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Drama Funny Fiction

This story contains themes or mentions of substance abuse.

Despite being a successful television actor, Cherry Adams is a wayward young woman. Tonight, she fixates on a shopfront with pulsing neon signs—pressing her face on the glass and bathing hungrily in the rainbow light. She smears the windows with her oily skin, but the despondent newsagent who usually shoos her away with his broom has not made his presence felt yet. 


An automated street cleaning vehicle follows its preset route along the street where Cherry is ensconced. The sleepy nightshift operative who is supposed to be looking out for pedestrians in the vehicle's route is more concerned with watching football highlights on his phone. 


Cherry extricates herself from the window, begins swinging around a streetlamp, and gazes up at its orange glow. The dance brings to mind a black and white film she saw as a child, but she can’t recall its name in the throes of narcosis. The humming vehicle encroaches on Cherry’s dancing space, but the sound does not register with her. As she completes another orbit around the lamppost—dangerously close to facing a bristly fate—a valiant pedestrian recognises her from across the street. The lanky man dashes over and tackles Cherry by the midriff; shouldering her as a fireman would a helpless child with smoke-filled lungs. He carries her to safety and deposits her limp body on a bench in a small shrub garden where he arranges her malleable limbs into a comfortable position. The din of the sweeper recedes into the distance, along with its operative shouting angrily at the football results.


‘Miss? Can you hear me?’ Asks the man.


‘I am the light. I shine, shine, shine.’


The man frowns and digs through Cherry’s pockets, looking for identification. He pulls out an expired driver’s licence and checks the address, which is only a few streets away. The man makes no further attempt to bring Cherry to her senses, rather, he hoists her up and guides her towards the pavement. En route to Cherry’s apartment, youths clamber at ultra-violet lit entrances to amusement arcades. Those who aren't squatted, staring point blank at illuminated bollards, weave in and out of traffic—enticed by the beams of near-silent electric cars.


‘Like moths to a flame,’ the stranger mutters. 


He unlatches the door to Cherry’s apartment with her ID card. He does the honourable thing and deposits her safely on her bed, fills a glass with water and places it on the nightstand. He knows about the morning comedown. The lanky stranger scrawls his phone number on a piece of paper and slides it under the glass before leaving.


***


If Cherry has any chance of arriving at work promptly the morning after her bender (which she doesn’t), she is obliged to attend a government-mandated training session. Employees of the television studio will watch footage showing the latest street drug scourging the nation. The video will be narrated by a stern voice and scored with tense music to act as a deterrent. 


‘Moths are bred on factory farms and slaughtered with gas. They get ground into a powder and taken to mothlabs where they are fermented in test tubes before undergoing several stages of filtration, which isolates the active ingredients. The resulting substances—mothamphetamines—are on the rise due to the discontinuation of several government-subsidised legal highs on which much of the populace were dependent. Colloquially known as moth, this potent methamphetamine creates an obsession with light. Ironically, even a light user will still experience insatiable cravings for luminescence. It’s an all or nothing kind of drug. Once you start, it’s hard to stop.’


But of course, Cherry is sleeping off the effects of said drug and doesn’t arrive at the studio until the afternoon, well after the training session is over. 


***


The producer of popular soap opera Betwixt (of which Cherry is the star) is calling her out on her selfish behaviour. ‘You can’t keep turning up for work looking like a bag of spanners,’ says Bernardo.


Cherry scoffs. ‘Bernie. . . it’s nothing the make-up team can’t fix.’


Bernardo clears his throat with snark and points to Cherry’s eyes. ‘No amount of eyeshadow is going to improve these dead-looking grey ping-pong balls. They look as if they’ve been rolling around in the street before being pressed into your eye sockets.’


‘My methods are my own, Bernie. I still deliver the goods, don’t I? What's it to you if I enjoy myself in my downtime?’


Before Bernardo can answer, Cherry abruptly marches off to the bathroom for a bump of moth. She storms a cubicle and slams the door shut behind her. After emptying a pile of grey flakes onto the porcelain cistern, she cuts a neat line with an old credit card, then drags her nose along the cistern, inhaling deeply. Exiting the cubicle, Cherry stands proud, straightens her pencil skirt and pouts at herself in the mirror. 


‘A bag of spanners? More like a bag of diamonds. . .’


***


Cherry is lunging at the makeup mirror lightbulbs. It's making things tricky for the cosmetic ladies, but the three of them are being good sports. Having secured Cherry to a chair with three belts around her arms and waist, two of the ladies are holding her head in place while the other applies concealer, blusher, and mascara with a steady hand.


With ten minutes until call time, Cherry finds Frank’s number in her pocket whilst fidgeting. She begins rattling off a text to him, though due to her slap-dash screen mashing, the overly heartfelt message is hijacked by autocorrect. ‘Thanks for saving my skin’ becomes ‘Tanks for shaving my kin’. Inevitably, the message delivered resembles a further non-sequitur for Frank to furrow his brow at.


***


During the first hour of filming, Cherry resists the temptation to dance in the wash of the overhead studio lights. She delivers her lines on auto-pilot, coasting through her character’s b-story arc, as she has been doing for weeks now. Halfway through a line directed at her love interest, Chandler, the urge to enmesh herself with the luminosity at hand climaxes. Cherry leaves her mark and hurriedly positions a ladder underneath the hottest beam. She climbs up to the top rung and sways in the intense phosphorescence, her face washed out—filled with euphoria.


‘Cherry, get down,’ shouts Bernardo as he runs out from behind the monitor. ‘You’re going to fall!’


Chandler instinctively foots the ladder. His outstretched arms and baby talk do nothing to coax Cherry down. Bernardo impatiently intervenes, claiming, ‘you’ll never get her down like that. She’s on Moth.’ Bernardo points to the electrician and barks an order, ‘Switch off the lights!’


Now in darkness, Cherry desperately reaches out and grabs a handful of thin air. She topples over and lands on the carpet with a dull thud, followed immediately by the clattering ladder.


‘Rehab time,’ Bernardo says. It's a callous thing to say aloud. But the producer is right. This is Cherry’s third strike. She had her second last week, writhing around on the floor with a strobe light that was providing lightning flashes for a storm scene. The cast and crew were quite horrified.


***


Camp Moonlight offers a clinic for moth abusers that specialises in fast tracking them out of moth-holes. Though Cherry's being sent there by Bernardo has more to do it’s value-for-money service than the fact that it has the sturdiest clinical reputation around.


‘Treat it as a holiday,’ Bernardo says. ‘Make it look like you’re on vacation, Cherry. Your addiction must remain secret. It’s too scandalous for public consumption, not to mention damaging to the network's reputation. . .’ 


Content-hungry tweens fawn over Cherry’s holiday snaps on social media. They believe their favourite cast member is enjoying a spa break, when in fact, because Cherry is a master deceiver, she has cropped the photos in such a way that the institutional locales appear exotic and appealing—worthy of a holiday brochure. A pouty-faced bunk-bed selfie featuring a rolled up towel sells the illusion of a full-body massage with essential oils. The utilitarian courtyard designed for patients to get their allotted thirty minutes of fresh air per day includes a seating area with potted palms. Posing at the right angle, with the blue sky taking up most of the frame, Cherry takes a selfie that makes her look like she’s on Ventura Boulevard. The beige cafeteria food is the hardest thing to sensualise, but Cherry manages to arrange her fruit-cup segments in her semolina pudding so skilfully that she inadvertently boosts the culinary profile of a facility that would barely earn a grunt of approval from a starving person.


It should be noted that the wing of the facility dedicated to moth users is operated primarily in the dark, save for a few critical instances. Directional floor arrows, door handles, toilet seats, and fire exit signs are considered safety features and must be visible. Their glow in the dark green hue solves this issue. Light starvation breaks the cycle of craving. Once the drug has been consumed and the desire for light is strong, exposure to light creates an intense craving for the drug itself. It's a cruel feedback loop.


Disappointingly for Cherry, there are no corrupt clinicians or bunkmates willing to furnish her with contraband to soothe her low mood; no booze, no nicotine, no chocolate and certainly no Moth. 


‘I’m as straight as I’ve ever been,’ Cherry tells the clinic councillor. ‘This place is airtight.’


‘I’m glad to hear it, Miss Adams. How is your reaction to light?’


‘I was in the courtyard yesterday.' Cherry scrunches her nose proudly. 'I read a book on Joan of Arc for half an hour.’ 


The clinician notes Cherry's progress down on her pad. ‘Excellent. Keep increasing your exposure incrementally and we’ll have you out of here by next week.’


***


Cherry uses her phone privilege to reply to a text from Frank. He has offered to take her out for dinner. She decides right away against getting romantically involved with him, but not on account of his looks (his visage is on par with any TV actor’s). She's simply not ready to date anyone in her current circumstances, even if they did save her from a brush with a street sweeper.


Acupuncture and Reiki serve as effective distractions and mild placebos for Cherry as her recovery ebbs and flows. Withdrawal symptoms range from shivering and sweating, shaking and craving, to delirium. Euphoria arrives brazenly late, flinging the church doors open and joining the ceremony like a drunken ring bearer. Cherry is giddy at emancipating herself from her moth-hole. With her discharge a day away, she has ridden it out.


***


Opposite Camp Moonlight’s wrought iron gates, a lank figure lingers. It’s easy for Cherry to mistake the man leaning against a telegraph pole on the other side of the road for her estranged father. But upon getting closer, she sees that his features are too chiselled and youthful to be those of her paternal figure. Plus, he drives an electric vehicle—a Chariot. 


‘I thought you could use a ride,’ Frank says.


Cherry rubs the back of her neck. ‘I would have been fine hitchhiking.’


‘A beautiful woman like you? You would probably have been kidnapped and held for ransom.’


Cherry kicks a clod of dirt with her black boots that narrowly misses Frank’s car. ‘Is that supposed to be a compliment?’ 


Frank guffaws. ‘You’ll never be content. Even with me looking out for you. Most women would give their left tit to be with me. Come on, I’ll take you for a burger.’


‘I'm not most women, and I don’t eat meat.'


‘There are plenty of vegan options at the diner. Please, just get in the car. I'm really trying here. ’ 


In truth, Cherry does delight at the sound of a juicy plant-based burger. The thought is hellishly tempting after a fortnight of bland cafeteria sludge.


‘Alright, but only if you’re buying.’


Absolutely, I’m buying.’


Cherry deposits her handbag in the bonnet boot and slinks into the low-sprung car. They glide out of the barren hinterlands, soundlessly arriving at the City Limits diner where they order copious amounts of soul-nourishing (if not body-nourishing) food. 


‘You know,’ Frank says, ‘this sumptuous pea protein patty is firm but not too chewy with a well balanced umami flavour. The ubiquitous soya burgers that flood the market are a tad laborious to masticate for my liking.’


Cherry is keeping her syllables to a minimum so as to pay full attention to her well-earned burger. ‘Oh really?’ She asks.


‘Uh-huh. I make it my business to sample all the vegan fare. I’m a food critic—I write for Chard, an online food magazine. But I’m not Vegan, per se.’


‘That’s a shame. I could never be with someone who’s not.’


‘You’re principled. That’s admirable.’ Frank glanced at his watch. ‘When are you due back at the studio?’


The realisation has Cherry squeezing mayonnaise from her burger all over her fingers in trepidation. ‘I think they want me back this afternoon.’


‘Hah, it doesn't sound like you want to go.’


‘Very perceptive of you. I’m not sure that I do. I have to ask, how did you know I was at Camp Moonlight?’


‘Your trick photography didn’t work on me. I’ve been there myself. Been an addict, I mean. Moth is no fun when—‘


The loud ping of Cherry’s phone cuts Frank off. She wipes her mayonnaise-covered fingers and yanks the device out of her tight jeans pocket. Skim-reading her direct messages reveals a handful of people didn't fall for the holiday ruse and have deduced the real reason for her absence from Betwixt. They are threatening to leak her rehab story if they don’t receive hefty sums of money.


‘The nerve!’ Frank says. 


‘Screw it,’ Cherry says. ‘This was bound to happen, anyway. I might as well go to the press. If I don’t take the reins, the headlines will descend into hyperbole.’


***


Cherry spills the beans to Sam Dangle at the Daily Log. She feels that her mothamphetamine debacle has more or less been compartmentalised. After arriving at the TV studio courtesy of her wannabe-suitor, she decides to set the record straight with him.


‘I appreciate your help, Frank. But we’re not going to be dating.’


‘Ok, but can I see you again? Just as friends?’


That old chestnut. . . Cherry thinks. She knows enough to know that Frank doesn't want to be 'just friends' and avoids answering his question. Cherry tacitly holds Frank's gaze as she exits the vehicle with one eyebrow cocked—a move that Frank finds extremely withholding, yet incredibly seductive. He unlatches the bonnet boot for Cherry. She retrieves her hand luggage and walks away, making sure to avoid eye contact with Frank.


***


‘Cherry-bomb!’ Bernardo hails in the hallway. Cherry’s gallop to the kitchen to forage for kombucha is postponed while Bernardo gives her a good looking over. ‘Refreshed. Radiant. Revitalised. Looking good, babe. But I thought you might be taking a personal day? Rehab is intense.’


‘I told the press everything, Bernie.’


‘That’s super bold. Super bold.’ Bernardo seems unperturbed by the fact that Cherry let the scandalous drug addicted cat out of the TV network's bag. ‘Well, what else is there to say? You're here. You're well. Let's get to work!'


Under the large, hot studio lights, the actors take to their marks as they did but a fortnight ago. Cherry's character, Gina, is mid-tirade, scolding her lover for betraying her.  


‘You don’t know what you’re talking about, Chandler. Father would never say such a thing. He’s always supported my cause.’ 


Though the script does not call for it, Cherry is moved to tears by the overwhelming catharsis of having righted her own path. Her own recent experience resonates with the plight of her character. The cathartic tears cling to her high cheekbones before plummeting to her neckline, pooling in a crevice on her clavicle and forming iridescent micro-lakes on her flawless, tan skin. The tears serve only to illuminate Cherry’s masterfully melodramatic performance. Her gazelle-like trembling and rock pool eyes suck the air out of the studio like a vacuum. Time slows down. 


Faithful Betwixt director Andrew Myers is lost for words and cannot look the starlet in the eye. He can only give a chef’s kiss in appreciation of her performance. When the scene is finally wrapped, as the crew busy themselves with their respective tasks, the director stares into space. Cherry approaches him. ‘Was the crying too much?’


‘No,' he says. He presses his palms together, closes his eyes and looks down. ‘It was magnificent.’

September 16, 2022 17:48

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7 comments

Aeris Walker
22:46 Sep 17, 2022

Mothamphetamine?!! Lol! Original is an understatement, but this is definitely such a creative and one-of-a-kind idea. I hope to get a chance to catch up on your last story, which I saw was in the recommended list for a while (so congrats) but I enjoyed this story and found it as clever and well written as always. The imagery of this drug addicted celebrity pressing herself against a lit up store front was sadly hilarious. My only thoughts along the lines of critique are that I felt like Frank needed to be flushed out a bit more. He was kin...

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Jim Firth
14:57 Sep 18, 2022

Oh, I didn't know 'Gurn, Baby, Gurn' got recommended. Cheers for the heads up! I wasn't sure if the tragedy outweighed the comedy with this one (I didn't intend it to), but 'sadly hilarious' is a good endorsement :-) I agree that Frank is quite two dimensional. I have 300 words left to flesh him out if I can. That is, before a judge hits the button of doom/approval. Do you have any suggestions? Maybe a bit more of Frank's story as an addict? Thanks for reading and your valuable critique. Looking forward to reading your next!

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Aeris Walker
16:35 Sep 18, 2022

I know, sometimes things get approved so fast! So hopefully these suggestions don’t feel overwhelming, especially if it’s too late to change anything. (It is still great as is!) Okay so for example, Frank is introduced in this section here: “a valiant pedestrian recognises her from across the street. The lanky man dashes over and tackles Cherry by the midriff; shouldering her as a fireman would a helpless child with smoke-filled lungs. He carries her to safety and deposits her limp body on a bench in a small shrub garden where he arranges h...

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Jim Firth
08:43 Sep 19, 2022

Thank you for all your great suggestions. I particularly like the idea that Frank has saved Cherry before; I would never have thought of that! Alas, I did not beat the judges and the story has now been approved, so I can't add more layers to Frank. But I'm going to revise the story using your suggestions so I can submit it to other sites/competitions in the future. A beta reader? I've been going at it alone, but I think it would be very helpful having one. Let me know if you ever want to swap stories for this purpose. I haven't joined the ...

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Aeris Walker
10:56 Sep 19, 2022

Oh no, don’t go at it alone! I’m lucky to have a husband who likes to read and write and always gives my stories an initial read, but i would be more than happy to give you preliminary feedback on future stories. I get on the channel occasionally, and it’s helpful for getting to know people who you eventually might want critique from. For me, getting even one more set of eyes of my writing before I send it off has been so helpful. But It’s hard to give through (and timely) feedback in Reedsy comments, so feel free to email anything to aer...

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Jim Firth
12:11 Sep 19, 2022

Thanks for offering to do that. I promise I won't be offended by your critiques! And of course, feel free to send your stories my way: jimfirthwrites@gmail.com I have a feeling it might be easier to offer thoughtful critique when it's actually solicited (as opposed to showing up randomly in the comments section on one's soapbox). If I get my act together, there might be a story turning up in your inbox this week. Cheers 😀

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