A dish best served cold

His fingers were deft, cool and gentle on her face.

“A lift here, some volume here, and we can erase these lines here.”

She knew she looked as soul weary as she felt. She was tired beyond imagination or hope. There was not a single spark of enthusiasm or energy left.

She patiently bore his ministrations, his voice gentle, coaching her after-treatment procedure.

“Remember: no sun, no saunas, and no pressure on the injected areas. I will see you in two weeks for your follow up.”

She paid, with an uncharacteristic lack of concern. Going for broke was turning out to be surprisingly liberating.

Two weeks later, after her follow up with the doctor, the hairdresser and beautician clucked and cooed, painted, pulled and plucked. Marian’s drab mousey hair was magically imbued with highlights, low lights, shape and texture. And her eyebrows now soared, in graceful arches, above her  golden brown eyes.

“You apply the product so, and direct the heated air so…”

Her face was framed in a shining crown of gold and chestnut, with subtle undertones of mahogany.

The rest of the afternoon of the gala had passed in a blur of surrealism as she submitted to the attentions of the team she had hired for her preparation. She now stood, in front of the full length mirror, and admired their handiwork.

She was completely unrecognisable, which was the point. Her newly contoured body was encased in a daring, fire-red, strapless gown. Its full satin skirts billowed against her legs. Her feet peeped out in crystal encrusted sandals. The tips of her fingers and toes were painted the same shimmering red as her slightly curled lips. Her boss, Todd Eccleston, would not know what hit him. But being the consummate conman that he was, he would go with the flow. And only, when it was too late, would he realise the significance of her appearance.

The limousine deposited her at the door at the appointed hour. Mere minutes before the start of the proceedings. She hurried up the deserted city hall steps and into the foyer. The doorman was about to close the banquet hall doors when he caught sight of her.

Smiling, with an undisguised glint of admiration in his eyes, he checked her ticket and directed her to her table. As she walked in the cavernous room, the lights dimmed and the stage came alive. She slipped into the vacant seat, using the cover of darkness to avoid acknowledging her table mates.

The show was everything you could expect of the leading advertising agency in the city. Expensive, lavish and over the top, the object was to impress with money. It succeeded.

Talk was excluded by the volume and darkness, as a number of dance and music performances captivated the crowd. This was the annual awards event where the well-heeled and well-connected rubbed shoulders with the business-rich and ad-world-famous. Waiters navigated the sparkling darkness with adroit ease, delivering wines from every vineyard in the country.

Marian allowed herself a glass of sparking champagne, sipping cautiously, as it was the first alcohol she had consumed in eight long months. She smiled as she raised it in a silent toast.

She had made it. She had set the goal and achieved it. All the time, she had done it hiding the now obvious results from her colleagues and workmates. They would not know her when she took to the stage, not until she spoke.

The months of brutal self-discipline had paid off. The total absorption and complete focus on her eating and exercise were now so ingrained that she had quickly washed the champagne down with the iced water on the table. She had forced herself to eat a quick salad before leaving the apartment, and thus ignored the exotic snacks decorating the table. Tonight, she would not be eating here.

“Ms Diamond?” The young woman bent to whisper to Marian.

“Is it time?”

“Yes,  mam. You will be on in ten minutes.”

She helped Marian out of her seat and adeptly guided her through the darkened hall to the access to the wings of the stage.

“Good luck, mam,” her smile was warm and genuine.

“Thank you… “ Marian’s voice stuck , a dry whisper , in her throat.

Tod  had begun announcing the lesser awards. The audience applauded enthusiastically as the successive winners arrived and departed, with their brief- overwhelmed- expressions of appreciation and exultance.

“And, now. The moment we have all been waiting for…” Marian’s heart pounded, her throat tightened.  “The announcement of the overall winner, for Best  Campaign for 2015.”

The hall thundered with applause.

“In an unprecedented show of support, our runner up has offered to introduce the winning campaign…”

The gentle push in the small of her back propelled her onto the stage.

Catching her breath, she raised her head, squared her shoulders and stepped confidently into the limelight.

Todd’s eyes widened when he saw her.  She smiled, and he responded with the lazy, sexy smile he usually saved for his next conquest. He offered her his hand, and drew her intimately against his side, behind the glass and chrome podium.

“I have great pleasure in introducing to you Marian Diamond, this year’s most worthy runner-up.”

The applause was polite.

She paused, as he walked off the stage.

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.” Her voice had always been her best feature, clear and musical. Her words carried effortlessly through the hall.

“It is with great honour, this evening, that I introduce to you the 2015 winner of the Best Campaign Award.” The hall was silent. “As you are all aware, a successful Advertising Campaign takes a small army to launch and run. This campaign is no different. To all the contributors, who remain anonymous in the back rooms… We salute you.” She raised her glass of champagne, still damply clutched in her left hand. The applause gained momentum after a hesitant nano-second.

She wet her lips with the sparkling wine.

“Without you, our dreams would remain on scribbled pages.”

The applause died down and the hall quietened.

“This year, there was only ever one real contender.” She smiled again. “The winner, as you will see, was exactly the right candidate for receiving such an honour.”

“Ladies and gentlemen,” the curtains behind her opened, “please watch with us, the winning campaign which was the brainchild of Andrea Williams and her Team.” More applause thundered across the room. She leaned forward into the microphone, and when she was certain she had everyone’s attention she said, “Please be sure to watch the credits.”

She walked off the stage, out of the wings, into the foyer, and out onto the steps of the hall.

Her limousine drew up, and she slipped into the leather-musky interior. “We will make good time for your flight, mam. Your luggage is in the boot.”

Her heart was pounding and her hands trembled. She laughed as she realised she still had the glass of champagne in her hand. Tossing it back down her dry throat, she kicked off her shoes, and relaxed into the upholstery.

In the hall, the advert had reached its last line.

“Chlontiran. Quality of life back in your hands.”

The screen flickered, and cleared.

The applause died down, as the larger than life figures of Tod Eccleston and Andrea Williams, entered a well-appointed office, in an unmistakably intimate embrace.

“It’s settled then? That lump of lard, Diamond, is out of the running?”  Her voice was heavy with lust. “Yes, sexy, sweet  Andrea, you get the award…”

The room erupted.

©Kim Magennis 2016

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