Monday 4 June 2012


The actress accepted the award. Newspaper editors glared at the screen. Not only had she won the award yet again, but it meant that the front page would be wasted on an actress in her late sixties, rather than the cleavagy young thing that had also been nominated.

She was gracious, noting that she felt that she was very lucky. After the award ceremony, she made only perfunctory appearances at the after-parties. They were important for networking, but were for the publicity-conscious, which she no longer needed to be. Ten, twenty, thirty years ago, maybe. But no more. 

Instead, she went home.

She received multiple phone calls, and had many messages, but the only one she cared about was the one that told her that she had to be killed.

She cried at first, but she knew what it meant.

She had a stiff drink and then made a phone call. It was the early hours of the morning, but it didn't matter. She knew they'd answer.

They did, and they knew it was her calling.

"Does it really need to be so soon?"

The woman on the other side of the phone was pleasant and professional. "I'm afraid so. The time has come."

“You’re sure?”

“There’s no need to be scared,” she was told. “It won’t take long. Come in on Thursday. That way, we’ll announce it on Saturday morning and get maximum exposure in the weekend papers.”

She said good bye and put the phone down. “I know it won’t take long”, she said to herself, wishing that she’d said that to the woman on the phone.

She looked in the mirror while she removed her makeup. Not just the first layer, the eye liner and the makeup, but the rest. The latex, the putty, everything. It took hours to put on every morning, but always came off so quickly.

Taking off the tinted contact lenses last, she looked at her own eyes. Removed of the dullness of the contacts, they shone brighter than they had on screen for years.

On Thursday, she sat waiting in the clinic. The nurse came out to her. A young (yes, young, of course he was young, she thought to herself) man.  They introduced each other, then he said, almost predictably:

“I’m a big fan.”

She smiled. “Thank you. That means a lot.”

“Look, before this happens, could I get you to sign something for me?” He was, bless him, awkward.

“Of course.”

He pulled a DVD out of his jacket pocket. “It’s not for eBay or anything. It’s a transfer of one of your first movies.”

She looked at it. “I didn’t even know any copies existed.”

“They’re not allowed to.” He said. “You’re too recognisable in it.”

“I’m too recognisable in all of them,” she said. “Do you have any idea how much trouble I got in when they found out that I’d lied about not being in films before?”

“I know. As I said, fan. I had no idea you were one of us until you came back in the seventies.”

“So how did you get a copy of it?”

“I was a projectionist in the twenties. I kept the original. You were amazing in it.”

She couldn’t help it. She started to cry.

“I’ve never…” she said, gulping for air, “I’ve never done this before.”

“Really?” He asked. “I thought you had back in – “

“No,” she said. “The theatre… God, that was easy.  It wasn’t until photography turned up that the problems started. Stupid bloody invention.”

He hesitated, and then asked “Is it true that you always wore sunglasses for photos?”

She laughed, although the tears continued. “Yes. Worked great for about a decade.”

“It’s just going to be simple surgery. You’ll be unconscious, and we’ll break and reset some bones. It’ll hurt for a while, but it’s so much more effective than plastic surgery.”

“I know. I just… I wish there was another way.”

“You’re in the wrong business for that,” he said. “If you want to continue, you need to change your looks. The arts aren’t like other industries. You’re too public.”

“And it’s not like I can be anonymous.”

“Not with what you do. Writer, street artist… you can do those and be anonymous. You know that big guy in Britain, does the graffiti? Nobody sees that and thinks of the stuff he did during the renaissance. You can get away with that with art. Not the screen though.”

“I know. It’s just…I’ve really liked being her.” She dabbed her eyes, which had finally stopped crying.

“You’ll still be you.” He said.

“No, I won’t.” She said.

“Why not?”

“It won’t be my face any more. It’ll be a stranger in the mirror.”

“Then you’ll get to be someone else. Someone new.”

“They want me to have a boob job, you know that?”


“Because I’ll get to be the young actress now, and they don’t want my body recognised. It won’t even be my body any more. I refused to do it while I was… me. Now, though, they’re insisting, or I won’t be allowed to go back to it.”

“There’s a plus point though. Next time you do this, you get them taken out again. You get to do that.”

She laughed. “How fucking efficient.”

“Come on,” he said. “Let’s get it over with.”

“Wait,” she said, looking in the mirror as she stood up. “Just let me say goodbye.”

Months later, she stood in front of the mirror in her new bedroom. She undressed and looked at her body first. She still didn’t like the new breasts. But she did like the tattoo. She’d never dared have one before.

Then she stood closer to the mirror, and looked closely at her face. She ran her fingers across her face, feeling her way around while she looked.

She didn’t know the face. Not yet. She was still working on it, but she could finally hold her own gaze without crying.

“Hello,” she said. “Hello, you. Hello, me.”

1 comment:

  1. I like this a lot. You asked for feedback so here it is: It could do with a bit more work, a bit more polish. The opening in particular feels a bit perfunctory; I think if you draw out the lead-up to her arrival at the clinic, build the sense of mystery and nervous anticipation, the payoff will be that much better. And I would love to know a bit more about how other ... professions, shall we say? ... negotiate her particular dilemma (are there any politicians, for example?). I guess I'm suggesting an expansion and further exploration of the story, because the premise is so intriguing that I want to know more, and I don't want it to end so soon. It's very cool.