© Susan Cross, January 22, 2011 May not be copied or reprinted in whole or part without permission from the author. It is posted here for inclusion in the #FridayFiction stories.
She hadn’t relaxed enough yet for her body to mold into the faux-leather seat on the train. Looking out the window her thoughts were chasing each other trying to catch up with her emotions. After she had settled her crimson satchel on the seat next to her she rested her hands delicately in her lap. Carefully manicured fingernails were not adorned with any of the latest trends. No two-toned polish or rhinestones. No false, squarely filed extensions painted to match her lipstick. Instead she wore clear lacquer applied to her own healthy nails. They were filed across, squared but gently curving at the edges. Her hands appeared to belong to someone else, as if they were transplanted onto her slim wrists.
She was relieved that nobody was sharing the car to notice her movements. Her goal was to slow down her thoughts and relax for the two hour ride. According to the schedule, the length of time going in each direction was the same but as is always the case, looking forward to a destination gave the illusion of time crawling with each turn of the wheel on the track. The element of the unknown added to her anxiety. The trip home would be quicker because she knew what awaited her when she arrived.
Outside the window the fields were flashing past. Grazing cows and horses were a blur. She wondered how the speed of a train compared to that of a car on a highway. Remove the traffic lights and stop signs and each could cover the same distance but the train seemed to beat the car, even with the occasional stops at stations.
The relaxation exercise was working. Her breathing slowed, she opened her eyes, picked up her satchel and headed toward the rest room. Inside the tiny room, she used the toilet and washed her hands. Then she opened the satchel which held just the necessities. In an instant, she pulled her long brown hair back and secured it into a pony tail. Next she removed a plastic bottle containing a skin cleansing product. In seconds she saw her bare face in the mirror. No makeup; no lipstick. It was a familiar routine. She wore a white blouse tucked into straight-legged jeans. A red belt pulled tight accentuated her waist.
She strolled back down the aisle, head erect. She returned to her seat, folded her legs under her and leaned her head against the window. She wondered if she would ever take this trip again. Once she detrained she took a cab rather than walk the 9 long blocks. She had saved up for this trip to the city.
At the studio, about 40 women stood in line waiting. She had filled out the forms on the website. A man walked back along the line asking each woman’s name and then giving her a sticky nametag with just a number printed on it that corresponded to the number on the form.
Some of the women dressed casually, others overly stylish. She preferred to show off her assets for this audition, thus accounting for her non-descript attire. Some women wore gloves. She had removed hers in the cab. The line moved quickly. She was next.
“Number 22,” the man said. She stepped forward and followed him down a hallway and through a door.
She approached the table on the stage. It was covered with a black cloth. Bright umbrella lights were angled toward the table. A woman told her to put her hands on the table facing the camera with fingertips touching. Then she was asked to turn them over showing her palms. In the bright light, her skin looked translucent. A man appeared with a bottle in his hand.
“Are you left handed or right handed?”
“Right handed,” she replied.
“Good,” said the director. He signaled for the cameras to start rolling.
“Using your right hand, slowly open the bottle and pour a small pea-sized dab of lotion into the palm of your left hand.” She did as she was told.
“Great. Now rub the lotion onto the top of your right hand, slowly,” he said. “Good. Now rub your hands together – be careful not to get any lotion onto your nails. We want the impression that the lotion is so soothing and nurturing that you are having a life changing, almost sexual experience.”
She rubbed her hands together as she had been told. Her face was reflecting the pleasure she would feel if the lotion were truly changing her life, even though the camera was focused on her hands and nobody was paying attention to her body language.
“Thank you. You can go.”
She left having no hint of how she had compared to the others. She would wait for days to find out if she had been selected. She walked outside, hailed a cab and returned to the train station.
Her parents had told her she was beautiful, but she knew better. Her facial features were not symmetrical. Her lips were not full and luscious and could not hide her imperfect teeth. The industry's view of beautiful did not sync with her parents' idealized perception. She had dreamed of being a model for years but she accepted the reality that her face would never appear on magazine covers. She was hoping her one great feature would be enough. She closed her eyes as the train rolled towards home picturing herself in a film studio.
Tomorrow she would get up and go to work at the supermarket. She had been the only employee at the store that had ever worn gloves to work every day. Co-workers thought she might suffer from scars or discoloration but they never asked. Protecting her hands from the unwashed fruit and juicy packages of meat was essential. Maybe one day, her long slender hands would help fulfill her dreams. She would become a famous hand model.