Down in the bottom of the cupboard beneath the sink, way in back, a bottle of rat poison. A black and white label, faded and worn, and printed on the label: Rat Poison. Skull and crossbones. A cautionary message at the bottom in a rectangular box. Small print. Who put it there, how long ago: a mystery. The seal: unbroken. Never used.
In Milan, onlookers gawk. Camera-toting tourists the crew shoos away. Yet they linger. Others arrive. The breeze blows lightly. When it doesn’t a fan is positioned, plugged in, strategically aimed. Hours plod. One’s brain coagulates like a pudding in the sun. The next day: Madrid. The day after: Rome. Evenings with strangers pretending to be friends, drinking, laughing, posing. One’s feet ache and one longs for real friends, real love, a real life.
Amadeo will say anything to get what he wants. You are beautiful. A vision. An angel. Bellissima! He will make your heart melt into a puddle of fatuous egotism. But you know it. You move arms here, legs there, eyebrow up, chin atilt, lips pursed, eyes up, down, sideways, any way he wants. Amadeo gets what he wants. The hotel a blissful refuge after fourteen hours of artifice. A place to be alone. A different kind of alone. In the day: seen but unknown; in the night: unseen and unknown, lonesome.
In the front of the cupboard: dish detergent, scouring pads, a small red fire extinguisher (do they come in any other color? yellow perhaps?). A sheet of linoleum lines the cupboard floor, a geometrical pattern of different sized rectangles, large ones, medium ones, and small like the warning box on the bottle in the back. Lurking back there like a very rat itself, tiny sharp teeth bared. The rest of the small flat: quiet. The telly shut off for the night. Armchairs in the sitting room: empty. Framed photos on the wall: a child: different photos at different ages: a very pretty child at every age. The fridge humming almost imperceptibly in the kitchen. The sound of a person breathing: imperceptible: as good as nonexistent. The cupboard down below. The bottle way in back. The chairs, the photos, the fridge, the breathing.
First stop: LaGuardia. A week in Manhattan. Beneath the Queensborough Bridge. On the deck of the Staten Island Ferry. Lincoln Center. Central Park. It’s cold, very windy, crowded, loud. Next stop: LAX. A week in Los Angeles: Hollywood Boulevard. Beverly Hills. The pier at Santa Monica. Hotel rooms. Smiling, laughing, drinking. Sixteen hour days. Countless shots, pretty in all. But pretty is easy, pretty is everywhere, especially in California, Amadeo wants more than pretty and he perseveres until he gets it. Finally: Heathrow. South Tottenham. A two week holiday. The flat at the end of Hampden Road, just near Ducketts Common: a sight for sore eyes.
Mad not to capitalize on such beauty, anyone would say: most did. A gift from God. University can wait, boys can wait, hubby and children and all that lot can absolutely bloody well wait. Think of the money, the travel, the glamour. Think what the money can do: for you, for your mum. Just hold still for a photo, nothing easier. Wear this, stand here, look there, smile, wink: you’re good as gold. Do it for your mum. Nothing to stop you. Daddy long gone. No other family to speak of. Do it for your mum. If not for yourself, for your mum.
Now it’s Berlin. Tomorrow Vienna. Amsterdam the week after. More money than a dream can hold. Travel, glamour, locals and tourists gawking: royalty come to town. Beauty as they’ve never seen but only dreamt of, an ethereal being breathing the rarefied air of privilege, wealth, fame, luxury. They want to stand as close as they can, breathe the same air, live the same dream. The dream into which one must be born. One cannot acquire it by work or subterfuge nor fake one’s credentials nor argue on the basis of virtues not clearly visible. But how wonderful it would be to stand in the lights, in the camera’s eye, adored, complimented, fawned over, lusted after. Paid enormous sums merely to stand, clad in the finest apparel, and smile. See how easily she does it: tilting her lovely head, fixing her eyes just to the left of the camera in a steely gaze, cheek bones in sharp relief, earrings dangling, skirt fluttering, shapely calves flexed, and do what must come so easily: smile. With nothing in her adorable little head but the thought of a dimly lit kitchen in a small flat in South Tottenham, a cupboard door standing ajar beneath the sink, a bottle with a black and white label standing on the kitchen table, the sound of a humming fridge and no other sound at all, neither the telly nor the sound of a person breathing. A small flat with nobody in it and no reason ever to return to Hampden Road.
Just stand, tip your head, and smile. Nothing easier.