Did you receive my email?
Okay. This is going to be very informal. No official write-up. We just wanted to hear your side of the story.
My side of the story? Is there another side?
There’s only how it happened.
You flew back in a hurry?
The West Coast. Sometime in October. No, mid-September.
And you said that was your last time?
Yeah, I was never going back.
Are you an actress?
Then why were you at a movie studio?
I was saying goodbye.
But that isn’t your job?
No. This is.
So, you got a call to come back for her?
Well, not just for her, for the others too.
And so you were asked to leave?
No. They asked me to stay. There’s this old saying about going home, you know. It goes something like, you don’t go home because you have unfinished business with the town. It’s because the town has unfinished business with you.
Something like that. And that’s all this was to you? Unfinished business?
I suppose it was.
Tell me about Camilla.
It was November 11th.
You said it was Mid-September.
Did I? It couldn’t have been. That’s when filming shut down. I’d remember that. She arrived in November. It was cold. The kind of cold that’s clear and motionless. The kind of cold, with its numbing bite, that welcomes you home with a sharp wind and cuts through you almost mockingly. Stripping any remnants of the balmy desert particles, that still clings to your bones. Reminding you how easy it is to wipe away everything you tried to hold on to. Starting with the borrowed memories only the sultry Los Angeles air can elicit.
That’s not what I asked.
I rush off the plane. I am still wearing yesterday’s clothes, hoping they won’t notice. I am back in that fishbowl. I push through the heavy doors, and she’s there. Just lying there wrapped up in a blanket. She doesn’t smile at me. And then she’s screaming and crying and I am just expected to take care of her. They’re always staring.
She’s screaming and crying because of something you’ve done?
No, because that’s what they do. They scream and they cry. And they just stare. And we’re just expected. And I told them this was my job. I knew what I was doing. And that’s why they asked me to stay. I figured it was temporary. I could make enough to go back to set, but they shut it down. They shut it all down, did you know that? I couldn’t go back if I wanted to. I was stranded at an airport bar when I received the call to come back for her.
There are worse off places.
I was stranded and if it hadn’t have been for this girl. A girl for a different story. I thought about it. I thought about just staying there. I am not an actress; I could have been. I considered it. What it would have been like if I hadn’t been able to make it back.
How’d you get on a movie set if you aren’t an actress?
No. No, I am not in show business. There are ways. If you’re a certain girl, you find a way.
I think you’re missing the point. If you had just stayed?
If I had taken that last pull from an icy martini glass. Climbed the stairs to her apartment on Santa Monica and Doheny and crawled into her bed. She hadn’t wanted me the same way she did the night before or the night before that. We’d go to dinner, silence stretching between us, before rushing to the theatre. I’d go to write a note to remember. Remember this night; remember this actress. She’d turn to me and say, “If you’re bored. You can leave.” I couldn’t leave, her presence cementing me to my seat and willing me to stay. I remembered her. Her familiar voice echoing across the backlot. I saw her every week, but I was finally getting to hear her. It was the reason I wasn’t about to leave, and the reason why I kept coming back. So, no, I told her. I wasn’t bored, and I wasn’t about to leave. She wore angel wings and crooned some modern-day director’s interpretation of ‘Romeo and Juliet.’
Remind me again?
Am I the one missing the point? The actress, in the play, after dinner. Now that I recall, she didn’t break character once. She looked right at me; I swear it. I went to meet her after the show. I was an opening-nighter. I was promised. If I was one of the lucky ones, I was promised light conversation, an illegible scribble in blue ink on acid-free paper. She managed a nod and repeated our names. Flashing a smile, she wrapped up a well-versed routine. I should have settled for the look.
What a tragedy. Tell me, if you had stayed?
There’s something about them leaving and you being the one that stays. You’re always the one that stays. And then one day, you’re thrust back into their orbit. They’ve learned your name but not who you are. They laugh and wrap their arms around you, and you remember them, and you whisper, “Do you remember who I am?” and they nod, and you plead with them to linger longer and actually mean it. Remember what they did to you. How they treated you. How they demanded you take care of them until exhaustion bloomed in the pit of your stomach and pricked your limbs. Leaving you with only the silhouette of a notion of crawling back to set.
But you didn’t. You went back. Made a life out of something else?
Tell me you wouldn’t have wanted to do the same?
How do you mean?
I mean, careening slightly too far to the left instead of the right, merging to where the 101 meets the 405 and letting your engine growl at the curb. Loitering on the backlot in hopes of those final few moments before you’re sauntering towards that apartment, huddled next to her. Shrugging off the covers, silently crossing the room, and sinking into that seat by the window. Hunched over the muted glow of the blinking cursor and punching into the keyboard. Actually, truly making a life out of it. Yeah. I went back.
Maybe. Maybe I had no other choice.
I don’t remember. I saw her the other day, you know.
Camilla, her reflection through the glass. She was wearing a dress. The kind of dress with pants underneath. And sneakers. They were new, I could tell. The kind that made you veer a little too far to the right and clomp against the tile and scrape the backs of your ankles.
She was ready. She needed to keep up with her friends. That’s what you told me.
She marched right towards me. Her feet reverberating against the cracked green plastic beneath her. I thought it was an odd outfit choice. She wanted me to pick her up, so I did. She didn’t remember me.
What makes you say that?
She smiled at me.
Jennifer Ledbury is a writer living in California.