amiss in the reflection of the mirror staring back at her. She leant in closer to analyse the small wrinkle in the corner of her eye. Her brows furrowed and her nose scrunched up in disgust. She hastily pulled open the medicine cabinet and took out a pot of anti-wrinkle cream. She rubbed a thick amount onto the wrinkle and took a deep breath to relax her beating heart. By the morning that little bastard will be gone, she thought.

Tanya awoke with a yawn and a stretch admiring herself in a mirror hanging above the bed. Even tired she looked gorgeous. She slipped out from under the duvet and made her way into the en-suite. She’d forgotten about the incident the prior evening and so was stunned to find the wrinkle still there almost mocking her.

She whipped open a cupboard under the sink revealing tens of pots of beauty creams and scooped up several in her arms spilling them into the sink. She began opening each one and applying a small amount to the wrinkle. Two hours later she was still standing in front of the mirror burning holes into her reflection. The wrinkle remained. She’d been through every product she had and nothing could remove it. Suddenly she remembered something and rushed out of the bathroom.

The crumpled leaflet was still sat in the corner of the room. She collected it and smoothed it out on the dining table. She noted the address printed at the bottom.

It was only a short walk down the high street, but she still wore a large pair of designer sunglasses to hide her imperfection. She’d rather the strange looks for wearing shades despite the cloudy weather than people seeing the hideous crease on her face.

She arrived at the shop, a large sign swinging in the wind reading “Au Naturel, beauty eternal”. She was slightly concerned by the lack of light seen through the window and wondered if the shop was even open, but as she pushed on the door it swung with ease.

The dark rustic shop felt small and claustrophobic. Shelves were tightly compacted together each one filled with pots and jars of bizarre contents. Tanya was drawn to a particular one that looked like it contained pickled worms. She turned up her noise and almost jumped out of her skin when she heard a voice behind her.

‘They’re very good for keeping your skin soft,’ the voice whispered.

Tanya turned to find a beautiful gypsy-like woman standing behind her smiling. Although her face was young she dressed like an old lady causing Tanya to question in her mind how old this woman was. The woman took the jar from Tanya and admired it.

‘It’s amazing what nature can do for us if only we look past the grotesque,’ she said.

She put the jar down on a shelf and stared at Tanya expectantly.

‘How may I help you?’

‘I’m looking for something that can get rid of wrinkles,’ Tanya replied without hesitation.

‘What kind of wrinkles?’

‘This kind,’ Tanya said, whipping off the sunglasses and pointing at her eye.

The woman leant in close to study the almost non-existent line on Tanya’s face and nodded confidently.

‘Ah yes, I have just the thing.’

The woman made her way over to the counter and bent down disappearing behind it. Tanya cautiously approached and flinched as the woman reappeared clutching a small tub in her hand. She passed it to Tanya.

‘Apply a small amount of this to the wrinkle,’ the woman said.

Tanya stared at the label-less tub wondering what the green substance inside could contain. If it was anything like the pickled worms she wasn’t sure she wanted it anywhere near her face.

‘Go ahead,’ the woman encouraged.

Tanya unscrewed the lid and raised the tub to her nose. She jolted her head back as the scent hit.

‘It doesn’t smell too pleasant,’ Tanya said.

‘The smell dissipates once it’s on your skin. Trust me,’ the woman replied gesturing with a hand for Tanya to test it.

Tanya dipped a finger into the moist cream extracting a small amount on the tip and gently rubbed it over the wrinkle. The woman then held a small mirror in front of her. Tanya stared at her reflection and was gobsmacked when she witnessed the wrinkle fade away.

‘Oh my God. What is this stuff?’ Tanya exclaimed.

‘A special blend I created myself,’ the woman answered. ‘It will remove all wrinkles as long as it’s applied every twenty-four hours. Otherwise it will wear off.’

‘How much?’ Tanya was already reaching into her purse before the woman could reply.

‘Consider it a gift.’

Tanya paused. ‘Really? Why?’

‘A woman of your beauty shouldn’t have to worry about wrinkles. But a word of warning. You must never apply more than necessary, less is more,’ the woman said with a sinister tone.

‘Yeah, sure. Thanks,’ Tanya said shoving the tub into her handbag and rushing for the door.

The music in the nightclub was thumping, deafening the patrons, but Tanya made sure her friends could hear every word she was saying shouting at an almost aggressive level.

‘Paulo Vicenti himself says he wants me in his Christmas campaign. I’m going to become a household name around the world. People will be tripping over themselves to get my face on their adverts,’ she said before taking a sip of her champagne.

Her friends gave a forced display of congratulations, but Tanya could see the envy burning inside and she revelled in it.

A small timid girl of around eighteen years old had been watching Tanya from afar and had finally built up the courage to approach. The girl cowered in the presence of this woman she admired and had to fight the urge to bolt out of the room in fear.

‘Excuse me, Tanya?’ The girl strained to shout.

She was not a shouter, she didn’t like to draw too much attention to herself and so preferred to keep her volume low, but there was no other way to gain Tanya’s attention. She called out again and this time Tanya turned to see who was saying her name.

‘Yes? Do I know you?’ Tanya snapped back.

‘Um, no. My name’s Jodie. I just wanted to say I’m a huge fan of yours and hope to one day be like you. I was wondering if you had any advice on how to make it as a model,’ Jodie shouted, feeling her voice crack under the pressure of outdoing the loud music.

Tanya gave a cursory glance to her friends, smirking, before turning back to Jodie.

‘Yeah, here’s my advice. Don’t bother. It’s dog eat dog out there babe and just by looking at you I can see you’d be eaten alive.’

Jodie’s face fell and it was clear in her eyes her heart was tearing in two. This is not what she was hoping to hear and it hurt. Unfortunately for her, Tanya wasn’t done.

‘You don’t have what it takes, babe. Your cheek bones are too sharp, your jaw too wide. You’d probably need to get a nose job. It just wouldn’t be worth it. Do something else with your life, something that doesn’t require beauty.’

Jodie’s head dropped. ’Oh, okay. I just thought maybe you could help me.’

Tanya grinned. ‘Sure, why don’t you come to my apartment tomorrow…’

Jodie’s eyes lit up and a smile stretched across her round face.

‘…and you can clean my toilet!’ Tanya said, before bursting out laughing along with her gaggle of friends.

As Jodie’s head dropped with disappointment, Tanya gestured toward a nearby bouncer alerting him to Jodie’s presence. The bouncer nodded in acknowledgement and towered over Jodie’s small frame. He informed her she was infringing on a VIP area and she needed to step away placing a hand on her shoulder and giving her a gentle nudge in the right direction.

The rotund agent leant back in his chair sipping at his seventh cup of coffee of the day as he listened to Tanya regaling a tale. She was lounging on a sofa staring up at the ceiling waving her arms erratically.

‘This girl just approached me in the club. She could have been some crazy lunatic and tried to kill me. It’s not safe for me out there anymore. Everybody wants a piece. Do you know how many people would benefit from my death? So many models are snapping at my heels right now.’

‘Maybe you should get yourself a bodyguard,’ he said trying to humour her. ‘It can’t hurt to be too careful.’

‘I might just do that. Keep these people away from me.’

The agent sat forward placing his mug down on the large hardwood desk covered in papers.

‘Anyway, the reason I called you in. I heard back from Vincendo,’ he said, sifting through the many documents.

‘Vicenti!’ Tanya cried as she sat up.

‘Yeah, him.’ He slipped out a sheet of paper and read from it. ‘He wants to do the shoot tomorrow. I’ll email over the details.’

‘Tomorrow?’ Tanya said surprised. She stood up and began pacing the room.

‘Is that going to be a problem?’ he asked, concerned.

‘No, tomorrow is fine. I just need to prepare. I’d better go, I only have a few hours.’

Tanya picked up her handbag and disappeared through the door.

She spent much longer than usual on her cycling machine pushing herself further and harder, the sweat flicking from her limbs. Her heart was pounding fast inside her chest, but she was willing to risk a heart attack to ensure she was in peak condition visually.

She stepped into the en-suite bathroom for her final ritual of face creams before bed and gave herself a little pep talk in front of the mirror. She paused mid-sentence however when she noticed two wrinkles in the corner of her eye. She couldn’t believe it. First one, now two. She grabbed the tub of magic cream that was given to her by the strange woman and dipped a finger in collecting a small amount on the tip. She glanced at the two wrinkles and scowled.

‘Less is more? Whatever!’

She shoved all four fingers into the tub scooping out a thick blob and began rubbing it in all over her face from hairline to neck, ear to ear. She left no patch untouched. She watched the two wrinkles disappear and smiled with relief.

That night she slept better than she’s ever slept before, despite it taking her a while to relax with the excitement buzzing through her. When she awoke the next morning she was full of energy and ready to show Vicenti what she could do. Her reflection in the mirror above was obscured by her tangled hair, but she didn’t care. She knew exactly how good she looked today.

She shuffled into the en-suite and brushed apart the strands of hair like a curtain revealing her face to herself. She froze. Her heart rate increased, her jaw dropped. She began panting in disbelief at the stranger staring back at her. Who was that? Her face was covered in warty lumps oozing pus, parts of her skin were crusty and flaking. Her eye-lids were drooping and her cheeks sagging. She screamed so loud the mirror on the wall rattled from the vibration.

Tanya swivelled the tap causing a splash of water to stream into the sink and soaked a flannel underneath. She wiped her face aggressively, but all that came away was the sticky yellow pus and dead skin. Her panicked breathing increased out of control and everything went black as she passed out.

Tanya’s small feet walked at a quick pace down the high street. Her face was covered with large sunglasses, a wide brimmed summer hat and a silk scarf over her mouth and nose. She was desperate not to bump into anyone she knew. Hopefully her disguise would prevent that.

She came upon the ‘Au Naturel’ shop and questioned whether she was in the right place. There was no sign, and when she peered through the window it was empty inside. She pushed on the door, but this time it was locked. She banged with her fist, but it was just causing attention to herself. That was something she didn’t want right now, which was a strange feeling for her.

When Tanya arrived back at her apartment she slammed the front door shut and put on the chain lock. She tugged the scarf from her face and took off the sunglasses. Her phone began ringing in her handbag. She took it out to find her agent was calling. She cancelled the call and a display on the screen read “25 missed calls”.

She looked around the room, everywhere mirrors reflecting the hideousness that clung to her. She threw the phone shattering one of the mirrors on impact. She then reached down beside her pulling an umbrella from a stand by the door. Tanya stalked the room swinging the umbrella at each mirror smashing it into pieces on the floor. She couldn’t bear to see herself like this and destroying every mirror made it a little easier to relax while she figured out what to do. With each reflection in the living room now expelled she dropped the umbrella and collapsed to the floor exhausted bursting into tears.

There was a knock at the door. Tanya paused her blubbering and shifted her attention to the locked entrance.

‘Who is it?’ she called out.

‘Who do you think it is?’ her agent’s muffled voice replied. ‘Open the door.’

Tanya got to her feet and cautiously crept closer.

‘I can’t.’

‘Why not?’

‘I just can’t,’ she said trying to hold back more tears.

‘Tanya, I’ve been getting calls all morning. Why aren’t you at the shoot?’

‘I can’t go.’

‘Well, you need to explain why. Open the door,’ he said exasperated, rattling the door knob.

She didn’t know what to do or what to say to him. As soon as he saw her face it would be the end of her, but she needed help. Maybe he knew someone who could fix this.

She slipped off the chain lock and opened the door. As soon as he saw her he was stunned, unsure whether he was talking to the right person.

‘My God. What happened?’ he asked, as he stepped inside closing the door behind.

Tanya walked away hugging herself, rubbing her arms.

‘I don’t know. I was fine yesterday. I applied some cream to get rid of a wrinkle and I woke up like this.’

‘Well, you want a word with whoever provided that cream. You may have a case to sue,’ he said, the lawyer inside him coming out.

‘I tried, but the shop is no longer there. I don’t know what to do. I can’t go out like this.’

He placed a hand on her shoulder to calm her. She turned to him and grabbed his jacket lapels pulling him in close.

‘You have to help me,’ she begged.

The agent had to avert his eyes as she pushed her omelette-like face closer to his. Having spent most of his life around beautiful people, this was offending him.

‘Don’t worry, we’re going to fix this. Let me make some calls. I’ll be back,’ he said removing her grip on his clothing.

The agent left the apartment and Tanya slammed the door shut behind him putting the lock back on. She felt a little better. She trusted him. He’d done so much for her and she’d made so much money for him, there was no way he’d leave her high and dry now. Or so she thought.

It only took a few minutes before her agent’s secretary called to say they would no longer be representing her. Whilst they appreciated everything she had done for the agency it was no longer going to work and it seemed like neither was she. Who would represent her with this face? Who would hire her? This was it, she would spend the rest of her life looking this way. How could she go outside? People would stare at her for the wrong reasons this time. She was deep in thought as she paced around the room avoiding the broken glass surrounding her bare feet. Her shoulders dropped and she fell down to her knees. Tanya ran her fingers over the sea of shards in front of her. She picked up a large jagged piece and caught another sight of her reflection. She placed the shard on her wrist and closed her eyes.

As the landlord opened the apartment door Tanya’s Mum was worried what they might find. She hadn’t heard from Tanya in several days and although they weren’t considered close this wasn’t like her daughter to disappear off the radar. She stepped inside and immediately noticed the broken glass on the floor. Following the trail of destruction she came upon her only child’s body, dried blood stretching from open wounds on both wrists. Tanya’s dead eyes stared up at her surrounded by her beautiful soft skin clear of any imperfection except two small wrinkles in the corner of her eye.

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