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ADELAIDE Independent Quarterly Literary Magazine / Revista Literária Independente Trimestral, New York / Lisboa, Online Edition  

 

 

 

 

 

 

EN ROUTE TO GRAUMAN’S
By Sarah Archer Moulton

 

“It’s the love story of our time,” Franco declared.  “A beautiful woman, a handsome man, in the prime of their lives and their talents, two golden gods of the silver screen, brought together by fate, divinity, luck – whatever is left of magic in this world.  This is poetry, this is theatre, this is an archetypal dream.  This is the love story that our world needs right now.” 

Franco was pink both with excitement and exertion, having tumbled this speech out with rather too little regard for breathing, anxious not to miss a word.  But much to his disgruntlement, his two co-passengers in the back of the black chauffeured car that was sliding them down Sunset did not applaud his words, metaphorically or, as he had somewhat hoped, literally.  Instead, they remained facing him but not looking at him, staunchly posted at opposite ends of the leather bench they barely shared.

Franco continued his story.  He was not discouraged.  He was a millennial.  He had gone from a soft-bellied C student in Delaware to a hotshot West Hollywood PR agent with an assumed name and nonprescription glasses in less than the time it had taken his folks back home to burn through every back episode of Burn Notice.  And after all, he reassured himself – not that he needed reassuring – these silent people on the seat before him were actors.  Perhaps they rationed their emotions for when they were getting paid to display them.  “I think you’ll like what I came up with re: how you fell for each other,” he went on.  “It plays to the socially conscious crowd, with a B story in organic farming.  There’s a place in Rancho Cucamonga called Friend-a-Hen that raises chickens rescued from poultry prisons aka factory farms.  I thought this would be an especially valuable talking point for you, Randall, since you had to miss that wild horse conservation gala when your dog’s nanny got deported.”

Randall Burke barely grunted.  He was occupied in squinting into the mirrored inner lid of an engraved silver cigarette case, arranging his luscious hair into a parabola entirely at odds with its natural course.  Lately he found his hair taking on grander and grander proportions in his self-image as his face and body were no longer such unshakeable pillars of worth.  For years now, the assaults that alcohol, tobacco, raucous travels and devil-may-care sleep patterns made upon his personal appearance had always been subdued by an expensive and elaborate regimen of care that kept him afloat in laser tightening and cream treatments.  But now, finally, the tide of that battle was beginning to shift.

“As soon as you learned about the work that Friend-a-Hen does, you adopted one of their chickens, a magnificent male named Punky Rooster.  You’d been paying for Punky’s care for a year, preserving him from the talons of Big Poultry – you can use that phrase if you want, I’d even encourage it – and last month you finally made the trip to Rancho Cucamonga to visit him in person.

“There you were, gazing out over the rolling hills of the R.C., at last holding Punky in your arms, when you heard the beautiful sound of a woman crying beautifully.  You knew before you ever laid eyes on her that this woman must be beautiful.  You rounded a corner into the next stall – pen – coop – and there you saw her: the screen’s own Jacqueline Cane.”

Here Franco swiveled to Jacqueline, hoping that her own entrance might at last arouse her interest, or at least the pretension of such, but her eyes stayed tuned to the Los Angeles traffic that lurched out the deeply tinted window like a strip of negatives.  She was murmuring something, something about “A window onto their plight… I needed to look through the eyes of the children… Wanted to help them, but they helped me more.”  She repeated the phrases, shuffled the emphasis and intonation a little, feeling out the readings through lips as red as malice.  Jacqueline was a handsome woman, but had always been more telegenic than she was beautiful, which led her to wonder in some niggling subconscious whether she was beautiful at all.  Her dress was so fitted that the stitches creaked.

Franco continued, undaunted, or maybe a teeny bit daunted, but continuing nonetheless.  “And there you were, Jacqueline, crying because you had just learned that the hen you adopted, and to which you had finally come to pay your maiden visit, Sharhen Stone, had passed away the night before after a courageous struggle with bird flu. 

“Randall caught Jacqueline in his arms, comforting her – he didn’t even realize who she was at first, he just saw a soul in need.  When the tears had dried, you looked into each other’s eyes – but at that moment, a cheeping sound distracted you.  You looked down into the straw – seed – hay – to see an adorable baby chick looking up at you.  It was Sharhen Osbourne, the child of Punky Rooster and the late Sharhen Stone.

“Immediately, you knew you would adopt little Sharhen Osbourne together.  Jacqueline invited Randall over and used her eggs to make the best omelette he’d ever eaten.  Randall took Jacqueline to the park and held his coat over her when a sudden shower erupted.  It was –”

“Utter bullshit!”  Franco and Randall both looked at Jacqueline, startled by her sudden outcry.  “Like you would shelter anyone’s hair but your own,” she spat at Randall.

That’s your problem with this story?” Randall ejaculated.  “That you don’t credit me the generosity to share a coat?  Not that poultry brought us together?  Not that two of the three chickens are named Sharhen?  Not that we’ve been holding chickens exposed to avian flu, or that we’ve been holding chickens period?”

“I can believe all of that before I’d believe that you’d let it rain on your mane,” Jacqueline returned.  “However –” and she paused for emphasis – “I would never be caught dead in Rancho Cucamonga.”

“These are details, details.  We can work with the details,” Franco insisted, almost relieved – they were listening, they were talking, this was something – “as long as we have our story in place before you hit the carpet.”

Nobody was listening to Franco.  Jacqueline and Randall’s silence had been broken.  They were in it now.  The golden gods of the silver screen sized each other up, ready to hurl lightning bolts.  “You’re one to talk about hair vanity anyway,” Randall cut in, lowering his cigarette case to glare at Jacqueline.  He eyed her sculptural coif.  “Who did your glam, Gehry?”

“I’ll have you know I’ve embraced a natural tack with my hair.”  She made as if to pat her air-spun strands, but didn’t dare to actually touch them.  “Brunette after seven years as a blonde.  I’ve returned to my roots.”

“Ah, but your roots would say otherwise.”  He squinted at the speck of gray glinting at her scalp.
“Please, let’s focus on the story here,” said Franco.

“Oh, I forgot,” Jacqueline said over him, to Randall.  “You’ve never dated a woman without her baby teeth before.”

“I won’t stand for insinuations about my ex-wife.  She’s a wonderful girl.  I named the ulcer that she gave me after her.”

Jacqueline was leaning fully towards Randall now, her almond-tipped fingers pressed into the plush leather seat to support her.  “If she was so wonderful, why did you cheat on her?”

“Don’t tell me you believe the press.”

“Are you saying you didn’t cheat?”

“I’m saying that she did too!”

Jacqueline smirked as Randall, peeved, yanked at his over-starched collar that encircled his neck like ribs.  She turned to Franco.  “You really picked me a winner, didn’t you?”

“Yes, I did!” Franco insisted, his anxiety building.  His plans had been laid as carefully as a rescued hen’s eggs and were now being trampled underfoot, like said fragile eggs.  Many a celebrity couple had Franco joined in spam love for the delight of the public, for the selling of movie tickets and magazines, and for the love of lovable money.  This union was to be his pièce de resistance, yet here it was, coming together like a cake made of marbles.  He had to rescue this before they got Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, to the premiere, to the cameras of the press and the cameras of the crowd.  In his growing nerves, he began dampening his piercingly trendy blue three-piece suit.  “As soon as Randall got back on the market, the whole town, the whole country, the whole world was buzzing to know who he’d end up with next.  And it’s you!  Imagine the press you’ll get.”

“‘Jacqueline Cane Beds One-Note Dunderhead,’” she mused.  “It has a certain ring.”

“You are in the most capable hands in Hollywood, both of you,” Franco said.  “This is a match made in celluloid heaven.  There’s a reason that you landed on my client list, Randall, just as Jacqueline was looking for a story.”

“Yes, the reason being that I fired my last PR agent.  The one who set up my last relationship.  The relationship that ended in divorce.  The divorce that ended in me being publicly branded with an unflattering scarlet letter.”

“How trying for you,” Jacqueline cooed.  “Whoever would have foreseen that your sham marriage wouldn’t lead to happily ever after?”

“Don’t sell me short,” Randall retorted.  “You don’t know what I’ve been through.  My marriage may have been fake, but the my divorce was entirely real.”

“And yet, like a moth to a flame, or a slow child to a packet of desiccant pellets, you lurched your way back here again to order up some more fake relationships.”  The town car was perhaps not so plush after all.  A split in the black leather beside Jacqueline opened to show a seam of yellowed foam.  Outside, the oversized neon steakhouse marquees were washed out by daylight.

“Relationships, plural?” Randall said.  “Oh no, this is it.  If you’re expecting more than a one-month moon-fest for the cameras, you’re out of luck.  All I need is one new fling to force my last one from the public’s sieve-like memory.  Then it’s ciao to any courtship bred in the weasel den.  No offense,” he offered to Franco.

“None taken,” said Franco, much offended.  “Now to return to the details of the story –”

“One last public fling, eh?” Jacqueline asked Randall, easing back into the seat, her bodice settling like a house.  “Like the old jewel thief going back for one last heist.  Wasn’t that your last picture? 
Or the one before that, perhaps?  They’re all so difficult to tell apart.”

Randall ticked off on his fingers.  “A jewel thief comes out of retirement for one last heist.  A knight reintroduces chivalry to modern-day Manhattan.  A city chef buys a farm with a country girl. 
Jacqueline, my films are easy to tell apart – at least, for those of us not watching with one eye in the mirror.”

“A charming rogue comes out of retirement for one last heist.  A charming rogue reintroduces chivalry to modern-day Manhattan.  A charming rogue buys a farm with a country girl.”

Randall drew back from Jacqueline’s mortal barbs.  “Are you calling me typecast?”

“Oh no, no.  ‘Typecast’ would suggest you’ve been forced into the same part.  I’m saying you don’t know how to play any other.”

As perspiration melted the gel in Franco’s hair, the direction into which the strands had been plastered slowly turned, like a weathervane in a gaining storm.  Soon they would be at the theatre.  He checked the time on his phone, which was the size of a cutting board, having replaced his previous one, which was the size of a business card.  These were fast times.

“I can’t help it if my natural charm comes through,” Randall pouted.

“Your natural charm?  Pretending to be charming is the only real acting you’ve ever done.”

Now Randall rounded on Jacqueline, matching her fury.  “Pretty bold of you to shit on the oeuvre of the man who’s about to loan you his celebrity to distract from your cold-on-arrival turd of a directorial debut.”

“It’s a window on the plight of the people of Syria.”

“Exactly!” Franco interjected, grasping at any stroke of positivity.  “A luminous look at the truths of war.”

“According to previews, it’s the worst thing that’s happened to the people of Syria since the war,”
Randall said.  Jacqueline made a sound like a cat tumbling from a ledge, but he went on.  “And let’s talk about your previous project, The Pride of Georgina.” 

“We don’t talk about The Pride of Georgina!”  Before he had time to clap his hand to his mouth, Franco’s words escaped in the beautiful soprano of a terrified choirboy.

“Why not?” Randall pressed to Jacqueline, savoring the sting.  “Because the L.A. Times said your performance had all the beauty of a storm drain and all the truth of a hooker?”

“It was a good script!” Jacqueline roared, the flush of her cheeks now spreading darkly out from under her rouge.  “Nobody ever sends me scripts like that, scripts that are arty and impenetrable and twee.  It was the role that would show the world I could be more than a three-star romantic comedienne.  It was the role of a lifetime!”

“It was an orca-sized belly flop.”

“At least I’ve swum out from the guppy pond!”  As Jacqueline drew herself, body and hair, to her full height, Randall watched with fiery scorn, Franco with fear.  The car suddenly felt impossibly cramped.  Had Franco ordered the Ford Fiesta by mistake?  “Better to be clubbed to death by the hammerheads than to stay with you, paddling in the kiddie pool!”

Randall simply smirked.  “Your metaphors are as seaworthy as your career.”

By now, Franco was nervously clutching his own hair until it looked like it had been ejected from a cat’s esophagus.  He squinted at the crowds outside the windows, crowds increasingly thickened with tourists in stocky white sneakers and bright rectangular shirts.  They had entered the belly of Hollywood.  “We’ll be at the theatre in minutes,” he said.  “Now surely we can solve this spat and be chummy for the cameras, yes?”

“Never,” fumed Jacqueline.

“Then pretend!”  Franco splayed his hands; he made it a practice to never raise his voice to clients (unless they were into that sort of thing), but he could no longer conceal his frustration.  “You’re actors, act like you like each other!”

“Oh, that would never work.  I could pull it off,” said Randall, “but Jacqueline didn’t get that far at Hollywood Bob’s Studio for Stars.”

“Ah, is that where you learned to act?” Jacqueline asked smugly.  “You should ask for your $49.99 back.  You have the range of a cymbal.  Which means for once, you’re right – it would never work.”

“You two are a perfectly matched pair,” pled Franco, “I don’t even know why you’re fighting –”

“Be glad it’s just fighting!  Be glad he’s not physically assaulting me again!” Jacqueline cried.

“What do you mean, ‘again?’” Franco asked.

“Don’t ask.  I don’t want to know,” said Randall.  “I have no desire to be privy to the delusions of the menopausal mind.”

“You know precisely to what I am referring!  1998, the Sony backlot.  The two of us were budding actors, yearning for the roles that would write our names large upon the screen of the world.”

“Here she goes,” said Randall, “rehearsing for the day when only e-book narration gigs will take her.”

Jacqueline ignored him.  “We had advanced to the final rounds of casting for the lead roles in James Cameron’s epic The Fury of the Deep.”

Franco gasped.  “You were in contention for The Fury of the Deep?”

“Get a clue, Franco!” both Randall and Jacqueline said simultaneously.

“We had already read one scene together, which as you’ll recall, went brilliantly,” Jacqueline went on.

“I carried it,” Randall assured Franco.

“Everyone remarked on our chemistry, which was generated entirely by me,” Jacqueline assured Franco.  “Then we broke before our second scene, the scene of the big kiss, to allow all the executives present a quick midday phone check-in with their therapists.  You and I rehearsed privately, everything was a go, the magic was in place.  These roles were in our hands.”  Jacqueline raised a fist.  “Then the moment to perform the kiss came – I gave myself into your arms – and you dropped me flat on the floor!”

“I did no such thing, you fell!  Then when I picked you up and we performed the miserable kiss, you bit me!  Right on the tongue!”

“What was I supposed to do after you dropped me?  Not bite you?”

“I’ll say it again for the challenged in the room, I did not drop you, you fell,” said Randall.  “We had choreographed the whole thing in advance.  We were supposed to swoop left as you fell into my arms, then I would kiss you.  No tongue.  And certainly no teeth.”

“My left.”

“No, my left.”

“Why would it be your left?”

“Why would it be yours?”

Here both Jacqueline and Randall stopped, at a loss, realizing what had happened.  This new revelation did not sit flush with their egos.  Franco dipped a toe into the silence, tested it, opened his mouth to venture in, but then –

“Well,” Jacqueline continued just as he was about to speak, “be that as it may, a misunderstanding or some such thing of the sort, I still do not forgive you.  I made up my mind at that moment to despise you, and I’m a woman of my word.”

“I wouldn’t expect you to forgive me because there’s nothing to forgive!  You’re the one who tried to separate my tongue from my tongue.”

“It tasted like a boiled Birkin bag,” Jacqueline shot back. 

You taste like a boiled Birkin!” Randall shouted.

Jacqueline and Randall began trading insults at fast forward speed.  Franco snapped his head from one to the other, wild-eyed.

“Over-moussed, under-muscled fop!” she cried.

“Lipsticked gorgon!”

“Whining wino!”

“Whore with a heart of mold!”

“Over-the-hill fraud!”  They shouted this last one simultaneously at each other, then stayed for a moment, eyes locked, cheeks burning, chests pumping under designer curtains.  Franco didn’t dare move his head, just darted his eyes from one to the other.  The only sound in the car was their out-of-sync harmony of sharp breaths.  In the world outside, the vehicle pulled too fast onto La Brea, tilting north towards the hills and man-cut valleys of Hollywood and the ever-approaching theatre.  Franco marked the turn – they were almost to the premiere.

But something had alchemically transformed in the close air of the car. 

Suddenly Jacqueline narrowed her eyes, getting a hunch.  “What’s your age?” she asked Randall.

“My – my age?  Forty-four.”

“Your real age,” she pressed.

Begrudging, distrusting, he gave it up.  “Fifty.”

Jacqueline gasped.  “We’re the same age!”

“But your real age is forty,” said Franco.

“Forty is –”

“The woman’s fifty,” Randall finished. 

“Exactly.”  Jacqueline smiled at him.  Some primordial connection had just bloomed in their twin souls.  She paused before musing “You know, I rather liked you in the knight movie.  You were just unbelievable enough.”

“And I’ve always admired how you hid that nose job by distracting everyone with the sudden acquisition of bangs,” said Randall.  He dredged up something from deep within him, painfully, as if dislodging a fishhook from flesh.  “And I admire you for making The Pride of Georgina, even if it’s an abomination, and for making The Cry of the Syrian, even if it’s worse.  They were brave choices.”

“They were ego-driven and ill-calculated,” said Jacqueline bitterly, her posture softening.  “I spent the first decade of my career begging the world to take me seriously, to view me as an artist.  And now I’ve realized that I’m not an artist at all.”

“At least you wasted your prime years on art,” protested Randall, earnestness firing his eyes as he leaned toward her.  “Not on chasing fame through love, or love through fame, or who knows what, maybe just a good stiff drink.  Not like me – in my films I’ve always been a desired object, won over by the woman by the end of the movie, something to be gotten.  Someone finally did really get me, then realized that she never wanted me at all.  That there was nothing there to want.”

Jacqueline made no reply, but slipped her buffed and beautified hand into his, holding his gaze.  At last, something like peace clarified the air.  Silence sank into the corners of the car.

Out the window, the curled green spires of Grauman’s rose into view a block ahead.  Franco shredded the silence.  “No, no, no!”  Randall and Jacqueline looked at him in surprise. “What is this?  This will never do.”

“What are you talking about?” asked Jacqueline.

“This is all wrong!” he insisted.  “Tenderness?  Human connection?  Sobriety?  Those don’t sell movies, and they sure as sugar don’t sell tabloids.  How could I, your PR rep, allow you in good conscience to show your faces in this condition?”

Randall shook his magnificent head in confusion.  “But this is what you asked for, for us to be a couple, to have a love story.  This is what you wanted all along.  We’re getting along.  We – dare I say it – nearly like each other.”

Jacqueline nodded.  “There is a lessening of tensions that has an aftertaste of – what is it – affection?  We might – indeed – almost – like each other.”

But Franco wasn’t listening.  “Oh!”  he stiffened, inspired.  “I know what you’ll do – you’ll fight on the carpet!  If there’s one thing audiences love more than a love story, it’s a feud.  Now Jacqueline, you ate Randall’s adopted chicken.  He was delicious.”

“That’s absurd,” scoffed Jacqueline.

“Isn’t everything?” Franco posed. 

The actors considered this.  There was truth to it, or at least art, or at least artifice.  It had appeal.  Jacqueline slid a glance at Randall, sounding him out.  “I do rather miss when we used to fight,” she said in a small voice.

“When, forty seconds ago?” asked Randall.

“Precisely.”

“Hmm.  Yes.  Me too.”  Randall pulled his hand from Jacqueline’s and used it to stroke back his own hair.

Jacqueline straightened back into her corner, considering, her skirts washing sonorously about her legs.  Emotion had warped her updo.  “What if you excoriated my directorial debut so savagely on the carpet that the press was forced to praise it?”

“Yes!  Now you’re thinking with those beautiful heads!” cried Franco.

They could see the faces of the crowd now, faces fixed on them, or on where they should be through the anonymous black glass, faces ignoring the cement hand and footprints that blanketed the lawn of Grauman’s, most of which looked much smaller in person anyway.  A velvet carpet cut a red gash toward the gate.  As the car door cracked and Jacqueline and Randall came into view, the crowd positively squawked.

 

 

 

sarah

About the Author:

After graduating from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Sarah Archer Moulton worked in literary management and film and television development in Los Angeles.  Writing in a variety of genres, she has sold material to Comedy Central's show TripTank, published short stories and poetry in a variety of literary magazines, and written humor pieces for Croptop.co.  She is a fellow of The Black List Mini-Lab, and her first novel manuscript, How to Make and Kill the Perfect Man, was recently honored by The Tracking Board’s Launch Pad Competition.

 

 

 

 

 

     
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