She could be an actress herself, or a model. The girl at reception was suprisingly beautiful, dark haired, with her hair coiled up on top of her head, perfect make-up, stark red lips. A dark suit and a frothy cream blouse completed the look. She glanced up from her computer as Rhonda walked in the door.
“Can I help you?”
“Rhonda Hudson. Auditioning for the part of 'Young Woman'” It was always a bad sign when the part didn't even warrant a proper name. But then you have to start somewhere, right?
The receptionist scrolled down a list, she tapped her pen against the desk as she did so, and crossed her long legs.
Actress. Model. She could make it even with only a shred of talent. Why doesn't she? Or perhaps she did. Or would. And here am I, broad-shouldered and big-nosed, having to succeed on nothing
but my talent. It would be worth it when she did. When....
“Ah, here, two-o'clock. Just take a seat please, over by the far wall.”
Rhonda wasn't alone here. There were five other women sitting along two and a half walls. She slid down into a chair and made a half-hearted effort to be interested in a six-month-old magazine. Her true interest was in her competition. They were a mixed bunch. The woman sitting directly across from her didn't look as if she'd stand much of a chance. She was plain; and visibly nervous, her hands kept reaching out and stretching her skirt over her knees. The red-head was more dangerous: her curly, ginger-gold hair set her out from the ordinary. The hair was soft, shiny, tamed; her freckles were a mere scatter against attractive golden-tanned skin. In a black dress, with silver jewelry she came across sophisticated, cool, sharp. And no harm that she's really pretty.
Another woman, sitting next to Rhonda, was really no prettier than she was. Skinny, too pale. The one on her other side was blonde, blue-eyed. She was good looking, but in an ordinary kind of a way. And the one in the far corner, with her hair piled in a complex tower, head well-down, glasses: it was hard to tell about that one, the shadows from a magazine and a pot-plant kept her face obscured. She wore bright, lacy tights, along with shiny, black shoes; with pencil-thin, towering heels.
No, it's 'Red' who'll catch their eye as soon as she walks in. She's the one to beat. Can she act though?
'Red''s name was Jacinta Gabbott. An assistant called her from the doorway, pen and clip-board in hand.
I can do this, Rhonda told herself. She tried to squash six months of failure and doubt out of
her mind. She could dwell on that later. She could cry herself to sleep with it if she liked. Or take to the couch with a bottle of whisky and big box of chocolates and just let the world go that way. Maybe that.... Unless, of course, she got the part.
She watched Jacinta Gabbott hurry into the audition room. She looked peppy and sparkly rather than nervous. Her hurrying had the aura of enthusiasm rather than fear.
The other women had all looked up as well when a name was called. Almost as one they let their eyes drop back to their magazines. It was a small room they were in, Rhonda reflected. She'd never been the type to be claustraphobic, could hardly be, with the size of her flat. She was used to small spaces, and clutter. There was no particular reason why these walls, today, should feel as if they were closing in on her. Or the ceiling sinking. The red chairs lining the walls seemed suddenly garrish, and the little tables holding cards and magazines were overly decorative. Something vulgar about them. And the dun-coloured carpet looked dirty. Didn't it? As if soot had been rubbed and rubbed and rubbed into it....
Calm down. It was just another role. Okay, so she might not get it. Which would be just the same as any other role she hadn't got. Why was she so nervous about this one? Her hands were sweaty. It was stupid. It was just another part. And anyway, I'm going to nail it. She'd been telling that to the mirror over and over again all morning.
That clock ticks way too loudly.
The audition room door opened. The assistant leaned out over her clipboard, scanning the room. “Rhonda Hudson.”
Here goes nothing.
She walked into a room that radiated sophistication. The walls were striped with a wallpaper in mixed shades of gold, cream, black. A cream carpet swam between the walls, with a shaggy silver rug in the centre. Bookshelves lined a wall. A dark-wood desk dominated the room; with a man sitting at it whose neat hair, expensive suit, clean-shaven chin, set him apart as Someone Who Matters. The view behind him was spectacular: blue sky, blue sea, a citycape of greys and blacks and reflective windows, with trails of greenery lapping against them.
“Rhonda.” He stood to shake her hand.
“Thank you for seeing me.”
“Not at all.” The smile seemed honest. “Will you have a seat?”
“Thanks.” She sat abruptly.
He was scrolling through her resume: “You're still fairly new to all this.”
She swallowed. “Er.... just starting out.”
“Well, you need to start somewhere. I'm Daniel. My assistant Marlene will be reading the part of Victor today.”
She allowed herself a quick smile, and it caused his eyebrows to raise a little. Don't blush. “It's just.... my partner's name is Victor.”
“You should feel right at home.”
“Yeah.” She faked a bright, confident, self-contented smile. She'd get nowhere if she couldn't make an impression on casting director.
“Here's your script. From the top. Victor's just come home from a weekend in New York. You're waiting for him eagerly, you're quite sure he's indicated he's going to propose to you tonight.”
Victor would drop everything and take a weekend off in New York. And there were times when she'd seen something in his eyes that made her wonder if he was considering the question. She'd have no trouble at all getting into this part. She could already feel it settling over her - a second skin, a second life - as she stood up, script in hand, turning to face the assistant.
It should have been at least a small challenge to picture this petite woman in a navy pencil skirt as a man, and one she was romantically involved with, but in fact it came easily. Rhonda caught herself imagining her own Victor; and his image seemed to drape itself over the girl with ease.
From the top. That was her line: “Honey, is that you?”
“It's me.” The voice was dull. The girl's tone captured a man's – she seemed to be able to project a deep voice.
“I've missed you, y'know.”
“Let me sit down please, I've just walked in the door.”
Yeah, that was like a man. “Sure. I'll get you something....”
“No.” A pause. A long sigh. The assistant played her role to the hilt. Never mind that she must have read through this half a dozen times already. “No. Just you. I want to talk to you.”
In the movie there'd be silence for a while. Victor waiting. The woman coming to the doorway, standing in the doorframe with her head bent against the side, hopeful, a little bit worried, trying to read this unhoped-for tone.
Auditioning, she answered right away “What is it?”
“Things have changed since Christmas.”
She didn't need to fake a smile. Such a great night, her own Christmas with her own Victor.
“You. You're not the same.”
“I am!” She played the objection fiercely.
“How many nights this week have you been out with Tania?”
Her own best friend. What...?
The assistant waited. Victor. She was standing with his exact way of standing. The image of Victor was like a glove on her. Right down to the flickery twitch in his eye.
My line. Um.... “Twice. What about it?”
“Until three. Until three-thirty.”
“We're out of touch with each other.”
Are we? She couldn't remember how recently she'd spent a full night alone with her own Victor. Concentrate. “That isn't true! You know that isn't true, I -”
The assistant cut her off, mimicking Victor's voice, his facial expressions. “I ran into Clare in New York.....”
Victor's ex. What is this?
“We got to talking. Chatting.”
“What are you telling me here?”
“Nothing happened. Just hot chocolates and scones.”
We eat those. He always orders that. “Then....”
“I had fun. I was enjoying myself like I haven't in a long time.”
“Like you haven't with me is what you're saying!”
“Yes! Lately. I wanted to go to Paris.”
Paris. The same place. I know I cancelled, I had to.... “How long are you going to keep holding that against me?”
“It isn't just Paris.”
“There was nothing I could do....”
“No, it's games night as well. It's the colour you want for the bedroom walls” -a beautiful blue that was almost purple, all shaded in silvers and mauves and like twilight - “it's everything about you,
and everything you want for you, and not for us.”
“No! It's Clare! It aways has been -” Was she adlibbing? Her vision was blurring too much to see the script clearly. Paris. Clare. Victor. The wallpaper.
“Why do you keep saying that?”
“Because it's true and I'm tired of living with it and-”
She couldn't find the next line. She must be staring. Her hands were shaking. What is this? Is this someone's joke?
And Daniel was saying “Well done.” The view behind him had taken on a chilling vastness; the classy décor now seemed sinister, slick, so much to her taste that it felt as if she'd walked into a trap. The rug would match the wallpaper in the bedroom. And this carpet, just the way she'd have chosen to decorate....
“Miss Hudson, are you all right?”
“You did well.”
She stammered “When.... will I know?”
He leaned back. The smile, the tone, he was trained to give her: “We've got a lot of promising actresses auditioning for the part. She's a complex character. Not everyone could play her. We need to get the right fit.”
“I thought the role was 'Young Woman'”
Daniel nodded placidly.
“He called her by her name.”
“The role is evolving.”
“Thank you for your time. We have your details. Marlene.”
The assistant somehow still had Victor's skin on. She had his Wednesday suit on as well, it was his favourite pen she was twirling around in her fingers. “This way.” And she was herding Rhonda out into
the waiting area.
There were still four women waiting. But they all look so much like me? She didn't know why she hadn't seen it before. Blond. Dark. But they still had the face she saw every day in the mirror, each of them, buried somewhere inside there. In a reflective wall panel she could see for herself the likeness.
What happens if one of them gets the part?
She was checking her details with the receptionist. “Yes. That all looks correct.”
“I... I was just wondering....”
“We won't know yet.”
“But when they've decided...” her heart was hammering away in her chest. What happens if somebody else gets the part? Too late. Fear and realisation tingled up her arms, in the pit of her belly.
The reception smiled, “Don't worry. Someone will call you as soon as they've made a decision.”