“I think.... is she dead?” I stand over the little girl, gulping, drops of crimson falling from my dagger onto her cadaverous face. She almost looks like she’s back alive like that, the blood seeping into her cheeks, giving off the guise of a deep blush.
“She looks beautiful,” I remark, still talking to myself, with awe in my voice, a look of wonder on my face.
“Aaaand scene,” Ryan strikes the clapper, motioning for the props crew to clear the setting. His eyes never leave me, though. Too exhausted to care this time, I’m determined, pushing past everyone, mapping out my footsteps on the shortest way to my dressing room, when a clammy hand grabs my arm. I know it’s him even before looking, and he’s squeezing it tighter than he needs to. I wince to the side before plastering on a sickly smile, eyes blinking too fast.
“That was incredible, Qara...truly your best take yet,” his voice drawls over my skin just as his beady eyes do, triggering a shiver all over. I try to pull away discreetly, but his fingers grip on just the little bit tighter. I’m still blinking rapidly, but I’ve played this game before. If I’m smart about it, a few more minutes and I’ll be out.
“Why thank you, Ryan. I really tried to give it my all today, what, after like a hundred takes?” A small smirk, a cat's kiss of the eyes, a brief caress of his hand still on my arm, and I knew I’d done it. He lets go, eyeing me like he knew all my secrets. Everything, from the time I thought my baby brother would float and almost pushed him down the elevator, to the tiny birthmark above my right hip. I’m pretty sure I’m sweating all over now, that he sees it and it fills him with perverse, resplendent excitement. He considers me for a moment, before reminding me that I’ll see him tomorrow on set and leaves with his customary wink.
My whole body convulses, and I’m suddenly aware of the tattered costume that barely covers my damp skin. It feels as though everyone’s watching me, with intent, like wolves who haven’t eaten for days. Like wolves who’ll rip me apart, leave me half alive and take me back to their children, howling at the sympathetic moon, satisfied with their meal.
Of course, no one is watching me, but Donovan Carter is. He mouths something like “happy birthday” to me, shoots me a grin, and walks off. He’s up next to shoot for his new zombie action movie, and all the staff are scurrying around to get everything ready. I personally never understood how the masses could devour such cliche cinema time and time again. Then again, I’m not part of the masses. Well, at least not anymore.
My dressing room is just how I left it, I think.The clothes I arrived in lay crumpled on the plush cream sofa. A glass half filled with red wine sits atop the smudged makeup counter, it’s base precariously hanging off the edge, much like me. The rest of my belongings hug the far corner of the tiled floor, and I can see the glint of the knife’s edge. That’s when my mind starts talking to itself again, questioning what I already know. Was the knife under your bag when you left? Why is the knife even here in the first place? Were you meant to carry it today? Someone has been in your room, and they must have seen it.
No. No one has been in this room, no one could have been in this room. And even if they had, they couldn’t have thought anything of it. Oh, that? Haha, it’s just an extra in case something happens to the one I’m acting with, I’d not-so-convincingly say, and they’d look at me weird, but that would be that.
You won’t have to say it, you’re the only one who has the keys to the room. It’s not an opinion. It’s not a false memory. It’s a fact. I have to keep reminding myself it’s a fact.
The ironic thing about fame is that it gets you no closer to being known. Superficially, yes, but truly being known? You’ll be chasing it for days and weeks and months and years, only to figure out that even a lifetime of being revered by strangers won’t make you feel less alone.
I often find myself reminiscing about the early stages of my acting career; it’s the only hobby I can afford to do that doesn’t involve me living in my miserable present.
Qara, you’re so talented...I’m putting money on her becoming the next big thing...Priyanka Chopra featuring in Hollywood could never...This is gonna stack up so well with cultural integration in our new series...We’ll finally be able to entice the Indian demographic...We’re going to be the bellwethers of a new industry…
I thought it was everything I wanted. It was everything I wanted, and more. But it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough and I hadn’t been prepared for the amount of pressure, expectation, and anxiety that came with it. I had people who loved me, praised me, wanted to be me, yet I wasn’t even comfortable with myself. I also garnered criticism, a lot of it. Hate in the form of bland insults that were made to sting, and they did. They got me, right at my core, questioning my mere existence. I couldn’t bare well in relationships either; always overthinking and unintentional public exposure ruined something that was doomed from the start. On top of that, fellow actors, crew members, and even directors would sidle over to me. They’d whisper sweet nothings in my ear that were meant to mean everything. It was producer Jack. It was photographer Simon. It was scriptwriter David. It was choreographer Mark. It was director Ryan. It was even Donovan Carter.
Hollywood doesn’t turn you into a star. It turns you into satire.
I open the door to my humble two story house, pursing my lips at the memory of social media blowing up about how I was so modest, buying a normal apartment in a normal secluded neighbourhood, like I was normal. It hadn’t worked though- I was still by myself. No comment from the 14 year old fangirls could have changed my solitude.
My living room is just how I left it, I think. The fan is still running, an overlook on my part in the daily morning rush. The two plates lay unwashed in the sink, lasagna from the night before scattered on the edges, much like me. The dress hugs the back of a locked door, and I can see how bright it’s sequins shine. That’s when my mind starts talking to itself again, questioning what I already know. Was the dress hung there when you left? Why is the dress even there in the first place? Were you meant to leave it out so blatantly? Someone has been in your house, and they must have seen it.
No. No one has been in my house, no one could have been in my house. And even if they had, they couldn’t have thought anything of it. Oh, that? Haha, it’s just the colour of the dress. No, really! Yes, I know it looks like blood, but it isn’t! The dress is red, a beautiful shade, isn’t it?, I’d not-so-convincingly say, and they’d look at me weird, but that would be that.
You won’t have to say it, you’re the only one who has the keys to the house. It’s not an opinion. It’s not a false memory. It’s a fact. I have to keep reminding myself it’s a fact.
I woke up to a soft banging. Thud, thud, thud. I thought it was my dream at first, but then the floor started splitting in half and my mind started piecing everything together. Thud, thud, thud. My eyes adjust to my familiar room. Dirty dishes still in the sink? Check. Fan still rotating? Check. Dress floating on the door? Che-
The dress, it isn’t floating, no. But it’s moving, swaying from side to side, as if being nudged by a gentle wind. I eye the door more closely, the dull realisation that she was causing the movement. Thud, thud, thud. More banging, and it’s eating at my brain, sinking into my teeth, permeating my tongue with guilt and confusion and razor sharp edges that prick like acupuncture devoid of relief.
The key’s still in the lock, which makes me think maybe someone has been in my house. No...you left it there in your morning rush. Maybe. Either way, I unlock it, click, hesitantly, slowly, slightly, peering through the crack even though I’m aware no sight will meet my eyes. Only the sounds of her pleas.
“Please….I...I’m sorry for whatever I’ve done just please! Please let me out of here I swear I won’t I won’t do anything I won’t tell anyone...n-no one needs to know-” her choked sobs crack at the touch of my hand on her neck. I remember Ryan from this morning, emulating his threatening but gentle squeeze. I’ve played this game before. If I’m smart about it, a few more minutes and she’ll be done.
A small smirk, a slow blink of the eyes that adapt to night vision akin to a cat, a brief caress of her face wet with tears of solitude. I let go of her neck, eyeing her, because I know all her secrets. Everything, from the time she thought I wouldn’t reply and excitedly wrote me a letter of admiration, to the red bruise above her right hip. I’m pretty sure she’s shuddering all over now, can feel it, and it fills me with perverse, resplendent excitement. I consider her for a moment, before reminding her that today is supposed to be the day and that there’s no seeing her tomorrow, and I give her my customary sympathetic smile.
“You don’t have to do this…” she says weakly, not knowing all that I’ve gone through for this very moment.
“As if I haven’t considered that before. Besides, what if someone came to my house and somehow caught on to me harbouring a child in my guest room? No...no that wouldn’t be good now, would it?” I twirl out of her way as I sense her hand reaching towards my leg. Not that it matters, the ropes stopped her from reaching it anyway.
“Please….not on my birthday please just give me a few more days and we can sort something out-”
“Your birthday? YOUR birthday?” I spit incredulously. Maybe, maybe could have considered giving her a few more days, but not anymore. I smash the dish I had bought with me onto the floor. Specks of lasagna and pieces of the cake I had prepared spewed on to us both.
“How rich. How fucking rich!” I’m laughing now, laughing and crying and licking cake off my fingers. “It’s not your birthday, honey, it’s OUR birthday? Remember? In your sweet little letter- I still have it pinned to my beside wall, you know?-you gushed about how much we had in common and how we even shared the same birthday and how you thought you knew me like that! And then I replied and you were all ‘HOLY SHIT MY IDOL REPLIED TO ME’ and I knew I had you then and. Ahh. I just wanted someone to love me, you know? And know me like you thought you knew me. But you just had to come over and make assumptions, like everyone else. ‘You’re crazy, Qara. You need help, Qara. Maybe you should go see the doctor, Qara. Try taking on less roles, Qara. Qara Qara Qara!’ And now I have no one and I just wanted to share this moment with you, for us, because it’s our special day. I guess I’ll just cut straight to the chase now,” I laugh at my own joke at the end, about cutting. Cutting cake? Cutting her throat open? What a double edged sword! Haha! I’m on a roll.
Eager not to let this good fortune pass, I retrieve the knife that had clanged to the floor with the plate. My mind shuts off, and all I can see are her eyes begging and her lips moving.
“I think.... is she dead?” I stand over the little girl, gulping, drops of crimson falling from my knife onto her cadaverous face. She almost looks like she’s back alive like that, the blood seeping into her cheeks, giving off the guise of a deep blush.
“She looks beautiful,” I remark, still talking to myself, with awe in my voice, a look of wonder on my face.
Except I’m not acting, and this isn’t a scene from a movie, and there’s no cameras around me. It’s not an opinion. It’s not a false memory. It’s a fact. I have to keep reminding myself it’s a fact, and I don’t feel bad about it.
I just wanted to feel less alone.