Mara swept Billy goat’s-curd serum from her upper lip and sat up. She would know that noise anywhere. The man she loved was in pain. She had to go to him.
She wound a bamboo hand-towel around her fleshless frame and donned sunglasses before exiting the treatment room. She was only three minutes into a two-hour Deeply Detoxifying Core Cleansing Sluice, and she was covered in goat, gold leaf and Manuka honey, but it couldn’t be helped. Her husband needed her.
Tark was in the treatment next door to hers in the High Holistic Healing and Wholeness Centre, surrounded by black-tunicked staff. He was keening over a photograph in his hand. Mara swallowed. She hadn’t seen Tark like this since he was last threatened with a tax audit. It was time to step in.
“Tark?” She kept her voice firm, channelling through the white noise of the indoor waterfall. Tark dropped the photograph and she strode over to him with as much dignity as a bamboo towel and the distinct odour of goat’s curd could muster.
“Darling. I’m here. What have they done to you?”
Tark raised panicked eyes to his wife. “What have they done? No, no. What have we done to ourselves?”
This was not good. Mara had suggested that they came to the High Holistic Healing and Wholeness Centre in order to do a Lenten retreat, because it was ruinously expensive, and impossible to get into.
Word also had it that not only had Kim and Kanye spent the night there, getting the Limerick washed off them following their honeymoon bike ride, but that Madonna had taken refuge within its walls after flashing her arse at the Grammys. Rock royalty came to reconnect with their humility, because self-denial was the new must-have accessory.
Mara had thought it might be a good for them, too. Tark just hadn’t been himself since the news that he had slipped down to #17 on the Irish rich list. She feared that he was forgetting how magnificent he truly was, by virtue of having been so magnificent for such an eternity. He’d taken some persuading with regard to the retreat’s six-figure price tag, but he’d eventually agreed.
The booking agents had warned her the process might be difficult. They had not warned her, however, that they would try to dismantle her husband.
“What did they say to you?”
“They said that to appreciate the true value of what we have, I have to give something away!” He looked at Mara pleadingly. “They said I had to choose between the Caravaggio, the Bentley and the open invitation to Branson’s island. So I had to choose the Bentley. But I can’t possibly give it up, my darling poison pill. It’s killing me!”
A toe therapist entered a tick on a sheet of paper clamped to a clipboard and smirked. But Mara had an eagle eye for smugness on the part of anyone save her husband, whose conceit was at least 83% of his sex appeal.
“You,” she said sternly to the toe therapist, who jumped. “Yes, you there. Give that here. What are you writing?”
One of the benefits of being wafer-thin was that people often didn’t see Mara coming. She snatched the clipboard out of enemy hands and scanned the document rapidly.
“Just as I thought. Tark, we are about to extend our stay here for some time.”
Tark was startled. “Why would we want to do that?”
“I think you’ll find that the High Holistic Healing and Wholeness Centre are about to make us a very special offer.” Mara paused for effect, enjoying her Scooby Doo moment, before delivering the killer blow. “They’ve been experimenting on Class-A celebrities, and releasing the results of unauthorised psychological tests to the socialist movement.”
Tark gasped (but to his credit, disparagingly). “I should have known, my tantalising tarantula. I was a fool to let them bring me down so low.”
“But for the fact that I was first to be swathed in gold leaf, it could have been the other way around, darling. I’m sure they were going to ask me to choose between the first edition Chaucer, the Marie Antoinette mole and Coco Chanel’s underpants.”
A hirshute therapist coughed. Mara had hit the nail on the head.
“They won’t want this to get out,” said Tark.
“They certainly won’t.”
“We’ll do anything,” said the sweating head minion of the High Holistic and Wholeness Centre, her rank clearly delineated by the unsuitability of her shoes.
“I thought as much. So we’ll be having no more psychological tests,” said Mara. “And we’ll be taking all treatments together from now on. We’ll expect the Presidential hammocks for the rest of our stay.”
“And you can arrange for the paparazzi to accidentally catch us walking about the wild grasslands by the southern bowling green in our robes on Friday,” said Tark, drawing himself back up to his full five-foot-four. “The tip-off fee can be paid into the same bank account as the deposit refund.”
Mara grasped Tark’s hand and looked at him admiringly, at arm’s length on account of the Billy goat’s curd.
“We’re back, my vinegared vixen,” said Tark, pressing his lips to Mara’s gold-plated hand. “But this time, we’re bulletproof.”