Two months had passed. Sally gazed into the mirror above the phone noting that the bruising around her eyes from the rhinoplasty was almost gone. She tried to smile in order to assess her new teeth veneers and the laser enhancement of the rest, but feeling the slight pull on the scars behind her ears, she desisted. At least the mottled horror of the chemical peel that had given her the appearance of a jackal’s arse, had all but dissipated.
Over the past months, she had woken in the twilight of anaesthetic recovery rooms and wondered what her motivation was for inviting such pain and discomfort. Why was a plain and tired-looking woman, for whom menopause was merely a memory that had slipped below the event horizon, trying to transform herself into a photograph that she had stolen from Facebook? She looked at the photo that she had sent to Hilary Slade ; the anonymous pneumatic blond that she had passed off as the author of her own book, and thereby created a monster called ‘Lotus Adams’. This was the girl that Hilary Slade wanted to sign and make a literary star, not Sally.
‘Bring on the facial fillers and the blond weave’, she said, narrowing her eyes, as best she could, forgetting that the skin above her eyelids was now taut and unforgiving. The frozen rictus of a smile from the unfamiliar creature in the mirror was a little alarming. Sally wondered how much her yet unsettled surgery might frighten a hairdresser. Perhaps she should give it a few weeks more.
Hilary Slade had Peppie, her assistant, call Lotus Adam’s mother regularly with exactly the same result. Some waffling reply about her daughter’s imminent return from the Himalayas. Hilary had begun to wonder whether the woman wasn’t stupid. Did she not understand the urgency of the matter? In her considerable experience, an offer of a publishing contract usually overcame all and any obstacles, both moral and geographical, to even the most scrupulous anti-materialist. Evidently not in this case. Her fingers itched with the frustration of ‘The Impossibility of Finding Lotus Adam’. Mmnn, good title for her own book, perhaps.
A week later, Dr Haar had talked Sally out of the facial fillers and persuaded her to go for a longer-lasting solution to reclaim the plump skin of a twenty year old.
‘Do you know any twenty year olds whose plump skin we can claim’, she had joked inadvisedly to the slightly paranoid Dr Haar.
The procedure normally cost well over two thousand pounds and with her funds receding like greasy water down a recently unblocked drain, she had sought out Dr Haar, who promised to carry out the ‘Organic Facelift’ for a fraction of the cost, due to the fact that he had very low overheads.
Sally could appreciate how he had kept his overheads low, when she had climbed the winding staircase to his clinic, above a fried chicken take-out in an unfashionable part of South London. But it turned out that her misgivings were misplaced, even despite Dr Haar’s insistence on her paying cash upfront. He had extracted fat from her backside and magically transposed it to her thinning temples and cheeks some days later. After sleeping upright on pillows, dosed on painkillers for several weeks, Sally’s face had, as he promised, regained a youthful fullness.
One morning, the postman delivered verification of Sally’s official name change. Holding the documents in her hand, she gripped a hand-mirror and stared at her new face. ‘I am Lotus Adams’, she insisted truthfully, before having to lay back against the pillows feeling a little odd. She didn’t know if it was the painkillers or the hormone replacement therapy kicking in.
Peppie arrived breathless at Hilary Slade’s desk the same day, with the news that Lotus Adams had arrived back in the country at last. Hilary’s reaction was one that no one at Brown, Brown & Taupe had ever known before; she burst into tears, for at least five seconds. Then blowing her nose on a Hermès scarf , she gave an alarmed Peppie instructions to make an absolutely firm arrangement for a meeting with the maddening girl.
Arriving at Brown, Brown and Taupe a few days later, Sally or ‘Lotus’ stopped to admire her reflection in the glass doors. Blond hair extensions curling just below her shoulders, Lotus sported a long silk tunic and trousers with a fine silk scarf swathing her neck, achieving, she hoped, a ‘recently returned from Katmandu’ boho elegance. Shaking in the lift she calmed herself by practising the rejuvenating exercises that her voice coach had promised would lift her voice several tones higher.
Hilary Slade had cleared her morning in anticipation of meeting Lotus Adams. The legal department had sent up the contract and it lay on her desk wanting only a signature. Then Hilary heard the tinkle of ankle bells and the much-longed-for Lotus was before her, all hair and silk, laughter and handshakes. Hilary noticed that she seemed a little unsteady as she sat down on the office sofa. They made a little light conversation about Nepal, which Lotus seemed quite hazy about. Peppie brought in the coffee and biscuits and Hilary noticed that Lotus couldn’t hold her cup steady.
‘Jet lag,’ Lotus explained, laughing a high girlish laugh.
Hilary had suggested she take her gloves off, but Lotus merely replaced the cup onto the saucer with some difficulty. Hilary Slade was beginning to re-assess the situation, wondering if Lotus was at worst a possible drug-user, at best, some kind of fashion throw-back; who wore gloves indoors? Ian came up from the legal department for the contract signing, Peppie confirmed the restaurant booking for lunch and Hilary reminded herself of the night she’d sat up reading Lotus’ book. So, the girl was a little whacky, few of her authors were ‘normal’.
As Sally/ Lotus took a grip of the pen to sign the contract, for a fraction of a second she registered the fact that Hilary was staring at her hand. She had tried to sign wearing her glove but cursed the fact that despite having practised her signature as ‘Lotus Adams’, she had never thought to do so wearing a glove. It had been impossible to grip the pen. In her desperation she removed the glove and saw Hilary’s eyes instantly register the fact that her hand was fanned with sharp bones, mottled and sinewy; in short, the hand of a sixty year old woman. But it was done, the contract was signed, then everything went black.
It was 3pm when Hilary Slade left the hospital and flagged down a black cab. It had been the best and possibly the worst day of her career in publishing. She had signed a fabulous debut author in the morning and then witnessed her death an hour later. She needed several strong drinks, if not a small dedicated private cocktail bar. When Lotus had collapsed after the signing Peppie had called an ambulance and Hilary had accompanied her author to the hospital. Bumping along in the ambulance Lotus had regained consciousness for a while and gripped onto Hilary’s hand.
‘You will publish the book, won’t you?’
‘Of course.’ Hilary had assured her.
‘Even if I die?’
‘People don’t die of jetlag, Lotus’ Hilary had said.
Then a few minutes later Lotus had gripped her hand once more.
‘Haar?,’ Hilary repeated.
‘Yes,’ Lotus tried to smile and croaked on her last outward breath, ‘Haar, Haar’.
Then she was gone. The paramedic started heart massage, in A& E Hilary winced as she heard them use the de-fibrilator, but all to no avail. Hilary rang Peppie from the cab and told her the news, then instructed her to meet her at a bar in order to map out their pitch to the Marketing Department.
‘Peppie stop saying OMG and listen, ‘The Impossible Conjectures of Slime Mould’ now has everything, I thought Lotus was its USP… but Lotus’ death is even better.’
‘That’s an awful, despicable, morally abhorrent thing to even think, let alone say, Hilary,’ Peppie sniffed.
‘I know, but it’s irresistible, death is always the shrewdest marketing move anyone can make’.