Saras face, p.20
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       Sara’s Face, p.20

           Melvin Burgess
 
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  ‘Christ. But then – were you intending to go in there at that point?’

  ‘I don’t think so.’

  ‘Then for God’s sake, why? Why did you go in there if you knew what was going to happen?’

  Sara touched her face, with its red triangle from the iron still stamped to her. It was like a print – you could see the marks under the make-up where the holes were to let the steam through.

  ‘I used to hurt myself, did you know that?’ She rolled up her sleeves. There were thin white lines over the inside of her elbows. ‘Here, too. Although I did that so it couldn’t be seen.’ She smiled. ‘Such a calculating cat!’

  ‘Are you saying you went into the theatre like that – to hurt yourself?’

  ‘She went in … for all sorts of reasons. For one thing,’ said Lucy, ‘I never felt it was me. This.’ She tapped her face. ‘I always felt I was inside, looking out through my eyeholes. I’d look in the mirror and think, This isn’t me. In some ways, you know, Dr Kaye was right. It almost felt that having my face off would let me out – the real me, the me I want to be. The me I am now, for instance; I’m real at last,’ she said. She looked straight at me for the first time and gave me a smile that, despite the stiffness of her face, I can only call dazzling.

  I was about to ask her another question but she ploughed on.

  ‘And Sara achieved her aim – she’s so famous now, isn’t she? She gave away her face and then won it back. All those pictures of her. She could have a career in celebrity.’ She laughed as she used those words. ‘Any time she wants. And she made things different, didn’t she? The difference between giving and being robbed, she confused it. Being famous. What you look like. She made people think, didn’t she? She achieved what she wanted to achieve. She became a kind of event, an artwork. But, yes, she liked to hurt herself, too. Perhaps she even wanted to die. She did die. She had to die. She was too much.’

  ‘So … were you not planning on going away with Mark at all, then?’

  ‘Oh yes, I was planning that. Absolutely. I … she, she had a lot of plans. She just didn’t know which one was real until the moment came. Sara was one of those people who could believe in more than one thing at the same time.’

  ‘I see.’ I looked through my notes for more questions. I felt that she had struck me dumb.

  ‘The operating room …’ I said.

  ‘Right. The funny thing is, I knew all about the operating theatre all the time. They’d taken me there and showed it to me several times. I’d been there that same day. But then, like, with Mark I knew nothing about it at all. I was really surprised when Kaye opened the door and there it was. No, not surprised – horrified. Terrified. I thought, I know this. I know it! And then it all slotted into place and I knew then, I really was mad. That’s how sick I was. I could know things and not know them at the same time. That’s bonkers, isn’t it? I mean, seeing ghosts and spending all that time trying to get behind a door when you know about it all the time. That’s when I decided to go ahead with it.’

  ‘Right then? As late as that?’

  ‘That’s right.’ She nodded. ‘That late. Up to then, anything could have been real. All the things I was telling them, all the plans I was making, they were all just tests. I think I was waiting to discover which was the real version. But then I realised that Kaye must be right all along, and I went for it.’

  She glanced down at her watch. I smiled.

  ‘You can’t tell me your whole story in half an hour, you know,’ I protested.

  ‘I couldn’t tell my story in a hundred years. You know what my story is? My story is that I don’t know either.’

  I ducked my head. ‘Maybe Sara’s not so dead after all,’ I suggested.

  ‘Maybe,’ she said, without a flicker. ‘I wouldn’t know.’

  I looked at her. ‘Are you trying to say you’ve had enough?’

  She smiled. ‘I did say I’d just answer a few questions.’

  ‘OK. Coupla tabloid questions? I’m afraid I get just as curious as everyone else.’

  ‘Go on.’

  ‘Boyfriend?’

  ‘Private,’ she said.

  ‘Why did you sleep with Heat?’

  She smiled grimly. ‘He was doing so much for me, it seemed the least I could do.’ And she laughed, amused at her own antics. I smiled back.

  ‘Anything to add on that subject?’

  She shook her head.

  ‘I guess we’re almost done,’ I said.

  She leaned back in her chair.

  ‘One last one – may I? Just curious. That last day – before Heat came to see you – you were on your own for a few hours. It was almost the only time you spent on your own in that house. What did you do?’

  ‘Well, you know what? I’ve wondered myself. I don’t know. I’ve tried to remember but’ – she tapped her head – ‘she won’t tell me.’ I must have looked puzzled because she laughed at me. ‘You’re a novelist, you’re used to the mystery being solved, a proper ending with everything tied up. But this is real life. The mystery remains, the end isn’t finished, and there you are thinking that if you just imagine it hard enough or ask the right question … Bang!’ She clapped her hands. ‘It all comes real.’ She looked triumphantly at me as she clapped her hands, as if a continent would spring up on the table top in front of me, or the whole thing, the table and drinks, the horses, ourselves, the fields and the Berkshire woods, would all drift away like a veil of coloured dust.

  ‘Finished?’ she asked.

  I thought about it. She’d told me nothing was real, that everything was real, that she had been both cured and murdered. Surely that was enough.

  ‘Finished,’ I said. ‘So.’ I pulled a face. ‘Now I have to rewrite the whole thing, I suppose.’

  ‘Oh, no. Don’t do that. I like what you’ve done; I don’t want you to change a word. Just put me in … as an epilogue. That’s all I really am. An epilogue to Sara’s life.’

  I nodded. Why not? It was her story, after all.

  She smiled as widely as she could and spread her arms.

  ‘Do you ride? Would you like a gallop?’

  ‘I never learned.’

  ‘Pity. It’s the best thing. Horses! I love ’em! Well! Isn’t this lovely?’

  She stretched her arm out at the hedges and the horses, at the woods beyond. It certainly was lovely. She smiled at me. I smiled back.

 


 

  Melvin Burgess, Sara’s Face

 


 

 
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