24 April 2003
Skin is being prepared, treated, analysed critically. This is the most important bath, perhaps, of her life.
In one sense, this is untrue; today is arguably at most a formality, a capstone placed on something that has been carefully built, stone by stone, first considered, then expected, assumed and finally organised. The end of the long push uphill, the beginning of the long roll down.
Cleanse, tone and moisturise; the holy trinity. Not least because nobody really gets what the middle one is for. Upward strokes of the cotton pad, to prevent wrinkles. Massage in the thick scentless liquid, promising as it does to challenge all seven of the seven signs of aging (the first is wrinkled skin, the third through sixth remain obscure; she assumes the seventh to be heart failure), in small circles, again upward. That is for the face. The body is a different matter.
After a brisk exfoliating scrub with another miracle substance, this one purporting to contain both charcoal and Vitamin E, the lotion is applied in larger circles. There are so many things that wither and devour the flesh. Sunlight, which can be and is avoided or repulsed, chemicals, not least the harsh, oxidising soup of London's air, this to be resolved by a house in the Home Counties. Finally, the passage of time, and the seven deadly signs of aging. As yet no efficient way to roll this back exists. Already the first fleeting thoughts of cosmetic amendment, emendation, or, some would argue, mendacity have begun to intrude into the still taut and peachy-fresh expanses of her mind.
Twenty-six is, after all, recognisably closer to thirty than to twenty, and thirty is the point at which at which she is really going to have to start taking care of her appearance.
A hundred strokes on each side; her hair was so much less hassle in that boyish French crop, but boyish is hardly the look to be aimed at today.
Technically speaking, appearance should really not be an issue. The long roll downhill. The expectation management that occurs over the course of a shared life. Country walks. Dinner parties and local history. This is the thinking, ultimately, of a previous generation. Greater personal and professional mobility carries with it the penalty of insecurity. With the traditional power of the society of gossips etiolated by the externalising force of Hello, OK, and a legion of scandal rags leading down to Jade Goody's VPL (monthly), it has become the responsibility of individual contractors to keep building their skills and refreshing their relevance. And it may only be skin deep, but without skin one is very cold, very unhappy and very dead.
The first two are, she feels, eminently avoidable. The third has yet to be conquered by a strict regime of moisturising, but she has caught herself eating less of her own delicious home cooking. Lower calorie consumption has been shown to extend life, not to mention the mortal rewards of making an hour of pilates about the tone rather than the burn.
The maid of honour can be heard fretting near-inaudibly outside, but there is plenty of time, and the beautician outside is being paid by the task rather than the hour. This powder, a formula of Japanese herbs and minerals held in trust by the Body Shop until such time as the Japanese can be trusted with the secret, is intended to soften the skin, render it pliant and agreeable. When they spent the first night together (in fact, although neither would admit it, the second night, the first being driven by a happy hour-induced seasickness that forbade such finer speculation), the near-natural softness of her skin astounded him. It felt as if his fingers might leave runnels where they stroked, pools where they rested. This sense of wonder has stayed with him, and will do so while she has the strength and dermal elasticity to ensure it.
Somewhere in the double helices of DNA wrapped around the histones of their respective bodies lie the codes for this soft and yielding skin, this stomach kept flat and thighs trim with two trips to the gym a week, this brow unfurrowed still and in his the no less vital capacity to appreciate all such. Through genotype, through phenotype, through coiling body, the same curl and curve that will soon be added to each eyelash in turn will twist through the day and maybe through the long roll downhill.
Smiling is a dangerous business, leaving as it does a network of fine lines round the nose and mouth, but she figures she can risk it; this is a special day, after all.