I could always spot the look. That glint of recognition. A sideways glance, a tinge of embarrassment. Most people crumble – unable to separate fiction from reality. You’ve thrilled them. Aroused them. You’ve made them sob violently in an empty theatre. A matinee.
They’ve even modelled themselves on the characters you’ve played. The way they speak. The way they dress. That’s why most can’t resist the urge to approach you. Make sure you know they exist too.
Aren’t you that actress from –
I just loved you in –
They want a photo with you. Your name on a piece of paper. Your hand against theirs. They want something they can take, a piece of you. Like tourists taking stones from the Coliseum. They want to tell their friends that your eyes aren’t really that green in person. That your perfume smells like blueberries. That you’re surprisingly down to earth or that you’re predictably snobby.
They see what they want to see, take what they want to take.
I tell people I like not being recognized anymore. Buying my own groceries. Ordering my own chai. Driving with the top down. I tell people I like being left alone, back in the real world. I tell people this, because I can’t bear to admit the truth – not even to myself.
No more in touch with reality than anybody else.
I write screenplays now. I try and convince myself as much as everyone else at the party.
Good for you, they say.
Didn’t know you could write.
What are you working on now?
I manoeuvre through the small talk like it’s primeval jungle, filled with poison and deadly stingers. My eyes follow the glasses they bring to their mouths. Elitist bankers, decrepit film producers, jaded book publishers. They feign worry, doling out unsolicited advice. People love a pity case – a star that’s been snuffed out. A white dwarf. Maybe that’s why I still get invited.
I tell them I did some writing before my acting career took off. A few pretentious short films that never got made. I say I’m currently working on a love story, knowing full well I haven’t made it past the title. Movie Magic. The rise of a young starlet coming up in Hollywood, battling alcoholism, who gets involved with a womanizing actor.
That’ll be shelved for years, they say.
Straight to the slush pile.
I smile vapidly and snatch a glass of wine from one of the trays making its way around the room. A hot river running down my throat, teeming with life and opportunity. A river that could take me anywhere.
That’s when I spot him. Leading man looks. Leading man voice. Of course he’s too young to recognize who I am. No fault of his, but if he’d been born just ten years ago it’s him who’d be looking at me and it’d be me pretending not to notice. He sips his red wine and I sip my white, picturing his lips in place of the glass. I listen as he speaks. I draw into his orbit, breathe in his cologne. I want to take his breath away.
Other girls fawn – a beady-eyed beauty with a British accent, a Brunette in a turtleneck. I keep it together, confident he’ll make the first move. Laugh loudly like I’m part of the conversation, briefly catching his eye and immediately diverting my gaze. I want to be pursued. I want to be hunted.
At the start it was me who had to hunt. I didn’t get to choose my roles. I hustled. From one audition to the next, running lines inside musty taxis. Making doe eyes. When you’re just starting out they tell you to take whatever you can get. You peck away at the crumbs, hoping that someday you’re going to fly.
Suddenly the girl in the turtleneck looks my way. I see that other look. The empty stare of uncertainty that I get so often now.
Oh my god. You look so familiar.
Some social media phenom, completely ignorant of anyone or anything that isn’t in her Insta Reels.
No seriously. Where have I seen you before?
I don’t know. Maybe a movie. Big Break? Recipes for Lovers?
No…I don’t think I’ve seen either of those.
Everyone laughs at that as I choke it down with a gulp of wine.
That’s alright, I say. Probably just before your time.
No, it wasn’t in a movie. I think it was at Nellie’s last Saturday. You ever been to Nellie’s?
I’ve been to Nellie’s.
Then it was you. I remember now. You were sitting alone at the bar. You looked so sad there all on your own. Did your date stand you up?
No, that couldn’t have been me.
Sure it was. Last Saturday. Don’t you remember?
That was someone else.
But weren’t you –
You’re thinking of somebody else.
At the end of the night, he leaves with Miss Turtleneck. He doesn’t look at me again, and I give up and get so drunk I wake up in an Uber I don’t remember calling, asking to pull over so I can throw up on the curb. Vomit splashes on the tire and the driver sighs with disappointment, exhaustion. I bet he’d had a shitty fucking night too.
In my film we’ll leave together. Into the night. His shoes will click against the sidewalk as we walk across the street. He’ll tell me he’d been trying to get my attention all evening. He’ll light my cigarette like I’m Audrey Hepburn. I can always spot the look, and I’ll know that he’s got that look in his eyes. The one that says I want you. I want you.
I’ll say take anything you like. Leave nothing behind.
My smoke will rise towards the stars and as I look up I’ll feel his mouth against my neck. Slow, I’ll say. Go slow.
Even though I don’t mean it; even though he can’t control himself. He’ll take the cigarette from my fingers, take a drag and throw it down on the concrete. He’ll take my hand and lead me into the backseat of his Mercedes.
It’ll be quick. The opposite of glamorous.
He’ll tell me he’s not the type to settle down, but eventually, in the second act, we’ll get married. Because I’m different. Because I’ve changed him. We’ll build a life together. A nice life – children laughing on the veranda in the summertime. Soft ice cream by the quay. Dinners by candlelight that never seems to go out.
Then, in the end: a car wreck. Shattered glass along the freeway. Driving drunk on the 405. Never able to stay fully sober since the roles dried up.
Mourning fans will bring flowers. Friends who stopped returning my calls will make speeches about how we were like sisters. Streaks of eyeshadow on the ends of their sleeves, streaks of tears on their cheeks. Our children in their little black tuxedos. He’ll do his best to keep it together for them, but at the end of the night he’ll fall apart, too. Alone, in our empty bed, thinking about the Leonard Cohen song they played as they carried my coffin away.
“So Long, Marianne”.
After the premiere the audience will clap. I’ll come out from behind the curtain and I’ll smile into the crowd, my veneers glimmering in the light. I’ll float gracefully to my seat across the stage for the Q and A. My answers will be erudite. The stage lights will reflect off my skin, my lips. I’ll be their shooting star and they’ll all look at me with wonder in their big, dumb doe eyes – full of dreams they wish would come to be.
And as they wish, as they want, as they reach, as they take, as they look – who knows? They might even catch me looking back.
George Nevgodovskyy was born in Kiev, Ukraine, but has lived in Vancouver, Canada for most of his life. He has previously been published in East of the Web, Rejection Letters, Literally Stories, Fairlight Books, and others. He does his best writing after everyone else has gone to sleep. Check out his work at georgenev.blogspot.com.