She wished she hadn’t had to stop off at the chemist to get that dermatological cleanser. What was it called? Cetaphil, that was it. The nurse had even written it down for her, so she wouldn’t forget.
Jo hoped the Cetaphil would help relieve this incessant itching. To go just one day without her skin burning would be heaven, utter heaven. But on the back of her hands, Jo could already feel the first sparks igniting. And now she had to sit through this bloody meeting.
Jo had no idea why the board had summoned her on this particular Wednesday morning. She watched them nervously as they downed their morning espresso shots. People like that are far too important to waste time on drinking lattes.
The executive to her left spoke first. Something about profits and margins. He’d obviously been indulging in a little too much fine wine and red meat because the skin on his nose was a rich crimson, and his large pores turned his whole face into a big fat purple sponge.
Jo looked away feeling scratchy. Scratchy and increasingly anxious. The flames were beginning to singe her forearms. She wished they would hurry up and tell her why she was here and what this meeting was all about. She wanted to get out of this stuffy room with its ornate double doors and unnecessarily large table. It made her feel uneasy.
The executive to her right was saying something about moving the business forward. His skin seemed to hoard grease. The layer of oil on his face was thick enough to tempt half the western world to invade. Something about falling market shares and missed targets.
Jo was getting more and more scratchy. Scratchy and worried about where this conversation was leading. The fire had now spread up her forearms and past her elbows. She desperately tried to resist the urge to plunge her nails satisfyingly into her own flesh. She knew scratching it would make the fire worse, but the moment of release would feel incredible.
Next to speak was the executive across from Jo. Her alabaster skin was intimidatingly clear. Not a blemish, pimple or laughter-line dared to decorate that Botox-stiffened mask. The blankness of it unnerved Jo. She couldn’t read this woman, she couldn’t recognise any signs of human emotion within that empty exterior. Something about underperformance. Something about decreasing profitability.
Jo was really scratchy now. Scratchy and panicking. The fire had spread over her shoulders and was burning her chest.
Finally, the executive at the top of the table spoke. His skin was bone dry. Cruel. Uninhabitable. Dead flakes fell onto the lapels of his Suit, only to be casually brushed off onto the expensive carpet below.
Something about redundancy.
For a moment there was silence and nobody moved. Nobody apart from the spongy faced executive who was inspecting his tie for remnants of pain-au-chocolat. Jo’s face blazed. They stared at her like some eight-eyed monster. She wanted to say something to fight off their gaze but she was in shock so no words came out.
The company hadn’t been doing that badly, they were making a half-decent profit and Jo knew there were other things they could have done, there were still other things they could do. But not this.
Jo’s face was now utterly scratchy. Utterly scratchy and inflamed.
The oily skinned executive carefully selected a pain-au-raisin from the platter of French pastries in the center of the table.
Then the fire in Jo’s skin turned white-hot and something inside her snapped. Without thinking she reached into her handbag and her fingers closed tightly around the bottle of Cetaphil.
A second later Jo was walking out through the ornate double doors ignoring the carnage behind her. For the first time in ages, she didn’t feel scratchy.
by Steph Smith