An Actress Prepares

By on Dec 28, 2014 in Fiction

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Silhouette of woman with disheveled hair superimposed over footlights

And as if she were my priest, I poured forth: I was the last patient, and I asked him pretend questions about my breasts which he dutifully answered until his assistant out front waved goodbye; and he had to know it was a pretext because the only time he interrupted me was to peek out his door and tell her to go home early. So it was just Abrir and me, me sitting up straight on the crinkly, white paper on the gurney in his office, still in my patient’s gown, and enthusiastic Abrir telling me that he was an avid audiobook listener and was that really my voice at the end of the Colgate toothpaste campaign advertising the improved tube and I nodded and said, ‘Ease me, don’t squeeze me.’ And his South Asian eyes twinkled like a child’s, and I went crazy for his cream-brown, ruddy face and consuming gaze and beautiful white moustache that he keeps contoured like a hedge, and then his pursed lips were pressed against mine, and I still remember tasting him and believing in him while he groaned on the floor, my gown long gone, and I can still hear Trish gasp and crow: “Have you told this to your shrink?” “Yes.” “And?” “She’s a shrink, Trish, not a magician. She can’t undo my past.” And Trish nodded and understood me. “Touché,” she said.

I wend through the city’s ingratiating tourist mecca — Times Square — whose hammy glitz out-razzle-dazzles Oz. I negotiate my way past the bustling hordes, wondering who among them will see their first Broadway play tonight and heading toward the studio on Ninth Avenue and Forty-Forth Street, peddling by several of the very theatres some will attend. My life’s ambition separates from me, and I wonder, will I ever be happy again?

I stand, my legs like jelly, in a corner of the Film Center Building’s lobby and before I head to my last ever gig, I gaze at the ceiling’s elaborate Art Deco designs — the Mayan-like mini staircases, the gold-colored mosaics — and I try not to blink, hoping that will prevent the pooling tears in my eyes from streaming down my cheeks.

I collect my sadnesses.

I peer at the alphabetical directory of recording studios and casting agencies and talent reps that includes my former representative, Argon Artists, who I fired in a fit of pique last month because all my agents had done for me the previous two years was collect commissions for work I got on my own and I wouldn’t have had to if they truly believed in me, which… maybe they did, but que será, too late now. Well, at least I am relieved of putting off my way overdue need for an updated eight by ten, relieved of agonizing over the inevitable day of reckoning when my submitted headshot taken nine years ago is flung back at me by some pissed off casting director who says, “Seriously, Ms. Maclaine? We requested ‘young mommy,’ not ‘mother nature.’ Get new pictures!”

Three drop-dead-gorgeous young women — models, for sure — strut from the elevator like oversexed show ponies: tall and lanky; sassy faces; high cheekbones rouged fiery red; and long, streaked hair flowing like casual silk. Two blondes and a brunette, all in banana-yellow suede pumps. Gross! Bulbous boobies — definitely ripened by science — bulging from their Hooligans-emblazoned, gray cropped tees, with their tiny hiny, blue denim, ripped cutoffs — are their zippers really half down! Yummy!!! — exposing enough hard-body belly, down to their shaved pubes, thank you, to make me hate their trampy guts.

My short breaths quicken and I gaze upwards so only a few welling tears tumble over my cheeks and I bid adieu to Bryce, to a scared and aging flake, no longer as certain as the day she rode from Boston College, waving her MFA — indomitable, and unperturbed by a mountain of debt from Emerson and grad school still burying her today — and headed via, what else, Peter Pan bus to Gotham and, who, a day later was rooming in Forest Hills with three girls — all with MFAs — who’ve all since quit the business — but not Erica, because she was tenacious, she was special, and goddammit, she was good!

While waiting for my eyes to dry before entering the elevator, I murmur flatly to my reflection in the directory’s glass cover, “Adieu, my life.” And I see the pigtails, the big front teeth; I see eight-year-old Erica — fearless Erica who dared to be different than her conforming friends, who dared to surrender the security and safety and anonymity of acting like them, and embraced her passion to act for them. She winks, and I hear her say, Remember when I sang that day, how I made them believe in me? And before I can whisper, “I do,” she flickers out like a candle’s flame deprived of air.

I lean against the elevator railing among six or seven anonymous others. They aren’t actors; trust me, I can tell. “Press fourteen,” I ask. Someone does, and as the door slides open on each floor before mine, I bid adieu to my audacious life: to the auditions — choose me; to the precious jobs — each one a coveted epaulet, verification, proof positive that this thespian was a working actress; to the theatre — to the play, and its nightly gift of reincarnation. Adieu bus and trucks; adieu Actors Theatre of Louisville, Chanhassen in Minneapolis, the Barter in Abingdon, Annie on Broadway, Our Town at the Cherry Lane — I love you, Emily. Adieu to what matters, whether or not it pays: the work. Adieu NYU student films, showcases, TV pilots, Law and Order under-fives, on-cameras, industrials, voice-overs, cartoons, dubbing, video games, audiobooks. Adieu.

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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.