Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Fourteen Bulbs -Friday Flash





She sat where she had sat countless times before. In the harsh glare of the lights fringing her mirror. Fourteen naked bulbs to show her up in all her rawness. Stark like a Noh mask.

Fourteen interrogatory lamps burning into her face. Garlanding the looking glass, festooned like wedding arch colonnades. Though she’d only ever experienced those as scenery on the theatre stage.

The lights so tightly focused, they barely penetrated the darkness beyond her. Every evening and prior to matinees and premiers, her ghostly, disembodied head floated in the mirror as she caked it in thickly layered cosmetics. The bulbs’ other function, foreshadowing the dazzle out on the stage itself. If they couldn’t efface her features here at close range, then it augured well for her characterful expressions to prevail under the spotlights, tractor beamed in the footlights.

This particular mirror seemed as venerable as she. The glass had flowed, rucked and bubbled, like her own skin corrugated with wrinkles. Tarnished where the silvered paint had chipped or turned green with verdigris. Aping her liver spots and burst blood vessels. She loved the bulbs for blasting such imperfections away under their unforgiving blare. The mirror on her dresser at home was not nearly so forgiving.

It occurred to her that in all the years sat in place, she couldn’t ever remember a single bulb having popped. The divine power of the theatre, palace of illusion.

There was a time when other bulbs popped. Those of the Press cameras. Preview nights, gala performance evenings and end-of-run parties. Fluid, promiscuous alignments of leading men and first ladies, arm in arm with supporting cast members all beaming for the lens. Dissolved at the moment of the striking of the set, as each heads on to their next role. Another theatre, different dressing rooms. The same fourteen bulb guard of honour.

Sadly she had witnessed her own mind’s bulbs pop one by one. It was getting progressively harder to recall her lines. There were no unseen stagehands inside her head to replace the burned out filaments.

Now there was a dearth of good luck telegrams wedged into the mirror frame. While the best wishes cards accompanying bouquets of flowers had also dried up.

Neither wigs, nor curlers sat on her dresser. Simply not required any more. She could not get away with counterfeiting ages other than her true one, unlike in the past. Her skin so dried and cracked. Even the greasepaint could no longer suggest any glossy suppleness. It just seemed to disappear down the fissures in her brow and cheeks as it required ever greater volumes to recongeal her face whole. Far greater preparation time was demanded, when all she wanted to do was lie down on the ottoman and rest her weary eyes.

The cubicle was smaller than she was used to. No other background hubbub of fellow actors full of life and lusts. Exercising their voices along the full range. Practising the entire gamut of human emotion and intrigue beyond the world of the play, centred instead within these tiny rooms.

For she was of such an age now, whereby she only appeared in monologues. Wistful treatises of old women looking back on unfulfilled lives. Playwrights didn’t seem to credit the venerable woman with any ability to pursue relationships still. Seemingly audiences could only feel pity, not desire, at this juncture of her life.

Her hair pulled back by the band, face blanched or greyed out in hue, these were the only effects the directors were after for her these days. Like a ghost. The bereft Trojan women. Now her appearance was as if she had ceased the make-up process at the foundation stage. Her dressing robe and protective serviette towel barely having to be removed for the performance, as she played women confined to dressing gowns, asylum smocks or wrapped in a bed sheet.

She knew it wouldn’t be too much longer that she would be able to stare into that mirror and recognise the face staring back at her. Be it disguised or unadorned by emulsion. Her ministrations complete, she flicked the light switch off. The bulbs did not die immediately. She watched the reflected light in her satellite eyes fade gradually in the mirror. Until only the spectral outline of her death mask remained square in the flat plane of glass.

She was sat where she had sat countless times before, with only the green “Exit” light to illuminate her way.

24 comments:

Sonia Lal said...

Wow, this is a little melancholy. Not sad, exactly, not happy either. I like the feel of it.

ps: I think older actresses can play more roles than the ghost one.

li said...

You've worked your usual magic; sad, wistful, and the language is elegant. Perfect closing - the exit sign.

Helen said...

Ah time passes by, such is the life of the actress, that is required to be young, attractive.

Very evocative piece of a snap shot of this persons life, the ending just perfect.

Michael A Tate said...

Wow, you packed a lot of emotion into that one. Another fantastic job.

Bukowski's Basement said...

What a great tribute to those who live their life on stage... You perfectly captured the solace in those behind-the-curtain moments... Standing O on this end...

Deb Rickard said...

What an excellently drawn character, Helen. Very poignant and I love the symbolic ending.

alisonwells said...

Excellent. Love the pace, the analogies and the sentiment, tying in as it does with your own winding up of this phase of fridayflash. More easy to become a part of the experience of this than some of your other flashes.

Anne Michaud said...

Oh, I love how sad this is! A very strong Fellini esthetic, I kept imagining Giulietta Massina sitting before the mirror. Well done:)

Linda said...

Melancholy character sketch, my favorite kind. Love the imagery, the mirror bubbling and rucking.

I thought I saw a tweet fly by noting this was your alst #fridayflash ever -- say it isn't true. Peace...

Kat said...

Wow. I hope it's not your last flash!

It was lovely. What a brave character, to recognize her own mortality, her limitations, to know she can't remember all her lines...and yet...I feel the resolve of her will. I feel she will rise and walk through that exit with grace and dignity.

No way would she miss the final curtain call.

Anonymous said...

Ageing - cruel time. Dreaded face folding flop.
Great flash Marc. Really felt it. How many Friday Flashes did you write? What a collection.
Pen

FARfetched said...

Great illustration of the aging (dying?) star. I get the feeling that the EXIT sign leads not backstage, but to the afterlife.

Sad to hear this is your last #FridayFlash — this one was quite appropriate for a swan song.

dijeratic said...

An emotional piece - what we all fear, what is coming for all of us. Beautifully realized.

Deb Rickard said...

Ooohps! What made me say Helen (above)! Think I must have followed her retweet and had her name on my mind. I don't think my mind's feeling quite itself lately! Anyway, revisiting made me re-read, and I enjoyed it even more second time around - always a good sign in my book!

Rebecca Emin said...

I really love this story about the passing of time. The line "Sadly she had witnessed her own mind’s bulbs pop one by one." stood out for me.

A well-told tale of time passing.

ibc4 said...

Fourteen interrogatory lamps burned... What a phrase. Great flash, loved it. In fact, everyone in our dressing room loved it!

Icy Sedgwick said...

I think this has been one of your best pieces. Rich in visual detail, poignant, and so evocative. Wonderful work.

Chuck Allen said...

I love the feel of this piece. The Exit sign at the end was a nice touch.

I mentioned it on twitter, but I'll say it here too. You'll be missed on #FridayFlash.

Karen from Mentor said...

If this is your last flash it's a hell of a swan song. I needed a hug when I got done reading it.

Deanna Schrayer said...

Marc, WHAT is this about it being your last #fridayflash?! Please say it's nothing but a nasty rumor!

Whether your last or not, this is a favorite. Excellent language throughout, (not surprising though), and a wonderfully melancholic feel overall. LOVE IT!

pegjet said...

I found this today thanks to @extremewriting making one of those "top stories" papers.

Glad I found it! I didn't realize this was your last. wonderful character study.

Each year, I see actresses turn 40 and disappear from movies--they pop on on reality tv and stages. The 50+ end up in stock theater touring companies. Sigh. Not that I've ever been an actress, but I empathize with anyone that is limited by others because of something so silly as a birth year.

Thank you for describing this person. I'm sure we'll be seeing your name in other places, if not in the #fridayflash community.

brainhaze said...

Full of emotion, tension and descriptive words, yet sorrowful. Great piece to end on - loving the work

KjM said...

What a wonderfully atmospheric feel there is to this piece.

I loved the details, the painful "The mirror on her dresser at home was not nearly so forgiving." The comment regarding the roles now available, the finality of the green Exit sign.

Melancholy with a perfect touch.

Excellent.

Adam B said...

Catching up on stories from last week.
Your flashes are finely crafted layers of allusion, imagery and subtle hints. Such remarkable symmetry and an apt metaphor of someone's life.
Always a pleasure.
Adam B @revhappiness