Saras face, p.7
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       Sara’s Face, p.7
 

           Melvin Burgess
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  ‘It’s true, but I love him anyway,’ said Sara stoutly. And it was true, Bernie could vouch for that. Sara’s eyes lit up like candles whenever Jonathon was near.

  ‘You and seven million other girls,’ Bernie replied.

  It was at this point that she remembered what had happened earlier in the corridor outside Sara’s room. ‘What were you looking at in the corridor this morning?’ she asked. ‘I was there the whole time. Didn’t you see me?’

  Sara put down the eye pencil with a clatter; the memory alarmed her. ‘Didn’t you see her?’ she demanded.

  ‘See who? There was no one there.’

  Sara turned to look at her, then turned back to the mirror. ‘A girl,’ she said. ‘I keep seeing her. I’ve never seen her up here before, though.’

  ‘Who is it?’

  ‘I don’t know. I suppose she must be a ghost, if you can’t see her. I don’t think anyone else can, either.’ Sara picked up a lip brush and leaned into the mirror. ‘I recognise her from somewhere, which is really odd because she has no face. And another thing,’ she added as she applied a thin red line round the lips of the mask she was wearing. ‘You know what? The bitch was wearing my clothes.’

  Sara said this quite casually, as if seeing faceless ghosts wearing your own clothes was commonplace, but her words filled Bernie with horror. Suddenly, that calm spring morning was full of foul work. Many times she herself had felt uneasy presences at Home Manor Farm. So far she had put these feelings down to her discomfort at the practices of Dr Kaye, but now that someone else had confirmed her suspicions she was struck with a sudden sense that the dead were suffering as well as the living in this house.

  This conviction froze her to the spot. By the time she had gathered herself together to respond, Sara had left the room. Bernadette ran after her to carry on the conversation, but Sara had nothing more to say on the matter.

  ‘You know what, Bernie? I don’t think I believe in dead people,’ she said. ‘And, even if I did, there’s not much we can do for them, is there?’

  With that, she ended the conversation.

  This exchange unsettled Bernadette so much that she spent the next few days trying to reschedule her trip to Jamaica. That Sara was having visions of a girl with no face wearing her own clothes just weeks away from cosmetic surgery was enough to alert anyone. But Heat insisted that only her signature would do to release the money, that it was too late to change things without serious consequences for the projects. All she could do was report her concerns to both Heat and Dr Kaye. She did this dutifully, but without any belief that it would do any good. Bernadette had never known Kaye consider anyone unfit for surgery in all the years she’d known him. She left for Jamaica in an anxious state of mind, a feeling that did not lessen as the days passed.

  Mark

  Sara had left her old life behind so unexpectedly there were gaps everywhere – at school, at home, in the bars where she once drank, the clubs where she’d danced. Heat had whisked her away to a world of private tutors and excellence that her old teachers could only dream about and a life of luxury that her friends and family could never attain. She was like a ghost to them already – a memory of someone who had passed on to a better place.

  But some things money can’t buy. A family, for instance, and friends – but perhaps that’s not true. Sara had never been so popular as she was at Home Manor Farm. Everyone thought she was wonderful. Household staff, designers, entrepreneurs, producers and celebrities all courted her. Life was so busy she hardly had time to sit down. But Sara stayed in touch with Janet and one or two others from her old life. She called her new crowd ‘fairground friends’ – there was nothing behind the front. Janet came to see her as often as she was able, which was not that often since she was in the middle of her A-levels, and Heat, as jealous as ever, preferred Sara to be on her own. When she did get out to Home Manor Farm, Heat took them on lavish shopping trips and to parties, but sooner or later they got back to doing what they had always done – slopping around in Sara’s room, talking and watching TV.

  And, of course, money can’t buy you love.

  According to Mark, it wasn’t true that he’d asked her to take him back so that he could be the one to dump her. His version of the truth was simpler: he just didn’t go back with her after she jilted him that last time.

  ‘She was always chucking me over,’ he said. ‘It did me in. Then after a few days she’d ring up as if nothing had happened and things were going to go on just the same. That time she rang up and said, “When are we seeing each other?” and I said, “We’re not.”’

  They’d hurt each other, as lovers do. But now he was missing her.

  Sara had never been an easy person to go out with. She was so volatile – she could be all over him one moment, and then hardly seem to know he existed the next. But she swore she adored him, and the truth was, in his heart, Mark knew it was true. They had a connection. There were times with her when all sense of the other disappeared, when it wasn’t like being with another person at all, but as if they were one person in two bodies. And he lusted after her like a dog for a bone. It made him dizzy. All in all, Sara was the most delightful thing that had ever happened to him.

  On the other hand, she scared him. She was scarcely a sensible choice for a girlfriend. Her anorexia, the accidents, her soaring ambition, great strength and terrible fragility all meant she was as likely to head for disaster as glory – perhaps both. It made him want to care for her, but the idea of looking after someone like Sara was a joke in itself. She had no conception of her own weakness. She seemed to see her elements of self-destruction as actual strengths.

  He didn’t hear about the accident with the iron until after she’d left hospital, but, when he did, he was mortified. It had happened only a week or so after they’d separated and although she’d always fiercely denied doing any kind of harm to herself, he was sure she had. Any number of times before then he’d almost given her a call, but he held off simply because … he wasn’t sure why. Because a part of him truly did want it to be over and he was scared it would start up again. Because she thrilled him and excited him, but scared him, too. Because he was going to university the next year after a gap year, it would all fall apart then anyway, surely …

  And it hurt. Being with Sara hurt.

  When he heard that she’d been whisked away by Jonathon Heat, it made his hair stand on end. She had moved so far away from him, that was partly it. But Sara was like a glass rocket fired at the moon – she might actually get there but surely she’d shatter to a million pieces on impact. Jonathon Heat! In an instant, he realised how close Heat could get to her, how dangerous he was for her – how alike their madness was.

  He rang Jessica, but he didn’t get any sense out of her – she was very cool with him. He got the impression she blamed him for Sara’s accident, which made sense because he blamed himself. She did, however, tell him about the planned operations.

  Mark’s heart sank. His premonitions were all true. ‘I thought you were against that,’ he said.

  ‘It’s for her scars,’ said her mother.

  ‘Is that all?’ he asked, with a sinking feeling.

  ‘She’s having a few other things done while she’s in theatre. Jonathon was willing to pay for it, why not?’

  Jonathon! The man with a hundred faces; the man with no face. He was the last person on earth Mark would have wished on Sara. Jessica spoke the name as if it was a piece of chocolate cake.

  ‘But Jonathon Heat is mad, everyone knows that,’ said Mark.

  ‘He’s treating her very well, that’s all I know,’ said Jessica. ‘Goodbye, I must run.’ And she put the phone down smartly.

  Mark dithered for a while longer. He rang Janet, but she was away. He wanted to call Sara, but … things had changed. All that wealth and celebrity! She wouldn’t want to hear from a blast from the past like him. In the end, love and worry got the better of him. He pressed her name on his mobile – and there she was, on the o
ther end of the line, as if she was sitting next door; as if it was still only yesterday.

  ‘I was terrified; I was certain she’d be as cold as ice, but you know what?’ he told me. ‘She was pleased to hear from me. She was really happy I rang. She’d been wanting to ring me up as well. I was so relieved. I remember, after I put the phone down, thinking, Wow – now I’m happy! It took me by surprise, how happy she made me just by wanting to hear from me. I caught sight of myself in the mirror and I had this big soppy smile over my face.’ And he pulled his face into an imitation of his big soppy face – in love up to his eyeballs.

  Within a minute of hearing from him, Sara was making plans. She wanted Mark to come up and work at Home Manor Farm.

  ‘But I’ve got a job,’ he said.

  ‘Pizza Hut,’ she said.

  ‘Yeah, and?’

  ‘Well, what do you think? There’s no comparison.’

  ‘But what’s the job?’

  ‘I don’t know. He said if any of my friends wanted a job up here he’d find them one. He’s always doing that sort of thing – he’s really generous.’

  Mark almost sneered, but he bit his tongue.

  ‘You and him,’ he said.

  ‘What?’

  ‘Well. You know.’

  ‘No, I don’t know. What do you mean?’

  ‘Are you … an item?’

  ‘Me and Jonathon Heat?’ Sara just laughed. ‘You must be joking! He’s ancient. And he’s falling to bits.’

  ‘It said in the papers …’

  ‘The papers! Mark, come on!’

  There were any number of stories about Sara and Heat in the celebrity mags. The one Mark was thinking about was a distance shot of Sara and Heat with their masked faces pushed together. She had one leg up on his hip, which he was holding under the knee. There were a number of other pictures of the two of them in varying degrees of closeness, but that was the one that had got to Mark.

  ‘That picture of you and him kissing.’

  ‘We weren’t kissing. We were wearing masks. You can’t kiss in a mask. Listen, Mark, there was no mouth-to-mouth contact, OK?’

  ‘It looked pretty close to me.’

  ‘He poses them. It’s fun. We set stuff up for the cameras and then get caught. It’s just fun.’

  ‘I bet he thinks it is.’

  ‘Well, I suppose he likes the idea that he can still cop off with someone like me. It’s like a game. But, yuck! Can you imagine? No thanks!’

  ‘I know we split up,’ said Mark, and he waited a little bit for Sara to contradict him, but she didn’t. ‘I’d just find it pretty difficult if you and him were together, you know?’

  ‘Well, we’re not.’

  Mark took a deep breath. ‘Can I think about it?’

  ‘Sure. Then say yes.’

  ‘Go on, then, yes.’

  ‘Yes! Great! Oh, Mark, we’re going to have fun!’

  Sara sorted it out the same day. Heat offered Mark a job in security, and Mark drove down to Cheshire the day after that.

  On his way down from Manchester to Home Manor Farm, on the edge of the Peak District, Mark began to feel more and more anxious. Thoughts buzzed around his mind like flies. For a start, why hadn’t Sara told Heat that she and Mark had been lovers, just that he was an old school friend down on his luck? She’d claimed she didn’t want to make Heat jealous. So what was all that about, if there was supposed to be nothing between her and Heat?

  Then there was Heat’s fame and wealth – that was scary stuff. How do you behave to someone you already know through newspapers, music and film, and all the hundreds of stories and jokes you’d heard about them? It was almost as if Heat had somehow ceased to be human any more. Ridiculous, of course, but that was how Mark felt about it.

  By the time he was driving through the actual grounds, Mark was feeling extremely weird. Home Manor Farm itself, of course, was as weird as every mad rock star’s country home should be. On first impression it was an ordinary old country park, landscaped centuries ago, tended and farmed and looked after as much for pleasure as profit for generations. There were the deer grazing in herds, the oak trees spreading their arms wide, the leaves neatly levelled above the cropped pasture by the grazing animals. There was the lake lying quietly in its hollow, the plantings, the avenues of limes, the shrubs and gardens. But then you’d look up and see a giraffe grazing on the tree tops, or a row of blue and yellow cherry trees, or a red lawn, or a giant hand made of aluminium. Around every corner were sculptures. Heat seemed to have a weakness for giant broken figures, statues with the arms fallen off or their heads cracked open. In one field the cows grazed among a scattered wreckage of giant household tools – colanders, saucepans, knives and forks, potato mashers and so on – all over ten metres long, lying rusting in the grass.

  And then the house itself. Calling it a farm was a joke. It was a stately home. It was just enormous. All that money, all that fame. It made Mark feel like little Jack crawling up to the door of a giant.

  Inside, he was asked to wait in the library. He was half expecting to find an old-fashioned country house library as he was shown in – walls lined with leather-bound books, steps on rusty wheels, cobwebs hanging in the corners.

  But it’ll probably be a butterfly house or a cattery or a recording studio, thought Mark. The flunky who had greeted him opened the door for him. There was a blast of cool air – the air conditioning was working overtime in there – and, to his surprise, inside was just as he had first thought. Books. Only the cobwebs were missing. The library, like the rest of Heat’s house, was spotless.

  Mark wandered up along the shelves, looking for something to read. It was a collection of leather-bound books, smelling of age, just as they should. He hauled out a huge old volume and opened it on a table. It was full of maps. He found the year 1701 on one of them. From what he could make out, it was a book of handdrawn maps of the Indian Ocean.

  ‘You should be wearing these,’ said a voice behind him.

  Mark whirled round. Standing behind him, holding out a pair of spotless white cotton gloves, was Jonathon Heat himself.

  ‘Sorry … sorry. I mean, no one said,’ gasped Mark, who had not heard him enter and was taken completely by surprise.

  He waited for Heat to speak again, but it wasn’t Heat who had spoken at all. Standing behind him were two men in sharp black suits.

  ‘That’s all right, sir, I’ll deal with it,’ said one of the men, in the voice that Mark had thought was Heat’s. The man took the gloves deferentially off Heat and went to close the book, carefully dusting it and inspecting it for damage before he did so.

  Mark grimaced at Heat. ‘Sorry, I didn’t know they were so valuable,’ he said. Heat still didn’t reply. He stood perfectly still, his head slightly to one side, watching Mark from behind his mask as if he could see inside his mind and know what his purpose was in being here before he did anything so rash as giving away his voice.

  Like many other people, Mark found his first meeting with Heat somewhat surreal. Heat was dressed in a frock coat and a pair of jeans embossed with a paisley pattern, and a wide blue denim tie with a picture of the dying Christ on it. It was exactly the sort of thing he wore on stage – and this was just his housewear.

  ‘People are always going on about celebrities and the clothes they wear,’ said Mark later. ‘I always thought it was all really shallow and ridiculous, but, when I saw it, the clothes really were something. He looked like he’d been gift-wrapped, it was all so perfect – the fit, the cloth, everything. It was really odd, like we were on stage or in some sort of a film.’

  But the strangest thing was the mask. Not being able to see the man’s face made him unreadable, of course, as if Heat had turned himself into some sort of robot – a robot with feelings, but unknowable, unreadable feelings. And the mask itself. Its texture was so much like skin that the first thing Mark thought when he saw it, like Sara, was that maybe it was genuinely made from real human skin.

  Th
ere had been a lot of speculation about that mask and its provenance. Like a great many other things in Heat’s possession, it was lost to the fire some weeks later.

  Heat stood there for a long time, looking at him as if he was something in a tank. Mark flushed and failed to meet his eye, but then he thought, Shit! He’s just another guy, and he looked straight back, through the mask holes and into his face.

  Heat didn’t wait so long that it was going to be a standoff. He nodded at the man who was putting the book back, then took a couple of steps forward towards Mark, so that he was just a little too close. Mark could smell him – expensive cologne, antiseptic and a faint whiff of decay.

  ‘I hope you’re going to be nice to her,’ said Heat.

  ‘Yes, of course I am,’ said Mark, in a voice that, to his disgust, was rather too high. He wondered how much Heat really knew about their relationship.

  Heat nodded, then turned and walked off. No hello, no goodbye. He’d simply been delivering his orders.

  ‘There,’ said one of the suits behind him, in a tone of satisfaction. ‘Mr Heat always likes to welcome his new employees. This way, sir.’ He turned and led the way out of the library and up the stairs.

  Poor Mark was feeling very shaky now. Was Sara going to be horrible to him, too? What had she said to Heat to make him behave in such a way? But he needn’t have worried. She ran at him as soon as he was through the door, wrapped her arms round him and buried her head in his neck.

  ‘You came, you came, it’s so great that you came,’ she said. Mark’s heart swelled. He thought, Ain’t life grand, that you can be made to feel like a king just because someone’s glad to see you? He lifted her off the ground and gave her a big fat hug.

  After they’d said their hellos, Sara immediately launched into all the things she was doing – modelling with Tiffany Gray, acting lessons, singing lessons, dancing lessons, the lot. It sounded fantastic. She seemed blissfully happy at that point, which made Mark feel a little sad. She was moving beyond him. He had never been sure how much of her ambitions were pie in the sky, but now that they were coming true he felt that they were making him somehow more unreal.

 
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