An Actress Prepares

By on Dec 28, 2014 in Fiction

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Silhouette of woman with disheveled hair superimposed over footlights

I walk along the fourteenth floor corridor toward the studio and repeat my two lines in Coriolanus opposite Meryl Streep in Shakespeare in the Park, and I giddily remember Meryl whispering to me through clenched teeth with her back to the audience under blackening clouds, “Brycie, it’s gonna pour harder than a drunk adolescent pissing.”

I enter the studio lobby concentrating on my book and reminding myself that I am still Bryce, an actress who can, at will, chain her demons, leave them to wail innocuously within the darkness that seizes her like a terrorist while I inject imagination into my soul and dive palpably high on pretend into strange worlds and other lives no longer foreign but known to me and real to me because I am them. I am: a princess, pauper, savior, athlete, cripple, killer; I am gorgeous, homely, happy, silly, wild, wicked, sultry, flirty, deadly; I am a heroine, healer, I am a whore. Oh, God I love my job!

I walk past shelves of audiobooks — there’s two, three of mine — down the narrow, carpeted hallway toward Studio A, and I cannot imagine acquiescing to the life of the preening girls I grew up with, doomed to settle for being themselves.

I smile at Stanley, whom I’ve known forever, a handsome, wiry, gay actor with thick, black hair and a Mephistopheles goatee, and he says, “Hey, Brycie,” and I ask him, “How’s the wife?” — he got married last year — and he blurts, “Right now I’m makin’ him nuts,” and before I can inquire why, Stanley effusively says he’s recording an American book that takes place in Wales, and the dialect is second nature as his father’s Welsh, which is why he was cast, “But, caveat! There’s this huge section that takes place in the fucking Australian Outback and my accent is, hmmmm, borderline. So I’m, like, every morning I jump out of bed without a stitch, stand over Ron, who’s totally zonked, and shout my best Aussie: ‘The dingoes ate my baby! The dingoes ate my baby!’ He’s gonna serve me papers, I swear, Brycie.”

My director, Frank, a chubby forty-year-old, pokes his head out from A. “Hi, Bryce.” I tell Stanley his Aussie is awesome. He grimaces, and I say, “Maybe if you just quietly tell Ron, ‘Shrimp’s on the barbie, shrimp’s on the barbie,’ he’ll go for it, mate!”

Tony, my congenial recording engineer, greets me like a buddy. His patient interventions keep me focused when my word changes, mispronunciations and flubs exasperate me. Frank shuts the control room door, and we hug and chat and giggle and flirt — he’s always squeezing my arm — overly attentively; and I encourage him by leaning closer. Frank dishes Sarah Jessica Parker, who’ll be here this afternoon, and confides that Iris, her engineer, says she can’t get through a paragraph without stumbling and kvetching and yelling. “Seriously, Bryce,” Frank says, “if she wasn’t a luminary, Miss Sarah wouldn’t have gotten an audition, let alone cast for this book, which you should be doing.” My ha-ha chortle belies a broken heart, and I recall occasionally wondering how people who are about to commit some heinous act can so easily mimic their routine persona right before they do it. Now I know.

I close the heavy door of the “4-by-4 feet,” prefab, soundproof recording booth — like a carpeted cell or meat-locker-for-one with acoustical foam covering the walls — and settle myself on a cushioned folding chair at a small, wooden table with a square of remnant rug on top. I set up my iPad under a large microphone that hangs from a metal stand with twisted, tied black wires slung over it. In front of the mike is a round, black, pop screen whose meshed fabric softens plosives, like those occurring from the letter P. Unnoticeable in everyday speech, but, before the mike, they can distort the sound with a vile pop!

My ritual: I remove my shoes — today my Club Pink Nikes — and wiggle my unencumbered toes inside my white ankle socks; I stretch my mouth; I hum mindlessly in a low voice. I’m ready. I adjust the headphones until they comfortably surround my ears; I pour water from a red pitcher on the table into a plastic cup and sip to eliminate mouth noise — I’m a little clicky, I’m told, and I want the editors who remove my clicks to be happy. I find page 245 on my screen, and in the womb-like quiet I rehearse aloud my first words while waiting like an eager child on a swing that’s raised to the sky by her attentive parent, anticipating freedom’s whoosh but secure like the child because I, too, am monitored and cared for with a parent’s devotion.

I gaze out the booth’s square window at Tony, seated at the console, and Frank at a table behind him, and then Tony’s too-loud voice in my cans wallops my ears. I ask him to lower my volume, and he turns a lever, speaks into his talk back, and I nod. Frank asks from his talk back, “Need anything, Brycie?” I shake my head no.

“Okay, we’re rolling,” says Tony, and the hand releases the swing. I breathe in. I am free. Free to become. Free to be no longer me. I pause. I submit. I am: Detective Jo Barnes. My flattened words ease forth in a heightened stage whisper:

Chapter 31. Jo Barnes aims her Glock 23 at the face of a monster. He is visibly weakened; blood from his right thigh, where her hollow point slug entered as she pursued him into the dead-end alley, drips like sticky drool from his pants cuff and over his white tennis shoe. His bloodied hand — its pinky missing below the knuckle — somehow manages to grasp his black, semi-automatic, which is aimed at her heart.

Guess I got your hand, too. Huh, Nathan?’

He laughs, as if it’s nothing serious. He speaks: gently, amiably, innocently —  like a choir boy — like the choir-boy killer, who scrawls choir with the sharpened edge of a silver cross on the belly of his bound and gagged victim before he sodomizes her with it. And then, after he strangles her, dips it in blood and semen and scrawls boy.

‘It doesn’t hurt; my hand,’ he says.

‘I can help you, Nathan. If you let the gun drop.’

‘If I don’t?’

‘I will shoot to kill.’

‘Tee-hee, Jo-Jo. That’s just what I was thinking. And I have a full clip, Jo Jo.’

Advantage, Nathan.

‘Tell you what,’ Jo says. ‘I’m gonna drop my gun.’

‘For real.’

‘Only if you promise to rape me.’


‘You’d like that, right?’


‘But you can’t kill me. No slicing my tummy, Nathan. You rape me, you leave, and I’ll catch you another day.’

His chest heaves; his untrusting eyes stare into hers.

‘We’re alone, Nathan; it’s late; no one here. But us.’

His other hand covers the stiffness in his crotch and he smirks as if she caught it in the cookie jar.

‘I’ll even struggle, and scratch, Nathan.’

‘And bite me?’

Advantage Jo.

‘Oh, yes.’

Jo slowly lowers her weapon. And as the Glock evens itself with her waist, his ravenous stare falls a moment to locate its descending trajectory, and in that split second Nathan’s mouth opens like a surprised fish and part of his forehead, just above the right eye, vanishes. Jo squeezes off two more rounds: the first appears to have missed; then blood gushes from the back of his head. The second appears to have entered his oval fish mouth.

Nathan keels sideways like a bowling pin and Jo thinks: Back to the practice range, kiddo. And then, convinced he is truly alive, Jo is suddenly catatonic 

Tony’s soothing voice interrupts my flow: “Dead.” I look up.


Frank grins like Stan Laurel: “You said, ‘convinced he’s truly alive.’”


“Take it from ‘And then.’ Otherwise, really great work, Brycie!”

My breath catches. Great work, Brycie. I am an actress: soaring on the wings of love and riding high.

“You okay?”

“Yep. Can I take it from, ‘Nathan keels sideways?’”

Shortly after four I wave goodbye to my studio family and beam as though I’ll be back. I shuffle toward the front door as if heading to the gas chamber, and before I open it, I bend down to tighten my sneaker laces which don’t need tightening, and I think, hurry now, before someone calls to me and I blurt it’s not your fault; you loved Bryce, supported Bryce, employed her, for heaven’s sake, but it’s too late, too late! My star is cold. My star! My indebted star, my slave-wage, can-you-do-it-for-less star, my old, sorry-Bryce-they’re-going-twenties-on-this-promo star, my failed-marriage star, failed-mother star, failed-future star, failed-failed-failed-my-talent-and-my-faith-and-my-passion and-my-promise star, failed every agent, teacher, director who said that if I believed in me I would soar. Well the world was just fucking wrong! Really, Bryce, you haven’t stepped on a stage in five years. Who are we kidding!

I wave quickly to the receptionist, who is seventy and thin and Kewpie-doll cute and always greets my arrival with an effervescent “Hey” like I’m her favorite daughter come unexpectedly to visit. “Bye, Alix, I wish I was you,” and she guffaws and in her north Florida twang chirps, “Hardly!” But I do, and as I leave, realize now that I am so gone.


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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.