UKArchive ID: 11368thegeeza
Originally published on April 1, 2005 in Fiction
The people we see on television, in the movies and in the newspapers are real - with the same thoughts and pressures as the rest of us - but the "stars" themselves don't often seem as if they inhabit the planet we live on, with its supermarkets, traffic jams and regular things like "can I read your gas meter, Elton?"
(Warning: contains disturbing imagery)
Gary slammed the remote control on the table and stared at the screen. The late news droned on: words and images, images and words. The highlights of the film premiere followed, so he waited.
He watched the pretty woman pointing at the map, swinging her hair, batting her eyelids, her face caked in makeup. Her red lips carved a plastic smile into her bright face. Men watched the weather just to see her, and that made her no better than a two-bit whore.
He kicked his trainers at the door and they dropped to the ground with a flump. He swallowed the dregs of his beer and tore the can in half, throwing the pieces to the ground. He pulled the ring off a new can and flicked it at the television.
The show started and he watched the snivelling bastards walking into the theatre, he watched clips of the trashy film, interviews with the performers and then she appeared.
‘It’s a fantastic opportunity for me,’ it said. ‘I felt an affinity with my character,’ it continued. ‘The people around me were fantastic.’
‘Bitch!’ shouted Gary. He threw his half-filled can at the screen and it fell to the floor, spilling beer onto the carpet.
The programme continued into the after-show party. Smiley faces talked crap and spoke about how everything was so, so wonderful. Then she was there again. Jennifer. A big smile, the likes Gary had not seen for some while. The actor to her right, looking like every other hollow and empty celebrity, put his arm around her and kissed her cheek. She giggled and attempted to evade him, spilling a little wine on her wrist. Gary did not move. The screen flickered in the otherwise dark and quiet lounge.
As the credits rolled across clips from the film, Gary reached over to the remote and pressed the standby button. He sat and watched the green digits on the video. He decided to wait for his partner to return. Fury pumped his heart and he felt power surging through his limbs. She asked him to go with her, but she never meant it. She said she really wanted him to go, but he knew she was just saying that; just playing games with him. She had to say it, he knew that. The last time he went with her, she ignored him, made a fool of him; other people laughed at him. It was sport. He was just part of the entertainment. He told her. He said he wouldn’t be the object of their entertainment. Oh no. He was proud of being a normal bloke – a builder by trade – and he wouldn’t let people make fun of him.
He thought of Jennifer. Jennifer the actress. Jennifer the glamorous film-star with model good looks. Jennifer on photo shoots in Barbados. Jennifer in the calendar on the work’s tea room wall. Jennifer with all the chances given to her on a plate, just because of what she looked like. Jennifer who didn’t understand how real people lived and worked. Jennifer from his class at school.
She needs to be taught a lesson. She does not have power over all men.
The front door closed and someone came towards the lounge door. It opened and someone peered in. It withdrew and a sweet feminine voice called to him. Gary squeezed his fists, down by his sides. It came back in and switched on the light.
‘Turn it off!’
‘Why?’ it said. ‘Why are you sitting in the dark with the tele off?’
‘Turn it off!’
‘Now will you answer me?’ it said.
Gary stayed silent. He listened to her breathing.
It wasn’t the same without him. She couldn’t understand why he refused to come. The place was full of pretentious people she didn’t like; she was sure most people felt the same and that most people in the industry had very few friends inside work. It was a lonely business, but it was work. It was what she had always wanted to do; but for that, she would have to sip champagne and look happy when she wasn’t. It was good acting practice, if nothing else.
She cringed when the brilliant light came along the rows of faces and stopped in front of her. The television presenter, Justin, started to speak, but she could not hear what he was saying because she was looking through the light, down the camera and into her lounge at her husband’s snarling face. She could feel his stinging words lashing at her when she had left home.
‘The people around me were fantastic,’ she said. ‘I felt an affinity with my character. It’s a fantastic opportunity for me’ She hadn’t heard the question, but it was always the same. He could have asked about the weather for all she knew, but people fawned around her and the scene returned to script. She switched off and away from the action.
‘Gary?’ The darkness swallowed her words and all was still.
The figure leapt from the chair. Jennifer’s breath stuck in her throat as the shadow rounded on her and grabbed her by the hair. Strong hands pulled her towards the ground. Searing pain came from her scalp as her face hit the carpet. It pushed her head down and her senses panicked as she thought her skull might explode. It sat on her back and thumped her head off the floor and shouted:
Over and over.
She was too shocked to speak. The only sound she made was an involuntary groan every time her head hit the floor. He slowed and eventually stopped. He breathed heavily and sucked spittle back into his mouth.
‘Bitch!’ he shouted. He smacked her face hard. ‘How dare you!’
He stopped moving. Jennifer moved her head slowly, but his left hand was still clamped on her neck. She could feel the wetness of the carpet against her cheek and the smell of stale beer from the floor. She gave up and stopped.
‘Am I not man enough for you, eh? Not man enough?’
‘Gary … get off.’
‘I said: am I not man enough for you?’
‘Get off me!’
‘Answer the question!’
‘Get off me!’
‘Answer the fucking question!’
She coughed and felt her heart pumping as the surroundings slowly materialised into solid shapes in the darkness. She couldn’t move.
‘What do you mean?’ she said.
‘Am I not man enough for you?’ he said.
‘I don’t understand the question.’
‘I see,’ he said, calmly. ‘Why do you go whoring yourself on television? Are you trying to embarrass me? Are you ashamed of me?’ he shouted.
‘What do you mean?’ she said, adrenaline allowing some anger into her voice.
He put his right hand around her throat to join the left and started to squeeze.
‘Does this focus you?’ He squeezed his hands together on each word. ‘Do you understand the question now?’
‘I was not whoring myself and I am not ashamed! I wanted you to come!’
He released his hands, lifted himself onto his knees and turned her over in one quick movement. He sat on her stomach and she groaned as the air was pushed out of her lungs. He caught her hands and pinned them above her head. She could see him sneering, a few inches from her face.
‘You never wanted me. Not tonight. Not ever. I’ve never been good enough for you. You’re a fucking tart.’ He spat the last word and sprayed her face.
‘Let me go.’
‘I’m just a builder. A normal bloke. You’re an actress. From a different world. How can you love me?’
‘Let me up!’
He let go of one hand and swung his open hand against her face. Her head snapped to the side and she screamed. He covered her mouth. ‘Shut up! Shut up you fucking bitch … or so help me, I’ll …’
Her scream was muffled and she wriggled under his bulky weight. He pulled his fist back and thumped it against her jaw. She cried out but his hand strangled the sound.
‘I told you! I told you to be quiet! Now shut up! Shut up!’
She held still. For a while he watched her before slowly taking his hand away. He sat up and took his other hand away. He could see the side of her head and part of her face in the dim light. She faced the wall, the force of his punch turning her head awkwardly to the side. He looked at her delicate ear, reached down and turned over her ruby earrings with his large fingers. He remembered the day he bought them as a celebration when she got her first big part.
‘How can you love me?’ he said.
Her jaw felt very strange, as if it might snap if she moved it. The pain was extreme, but dull. It clicked as she moved her mouth to speak:
‘How can you do this to me?’ she said.
‘Just answer me.’
‘How can I love a man who does this?’ Each movement of her jaw shot pain through her head.
‘So … I was right.’
‘No!’ she shouted, wincing and moaning with pain. ‘I wanted you to come. I want to share our lives.’
‘How can you share your life with someone like me?’ he said quietly. ‘That’s bollocks!’ he screamed. ‘Fucking bollocks!’
He ripped open the front of her dress. Her breasts moved slightly to each side. He could see the shape of the nipples through the darkness. He thought of the actor and his slender hands touching them, of his mouth and his false laugh as he licked them.
‘Is that what you want?’ she said quietly.
‘I could,’ he said. ‘If I wanted to.’ He pulled her face to look at him, making her yelp with pain. ‘But I don’t want to.’ He could see her blinking at him, the whites of her eyes. He smelled the wine and it enraged him more. He spat on her face. ‘Who fucked you tonight? Did they all fuck you? Did you fuck the director to get in the film? That’s how it works … I know.’
‘Bastard,’ she whispered. She thought of an hour ago. A mere sixty minutes of time. Everyone having fun, of her making excuses and leaving, whispered promises of new roles. She thought of her love for Gary; and wondered if he could ever make the simple walk from normal life to something people perceive as almost supernatural and unobtainable. It’s not. It’s just a job. It’s damned hard work – and for every face at a film premiere, there are hundreds of hours of early mornings and long days.
‘If I can’t have you,’ he said, ‘nobody will.’
He reached to the side and picked up the beer can that had been torn in half. She could see its serrated edge as it came towards her face. She made no noise or movement as it cut into her face. It burned as it tore her flesh apart. Her breath came in quick, sharp intervals. He was taking her across the line, dragging her back into his world. She smelled the metallic can and the beer it had held and waited for him to finish.
He stood up and threw the remains of the can to the floor. He pulled at her, but she would not stand. He put his hand on her throat and screamed at her, but she could not hear the words through the rushing sounds in her ears. He dragged her, screaming all the while, up the stairs and into their bedroom. She glanced at all her pretty things as he reached down and pulled her into his strong arms. He threw her onto the bed and ripped the tattered dress from around her like a magic trick. He pulled the covers over and got in beside her, turning away.
She lay and looked at the silhouettes of things she owned. The perfume and makeup accessories reminded her of the New York skyline. She thought of Broadway and plastic people. She reminded herself where she was and that it was a world away.
Archived comments for Fantastic
Jen_Christabel on 2005-04-01 11:08:02
Excellent! What more can I say?!
KDR on 2005-04-01 12:40:13
Blimey! I wouldn't let the missus read this one, if I were you. 😉
You were right: some of the imagery here was very disturbing. At first, I thought the story was just a 'behind closed doors' thing - which it basically is...but it's even darker than the pretty, successful thing getting slapped about by a jealous partner. And that's what I think Gary is: jealous. Because HE looks down on himself for being 'just a builder', because HE thinks he should be there getting the special treatment (and possibly shagging all the starlets going, the way he assumes Jennifer is sleeping with all and sundry).
As it went on, I was half-expecting him to wind up killing her, or her being forced to kill him in self-defence (and wouldn't the papers love that? 😉 ). I definitely wasn't expecting him to carve up her face with a beer can - even though the 'loaded gun' was there when he tore the can in two.
And the irony of the title!
Arguably the best thing you've done in a while.
TheGeeza on 2005-04-01 13:03:27
gouri on 2005-04-01 13:24:03
This story is *FANTASTIC*. Liked the way you kept the story moving - I could visualise the disturbing imagery - made me feel giddy.
and the ending - I feel you have done justice to this story.
Wonderful, enjoyed the read.
TheGeeza on 2005-04-01 13:36:06
Thanks, Karl. She did read it and has disappeared somewhere!
What you describe was the point I was trying to make with Gary, so thanks for that.
TheGeeza on 2005-04-01 13:37:28
Thank-you, Gouri, for your kind words. I'm glad you enjoyed it.
thehaven on 2005-04-01 19:24:17
TheGeeza on 2005-04-01 20:16:22
RoyBateman on 2005-04-02 15:19:49
Very powerful, and not for the squeamish...maybe reading this is even worse, from that point of view, than seeing it on screen. There, you can look away temporarily, but you can't from the story...you've got to go back sometime to see what happens. Very, very good storytelling - you really got inside the characters' heads.
TheGeeza on 2005-04-02 17:15:08
Thanks, Roy. Feedback much appreciated.
Claire on 2005-04-03 15:30:01
Excellent story. Love his madness too. You have a very strong character there with him. I would love to see an extended version of this, the turning point in their life especially when she becomes famous, their life changing and to see his jealously/madness start and grow. This piece is disturbing but it could be made a lot more disturbing too by getting deeper into his mind. Thoroughly enjoyed the read.
bluepootle on 2005-04-03 15:48:33
I think the last section of this is the strongest, and very involving... the first section, and Gary's voice, didn't work so well for me, because I couldn't understand his sudden hatred of her through the info you gave me, and it did seem sudden, rather than a mutually dependant relationship, which might make more sense. He just hated her, without love, and so I couldn't see how they had ended up together...but that might just be me. I just felt that first section could be strengthened to show a dependency, a reason why she came home to him, and why now was the moment he boiled over - hope that helps. As I say, the last section is very powerful indeed.
TheGeeza on 2005-04-03 20:14:09
Thanks, Claire. Glad you liked it.
For a short, I didn't want too much (if any) lead-up to the dark part of the story, hoping there was enough to give the reader a glimpse into what came before. Any more pre-amble to the story would have left it dull, I think. (as a short).
It could be extended (and filled out) though, you're right. It would need more story aspect - to guard against "dull" - to get up to novella length.
TheGeeza on 2005-04-03 20:26:16
Thanks, BP. You could be right. I tried not to dwell on their past, trying to hint at a "normal"ish start to the relationship - like being at school together.
I was trying not to start off a short where the reader might be thinking, "so?" or wose "boring!". It could well be that I didn't quite put enough at the start to explain hitting that boiling over point. Saying that, in real life, some relationships boil over, triggered by one incident ...
Thanks for the feedback. I'll ponder how to strengthen the first part without weighing it down in detail.