Fiona pushes open the door of Shangri-La and takes a deep breath. Her Higher Power is very proud, but her Inner Child is throwing a tantrum. Not fair, not fair, not fair. If only she could stay young and beautiful forever, without someone sticking needles in her face.
“Can I help you?” Full lips, creamy skin, flaxen hair, a starched uniform, chalk white, straining against the curves of her young body. The only colour is in the sign above her head – drinking cherry juice keeps you young.
“I have an appointment,” Fiona says. “With…” She fishes for a business card in her handbag.
“Emily?” the girl says.
“No, Niamh.” Fiona hands her the card, trying to act nonchalant, as if this is an everyday occurrence for her, as if it’s a devil-may-care kind of thing to do.
‘I love that bit of devilment in you,’ Ollie used to say when she met him first, and she’d kept it going long after he stopped remarking.
“Oh, that’s me,” the snow queen shrieks, a little too cheery for Fiona, this hour of the morning. She ushers her into a room, white again, except for the shiny stainless steel instruments on a stainless steel tray. Reminds Fiona of a fertility clinic she’d run out of once.
“Sit here,” says the voluptuous Niamh, patting a table-bed covered in tissue paper. “And let me have a look.” When Fiona is settled, her two legs dangling a couple of inches above the tiled floor, Niamh pokes at her face, her breath smelling of Listerine and clove drops.
“Well, first of all, these need to go.” She stretches the sides of Fiona’s eyes with her fingers.
“Yeah,” Fiona says. “Some crow left his footprints there without me noticing.”
“Laughter lines, okay,” Niamh makes serious notes on her jotter. “And I think this…” She measures with a miniature ruler the space above Fiona’s nose. “No sense in walking around looking furious when you’re happy, now is there?”
Ollie had taken her whole head in his hands once and examined every bit of it, his eyes watery. ‘I think I’m falling in love,’ he’d said.
‘There isn’t a fear of it.’ She’d thumped him in the chest. ‘Lust is more like it.’
His face had flooded with disappointment and she’s never been able to get him to say it since.
“And these.” Niamh points at the corners of her mouth.
Fiona tries to set her lips in a line, tries not to curl them into a smile. This is serious business, after all.
“That’s it,” Niamh exclaims, slapping down the notebook on the table. “How about you?” She pockets the pen and ruler. “What do you think?” This from a woman who looks like she’s never laughed, cried, or had a single meaningful thought her whole life.
“Oh, whatever you think yourself,” Fiona says, wondering if there was an operation for assertiveness.
“You have beautiful eyes, you know.” Niamh is still examining her. “A lovely smile too. And what a great head of hair.”
Fiona loops one of her curls behind her ear. They’re light and fluffy, caramel coloured. Ollie likes to rake his fingers through them until they lie like corkscrews on their pillow. Is it natural, people ask her all the time. How can hair not be, she wants to reply?
“Thanks,” she says to the fair Niamh.
She’d been shocked watching Law and Order the week before, on Halloween of all nights. Special Victims Unit it was and a sixty-year old woman, they kept calling her, portrayed as old and lonely and odd. A shabby old lady the other characters addressed as ‘Miss’ and treated with trepidation. Fiona started talking to the television; calling Captain Cragen a moron; telling him it was about time he retired. How could his detectives buy into this shit? Especially Olivia Benson. After all, isn’t sixty the new forty? She was yelling, ‘c’mon Liv,’ confident she couldn’t be heard in the apartment next door. The writers should be strung up, along with the producer, Dick Wolf.
She shut up when she spotted the picture of her and Ollie propped against her bedside lamp. She saw the fine lines beside her eyes, the puckered brow, the lips fading from lack of colour, his boyish face next to hers.
After a sleepless night, she had dialled the number for Shangri-La.
When Niamh leaves to check the appointment book, Fiona studies a chart on the wall. It’s a colour wheel with definitions underneath. Orange is the colour of change, it states, like the amber in traffic lights. There is huge aggression in the orange and red section. These colours symbolise spirituality, warmth and flamboyance. Orange is the colour of the sun, it says. It boosts appetite. Think breakfast foods, like orange juice and marmalade, to kick-start the day.
‘Knock, knock,’ is one of Ollie’s jokes.
‘Banana who?’ She’s always right on cue.
‘Banana who?’ She’d be getting fed up at this point.
‘Orange ya glad I didn’t say banana?’
I am ablaze, she writes in her gratitude journal, her feet still dangling over the side of the table-bed. I rage and burn and ravage. I am searing, scorching, aflame. I am the sun caressing your bones; fruit juice dribbling down your chin. I am your sunset, sunrise, your sky at night, your fire first thing in the morning.