The sunset leaks behind her head, a clot of purple. Smile. She takes the selfie five times – still not right. Happiness shouldn’t be this hard to capture. An overweight pair further along the terrace crack up and clink beers – some private joke? The mood shifts.
A surge of guests, now, arriving in navy kimonos, gliding, schmoozing, and chattering like an outdated modem. She puts on her sunglasses, orders a mojito at the bar, and taps her finger distractedly at a menu. The bar’s TV blares showbiz news – another stale, red-carpet pageant, wannabes dazzled by photographers’ lights. No one she even knows. Then some too-pretty comedian is faking her own meltdown. The noise swells on the terrace, unceasing and urgent. Her breath tightens.
She flees towards the spa suite, striding down long labyrinths of passageways. Uniformed staff pass by, buffing the floor with contraptions that hum contentedly, clearing guests’ tracks. The hotel will accept no lingering trace of her presence; soon, her recovery will shrink to a residue of memories and botched photographs. Even when anonymous in a foreign country, the shadow of her old life will not leave her.
At the margin of the spa, guests skitter to and fro through glass doors. A keg-bellied man rasps a feral snore in a Lullaby Chair. A willowy blonde towels her limbs, bending a leg against a bench as if her thighs feel compelled to confess how lithe they are. Other guests buzz with war stories of vigorous treatments. She slips inside, shunning the hive.
She chooses a footbath and slides her heels in. The water is arctic-cold. Garra rufa fish gather round her feet, nibbling skin. At her heels, her toes, mobs of them congregate – little grey hunger-machines. Their tails ripple quickly side to side, squirming in gratification, relentless as they feed off her flesh. And yet she feels no more than a tickling. How they devour her, these affable parasites!
She withdraws her feet – tender, a raw shade of pink. She pats them with a towel, walks on virgin skin through the corridors back towards her room. What craving did those creatures have for her body? For once, desire was welcome. This is surely what retreat means: reduce, peel back, until the new version emerges, delicate and sore.
But soreness is already there, breath tensed in her chest like a throat-trapped bone. The paparazzi – would they have stopped, would they have flayed her till she bled?
As the passageway tilts, something flits about her, feasting, flicking its tail in pleasure.
Michael Loveday’s novella-in-flash Three Men on the Edge (V. Press, 2018) was shortlisted for the 2019 Saboteur Award for Best Novella. He also writes poetry, with a pamphlet He Said / She Said published by HappenStance Press (2011). Website: https://michaelloveday.com/
Image via Pixabay