Jim sinks into the limousine and tries to ignore the twinge in his joints as he settles. The door slams shut: the vessel pulls away smoothly without even a hush.
Tuning out the stifled silence of his wife sitting opposite, Jim turns to the window, blind to the lights and displays of the City of Angels. Instead, his gaze turns inward, backward, toward times and sights witnessed long ago.
The smell of dirt and corn, the sound of lowing cattle and rustling wheat in the Midwest town where he grew up. The bark of his pet, who passed two summers after his 13th birthday, and the antics of farm children away at school.
The large screens in the town center, where families pull their battered trucks and tinkering ol’ cars to park in the shadow of characters cast 12 times their actual height. Sitting in the bed of the old family Ford, Jim remembers the certainty in his bones that he too would be up there one day.
Harsh reality sapping the spring from youthful steps and draining the pride of strong shoulders. The depression of receiving rejection after rejection. The pain as youthful certainty succumbs to pessimistic reality.
Jim still remembers walking home to a cockroach infested apartment shared with 3 other flatmates, ears ringing with shock and disbelief from his first small acting role. How his dubious parents rejoice with him at the miniscule success that attracts a prominent director’s eye for future lucrative casting.
The rise to celebrityhood, how walking the street soon becomes a lesson in mob control. Suddenly there are bodyguards, agents, scripts, steady income, a condo, a sports car. The doors to wealth finally open, and he sweeps inside like he was born among the fellow acolytes and patrons.
His hometown becomes an epicenter, a veritable shrine to his success. The advent of his new films become akin to the national holiday. The businesses on Main St. would close, and all would turn out a huge spread complete with games and contest. The day would close with the night bringing the projector to life, and his visage to the screens.
Golden glory, those days of liquid gold quickly vanished within the riptide of scripts, casts, sets, lines, directing, another film, another film, another film.
Now, no one even blinks an eye.
His wife’s reaction aptly sums the public’s interest. “Oh…another one?” she mutters dryly. “What month will you be back?”
A tired sigh, then turning to flip the dying newspaper, both it and the reader rapidly approaching extinction.
He tries to imagine phoning the folks with renewed excitement over his new monumental gig, but the weariness of just thinking of it…
The sorrow of their departure.
Accomplished, established, and drained of all passion. Every role garners his devotion and utmost attention, but the excitement, that fresh glee has long ago glazed to a more stolid reaction of expectation, rather than awe and surprise.
Jim tries to grasp what that feels like- but it is as cold and foreign as his once beloved’s arms. He glances over at her, but she is busy tapping into the latest smallest tablet- biggest phone- and mumbling into her bluetooth. He suddenly feels alone, a man standing in the desert with nothing and no one for a thousand miles.
He never imagined, that this, this would be what success feels like.
The vessel glides to a halt on the curb, the door opens, and his wife steps through into the portal of flashing lights. Jim draws his suit jacket around himself and follows, stepping into the blinding flashes as he offers his arm. Together, the stranger and he stride down the crimson rug, he pauses for individual photos and then couple shots, before continuing into the doors, past alert, hyperattentive security. They mingle, the flutes in their hands a lodestone pulling them apart as firmly as opposite polarities of a magnet. Jim shakes hands with liposuction, kisses collagen, embraces saline inflatables, and brushes cheeks with botox.
The festivities soon beckon them into the main hall. Jim’s features remain aloft, his placid expression like a sail of colors above the drowning deck of a ship. His wife chuckles and makes small talk, more animation present beyond what he could wring from her during the last ten years.
The speeches commence, the photographers invade his privacy. The parade begins, the same pasted shock and fake surprise stitched across their faces. He too, feels no surprise when his name is called. The classic kiss on his wife’s cheek as he passes, the stride to the podium, the acceptance of yet another shiny ornament of metal and, is that glass also?
The patented smile. Words of faux humility. Thanking an academy that, isn’t.The humor they swallow like milk at breakfast- someone told them they need it, so they consume it, blandly, without thought.
“So, I guess this is it, then,” he finishes, clasping the trophy to his chest. This…. this is really all there is.
Staring out into the empty applause, the cold symbol of achievement in his hands, Jim can’t help but wish that they were all 12 foot screens. Screens he can turn off, turn away, and escape back to the simpler times, when Butch runs by his side into the cornfields of possibility.
Blinding camera flashes haunt him as he steps off the stage.