It is just before midnight on Clara’s twenty-fourth birthday when she begins to think of ice cream.
‘Clara! Clara, darling. Coffee?’
And as Clara opens her beautiful mouth to let out the automatic murmur of ‘double espresso’, a heaped, glistening plate of ice-cream glides past her on its way to a woman at the next table. Clara never eats ice cream. Not even this celebrated vanilla, grained like raw silk, pure yet wicked. She does not even think of eating ice-cream, any more than she thinks of committing murder or lying in the midday sun.
‘Clara. I’ve ordered a double espresso for you. Wake up, sweetie.’
But Clara cannot wake up. The theatre of the restaurant is stilled, silent. The black clad waiters and waitresses arch over their tables, frozen. She hears nothing and sees nothing. The scent of vanilla curls into her nostrils, the unctuousness of cream ravishes her tongue. Clara licks her lips. She clears her throat.
‘I think I - I think I’ll -’
The waiter snaps a perfect cup of espresso down in front of her. Trained though he is, cool though he wishes to be, he finds himself smiling at Clara. There is something about her beauty which compels it. Her beauty is warm, not cold. She is as tantalising as the geography of Tahiti. But Clara does not smile back. The buzz of her birthday party continues around her, glasses lift and fall, faces grow flushed above the wreck of the table, expensive bodies sheathed in expensive clothes twist this way and that. And all for Clara, whose fame is surely at its height, because there are no more peaks left for her to climb. But it is impossible to imagine her fading. She will stay there for ever, at her zenith, her lovely eyes as remote and seductive as they were when they first looked into a lens.
‘Ice cream,’ whispers Clara, and her voice cracks.