My face aches, but I compose a smile, knowing that if I fail to force it into my eyes it will be no more than a mechanical baring of the teeth, first cousin to snarl. It seems to satisfy the photographer, and it would be harsh to fault him for that. I know too well that what I have been told as empty flattery a thousand times is true:
“You, mademoiselle, you are an artist.”
I am, I had to be. I am my own canvas, and not one of those thousand guesses it.
We continue, mannequins disposed at the photographer’s whim. They bring out parasols, and my heart quails, but despite the corset I manage to hold both the parasol and my smile. I knew that the corset was too tight, but Elena is on the shoot today, and I had to match her waist. I watch her in sidelong glances as the afternoon fades, and I realize that even this too tight corset is not tight enough – and I had been sure that it was. She is just nineteen, and it is all a game to her, and she will take my living away from me, carelessly.
It is almost evening when her heel catches on a paving slab. She stumbles, and stretches awkwardly to catch her balance, ungainly for one fleeting moment. And in that moment I see the unmistakeable line of boning below her gown, and she knows what I have seen. And in that moment her mask slips, and I understand that she is no more indifferent than I.
This was supposed for be for VisDare, but it came out far too long and I hadn’t the heart to cut it. Follow the link to see what Angela Goff’s masters of brevity have made of the same prompt.