ZENOBIA [part II]
From Zenobia’s youngest years, an inner resilience had been strengthened by her having to cope with the loss of an elder sister when she was 8 years old. Her parents separated shortly after this bereavement. When she was coming of age, there was a brief possibility of one of her mother’s partners introducing a step-brother into the household. His name was Algernon; the growing girl began to find him both repellant and fascinating. There was a storm between the couple; the boy and his father vanished as rapidly as they had appeared, before the step-sister could articulate any feelings (she didn’t even overhear any parting row). Ever after, distanced and rose-tinted by safe years, she was haunted by might-have-beens. The euphoric tended to dominate, but she made herself imagine in the concomitant worse. It was her destiny to be brought up as an only child; the realization of this state engendered mixed feelings – the negatives of the loss of sibling companionship against the positives of independence, self-reliance and strength. At school the only child excelled both academically and athletically.
But her very prowess was a source of tragedy. Zenobia gained distinctions in mountaineering and potholing. This aroused the jealousy of her contemporary, Charmian, who took over from the departed Demelsa as buddy-cum-rival. The two girls were on a par in terms of physique and intelligence, and of high esteem among their teachers. They felt a constant need to prove themselves to each other. Charmian made a dare – that they should run a race up the lofty tower of the local cathedral, as they had done up so many cliffs. They proceeded with this contest under the eager, watchful gaze of school friends below. For most of the way, they were neck and neck; then Zenobia got a bit ahead and Charmian missed her footing, to fall down and sustain severe injury. The spectators convulsed and dispersed in panic.
There was an extensive enquiry, and a grilling from the Police. Zenobia was acquitted of blame, as it was proved conclusively that Charmian had initiated the dare. But she still felt dreadful about Charmian’s injuries, and all her school activities began to suffer. She felt she should be a constant companion to the injured Charmian but could not face her companion and felt all her school mates were turning away from her, She flunked out of high school before graduation, in spite of showing every promise of making the highest grades. At the same time, her mother sank into alcoholism and depression, so her home no longer felt safe or permanent. Mother finally had to go to hospital, and Zenobia had to leave.
Blatant, unveiled adversity faced her – an elemental struggle for survival lay ahead. But she knew that grit and fibre underlay her charismatic looks; these would be developed to the full, so that she would wield power over men. At school she had been eminently successful at playing hard to get, and was utterly respected for her attitude; none of the boys there had really challenged her. This was something to fortify her when venturing into the areas of danger.
Her first job was as a fitness trainer, something for which her skill at gymnastics, running and martial arts equipped her admirably. Her supervisor was Persephone, a dark-haired, coffee-coloured woman about 5’10” in height, frizzy-haired, lithe and superbly toned. The minute Zenobia walked into her office, her eyes and body language beamed instant acceptance and recruitment. “I can see we are going to get along fantastically.” She came up to Zenobia and squeezed her gently round the waist. “Hmm; you’re just right; you could be a model too.”
Persephone went to her locker and pulled out a pile of outfits – some swish black trainers, a white tracksuit, deep blue running shorts with yellow singlet, and a black one-piece swimsuit. “Let’s see you in each of those,” said Persephone and pointed towards the door of a changing room adjacent to her office. Zenobia presented herself in a succession of the three outfits – first the tracksuit, then the running shorts and top, finally the swimsuit. Persephone’s elation rose with each costume change. “What a perfect command of body language; their muscles – etcetera – are really going to be activated. You’re going to be a great asset to us,” she beamed.
When Zenobia had changed back into her normal clothes, Persephone summoned her to sit down. “Look: I sense that you are a young woman of the world, eager for experience and to make it to the top. You want to be a professional, and I’d like to guide you into being one. First of all, we have a strict code of behaviour for training sessions, during which you concentrate exclusively on the physical well-being of the client. Other emotions must be strictly excluded from the session. This requires a high degree of self-discipline, as some clients are extremely nice looking – and self-discipline is a quality you radiate. However, we do not impinge on the private, personal lives of our staff, as long as they do not spread spurious gossip around the working premises. There is a code of discretion concomitant with the code of professional etiquette – I think you understand.”
Zenobia nodded enthusiastically. “Perfectly; I always take such things as unwritten laws.”
“What perceptivity! Some of our clients are, shall we say, comfortably off – I think you get my drift. And clients are quite distinct from male colleagues, although they occasionally look similar – I’m sure you appreciate that.”
Another enthusiastic nod of response. Other members of staff had not gone unnoticed on the way to the interview. It was great to feel that she was going to blend in with their aesthetic presence. That compensated for the peer group she missed so much from school.
“I am delighted at our depth of mutual understanding. Now: if, at the outset, you are feeling a little shy and nervous, I can perhaps put you at your ease.”
“In what way, Persephone?”
“We could do a practice session together; I could be your surrogate client.”
Zenobia felt a surge of feeling, long latent and repressed. She had felt some nascent passion for Charmian, and this brought it back. Persephone gave her a gruelling trial, in three parts, over three days. Zenobia came out with flying colours. Part one was an extended jog, where the two of them raised a few eyebrows in a nearby park; part two was a total gym workout, using all the equipment – wall bars, vaulting horses, weights; part three was a two person Swimathon in the Centre’s Tropicana pool, going on to the 150th length , totally in her stride.
“You need a rest now” said Persephone. “I’ll see you – refreshed and alert – tomorrow”.