'Pantomime.'

CHAPTER ONE.

“READY????NOW!” They strode out in front of a thin crowd on his cue. A crowd mostly of wanna be models...all young girls with a few of their mothers. Sparsely scattered amongst those eager faces were the target audience. Potential customers of the overpriced, poorly constructed fashion, designed in Australia but assembled in Indonesia for less than 5% of the swing tag. This was the ‘open to the public’ show, or ‘poor mans designer’ they called it.

 

The models strutted and slinked as best they could, treating the event with aplomb and cool distance helped them pretend this was a glamorous occasion. They could only look upon these ‘opportunity’ shows to practice their ‘sway’. It was all about the ‘sway’. With hip bones pushed forward, shoulder blades protruding back past their evident spines so the clothing ‘hung’ and ‘swayed’ just the right way. Literally, they were human coat hangers. Long lean thighs slid out front to the music and toes turned out like perfect ballerinas, they would pause at the end of the runway sink their hips to one side, glide effortlessly into a pivot and then return.

 

It was smooth, and sultry…… and arrogant. In reality their feet burned and stomachs rumbled, but the steady infectious beat of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ kept them motivated with the ego stroking high that is known as….the catwalk.  

 

A purple polyester curtain draped with big gapes around an unsteady and scuffed white catwalk. It must have been the epitome of elegance...back in the 60’s. The lighting was harsh, fluorescent, and stole any ambience that attempted to adorn them as they paraded around for all of three minutes before redressing. All despised

doing these midday shows. Everything about them was cheap. The department store never provided decent changing areas and the models who lived on air as it was, had to supply all their own make up, stockings, drinks and even shoes to compliment the fashion!

 

Worst of all though, the store held a monopoly and took their time paying the agency. It would be at least six weeks before Lyla would see her paltry cut of the day’s work that began at eight in the morning and would keep her in 3 inch heels until midnight. She did’t even have cab fare home and the thought of public transport that late, especially to the ‘arty’ bayside neighborhood where she lived, was most definitely unappealing. She figured she would bum a lift from one of the other girls. Unless she went to the ‘after party’.

 

Lyla had rent saved but that was it. She walked everywhere usually, to save money and add to the intense caloric burning that she had to maintain. Vivienne and Lyla lived on ‘miracle soup’. A thin, watery vegetable broth. They allowed themselves lemonade popsicles only at ‘that time of the month’. Neither girls were natural born 'skinnies' so existed on a deprivation diet and rigorous exercise regime  to maintain a waist less than 25 inches. They knew it wasn’t healthy, but figured vitamins were adequate substitutes and relied on youth to disguise any signs of malnutrition.

 

Some glamorous life! Still the music and the momentum, added to the inherent vibe of accomplishment they collectively shared as a team who had been hand picked for this 'Spring Carnival Racing  Extravaganza’. Vivienne and Lyla managed a smile at each other as they headed down the runway together. Lyla couldn’t help feeling that her self confidence had been raised significantly by working alongside Viv.

 

Vivienne was the epitome of a ‘model’. She embodied an alluring innocence and unassuming beauty. Taller than the others by at least three inches. She wore her thick blonde hair like a fur stole framing her narrow shoulders and falling luxuriously to the small of her back. Vivienne was the real deal. She had the power to elicit a desire in men to revere and protect her, and they treated her with kid gloves. Never short of beaus, her latest...‘Andrew’ was taking her away for the long weekend after the show. Some women had that innate quality, to render a man besotted by her. Vivienne had it, Lyla did not.

 

Lyla was barely model material. Just scraping by in height and a dress size bigger than most. She was honest enough with herself to consider she was an impostor, an intruder in a world that nature by birth had dictated would always be beyond her reach. She knew with a biting reality, that the opportunities weren’t there. An alluring walk and a pretty face would only take her so far and for so long.

 

Catwalk felt liberating and enlivening though. Despite her shorter 5ft 8 frame, she was smooth, stealth like, and sensual. Poised and provocative without debasing herself or the clothes. It was likely however, she was there by default, but preferred to think having a more professional attitude than most of the other girls had helped open the spot for her. 

 

More probable though; someone they initially wanted hadn't been available, leaving them short a girl. Constantly she tormented myself with this self-depreciating back talk and always the same doubting prophetic anxiety that this would be her last show.

 

When the young women stopped at five for a dinner break, no one ate. Instead they held their breaths as a greatly anticipated transformation began. Makeup was redone by the cosmeticians to paint a dramatic overtone of high fashion, and hair was coiffed and sprayed into impossible frozen styles. The unexceptional crowd was politely yet earnestly ushered out, the catwalk cleaned and redressed with decadent floral displays along it’s edges. 

 

The evening parade was heralded in with the dimming of lights, the appearance properly suited waiters balancing silver trays and the arrival of a barrage of press.  The energy building was undeniably a mix of excitement, nerves and ego saturated vanity. This was without exception an empowering experience for a young woman on the precipice of her sexual maturity. They all felt it, something untouchable yet potent in its power to influence, like a distant lightning storm that electrified them with invisible energy. They all felt…transformed….somehow better versions of themselves. It was surely magic. 

 

Sadly, naiveté prevented them from appreciating the nuance of this as an opportunity to grow naturally into womanhood. The opportunity to ‘feel’ ones way through a treacherous forest of skewed self-image and emerge awakened, empowered, and confident into a clear embodiment of truly beautiful young women.

 

Instead, they embraced the superficiality of gloss and glamour presented by elaborate, expensive evening gowns. There was much speculation and gossip about theVIP guest list and giggling in hushed tones like easily impressionable school girls. It was only their youth to blame for tainting the scene as tawdry instead of elegant. 

 

Candelabra and sparkling champagne glasses lit up the previously common place venue.Gradually the murmurs beyond the dressing rooms rose to audible collective conversations and polite laughter as guests mingled and clinked glasses in salutation.

 

When the seductive notes of ‘Enigma’ reverberated through the din, the models lined up ready to impress the latest collection upon a captive, audience. So wrapped up in shimmering fabric and their own self importance to notice a majority of ‘blokes’ were mildly inebriated from the free sponsored alcohol.

 

None the less, carrying herself with elegance and deportment and just a touch of feigned indifference, Lyla slinked down the catwalk. The sensual caress of fine thick silk sliding through her lithe thighs, elongated them with its flawless flowing opulence.

 

The seductive music, the atmosphere, the attention, the bouquet of mingled patrons perfumes swirled about, drowning her in an intoxicating cocktail. She was the one seduced though. Lured deeper and deeper into the fantasy she was paid to sell.

 

She felt incredibly beautiful, mesmerized as if by some seemingly innocuous spell 

and dwelled stupefied entirely under the influence of the luxurious superficiality. They were, all of them, ingenues swimming in the undercurrent of enchantment and the fantastical that they elicited. Foolishly, ignorantly, each assumed they possessed exclusive personal power over it’s erotic effects.  

 

As Lyla  swayed into a turn at the end of the runway, the dark gothic beat echoing through her frame, she felt like a vision of an exotic temptress. Overwhelmed with previously foreign self assurance that seemed to reach up from her soul to become the essence of who she really was. She was intoxicated by the lie, enamored by the fantasy. Sublimely sinking into a persona of herself that she had always coveted in others, feeling it had constantly evaded her.….until now. For the first time ever, Lyla felt the awakening of her sensuality. It had nothing to do with sex, as she’d misunderstood, but had everything to do with self acceptance. For once she began to feel less of an impostor in her own skin, and gave herself permission to enjoy the powerful essence of being an attractive young woman without doubting it belonged to her. 

 

Then, suddenly, most unnervingly, her eyes met his, and the spell….broke. In an instant she recoiled, pulled back the charismatic vibe she was emitting. She recognized him from a party the week before. He was a friend, or maybe a business  acquaintance of Andrew’s, and he was staring at her. Which was of course the point. But everyone else was enchanted by Vivienne. Or so it appeared to Lyla. He didn’t seem to be enamored by Viv in the slightest.. He seemed fixated on her!

 

It would have been flattering had she found him attractive. But he was very short, stocky with a big wide chest and eyes that were so light a shade of grey as to appear transparent. Everything else about him was entirely nondescript. Except his aggressive intensity. There was something very, very unnerving about him. A feeling she had wanted to think of him as some kind of street dog… unkept beneath an ill fitted suit and lacking in any social graces, and certainly not to be trusted. The kind of 'animal' that would turn on you unprovoked.

 

Then there was his voice. It was his voice she remembered before his name. His voice that she remembered distinctly because it sounded like gravel and irritated her as much. They had spoken only briefly, but Lyla recalled his insistent badgering to go out with him which she had curtly, repeatedly rebuked. Damn Vivienne for telling him about this show. She was such a showoff! He must know someone important or he wouldn’t have made it onto the ‘A list’. For a brief moment Lyla wondered if he was someone she should know.

 

From that point for Lyla the aura of surreality and magic dissipated quickly like thinning fog, with each meander down the catwalk. Ever conscious of his unwanted gaze. His eyes chilled her skin, as if hungrily regarding his feast. Suddenly she felt nauseas, and was desperate not to feel alluring anymore. She doused her sensual vibration and immediately the charade became starkly apparent. It was all pretend. 

 

Shallow, lacking in substance and unprincipled. She felt strangely vulnerable back in the land of reality where nothing had changed but her perception. Such was the effect of this man’s attention and the realization that beauty brings a false power. A power that cannot protect. Not really.

 

With Lyla’s  shift in perception she saw with honesty how she and the other models were all feeding off delusion and were being be sent out to regurgitate it. Sent out to sell an expensive and potentially destructive fantasy. Disappointment seeped through her. It was as if she’d been awakened to the tackiness of it all. Lyla admitted the unspoken to herself. This wasn’t her world. She didn’t belong. It wasn’t just about feelingly inadequate physically. It was the insecurity of it all that surfaced once the lights were raised and the applause had stopped. The insecurity. The all pervading insecurity hidden by illusion.

 

 

Backstage, Vivienne was blush with euphoria… “What an amazing show!” she gushed. The two friends had changed into their street clothes, faces still overly made up, hair still sprayed into statuesque submission.

“Hmm? Yeah.” Lyla replied. “Did you see….” 

Viv broke her off mid sentence; “Hey I noticed Davos was here, must have come with Andrew....he couldn’t take his eyes off you Lyla...did you noti....” She was, talking excitedly, breathlessly, utterly high from her intoxicated perceived success of the parade.

Ah! Davos! That was his name. Lyla cut her friend short; “Yes, I did thank you very much!!! He’s revolting!”

“Don’t be like that!” she teased.. “Andrew’s doing business with him, big client apparently.”

“So you date him!” “Seriously Viv who the hell cares...he’s gross! He absolutely gives me the creeps.....Hey I don’t suppose you and Andrew can take me home before you head away for the weekend?” 

“Sure!...I’ll go and find him.” 

“Meet you outside then?”

“K!” agreed Viv as she sauntered off jubilantly, parting the dispersing crowd, heads turning as if she was Princess Diana, as they always did. 

 

Lyla’s energy low, a heaviness heaped on her from that disgusting man’s attention, and the feeling of a sad revelation she couldn’t quite name, she waited for her ride home, waited for Vivienne to return, but she never did.