No Pageant Queen Here, Honey / Chapter 2

(Part 2, Lay Me Down Tomorrow)

Katy had remembered right: Elly Bernstein and Polly Livingston, the two agency heads, did look and talk like sisters.  But they weren’t.  I guess they had just been working together a long time.  Both had great fashion instincts and they had come up with several innovations that had made their reputations a few years earlier.  Not that I would know anything about it. 

I had gotten an introduction to Elly and Polly from a friend of mine, someone to whom they owed a favour.  I showed them some of the head shots of Katy that we had put together (literally, put together) and while they looked them over they talked to each other in a funny bang-bang style of talk that, between the two of them, had its own rhythm and momentum.

“She’s got the face all right,” said Elly.

“Maureen was right, this could be worth a look,” said Polly.

“Beautiful.  Fabulous.  Those eyes …” said Elly.

                        “… come right out at you,” finished Polly.

“They are right in front of me.”

“She’s looking right at you…

“… but she would walk right through you.”

“A little scary even.”

“Such a dark dramatic look.  She’s worked on that look, you can tell.”

“No pageant queen here.”

“I am so sick of that , that …”

                        “… glowy outdoors look.”

“Right.  We’re not doing a spring rollout with this one.”

“Not going to use her for the Lovey account.”

“She wouldn’t do Lovey.  It’s the Ricardo ‘Dark Way’ scent that I see for her.”

“Stunning.  Perfect for Ricardo.”

“She’ll knock Ricardo…

                        “… on his ass.”

“We’ve got Noelle and Tayla on Ricardo now.”

“I wonder if Noelle is right anyway.”

“She’s looking …”

                        “… a little hippy.”

 “Do you think she stopped smoking?”

“Could be.”

“But this one,…”

“… what a shape.”

“Look at that …”

                        “… facial contour.”

“Spare.  Nothing extra.”

“Lots of discipline there.”

“She really wants this look, but it’s …”

“… natural.  Looks very natural for her.”

“Are you sure we haven’t seen her before?”

“Honey, we’d remember this one.”

“Listen, sweetheart,” Elly said to me, “We’re in a bind, can you get this girl at a shoot next Thursday?  We’ll try a blind date, what do you think?  Maureen’s …”

“… word is good for us.” said Polly.  “Still, we can get a back-up, we’ll get…”

“… Raetha,” said Elly.  “But I really don’t think we’ll need her.”

And that was that.

* * * *

I stepped away from the hospital bed and took a wheelchair from the corner.  “Have a seat,” I said, and freed the IV pole from the bed and attached it to the chair.  The IV pump was a self-contained unit on batteries so we could take it with us.  But we had to leave the morphine pump behind, which meant we were in a hurry.  Katy eased into the wheelchair and I covered her lap with another hospital blanket, put the bunny slippers on her feet, and she looked like any other patient being taken out for some air.  I pushed her out the door and turned right, away from the nurse’s station, even though we had to go farther to the elevator that way. 

“Katy, are we going somewhere?” a voice behind me said.  I turned as a shift nurse strode up to the wheelchair and looked at Katy.  The nurse was smiling but she was clearly questioning Katy’s getting out of bed.  “Doctor Venu wants us close to the bed in case we get weak.” 

“We’re just going to the cafeteria for a minute,” Katy said before I could say anything.  “Doctor…“ she looked at my badge  “…Roberts here wants to talk about pain treatment.”  

I turned a little toward the nurse.  “Nurse, I want to go over some options for palliative care,” I said softly.  “I’ll be coordinating with the hospice staff.”

The nurse nodded knowingly.  “Very good,” she said, and then more loudly, “Katy, I can also talk to Doctor Venu again about dosing now, if you want.  I am sure he’ll be flexible.”

“Thank you, Jennifer,” said Katy, without turning her head.  “That’s good to know.”

I pushed the wheelchair ahead and nodded good-bye to the nurse.  She had been looking a little too closely at my badge.  I leaned forward and said, “Pain treatment?”

Katy shook her head.  “She asks me every day if I want a higher morphine strength,” she said.  “Pain really bothers her, but the drooling, glassy eyed look is fine.”

“Okay, so how is the pain?”

She turned her head slightly toward me.  “Doctor Roberts, if you are taking me away from the morphine, we better have a substitute soon.  You do have a substitute, don’t you?”

“Yes, in the truck.  We’re on the way.” 

I pushed her wheelchair past Carla in room 422, non-small cell lung cancer.  Pretty far gone.  She was on 100% oxygen and was unable to stand or walk.  Even out in the hall you could hear her hoarse breathing.  Probably wouldn’t make it to hospice. 

Room 419 was Don, brain tumor.  He had gone through two difficult cranial surgeries to remove tumor tissue that kept coming back and disrupting his brain function.  Don was not giving up, though, and was getting ready for a third operation.  Even though the surgery would only give him a few months before the tumor caused trouble again.  He was still willing …he still thought the trade -off was worth it.  Good for him. 

Douglas, Room 418, pancreatic cancer.  The operable kind, maybe.  They had first told Doug that it was not operable, but terminal, and he got to chew that over for two weeks.  Then they decided that it was operable, and Doug had to revise his outlook.  He was in the hospital to get an intravenous feeding port while they shut down his GI system for the pancreas surgery.  We would check to see if the doctors wanted to change their minds again.  But even if they did, Doug wouldn’t be in a receptive state after all the ups and downs.

Room 417, Melanie, was a breast cancer patient recovering from surgery.  She would be fine.  Metastasis was unlikely in her case. 

We got to the elevator and I turned the wheelchair to face the door.  Katy looked down the hallway and said, “Oh — here comes the cavalry.”  I looked down the hall and saw the housekeeper who had knocked on the door when I was first speaking to Katy, talking to Nurse Jennifer and pointing to me.  “What the hell?”  I said.  “You can’t trust anybody!”  I punched the ‘down’ button again, angrily.   She got fifty bucks to come in and call me “Doctor.”  Damn it, if she didn’t want to do it, why did she take the money?

I must have said that aloud, because Katy giggled and said “Maybe you can get your money back.  Or maybe you will make it out of here.  These elevators are pretty slow, though.”  She looked up at me and smiled, not really caring how this turned out.  It was fun for her either way.  I saw the nurse start walking toward us.

I pushed the button a third time.  “We’ll both get out of here.  Do you still want to do this?” I said, a little crisply. “Or do you want this to be your adventure, almost getting to the elevator?”

The elevator door finally opened, and Katy said “No, I want to see how this will go,” but then gave a sharp laugh as she looked in the elevator.  An elderly patient in a hospital gown and robe, using a walker, was coming out of the elevator.  At about six inches a minute.  “Or not go,” she laughed again.  Her voice was getting full and her laugh more robust.  It was nice to hear, if at an inconvenient moment. 

I looked back and saw Nurse Jennifer hurrying toward us.  The old man pushed his walker again, getting past the elevator door.  I speeded him up – I sort of lifted him and his walker forward a couple of feet.  “Excuse me, sir,” I said to the surprised patient, “We have an emergency here.”  I wheeled Katy into the elevator as the nurse called out “Doctor, please wait, Doctor!” 

“See, she is still calling me ‘Doctor’ ” I said to Katy as I punched the ‘down’ button.  The damn elevator door seemed slower than ever but finally closed.  We went down.

“Are you with me?” I asked her.  Katy was smiling but also a little glassy eyed.  “You do look like you could be a code blue.  Shall we go back up?”

She laughed and shook her head, more to clear it than to say no.  “If we are going to go, let’s go,” she said.  “But I like this chase game.  Can we do this elevator thing one more time?” 

The doors opened and there wasn’t any security waiting – I wasn’t sure how fast they could react — and I pushed her out.  “No.  No more excitement.”  I decided to go through Emergency just in case there was someone at the front lobby.  “Jerry,” I called on my cell, “go around to Emergency.  We’re not going out the front.”

“Caught again, are you?” he laughed.

“Fifty bucks doesn’t buy what it used to,” I said. “And ask Charlotte to get a syringe ready, get…” I looked down at Katy, “…get 10 mg ready.”  I would rather gamble on a lower dose and hope that Katy’s excitement would carry her through. “We’ll be there in two minutes.” 

“You got it,” said Jerry.

I pushed Katy through Emergency and she got a chance to look over the people waiting for help.  I could see her watching with interest. 

There was an old woman in a wheelchair, surrounded by five or six people, kids and grandkids.  She was leaning back with eyes closed and holding hands with someone.  Her face was grey and showed severe fatigue – a cardiac event.  The family members keep touching her or speaking softly to her. 

There was a young woman with some sort of GI distress, curled up on a bench seat with her head cradled in the husband or boyfriend’s lap, spitting into one of those expandable vomit cups.  He was worried and unnerved, didn’t know whether this was life threatening or just a bad sandwich, but he was trying to hold up. 

Next to them was a young mother with a toddler, maybe 2 years old.  The kid had a red face, looked like a fever.  The mother had been through this before and was looking around alertly and aggressively, ready to demand help loudly if her number didn’t come up soon. 

The staff was busy and walked around quickly without making eye contact with anyone, including us.  I wheeled Katy through the lobby and out the automatic doors. 

* * * *

Jerry had pulled the panel truck that we were using right up to the entrance and had opened the back doors.   He and I horsed the wheelchair up into the truck, being careful of the IV pole.  I jumped in and said, “We should go.”  Jerry laughed as he started to close the doors.  “I am sorry for the unorthodox meeting, Miss Sandoval,” he said.  “But glad to meet you.  I’m Jerry and I’ll be your driver this afternoon.” 

“Hello…” Katy began, trying to look back at him, and still trying to make sense of all this.  But the doors closed and we started moving.  I strapped the wheelchair down and then looked out the back window.  Nurse Jennifer and a security guard had come out of the main entrance, looking for Katy.  I called Jerry again.  “Are we clear?”

“We are,” said Jerry.  “Just take care of our guest and let me worry about that.  Tell her that she is much better looking in person.” 

Katy heard him on the speakerphone.  She giggled.  “I doubt that but it’s nice to hear,” she said to me.  “Was that a scarf around his neck?  I couldn’t see well.”

“It’s not a scarf.  Interesting tattoo, we’ll have a look later.”  I said.  “Having fun?”  

“Yes, I am.  But it’s time for the pain substitute,” she said.

From the front of the interior I saw Charlotte’s slim figure get up from her seat and stand in front of Katy, holding on to a bar bolted to the side of the truck.  “Ms. Sandoval, my name is Charlotte.  I am here to help you get ready.”  Katy looked at her.  She wanted to keep up with these happenings but it was getting harder.  “Are you real?”  Katy said.  She shook her head to clear it.  “No, I am sorry…I didn’t mean…you’re not a hallucination, are you?” 

Charlotte smiled at her.  “I feel real enough,” she said.  “But yes, this must seem strange.  Let’s get you comfortable and then work on the reality aspect.” 

Charlotte knelt down beside the wheelchair and gently lifted Katy’s arm, the one with the IV, to get to the catheter tip.  She swabbed the opening and neatly injected the morphine.

Charlotte was an exceptional character, unique.  She had been a corpsman in the Navy and had worked for a year on Broadway doing make-up and costuming for The Lion King production.  When I met her, found her really, she was at the Chowchilla prison in California giving makeovers to women inmates for their family visits.  Find that resume on the jobs boards.  Short haired, cute, slender figure.  Kept her distance, not that I ever tried any travel, but utterly dependable for things like this.  She had a calm and professional demeanour and an ability to focus 100% on you and what you needed.  She was perfect to help Katy deal with a particularly unusual deck of cards.

“This will work for at least an hour,” Charlotte said, looking into Katy’s eyes.  “Now, let’s pick out an overall look.”  She tapped on a tablet.  “We’ve got three main choices for hair styles.”   Charlotte waited for Katy to respond.  Katy was still a little dazed, looking at the images of her on the tablet, then the row of Styrofoam heads with wigs and the dress rack next to her, and then back at Charlotte, while swaying back and forth with the motion of the truck.  

The moment dragged on as Katy stayed quiet, giving this hallucination one more chance to declare itself.  To go through her emotions and weigh her choices.  She was far away from the safety, or at least stability, of her hospital room, when she had said “Yes, I’ll try.”  To make this work Katy would have to do more than say “Yes.”  She would have to think back to how she was before she got sick.  She would have to unwrap the layers of pain and anger, of depression and bitterness.  Katy would have to cherish this moment, or any moment, regardless of what would happen later.  It didn’t happen often.  You can orchestrate all you want but you never know if things will work out.

After a few more heartbeats Charlotte gently put her hand on Katy’s arm.  She shivered slightly, shook her head, and I could see her eyes come back into focus.  She jumped in.  “The cascading curls, don’t you think?”  She said in a clear voice, turning and looking up at me.  Charlotte nodded and tapped more on the tablet, showing a series of Katys with the dark curls and different skin tones and eyeshadows.  They talked back and forth on the images.  I heard Charlotte say, “…we’ll brighten the hollows in the neck with the liquid highlighter, and use the bronzing powder on your jaw and temples.”  After a while I heard Katy say, almost a little impatiently, “I thought we agreed that the brick shade was too strong.”

Charlotte gave me a “she’s coming along” look.  As we rumbled along in the truck I heard Katy say “All right, now show the curls style again.”  And later Charlotte said, “Here’s how we will cover the catheter prick on your arm.”

After Charlotte and Katy had done as much as they could on a screen we parked the truck for the makeup and dress.  Charlotte stood and said, “Katy, we have two outfits for this shoot, an evening dress and then something more playful.  We’re going with bold prints, full or three-quarter sleeves, layering where we can.  We’ll complement your figure, not hide it. 

“This evening dress is a Chiara Boni.” Charlotte said, holding up a black dress from the rack.  Katy looked up from her wheelchair.  She was wide-eyed and trying to cope with one more thing thrown at her, and yet observing, critically, at the same time.  “Sheath style, vee-ish neckline for the jewelry, but not too deep,” Charlotte continued, “shoulders with slight padding, three-quarter sleeves.  I like the little grommet detailing, all the way from the hips to the shoulders.”  Charlotte held the dress closer to Katy.  “It’s hard to see in this terrible light,” she said, looking over at me as if I had installed the interior truck lighting, “…but the black fabric has striking violet highlights.  One of the necklaces you will be wearing, a cascading ruby pendant, will just jump with this dress.” 

Katy looked at the dress, and then down at her hospital gown.  “That’s … that’s for me?  Now?”  She said hesitantly.

Charlotte smiled and nodded.  Then Katy said, more sharply, not hesitant, “Will it fit?  How could it be my size?” 

“Let’s try it on, but yes I think it will fit.”  Charlotte looked my way and it was time for me to see what was outside the truck. 

Jerry had parked us in a loading zone for a high-rise apartment building near the park.  I saw him talking to the super and negotiating the parking ‘fee’.  It was cold, with the wind from the east, and a little wet.  Maybe rain later on.  I went over to Jerry to go get lunch and talk about the logistics of getting Katy up to the studio and how the videos would be recorded. 

When we got back and I looked inside the truck the scraggly headed hospital patient sunk in a wheelchair was gone.  Instead there was a dark haired woman standing straight in a knee-length evening dress, the dark curls contrasting and framing her angular face, her large eyes even larger with eye shadow and liner.  The Italian dress turned Katy’s skinny into slender and elegant.  Her loose and angular arms were de-emphasized in favour of her delicate hands.  Against the black (and violet, I suppose) dress, Katy’s pale skin seemed to glow, as if there was moonlight shining on her.

She was looking at her image in a full length mirror that Charlotte had uncovered, dazed all over again.  Quietly, she said ‘Oh.  Oh.  Impossible.”   She turned back and forth.  “Whoever this is you’ve made her beautiful.” 

Soft laugh from Charlotte.  “A little paint in the right places.” 

Katy turned to me and recovered a little.  “Can you believe this?” She said, more casual, more flip.  “Look at this.  You know what’s underneath.”  

“This is how you look, Katy,” I said.  “Charlotte just framed things.”  She looked back at the mirror and her eyes started to well up.  Then, remembering her make-up, and remembering other things, she straightened her back and shook her head.  “Not now,” she said softly to herself. 

“Do you think this will work with them?” she asked us.  She moved closer to the mirror and inspected the makeup.  “I think it will work,” she said and the glitter came back in her eyes.  “I think they will like this figure, this shape.” 

She turned back to me.  “Thank you for arranging this,” she said clearly.  “This looks fabulous and I think they will believe it.  But it’s for the photo session, okay?  This … this illusion is for them.  It’s not for anyone that knows me.  Like…” she stood straighter.  “Like Brian.”  She held me with her eyes. 

Behind her Charlotte looked at me with one eyebrow cocked.  Of course we had thought of Brian.  A few months back Katy had asked her boyfriend to stop coming, to not visit her anymore.  When her hair was coming out and the wasting away started.  When her body was wracked by the chemotherapy and mind stupefied by pain killers.  I had talked to a nurse who had been caring for Katy at the time.  She said it was a very tearful parting.  

But Katy was right.  The illusion was to be used on the modelling agency, not on someone she cared for.

“Just for the photo shoot then,” I agreed. 

She relaxed a bit.  “Let’s get the truck moving then,” she said.  “This could go ‘poof’ at any moment.”

The building with the studio had a back entrance and Charlotte and I were able to get Katy most of the way by wheelchair.  Which was good, since she had been tiring, even after a second dose of the energy cocktail.  Katy was dealing with the pain but couldn’t conjure up strength out of nothing.

At the doors to the studio Katy stood up to go with Charlotte to the session.  Immediately she wobbled and sat down hard.  “Oh, that isn’t good,” she said softly. 

Underneath the make-up she was looking pale and weak, if she could look any paler and weaker.  “I need more of that go juice,” she said to me. 

I looked at Charlotte, who gave a small shake of her head. 

I knelt in front of Katy “Let’s wait on that,” I said to her.  “You’ve had two admins and we should wait before the third.  Let’s just sit here for a few minutes and rest up.  We have time.” 

She put her hand on my arm.  “No, we don’t have time,” she said.  “I don’t.  I’ll sit here for a few minutes, but let’s do another dose.  I’ll be fine.” 

“Katy, you haven’t eaten.  Can you drink anything?  We’ve got an Ensure here.” 

Her hand squeezed my arm harder than I would have thought possible.  “Please listen,” she said.  “I have time to sit but I have no energy to argue.  I want to do this and I need your help.”  She wasn’t plaintive or beseeching, just firm.  “They are in the studio there and I want to see this through.  I want to put this across.” 

“All right, all right,” l said, “a little bit and we’ll see.  I will be close by with the wheelchair.”

“You are having second thoughts now?”  She looked at me with her eyebrow arched, which was very dramatic with the enhancing.

“No, I, just don’t want…,” I said and trailed off.

“That won’t happen.  I’ll be fine.  Everything you said in my hospital room still applies, right?” 

“Well, yes.”

“Then we’re wasting time.  We need to get me in there.”

We sat for a minute and Charlotte helped her get her strength back.  Katy stood up and said, “Charlotte, I’d like to go in now.  Are we on time?” 

Charlotte closed up one of the cases she was carrying.  “We are exactly on time, Katy,” she said.  Katy gave me a last look and went through the door with Charlotte.  Like a star at a premiere.

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