Authors: Fiona Gibson
After what I regard as an acceptable browsing period, I call Rosie’s mobile. No answer. I actually don’t know why she has a phone – or at least, why I pay the contract for it. It’s supposed to enable us to stay in contact. When she was younger, she’d constantly call and message me while she was out. These days, she texts me about once a month. They usually say ‘ok’ or ‘yeah’, although she does still put a kiss, for which I’m grateful.
A woman strolls by with a little girl who looks about seven years old. ‘Shall we go for ice cream, darling?’ the woman asks.
‘Yeah,’ the girl enthuses. ‘Can we go to that place where they sprinkle Smarties on?’
‘Of course,’ the woman replies, causing a wave of nostalgia to crash over me. How excited she is, out shopping with her mum, like Rosie used to be with me. I’d only suggested coming here so we could spend some mum-and-daughter time together, because I know she prefers shopping malls with their weird, artificial atmosphere and piped music to actual streets with proper weather and pigeons and sky. But I’d imagined that we’d at least stroll around together, and stop off for hot chocolate and cake.
My phone rings, and I snatch it from my jeans pocket. ‘Mum, where
‘Outside Forever 21,’ I reply.
‘Come in!’ she commands.
‘It’s okay thanks, darling. I’ll wait here.’
I would rather spear my own eye than enter the Emporium of Cropped Tops.
‘I need at least a week’s warning to go in,’ I explain. ‘I have to rev myself up for it and get special breathing equipment. I’m sure the atmosphere’s thinner up at the top, the fifth floor or whatever it is, where the underwear is—’
‘What? Are you okay?’ I grab at my bags, realising it’ll be quite a feat to carry them all while clutching my phone.
‘Yeah, I’m fine,’ Rosie says.
‘Where are you exactly? What’s happened?’
‘You’ll never believe this, Mum. I’ve been scouted!’ What pops into my mind is the actual Scouts, which Rosie chose over Guides because they did all the fun stuff like camping and cooking on fires. She was a tomboyish, outdoorsy kid who shunned pink. She never used to gallop ahead, or spend an entire morning choosing a nail polish. ‘What d’you mean, scouted? Are you
‘Yeah, just hurry up. There’s someone here from a model agency and they want to do pictures …’
Ah, that kind of scouted.
I decide, finishing the call. So a random stranger’s trying to sweet-talk my daughter with that old ‘could be a model’ line? I can imagine how
goes. All she has to do is come along to his ‘studio’, which happens to be a dingy flat with filthy net curtains above a fried chicken shop …
The security man eyes me in the manner of a suspicious immigration officer as I barge my way into the store. I stride up the escalators, barely noticing the weight of my carrier bags now.
I arrive, panting, at the summit of Forever 21 and scan the floor for a man with paedo glasses, smiling too much and telling Rosie she has a
great future ahead of her
. I’m fine – well, sort of – when boys of her own age look at her. Of course they do: she’s a lovely girl. I’m aware that teenagers are supposed to find each other attractive and, while there’s been nothing serious yet, she’s never short of attention from boys. I’m okay with that – truly. Honestly. Well, mostly … What I’m
fine about is the idea of some fifty-year-old perv with nicotine fingers and winking gold jewellery thinking he can take advantage of my daughter …
No sign of her anywhere. My hair seems to crackle as I push it out of my face, probably due to the static electricity generated by millions of nylon knickers and bras.
‘Mum! Hey, Mum, over here!’
I turn and spot Rosie, who’s waving excitedly. Beside her stands a tall, slim and elegant woman – late-forties perhaps – in a cream linen jacket and faded skinny jeans, her ash-blonde hair scooped up artfully into a tousled bun. Not quite the chicken-shop perv I had in mind, but we’ll see …
‘Hi.’ I stride over and look expectantly at the stranger.
‘Hi,’ she says, fixing on a wide smile, ‘I’m Laurie and I work for a model agency called Face …’
‘I’m Charlotte.’ I dump the bags at my feet and shake her hand.
‘I hope you don’t mind,’ she goes on, ‘but I spotted your daughter a few minutes ago. We’ve been chatting.’ She casts Rosie a fond glance, in the manner of a glamorous aunt, before turning back to me. ‘I really think she has the potential to be a model.’
‘Really?’ I wipe a slick of sweat from my upper lip. ‘Well, you see, she’s still at school …’
‘Yes, she told me. That’s fine, lots of our girls are. I love her look, the stunning blue eyes and dark hair … it’s very dramatic.’ She turns back to Rosie. ‘You have
bone structure, sweetheart. I can’t believe you’ve never been scouted before …’
‘I’m not really sure,’ I say firmly. ‘We’d need to think it over.’
‘Oh, of course,’ Laurie says, addressing Rosie again: ‘How tall are you, darling?’
Rosie frowns. ‘Er, what would you say, Mum? About five-foot-eight?’
‘Yes, around that,’ I reply, noticing Laurie looking her up and down. This is more unsettling than the admiring looks she was attracting in the mall. She is sizing up my precious firstborn as a commodity, a
, tilting her head this way and that, as if my daughter were a bookshelf and she’s trying to imagine if she’d fit in that corner behind the sofa.
‘I’d say more like five-nine,’ she observes, ‘at the very least. And you said you’re sixteen, Rosie?’
‘Only just,’ I cut in.
‘Mum,’ Rosie splutters, ‘I’m seventeen in August. That’s next month!’ She cuts me from her vision. ‘I’m actually
‘I still think it’s a bit young,’ I remark. ‘And anyway, she has a lot on at school over the next few months—’
Rosie emits a dry laugh. ‘Yeah, like the summer holidays.
what I’m doing over the next few months. I’ve nothing planned at all. We’re not even going away, are we, Mum?’
‘We might,’ I say defensively.
‘Well, this is exactly the age we like them to start,’ Laurie cuts in, delving into her tan leather bag for a business card which she presses into my palm. ‘Some join us even younger, but of course they’re always chaperoned on castings and jobs … Okay if I take a quick picture, Rosie?’
‘Er, sure,’ she replies with a shy smile. Don’t ask me, then. I’m only her mother.
I squint at the card as Laurie takes the shot with her phone. She seems genuine; it says
Laurie Piper, Head Booker, Face Models
Creepy Weirdo Who Prowls Around Shops Where Teenagers Go.
The agency is in Long Acre in Covent Garden, not some godforsaken suburb I’ve barely heard of. In fact, with her cool grey eyes and pronounced cheekbones, Laurie has the air of an ex-model herself. ‘That’s beautiful,’ she enthuses, studying the image on her phone. ‘Such a fresh, pretty face.’
‘Thank you,’ Rosie says, blushing. Oddly enough, whenever I tell my daughter how lovely she is, she fixes me with a rather beleaguered,
sort of look.
‘So,’ Laurie goes on, ‘perhaps you’d both like to think it over? Give me a call and pop into the agency sometime for a chat. You can meet the team and we’ll explain how everything works …’
‘Okay,’ Rosie says brightly.
not sure,’ I tell Laurie, irritated now that she doesn’t seem to have listened to a word I’ve said. ‘Next year’s really important for Rosie. She needs good grades in her A-levels because she’s hoping to do a veterinary degree …’
‘Huh?’ Laurie says distractedly.
‘Rosie wants to be a vet,’ I explain.
!’ Rosie throws me a pleading look.
‘Don’t worry about that,’ Laurie says. ‘We can always work around school …’ What the hell does that mean? ‘… And we nurture our girls. We’re like a surrogate family really …’
She doesn’t need a surrogate family!
‘Anyway,’ Laurie adds, turning back to my daughter as if I’ve conveniently melted into the shiny white floor, ‘lovely to meet you. Do think it over, won’t you?’
Rosie grins. ‘I definitely will.’
‘Bye then.’ We watch her striding towards the escalator.
‘God, Mum,’ Rosie breathes. ‘I can’t believe you did that.’
‘Went on about me wanting to be a vet!’
I frown, prickling with hurt. ‘I didn’t
. I just mentioned it. You’ve been saying for years that that’s what you want to do. She can’t just expect you to drop all your plans—’
‘She doesn’t. Weren’t you listening? She said they
school.’ She lets out an exasperated gasp as we step onto the escalator. ‘I can’t understand why you’re not happy for me.’
Oh, for crying out loud. ‘I am. Of course I am. You’re lovely and you’d make an amazing model. But I just think, I don’t know …’ I scrabble for the right words. ‘I didn’t think it’d be your kind of thing.’
She blinks at me. ‘Why not?’ How can I put this – that I can’t imagine my bright, sparky daughter fitting into a vacuous, appearance-obsessed world? Maybe that’s unfair, and the truth is that I just don’t
her to do it, because it’s scary and unknown and, actually, I’d prefer things to stay the way they are. ‘You think I want to be huddled over my books all my life,’ Rosie mutters.
‘No, I’m not saying that. But you’ve got loads going on, love. I don’t see how modelling will fit into all of that.’
We fall into silence as we leave the shop. I glance at Rosie, feeling guilty for dampening her excitement. ‘I just think it’d be fun,’ she murmurs finally.
‘I’m sure it would be,’ I say.
She musters a small smile. ‘Sorry for being snappy.’
‘It’s okay. And I don’t want to be a killjoy, you know. It’s just, I didn’t realise agency people worked that way …’
‘You mean scouting girls?’
‘Well, Kate Moss was scouted,’ she says, taking a couple of carrier bags from me without even being asked. ‘That’s how they find new models.’
‘What, by prowling around shops?’
She laughs. ‘Laurie wasn’t
Mum. You’re so suspicious! She was really nice.’
‘Yes, she did seem nice, but, you know … we’ll have to see.’ As we make our way out of the mall, I try to figure out how to put her off modelling without spoiling what was clearly a thrilling encounter for her. The truth is, what’s so lovely about Rosie is that there’s so much more to her than the way she looks. She excels at school, even in the subjects she struggles with, because she works hard. Yes, she can be rather spiky at times, but isn’t that part of being a sixteen-year-old girl?
As we drive home, I try to imagine her dad’s reaction to today’s encounter. Will’s handsome, strong-jawed face shimmers into my mind, and it’s not awash with delight. He’s very protective, and I know he regards the fashion industry as a load of fluff and nonsense. Rosie’s too smart for all that, he’ll decide. He was pretty taken aback when she started to fill the bathroom with a baffling array of skincare and hair products. ‘She’s just a normal teenage girl,’ I explained.
Plus, while he may have been persuadable at one time, Will has become rather grumpy of late. I can guess why; he is stressed about our precarious finances. Until January, he was employed by Greenspace Heritage, a charity which protects wildlife and its habitats within the M25. Unfortunately, the new Director’s views were at odds with Will’s. While my husband felt it was all about encouraging the public to enjoy London’s hidden wildernesses – i.e., to get messy and have fun – the boss believed they should focus on negotiating corporate deals to bring in huge injections of cash. And so Will was ‘let go’ from the job he’d loved, and which had consumed him for the past decade.
‘Something’ll come up,’ he keeps saying, which is having the opposite effect of reassuring me. I’ve become conscious of treading carefully around him – of picking my moment before asking anything even faintly controversial. For instance, while I know he’s applying for jobs, are any interviews likely to happen in the near future – i.e.,
at some point this year
? I can’t help worrying that his redundancy pay-off must have all but run out by now. ‘There’s enough in the joint account isn’t there?’ he asked tersely, last time I raised it. Yes, there was, just about – thanks to my full-time job. However, we both know I don’t earn enough to keep the four of us long-term.
In fact, occasionally I wonder if it’s
Will’s redundancy, but something far scarier that’s driving us apart: that, quite simply, he’s stopped fancying me. I caught him glancing at me the other night as I undressed for bed, and he didn’t look as if he were about to explode with desire. By the time I’d pulled off my bra – a sturdy black number capable of hoisting two porpoises to safety from an oil-slicked sea – he was already feigning sleep.
I lay awake for ages, studying the back of his head.
Do we still love each other?
I wondered, not for the first time.
Or are we only together for the kids, or because we’re too old or scared to break up and start all over again?
It’s not that I expect full-on passion all the time, not when we’ve been married for thirteen years. But, more and more often these days, I find myself wondering, is this as good as it gets?
I glance at Rosie as we make our slow journey home through the outer reaches of East London. ‘You do remember it’s Dad’s birthday tomorrow?’ I prompt her.
‘God, yes.’ She pulls a horrified face.
‘You haven’t bought him anything?’
‘Sorry, Mum. I was going to today, but after we’d met Laurie it went right out of my mind …’
First whiff of modelling stardom and she forgets her dad’s birthday. Not good.
‘Could you make him a card, at least?’
‘Yeah, of course,’ she replies, pausing before adding, ‘D’you think they’ll take me on?’