As the rest of the audience stood, stretching and gossiping during the final intermission, Clara remained seated, her mind fixated on the upcoming results. She had watched the Pageant on TV as long as she could remember. Being here in person, among the elegant, almost gaudy, spectators was exhilarating, like stepping off a plane in a foreign land. She saw how they glanced at her, how they whispered to a neighbor as she passed. It gave her a heady, effusive feeling, which only increased the number of those who noticed her. Even when she didn’t smile, her face betrayed her with a sheen of joy. They knew she would be on the stage someday.
She could hardly picture it, though. She had gone backstage at the first intermission, had stared at their luminous faces, inhaled their fragrance, admired their envious forms. Could she attain such perfection?
Clara had only begun the rigorous training in the last year. The discipline of beauty was relentless and holistic. Even with years of patience and perseverance, all that really mattered was a single moment—and for the contestants, that moment was now.
The lights blinked, and people began to take their seats. Clara had chosen her pick: Esuna, a tall, lithe, dark-skinned young woman, a little older than average, with a calm expression and reservoirs of mystery. The Consensus had been moving away from the voluptuous curves and brazen personalities of a decade before. Clara thought this year, it would make a definite leap the other direction.
The lights dimmed. The spotlights lit the stage as music swelled. The MC sauntered onto stage, his smile magnified on the giant screens. Clara was impatient for him to get on with it and hardly heard his spiel until he uttered words that sent shivers down her spine: “Tonight, we do not simply recognize a beautiful woman. We capture and lift up Beauty in her full bloom, plucked in that split second where to look upon it is to believe.”
Expectant chords thrummed beneath the crowd’s muted hum. The three finalists came forward as called. Siobhan, a vivacious redhead; Sandra, a woman part feast and part famine; and Esuna. Clara released a held breath at her name. She felt almost as if she herself had been chosen.
Then silence. Not even a drumroll. Simple words—”Beauty, thy name is…” Clara willed the name, her lips moving. “Esuna.”Thunderous applause. Clara couldn’t leap to her feet quickly enough. On the screens, Esuna’s face beamed, her eyes filled with tears. And yet, her expressson still held that ineffable mystery that had first convinced Clara that Esuna would capture the world’s heart.
“Now,” Clara whispered. Esuna was radiant, ethereal, divine. “Now.”
The MC did it smoothly, inserting the needle and pressing down the plunger. To all it already held, Esuna’s expression acquired a hint of tragedy. Clara thought her heart would break from the beauty of it.
“That is what I want,” Clara said. She repeated it louder, knowing no one would hear it above the crowd’s roar. “That’s what I want!”
The injection had done its work. Esuna’s muscles seized up in their moment of glory. Her exquisite expression remain unchanged. Her heart stopped, her beauty reserved unblemished for all generations, to be added to those who had come before, a record of the Beauty of Mankind.