by Evan Massey
Sharon wanted to go out west to try her hand at movies. She told me she was done with school.
“It’s not for me,” she said.
She said, that she had wasted two years of her life and wasn’t going to waste another two, she had other things she wanted to do: travel, see the world, stuff like that.
The number one thing was to be in movies. She had read about girls from small, nowhere towns going out west and hitting it big, becoming stars, names in lights kind of thing.
Sure, I tried stopping her, of course. I talked to her about the potential dangers a young girl could face out there. You know, the what-if’s, trying to sway her. I told her she could come back and stay with her aunt and I, figure things out. The thought of her being alone and halfway across the country scared the hell out of me. But she was twenty, hard headed, and wanted nothing to do with what I had to say.
I wasn’t surprised with her decision, not at all. Sharon had always wanted to be an actress of some kind. In our home movies she’d always find herself in front of the camera. She’d burst into song, singing at the top of her lungs, or she’d start reciting lines from famous actresses from films she’d seen. Every picture the girl took she posed some kind of way, tilting her head to one side, placing a hand around her face, or putting a hand on her hip, etc.
“It’s your decision,” I said to her. “I don’t agree with it, but it’s your decision.”
“I’ll call and write when I can,” she said.
Sharon stuffed her car with bags and clothes and drove halfway across the country.
When she got there, Sharon said she was going to start off with modeling first to figure out her angles and what not. She had to find a good photographer who could take good head-shots for her comp cards. I’ll have to ask her again what all that meant. She had to get them done and shop them around to agencies for jobs and auditions.
After a while, she’d drive back and forth from California to Nevada for photo shoots. I sent money every month to help her get along. In exchange for the money I sent, Sharon would send photos of herself. They were well-done photos like the ones in the magazines and TV ads—quality stuff. In some of the photos it was just her face from the neck up, looking straight on, staring at something off to the right or left or else behind the camera. In other photos, Sharon posed in these little bikinis at some beach lying on the sand with pouted lips or in the water flipping her hair a certain way.
“She’s got the look,” my sister said, looking over one of the bikini photos in her hand.
Sharon was sitting on her knees in the sand with her hair hanging to one side as she focused on something off camera. She had on this little, yellow bikini. The bottom was tight and thin, hugging her thighs.
I shook my head.
“Why can’t she take a decent picture?” I said. “Where in the hell are her clothes?”
“This is what they have to do,” my sister said. “They want to see her range.”
“They’ll see her range all right,” I said.
“You don’t get it,” she said.
“No. I don’t.”
Sharon wrote after a time and said that things were going well. She had taken a good number of quality pictures and she was going to send them to agencies. She was excited about her prospects. I was excited too, reading her letter. She also asked me to increase the money I was sending so she could pay the photographer and the portfolio people. I had to pick up extra shifts at work.
We spoke on the phone soon after that.
She said she hadn’t heard from any of the agencies yet. “It takes time,” she said. But the wait was killing her. If she didn’t get any call backs from the agencies or from any of the auditions, she had a backup plan. Sharon came into contact with a guy out there who specialized in entertainment.
“He can help me,” she said. “He’ll be like my manager.”
He knew people and had connections up down the west coast and some contacts in New York, though his hub was out west. But that’s only if everything else didn’t work.
“Last resort,” she said. “Fingers crossed.”
Sharon said that only one of the agencies called. They told her that it was between her and another girl and that it was difficult. They went with the other girl. But they told Sharon that she had something and to keep looking.
“She was skinnier,” Sharon said, guessing that was the reason.
So, after hearing that news, she got in touch with that entertainment guy, Ronnie, that was his name. A real sleazebag, I tell you.
Anyway, Sharon and Ronnie got in business together. He had written up a contract for her to sign. He promised her money and fame and made it sound nice. She signed it.
He made her lose weight. She got down to one twenty, the lowest she had ever been. She was doing low-rent photo shoots for no-name brands and most times she didn’t get paid for it. All the money went to Ronnie and he shared some with Sharon when she absolutely needed it. It wasn’t the big leagues, but it was something, she said, something to help her get there. Ronnie told her that things like this take time, sometimes a lot of time, several years if she was lucky.
“I don’t like this Ronnie guy,” I said to her over the phone. “You shouldn’t have signed anything.”
“He only wants to help,” Sharon said.
“Sure,” I said. “But watch this guy.”
“Ronnie’s fine,” she said. “He’s got me doing other things, making me more marketable, he says.”
“Like what?” I said.
“Dancing,” she said.
“What kind of dancing?”
“Just dancing,” she said. “Don’t worry, it’s harmless.”
When Sharon wasn’t posing in front of the camera, Ronnie had her dancing. For a while she danced at shows in Vegas in front of small crowds. Then she got good at it and went from doing small gigs to big shows with more dancers, many of whom went to school for it. Sharon learned a lot from them.
She sent a picture of one of her outfits. She was wearing a shiny two piece with silver sequins, top and bottom, with these big blue feathers sticking up in the back from her waist. The blue feathers also stood up from this thing she wore on her head. It looked ridiculous. I couldn’t get over it. But Sharon looked as if she was having fun out there, smiling big in that picture with other dancers in the same outfit.
“I’m a Las Vegas Showgirl!” she said. She was excited. “It’s happening!” she said.
She’d have two or three shows a night. Sharon would go from one show to another, making several hundred dollars in one night sometimes. Some went to Ronnie, the other half went to her, that was the deal, she didn’t mind it. I did.
But she was happy and I was quite happy for her. She said she finally felt like she was doing something. She felt like she was on her way. I took it as a sign that things were looking up for her.
Then the shows died down.
Ronnie got in trouble with one of the show managers, a top guy who ran things, I forget his name. But it was something about money coming up missing, Sharon told me. They couldn’t make the allegations stick. Nevertheless, he couldn’t get her booked anymore, anywhere. That was the end of that.
But Ronnie still wanted her to dance. He told her that dancing was big, bigger than modeling. She could make more money dancing, he said. She was more profitable, he told her.
This Ronnie, I tell you, if I had the chance.
He had my daughter dancing at clubs first. She’d dance inside of cages with other girls, dancing all night and into the morning in those clubs. It would get hot in there, she said, and she’d work up quite a sweat. She did this for quite some time and she was making decent change. But it didn’t match her blue feather days.
Then this sleazeball told Sharon that she could make even more money if she willing to, “step it up a notch,” his words. My Sharon started dancing at private events and parties along with her club dancing. It would be her and a handful of other girls from the club that would go and dance for parties of men, and sometimes for women who’d like that kind of thing.
“Look, but don’t touch,” she said. That was one of the rules that Ronnie had established for the men and the women at the parties. Sometimes those rules were broken. Ronnie kept saying he’d deal with it. It kept happening. But Sharon said she made more money from those events.
“It’s not ideal,” she said. “But it’s money and I need that right now.”
“I’m coming out there,” I said. “I don’t like this.”
“No,” she said. “I can handle it.”
“No. I’m coming to get you,” I said.
“Stop,” Sharon said. “I have it under control. Don’t come.”
We went back and forth on the matter and finally I decided to stay put.
But I kept a bag packed.
Even with all of this dancing going on, Sharon continued to send out her pictures and things and found time to audition. She did this all without Ronnie’s knowing. Out of fear, she said. Something had made her fearful of Ronnie. She saw Ronnie drag a girl, Misty, from one of the parties for not dancing enough and complaining about being too tired. When she saw Misty again, her face was swollen up pretty bad. Ronnie didn’t seem the same, she said. He began to be controlling, always asking where Sharon and the girls were, taking away their phones for punishment, and making the girls stay later at the private parties. She said it got bad.
But some of her secret auditions went well and she got call backs, but nothing panned out, nothing stuck. She kept sending pictures. She kept trying. She tried getting back on to be a showgirl again. That attempt failed, too. People would hear that she was still associated with that Ronnie character. That scared them off, she said. They took down her number just in case. We’ll call if we ever get low on girls, they said.
“They’re never low on girls,” Sharon said when she called. “I won’t hear a thing.”
Sharon said that one night it all came to a head.
After dancing at one of those private parties, a party for a retiring policeman, Ronnie flipped. He had found out that Sharon was sending off her pictures and auditioning, all without his knowledge. They went at it and had words. They got loud with each other. Things got physical.
She called me as soon as she had the chance.
“I wanna come home,” she said. She was frantic, breathing heavy, and I could hear in her voice that she had been crying.
“What happened?” I said. “What the hell happened?”
“Nothing,” she said. “I wanna come home.”
“Please come home,” I said.
The phone clicked.
She didn’t leave the house for a couple of weeks. She ate a lot and gained back the weight she had lost and more. My sister and Sharon sat around the house all day and smoked cigarettes. There would be more buds in the ashtray－that’s how I found out. Sharon’s smoking was news to me. I asked her about it, she told me she’d picked it up out there. All the actresses, models, and dancers she knew smoked, so she tried it and would smoke here and there. She said she was trying to kick it.
“It’s a bad habit,” she said, “but it helps.”
We had talks some nights after I’d get off work. Sharon waited for my sister to go to bed before we’d have these talks. We’d meet at the kitchen table. I’d fix up some coffee or tea for us and we’d talk about everything, anything. Some nights we’d be up late in the kitchen talking things out. That’s when she told me about all of it, everything that happened out west, the stuff I didn’t know, filling in the gaps with parts she purposely left out.
Sharon said she was ashamed. She was ashamed at what she had done and the things she had gotten into. But she was more ashamed that she didn’t get to do what she wanted, the being in movies thing, the reason she went out there in the first place. She was disappointed and she asked me if I was disappointed in her.
“No,” I told her. “Not at all.”
But it was as if I said yes the way she looked down at the table.
She had a little money left over from her time out there. She used that money to take up classes at the community college across town. I helped her with some of the tuition. She thought she could pick up where she had left off, but she took it slow, taking two to three classes to help get herself back into it. She also picked up a job at the roller rink.
“It’s good being busy again,” she said. “Helps me take my mind off of things.”
While Sharon was at work one afternoon and I had got off pretty early, she got a phone call from Nevada. My sister and I were in the kitchen, smoking and playing cards when the phone rang. Nevada read on the caller ID. I picked it up and a man’s voice asked for Sharon. I asked how he got the number, but I didn’t let him answer. I told the son of a bitch to never call here again and that if he did, things wouldn’t be good for him. Then I slammed the phone back. My sister asked who it was and I didn’t know, but I could imagine.
Sharon had to work late the same night Nevada called. We missed our nightly talk. So we took it up on the porch the morning after.
It was a crisp morning, dew stuck to the grass, the sun crept up behind the trees. Sharon was in her red roller rink uniform and khaki’s, gearing up to leave. I was in my pajamas as we sat on the porch sharing the ashtray and sipping coffee.
I told her about the time her mother got up on stage at a karaoke bar and sang.
“Was she good?” Sharon said.
“Not at all,” I said, “but I couldn’t tell her. I just let her keep on. People even clapped afterwards.”
Sharon and I laughed.
Then we got quiet.
There was this blue jay that had landed right in front of us on the porch, flitting around on its little legs and twitching its head at us. You know birds, curious creatures. It bounced around some more then it took off. It flew away somewhere in a hurry, flapping its wings quick.
We sat there in silence. I turned to Sharon.
She followed that blue jay up into some tree and out of her sight. But she kept her eyes up there, considering something, her cigarette burned in between her fingers.
I went to tell her another thing that her mother did, but I didn’t, I kept shut.
She finished her cigarette and pressed it out in the ashtray.
“I have to go,” she said. “See you tonight?”
Sharon got up and got in her car. She backed out of the driveway. She honked twice, we waved. That’s when I recalled that day she went out west. Nothing could stop her, the big smile she carried, the way she packed up her little car all the way to the back windshield. She couldn’t see me waving that day, telling her to come back.
About the Author:
Evan Massey is a short fiction writer from Richmond, Virginia. In the fall, Evan will be studying for his Creative Writing MFA at Virginia Tech. His works have appeared in Populi Magazine, Literally Stories, and Brilliant Flash Fiction. He loves soccer and wine and hopes to one day own a bloodhound.