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.