The Rises and Falls of Svetlana Hiptopski
Svetlana Hiptopski was a successful model by the age of fifteen. The first time she wore sunglasses was in a Rome café; she was four years old; the glamour born from this fired such authentic affirmation through her that she knew, from then on, that being admired where the beautiful got observed and admired was her metier.
She adored chocolate-skinned Italians who swung deals on boats in Ibiza, Capri, and the Cayman Islands. A romance developed between her and the smouldering Italian fashion tycoon, Paulo Bombasini. Photographers snapped them in exotic locations. They could not have been happier.
"I travel light," Svetlana announced. "I take a credit card and buy what I need when I arrive."
Her delivery bills exceeded Somalia's GDP. She needed a lot. Crates rolled in from the Virgin Islands, Bali, Florida, Fiji, and Tahiti to her apartment beside the Eiffel Tower.
Federal Express's president said: "She travels light because planes can't fit her luggage."
"Buying when travelling," Svetlana said, "solves the problem of what to take."
Then disaster struck. Svetlana, after consuming Moet Chan don, slipped on Paulo's yacht's white-tiled bathroom floor, her head smacking gold faucets, in the Bay of Monte Carlo. The helicopter that whisked Svetlana and the fraught Paulo to a private clinic in Nice hadn't been flown in because of damage to Svetlana's impeccable appearance, but because of the now recondite expression that filled the basins of her opal eyes. She seemed oblivious; she didn't even recognise Paulo! The press were shocked: a woman was behaving as if the world's most eligible bachelor didn't even exist—a woman with a beguiling indifference toward Paulo Bombasini! The blow to Paulo's self-perception had the destructive force of a kilometer-wide tornado.
Clutching bedridden Svetlana's hand, Paulo quivered with agitation as he fought to induce a flicker of recognition from the now distant Svetlana, whose eyes converged at a point between Cuba and the Bahamas. Svetlana seemed to have lost all interest in buying clothes, shoes, and handbags: she hadn't mentioned shopping for five minutes!
Then Svetlana's lips twitched. Paulo thrust forward involuntarily. The tension would have made lesser men faint; but Paulo was made of cast iron—greased, of course, by ointments purchased on the Champs Élysées.
"I want to study the Roman Republic," Svetlana announced. "I want books about Julius Caesar."
Paulo rocked back aghast. He had been hoping for: "Oh, Paulo, I adore you," as if it had been him who had been suffering and who needed comforting.
The woman, whose normal reading material consisted of Hello magazine and Woman's Weekly, was now intrigued by he whose crossing of the Rubicon transformed history.
"Really?" Paulo asked. "Darling, what is the problem?"
"I," she replied, esoterically, "suddenly feel...curious..."
"Curious?" Paulo replied.
"Yes," Svetlana said, observing that point between Cuba and the Bahamas. "It's amazing."
Paulo's conversation about Monaco's newest restaurants soon bored Svetlana, whose imagination had been awakened by a clash of champagne and gilded faucets. She told the hospital that she didn't want visitors as she devoured books on Roman history. The Eternal City now offered more than just shops and cafés.
Diamante Briatore, her agent, was so flabbergasted when Svetlana terminated her contract that he spent ten minutes coughing up the caviar that he had just half-swallowed as he heard the news. He then spent weeks suffering from convulsions that became so severe that they caused structural changes to his silvery follicles. For weeks, he had terrible hair problems.
Levels of astonishment were unparalleled as the news ricocheted around the world's most luxurious holiday resorts that Svetlana had turned aside a multi-million-dollar-a-year contract as the world's most acclaimed model to study Roman history at Bradford University and "to meet real people."
"Unfortunately," the stoic Paulo announced, repressing a gulp, "my faucets have deranged her."
Why else would any woman have left him? Only insanity could have caused this. Unable to face the faucets, he had them changed to sliver.
In Bradford, Svetlana met Dave Batley, a short, fat, bald plumber with a gift of the gab who was also fascinated by Roman history.
Soon the news blasted through Europe's most elite holiday spots that Svetlana was "dating a tub who mends tubs."
That news was galvanising for Paulo, as it was unassailable evidence that Svetlana's mental state had been impaired permanently by her head's crashing against his ex-faucets that had been pawned off to a dealer in New York at a price that had made the dealer's eyes shimmer like moonlight on water.
"I didn't acquire them," the dealer gloated at a Manhattan dinner party. "I snared them."
The famous faucets that had deranged the seductive Svetlana Hiptopski were now priceless. It was laughable for the great Paulo Bombasini that she could have left him for an obese plumber whose idea of fun was "gulping down of buckets of beer in a frozen cultural desert." Paulo's afflicted sense of justice became emboldened when silver-haired Diamante Briatore declared: "To leave a man like you, she must be the craziest cow on Earth."
It was the truest thing that Paulo had ever heard.
But Svetlana was fascinated by Dave and vice versa. They were inseparable. Conversation flowed between them like a high-tension wire: one comment and the thing would gyrate in both directions for hours. Svetlana had never laughed so much. Nor had she ever felt such fascination as Dave peeled off constant fascinating facts about he who had conquered the Galls. Dave was oblivious of his intelligence; until meeting Svetlana, beautiful women had assumed he had leprosy. His working-class modesty didn't allow him to take his friends' opinions about his intellect seriously.
Then disaster returned. Svetlana slipped, cracking her head against the plumbing in Dave's bathroom: what Dave's plumbing lacked in aesthetic brilliance was overcompensated for by technical panache. Svetlana's head had had plenty to aim at. It couldn't fail to miss the engine-room elaboration.
When she came to, she screamed: A short, fat, bald creature, with plump jowls, was above her; she yelped: "Where is my bag!"
Prior to her first fall, every time she had woken, her first thought had been the whereabouts of her favorite bag. This concern had given her a reputation for "sensitivity."
"My bag!" she howled. "And what are you doing with me? What is this place?"
"It's my bathroom," Dave said.
She pushed him aside with the fraught impatience that only horror induces; on seeing her bag, she was even more shocked: it was a backpack. After having been stopped in her tracks by this bewildering sight, she plundered its contents in pursuit of her cell phone. She rang Diamante.
"Diamante, darling," she yelped, "rescue me."
Diamante rose sharply from his easy chair. Only an extreme crisis could have got him to rise so rapidly from his position under Nice's promenade before the sedate waters of the world's most famous sea.
"Of course, darling," he said, ripping off his silver-white-framed sunglasses with a haste that only the most serious of matters can induce.
The frames matched his silver follicles perfectly.
"But, darling," he added. "Where are you?"
"I'm," she gulped, "in a place that's indescribable."
"Is it Bradford?"
Svetlana fled to a window. A sign above a kebab shop, containing the word "Bradford," was just visible through a dreary, grey curtain of precipitation.
"Oh God," she belched. "I'm in Bradford!"
"Keep calm, darling," Diamante insisted. "Find out the address. I'll send around a taxi. Tell the driver to take you to the nearest five-star hotel. Ring me when you get there. I'll arrange payment."
"Oh, darling, thank you."
She spun, demanding: "What's the address?"
"You don't know?" Dave replied.
"What is your address?"
She stomped on the weather-beaten carpet.
"15 Pratsworth Road," Dave said.
"Diamante: it's 15 Pratsworth Road."
Svetlana then spent a "shocking ten minutes" in a small "enclosure" with a creature whose blubber wobbled when it moved. Svetlana believed that she had never been in the same room with anyone who had blubber—and who was bald. It was terrifying. She stood between it and the sofa. It was unimaginable that she could have been in a dingy place with a beast whose corpulence shivered when it moved; she almost dry-retched.
Her hands frantically searched for the doorknob when the taxi driver—a private chauffeur—rang the bell.
"Quick!" she said. "The nearest five-star hotel. What is it?"
"The Sheraton in Birmingham."
"Birmingham has got five-star hotels?!"
She rang Diamante who had been waiting hysterically on his easy chair. The tension had even caused sweat to defeat his favorite deodorant.
"Darling, darling," he said, feigning a deep calmness that indicated his steely professionalism in a crisis, "stop worrying. The hotel will pay the driver. They'll look after you. I'll arrange everything. I'll get you on a private jet to Monaco tomorrow."
"Oh, Diamante, you're an angel."
"Oh, Baby, you know it's nothing."
Svetlana's vocabulary had regained its pre-Dave "sensitivity." During her time with Dave, her speech became so unaffected that she didn't even say "awesome." During her catwalk phase, "awesome" had constantly been employed by her in press interviews to describe the "brilliance" of those that she had had "the great fortune to have worked with."
"Simply awesome," had slipped out when she had been particularly moved by the thrill of having worked with "geniuses" like Exquisatore Extraordinaire or the pony-tailed paparazzi Xavier L'Charme who could "turn concrete to diamonds by pressing a button."
Dave spent weeks being consoled by his mates.
"This was," he said, "my York United versus Man U." York United's greatest moment had been an FA Cup victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford.
"But who knows," he added. "Even Crystal Palace got back into the Premier League."
"That's the spirit, son," one of his mates said.
In Monaco, surrounded by the spiritually fulfilling beauty of unlimited wealth, Svetlana flew into Diamante's arms. Her heart pumped with relief.
"Oh, Diamante," she said, "I can't believe it. I was in Bradford! How's Paulo?"
Diamante couldn't hide his measured concern. He deliberately couldn't hide it.
"Darling, what is it?" she cried. "Darling" had been used more by her in the previous twenty-four hours than in the previous three months.
"Let's have a drink," Diamante replied, a common phrase when horrifying news was to be imparted.
When Svetlana discovered that Paulo was now dating the sly, vindictive Claudia Cash-Bonkerssen, her archenemy on the catwalks, she gasped, just managing to stop the hors d'oeuvre in her mouth from blocking her throat.
"I'm dreadfully sorry," Diamante said.
Appropriate Concern was in his job description. The ability to feign compassion was fundamental; every time one of his models made a romantic decision, it was invariably a stupid selection. He had had plenty of opportunities to refine his art. In most cases, he had accurately predicted disaster, hence had had adequate time to practice his calculated shock in front of his bathroom mirror. This also gave him another excuse to admire himself.
Claudia Cash-Bonkerssen had been a cauldron of envy, unable to accept that she was merely number two "in the eyes of the world"—that the sleek, graceful Svetlana Hiptopski was her nemesis, in the opinion of the press and her fellow professionals.
During Svetlana's brief, intense flurry with Dave Batley, Julius Caesar, and the Roman Republic, Claudia and Paulo had formed a mutual pack of revenge against the "arrogant" Svetlana. The more arrogant someone is, the more they accuse others of this ailment. Not even the chauffeur used this expression to describe Svetlana's finicky behavior; he expected it, happy to acknowledge his "position in the pecking order." But being paid a lot for doing nothing stabilises one's perception.
Snouts were pointed skyward with frank bitterness one sultry day in Milan, when Svetlana and Claudia exhibited Exquisatore Extraordinaire's latest additions to pointless attire. Despite the chilly atmosphere in the thirty-five-degree heat, the warring pair gritted their teeth to expose "to the world" pineapple hats and giant-red-pepper dresses, Exquisatore having had the wilting creativity of having connected fabric with fruit. Amid such "brilliance," neither Svetlana nor Claudia wanted to be one who would crack and be accused of "small-mindedness." Both courageously rose above the trivial to present the genius of a man who said: "Nails could have been bared at any moment. But they both rose brilliantly above personal differences to demonstrate their flair in the face of absurdity—sorry, I mean adversity."
It had been trying for everyone, especially for Claudia who threw down a newspaper when the press reported that she been "edged ever so slightly by Svetlana Hiptopski in Milan."
It had been trying, but everyone, except Claudia, was delighted that Svetlana had "returned to her senses."
Then Svetlana slipped again—on a catwalk in Paris. Years later, Claudia admitted that the moisturizer that she had strategically located near the catwalk's entrance, during a break in proceedings, had done the job.
Given that she admitted guilt without a police investigation, she only got two months for manslaughter.
"In a sense," she said, "it was my Rubicon."
About the Author
Kim Farleigh has worked for aid agencies in three conflicts: Kosovo, Iraq, and Palestine. He takes risks to get the experience required for writing. He likes fine wine, art, photography, and bullfighting, which probably explains why this Australian lives in Madrid. 97 of his stories have been accepted by 69 different magazines.