‘Coming,’ I say, and slip into the dress. I zip up and stare at my reflection. Wow! I cannot believe how well the dress flatters me. It makes me look like I have curves. I turn my head to look at my side—the slit that comes to mid-thigh is at once subtle and sexy. Feeling reassured, I pull back the curtain.
‘Magnifique!' sighs the throaty voice.
Fleur grins like a Cheshire cat. ‘You look beautiful, Lana,’ she says and I know that she is being sincere.
‘But wait… I have the perfect shoes,’ calls Madame, and rushes off to the back of the shop.
She returns with a pair of shoes that are encrusted with similar stones as the ones that edge the leaf-shaped holes in my chest. They are like Cinderella’s glass slippers. Only the right girl can fit into them. I take them from her and step into them. The shoes fit perfectly—she must have an excellent eye.
The powdered face smiles cunningly. ‘Aaa…but wait…. You must have your hair up.’
She plucks from a large vase three jeweled pins and expertly holding my hair up inserts the pins into it. The European madam, whose age I am slowly having to revise upwards, claps her hands and declares with finality that it is, 'Absolument fabuleux.’
I look into the mirror and I have to agree. Absolutely fabulous. The dress is truly amazing. I have never felt so glamorous or sexy in my entire life. I look at Fleur and she is smiling.
‘No one can take what is truly yours away from you,’ she says, and I smile.
We come out of Bijou and Tom is waiting for us. He puts all our packages into the boot and takes us to the celebrity hairdresser.
‘You let your fringe grow out,’ Bruce the celebrity hairdresser accuses.
‘I was living in Iran. Women are not allowed to show their hair in public. It was easier to let it grow and pull it all back into a bun and throw a scarf over my head,’ I explain.
‘Ah, that takes excellent care of my next “have you been anywhere nice?’ question.’
I laugh. I like him. He’s a rare one, a tough guy hairdresser with a good British sense of humor. And he has a strong determined jaw and eyes that are subtle, but surely undressing me. If I am not totally in love with Blake I could fancy him.
‘But honestly,’ he continues, ‘what the devil possessed you to go live in that godforsaken country?’
‘My mother hails from there.’
‘Ah! I hear it has very beautiful tiled baths.’
He puts a hand out and touches my cheekbones. ‘You have lost weight. A fringe alone will be too harsh. I will feather your hair from your mouth onwards to return that lost softness.’
And he does.
Fleur gives the jeweled pins to the girl who takes over the job of drying my hair and instructs the girl to put my hair up. ‘But no hairspray,’ she says and winks at me. ‘Men don’t like hard hair.’
The girl is finished and I am a marvelously different.
It is also time for Fleur to say goodbye. I feel almost tearful. She is the only one who seems to be on my side, rooting for me. She kisses me on the cheeks. ‘All will be well. Just be yourself and nothing can be more beautiful.’
Back at the waxing salon I learn that Rosa has moved back to Spain. A stout German woman with reddened hands and nails bitten to the quick takes me into the treatment room. There is no talk about jam sandwiches consumed in front of the TV or a clever son who is in art school, only a silent, ruthless dedication to bald skin. Gertrude strips every single hair from my body. When I am all over a sharp shade of red and the last offensive hair is gone she heaves a large of sigh of satisfaction. Unlike Rosa she does not offer to do my eyebrows for free. That was from another time. When life was generous to me.
My nails are too short for a French manicure. The girl asks me if I would like acrylic nails and for a moment I am tempted—I have never had them and they seem rather fun—but then I think of accidentally scratching Sorab’s tender skin while I am changing his nappy and I refuse. She waves towards a shelf full of nail varnish.
‘Choose your color.’
‘White,’ I say. ‘I will have the white nail polish.’
In the car I admire my nails, how pretty and clean they look. ‘Tom,’ I say. ‘If you give me the key to the apartment you can drop me off at my place, and I’ll take a cab later to the apartment.’
‘Oh no, Miss Bloom that would be more than my job’s worth. I got an ear bashing for dropping you off at the shops the last time. I can take you to your place and wait downstairs until you are ready to go to the apartment.’
He drops me off at the entrance and parks by the dark staircase to wait for my return.
Billie is sitting at our dining table when I enter. The baby’s basket is sitting on the table beside her. Surrounded by pens, watercolors, and crayons, she is bent over a large sketchpad in deep concentration. Hair is falling over her forehead and I feel a great surge of love for her. She looks up and smiles.
‘Wow! That’s a seriously cool hairstyle,’ she exclaims, and springing up comes to hold my hand and twirl me around.
‘So you like it?’ I probe, self-consciously touching my fringe.
‘Yeah,’ she says emphatically. ‘If he won’t have you, I will.’
I laugh and go towards the basket. ‘Is he asleep?’
Sorab is waving his little arms. I reach into the basket and lift him into my arms. He is wearing something Billie designed and made from scratch, a bright red and yellow romper suit with big blue cloth buttons that look like flowers.
‘Hello, darling,’ I say, my face creasing into the first joy-filled smile since I left the house.
He stares at me with his intense blue eyes for a few seconds before he breaks into one of his deliciously toothless grins.
Over my shoulder Billie says, ‘Shame he will have to grow up to be a man.’
I turn around and look at her meaningfully.
‘What?’ she asks.
‘Your dad’s a man.’
‘That remains to be seen,’ she says, and moving towards her drawings, says, ‘Come and see this.’ I follow her around the table. I put Sorab into the crook of my arm to get a better view of her work. She has drawn a girl’s dress. It is not in the usual pale pink normally reserved for baby girls, but banana yellow with green apples all over it. I have never seen anything like it in the shops. She truly has a unique talent.
‘Well, what do you think?’