Juliette smiled maternally when she met the new girl. Her thin, bladelike face radiated wonder, wide eyes dulling soft edges. It was always nice to meet the next person with the Talent. Their enthusiasm and joy at their new position was infectious, and soon the entire staff was cheerfully going about tasks that would normally seem boring and routine. Juliette was no exception, a spring in her step as she explained the job to the new girl.
The wide eyes grew even wider still at the simple explanation. During the tests that were given to all citizens regularly, she, Belinda, had shown signs of the Talent. Follow up testing had revealed that she was indeed Talented. Now, as the new Designer, she was one of the most important people in the world; ready to set the fashions for everyone from the lowly police officers to world leaders. From now on, she would live in the Designer’s tower, creating the Designs and setting the culture for the rest of her life.
Belinda’s eyes welled up with joyous tears as she began to sob. It was like being reborn. The next few days were a whirl of activity, being shown around the tower and meeting with all the people who lived there; people who now worked for –her-. It was overwhelming, but Juliette was always there to lend a guiding hand or to simplify something that seemed ludicrously complex. As the assistant, Juliette was second only to the Designer in the tower, and her word was law.
The following weeks, and the months after that were a steady routine. Think, draw, submit, and repeat. Her Talent, that rare gift, the mental spark that made one the Designer, guaranteed that anything she created was solid gold in terms of fashion. Her first works were filled with the bliss she felt in her new position, bright colors with subtle undertones that put a skip in the stride of anyone who looked at them. Juliette handled the talks with organizations for those first years, taking their requests. The new Designer was far too caught up in her work to handle such mundane tasks.
With time however, her Designs took on a different tone. Joy was replaced with purpose. Narrow lines and angles suggested movement, speed, surety. Messengers became swift blur, racing on their bikes, ice-skates, or rollerblades. Her mood became different. The childlike innocence was a thing of the past, replaced with the smooth confidence of someone who knew what she was doing, and how best to do it. Juliette became less and less needed, Belinda becoming a presence in the tower, her mood reaching again to the now smoothly efficient workers.
A year passed, and another, and more after that. Belinda became older, her designs reflecting that maturity. Autumnal colors rested gently on the shoulders of a fireman, a doctor, an EMT. Not weariness so much as peace, the contentment of the day-to-day. Her workers smiled and cracked jokes, dry humor and easy camaraderie settling in. Juliette and her boss now felt like sisters in a way, one in a higher position, but still in some way equal; bonded by the long hours spent in the office, producing the next great design.
This slow and mellow time was not to last forever. Belinda began to smoke, hazy clouds of gray hanging over her worktable. Her products became more harsh, jagged spikes and cold, dark patterns. Polished boots gleamed on the feet of the police as they marched in the streets, impersonal and somehow cruel for it. Belinda became eccentric, her attitude shifting erratically. Her workers were now grim and angry; hard-edged office politics and even harder punishments for failure. The tower was now a menacing place, its spire stabbing into the sky like a needle poised at the eye of the universe, just waiting for a vicious plunge. Belinda worked constantly, the cigarette and accompanying cloud of smoke the only sign that she wasn’t a machine, some hateful automata chained to a desk until its servomotors broke. Abstracts began to show in her work, the emotions behind them a violent need, a grasping yearning for something that eluded the creator.
And then, one wintery day, Juliette came in to find Belinda; not hunched over her desk as was now her custom, but hanging from the ceiling, a horrifying mannequin. Hooks pierced her flesh, stretching skin, contorting muscles into a model’s pose. Swatches of cloth were sewn into her, covering wetly pink and crimson areas where she had cleansed herself. Juliette looked up at her boss, her surrogate family, her friend… and sighed. Picking up a camera, she set about taking photographs of the corpse, manipulating the taut wires holding it up to change the poses. Such was the assistant’s job after all; to aid, to help, to open the doors for the Designer, and, in the end, to preserve their last, macabre work for the ages. She would place the photographs next to the depictions of the legion of Designers who had gone before, each of them pursuing, unknowingly, their own beautiful, fashionable, death.
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