Stephanie de Gior­gio

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An Ode to Spec­ta­cles (Three Inches Thick)

She ar­rived right on time, smok­ing a cig­a­rette round the cor­ner, check­ing her watch be­tween drags be­fore pop­ping in a pep­per­mint pas­tel, wary of meet­ing one of those non-smok­ers sen­si­tive to the stale tar smell as she had been dur­ing the three weeks she’d quit last June. Right down to the quick, last drag tast­ing of burnt toast rubbed in face cream as the flame hit the fil­ter; she screwed it into the pave­ment, un­able to stop her­self in­dulging in the impression of the ‘50s twist as her shoe shim­mied left and right, ev­ery fil­a­ment glow­ing red and orange ex­tin­guished to a dull grey.

She knew this role, she’d played a role like it once. And with all the years of ex­pe­ri­ence added to her slightly plumper waist­band since those youth­ful the­atri­cal roles, she teetered on the loos­en­ing tightrope be­tween as­sured con­fi­dence in her tal­ent and the greed­i­est and most ar­ro­gant of all the ac­tresses’ per­ils: de­sir­ing novelty rather than fa­mil­iar­ity.

Her freshly man­i­cured nail counted two-sec­onds on the buzzer.

She’d thought about chew­ing down the length, chip­ping the beau­ti­cians’ hand­i­work as the youth of to­day were prone to do, but hadn’t the heart; and still, she re­mem­bered all too well her mother’s vi­cious wrist slaps from when she her­self had had the habit of bit­ing at her own cu­ti­cles, all those years ago.

The front door re­leased with a sub­tle click and she pushed through into an un­manned re­cep­tion; forc­ing her into tak­ing un­wanted ini­tia­tive, as she fol­lowed ar­rowed signs pasted hap­haz­ardly onto peal­ing wall­pa­per, down into the musky base­ment cor­ri­dors, too cool to re­move her coat, as she would have liked to have done.

She had not wanted to come at all.

In fact, she had bick­ered down the phone to her agent for over half an hour the night be­fore — not to much avail — on the pre­tence of her suit­abil­ity to the part (whilst skirt­ing the sub­ject of age). Now she felt even more put off by the in­for­mal­ity of it all. Au­di­tions were never run like this when she first started out.

Thoughts crescen­doed, snob­bish in na­ture, ping­ing round her brain, sham­ing her to sound as prim as those waspy types, up­wards of forty; and so, in hope of re­cap­tur­ing her fast fad­ing youth, she coaxed the top but­ton of her coat free, re­veal­ing the slight­est glimpse of her much prided, del­i­cate col­lar­bone as she found the fi­nal ar­rowed sign and an open door­way.

She sashayed in­side, her lips plump around the quickly dis­solv­ing pas­tel. But the in­tended al­lure re­mained un­no­ticed by her au­di­ence: a man in a hag­gard three-piece suit. He merely nod­ded to­wards a clip­board tee­ter­ing on the en­trance desk’s edge, too en­grossed to look up from the tiny print in the pocket sized book he was read­ing. Slightly per­turbed (but with all the dig­nity not to show it), she dot­ted the i and crossed the t in her fem­i­nine scrawl at the bot­tom of a list that ran longer than her lik­ing, turned, and joined the horse­shoe ar­range­ment of chairs oc­cu­pied by six or seven other ac­tresses await­ing the lime­light.

The blonde oc­cu­py­ing the chair op­po­site in a starched white dress that screamed vir­gin­ity was nib­bling on the butt of an or­nate pen, de­ci­sively fill­ing out the xe­roxed page laid across her play text. With alarmed in­ves­ti­ga­tion, she de­duced what ex­actly this pen chewer was do­ing and with a skip and a jump (and a lit­tle trip over the purse she had planted at her feet) she hur­ried back to the desk. The suited gate­keeper, un­in­ter­ested in so­cial niceties, did not re­move his eyes from the book even a frac­tion as he licked the gap be­tween fore­fin­ger and thumb in prepa­ra­tion of free­ing up the top­most xe­roxed page from the stack to his left.

Her bal­let pumped feet padded back to the cold metal chair, pores of her

fin­ger­tips heat­ing sticky prints onto the paper she clutched. It seemed that the youth­ful­ness of all the other ac­tresses had ex­ag­ger­ated fur­ther and fur­ther in her mind, so that in the small lag be­tween ini­tial ar­rival and the present anx­ious mo­ment, she was now ut­terly con­vinced that each of them could be no less than half her age.

She scorned her agent silently. She would have to be damn well ex­plicit next time.

Drag­ging her thoughts away from this all too fa­mil­iar track, she oc­cu­pied her­self with her own xe­roxed page. She wished she’d brought her glasses with her but knew full well that the horn-rimmed spec­ta­cles she revered for boost­ing her self-pro­fessed in­tel­li­gentsia, aged her noth­ing short of ten years, and she’d tact­fully left them at home. The words columned down the left hand side blurred in and out of com­pre­hen­si­bil­ity, un­pre­dictable in rhythm, leav­ing her no choice but to sub­tly squint in the way she had prac­ticed to make her look thought­ful rather than blind, lest her com­peti­tors con­sid­ered it an ad­di­tional splin­ter of ev­i­dence dig­ging into her Achilles heel.

Upon reach­ing the dot­ted line for which she was quite cer­tain said: ‘ Mea­sure­ments’, she paused, chew­ing on a less or­nate pen that she had fished out of her clut­tered purse, a biro pur­chased in a panic at the deli on route, along with the cig­a­rette pack she was crav­ing to dip her fingers back into now that she had to think in inches and pounds.

She re­mem­bered the ex­act num­bers on the tape mea­sure she’d wrapped round her­self dur­ing the post New Year’s diet, but knew full well it could not have re­mained so. She had be­come rather re­laxed with her res­o­lu­tions and qui­etly blamed it on her new lover, a pas­sion­ate wine con­nois­seur. But although she brought out a flour­ish of act­ing charm at the open­ing of ev­ery new bot­tle, she could not so much dis­tin­guish be­tween the dif­fer­ent reds and the dif­fer­ent whites and most of all the dif­fer­ent rosés, and to how much this new hobby of hers had added to her ‘Mea­sure­ments’.

So she put down an op­ti­mistic num­ber, a youth­ful num­ber, and whis­pered a silent prayer — as ag­nos­tics some­times do — for an au­di­tion room filled with men, so that she would not have to come un­der the scrupu­lous eye of a woman.

Through a door ad­ja­cent to the col­lec­tion of as­pir­ing star­lets stepped a tweedy lit­tle fel­low, whose com­i­cally slight frame and short stature could have won him the role of a child — and/or lep­rechaun — in any the­atri­cal pro­duc­tion of his choos­ing. He brought with him, his very own clip­board, pin hole spec­ta­cles that he whipped off mag­nif­i­cently on ar­rival and all the self-im­por­tant airs that peo­ple lack­ing in very much im­por­tance of­ten have. In the bated si­lence, he called ‘ Miss Ver­ity Ali­son’ off of his list.

Miss Ver­ity Ali­son, an­other blonde but with fine nat­u­ral ringlets that we all as­sume fall limp af­ter the ini­tial blooms of child­hood, trans­formed her va­cant ex­pres­sion into the most ra­di­ant of smiles as she rose to meet her gen­tle­man caller. She blos­somed with all the re­quired in­no­cence of the six­teen-year-old South­ern belle she had come to em­body and was watched nosily by all the oth­ers as she dis­ap­peared through the mys­tery door. All around the wait­ing room fin­ger­nails rose to meet ag­i­tated teeth and chips of fresh var­nish floated to the ground be­low.

Back with her xe­roxed page and em­bel­lished bra size, like most of the other ac­tresses, she con­sid­ered leav­ing. The nerves were now man­i­fest­ing as an an­noy­ing lit­tle tickle at the back of her throat, forc­ing her to clear it ev­ery so of­ten, em­bar­rassed to break the pris­tine si­lence of their less ethe­rial pur­ga­tory. The or­deal dou­bled her crav­ing for the cig­a­rette she knew was off-lim­its. That had been her last pas­tel and she was ut­terly con­vinced that six­teen-year-old Texan sweet­hearts weren’t renowned for their smok­ing habits in the ’30’s.

Sev­eral in­creas­ingly un­com­fort­able min­utes passed of avoid­ing eye con­tact and study­ing the set mono­logue un­til the re­turn of Miss Ver­ity Ali­son broke the ten­sion. With a not-so-sub­tlety smug smile, which could only have orig­i­nated from com­pli­ments to her per­for­mance, Miss Ver­ity Ali­son

col­lected her things, tuck­ing her well thumbed play text into the purse that she’d left on her chair, en­trusted to per­fect strangers; and with a cutesy wig­gle of her fingers and a hushed, ‘ Good luck, Ladies’ Miss Ver­ity Ali­son ex­ited.

The ten­sion swelled once more.

Luck wasn’t what was needed, she thought, sur­rep­ti­tiously eye­ing the re­main­ing com­pe­ti­tion. Per­haps shav­ing five years was nec­es­sary and the idea of adding a touch more pow­der to the crows feet she had been ob­sess­ing over and ‘ imag­in­ing’ — ac­cord­ing to her agent — crossed her mind. But at many an au­di­tion she had watched ap­pear­ance-stricken ac­tresses add ex­cess make-up at the last minute, ve­neers to low con­fi­dence rather than ac­tual flaws, and the van­ity of the ac­tion goaded her into in­ac­tion.

The tweedy lep­rechaun man was back to call ‘ Miss Ali­cia Franks’.

She watched a con­sid­er­ably ag­i­tated Miss Ali­cia Franks (the only brunette among them) dis­ap­pear be­fore she went back to the study of her mono­logue, scan­ning over-re­hearsed lines and barely tak­ing them in un­der the dis­trac­tion of the me­thod­i­cally tick­ing clock; equally as mad­den­ing as the drip­ping faucet in her kitchen sink which drove her livid in the way that only a cliché can.

She stared up at the sec­ond hand. It was stuck be­tween the seven and the eight, jud­der­ing in its paral­y­sis, never quite break­ing free.

She must have drifted off for some time as an­other name was called, and then an­other, and it took a mighty ef­fort to drag her­self away from all the ex­u­ber­ant fan­tasies of her 8pm date that night when she heard:

‘Miss Anita John­son?’

She started a lit­tle, sud­denly aware that the wait­ing room had been re­placed with a fresh bou­quet of ac­tresses awash with crisper per­ox­ide, neater play

texts, even fancier pens; and she had wasted away pre­cious re­main­ing re­hearsal time on mean­ing­less day­dreams. Gath­er­ing up her things with­out mak­ing too much of a fuss, coat now drooped over an arm in the heat gen­er­ated from all her nerves, she re­vealed in full splen­dour, the day dress that she had rus­tled up from the stor­age boxes left over from her school days.

She let rip a fi­nal clear of the throat, men­tally pre­par­ing her pitch slightly higher than what felt nat­u­ral, with ev­ery in­ten­tion of soft­en­ing it — Mon­roe style — into a wispy naïveté, dis­guis­ing the (self-per­ceived) wis­dom ac­quired with age. With a light­ness in her step, she handed over the xe­roxed page to Mr. Tweedy and stuck out a hand ami­ably, ready for an in­for­mal hand­shake and to rein­tro­duce her­self with the name he was al­ready in pos­ses­sion of.

Through the mys­te­ri­ous door­way, the dark­ened room was lit only by a sin­gle stage lamp, leav­ing the three sofa bound men in an un­in­ten­tion­ally omi­nous shadow. Anita shook hands with each as they of­fered names and ti­tles. Fur­thest to the right was the Di­rec­tor, and it may have been be­cause his name was sim­ply the same, or that he had pro­nounced it in a sim­i­lar way, but, just like a pun­gent per­fume can bring back those child­hood vis­its to that ex­u­ber­ant Grand­mother’s, or a song can bring back a night of mis­nam­ing con­stel­la­tions un­der a starry sky, ev­ery as­pect of this man’s voice brought forth a mem­ory for Anita, clear as the di­a­mond ring she had never been of­fered by the young man that she had dated — and re­gret­fully loved — once upon a time, when she was just a puny seven­teen.

The Di­rec­tor re­moved his thin-rimmed, sharp-edged eye­glasses to meet her gaze, and as she met with his, all she could sud­denly see were the ef­fer­ves­cent curls that tum­bled down over the dark oceanic irises of that very first, di­a­mond-less love. The Di­rec­tor’s po­lite smile of in­tro­duc­tion, meta­mor­phosed in Anita’s vi­sion into that lust­ful, ju­ve­nile stare that had al­ways made her blush right down to her twiggy lit­tle ado­les­cent an­kles. And in the rim of golden light from the sole lamp, Anita’s high school blush and high school dress suited her no less than the day she first wore them.

Anita neatly ar­ranged her pos­ses­sions and sat on the pro­vided chair, ex­hil­a­rated by the tim­ing of this re­merged mem­ory, which had re­mained un­con­sid­ered up un­til this point, but nev­er­the­less ab­so­lutely per­fect to aid her in this ex­act per­for­mance.

The com­pany al­lowed a po­lite splat­ter of laugh­ter to pass as the tweedy as­sis­tant man re­alised their meet­ing was in need of some more light and blinded them all mo­men­tar­ily with a harsh ex­plo­sion from the high wattage ceil­ing bulbs. Small talk and gen­eral coo­ing over shared ac­quain­tances took its course be­fore Anita was in­vited to take the stage. Although pro­moted to: ‘ take as much time as you need...’ she was quick to pre­pare and sim­ply curled up on the soli­tary stage chair, let­ting her pumps clat­ter onto the linoleum as she tucked her bare feet un­der her lap. She warmed her fin­ger­tips be­tween her knees un­til the pose cre­ated in the mind of each au­di­ence mem­ber that of a vast cush­ioned sofa she had co­zied up on.

Anita stared off into the space to her left, where the light, now re­turned to the sin­gle stage lamp, didn’t reach so well and ob­jects faded into half dis­tin­guish­able shapes. Her inky pupils took the form of lead and pen­ciled into her imag­i­na­tion the shut­ters and panes of glass and even that lit­tle crack which was never quite fixed on the sit­ting room win­dow look­ing out onto her par­ent’s gar­den.

A shiver scam­pered up her bare arms, chill­ing her as a sin­gle blink brought about a snowflake, fol­lowed by an­other, un­til a mass of win­tery beauty was swirling in the imag­i­nary wind on the other side of her imag­i­nary win­dow. Anita re­mem­bered this night ex­actly. She had planned to spend it with her hands run­ning through her First Love’s curls, while her par­ents were out at the an­nual of­fice shindig. But he had been whisked off, on short no­tice, by his ex­citable and un­re­li­able fa­ther, on a ski trip to Zurich, and she had re­ceived only a brief let­ter a few days be­fore ex­plain­ing that this cir­cum­stance, and the fact that he had ‘ fallen in love’ with the first girl he had met at univer­sity, was rea­son enough to, ‘ re­gret­tably’ end their re­la­tion­ship.

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