INT. CLUSTERFUCK. DAY
The foley artist chops a white cabbage in two. The chhkk will be edited with a fast scrape of iron on steel. Something like that. Cutlery, maybe. I forget how those guys do it, but it’s smart. The sound is because I’m playing Lois XIV. Lois was a cool customer. She liked rock music, even though it didn’t even exist in her century, you know? In our movie, it does. It’s called anachronic or something. Hey, that’d be a great name for me if I started a band.
You know I didn’t really die. You got that. You know this is a movie. There’s a prop head in a prop guillotine. A blade falls but it doesn’t hit anything, not really. The rope holds it up. No way is it going to hit my actual neck. That’s not in my contract. They have a bag of fake blood in there, pig blood, I think, sterilized so no one gets pig-AIDS. That wouldn’t be kosher. I think I knew someone once, a Mexican wrestler, who had pig-AIDS he got from a midget whore in Tijuana.
Jenna Brown’s title on the first draft I saw was Liberté, Egalité, Sororité but no one gives a shit what she says although I think it’s a great name. Terence Morton wanted to call it Lois XIV but Jerry Silverberg figured the audience would take it for a sequel. What does he know? Well a week later he said, ‘It’s a feminist movie, so I know, why not call it Lois XIV?’ Asshole. Morton lets Jerry have the credit for the title so he gets to take the credit for the rest of the flick. ‘Choose your battles, Becs,’ he tells me, ‘choose your fuckin’ battles.’
Morton calls a wrap, and I realize it’s me he’s talking about. I’m done. It’s my last shot. Maybe some pickups later or whatnot. Everyone applauds and I make a short speech and Morton screws up his own little ramble in praise of me. Word is he has the speech written down and just changes the name of the actor each time he has to give it.
I move my behind off the set in my Lois XIV costume and it feels like the walk of shame. But I’m telling you I am so proud of this picture, of what we have achieved together these last nine months. That’s what it says in my speech. Am I glad to be done with this hair.
INT. TRAILER. DAY
Sheila wipes rouge off my cheeks and powder off my forehead and makes me back into Rebecca Wood from Arkansas. I send her away. Sheila, I mean. When she goes, I sit looking at myself in the mirror. Those lights can give you a migraine but I wouldn’t mind having a headache so hard all I can see is stars, like I’ve been fucked good by a pro. I like my head outside itself. If I could make that a permanent state, I wouldn’t have to listen to other people’s crap. Like that vlogger who wrote I wanted to be blonde but didn’t have the bottle. Was that even supposed to be funny? It’s old, is what it is. Old and not original. I stand up. I don’t need help getting out of this costume, I want to do it on my own, to have one last visit with my character before leaving her forever. Then I just need to be by myself, is all. Isn’t that what Garbo said? ‘I just need to be by myself, is all.’
In the light from the mirror bulbs and the windows, like dusk in the afternoon, my body looks expensive. Nature lights me. I am my own stand-in, Robert told me once. He said my body is ethereal, insubstantial, two-dimensional. I think he was saying I have bulimia. He was just being cheap. He’s right though. My body is very adjective. I turn from the mirror and strip off my dress. It’s harder than I expected to get out of. Whalebone. Real actual whalebone from whales, which Fernando in craft services says is a country but it’s really a fish. I tear the dress off. They won’t need it again. In less than a minute I’m baby-photo-naked before the mirror. I’m so money, I want to fuck myself standing up. So, I do, until I fall over.
INT. TRAILER. NIGHT
I hear the lights. I hear them pop off. They do that: pop! The hollow coughs of those big drums each time sounds like a cannon shot out of a cannon. I should be gone. I should have left hours ago but I’ve been standing nude, looking at me. I am going dark very slowly. It’s pretty awesome. I am pretty awesome. I go to the closet and open the door and see myself nude in the mirror inside there too, behind the clothes. I am so naked. I like it that there are 18th-century dresses and 21st-century tees, jeans, jackets, skirts, all jumbled together like in a fashion show held across time zones. Behind them all is me and I don’t even need to take a selfie to know that I am fucking hot. I don’t need to share this. This is mine. I don’t want to share this. I am dressed, in a way, you know? I am naked under my clothes. I take out a blouse and a pair of jeans and I put them on. I call the driver. He’ll be here in five. Lois XIV is done. She is done. I am here. Now what do I do with all these fucking flowers?
EXT. A SQUARE IN PARIS, FRANCE. DAY
Two revolutionaries drag Lois into the square where the crowd calls for her head. And it’s a pretty head. Sean Young in Blade Runner pretty – but period. She’s all serene calmness but you can tell in her eyes there’s turmoil. The revolutionaries are putrid in ragged clothes, tricorn hats, big fat guns. (Did they have guns?) Lois walks fearless to the platform in the center of the square where the guillotine waits; an executioner and a representative from the People’s Commune (check this) stand beside it. One guard shoots a look of remorse at his co-worker. A queen to the end, Lois walks up to the scaffold. The executioner, fat and greasy with a blindfold and cummerbund – think Hamburglar but a prototype – he steps away from the guillotine. Lois takes her place in front of it and removes her Grace Kelly headscarf. Silence. Her locks have been shorn so the blade can get a clean lop at her neck. The executioner nods. Lois kneels and places her head in the frame. She doesn’t close her eyes. She wants them to look into her soul before they separate it from her body. The executioner puts his fat hand on the back of Lois’s delicate neck and pushes it down. He steps back and a guard takes out a scroll. He reads out the list of her crimes. Revolution, bad table manners, fucking burglary – they’re making this shit up and she knows it but Lois doesn’t answer. She’s kinda busy. The executioner tugs on the cord to release the blade. Whop!
INT. CLUSTERFUCK. DAY – LATER
The rope breaks, the blunt guillotine cracks on her head and everyone stares at Rebecca Wood.
Terence Morton yells. ‘That’s a cut!’
‘What did you call her?’ the DP whispers.
Morton grumbles, waves him away. Then he realizes what has happened. Shit! She’s fridged!
Pandemonium breaks out. It takes a minute for someone to call a doctor, by which time Morton is speeding Rebecca to the hospital in his Ferrari.
They tell him later that he shouldn’t have moved her. He says she was gone already and he hoped they could bring her back. He liked Rebecca. She was going to be something.
REBECCA WOOD DEAD IN PERIOD ACCIDENT
Lois XIV, Terence Morton’s $253m. post-feminist take on the French Revolution—here Louis XIV is Lois, played by Rebecca Wood (22)—hiatused Wednesday when a prop guillotine impacted Wood’s head. The actor later died in St. Mercy’s, Oakland. Morton’s reported to be disappointed but Fox says the flick will release July 19th next year, right on schedule. TMZ reports Wood is not dead, she’s just had radical work done. read more
This endless airport departure lounge. It’s very exclusive, populated entirely by celebrities. That’s what they tell me. I have been here forever. They tell me that, too. At least it turns out I was a celebrity. That’s something. But all I can think of is Robert Hermes fucking Jessica Rand. Well she did win Best Supporting Actress for Stringless. Best Film Ever about a paraplegic cellist’s romantic obsession with an artist’s puppet. Being John Malkovich meets Boxing Helena, that was the pitch. Nurse Sheila tells me nothing. I may be in a coma. I hope it’s only a coma, because I hate the thought of meeting Michael Landon. His hair! Nurse Sheila says I have anger issues. What does she mean? But who cares. Robert Hermes. Jessica Rand. Seriously. This corridor goes on forever.
THE VERY EXPENSIVE ROOM
As her eyes open she sees what’s going on, so she shuts them tight again. She isn’t ready for this. She isn’t ready. Morton was wrong. Rebecca Wood is not dead. Now in her hospital room a news crew waits; St. Mercy’s probably has a deal with the studio. This could even be going out live. If only she’d known, she would have got up weeks ago when they weren’t looking. Nurse Brown welcomes the crew personnel in as Rebecca decides to go with it. She stirs. An eyelid. She moves her lips but no words come out. Nurse Brown says that someone should have called Doctor Hermes by now so why isn’t he here? He might be watching from his office. ‘I’ve got footsteps in my head,’ Rebecca says, then her lips flatline as she dives naked back inside her coma. At least the coma is real.
Everything. Everything happens at once. I’m in stage two now. I rise at an hour that could be dawn or dusk, one of those, or morning or night, who knows? This morning, that night. While Nurse Brown applies my face, I find the talcum powder here is cocaine. I developed a habit and am out of detox, both in the same moment. Simultaneously, I’ve never tried the stuff in my life. Drugs are confusing here, but at least I have the mirror. This enormous mirror in the Academy ratio follows me around on motorized castors. In the mirror, I am more beautiful even than Sean Young as Rachael with her hair down. That was a look. In return for all this wonderment, I only have to let John Hughes film me. He’s making a movie of me, all me, sitting paralyzed on a pink couch in the corridor. An homage to Kubrick, he says. Molly Ringwald isn’t dead yet, so she’s not available, so I get the part. Funny how the casting process works. He says the aliens are fascinated by the activities of humans and enthralled by the trivial. What the hell does that mean? Last week they were turned on by a spot for a body modification studio that ran during a musical special about a famine in Yemen. I guess it’s a pity about Robert and Jess, but life goes on. Just deal with it. I’ve already done the course of TM I’m about to embark on. People are all the same. I once stood a producer up on a date and he sent me a dead rabbit in the mail. I was on a strict diet at the time, so that proved he was the wrong guy for me. I will have my revenge on Robert when he turns up. Which he will. This isn’t any old joint. This is the big place they all talk about when they talk about the big place they all talk about. Boy, is he sure going to be pissed to find out the religions all got it wrong. When Robert gets here, he is mine. I can make him write the most beautiful stories in the world then I’ll reject all his scripts. That’s gotta hurt. Or! I can get someone to give him an infinite bout of herpes. Little blisters everywhere, new ones all the time, blisters on top of blisters. I think he has nerve endings so it should be real crusty painful. Or I can turn him into sushi, actual sushi; he’d have to be transformed into fish, which is great because he’s allergic to seafood. It’s possible to keep him conscious through all of it. After I eat him with wasabi and soy sauce and ginger, I’ll vomit him into a bucket for feeding to the angel sharks. Then who has bulimia, Robert? Here I can do anything. ‘Hey, Robert! Culkin says hi. Nurse, can I get a Pepsi? I am so happy. Can I get a Pepsi?’ Hold on a second. Yeah. If everything here happens at once, how come Molly Ringwald isn’t available? Answer me that, Hughes. You must’ve really wanted me for this part.
‘That’s all you got?’ Jerry Silverberg flung the treatment back across his mahogany desk at Jenna Brown. She is me.
And that was all I got.
‘You don’t like it?’ I shifted in my seat and stared hard at him.
He looked like what he was, an executive. ‘Listen, Jenna, you’re a good kid. A nice kid. You come in asking for a chance, I give you a chance. And what do you give me back in return for my investment in you? My investment of hope that someone in this town can come up with something better, something more, something purer than the fucking robot movie sequels and the – not robots that are fucking, movies that are sequels that have robots in them – and the teen apocalypse crap and the…
Ah shit, Jenna, you give me this. It’s experimental. Jenna, it’s experimental. I mean, who gives a shit about whoever, and how about this? I don’t think the audience is asking is this feminist. They want Boy-meets-Whatever. Sure, the French Revolution, but didn’t we just have one? Les Miser-fucking-ables. Don’t the French have a revolution every year? Throwing sheep at each other? Can’t you write me something about that? You know, with people in it?’
As he spoke, I wondered what tiny insult might push him into spontaneous human combustion.
He flopped down in his seat and his body seemed to deflate like a pierced space-hopper.
‘Jerry,’ I continued, ‘the French didn’t just have a revolution. The last time they got close was sixty years ago.’
Jerry sighed heavily. ‘Why don’t you write that! Put a love story in it. And why don’t you have an ending at least? It makes me look bad if I greenlight this, and I’m not going to, I can tell you that now, thanks for asking.’
I put two fingers on the treatment. It felt cold to the touch. I dragged it into my lap and felt despair flow through me in full 3D with Smell-O-Vision. The room began to fuzz. Maybe it knew something I didn’t.
Well, screw the room. ‘It has an ending, Jerry,’ I said. ‘It has a good ending. I gave it the ending I did, because it’s Kubrickian.’
Jerry took a serious moment before opening his lips again, as if he had to pay Teamsters to move them. ‘Why did you name a character after me?’
‘This happened,’ I said. ‘This story really happened. You were in it. So was I.’
‘Get out of here!’ The words flew from his mouth, a verbal Heimlich maneuver.
I grabbed my case, stuffed the treatment into it then hightailed it out of the room so I could let Jerry simmer. I didn’t wait to hear the inevitable violence to furniture.
He wouldn’t be asking for a script.
At the front gate, I paused to consider the day. It was noon. The palm trees were swaying and the cars growled by. Every day at every hour it always looks like noon. That’s what it looks like, here.
So. I’d blown it with Jerry. Never mind. Artie Mold might take a look. I’d call Laurie and ask her to set it up.
Something. Something would turn up.
I went to a Starbucks and sat with an espresso and a drink of water and then it hit me.
I felt it in my bones.
An inconvenient truth.
I was not a writer.
But if I wished on a star that I could be Tina Fey, maybe I would be. I could be someone good. Tina Fey was good. I could be her.
To distract myself I listened to the yadda-yadda. I heard nothing, despite my ear for dialogue.
This failure to sell my script. It was not really my fault. It was the fault of this town. This town was dead. It was time for me to pack up and head home to Arkansas. I could get a job at the university.
Unless Jerry asked for a new draft.
That could happen.
Then something did.
I was about to raise my coffee but saw a distorted face reflected in the black liquid. Then I saw the face wasn’t distorted. For a big man grown fat on success, for a bear of a guy twice my age, Jerry sure could creep up on a girl. Ninja-like.
I turned to face him.
‘Listen kid,’ he said. ‘You’re young. You’re beautiful. I’m going to give you a second chance. How about it?’
I turned and furrowed my brow, which took no effort at all. ‘What the hell do you want?’
Jerry Silverberg grinned back. ‘Nothing!’
‘I’ll think about it,’ I said.
INT. CLUSTERFUCK. DAY – A WEEK LATER
I forget which Starbucks we’re in. Jerry is yakking about the movie keeping the feminist angle but could I just kind of make it accessible? Could I give the studio this one and the next one is mine?
‘It’s a French Revolution picture,’ he goes on. ‘Female Louis. Fine. And if Larry can be Lana, what the hell. If Andy can be Lilly too, why not. Hiddleston is perfect for Lois. Come to think of it, Redmayne. Tick. Now, Rebecca. Let’s see. Scarlett? Not Portman. Scarlett. Or Phil Collins’s kid. She can do a British accent, right?’
‘Is this a script talk or a casting talk?’
He smiles. ‘I like to put a face to the character.’
‘It’s all good, kiddo. I myself am a feminist. I marched with Gloria Vanderbilt in the 1970s. Even burnt her bra for her, though she was wearing it at the time.’
‘OK, let’s cut to the chase. Redmayne is Lois. The Collins kid is Rebecca cos I dig the eyebrows.’
‘You said Scarlett.’
‘Careful.’ Jerry’s expression turns icy. ‘Don’t throw it away. You got a nice face and a future. Are you listening to me, Jenna Brown? Don’t throw it all away.’
Dinner doesn’t count. That means it’s our one-year anniversary minus two days, because in two days it’s the one-year anniversary of when I first slept with him. Jer says we can celebrate twice if we like. Rewind the film. Jer always says he’s going to leave his wife any day now, but I don’t want him to. I keep telling him no. I don’t want to ruin her life. I don’t want the static. I like what I have with Jer. They did a great job with the script. Redmayne wouldn’t commit, so Cruise signed on. Too old, I think. The picture is a musical now. It’s called Louis, Louis! Jer says we’re going to the Oscars with this one. Jess hates the Oscars and she’s given him carte blanche to take who he wants. She doesn’t know about us. Or maybe she does. Which is why I think Jer should stay with her. As long as he never owns me, I’ll be OK. This one’s for the studio, the next one is for me. But isn’t it exciting? The movie is in prep but what is almost in post, is our child. Jer says he’ll take care of us whatever happens. If it’s a girl, I’m to call her Rebecca, after his mother.
PATRICK CHAPMAN’s latest books are Open Season on the Moon (Salmon Poetry, Co. Clare, 2019); Anhedonia (stories, BlazeVOX Books, NY, 2018); and So Long, Napoleon Solo (novel, BlazeVOX Books, 2017). With Dimitra Xidous he edits The Pickled Body.
Image via Pixabay