July 07, 2022
“Christine gave herself a rueful smile in the mirror. She opened her makeup bag, rummaged for the black eyeliner pencil and added an Elizabeth Taylor beauty spot to her right cheek. Before she could change her mind, she grabbed the bag containing one clean, folded handkerchief and left the room, closing the door firmly behind her. At the top of the staircase, she encountered George. Frank had told her all about the little bronze dragon. Lucky George, he was called, because his twin brother had met a watery fate on the ship Titanic. The plaque beside the sculpture explained his story. The hotel staff encouraged guests to meet George. ‘Stroke him, make a wish and it will come true,’ they said. Even so, Christine felt awkward. She glanced around but no one was there. She gently cupped the dragon’s face with both hands and looked into his green eyes. Her fingers traced the silky smooth, muscular curves of his body and she whispered her wish in his ear.”
“The upper room contained one enormous bed. Above the headboard hung a Degas print of a naked woman combing her long dark hair. Christine stared at the painting and slowly sat down on the bed. Did Frank know about this room? Had he been here before? And who was Dee Dee? The name he’d called out in his dream. Did Dee Dee come here too? Her fingers smoothed the lace coverlet. It looked inviting. She lay back on the pillows and stretched out. There was a curtained closet in the corner of the room; probably hanging space, she thought. She needed to unpack her case, but it could wait for a few minutes. Frank wanted to take her to visit Monsieur Barnard, the wig maker. He’d said he would meet her in reception in half an hour – there was time enough to relax. Her eyes strayed upwards. She froze. There, on the ceiling directly above the bed, was a large smoke-glass mirror.”
“...‘I’m Mr Franke,’ he said. ‘Tell me why you want to be a hairstylist.’ He smiled encouragingly.
Christine stared into her lap. The whole experience this morning had been overwhelming and she scrabbled desperately to find something worthwhile to say. She focussed on trying to remember the advice in Harriet Hamilton Boyd’s, library book – The Do’s and Dont’s in Polite Society, but nothing suitable came to mind.
Mr Franke sighed and continued. ‘It’s hard work you know. Lots of standing. No glamour to it.’
She forced herself to look up and meet his gaze – look enthusiastic. ‘Oh yes I know. I’m used to it. I’m not afraid of hard work.’
He nodded. ‘An apprenticeship lasts three years. Pay is minimal but you can make it up with your tips. They have to be earned mind, people won’t tip if they’re not satisfied with the service.’ He waited.
‘I like to do things properly,’ Christine said. ‘I always want to do the best I can. People say I’m very thorough.’ She tried to cross her legs, then realised she couldn’t without the risk of revealing the hole again.
‘Good. I understand you’re fifteen? I usually like to speak to parents about indenture costs.’ He saw Christine frown. ‘Payment for the apprenticeship,’ he explained. ‘We charge one hundred pounds. You’ll find this is the same with all the best Mayfair salons and Matthew Franke is one of the very best. Have you got any other interviews arranged?’ He leaned back and stroked a lapel of the mohair suit jacket.
Christine’s tongue explored the inside of her lip. ‘I’ve got an interview with Steiner next week and at a place called Vidal Sassoon, which has just opened. But I didn’t know about those costs. My mother’s not well...she can’t afford a hundred pounds.’ Why hadn’t she found out about the money. Mr Franke must think her an idiot. She bit down on her lip to stop the tears.
He crossed his legs and pinched the crease of his trousers along the length of his left thigh. She sensed his uncertainty. Was he going to terminate the interview? She caught sight of her reflection in a mirror hanging opposite. The wide velvet Alice band suited her, it kept the thick damp curls under control. She tried out an encouraging Elizabeth Taylor smile and looked up at him through long, dark blonde lashes.
He met her gaze. ‘We could discuss an alternative...another, better paid job perhaps, one that doesn’t require an indenture payment.’
Christine looked at him eagerly…”