Candace Hartsuyker ~ 3 Linked Flashes

When You’re The Actress

You and he will star in 140 episodes. You will be a damsel and a were­wolf, an opera star and a jeal­ous clown, a dom­i­na­trix and a detec­tive. You will nick­name the cam­era Gregory, from the Latin word Gregorious, mean­ing watch­ful. It’s just Gregory, you will say to each oth­er. He doesn’t mind. It will ease the dis­com­fort of dis­rob­ing, the inter­change­able direc­tors, the way you and him are moved from left to right as if you are use­less props, not human beings. It will become a pri­vate joke between you two, a sly grin you’ll exchange when it is freez­ing out­side, lips turn­ing blue, or when oth­er sit­u­a­tions arise, like the time the air con­di­tion­ing in the stu­dio breaks, and still the episode has to be record­ed. You don’t want to dis­ap­point your audi­ence, so both of you will smile, jaws clenched, make­up smear­ing, bright lights mak­ing your eyes burn with unshed tears.

Even after the TV series ends, you will stay in touch and dis­cuss failed dates. The roman­tic inter­est you have for each oth­er will nev­er com­plete­ly fade.  Over the years, your hair will turn gray; your bod­ies will trans­form. Your baby fat faces will dis­ap­pear, and your waists will broad­en despite eat­ing healthy. Each year a notice­able change occurs, you will joke that you’re now the updat­ed ver­sions of who you used to be. You will sup­port each oth­er through it all: divorces, moves, the death of loved ones and pets, slid­ing eas­i­ly from friends to roman­tic part­ners and back to friends.

Once you’re both no longer mar­ried, you’ll hook up. You’ll go to his bed­room. You will kiss him, and he will kiss you back, but with­out the spot­light of the cam­era, the crew bustling in and out, the eyes of oth­ers watch­ing, hold­ing their breaths, it will feel false. You will say to each oth­er, isn’t that everyone’s fan­ta­sy, to have some unknown observ­er watch­ing you, telling you with your eyes that you’re spe­cial, that they’ve nev­er seen any­thing so beau­ti­ful? You will real­ize you need Gregory.

You will insert a disc into the DVD play­er, fast for­ward to a roman­tic scene of each oth­er. You will remem­ber what the direc­tor said dur­ing film­ing, how your bod­ies need­ed to look like one of Michelangelo’s sculp­tures. His grasp need­ed to be ten­der but urgent. Your flesh need­ed to be soft, youth­ful, mal­leable like clay. You will stop kiss­ing him. You will watch as the younger ver­sion of your­self on screen wraps her arms around him and leans in for a kiss.


When You’re The Director’s Favorite Actress

You will always be the director’s favorite actress. He watch­es you per­form in your first major play. You for­get all your lines, for­get to comb your hair. Your voice is too soft, but none of this mat­ters to the direc­tor. From the begin­ning, you daz­zle him. The direc­tor will always remem­ber the way the cam­era bathed you with light, your skin a peachy glow.

When you become famous, he will rent all your movies, try to guess what you are think­ing in each one. When you close your eyes in one scene, are you hun­gry, crav­ing a home­made lunch sealed in Tupperware in the fridge?

The direc­tor makes you cry again and again for a scene. He imag­ines you do it until your throat is hoarse.  You cry so much that if some­one slapped your face, your eyes wouldn’t water. Once you’re home, you prick your fin­ger with a sewing nee­dle and watch fas­ci­nat­ed, as one small tear slips down your cheek.

You live with the direc­tor, then leave him with­out say­ing why. He hires a detec­tive, who finds you eas­i­ly. The direc­tor goes to your new apart­ment, spies on you from one of the win­dows. He hears your voice and decides you must be hav­ing an affair with a new direc­tor, one younger and bet­ter look­ing than him. Instead, he sees you’ve stolen his old hand­held cam­era, the one he first filmed you with. The eye of the cam­era is on and watch­ing, and you pose in front of it. You fling your head back, move a hand sen­su­ous­ly down the side of your dress.

The direc­tor keeps watch­ing you, and he sees his future as if it has already hap­pened: he’ll hire a series of actress­es who will look like you and talk like you. He’ll make movies that you should have been in. When your clones grow too old, he’ll replace them with new actress­es and the process will begin again.

The direc­tor imag­ines that when you see he is watch­ing you, you cry one last time. A tear trem­bles on the cam­era lens. He cap­tures the tear you’ve shed, cra­dles it in the palm of his hand.


When You’re The Actress and She’s the Understudy

The under­study will prac­tice mak­ing the same facial expres­sions you make when you warm up in front of the mir­ror. She will cut her hair short and curl it so the ends will flip up the same way yours does nat­u­ral­ly. Sometimes you will think the under­study wants to unzip your skin and slip inside. In your dress­ing room, as you press your lips against a tis­sue to blot excess lip­stick away, the under­study will ask you end­less ques­tions, like what your favorite col­or is and your tips for mem­o­riz­ing lines. You will answer truth­ful­ly, want­i­ng her to just go away. Her chirpy voice and slinky walk will annoy you. Secretly, you will think she’ll nev­er make it as an actress, not like you. Sometimes, lone­ly after a long day on set, you and the under­study will split a bot­tle of wine and swap secrets: you will con­fess that you are aller­gic to peanut but­ter, and she will con­fess that she is aller­gic to shell­fish. You will nev­er notice how after you throw a tis­sue in the waste­bas­ket, the under­study always retrieves it, pock­ets the pale pink imprint of your lips.

The under­study will act more help­ful than your per­son­al assis­tant. Before you even real­ize you are thirsty, the under­study will uncap a water bot­tle and hand it to you. One night while sign­ing auto­graphs, an over­ly excit­ed fan will spill red wine on your white dress. You will be upset that you’ve been too busy to eat all day. You will have no coat to cov­er the stain and will be afraid to go out­side, know­ing oth­ers will take pic­tures of you. In the bath­room, the under­study will switch clothes with you. Then, the under­study will hand you a sand­wich. You will take a small bite and swal­low, then go into ana­phy­lac­tic shock, the salty taste of peanut but­ter sticky on the tip of your tongue.

You won’t tell any­one the under­study tried to kill you.  The next day, back from the hos­pi­tal, you will spy the under­study in your dress­ing room, still wear­ing the ruined dress. The under­study will recite your lines bet­ter than you do. Her face will be blushed with vic­to­ry; her body will thrum with pow­er. She will remind you of an ear­li­er ver­sion of your­self, young and brim­ming with con­fi­dence, not yet weary of overzeal­ous crowds and author­i­ta­tive man­agers. You will go to a restau­rant and order shrimp and admire the way they are arranged in a cir­cle on your plate. You will bite the head off a shrimp and chew slow­ly, savor the way your teeth tear into soft flesh.


Candace Hartsuyker has an M.F.A in Creative Writing from McNeese State University. Her work has been pub­lished in Fiction Southeast, Southern Florida Poetry Journal, Oyster River Pages and elsewhere.