SHE had a unique style. That afternoon she had worn an animal print sleeveless top with tight white jeans which ended just short of her gold wedges. Her sinewy neck was adorned in layers of chains and on her scrawny arms a series of bangles in gold, purple and black. Her oversize pink quilted handbag was thrown carelessly on the bed.
Each day Helena Smythe dressed as if it were a special occasion. The reflection in the mirror rarely changed in her eyes. Once a beauty she still applied her make-up as she had for decades. Now the black kohl pencil and green eye shadow emphasised heavy drooping lids while blusher accentuated wrinkled cheeks. Bright red lipstick wavered over thin crepe lips. Likewise her hair had aged. Once stunning long flaxen tresses, the colour nowadays came from a bottle. Carelessly applied unsightly grey roots were visible at her crown. Her wispy hair hung unevenly down her back. Was it vanity which prevented her changing her make-up and hairstyle to match the advancing years or a feeling of inner youthfulness?
Helena searched through her wardrobes. She knew what she was looking for but wanted to check she had decided on the right outfits. In each of the three bedrooms in the house she shared with her cat there were fitted cupboards to accommodate her vast collection of clothes. Each garment was carefully stored. Evening and cocktail frocks, day dresses, suits and blouses, skirts, trousers, tops, jackets arranged in order. Rows of shoeboxes and handbags lined one wall of the second bedroom. Drawers held accessories. Helena always bought well, there were no mistakes; chosen carefully, some of the outfits were years old.
Clothes became a passion for Helena after she took part in an end of term revue. Until then she was only interested in academia. Awarded a place at a blue stocking college the girl from humble working class roots focused only on books to the exclusion of all else. The skit was a risk which she had only joined in as a dare. Her outfit was actually banned by the headmistress but it had given Helena a taste for modelling. Instead of Oxbridge she took to the catwalk with a successful international career which lasted until she retired, comfortably well off, in her forties.
These last few days Helena had spent checking arrangements, there was no turning back. Everything was prepared for her appearance in front of her invited audience. With the locks on her suitcase snapped shut she climbed exhaustedly into the chauffeured car and was transported to the Hilton Hotel. That night she slept more soundly than she had for a long time.
After a leisurely morning at the hotel spa, Jonathan knocked on her door ready to escort her. Her guests were seated in rows facing the aisle. They looked up expectantly when Jonathan held open the door for Helena to make her entrance. She let go of his arm and waited while he took his place at the table half way down the room opposite the audience.
She took a deep breath, composed herself then sashayed up the aisle. She observed her audience, a skill she had acquired years before to cover her anxiety in front of huge crowds where her every move was scrutinised. Some of them looked nervous, some smiled, and some exuded warmth while others avoided eye contact. Nobody had any idea why they were there.
Spellbound the spectators watched as for one last time she paced the catwalk. They took in the elegant figure draped in a purple and pink patterned dress, the gold belt which emphasised her neat waist. For once her face and hair had been professionally done, she looked striking. An inner beauty radiated. She strutted confidently, her slim but now mottled legs and feet accentuated in high red patent shoes, a matching handbag dangled from her wrist.
Helena was in control, she wanted her guests to know she was in control. The pain she had grown used to as the illness ravaged through her body dissipated for these few minutes, she enjoyed this triumph.
At the far end of the aisle she paused before sauntering back to stop by the table. Jonathan stood to take her hand and lead her to a chair. As her solicitor he addressed the audience, he explained why they were assembled. From her seat Helena watched the reaction of her guests as the last will of Helen Smith was read out.
There were audible gasps, muted smiles, thunderous frowns as each took in her wishes. Family members had been left nothing since they had ignored her over the years. Legacies were made to the few friends who had supported her especially through the difficult times of her illness. However the bulk of her inheritance was to be divided between a cancer charity and an African animal centre.
Jonathan hesitated. He looked at Helena for confirmation, she nodded back. Lastly he explained that Helena was on her way to Switzerland, this was her final appearance. People stood to protest, shouted across to thank her, to try to make her change her mind. She raised her hand to quieten them - she had thought about this carefully for a long time.
Her mind was made up. Exhausted but with assured dignity Helena stood, held her head high and with every ounce of strength she could muster left the room. Without a pause she continued to the car which waited to take her on the short journey to the airport.