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How much longer could she hide the secret?

Submitted:Aug 17, 2010    Reads: 315    Comments: 10    Likes: 6   

The manicured fingers trembled on her knee. Before they could start shaking too much, she ran her fingers through the smooth pearls.
"Look at me! Karen, move her hair to the left! No, your left, idiot!"
Alina felt her chin jerk upwards. Christopher saw it, of course. "What do you think you're doing? You're supposed to look languorous, sexy, dreamy! Remember? Get your stupid chin back onto your knee! We're trying to feature a French manicure here, not your stupid fake pearls and certainly not your stupid chin!"
"The pearls are supposed to be part of it!" she enunciated slowly, each word dripping with contempt. Twenty minutes she'd crouched in this pose, and now she felt a trickle of sweat soaking into the pale chiffon. Her patience had reached an end. "Shiny pearls, shiny nails. Ms. Panger wants the pearls featured in the shot!"
Christopher's voice rose higher. "Ms. Panger isn't here, and even if she was, I'm taking the pictures, honey!"
Karen politely cleared her throat. "She's starting to sweat. It's showing through the chiffon."
Christopher dramatically slumped his shoulders. "Fine. Take a break. Clean her up. But it'll take another twenty minutes to get her posed again." He looked at his watch."Already two a.m." He rubbed his forehead. "All for a French manicure," he muttered to himself as he walked out the door and into his office.
Karen helped her out of the crouched position, up from the floor. "Alina, your hands are shaking. Do you need anything? Soda, some protein?"
Alina smiled tightly at her. "Maybe some cheese and crackers. Thanks, Karen." It wouldn't help, but it would keep Karen from studying her fingers too closely.
Nothing would help.
She fought back laughter, remembering how she'd once thought maybe this would be an asset. After all, Parkinson's disease is a movement disorder. That's what the neurologist told her last month, three months after tests, tests, and more tests. Well, models aren't supposed to move.
And sometimes she couldn't move at all. At home, her mom and dad had gotten used to hearing, "I'm stuck." And they would have to come move her out of whatever position she'd gotten into. So it hadn't been hard to sit in Christopher's demented little crouch. She doubted very much that she could get out of it. But her hands--her hands would not stop shaking.
She felt exhausted, and she knew the anti-cholinergic had started to wear off. Karen came back with a paper plate full of cheese on crackers. "Here you go. That Christopher--he's just got to have everything perfect."
Alina reached for the plate. Hand, hold plate. Clasp fingers on plate, balance on palm, you've done this a million times...
The thumb pinched down, but the fingers suddenly twitched back, spilling the plate on the floor. Karen gasped, "Oh, Alina, I'm so sorry! I was sure you had that."
"Karen, it's okay. I guess-I guess I'm just more tired than I thought."
"Well, if you go ahead and pick that up, I'll get you a fresh plate."
Alina dropped to her knees. This is gonna be fun, she half-muttered to herself between clenched teeth. Four crackers. Four pieces of cheese. Nobody must know.
What if she lost her job? What could she do? A year ago one of the models had suffered a stroke. She'd only been twenty-one; apparently the doctor said it happened because of anorexia. It had left Kayla unable to lift her right arm; the right side of her face stayed limp and loose.
Of course the agency let her go immediately, and the official announcement was no surprise to anybody. Alina recalled she had been in the studio that day, posing in a sundress next to a beach umbrella, when Ms. Panger came in and told them all.
She had felt sad for Kayla, but Christopher had just laughed. "Hey, models can be dumb as a box of rocks, but they can't drool." He immediately bent down and focused back on Alina. "Get that popsicle back up near your chin!"
Ms. Panger only laughed. "Hey, watch it. At least I wasn't one of the dumb ones. I bought this company."
Karen left the room, her mouth twisted with disgust. Christopher didn't see the look, had granted Ms. Panger a mock-bow. "And you pay me and my herd of half-wits very well. Just keep the droolers away from my camera."
And that had been the very moment that Kayla walked in.
"I came-came-to--" Using her left hand to wipe the spittle from the right side of her mouth, she collected herself for another effort. "Get my-my things."
She went to a shelf that held a framed photo, a picture of her back she had first started at the agency. "I used to look like this."
Nobody said anything.
Kayla turned back to Christopher. "But you-you. N-nothing was enough. And you." she turned to Ms. Panger. "Always telling me I was too fat. I took diet pills. I ate-ate only salad. You did this. Did this to me." Alina remembered actually backing away, shocked by the hate in Kayla's eyes.
Ms. Panger said firmly, "We encourage healthy eating habits at this agency."
"Liar! You told me all the time how fat and disgusting I looked! That you would have to fire me if I didn't lose ten more pounds! And then another ten pounds. And another!"
Ms. Panger's voice dripped with concern. "Kayla, I understand you're dealing with a lot of emotions right now. You're upset. I'll have security help you outside."
"Upset! Yes! At myself! I was-I was a fool! I'm going to rehab. And when I get out I'll try to forget. Forget you all."
Alina's hand shook as she grabbed on to one of the crackers. It had been in this room that Kayla had had "her little meltdown," as Christopher had called it. Now Alina envied her. Kayla had rehab, after all. She was young. She could recover. But with Parkinson's, all one could do was try to postpone the inevitable.
As if to emphasize the point, the cracker she'd been trying to grasp suddenly snapped in two. Alina laid it on the plate. She wished she could get the anti-cholinergic out of her purse. But the purse sat on the table in the next room. People would notice if she went and dug it out. Ms. Panger would show her the door. And of course Christopher would have a new joke.
Two crackers on the plate now. She reached for the third. It lay flat on the floor. Could she get this one? Her hand managed to push it up against the wall. She got her thumbnail underneath it and pushed upwards.
Success. Three crackers on the plate now.
"Oh, Alina!" Karen's voice sounded from behind her. "Are you hypoglycemic? My aunt can't do anything when she gets like that. Here, let me get the rest of it. Can't go messing up those gorgeous nails of yours just for cheese and crackers."
Alina watched her square, stubby little fingers pick up the remainder of the mess. Karen's kept her nails clean, but short. One cuticle hung loose, and her right thumbnail had broken. Once upon a time--was it only a year ago?--Karen had told her how she envied Alina her slender, elegant fingers.
Elegant. Oh, yes, Alina thought bitterly. She would gladly trade them now for Karen's sturdy, rough little hands. Useful and strong, as hands should be. To type and lift forks and carry car keys and write shopping lists. Alina bit her lip as Karen tossed the old plate into the trash bin. "Thanks."
"Oh, don't mention it. Here." She put the plate on the floor beside Alina. "Now, you eat that. I wish I could say Christopher will get done soon." She watched quizzically as Alina's trembling hand finally succeeded in picking up the cracker.
"You're not hypoglycemic," Karen said suddenly.
Alina tried to look calm. "Please, don't ask me anything."
"I'll ask you this. Are you taking any medication? Do you need me to get it for you?"
"In my purse," she whispered.
Karen was not even gone a minute before she came back with the bag. "I'll get it out for you." She fished into the bag, pulled out the bottle. "One pill?"
"Yes. Usually I'm not this bad, but I'm tired."
"Well, you just need a little emergency dose, I'd say." Karen carefully placed a glass of water in her hand. When she felt sure Alina had it grasped, she handed her the pill, sliding the bottle back into her purse.
"Did anybody see?"
"No, Chris is in the back room, getting another lens for his camera. He's a jerk, but he knows his stuff." Karen stood, carried the purse to the table in the corner. "Come on, let's get you set back up." She gently pulled Alina to her feet, pushing her back straight as she did so. "It will take awhile to kick in. Anti-cholinergics are fast but they don't work at the speed of light."
Alina blinked. "How did you know?"
Karen smiled grimly. "I have Parkinson's, too."
By the time Christopher came grumbling in with a cup of coffee, Karen had gotten Alina back into the pose, whisked talcum powder over her forehead and arm. Out of the corner of her eye, Alina looked again at the sturdy, useful little hands. Hands on borrowed time, just like hers. "How do you do it?" she whispered.
"Just lucky, I guess."
"Lucky." Alina felt her hand start to tremble again. Suddenly angry, she tossed the pearls back over her shoulder.
"Would you quit doing that!" snapped Christopher.
"Christopher, try it. Look through the camera." Resting her chin on her knee, she lightly ran her fingers though the pearls. Pearls on her wrist, pearls on her shoulder. Karen lightly whisked away a stray cracker crumb. The smooth pearls seemed to ease the shaking. Or maybe she was imagining it.
I will be lucky. I will finish this shoot. Parkinson's, do you hear me? I will not fear you. Not today, not tomorrow. She could sense Christopher peering though the camera. Alina did not know she had lifted up her chin, did not realize her lips had parted as she silently mouthed her defiance. She did not even hear the click of the button as she whispered the words.
I will not fear you.
This story was written for Isabeau's challenge, wherein each entry is based on a single photograph.



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