It should never have come to this, Frankie thought, as she poured glugs of milk on the cereal. The brown blobs looked like formations of cancer cells, bobbing in the sea of white. A crowd milled in front of her and Piers, a disorderly queue emerging from the chaos. The shopping centre noise of echoing footsteps, layered voices, and musak jangled her nerves.
She beamed at the next in line—‘Here’s your Vita-Puffs—enjoy’, and handed the bowl over, before starting the process again.
Frankie still had pale glossy curls, a lithe frame, and the kind of smile that transfixed people, like moths fluttering around a globe. She had lost the free hairdressing and gym membership, but kept her Bondi flat. It boasted harbour views—if you climbed on the toilet seat and craned your neck out the ventilation window.
Her face ached from smiling, but she kept it up with the same words and inflection. Some of the men asked for more milk, to prolong the contact. Others tried to start conversation, which she expertly deflected with a blank smile, and a gaze at the person behind.
After twenty minutes, they took a break. Piers motioned her over to the seats behind their stand.
‘So what’s your story, Frankie? I used to watch you on Lovescape. You were smoking hot. What the hell happened?’ His grin was laconic, and he folded his arms over his sculpted biceps, drawing attention to them. An affected dollop of dark hair hung over his forehead.
‘I was killed off. If you watched it, you’d know that Piers. I’m reading for several other roles at the moment. What are you doing, besides promotions that is?’
‘I follow trails and see where they take me. This and that. Hey, you want to have some fun?’
‘It depends. What kind of fun did you have in mind?’
He withdrew a package from his backpack, pausing for suspense before peeling away the wax paper. Two large cookies sat in his palm.
She snorted. ‘You want me to eat a cookie? That’s your idea of fun? How old are you again? Jesus, are we going to drink some milk with it as well?’
Piers raised an eyebrow, and offered her one. ‘It’s no ordinary cookie, Frankie. Baked to perfection, with premium hashish.’
She laughed. ‘So, um, I’ve smoked dope, and I kind of started hallucinating. Is it a bit milder than that?’
‘Yeah, just like floating on a cloud, with a few giggles sprinkled in. You’ll love it.’
She shrugged her assent and took a few bites, grimacing at the bitter aftertaste.
‘Bleurgh. I hope these are worth it.’
Their break over, they dispensed cereal once more, like sleek robots. Fifteen minutes passed, and they morphed from sleek robots into jerky primates.
Frankie’s practised smile lost its centre of gravity. She hooted with laughter at the cancerous patterns in the milk—the shapes forming sentences, and telling her private jokes. Piers watched on with amusement. He had only eaten half a cookie, stuffing the other half into his pocket.
‘What’s so funny?’ he asked, slipping his hand around her waist. She was unable to speak, handing over the bowls with a nod and chortle.
Staring into the crowd she spotted two men. They were looking straight at her, with grave expressions. One short with bulbous eyes, the other with limp blond hair and folded arms. Her mouth went dry, and her heart hammered in her chest. Oh my God, I’m working, and I’m stoned. It’s plain clothes police! She doled out a few more cereal bowls, the milk lapping over the edge and drenching the cloth.
‘Piers, I need to go pee,’ she whispered, her vowels extending out, the words repeating in her head. He frowned.
‘You know. Bathroom?’
He nodded and studied her face. ‘Are you okay?’
‘Nope. Nope Piers, I’m off my head.’
Everyone was staring, she was sure. Staring, pointing, and laughing. Their mocking guffaws were hitting her in the chest, as if coming through a loudspeaker. The cops were going to grab her from behind. She broke into a half run, her limbs like rubber bands.
In the cubicle she hugged her legs to her chest, her body vibrating with shakes. Hot tears spilled down her cheeks. She had to get out, get home before they caught her.
When she emerged the crowd had dwindled, and Piers was pouring milk, his speech laboured as he greeted each person. He gave a slow smile as she approached. She had splashed water on her cheeks, and wiped her nose, but she knew her face was bloated and ashen.
She pulled him aside. ‘I’ve got to go, Piers.’
‘Yeah, I can see you’re freaked out.’
‘Thanks for the cookie, asshole.’
He raised his palms in a gesture of peace, his eyes glazed and apologetic.
At that moment, the short man with the bulbous eyes sidled up to her, brandishing a camera phone.
‘Frankie Hillman, you’re all washed up. This is going straight to ‘Who Weekly’. Maybe they’ll do a story—‘Has-beens without make-up.’’
Frankie bared her teeth as the flash illuminated her face. She reached for the man’s neck, her fingers spread like a starfish.