By Kate Murdoch
Spring announced itself through a waft of rose and jasmine as Luisa opened the window. She sneezed, closed it a fraction and turned on the television.
The X-Factor was on. She lowered herself onto the couch and leaned forward. Seal was making a peace-out symbol at one of the contestants, false praise falling from his lips in delicious hypocrisy. The woman with enough rolls of fat to feed an impoverished African nation bobbed up and down and grinned on five-inch heels. Her red lips glistened under the stage lights, her mouth large and hungry.
Of course, he turned her down but did so with such beguiling charm, she didn’t seem to mind. Other judges followed suit. The contestant hugged them all, and they managed to look as if they were thrilled. Valiant, she thought. Bravo Seal, love you Delta.
Luisa hummed the tune of Katy Perry’s “Roar” as she shuffled to the kitchen. On the walls were gilt-framed photographs of her heyday as a backup singer for Chrissie Amphlett. There she was, slightly blurry, left back of the stage at the Forum, wearing a leather mini and a white crop top. Her cheekbones had been visible then, but in the photos her face was amorphous.
These days she often spent entire afternoons in a floral nightie, slurping neat whiskey from a plastic tumbler.
The phone rang as she opened the drink cupboard. She jumped and the door collided with her foot. Luisa let out a string of expletives and answered. It was her mother.
A barrage of inane news assaulted her ear and she cringed, cradling the phone against her shoulder and pouring a generous glug of malt into a tumbler.
“Yes, Mum. No, I haven’t met your neighbour. Sounds awful. Hmm.”
“And have you met any fellows lately?”
“I had a date last week, he wasn’t right though. I’ll keep you posted. Gotta go.”
Luisa felt a pang of guilt as she hung up. Her universe was the house, the flickering colours and stage sets on her television and the lifeline of the online shopping cart.
What had once been a tight ball of wool had unravelled into a tangled, secret disorder. An operator from the helpline had suggested it was the Perth concert in 1992. Chrissie had hurled the words ‘untalented donkey’ in her direction whilst in a drug and drink addled haze. Luisa walked away from the job. Her boyfriend then revealed he had a boyfriend and was addicted to crystal meth. The final coup de grâce was her sudden weight gain. Ice cream spooned from the plastic container and takeaway dripping with trans fat had acted like a bicycle pump, hiding her bones under thick layers.
Since those dark months her diet had improved, but she was still dull-eyed and bloated.
A knock on the door sent her scurrying for cover. She cowered behind her bedroom door and gasped for breath. Another knock, harder this time. Not today, she silently pleaded. Come back tomorrow.
The knocking persisted. Then a voice pierced the silence.
“Ms Carmody? We know you’re in there. You’ve won some money. Can you open up please?”
I haven’t entered anything, she thought, frowning. Still, the word ‘money’ piqued her interest and she crept to the door, buttoning up her nightie so the intruder wouldn’t glimpse her pendulous breasts.
Luisa opened the door to blinding light and the inquisitive eye of a television camera.
A giant of a man beamed, his hair a helmet of perfection. “Good afternoon, Luisa! We’ve got fabulous news for you. Your friend Alex has suggested you might need our help. We’re the team from Loser Intervention and you’re our project. Can we come in?”
“But…” Her hesitation was their opportunity—the presenter with the fluoro white teeth and his team of six barged past. The boom light flooded her dingy living room, exposing its dust, faded fabrics and empty chip packets scattered over the couch. She watched their expressions brighten, like the faces of archaeologists discovering Tutankhamen’s tomb.
“Have a seat,” said the presenter, as if she’d stumbled onto the set of Jerry Springer. “Let’s talk about your journey. How you’ve travelled from backup singer to recluse.”
Stunned, Luisa flopped into an armchair. The tumbler was still in her hand and she downed the rest of her whiskey. It was several minutes before she found her voice, the glassy eye of the camera recording every flinch, every tremor. A film of tears glittered. The white light seeped into her pores, and she felt naked beneath its harsh cast—sure the viewers would see through her thoughts and organs.
“My journey has detoured far from singing, friends, and love. Everything that mattered to me is gone. I’m broken. I need help. I need to be famous.” She squinted at the presenter and wiped her nose with the back of her hand. “Can you make me famous?”
“Absolutely.” He grinned, clasping his hands together. “First, we’re going to give you a makeover, then your house. Some sessions with a psychologist and meetings with music industry professionals. This is your lucky day Luisa—we’re giving you your life back.”
Luisa’s face shone with tears. “Can I star on The X-Factor?”
“Anything and everything you want. Let’s start by putting you in the shower. You don’t mind if we film, do you?”