5. The Glossy Magazine

HAVING CHECKED IN FOR his flight, Marcel went to a newsstand and bought a couple of glossy news magazines. The only time he ever read such magazines was in airport lounges. He opened one and started looking at the ads with pleasure: those sultry women sprawled dreamily across beds the size of the Russian steppe, wearing nothing but glittering necklaces and brooches. Here was the woman with the bulbous eyes who'd been in that funny French film. Now she was promoting a Swiss watchmaker. There was that groin-achingly beautiful woman who had won awards for choosing her roles bravely, which was a euphemism almost unanimously used by critics that meant playing ugly and unappealing characters. She was now the face of a well-known French cosmetics giant. How brave of her, thought Marcel cynically. Still, there was a pleasure to the cynicism too - every reaction was already accounted for. The glossy magazines catered for everyone, especially the sceptics. He flipped a page and there he was, Marcel’s kid brother David-Simon, the good-looking one of the family. In fact, Simon was David’s middle name, but when he was still a chef's apprentice his younger brother had decided to hyphenate the two names, and it seemed to have been a shrewd career move. David-Simon’s career continued to defy all predictions. This was something Marcel would never have considered - the career benefits of hyphenating his first and second names. But then again, David-Simon had always been different - there was a 12 year gap between the two, so in a sense they were of different generations. Marcel had been born at the tail end of the slacker generation, whereas his half-brother squeezed into the generation the glossy magazines called 'Y'. He was, in every sense, an early adopter. Now here he was in an ad for a supermarket behemoth, the rugged celebrity chef standing next to the rugged lettuce farmer, holding up a box full of lettuce, smiling that smile that was meant to say, here at Giant Supermarket Behemoth, the lettuce is fresh, the farmers are happy, the prices are low, the service is great – what’s not to like? Yes, what’s not to like – that’s what the smile was saying. Marcel’s first instinct was to flick the page over again, but a strange perversity forced him to linger over that double-page spread, dominated by the green the supermarket chain had trademarked, sun-soaked fields of lettuce behind the two men, a mist of sprinkled irrigation water hovering over them, fresh green abundance as far as the eye could see. Not for the first time, he focused on his kid brother’s smile. It wasn’t a real smile, of course. It was more of a kind of reflex, a grimace, a tic almost. Once, at his father's house, Marcel had walked into the bathroom and caught his little brother mid-act - not, as would have been the case had roles been reversed, in a flagrant act of onanism, but practising his smile in front of the mirror. Even then, thought Marcel, he'd been honing his act. Hats off to him - he was now, at the tender age of 22, able to switch that high-beam of a smile on and off at will. At 22, by contrast, Marcel had been a mess, experimenting with drugs, with heartbreak, with idle pleasures, with failure... David-Simon was still David then, of course, 10 year old David, the loner of the family, widely derided for his obsession with food. He was the only member of the family who could cook, other than the cook, who was staff, after all, not family. Who knew that reality television was about to conquer the silver screen? Certainly not 22 year old Marcel, who preferred French cinema and Japanese manga. Twelve years later, fate had snowballed. David-Simon had turned a chef's apprenticeship into a blitz on reality television across three continents. Marcel's experiments with failure had turned into a well-practised routine. Schtick, practically. His attention returned to the high-gloss smile in his lap. The upturned lips pushed up the meaty cheeks so that the eyes became unreadable slits. That was the secret to it – any less inscrutable and the mirthlessness of the gesture would have betrayed itself in the eyes. Marcel heard his flight number being called. He closed his magazine, took his suitcase on wheels by the extendable handle and walked towards the travelator with a tightness gripping his stomach. He assumed it was hunger.