Saras face, p.8
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       Sara’s Face, p.8

           Melvin Burgess
 
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  When she started on about the surgery, his feelings must have shown on his face, because she shrugged impatiently.

  ‘That’s what you have to do these days,’ she said.

  Mark shrugged back. ‘Dummies are made of plastic, dummy, not people,’ he said.

  ‘Don’t call me a dummy, dummy,’ she said, and laughed.

  Mark knew he should keep his mouth shut, but he couldn’t help it.

  ‘I just think …’ he began.

  ‘It’s not your business any more,’ she told him.

  ‘As a friend, as a friend I think it’s a bad idea.’

  Defiantly, Sara started going through the list. Mark listened with increasing alarm. Her chin, her nose, her eyebrows. Then she went on about her boobs. It just made him see red.

  ‘You idiot,’ he said.

  ‘I guess, somehow, I thought they were mine,’ he said later.

  ‘It isn’t any of your business any more,’ she repeated angrily.

  ‘You lose feeling in your nipples,’ he told her weakly, half smiling.

  ‘Now, that really isn’t any of your business any more,’ Sara said again. She looked as if she didn’t know whether to laugh or get cross. Mark absolutely didn’t want to row so soon, so he did what he often did on those occasions: he made her laugh.

  He gestured at her boobs and said, ‘But they a-make-a me a-feel-a like a man,’ in a heavy Italian accent. Sara smiled, he held out his arms and gave her another hug, quick, before the moment went. They stood like that, front to front, for rather longer than they needed to. Mark found himself glancing across at that big double bed, thinking, Well, would they?

  Sara followed his eye and laughed. She stepped back.

  ‘Jonathon would be furious if he found out,’ she said.

  ‘I thought you weren’t doing anything with him.’

  ‘No way! He doesn’t even fancy me, anyway. He’s nice – like your dad or something. Protective. just because he’s a rock star doesn’t mean to say he wants to shag everyone he meets.’

  ‘Doesn’t it?’

  ‘No!’

  Then why’d he be so cross?’

  ‘Oh, he gets jealous anyway. Just on principle. He’s really protective. He’s just a bit damaged, you know.’

  Mark touched the triangular scar on her cheek. She looked at him defiantly.

  ‘Oh, crap,’ she said. ‘It was an accident, how many times do I have to tell people?’ She got cross about it. ‘I keep telling people, I don’t do that.’

  So she said. So she always said.

  By and large, it was a happy reunion. That evening, they had dinner with Jonathon and Bernadette, who was leaving the next day, and Heat was as nice as pie. You’d never guess that he had been almost threatening earlier that day. Instead, he told them stories about being famous, about music, about his remarkable life and the remarkable people he’d met. He parted with Mark on good terms, although he made it clear he was going to be kept busy.

  ‘I give a good deal here, Mark, but you have to work for it.’

  ‘I can work hard,’ said Mark.

  ‘There’s a lot to do. We’re having a big party, you know about that? We’re going to give Sara a proper launch. You won’t know her by the time we’re done. I’ve taken some staff off security to help out. Tom’ll need a lot of overtime from you, I expect.’

  Mark glanced across at Sara to see how she’d react to maybe not seeing so much of him. She smiled fondly and gave nothing away.

  The next day, Mark was introduced to his new boss, Tom Woods, and began work at Home Manor Farm.

  Sara – 23 May 2005

  (Sara is sitting cross-legged in her four-poster with the curtains drawn. She’s wearing a Jonathon Heat mask made up to look totally furious, with drawn-down eyebrows, sparks and flashes flying out of the eyes and an ugly scowl over the mouth. The mask is heavily covered with make-up and decorated with plastic flies, dirty tinsel and a transfer of a fat lady.)

  It’s off, Jonathon Heat. Bloody wandering hands old man, take your face off with one of his kisses. On the record, his breath smells. That’s one thing. You get little whiffs of air from under that mask. That’s another.

  Let’s not go there.

  He can’t help being disgusting, but what’s really disgusting is being unfair. He’s cancelled our gig. After all that work! All that time going through the moves with me. I bet he was just rehearsing all the time. Him, him, him. Or he thinks I’m actually useless, no talent at all, and he’s just doing it to be kind, like he does things to be kind to kids. You know, giving them days out at the zoo or throwing parties for them or giving money to charity. That’s me – I’m a charitable cause. Please give generously, utterly pathetic. Thinks she can sing. Sara has been suffering from delusions of being able to entertain. Try not to wince or pull faces. Be generous – talentless. Twat, please help.

  (She cries, holding her face in her hands.)

  We were brilliant. I have the video. Well, actually, that’s another thing, I don’t have the video. He told me yesterday the other copies had been damaged and he needed to have a look at the one I had and now I haven’t got it back. Accident. Guess what? He dropped it in the bath! Can you believe that? I don’ fink so, Charlie. Bastard. He was worried someone might pirate it, and who might that someone be? Charitable Charlie – me! That’s how much he trusts me. But I don’t care about that. What I care about is … big party, everyone coming, all the stars. You know about his parties, you read about them in magazines. Everyone comes. Imagine doing a duet with Jonathon Heat in front of all them – you’d be mega overnight! Everyone’d be talking about you, everyone’d wonder who you are. And I wasn’t bad! I mean, I’m not as good as him – he’s been going for years – but I have a really nice voice. Everyone says so. I move well. I have a good body. Oh! Maybe that’s it. I’m too fat. Too ugly – but for God’s sake, how can you be ugly with a mask on? Even I can’t be ugly with a mask on! It must be fat, then. Fat twat, that’s me.

  (She lifts up her face and gnashes her teeth – literally. It’s a half-joke, but there are tears sparkling in her eyes.)

  His advisers warned him that doing a set with a girl as young as me, who was about to undergo surgery at his house, might lead to some nasty publicity. Oh, dear me, nasty publicity, oh no, can’t have that. Please, no publicity for Mr Heat, he doesn’t like it, you know. It makes him break out in dimples.

  Maybe it’s true. Someone like him has to be careful. Look what happened to Michael Jackson. He does have to be careful. And maybe the vid did get damaged. Or maybe he’s just paranoid …

  And it’s always his advisers. Never him, he never says no to anything. His advisers just keep stopping him, poor old Jonathon! Crap. No one would have seen my face under the mask. We’d have made a right pair.

  (She laughs.)

  I was looking forward to it, though.

  (She puts her hands to her face and cries, then in a fit of anger starts beating the pillows.)

  Bastard shitbag bloody bloody bloody. Arghghghgh!

  (Sara grabs hold of a mirror and stares at her face. She begins to draw a jagged red line on the mask with an eyeliner pencil, which she then throws across the bed.)

  There’s something you should know. I’m being spied on! Everywhere. Here in my room. I can’t do anything. Every day I search this bed from top to bottom for bugs. You think I’m mad. I think I’m mad. But I don’t know, do I? That’s the thing. I don’t know …

  (She carries on painting the face before glancing again at the camera and reaching over to turn it off.)

  The Party

  Once he stopped being a guest and became a member of staff, Mark barely saw Sara. Heat, on the other hand, saw her all the time. They worked out together, they went to restaurants together, they went shopping together. They were even getting massaged together. Mark knew this because Sara kept in touch by phone and text. She never said who she was with, just where she was, but who else would be with her at Tiffany Gray’s,
or having lunch in Paris, or eating at Heathcote’s or shopping at Vivienne Westwood? Heat must have bought her half the clothes in Manchester from what she said. The only times Mark saw her was somewhere in the distance, having a good time with Jonathon Heat. It was eating him up.

  He’d been telling himself that he and she could be just good friends, but that’s not what his heart was saying. Even if she wasn’t sleeping with Heat, the fact that she preferred to hang out with him hurt. He kept telling himself it was all a career move on Sara’s part and he couldn’t blame her for that. Who wouldn’t prefer to eat out at the best restaurants, stay at five-star hotels, hang out with the stars – but it still hurt. He was spending his days walking about, hurting.

  The job Heat had given him had actually turned out to be rather good. The security system at Home Manor Farm was one of the most sophisticated available and poor old Tom Woods, who ran security, had no idea. He was an old-fashioned sort of guy who liked to walk up and down the corridors at night with a torch, or sit in a box with a Thermos and a TV, and keep half an eye on the CCTV. He hadn’t a clue about programming the system. Once the software was set up, he just left it to its own devices, running the CCTV, and operating the lights and a few doors from the central server; but that machine could pretty well run the house on its own if it was programmed properly. It didn’t just control the security side of things. The whole electrical side of the house was on board as well.

  Mark started off with routine jobs, patrolling the grounds and filing records, that sort of thing; but his subject at university was going to be computing and he was just dying to get his hands on that mainframe. There was a problem, though – Woods was against it.

  Jonathon Heat and Tom Woods went way back. Woods had started out as a roadie in the early days when Heat was front man for the boy band Loose Trade. Heat usually went along with whatever Tom wanted, and Tom wanted the security server left well alone. For one thing, having no idea how it worked or what it could do, he mistrusted it deeply; his instinct was to let it alone in case it resented being disturbed. For another, he hated being shown up for an ignoramus and Mark’s burst of enthusiasm when he saw the machine indicated that exactly that was on the cards. On this occasion, though, with a little help from Sara, Heat overruled him. Woods insisted that thing would go wrong, that a little knowledge was a dangerous thing, but Mark had the machine turning the lights on and off in fancy patterns, and making the cameras follow people up and down the corridors like a chameleon’s eye in the first few hours. Woods hated him for it, and Mark had made an enemy right off. But he didn’t care – he was having a great time. Within a day he was already able to manipulate the cameras individually and turn infrared tracking on and off all over the house – something that Woods didn’t even know existed.

  Neither Heat nor Woods could have realised the power this gave Mark, however. He could already track down where anyone was in the house, and spy on them, if he wished. And he did wish – but he was too honest. In fact, it took all his willpower not to spy on Heat and Sara. It wasn’t any of his business. He didn’t like the thought of what he might see.

  The rest of the job consisted of walking about the grounds, keeping an eye on things, checking windows and so on. It was easy work, the pay was brilliant – but was it enough to pay for the heartache? Mark was feeling humiliated and lonely, and within a couple of weeks he was already thinking of packing the job in and going home. On the other hand, there was the big party coming up: that, Mark did not want to miss. It was all hands to the pumps when Heat threw a party, and he had been asked to help out on the night, serving food. He had already been given his costume and told the order of events. Heat’s parties were planned with military precision to look spontaneous.

  Mark decided to stay for the do and then give in his notice the next day. Apart from anything else, there was a chance, even if it was a small one, that he could see Sara and tell her goodbye.

  The party, despite being held in secret, was of course well known to the press already, and on the night the paparazzi were out in force, hanging off the fence and climbing up trees to snap celebrities arriving. Heat’s grooming of Sara was also supposed to be a secret, but the news got out about that, too, and Heat felt compelled to make a press statement in which he emphasised that he was looking into what could be done to help her, and that they were just friends. Sara was furious; as far as she was concerned she was there to be made a star, not be helped – as if she was sick – as if she needed help! She told Janet she thought Heat had orchestrated the whole leak in order to cut her out and was disgusted with the whole thing. It wasn’t her launch any more. In a sneaking way, step by step, it had turned into yet another demonstration of how wonderful Jonathon Heat was.

  Heat’s parties were things of fable, and this one was no exception. The food was like a medieval banquet – a giant swan, two metres high, carved out of ice, chickens put together so they looked like lizards, a chocolate cake that weighed fifty kilos covered in chocolate masks, salmon arranged so that they looked like a shoal swimming up the tables, salads like Kew Gardens and sweets and bonbons from all over the world. The rooms were decorated with huge floral extravaganzas; there was live music from bands such as Antwerp, Maverick, the Serious Slits, the Lovely Girls and Bay Moon. Everyone dressed like catwalk princes and princesses, and major celebrities mingled with Sara’s friends and family like long-lost relatives everyone had seen before only in pictures. They were nice to Sara and her friends, even the ones who hated the common public. Heat had seen to that.

  Sara enjoyed the star-spotting, but she was embarrassed by the kind of attention she was getting. All the celebs were going out of their way to be nice to her, but not as one of them. She was another charity fan Jonathon had taken under his wing.

  ‘They’re all treating me as if I was normal,’ she complained to Janet. Her friends and family were also embarrassing her by getting louder and louder as they got drunk, pointing out each new famous face with shrieks of excitement, which they tried unconvincingly to hush up. Several of them were trying to take photographs in secret – unplanned photos were strictly banned – and there was always a huge cluster of them gathered around the food tables like ‘a crowd of overdressed maggots’, as Sara put it.

  Mark had been safely imprisoned behind one of the long tables, and by the time the party was half over, he’d barely even glimpsed Sara. He could see snatches of her through the crowds, and some of their mutual friends had come across to talk. Heat obviously suspected that there was more to him and Sara than he was being told and was keeping Mark well out of the way. He’d even had words with him a few days before, after catching him pausing in the corridor to talk to her.

  ‘I don’t ask for much considering the advantages you get working here, Mark, but …’ he said. And he launched into a polite but angry suggestion that staff, meaning Mark, stay away from guests, meaning Sara.

  Yes sir no sir your bony arse sir! Mark was furious. He complained about it to Sara on her mobile – one way Heat could not keep tabs on him – but she didn’t seem to mind. Heat was jealous, he was used to getting his own way, he was just like a little kid, Mark was not to mind him, she said. And so Mark thought she didn’t care that he wasn’t seeing anything of her.

  At about half past nine, Cheyenne from the Lovely Girls got up on a chair and announced that after a huge amount of nagging, she’d finally managed to convince Heat to do a set for his guests. Everyone clapped, cheered and laughed – they all knew this had been planned for weeks.

  ‘Put on your masks!’ shrieked Cheyenne. Staff appeared at the entrances carrying boxes of Heat masks. Everyone had to have their face covered while Heat recreated the famous opening act of the Night of the Mask Tour – ‘Who We Baby’. The staff had already been issued with theirs, so they did not have to mingle or push in with the guests. Mark had been given one along with everyone else; but he had other plans. It was his last night at Home Manor Farm – he had nothing to lose. He had his own littl
e game to play tonight and he wanted Sara to be able to recognise him if she saw him.

  The masks were handed out, the lights went down, the spotlight focused on the middle of the floor, and Heat came on, wearing his flat cap, his blue pashmina, his short leather jacket and began to perform.

  ‘This boy is not your man,

  This boy is a lonely child,

  What you see is what you get.

  Wear me, be me, eat me.

  Behind my face my secret thoughts

  Are there for all to see.

  Who we is

  Is who I am.

  You and me is

  All there is.’

  No one was allowed to stay away while Heat performed, even the staff, and everyone had been instructed to leave their places and go to watch the show. But Mark held back, peering over the heads towards the spotlit area where Heat was doing his stuff. Not bad for an old bloke, he thought. In fact, it was quite mesmerising. But, to his eyes, there was someone more mesmerising still. He knew she was angry about being left out of this at the last moment. Maybe now he could ease up to her and say his goodbyes. Or – it was there in his mind still – perhaps she’d find a way to convince him to stay on.

  Sara was standing at the back of the crowd, peering between the heads. It was dark, she was wearing her mask and clothes he’d never seen before, but he knew her so well – how she stood, how she moved, how she held her head – he’d know her anywhere. She looked as lovely as ever in his eyes, even from behind. Mark waited a moment, ready to duck under the table to go to her, but suddenly she turned round as if she’d felt the pressure of his eyes on her. She cast Heat one more quick glance, then turned, left the crowd and made her way over to his table.

  On the spur of the moment, Mark decided to pretend not to know her.

  ‘Can I get you anything, madam?’ he asked, tipping his head to one side.

 
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