An Actress Prepares

By on Dec 28, 2014 in Fiction

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Silhouette of woman with disheveled hair superimposed over footlights

Is that a slow-motion me—my slow-motion hopes, my slow-motion dreams — unraveling? An unraveling, slow-motion me, reaching for, beseeching make believe: Don’t abandon me for reality! Is that the topsy-turvy, twisty, tipsy world of me—unraveled? Is that really me? In real time? Reaching for reality? Is that real-time me still me?

In gauzy slumber I lie still and frightened. That final ravel will toll the death of me, of Bryce Maclaine, actually, and my fantastic life, the life of an actress, unraveling now, in torturous time. I can feel reality — with feet like axes — crawling through the marrow of my bones, where Bryce lives to love and loves to act, and splintering that love, splintering that life, splintering Bryce like firewood, until she is but so many nondescript splinters hurtling into oblivion.

A start lifts my eyelids and when they stretch open I am, I realize, an actress still, an actress in fact, an actress today. And that life — an actor’s life — will carry on today, live in the now, as if there is no tomorrow, as if Bryce will not die this night; and die she must. I am certain this time, more certain than I have ever been, because I believe — now — in tomorrow.

I stare into the predawn blackness and blink. As if blinking will hasten illumination. I grope for a lumpy thingy beneath the small of my back — a hard lump. No, it’s just the lumpy sofa bed. Lumpy. Like me. Like my thighs, I think, while running my fingers over a cellulite dimple. Lumpy. Like my breasts. And I fret and press my fingertips against them, and I pretend these are the gentle fingers of a man who adores me for who I am. But I am vigilant and methodically catalogue each lump for differences: none in texture; they haven’t changed or grown in the five years since I discovered them, since my first appointment with Abrir, my OBGYN-slash-Pakistani lover, who implored me with his honey-bear smile to regularly check my breasts — and as thoroughly as he did.

I sigh again, but this time, relieved, and I can now luxuriate in Friday morning’s blessed quiet: no garbage pick-up on Avenue B; no clang, clang, clang of the rectangular, steel dumpsters, whose view outside the bedroom window of my ground floor apartment is masked by a thick, muslin shade and taupe blinds, but whose jarring clangs rattle my skeleton as though I’m the refuse being hoisted up by the truck’s metal prongs — they remind me of a gigantic beetle’s pincers — and battered senseless like a rag doll against the rim of its open roof.

The gibbering passersby outside my window must be teenage boys. “Yo, shut yo face, nigga,” shouts a playfully belligerent voice, followed by a receding gale of nonthreatening, adolescent cackling.

My psyche bathes in cherished time: before the red, white and blue strobes from Payday’s Check Cashing directly across the street thrust pulsating orbs of blinding light that streak through our window’s uncovered slivers like hurled javelins; before Mrs. Yao hoists the screeching aluminum door grate to her dry cleaners adjoining our building at precisely 6 a.m., when I must nudge my sleeping beauty, my nine-year-old princess whose laughter and tears, joys and sorrows, triumphs and tragedies so mimic my own that I sometimes think we are more twins than mother and daughter; or maybe she’s just an old soul.

I will wake her this morning, as always. My lips will nestle among velvet locks of thick, sun-red hair strewn over an angel, and they will kiss each eyelid with the touch of a fallen snowflake. Her nose will wriggle and barely open. Starlight eyes will twinkle, and her groggy smile will greet my gaze; and then her Cheshire-cat grin will shatter my heart. And before she hears, “Morning glory,” I will silently whisper: Farewell, Grace. Farewell. To you. To me. To the life of an actress, a life without which Bryce cannot live. I have to pee.

I slump on the toilet in a bathroom the size of an airplane’s; the Little Mermaid nightlight flickers; makes the four walls’ moldy, mint-green paint seem to peel before me. The pee will not come, though my bladder is full. I grab my nightgown, raise it over my knees and recant: “I’m so sorry, Erica Berg, that I abandoned you for Bryce Maclaine — against the world’s better judgment. But it was fate. Remember. How you mesmerized the entire kindergarten class, and Mrs. Dawson. Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream, merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily… life is but a dream. That voice: “Sweeter than honey,” she said.

Oh, poor Erica Berg! Doomed to become an actress that day, when you discovered you weren’t just lonely, but special lonely. No turning back, because you knew even then you weren’t like the other girls, nor could you be, though you longed to be, but that was your sad secret, Erica. And so, while you couldn’t be beautiful like them, you discovered you could act like them: act beautiful, act boy crazy, or coy, or slutty. But because you weren’t them, you were free to be — ta-dah! — them. Or anyone Calumet City, Illinois had ever seen. And so it was just a matter of time, Erica, before you would bolt Cal City and proclaim “smell you later to the burb’s preordained doldrums and a passion-free future of commuting to the Loop to a passion-free job like your passion-free parents who loved you but, while on the phone and when they thought you couldn’t hear, bemoaned, crestfallen and confused, to their passion-free friends: “Oh, you know Erica, flaky.”

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Paul Alan Ruben is currently enrolled in the MFA fiction program at Spalding University. To date, "The Underdog” and “Father, Son, And The Holy Obit”—from his short story collection, Terms of Engagement: stories of the father and son — have been published by Pennsylvania English (35) and Pif Magazine (August 2013), respectively. Paul is co-author of a college textbook, Public Thinking/Public Speaking, and a periodic contributor to Audiofile Magazine. He is also an award-winning audiobook producer/director whose numerous industry honors include two Best Spoken Word Grammy Awards. All his published short stories are recorded for audio, reviewed by Audiofile Magazine, and available on Paul’s website: Shortly after publication of “An Actress Prepares,” the audio version will be recorded by the award-winning audiobook narrator, Kathleen McInerney.