An earlier draft of this story was included in Belting Drunk, a collection I put together as a zine my senior year of college. I since revised the story and changed the title. The former title was “The Hollywood Hussy”. I once wrote a one act play entitled “Roses for Madison”, unrelated to this story, but clearly where I took the title from.
HSM magazine paid Nancy Goldstein two thousand dollars a week. Hollywood Spy Monthly relied on her to dish out gossip from her former friends and lovers and from her new friends and lovers. She lamented the days before Jackson had written that god offal screenplay, before the press had leaked the plot wasn’t at all fictional, before even her hardiest of fans had seen her sins on the silver screen and denounced her as a two bit Hollywood whore.
Nancy knew that she drank too much, and smoked too much, and recognized that maybe she smoked too much opium, and certainly she knew too many men. But that wasn’t a reason for Jackson to put it all down on paper so Howard Lee could win Oscars for best director, best picture and all sorts of other prizes at her expense. Howard Lee was the reason she had agreed to work freelance for HSM. She wanted his story printed. Hollywood Spy Monthly obliged and six weeks later Lee’s reputation was about as pristine as Nancy’s.
But now she had grown tired of spying. The party invitations stopped coming, and no one returned her phone calls. She often ate alone at the chic downtown Parisian style cafés or worse, she ate alone at home. Her breasts were tired of being showcased to the world too, and in response never seemed to perk up after the first cup of morning coffee. At least not like they used to. Not like when they had made Nancy a star.
She had started on Broadway at fourteen and by sixteen found herself in Los Angeles. She had plenty of movie credits, and it helped that she had still looked sixteen at twenty-two. But then came Jackson, sex, love, sex, drinking, marriage, divorce, that damn trip to Europe, and of course the movie. What still baffled Nancy was how Jackson, a lifetime alcoholic, had sobered up long enough to write the whole thing down on paper. The trick, he had said, was that he didn’t sober up.
She had tried to stop its production. Her first attempt was sleeping with Howard, even though he was five foot four. Even though he had a bulbous nose that hit her in the face when he kissed her. And still that son of a bitch made the movie. She had returned from Paris nearly sober, only to find her life ten days into shooting. Then Nancy had begged Jackson one night at three a.m., after seven martinis, to stop the whole thing. She passed out on his lawn before the police arrived. Jackson invited her to the premier.
Nancy strutted around her living room in her underwear in the mornings. She hoped that some passing paparazzi might see her and give her headlines again. It never worked. She hated daytime television but watched anyway, hoping that her agent might call, suggesting even some independent film project. But he had stopped calling a year ago because she never returned his calls. Now he never returned hers.
She smoked cigarettes waiting for party invitations, not just to continue her career as an HSM agent, but to socialize, since no one wanted to come over anymore, not even the gardener (The house was bugged, buzzed Hollywood’s inner circle). If wouldn’t have mattered if the gardener came, he only spoke Spanish. She tried writing, but she quickly realized she was an actress, not an author. Nancy could take other people’s words and even the worst of scripts would sound like poetry coming from her lips. But her own words sounded like the tuning of an orchestra.
Her only friend was Wilson Ford. Wilson Ford was over seventy and smoked cigars in his garden. Wilson financed motion pictures. He first met Nancy when she was seventeen and working on the set of one his movies. He took a liking to her, since she smiled a lot and unlike other girls he met on sets, Nancy wasn’t looking to sleep with him. Everyone wanted to sleep with Wilson, not that he was very attractive. He was after all, somewhere in his seventies, and looked much older. But he had more money, and more power, and more everything than anyone else. And he could have made a star of any girl he chose. Wilson Ford was something of the often-talked about yet never acquired father figure for Nancy, who had never known one.
Nancy visited Wilson once a week, usually on Wednesdays. Wednesdays were always logical, since Monday was spent recovering from the weekend. Tuesday was spent recovering from Monday, and Thursday began the weekend. They would play checkers while he smoked cigars and she told him how he shouldn’t and he reminded her she did a lot of things she shouldn’t. That shut her up.
Jackson had always assumed Nancy and Wilson had slept together regularly. That was not the case. Once when Wilson was visiting the set of Nancy’s fourth film, she had casually mentioned he could take her anytime he wished in her trailer, since she felt he owed him everything. He politely turned her down because he liked at least the sense of the chase, not when women gave themselves up willingly. Nancy did love Wilson, but she was willing to succumb to his masculinity not because of sexual desire, but because she felt sorry for him in the same way a little girl feels sorry for puppies. He rejected her, not because she was unattractive–Nancy was plenty pretty in fact–but because he respected their relationship for what it was. Jackson never seemed to understand that Nancy’s love for him was not at all like her love for Wilson. Once she almost got through to him when she said, “I feel about Wilson the same way you feel about liquor.” That had almost worked, but almost is not the same as success and some wee ks later their twelve week marriage ended two days short of a winning date set by Arthur P. Thomas of the Entertainment Network. The reporters had pools on every celebrity marriage. Arthur Thomas won three hundred dollars.
On an April Wednesday morning Nancy and Wilson sat inside–it had grown overcast–smoking cigarettes and cigars, respectively. “Wil,” she said, “I want to get back into the game,” she said.
“Then do it,” he said.
“If you are asking for my help, you know I’ve been out clean for eighteen months. I don’t even have a telephone at the house, even if I wanted to call somebody for you.”
“I wasn’t. I was asking for advice.”
“Nancy, if you want my advice, go to Europe again. Stay there, those people are a lot more sane than this entire country, to say nothing of this city.”
Nancy didn’t want to go back to Europe. She had done that continent, before the movie had come out. She had Parisian men, and Roman men, and Iberian men. The only problem she had with them was that they never showered. She wasn’t going back there.
“That isn’t advice,” she said.
“Fine. Nancy, I’m an old man. I don’t know what you should do.”
She smoked another cigarette.
Jackson had made his way into Hollywood quietly and unnoticed. He fancied himself an artist rather than a screenwriter. He hung out with those beatnik types who drank martinis and smoked pipes and wore thick plastic glasses even if their eyes didn’t require it. He had quite successfully written far too many screenplays for any one person. Nancy didn’t know what he had done before writing screenplays, nor did she ever ask. He drank, she drank, everyone was happy.
They had met at a party off of Mulholland Drive, introduced by someone neither of them knew. Jackson had been observing drunkards and smoking a Cuban. Nancy had been observed. They talked about people they hated, and people they loved. Jackson was twenty years older than she, and that made him attractive. Nancy was twice labeled the most beautiful woman in Hollywood, and that made her attractive. They woke up together in Santa Monica.
Jackson at this point had not produced a screenplay in five years. He tried poetry; he performed his spoken word Tuesday nights at Koala Lounge Café, eight to midnight open microphone, two drink minimum. He had started a novel, but had started another four before the first was finished. On weekends he drank. He had not yet realized his poetry would have been dramatically improved had he been inebriated during its creation.
Nancy was wrapped up in his robe, he had stolen it from the New York City Hilton. He tried cooking breakfast for her, resulting in burnt sausages and undercooked eggs. He mixed bloody Marys, which he was very good at.
Wilson, feeling sorry for Nancy, and knowing that soon he would be dead, found Nancy something to do. It was a small theatre company down in the valley. A hundred and fifty seats at most. The play was new but did not take terrible risks, and the writer had achieved moderate successes previously. The lead actress had left five weeks before opening night to get married in Las Vegas. Nancy had been sober for a week when she walked through the doors.
The morning was actually a bit chilly, or perhaps it was only refreshing, but Nancy could feel small bumps forming on her arms. Tom Parsons greeted her and smiled and gripped her hand firmly. Nancy tried to smile but her breasts had been particularly not perky this morning and she was still very conscious of this.
“Have you read the script through?” Tom asked leading her into the theatre. Three Hispanic men were installing new armrests on the chairs.
“Yes,” she said, “I’ve read it enough to have most if memorized,” she said. It was a skill she had.
“Well Julius has finalized another copy,” he said, “the son of a bitch is never satisfied. He’ll probably be making changes on opening night.”
Tom showed her around the stage, the dressing rooms, and the coffee room. He left her there drinking a bitter cup of coffee, waiting for the cast to arrive. She considered adding something sweet to the drink, but there was no sugar, just a bottle of sambuca.
She walked out to the stage and looked around. She hadn’t been on a stage in nine years. Who had time for theatres when she was making movies, or making love, or drinking? If she had believed in God, this is where she would have worshiped.
Julius Rivers practiced Catholicism. He had for several years considered entering seminary school. Instead he began writing. He wrote a short play that had achieved minor successes in a regional theatre. With prayer and sobriety, he wrote beautiful words. He moved to California with his fiancée, but she left him for a movie star. Drinking, smoking, hedonism, atheism–and suddenly he had produced the greatest play of the twenty-first century. Keep in mind of course, the twenty-first century was still rather young, and more importantly, the rest of civilization was still unaware of the greatness of this play.
He sat in the projection room overlooking the stage the first day his new Lillian had arrived. Lillian was the pivotal character. She had the lines that will be quoted for the next five hundred years by high school children. He watched her on the stage staring up at the lights and looking lost. This was his Lillian?
Julius had grown up without a television. He despised movies. He had no idea who Nancy Goldstein was. All he could see was that she had a pretty face and wonderful breasts. He watched her for forty minutes.
None of the cast had ever met Julius. He watched their auditions from the projection booth. Sometimes he would hide there while re-working lines. There was a storage room that through a small crack in the wall he could watch the dressing rooms, and sometimes he would be there watching Nancy. With two weeks left in rehearsals, he gave Tom Parsons a copy of the script he promised would be the last. After all, now he was preoccupied watching for Nancy’s breasts.
The final dress rehearsal ran until two a.m. The actors wandered out of the theatre, exhausted, but prepared. Nancy was the last one out, smoking a cigarette and humming to herself. Julius appeared from behind the dumpster.
“Who’s there?” Nancy said, though not very frightened.
“Hello,” Julius said.
“Who in hell are you?”
“I’m the writer,” he said.
Nancy smiled at the thought, but then considered it an impossibility.
“I hate writers,” she said, walking towards her car.
Julius paused a moment before following her. “Why is that?”
“I don’t need a reason, do I?”
“Well then, mostly because they are too caught up with themselves to realize what they are writing doesn’t mean a damn thing except to the people they are writing about.”
Julius thought of this for a moment, but before he could respond, Nancy had started her car.
“Wait,” he called.
She rolled down the window, “If you really are the writer, then you will be here tomorrow. And then you can tell me whatever nonsense about writers you are about to tell me now.” She rolled the window up. The tough part was, while she hated writers, they were so damn attractive.
Lights, curtain, scene one, intermission, lights, curtain, curtain call, finis. The audience stood when Nancy took her bow. She hugged her four cast mates, and the curtain guy, and the prop girl, and Tom Parsons got a kiss on the cheek. Julius stood in the back of the stage in the dark.
Sal had invited the cast to his apartment for drinks afterward. Nancy wondered where the writer had gone. They drank and smoked and ordered burgers and fries. When the doorbell rang they thought the burger boy had arrived. In fact, it was the writer.
When daylight appeared on the Horizon, the cast left Sal’s apartment. But Julius and Nancy were already sitting at a table at Julius’s favorite grease and coffee joint. He had ordered eggs with sausages and toast, and Nancy an orange juice.
“I come here to write,” he said, “eating is just a bonus. But look around, you’ll see why. These people inspire me.”
One man sat in the back corner reading a newspaper. He had a bulbous nose like Howard, and a face like a bad caricature. The waitress, “Valerie” as her blue nametag proclaimed, was maybe seventeen and too beautiful to be wearing the pink waitress uniform. She served coffee. A woman in her forties smoked cigarettes at the counter. Every fifteen minutes or so, she would freshen her Cadillac red lipstick.
Nancy looked at Julius. “You are one strange son of a bitch,” she said.
Julius smiled in an awkward manner. “Thanks.”
Wilson died during the Sunday matinee performance. During intermission, the woman sitting next to him realized he wasn’t breathing and told the house manager. The house manager in turn called the paramedics. The paramedics carted Wilson away. The show did not go on.
Nancy, who was in the dressing room as the paramedics wheeled Wilson out of the theatre, was aware only that a member of the audience had died. She didn’t even know Wilson was in attendance that afternoon. As the actors waited, Sal did card tricks in the dressing room. He had spent three years of his youth as a bum in Rome. His card tricks paid for his meals, and eventually for a ticket back to New York.
Nancy, still unaware of Wilson’s death, slept with Julius that night. Hollywood Spy Monthly snapped photos of her and Julius through his bedroom window. Her breasts were unusually perky.
Nancy read of Wilson’s death in the newspaper. She had not been home to check her messages in three days, since she had been sleeping with Julius. She cried for a few minutes before retiring to the bathroom to smoke a cigarette. Julius did not approve of smoking cigarettes in his apartment. The same paper that ran Wilson’s obituary ran a review of the play, proclaiming it to be the greatest play of the twenty-first century. A premature assessment, but accurate none the less.
Julius read the review while Nancy smoked her cigarette. He was thrilled. He was beyond thrilled. He was ‘drink champagne at nine a.m. thrilled’. He did. He called to Nancy, who decided to smoke a second cigarette while held up in the bathroom with red eyes and wet cheeks. She ignored him.
That night, before the curtain went up, Tom Parsons congratulated the cast. He praised them all. Nancy though was only slightly aware, since she had taken codeine following the cigarettes in the bathroom. Julius had yelled at her for smoking in his bathroom. She drank three chocolate lattes that failed to bring her to the place she wanted to be. She tried a martini, and then the codeine. The codeine worked.
Nancy only missed one line. It wasn’t even a crucial line. It hadn’t been the codeine. She had looked out into the audience, a moment of weakness that ordinarily would not have phased her. Except Jackson was there.
He brought roses. Not the cheap kind anyone can get at traffic lights or the Go Shop a block from the theater, but real genuine flower boutique roses. They were peace roses–peach colored with pink trim–a sign? She had been waiting for the moment now since that damn movie came out, since she had splayed herself on Jackson’s lawn after too many drinks, since she had thrown a martini, olive and all, into his face at Valentine’s. (She also had been waiting for the day she would be invited back to Valentine’s after the scene she caused, but that was a different matter).
“You did well,” Jackson would say handing her the roses. She would have to smile and thank him. Maybe she would make a quip about him having been drunk enough to have enjoyed it. He would apologize, for being a drunk, and for the movie. And she would say, “that was then,” and “let’s get a drink.” And they would wind up in bed together. Mostly because she wanted to. But also because she was so damned beautiful he couldn’t say no, and too because Julius had yelled at her for smoking a cigarette in his bathroom.
After the curtain call, Nancy took her time in the dressing room. Sal was smoking a cigar and trying to joke with her about missing a line. The codeine had worn off. Julius had not been seen since eleven that morning when Nancy stormed out of his apartment. It would be better that way, she believed, since he was nothing but trouble. Even if he was charming, he was still a writer.
Nancy peered out of the dressing room into the hallway, painted a soothing shade of taupe. There were doors to the stage, and fire exits, and sprinklers overhead and Jackson standing at one end, holding peace roses. He looked older, but in the way that made him more attractive.
“Good show,” Jeanine said to her as she came out of the dressing room.
“You too,” Nancy said. Nancy was fantasizing about the moment. Trying to improve it, to take control of it, trying to belittle Jackson, but just enough that he would sleep with her one last time. Instead, Jackson handed Jeanine the roses, leaned over, and kissed her.
Nancy sat in her car smoking a cigarette. She watched as the remainder of the cast left, and then the technicians. Her codeine bottle was empty now. It wasn’t really hers. She had lifted it from Wilson’s medicine cabinet some months ago. Tom Parsons came up to the window and knocked with knuckles.
“Nancy,” he said, “you ok?”
She nodded, but rolled down the window. “You aren’t mad I botched the line tonight?” she asked.
“What line? I didn’t notice.” He had, but he didn’t care. Only the writer cared.
“You want to grab a drink?” she asked.
Tom looked at her and rubbed his face as if he actually had to think about it. “Sure, but just one.”
While she was fucking him that night, bombed out on codeine and a light beer, she thought about Wilson, disappointed she never had the opportunity to sleep with him.