DILMAHby Greg Fleming
You got used to looking at the stars - from a distance, parading in and out of their dressing rooms, faces expertly glossed and dusted, xeroxed script in hand – the name of the very successful TV soap Mason's Drive printed down the side. It was 7:50 am, call time, and I was sitting in a white plastic chair drinking coffee from a styrofoam cup. Jackie Laing who played the newly pregnant girlfriend of James Walters winked at me as she passed. Some years ago I'd dated her elder sister Melanie - a tall, gangly girl about who I remembered little except that she insisted on applying an anti-fungicide ointment to herself everytime we made love. Jackie wasn't the sort to worry about such precautions. At present she was having an off-screen affair with her on-screen ex-husband played with conviction by baby-faced brat John Warder and Jackie glowed like only those in love and those on Metro’s hot-list can glow.
Word was Jackie had been offered a co-starring role on a major Hollywood production with a big name European director whose name was so big and foreign few dared pronounce it for fear of failure. Her mobile sang, her face beamed from billboards and magazine covers. Just last month she'd bought an apartment just across the road from my flat in Ponsonby. Though Jackie's wink was as much complicity as it was familiarity. Jackie, you see, liked morphine almost as much as I did.
Our first real meeting had been around the table of a shabby and freezing Parnell warehouse. We'd both been offered tea and both refused eyeing the state of the kitchen with some concern. A bond of sorts was created between us. We chatted about this and that as if we'd just met in a supermarket aisle. Of course neither of us could wait until Johnson (our local DJ come dealer) returned from wherever it was he went to get the gear and get on as soon as possible - glad to be out of the filthy warehouse, their filthy drugs in our pockets. Jackie had certainly done well for herself since then.
Implicit in her friendliness was a hint of superiority.
I carried my history, you see, somewhat publicly. Sometime actor, ex-model, the guy in the Toyota ad. I was known in the industry but not much outside it. Known best for being a recovering junkie - and lately I hadn't been recovering much at all. Jackie had been doing much, much better. Her past sins made great copy. Now, even the hint that she might actually escape to Hollywood created around her an aura all wished to bask in. Even Mason's Drives' director - plump, gay, humorless Trevor Sherry now stopped long enough to air kiss her. Me - I wondered whether her arms still needed as much foundation as her face.
Why was I here? Well, I'm a barman three nights a week at Release and two days a week I'm here at Southern Star Studios where I serve cold tea and colored water to the stars and to the extras who open their mouths to say thankyou and say nothing - for talking, even whispering isn't allowed. The boom mike above our heads, you see, is extremely sensitive and this morning so was I.
My sometime girlfriend Samantha had arrived knocking at my window at 5 am crying hysterically. Not unusual; but Caroline didn't know that. I'd met Caroline at Release earlier that night. That afternoon she'd had her head shaven and the cuts and clumps of bloodied hair (a girlfriend, the shaver, had been speeding at the time) lent her an otherworldly presence I rather liked.
I turned on the light and saw bloodstains on my pillow before that computed Sam smashed in the window. At the sight of Caroline topless in my bed (on the bottom she wore my black Calvin Klein’s, a detail which startled for a minute ) she became even more hysterical. It turned out that they knew each other and had once shared the same squat in London. Caroline reckoned Sam owed her some money. Sam responded by throwing a vase at her.
That's when I went out and made some tea.
Dilmah. Trust me, the best in a bag.
I milked and sugared as the pair screamed at each other in the bedroom. Then Caroline passed me in the kitchen muttering something I couldn’t quite catch under her breath. I couldn’t make out whether the incident had heightened or lowered my esteem in her eyes.
I wondered whether I’d ever see those CK’s again.
When I returned to the bedroom with the tea all Sam wanted to know was whether we’d pracised safe –sex. I assured her we had – although – truth be told I couldn’t really recall.
"You better have - she's a slut and a junkie."
Sam then undressed, got into bed and drank her tea.
"Got any new videos?" she then asked. I didn't have so we watched Alladin again - Sam's all-time fave. I joked about the guy with a monkey on his back. Sam said she didn't think it was a monkey. Instead of arguing I gave Sam the remote and crashed.
Sleep was just one of the things I needed more of.
"Wayne, did you have that vest buttoned like that in the last run through?" asked the continuity lady.
We were on set, my hangover throbbing under the bright lights. For a minute I didn't realize she was talking to me.
"Yeah just like this Jen."
The scene we were doing involved one character hitting another in an argument over a dog. Bill Reynolds reckoned Tim Peters (both character names by the way) wasn't treating JB properly. JB was a horribly cute Tibetan Terrier who pissed everywhere he could in the studio. The scene possessed added interest as both actors loathed each other in real life. Either they used to sleep together, or one of them slept with the other's girlfriend - I could never quite get the story straight. But even the gaffers were paying attention.
I was required to do a reaction shot.
"Look shocked Wayne," ordered Trevor, "this is happening in your bar!"
In reality nothing had shocked me for sometime. I tried out a couple of expressions.
"No, that's more puzzled than shocked Wayne," yelled Trevor, "try indignation, that might be easier."
I tried indignation. Mouth half open, eyes wide. Trevor bought it; but only just. JB didn't however. He promptly crapped underneath one of the fake wooden tables.
After that was all cleaned away we set up for the next shot. A simple sixty-seconder which required me to fuss about in the background, serving drinks and exchanging pleasantries to the customers while Jackie had a tete tete with John. Telling him the baby wasn’t normal. It had no legs was going to come out wrong…something like that. Of course, we all knew that Jackie’s character was going to die in childbirth but that the baby would be hunky dory. Babies in prime time were winners all the way round.
"Ok, quiet please. First rehearsal...and...action!" barked the first AD.
The next few minutes were unbelievable though I had never felt more certain of my actions. I suddenly found myself whispering abuse at all those I served, all the while smiling expertly. I felt ecstatic, dizzy, compelled.
Of course I was ruining the scene, delaying the next one and preventing the cast and crew from getting to the bridge before rush-hour hit. I kept filling their glasses till the sticky liquid ran all over the bar. I turned over the bowl of cashew nuts as if I were making a sandcastle. I swept my real crystal onto the floor.
Jackie came over.
"Wayne are you alright? What's wrong?"
I replied I was fine - but I found myself not actually saying anything, just opening and closing my mouth.
"Wayne needs a break," announced Jackie, "he's not well. We'll have to do this without him."
No one but Jackie could've said such a thing without enormous protest. Even in my state I understood that much.
"Yes...ok...get Rangi to do it."
Rangi was another featured extra who tended bar at Clyde's. He'd only been here two months but already he'd had two speaking parts. Deep down I knew it would be him and not me who would make that hallowed leap from extra to cast member.
"You ok, man?" he asked as he took my position on set.
"I don’t know," I replied with some conviction.
Jackie led me off the set with motherly concern. She was enjoying this. They would just have to wait for her. This was important. This man was clearly unwell. She was damned if she’d let the unfeeling, relentless machine roll over and crush me. She took me back to her dressing-room where somehow she seemed much smaller. She brought me in tea (Earl Grey) and biscuits. Told me she knew how I felt. It wasn't the end of the line. You could get through it and there is a way back.
I realized then all I really wanted was a cigarette.
Jackie went instinctively to her pockets though of course now she didn't smoke. She was clean as a whistle.
With that she took my hand, lifted her blouse and placed my hand on her belly. The abruptness of the gesture brought back some semblance of logic to me.
"Four months", she whispered, "John’s and mine. It's real. Funny isn't it?"
Her belly was warm, she held my hand there, hers over top
"You mustn't tell anyone yet.Top,top secret!"
She wasn't going to Hollywood either. Everything had changed. Tears welled.
She lifted up her blouse and gave me back my hands.
I wrapped them back around the still warm tea-cup which was silly really as the cup was tiny and my hands are large, but like that it seemed that I knew what to do with them.
I sat for a while like that pretending I liked it.
Sometime mid-afternoon I wandered out into the carpark. Most of the actor's cars were still there, gym gear all packed and sitting on the backseat. I walked to the main road and let three buses go by before I got on board. I had enough money for one good night.
I felt sick, but I knew a doctor.