Her eyes were mirrored glass; when you stood before her and stared, she showed you yourself—but better, happier. Her teeth were cash registers, filled to the crowns with the cold hard currency of love. Her mouth was the secret language of need.
It wasn’t always this way. Once she was merely an acolyte, roaming the centre of town like Little Bo Peep, looking for something sexy in wool—or a tiny black dress from ‘Baa Baa Mouton Noir’. She’d stand at the threshold of each expensive boutique, and dip her toe over the line. When the digit came back—showing off delicate lace and dangling a Gucci high heel—it shone with a grace which made her feel whole.
She met a male model, swaddled in Vivienne Westwood, scent by Dior, and fell in love at first sight with his clothes-hanger shoulders. His eyes were blank checks, filled with the promise of a ripe ever-after. His words were beautifully foreign, wonderfully lost in translation. His trousers bulged with the girth of his Armani wallet.
They moved into a show home with four walk-in wardrobes and filled it with Narnian furs (fawn hide, unicorn pelt, Aslan’s muff folded over the back of a chair) and all the riches of Aladdin’s Cave. Jeweled nipple rings, ivory nose studs, and jade ankle bracelets spilled out of every drawer.
The bedroom ceiling was mirrored—as was the floor—as were the walls. When they made love, her designer sheets multiplied into orgasmic excess. It was then, as her body shuddered with transcendent delight, that she felt the first tremors of change.
It started small, as her perfect white feet grew harder, grew pale. Her toenails turned to alabaster; she showed them off with Manolo Blahniks. The exaggerated, sexual lilt of her hips swiveled like department store doors. She walked up and down in front of her mirrors for hours.
Her perfect Italian boyfriend knelt and kissed her feet. She smiled and asked for crystal slippers and a ring to match.
He put a rock on her finger bigger than Sisyphus’ boulder, bigger than the weight that Atlas bore on his huge, inelegant shoulders. It glittered with gaudy power, and she lost herself in its sparkling, twenty-carat facets for days at a time. She went out and bought a dress on credit; hired an island on a wink and a promise.
The wedding was champagne poured into a gutter. His and hers golden thrones sparkled like bauxite on a white sandy beach. The groom wore his new facelift with wild grinning zeal but she found herself frozen in botoxed perfection. When her smile cracked, she collapsed to the floor.
She panicked and ran, trailing debts in her wake, like confetti. Her desperate husband shouted words she didn’t understand. Maybe he wanted her back, and his credit cards with her. The world was her decadent oyster—so long as nobody caught her.
In Milan, she walked the streets, begging for Dolce, slumming for Gabbana. She picked the pockets of tight-trousered men and hid out in a dark room at the Ritz Carlton. She shopped online and bought a new name, a new face. Her eBay bids became the stuff of legend.
A line of bellboys marched to her suite, carrying riches: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. She dumped them in corners, piled them high on her bed. At night, she curled up to sleep on the floor. Something was wrong: the heart in her chest tinkled like loose change.
When she ran out of money she went to the mob and traded her soul for a diamond tiara. It twinkled like stars in the dark of her room. When she ran out of food she found a poor artist and licked his beautiful, waxen plums. When she ran out of time, she traded her husband’s Rolex for a first class ticket to Paris.
By now, her skin was translucent, like the scales a snake sheds to make way for the latest fashion. The chic flesh of her arms hung from her mannequin bones. Her stomach churned with deductibles. She shat out receipts.
She developed a taste for fine cuisine and swallowed up bistros as if they were olives. Day after day she hid in the shadows of Notre Dame, then burst out at night to snaffle the fineries on the Place Lachambeaudie. She gobbled up Michelin stars and gulped an ocean of Chateaux Margaux, 2004. Each morning she threw up a universe of exquisite morsels and pain.
She became a gastronome, dangling her rod over the Seine, looking for rare and succulent fish. She got lucky and snagged a beautiful Parisian sailor, skinned him for all he was worth and tossed him back in the river. In the woods, she snuffled for truffles and charmed a wealthy landowner with her jodhpurs and firm, shotgun breasts. Deep in the forest, she murdered his hart.
She consumed the bric-a-brac of the market and at the stock market wolfed down futures like there was no tomorrow. But at the back of her mind she felt something growing. An unease. A feeling that those who are rich can rarely afford: sorrow.
London called her back like a January Sale. The girl who returned was wonderfully frail, pale as porcelain, and surrounded by a halo of pure greed.
She found a shop doorway and bedded down for the night.
That evening the chiffon of her dreams itched and she woke drenched in sweat of the finest perfume. Grief filled her but her tears, when they came, were diamond-drop earrings. When a razor sharp, manicured nail opened a vein, her blood was skin lotion.
She screamed but the sound, when it echoed back from the dark Camden corners, was Muzak. The changes quickened. Her skin hardened. Her marble feet took root in the ground.
In the morning, the throngs of shoppers were delighted to find a new pop-up shop, filled with all the world’s wonders.
Now, she’s found happiness. Whenever she’s entered, she groans. Whenever they tickle her innards with cash, she quakes. Whenever they look into the mirrored glass of her eyes, she sees herself, as she was, as she longed to be.
LEO NORMAN is a writer and teacher from Southampton, England. His work has appeared all over the place, but most recently it has established a home in his wastepaper basket. Leo lives with his wife, Emma, and his son, Elijah.