Authors: David Hopson
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2016 David Hopson
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Little A, New York
Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Little A are trademarks of
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ISBN-10 (hardcover): 1503952002
ISBN-13 (hardcover): 9781503952003
ISBN-10 (paperback): 1503951995
ISBN-13 (paperback): 9781503951990
Cover design by Adil Dara
For Melvin and for my parents
. . . so that the monotonous fall of the waves on the beach, which for the most part beat a measured and soothing tattoo to her thoughts and seemed consolingly to repeat over and over again as she sat with the children the words of some old cradle song, murmured by nature, “I am guarding you—I am your support,” but at other times suddenly and unexpectedly, especially when her mind raised itself slightly from the task actually in hand, had no such kindly meaning, but like a ghostly roll of drums remorselessly beat the measure of life, made one think of the destruction of the island and its engulfment in the sea, and warned her whose day had slipped past in one quick doing after another that it was all ephemeral as a rainbow . . .
My name will be the last to go. If the doctors are right, if the last memory in is the first one out, then yesterday disappears before anything else. Yesterday, then last week, then, like sandcastles meeting the tide, the months. The years. My wife, my children, my work, even her, even Jane, all of it swallowed and churned. No less gone than if I’d dropped my life into the sea. But Henry. They’ll have me in diapers before I forget my name. Henry, they’ll say, and up I’ll look, not knowing who is speaking or why. Just Henry. Before another wave rolls in and the last castle falls.
here would be no ghost, not tonight.
No “Adieu! Adieu!” Benji thought. No “Remember me.”
He stood in front of the mirror, arms spread wide, as a strange man rushed to dress him. Jerry, the man who usually dressed him, had called in with a migraine, which Kay, the Stalinist stage manager / code cracker, immediately deciphered as “too drunk to stand.” Now, as inquisitor, she used her considerable hip to hold open the door of the men’s dressing room and waited for Benji’s bloodshot eyes to meet hers in the mirror.
“Headaches,” she mused. “You never know what’s going to bring them on. Weather. Bright lights. Caffeine.”
“Voices,” Benji added. “Certain voices.”
The more modest members of the cast shied in their underwear at Kay’s appearance, hurrying into their doublets and hosen, but Kay continued, unfazed. “A bottle of Canadian Club. It doesn’t bother you that Jerry’s in rehab?
in rehab. Who knows how much your little lunch date set him back.”
The obvious responses spun through Benji’s mind—the bottle belonged to Jerry; Jerry, a scant year away from a senior citizen’s discount at the Beverage Barn, was responsible for his own rehab—but the words, as if set on a lazy Susan, were in front of him, then gone before he could choose. He blinked to keep Kay from doubling in the mirror, twin flannel shirts and Elvis pompadours merging fitfully into one. “Too bad you didn’t know the kids on
,” she said.
It was a setup. Of course it was a setup. There Kay stood, unshrinking as Serena at the net, just waiting to smash the ball into Benji’s pickled face. “Why’s that?” he asked, lobbing the question at her with a slump-shouldered show of fatigue.
“You could have started your own newsletter. Notes from the industry type stuff. Best bars for drinking away your unemployment check. How to make bail. Transition into porn. Too bad they’re all dead.”
Static burst from the fat walkie-talkie that was all but surgically attached to Kay’s hand. “Right. There’s Danny Whatshisname.”
The Partridge Family
The Partridge Family,
Kay repeated. “I bet he’d do a column.”
“If he has anything to say about makeovers, I’ll pass it along.”
Benji felt himself becoming stiffer and heavier with each plate of armor the costume dresser fastened to him, but a sense of spryness, certain as the whiskeyish warmth that spread from his center, took hold of him. He imagined springing through the air and slamming the door in her face.
Weeks ago, when he walked into the theater’s small, shabby green room, Benji found Kay among the band of cast members he privately thought of as the Kiss-Ass Crew. Membership was exclusive to those whose disposition soured in direct relation to the number of lines they were given to speak and who, during rehearsals, snuggled up to the director to discuss motivation or deliver lengthy monologues about their “method.” Naturally, Hamlet was their leader. Tall, toned, appropriately Nordic, he regularly invited the cast to join him in breathing exercises. On this day, the Crew stood gathered around their diaphragm coach as he clicked his way through what appeared to be a particularly amusing website. As Benji entered the room, they all looked up in a way that made clear to him that he was the subject of their search. For a bunch of actors, they did a lousy job of hiding their guilt. He grabbed a yogurt from the dorm room refrigerator that shuddered and dripped between two filing cabinets and, eyebrows arched, made a stand. He may have been defeated, but he refused to retreat. The gaggling sputtered to a stop. A blush crept into Ophelia’s cheeks, and in awkward, shuffling silence, the meeting of the Crew adjourned.
The computer, a grimy, loudly whirring beige beast, looked like it predated the Internet by at least a decade, but connected it was, and a quick review of the browser’s history confirmed that his castmates had, in fact, been laughing at him. Benji pulled up the
page last visited.
Benjamin “Benji” Fisher (born October 21, 1972) is an American actor best known for his portrayal of Andy Osgood on the television sitcom
. Soon after a talent scout spotted him in a JCPenney fashion show, Fisher was cast in a few commercials, most memorably as the boy astronaut for Moonflakes cereal. In 1981, he earned his first television appearance in
Little House on the Prairie
. Three years later, he landed the part of the young genius in
. Fisher’s trademark line—“That’s what
think!”—can be heard in almost any
episode and in his cameo appearance in
Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star
ended in 1987, Fisher has had small roles in four feature films:
The Truth About Charmaine
On Comet, On Cupid
Snow Day 2
. He has appeared in VH1’s series
I Love the Eighties
; played Arthur Rimbaud’s older brother, Frederic, in the never-aired PBS miniseries
; and also provided the voice of Solomon in the animated feature
A Hamster for Hannah
. His father is the reclusive Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist Henry Fisher.
Kay brought Benji back into the dressing room with a tepid laugh. “All I’m saying is next time you feel like taking my prop master on a bender? Don’t.”
“Who still says
?” Benji snorted. The same sense of injury and outrage that had seized him as he snapped off the computer and threw his uneaten yogurt into the trash returned to him now, but the idea of leaping across the room and introducing Kay’s scolding face to the door withered on the vine.
The costume dresser lifted the gorget into place and asked Benji to tilt his head forward, but Benji could no more comply and forfeit what had become a deadly serious staring contest than admit that, yes, maybe the afternoon’s bender had gotten out of hand. Kay made a considerable opponent, obdurate and unflinching, but Benji had an unexpected leg up. It helped that he couldn’t actually see her or, more accurately, that he couldn’t decide which of several Kays to focus on. The three-hour lunch of Canadian Club shots had reduced Kay’s blockish, beflanneled form to a smear of blue-and-green plaid, a trippy fractal of thick rectangular glasses and shiny black hair.
And he would have won. He was sure of it, if only the frustrated dresser hadn’t tired of asking an uncooperative actor to cooperate and pushed Benji’s head where he wanted it to be. By the time Benji looked up, finally fully dressed, Kay and a tiny (but much needed) victory were gone.
He snatched his helmet with an acidy burp and rattled out the door to find her. The hallway hummed with preshow activity, but it wasn’t the melee that pressed Benji flat against the wall. It wasn’t the gaffer, Bill Turnbull, hauling his salami-scented bulk at improbable speed in search of a missing cord, or Delores Henderson-Cratch, denizen of regional summer stock and obsessive pacer, who liked Benji almost as much as Kay did and closed her eyes in a show of pained forbearance whenever she saw him. It was the fact that fifteen minutes ago, he hadn’t known just how drunk he was. Fifteen minutes ago, before the image of his stage manager had fanned out and filled the doorframe, Benji felt as fine and together as a compromised man of compromising compulsions was likely to feel. But now, like the cartoon coyote that falls into the canyon only after he realizes he’s been hanging in midair, he suddenly sensed trouble. Could the awareness of being drunk make him drunker? Maybe. Maybe not. But he did have the distinct impression that the floor listed beneath him.
Delores passed in her state of momentary blindness, worrying the train of her gown and reciting, with something approaching religious fervor, the tongue twisters that loosened her “instrument”:
You know New York, unique New York. You know you need unique New York.
Benji’s feet moved two quick steps to the right in a reflexive little jig to keep up with the shifting floor. He leaned into the wall and breathed, his helmet dropping to clatter against his boots. A gulp of fresh air and he’d be back in business. A few minutes under the wakening stars, possibly a private moment behind the Dumpster—two fingers down the throat usually found a reliable reset button—and still he’d have time to give Kay a piece of his mind.
He psyched himself up to let go of the wall and plunge into the stream of actors and stagehands rushing for their places, but then she was beside him, making it impossible to move, saying his name.
“Are you all right?”
Ophelia. Catherine. Cat. Although Benji could number the interactions they’d had that strayed beyond niceties and weather reports at exactly three, she nevertheless remained his favorite person in the cast. This, he liked to think, had more to do with admiration for her talent, with her charming and—especially among the Kiss-Ass Crew—refreshing lack of pretense, than her tight, yoga-built body or disarmingly perfect ass. The startling green of her eyes reminded him of a marble he used to carry for luck, and her boyishly short blond hair not only was sexy in a Mia Farrow circa 1968 sort of way but, more practically, made bearable the nightly tussle with an unflattering and complicatedly braided wig. At twenty-five—which in some people’s books placed Benji in a defamatory chapter on cradle robbing—with a BFA fresh in hand from Carnegie Mellon and an impressive list of roles already under her belt, Cat displayed the centeredness and self-possession of a considerably older woman. At first, with her taste for boldly patterned wrap dresses, he’d pinned her closer to thirty, which, for a man two months shy of his fortieth birthday, would have put her just this side of datable. As if age, Benji admitted, was the hurdle he had to clear.
He hiccupped. “I’m fine.”
“You don’t look fine.”
With a gauntleted hand, he tugged at the immovable collar of his metal suit. “You want to grab some air?”
“They just called places. Ten minutes.”
“Ten minutes,” he drawled, as if elongating the words would have the same effect on time. “Did I ever tell you about Arthur?” he asked, though he knew perfectly well he never had. He himself hadn’t thought of Arthur Billings in years and wouldn’t have been using him as an opening gambit if 1) the lunchtime tide of liquor had not totally washed away his inhibitions and 2) Jerry had not brought him to mind earlier that afternoon. But Jerry had mentioned Tenafly, and it was Tenafly, or “Ten Swamps,” as the Dutch called it—the things Benji remembered!—that provided the dreary backdrop for young Arthur Billings’ boyhood. Benji could hear Billings now: the melodramatically inclined chair of the Skidmore theater department where Benji had spent all of three semesters liked nothing more than sharing with his students scenes from what he referred to as “his very own eighteen-year-long O’Neill play.”
“You must have had a teacher like him,” Benji said, without bothering to elaborate on the kind of teacher he was. “He always said you can fit actors into one of two slots. Those who act because they want you to look more closely at yourself. And those who act because they want you to look more closely at them.” The weight of the armor made him lean to one side, putting him a conspirator’s length from Cat’s ear, in the bright, herbal halo of her shampoo. “The first is harder to come by. Most of us—me, I—most of us want a spotlight. We’ll eat our mail, if someone will watch us doing it. You smell good.”
“But you. Something happens to you out there. I’ve watched it. You’re here, talking to me, okay, maybe you’re just being polite and listening to me, but then you’re—you’re
show me the steep and thorny way to heaven
. You’re gone. And all anyone sees is a sister fighting with her brother over whether she’s in love with the right guy.”
Cat narrowed her eyes. She was gracious and kind, Benji knew, but she wasn’t about to be flattered into ignoring the obvious. “You’re drunk,” she said.
Benji’s face broke in a spasm of feigned incomprehension, which Cat good-humoredly mirrored. “Really?” She laughed. “You really want to pretend it’s
judgment that’s impaired? You want to be that guy?”
“No,” Benji answered, chastened. “I don’t want to make you feel impaired.”
Cat bent down and picked up the helmet. She opened and closed the metal visor before passing it into Benji’s hands, then turned and walked away.
“Come on. If I can get over you”—he paused, carefully choosing the bait for the end of his line—“you know, laughing at me—”
To his surprise, she stopped and snapped it up. “When did I laugh at you?”
“Really?” Benji parroted. “You really want to be that girl? The day I walked in on everyone in the green room. I know what Hamlet was doing. I get it. It’s laughable.
Snow Day 2
isn’t exactly—well, it isn’t exactly
“How do you know I wasn’t laughing at Hamlet and his need to laugh at somebody?”
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
“You’re saying you weren’t laughing at me?”
“I’m saying if I was, it wouldn’t be for
Snow Day 2
With renewed command of his stewed muscles, Benji set the basinet firmly on his head and slapped the visor shut. That Cat might lift the slit plate and plant a tender, mollifying kiss on his mouth was probably too much to ask. Just barely, he saw the white of her dress slipping like a ghost across the narrow field of view. He flipped the visor open in time to see her duck behind a heavy black curtain at the end of the hall. There stood Kay with two of her minions at a waist-high table, guarding the passage like some mythical three-headed beast. They consulted the ponderous binder that held her script, turning the pages thoughtfully, not unlike a small coven poring over their spells. In her smug willingness to lump him together with Bonaduce and Coleman and the burned-out stars of eighties TV—the dangerous, the debauched, the disgraced—Kay lodged like an allergen in Benji’s nose. His eyes went teary, as they did before a good sneeze, with the need to expel it. Part of him wanted nothing more than to march forward and tell her where she could stuff her wiki, but a sudden sloshing wave of gastrointestinal distress threatened to carry him off in another direction.