I shoulder through a throggle of borderline anorexics, the fight not worth the musty, too-small mirror provided for all of us. It’s hot in my leather and I get annoyed; their chattering is right in my ear, and I’m choking on their Lady-Gaga-Poison mist. Making eye-contact with no-one, I elbow myself a space and delve into my make-up bag.
I thought it’d be glamorous, modelling, but this reminds me of a grubby PE changing room; stern black benches, peeling white walls, useless lighting and an indefinable smell. I try to concentrate as everyone twitters endlessly. My heart’s thudding from the pressure of keeping my temper. I make myself breathe. Stare in the mirror. Focus.
I apply carmine lipstick, thick, black eye make-up. They’re market-stall but nevertheless expensive-looking, and I’m pleased with the results. Around me, I hear a lot of accents, and I’m intrigued despite myself; maybe this is more of a big deal than I thought.
I elbow my way back through the perfume posse and retreat back to my corner. I pull on black, calf-length leather boots and have to wriggle to pull my dress down. I feel eyes on me now – or maybe I’m just noticing it now – either because I’m fat, or dressed in leather, or so obviously hostile that even their underdeveloped grey matter can sense it. I bristle, bracing myself for a scalding remark, an arched, perfectly plucked eyebrow, but none come. They’re probably afraid I’ll sit on them.
I take the time to sit and observe. The girls are uninteresting, pink and thin and preppy. The hot guy has disappeared, half-opened boxes abandoned in his wake. A boring, ordinary woman emerges occasionally with a clipboard, and there’s a brief flutter from the girls when one of their flock is called.
I give my name to the clipboard woman, for want of anything better to do, and am informed I’m last on the list because I was the last to arrive. I’d have had longer in bed if I’d known; it was enough of a rush getting here for one, having to stuff a train-station Greggs in my bag and bus it to Geordieland. But our Scottish countryside doesn’t have modelling studios.
From the changing room, I hear that someone has decided to listen to something Miley Cyrus-awful very loudly, and can’t decide if it’s worse than the chatter. I shudder, and open the marshmellows. I dip one after another to pass the time, making my way steadily through the bag. I’m still occupied with this when a woman with a clipboard, a different one, approaches me looking annoyed. She checks my number, says they’ve been waiting for me. This makes no sense, but I’m not about to argue. I stuff the marshmellow bag in the bin and steel myself, follow her to the SHOOT IN PROGRESS door I saw the Asian girl go into, where I’m left. Despite myself, I feel a little thrill. I’m doing this. I knock, and step inside.
I’m welcomed into a windowless room with mirror and make-up at one end, and camera and lights at the other. I’m somehow not surprised to learn that the dainty guy is the make-up artist, and the hot guy is the photographer. This make-up artist is the first person to not blink nervously at the sight of me. In fact, he gives me this big smile and asks if I like Adele. This is because I’m fat and have red hair that looks deliberate, and ignores the fact that I’ve opted for a prostitute’s dress over a classy bond number. I am nothing like Adele. I feel he is trying to be nice, so I let it go. He asks my name – this gig clearly isn’t well-organised – , introduces himself and the photographer, earning a smile from where he’s kneeling by the camera tripod. I tell him, Rose. My name is not Rose, but I can be whoever I want to be at this point. I had been toying with Aubrey, but Rose is what comes out. I can always change it later.
I forget dainty-guy’s name immediately, so I dub him David on account of his uncanny Tennant resemblance. He’s clad in black, and has brown curly hair and that heroin-addict bone structure some girls crave. He gets serious pretty quickly; I quite like him. He talks about what I’m going for and gets it pretty accurate. Neither of them ask me the usual shit about where I go to Uni, etc, etc. His tips about the competition protocol and posing is helpful, but he does talk too much. I switch off and check out his gear. He sees me looking and interrupts himself, seating me at a movie-star style mirror decked with circular lights, in a black chrome leather chair. In front of me is a shining black crescent of perfectly tipped lipsticks, colour coded, black and gold cased, with blush in the layer above, and eyes, and so on. It’s pretty cool.
Before long, I’m ready. My eyes are dark and sexy, my lips immaculate. I swivel and stand. The camera is set up with a backdrop of a leather chaise chair and a treasure-chest of props. I ignore it for now. I want the first few pictures to just be me. I climb onto the chaise and pose. I have a vague idea of what I want in my head, and I think it comes out right. I can feel it. I don’t give a fuck about the film anymore.
David has perched himself in the chrome chair and is watching me, smiling, but in a nice way. Jerry is focussed, deft-fingered and in control. He makes suggestions when he can see I need them, but otherwise leaves me to it. I quite like him, too.
I find I quite like posing. I lean forward on asymmetrically splayed knees, shoulders raised to accentuate my tits, and stare into the camera. I lean the other way, swing my legs onto the chaise and raised my arms over my head, reaching for the back of the chaise. I never smile.
Then I play with props. There’s a rose with thorns, a red apple, the dark red, shiny, somehow sexy Snow-White kind that matches my lipstick. They let me take a bite of it. There are a lot of random things as well; I pocket a jigsaw piece in my bra when neither of them are looking.
There are 36 photos in all, as stated in the terms and conditions, with one large glossy print for me to keep. The rest I can access online and download and keep forever. I choose the one where I’m leaning forward and staring, head down, lip lowered.
Jerry and David seem genuinely friendly; they talk about art vs fashion, and I sort of get it. Leading me out, they smile at me side by side, and I almost expect to see Jerry’s arm around David’s shoulder. They let me keep the apple. I can feed bits to the anorexics on the way out. I stall leaving even so, because there’s this eye-shadow I had my eye on, so by the time I do make it back out, the girls have gone and the building is deserted. It’s eerily silent. The chocolate fountain seems to have been abandoned, so I dip a marshmellow or two for the road.
The wind bites my cheeks, and I suddenly don’t want to go home. The streets are as packed as ever, murky grey despite the bright lights. I’ve only progressed a few yards when I spot something that delights me; a multi-story carpark. In my experience, this means a view and solitude. I trot across the road and through the archway. At once, the hustle is a million miles away; it’s dead in here. My boots echo across the empty lot, and for once I find the lift with ease.
The first thing I do, before I even check out the view, is take out a cigarette. I don’t smoke, but sometimes special occasions call for it. Right now, I just want to feel glamorous. I want to hang on to the feeling I had when Jerry flashed the camera, the one that’s slipping away as my nose runs and I know I have to be home. I wish I still had my dress on, and a Julia Roberts style furcoat, but I don’t and I don’t own anything more elaborate than a duffel, so I have to make do with my hair and my make-up and my mood.
As I approach the edge, a feeling of calm washes over me. I’m far from everything, the lights and the people; it’s all there but before me, below me, like I’m frozen on top of a rollercoaster. I light my cigarette, and lean out into the night. Inhale. Exhale slowly. The night air feels healthy against my cheeks, cool nectar for my lungs.
My hand trembles. I get everything from that initial drag of the cigarette, and throw the rest away. Usually, I like the feeling of being small and insignificant that being on a rooftop gives me. Tonight, it doesn’t last long.
I should feel high. I’ve done what I wanted to do. What I really feel is alone. I am alone, and horrifically and irrationally close to tears, not because I don’t have anybody to show the photos to, but because I have no-one I want to show the photos to.
I see the studio building from my spec above everything, lights out and dormant. I think about David and Jerry, whether their having a nice dinner somewhere swank, sharing chocolate cake and wine. Or whether they’re fucking on that chaise I posed on. Whether the bleached blonde receptionist, who did a double-take when she first saw me, wore a wedding ring, had a family photograph on the desk. Why am I doing this, why do I care? I leave.
I trudge the puddles slowly, reluctantly, to the bus station. The traffic lights reflect dimly in the dark puddles. It was more interesting from afar, than being in the midst of it. The traffic drowns out the noise my boots make. I buy a sandwich I don’t want and sit down, and wait to go back into my life.