Mary Pickford

Chuck’s flash fiction challenge on Friday was a cocktail as your title.  This was a rough one for me.  I didn’t re-roll as I might have a few weeks ago, but I definitely had to look it up because I had never heard of it before.  I came up with the following, 1500 words exactly:

Mary Pickford

Hollywood actress extraordinaire, Gillian Darling, twirled in front of the full length mirror, her white floor-length dress billowing out and around her, wispy soft and ephemeral. If only it made her smile the way such actions used to. Her critical eye took in the ever growing folds and wrinkles – flesh that resisted fitting into long tight dresses.

The ice in her glass clinked as she picked it up and took a long swallow. She couldn’t remember which number she was on, three… four maybe. It would take even more to get through the night, she realized.

Gillian Darling wasn’t her real name. It was one of those made up names that supposedly sounded sophisticated but really came off as ludicrously childish. She didn’t miss her old name, far from it. She had abandoned it long ago, choosing instead to play the part, even behind closed doors.

She fell in love with silent movies as a child and swore she would be just like Mary Pickford when she grew up. Her chestnut curls and sweetheart face were her ticket and it wasn’t long before she found comparisons in newspaper reviews. She didn’t realize she would also adopt the deep sadness and paranoia that shrouded the silent film star, all in a quest for perfection that a woman in Hollywood rarely achieved. Tonight was slightly different. She had been nominated for an Academy Award for her newest movie and she was joining the glitz and glamour that came from walking the red carpet, on display once again.

“Your stylist has arrived, my dear.” Gene was at the door. At least he respected the fact that it was closed. Normally he didn’t.

“Send her away. I’m already dressed.”

“Are you certain that’s wise?” His words were clipped, disapproval hanging in the air like vaporous clouds after a storm.

“I do believe I’m capable of dressing myself.” The words came out sharper than she intended, but it was too late to take them back. Ah well, time for another drink. She needed it in order to brave that step out of the safety of her room and into the empty expanse of waiting limousines and adoring crowds.

She went to the side table that contained her bar – rum and freshly squeezed pineapple juice. She had no idea who did it, but it was one of her few requests; it had to be authentic. She would have thanked whoever it was – most likely someone working in the kitchen – but Gene didn’t allow her to associate with them. She poured another drink into her empty martini glass, mostly rum with a splash of juice. Most people added cherry, but she preferred it like the original. If she was going to emulate her idol, might as well do it properly. She probably should have shaken it over ice too, but what was the point?

She took a sip as she walked back to look in the mirror hanging on the wall behind the vanity. She leaned in and stared at her reflection. Her glorious honey hair was caught back in a loose chignon, curls falling around her face adding to her delicate beauty. At least, that’s what she imagined they would say. More often than not, she only saw an ugly old horse staring back at her, expertly applied makeup notwithstanding.

Noticing most of her lipstick had made its way onto her martini glass, she reached for the tube to re-apply it. Brave Red, her favorite color. She had to admit, it contrasted nicely with her intensely blue eyes. As if she had to be brave in order to wear the color, she thought about it and wondered if she was. Most likely, she was just as much a coward as anyone. After deftly applying more, she drew her lips into a pucker and air-kissed her reflection.

Downing the rest of her drink, she set the glass on the vanity table with a clink. She grabbed her clutch, made sure everything she needed was inside, and took a deep breath. “Well, kid, here goes nothing.”

She opened up the bedroom door and stepped out.

“What the hell are you wearing?” Predictably, Gene was waiting for her and he grabbed her arm in a painful grip.

“Darling, I’m not wearing a shawl tonight. If you leave bruises, I’ll have no way of hiding them.” She didn’t bother to turn her head in his direction, just continued staring straight ahead. She had known wearing this dress would be unacceptable. Good. She wanted him to squirm, even if it was only for a few hours. Surprisingly, he let go of her arm and she continued walking down the hall, not bothering to make sure he was following.

The limousine ride was silence thick with unspoken venom. She stared out the window with her hands folded peacefully in her lap, belying the tremor that had started in her belly. The tremor only grew when she stepped out of the limousine onto a sea of red. Inhaling deeply, she allowed years of training to take over as she gracefully donned her persona like a favorite brassiere. Turning and smiling for the waiting cameras, she made her way down the carpet surrounded by bright flashing lights and the sound of fans’ screams echoing in her alcohol soaked brain.

Sooner than she realized possible, she was escorted inside to her seat, Gene pulling out her chair in a show of loving chivalry he only turned on when cameras were present. She ordered a drink as soon as she was seated. Gene leaned close, smiling for those sitting at the table with them. “You’ve had enough.” His mouth was so close to her ear she could feel the heat of his breath.

She burst out in a full-throated laugh, turning heads and raising eyebrows. She patted his hand and continued smiling as she picked up the drink the waiter had just placed in front of her and took a deep long drink. On a normal night, she would not have dared. Tonight was different. If her name was called, which was almost guaranteed, she had already made her plans and they did not include going home with Gene.

The night seemed endless, each moment blurring into the next. If she cared, she would have noticed the grim lines on Gene’s face growing deeper and more rigid as drink after drink was ordered and placed in front of her. She enjoyed each and every one like it was her first drink of water after a long walk across the desert. Worries of how she planned on actually making it to the stage if her name was called were replaced by bright colors swimming across her vision. They became butterflies she gleefully chased through a meadow on a hot summer day; fireworks on a warm summer night and she was a child, joyful and innocent, watching the lights explode in a star-filled sky.

“The nominees for an actress in a leading role…” Her head snapped up. She wasn’t ready. She couldn’t go through with it. Who was she to think she was brave enough. Before she knew what was happening, her name was called and she didn’t have a chance to gear up for what came next. Her decision had already been made.

Everything slowed down so that each movement was an eternity and the clapping hands that gave sound to each motion clamored and warped into her final, fatal symphony. Instead of delicately rising and hugging those around her, she reached into her clutch and grabbed the contents she had placed so reverently in its depths before leaving her bedroom. Slowly, she lifted her drink and downed the white mound in her palm. Gene had risen and was pulling her arm in an attempt to get her to stand. Shrugging him off, she placed both her hands on the table and slowly rose of her own accord, preferring to play the role in her final show on her own terms.

She didn’t bother putting on the heels she had kicked off at some point during the night. She made the short walk to the stage barefoot, her long dress brushing the carpet, sweeping away each footfall in a whisper of erasure. Would she have time to make a coherent speech before it worked its magic? She could hear her own breathing in time to her beating heart, all other sound dimming in comparison. She focused on putting one foot in front of the other and somehow made it to the podium.

Feeling strangely invigorated and clear, she looked out over the crowd and realized she had picked the perfect moment. Most of her life had been on display, why not this one. The sides of her mouth rose in an angelic smile that softened her face and lit her eyes from within. She was still smiling as her body tilted and then crashed heavily onto the stage amidst shocked screams and erupting pandemonium.

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6 thoughts on “Mary Pickford

  1. Wow….ah, this is so good! Part of me laments the poor lady for a life that has lead her to such a decision, and part of me applauds her for her ultimate rebellion against it. Wonderfully done!

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    • Thank you! This one was rough for me. I was NOT inspired by that title at all! But once I started reading a little about the film star, it came to me. 🙂

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      • I have often found my best stories come from the things that least inspired me. Why? Because they forced me to learn, to look, to read, and to respond. 🙂

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