Monday 3 July 2017

Film Noir

 Gill James

orange juice 

“To the side a little. That’s it. Now smile. Look down.” 
Snap. Snap.
Cherry’s neck and shoulders ached with the effort of holding her head stiffly for so long. Despite the hot studio lights, she was trying not to shiver. She had to admit: it was just as her mother had promised. Being this thin made her feel the cold. She could hear that constant voice.  “You need to eat. You have to keep your strength up. Young girls don’t need to be that slim.” The trouble was they did. Even if it made them feel cold.
“Come on sweetheart. Where’s that lovely smile. Not long now.”
Snap. Snap.
“Okay, honey. That’s it.”

“I have to give it to you. They look good.”  They were studying the portfolio Gaston Pictures had sent through.
Cherry wasn’t so sure.  “They make me look fat, Mum.”
“Don’t be silly. You’re not at all fat. That red top really suits you.” Her mother frowned. “Even if it does show more than it ought to.”
“Well at least they’re good pictures.  They ought to get you some work.” Her mother sniffed. “They’d really better with what they’ve cost.”    
Cherry shuddered. Had this really been such a good idea after all? What if it didn’t work? It had to. It just had to. 

“Yes your portfolio was very nice, dear, but we have hundreds of collections like that. You really need to be a bit different to stand any chance these days.”
“Perhaps I should try somewhere else?”    
“Well, I don’t think you’ll find anywhere more efficient than our company.” The receptionist glared down at Cherry from her high stool. She seemed to be turning up her nose as if Cherry was something the cat had brought in. “Anyway, we’ve already gone to substantial time and trouble circulating your portfolio to the top companies. If you withdrew now we would have to charge you.”
“How much?”
The receptionist tapped her long fingernail on the keyboard. She glanced at her computer screen and smirked.  “Five hundred and seventy-five pounds.”
That was it then. She wouldn’t be able to get out of this.
The receptionist smiled a little more gently now.
“You’ll have to be patient. Once they’ve seen you enough they’ll start remembering your face. You’ve got quite a pretty face, really.”  
It doesn’t heIp, though, does it?  Mum was going to be furious.

“Where are you off to in such a tearing hurry?”
Oh no. It was Kevin Hughes. She’d never hear the last of it if he told everybody at school where he’d seen her.
“Aw, you’ve not been to one of those poncy agencies who promise to get you modelling jobs. Rip off or what?”
“Shut up, Kevin Hughes.”
“You’d do better letting me take you on my mobile and pasting it on Facebook.”
“Don’t you dare.”
Snap. Too late. He’d done it. There would be trouble if he did put it on Facebook. The agency would drop her.  It was a strict rule: no promoting yourself on social media.
Kevin was now already half way down the High Street.   

Two weeks later when she called at the agency there was a much younger receptionist there. Candy, said her name badge.  Cherry guessed she was only a couple of years older than herself.
“Hiya. Cherry isn’t it? We’ve had a bit of news.”
Her heart started thumping and her mouth went dry. Was this going to be her big moment?
Candy tapped away at her keyboard. The printer whirred into life and started chugging out paper.
“Modes Gaston. They’d like to actually see you. Only thing is, they want you to lose a couple of kilos. And they’d like you to have your hair cropped and streaked orange. Of course, they’d expected it done at a top salon. The details are here.” She handed Cherry the printout. “There’s a list of recommended salons at the end with a list of charges.”
Cherry looked at the papers. God, her mother was going to freak.
“Now, don’t go getting your hopes up too much. You’ll have to make those changes before they’ll even look at you. They may still reject you. But it’s a step in the right direction and cause for celebration. Go, girl. ”

Kevin Hughes was waiting on the pavement again when she got outside. Before she could stop him he’d got out his phone and was snapping away.
“Please don’t put them on Facebook,” she begged. “It will spoil everything."
Kevin grinned. “Okay. I promise I won’t Give us your phone and I’ll put my number in. Then send us a text so I’ve got your number and I’ll send the pictures over.  So that you can see how much better I am than whoever you‘re paying all that money to. “
Cherry sighed and gave him the phone.

“Oh my god. What have they done to you?” It was the snooty older receptionist again. “I hope you didn’t pay them. In fact they ought to pay you. Compensation for wrecking your career.”
It had looked all right when they’d first got it done. No way would her mother pay those top salon prices and they’d gone to the place in the village her mother used.  But now it was beginning to grow out and her dark roots were showing. Her hair had gone really dry as well. It had taken her quite a while to lose the extra two kilos.
She felt really ill. She’d not slept because she’d been so hungry.
“Listen, sweetie, we’ll have to get you fixed. I‘m going to make you an appointment with one of our recommended salons.  
“I don’t think I can afford it,” Cherry mumbled.
“You can’t afford not to. And we can’t afford for you not to have this put right.  We’ll just take the fee out of your first pay packet. Take a seat over there.”
The woman seemed to take ages on the phone. Cherry felt really sick and thought she might have to rush out at any minute to throw up.
“There. You’ve an appointment in half an hour at Gregor’s. There’s a taxi waiting outside.”
Thank goodness she could get out now.
She rushed down the stairs. The fresh air made her feel a little better straight away. There was the taxi waiting for her. And so was Kevin.
Snap. Snap. Snap.
Why must he keep taking photos?
The flash made her blink. But when she tried to open her eyes there was just blackness.       
“Oh you’re awake now then?” 
Cherry’s head hurt.  She couldn’t make out where she was.  Her arm was sore. There was a tube sticking into it. It led to a bag of clear fluid that was hanging off something that looked a bit like a hat stand.
“The doctors say you were dehydrated.  And that you’re much too thin. This lark has got to stop my girl.”
“Leave me alone, Mum.”
What was she doing here?  What about Gregor’s and Gaston? She guessed that would all be over for a while, if not for good.
“Okay, I’ll leave you for a bit. He wants a word.”
She looked to where her mother was pointing.
Oh no. Kevin Hughes again.
“You scared us. Are you all right now?”
“What do you want, Kevin?”
He took a large brown envelope out of his shoulder bag. “This came. I thought you might like to see it.”
“Bog off, Kevin.”
“Okay, I’m going.” He put envelope on the bedside table and held his arms up in the air.

“What did he want?” Her mother was holding a cup of what looked like dishwater but she suspected it was supposed to be weak coffee.
Cherry nodded towards he envelop.
“Aren’t you going to open it?”
 “Shall I?”
Her mum opened the envelop before she could even pick it up. “Oh my god.” She put her hand in front of her mouth.
  “What is it?”
Her mother handed her a large black and white photograph. It was of Cherry with her hair tousled and looking just a little bit tired.  Yet there was something extraordinarily good about it.  She looked, well, glamorous.
“It’s fantastic, isn’t it?”
Yes, it was good. But she didn’t want to agree with her mother too soon.
“Oh, wait. There’s something else here.”  She pulled out a closely typed document.
“What is it?”
Her mother took a few moments to read it.
“Apparently you’ve been invited to work for the Nouveau Fim Noir Company.”
“What’s that?”
“They make old-fashioned black and white films. Did I leave my phone here?” Kevin was back and was now on his hands and knees searching under the bed.
“Only they want you to put on a bit of weight. Listen. Grow the orange hair out, they say. But keep the tom-boy look.” Her mum looked up from the letter.  “See. I told you.”
“You didn’t mind me sending them off, did you? Only I knew you would be exactly what they were looking for.” Kevin scrambled up on to his feet, the phone now in his hand. “The photos look really good in black and white.”     
Gill James asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.

About the author: 

Gill James writes all sorts of fiction - novels, short fiction, flash fiction and experimental fiction. She is also a publisher and editor. Visit her blog at  

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