Fragments

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic


An actor prepares.

Submitted: January 30, 2018

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Submitted: January 30, 2018

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'Well you old fart, who are you today?' asked the face in the mirror.

There was doubt and as he got older the moments of doubt did seem to be getting longer. He glanced at the photograph taped to the frame of the mirror.

'Ah, memory returns.'

He began to apply his make up, but beneath all the smears and daubs he was still the little boy caught in a moment in time.

 

'Oh my God!' cried his father at the sight. As for his mother, she simply cried. If he had died there and then he doubted there could have been more tears.

'I can explain,' he began, but to be honest, standing there in his sister's clothes, there really was no way back. From then on, every Tuesday, without fail, his father took him for boxing lessons to the local gym, the one round the corner from the steel works where his father worked as a foreman. Didn't do any good of course, but he did end up with a hell of a right hook which had come in handy when belting the odd reporter or two.

 

A very attractive young woman popped her head around the door.

'One hour Sir James,'

He nodded. “Sir James,” it did have a nice ring to it, and it impressed the hell out of the money.

'Ooh Sir James, ' mimicked the face, 'just loved your last show.'

There were even rumours of a peerage but he felt that was probably pushing it.

 

He was in the front room, the best room, it was always going to be bad if his father wanted to speak to him in the front room. His father looked him up and down and began to quote from his school report:

''A lazy, couldn't care less attitude,'' he looked up, 'well?'

'I hate maths.'

'You need maths,' he began to read again. ''sloppy...inattentive...looks to play the fool...unimaginative.'

He always regarded that last bit a trifle unfair.

'Three 'U's, Two 'F's, two 'E's and 'D' in English and one 'C' ...in French. French!'

 

Which did come in rather handy when seducing the wife of that pompous French director.

'Ah Miriam, ... fantastic tits.'

 

Old Mr Henry nodded his approval.

'And you Jenkins?'

'Train driver,' said the spotty kid in the third row.

'Postman.'

'Steelworker.'

'Articled Clerk.'

'Twat.'

'Silence!'

'Professional Footballer,' that was David Hughes, and he really was that good. Played two seasons professionally before some sod took him out in a nothing cup game. He became a journalist after that.

Then it was his turn.

'Actor.'

'Ooh!'

'An act-or.'

'Settle down! No, seriously Jimmy, what do you want to be?'

'A car mechanic.'

Anything for a quiet life. And he was a very good mechanic, able to fix most types of cars before they started to use computers and printed circuit boards in just about everything. In fact, he was so good that Mr. Shawcross, who owned the local garage, offered him a job.

 

'What do you mean 'you turned it down?'' They were in the front room again. 'It's over three pounds a week, it's a bloody fortune at your age, are you mad?'

Maybe he was, but he had touched the hand of God and nothing would ever be the same again. It was 1955, Olivier's Malvolio and the stunning fall from the arch, once seen, never forgotten. He had waited hours backstage just for a glimpse of the great man. The agony of the wait, the anticipation as the door opens, the surge of the crowd, the outstretched hand.... nothing was ever the same again.

 

'Forty Five minutes Sir James.'

She really was a most exquisite creature, always eager to please, nothing was too much trouble, she assured him.

'She just wants to get into your boxers.'

It was the reputation that attracted them. Unfortunately, there was just one problem.

'You're years past it old man.'

All that was left was the reputation.

'On the edge.'

'Dangerous.'

'Raw sexual energy.'

He particularly liked that one, from an early review, when he had to make love six days a week and twice on Sundays to someone who was old enough to be his mother. Dear sweet Harriet, crap actress, but a wonderful woman. Had a fondness for acid drops, as he recalled. For years afterwards she used to send him a pound and half on his opening nights.

'That's what buggered up your teeth.'

Not that fame came overnight, he spent years becoming an 'overnight success.' Like most, his first job had been at his local theatre, Second Assistant Dogsbody, as the title suggested he pretty much did everything, from painting the scenery to the odd bit of directing and the occasional turn on the stage as the understudy. He got paid sod all for it but that wasn't the point.

'You were in the profession.'

Not that it counted for much with his father or with that little shit at the bank:

'It is not the bank's function to subsidise your little hobbies.'

At that he completely lost it and treated the entire branch and its customers to his best Shylock. The customers loved it but the bank didn't. He got a night in the cells and a fine for 'disturbing the peace'. That was bad enough, what was worse was that he couldn't actually pay the fine.

 

They were in the front room again and he expected the worst, but his father didn't shout at him, in fact he didn't even say anything. There were just tears in his eyes. The disgrace of having a criminal in the family was simply too much for him.

He knew his mother would try to talk his father round, in the meantime his sister advised him to make himself scarce.

So went into exile with one of the old travelling Rep companies.

'You became a Stakhanovite.'

Shaw, Chekhov, Shakespeare, Coward, everything including the odd kitchen sink drama. Week-in, week-out, one play after the other, a blur of words and performances. There were bound to be mistakes.

'The only memorable thing about his performance was the curtain call.'

Still, the marvellous thing about Rep in those days was that if you were any good at all then by the law of averages the successes eventually outnumbered the failures and you got your big chance.

'Hamlet.'

He wowed them in the provinces winning brilliant reviews before the transfer to the West End. Everything was going fine until one fateful night when in the audience near the front, he spotted his father.

'He never came?'

Then it happened or rather it didn't happen. He dried up completely, couldn't remember the next line, his character or even the name of the play. They tried to prompt him, but it didn't register, not even the embarrassed silence of the audience. Just a complete blank. He didn't even think to walk off the stage. There was only his father and he staring at each other.

'There were tears in his eyes.'

They never talked again.

It was then the drinking first started.

A month long bender and a couple of dramas on the telly did wonders for his confidence. Then came the offer to play Malvolio. He was young and cocky and anything God could do, well the moment came and he launched himself into space, except the bloody fool who was supposed to catch him didn't. He was in hospital for 12 weeks.

'The little shit got what he deserved,' the face mimicked, 'though God did make it up to you afterwards'.

Triumph followed West End triumph and when he thought it couldn't get any better. He had his 'Oscar Wilde moment'. He had gone to bed with a brunette and woken up the following morning next to 'Kenny' the lead guitarist of one of the sixties supergroups. Which was a surprise to both of them. As both were completely starkers and having no idea what happened or how they got there, they did the only possible in the circumstances, they introduced themselves and started talking about the weather. Then the brunette burst in screaming that there was a pack of reporters outside and they knew everything.

'So you invited the press into the bedroom and while in bed both of you gave interviews.'

They made all the papers, all the papers, throughout the entire world.

'In a way it was one of your better performances.'

Got him a turn at the Old Bailey on a charge of 'outraging public decency'.

The publicists loved it, a show that had real 'cross-over' appeal, screaming teenagers meet respectable theatregoers.

They were defended by a young lawyer the sort that wear red ties to show how radical they are.

'Call me Mike.'

As for their defence:

'Nothing happened that doesn't happen in any normal public school.'

The Times devoted half an editorial on what exactly that meant, the rest was on the decline of English cricket and the end of civilisation as we know it.

After a short run.

'Not Guilty, proclaimed the audience.'

Surrounded by a cheering crowd, he and Kenny shook hands destined never to see each other again. Two weeks later Kenny wrapped his car round a tree, dead at 27. As for the radical lawyer, he became Lord Chancellor and not even his second wife calls him Mike.

 

'A talent being squandered.'

It was the drinking. Everyone knew it, everyone but him. There were a few brilliant performances amongst the dross, but it was mostly just dross. Not that it affected the box office, the audiences were huge, but they didn't come to see a great interpretation of one of the classical roles.

'They came to see you fuck up.'

Would he would forget his lines, pass out on stage or simply 'lose it' with the audience? It was his very unpredictability that made it so exciting. The other actors just hated it and soon no one in the theatre wanted to work with him.

 

So he turned to the films. A succession of instantly forgettable B movies he did for the money. He made a fortune, but without the discipline of the theatre, it cost him Kate.

'You were a complete bastard to her.'

There was no denying it. So much money, so little to do, it was no wonder he spiralled out of control.

She loved him despite the arguments, the humiliations, the smashed up hotel rooms and the times he would just disappear for weeks on end on some drunken bender.

'But you can only take so much.'

And one day she was gone, taking their daughter Julia with her. That was the day he stopped drinking,

'One day too late.'

The divorce cost him everything, not that he cared, after listening to what he had done, she deserved every penny. As for Julia she became an actress.

'Uses her mother's name.'

 

The scandals of the 1960's gave way to the talk show anecdotes of the 1970's.

'A career in decline.'

The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about at all. The only people really interested in him were the staff at his local Inland Revenue office and the minor matter of the unpaid tax bill the size of the GDP of a small country. He would have fled abroad but he couldn't afford the fare.

'Then the greatest comeback since Lazarus.'

It started with a phone call from his long suffering agent, a small part in an incomprehensible science fiction film, the American producer was having problems raising the money, so would he take points? Of course he would. What did he care?

'The dear boy was ever so grateful.'

Now the young producer was a Hollywood legend with 15 Oscars, but who was counting? As for the film, it made billions. That year the bonuses in his local tax office was so large that half the staff instantly retired.

Hit followed hit and soon the relic from a forgotten age was a 'much loved' British Institution. Then the ultimate irony, they gave him an Oscar for playing the 'father' opposite his own daughter.

'A stunning performance of realm depth.'

 

'Ten minutes Sir James and there's a woman from the BBC, can she have a word afterwards?'

He nodded. They were being very persistent in wanting to capture the performance on film. To the general public he was at the hight of his powers, but if you really knew what to look for, the signs were there. The timing was very slightly off, a lack of sharpness in the technique, the voice not quite right.

'They know you're dying.'

 

In the front room again and his father's words of wisdom.

'You'll never amount to anything my lad if you don't knuckle down and stop all this nonsense about pretending to be someone else.'

 

'But you've always been someone else, haven't you?'

'Time, Sir James.'

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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