Love After Life
Eunice Carol English
‘Tomorrow is mine’, Britt sang – for the last time. The roar from the audience nearly lifted her off the stage, the energy flowed into her and she sang as never before, and God knows she had given every bit of herself time and again to her fans. ‘I don’t know how to take it…’ the words hit her hard- for the first time.
This was Britt’s farewell concert. For forty years she had been a singing sensation, the only female performer to have a number one hit in every decade. It had not been easy. Painful plastic surgery to fix the many bits of herself she didn’t like. Shit, she had the money, why shouldn’t she have the face and body she wanted? No one, except for her closest friends, and her Mom of course, knew the hours of agony she went through while it healed, but even then she had played it down.
It had been worth it, the pain, the sacrifice, the listening to bullshit artists, agents, directors, journalists who didn’t want to write good things about her. Hey, she was a real person inside all the packaging. These thoughts flicked in and out of her brain as she moved around the stage, that great body in the sensuous costumes moving every part for maximum effect, the body the personal trainer had helped shape, and that she had told Oprah only months ago was getting harder to maintain.
“A lot more input for a lot less gain!” Britt had quipped. The mature women in her viewing audience had loved her for it; suddenly she was more human.
The song ended, the show should had ended, but thousands of fans, including hundreds of celebrities, many hoping the camera would record their faces for the video, would not let her stop. The band stood poised, not one had unplugged. Playing for Britt had been one hell of an experience, she was a professional onstage and a real nice lady offstage. They didn’t even have to try to make her sound good, except maybe the sound engineer who fiddled a couple of switches now and again.
Song after song, they played in encore. Britt drank sip after sip of mineral water as her throat started to protest. Finally it was over, she walked off stage, and she was bone tired and weary, but the adrenalin in her system kept her moving, the muscles did it on autopilot, the smile became fixed. Oh God, there was a huge farewell party to go to now.
The dressing room, with all its luxury, welcomed her in. Her dresser closed the door firmly and the bodyguard took position outside, arms folded, gun at his fingertips under his left armpit. Calm settled in the room, and started to enfold her. Britt breathed in the scent of the glorious flowers fans had given her, with messages of love she would later keep in a box for those sad days. For a few moments she lay on the sumptuous settee, her hand across her eyes, and did her deep breathing.
Calm, control, calm, control. When she opened her eyes again, the world seemed different. She had drifted off to sleep for a few minutes, her mind had got into its familiar routine and she was ready to face anything. She cleansed off the makeup, and looked at the now-perfect skin that had once caused her so much anguish in the sixties. How many women at fifty-six looked that good with no makeup? Very few. She showered, a long, hot shower. Let them wait. Those who really cared about her knew she needed this time out. She didn’t need a makeup artist to make her look good, and this time she put the minimum of gunk on her skin.
The latest wig stood on its stand, like a bodiless friend. Her dresser helped her pull it on, first tidying up loose ends of Britt’s own long dark hair. They didn’t speak, but it was a comfortable silence. She always put on the wig before her clothes, so she remembered which image she was to portray. The temptation to slip into jeans and one of her own design tees was overpowering, so she did it. The effect was fabulous anyway.
They looked around the dressing room for things Britt would take with her in the huge tote bag she still carted around herself. Jewels lay around as if they were only fakes, but the diamonds’ cold blue glitter belied this. Britt stood and looked at her dresser, Elli, who had become her great friend over the years. Both knew this was the last time they would work together, and they may never even meet again- but they had email. They embraced.
“Honey, you take any dress you like, and the jewellery that goes with it. Pack the wigs and my makeup and stuff and send it to Malibu.” Both Britt’s and Elli’s eyes welled with tears.
“Britt is a real thoughtful lady”, Elli thought. The gold sequinned gown would not look the same on her, but she would have the most fun sitting down to dinner with her husband in one of Britt’s sexy outfits. Britt had envied her the closeness Elli, shared with her husband, having been through so much herself. She had ordered an all-expenses holiday in Hawaii for the pair to commence as soon as the tour was over, as a thank-you for all those years of being shut in those rooms waiting to make Britt look good.
“Girl, this is the start of my new life, and I’m gonna make the best, and the most awesome time of it!”
“Hey, I bet you are!” her dresser laughed, “Now get to that party and give them hell!”…
Hours later the chauffeur opened the car door to the sound of surf gurgling on to the beach. A warm salt scented breeze touched her here, there, like a playful finger.
“Thanks, George, you have a good break, I’ll be in touch.”
“Thank you ma’am”, George, (tall, tanned, and handsome, as only an aspiring unemployed film actor-come-chauffeur could be) insisted on formality. He knew what the paparazzi would make of any informal gesture. Britt walked on to the door, which opened for her, and George started to unload the Cadillac of all the packages, bags and flowers it contained. It had looked somewhat like a hearse, driving along with all those flowers pressed to the windows.
How Britt loved this house, with the ‘new’ smell still hanging through it. Since she had shown the viewers through on TV when it was newly built she had hardly had time to be in it. It was a beautiful showpiece, and she loved it, but it wasn’t yet home. Tomorrow she could sleep in her own bed the whole of the day, and let her body be fifty-six and ache if it liked. No exercise apart from a swim in the pool, no treadmill, no running, no pressure. She felt lost. Everyone had been told to take time off till after tomorrow. She would be alone, except for the surveillance team in the security room, the cameras, the bodyguard out of sight somewhere, but alone for someone usually so surrounded by those bird people who peck ticks off buffalo.
The party had been a blast; she had got right into it and had a ball. It went on for hours, and all her celebrity friends and her team was there, musos and all. Even some of her sisters and her parents had been there for a while. When she left, the photographers leapt up from their sleeping positions on the sidewalk, and flashbulbs starred in her eyes till she felt she would never see again.
The Cadillac did not take her to a hotel, but headed straight for Malibu, with Britt curled up on a seat in the back, with a pillow and a comforter. This was the best place to be, with George protecting her, the smoothness of the car movement, and her comforter, on her way home.
Now home seemed a bit wide open and why had she all those settees when she only sat in one at a time? The morning sun shone on the tiles, and not a speck of dust had been allowed to settle. The brass ornaments gleamed. She touched a few of her favourite treasures as she wandered through.
The large kitchen waited patiently. What would she like for breakfast? Did she know how to fix it, madam? Britt knew where everything was. Hadn’t she found it in her nocturnal wanderings when she couldn’t sleep? Hadn’t she snacked from the fridge at least once in the night? Had the kitchen forgotten so soon? Corn flakes! Corn flakes with sugar, oh and full cream milk! God, how long since she had eaten that.
There are some gastronomic delights that words can’t convey, but a low sexy feeling in the abdomen coupled with the knowledge that this was forbidden fruit, or rather cornflakes, as fruit was a staple in her diet, was what Britt felt. She felt liberated, and her spirits started to soar.
She wandered back to her bedroom; slowly doing a mental inventory of all the items that gave her pleasure. She had collected them from all over the world, and many others were gifts she had brought home. In her very old and slightly baggy flannelette pyjamas she had unearthed from one of the closets that the press did not get to open, with her dark hair pulled back in a band, she looked no different from the teenager who had left home to follow Danny to fame and fortune, at least from a distance.
Up close, as she entered a beam of sunlight and the dark shadows told under her eyes, the slight lines etched across her neck, but her face was flawless. Her mouth, minus lipstick, was still full, with no lines of discontent pulling at the sides. She entered the huge bedroom and climbed back into the bed, pulling the satin quilt over her. Sleep came at once.
It was dark when she awoke, and the house was still silent, but now the silence was becoming deafening, pressing in on her. She was ravenous, and a little light-headed from lack of food. The well-stocked kitchen beckoned. There were prepared meals in the freezer, everything she could want in the salad section, but she wanted pizza.
Pizza! She hadn’t touched that for months, not since she had started shaping up for the tour, and not since that article in Women’s Day had shown her worst picture and said she was getting fat. Well, she was finished touring, maybe finished with show business and perhaps finished with movies. She had the fame, the adulation, the Oscar, and lots and lots of money, what she really needed now was pizza. Britt had to phone the operator to get the number of the local pizza place, then she had to let security know it was on its way. Before she could even eat it, they would have opened the packages and checked it. That took away some of the anticipation.
She had the urge to go to the market, and shop for something to eat, but then she remembered she couldn’t go out without an hour’s makeup and a wig because somewhere out there was someone waiting with a camera. People would come up and peer in her trolley just to see what she bought, others would either stand and watch from a distance, or come and talk to her as if they knew her really intimately. She supposed they did, if they believed all that was written about her, but who knew her at all? Her daughter and son knew her too well, but they loved her, and her folks knew she had never changed under all the glamour, and they loved her too. Just then, it wasn’t enough. But where could she go where she could be herself and not be noticed? Not many places looking as she did.
The pizza finally arrived, and she loved it. Indigestion was the price she paid, but what the heck! Milk, cookies, chocolate, over the next few days she ate everything she had been forbidden, or had forbidden herself. She lay around and read books, and magazines.
She got out her knitting and watched videos. Who knew she knitted these great jumpers, hats and other items that sold under another name in Rodeo Drive? Now she could indulge herself, stock up on yarn, sequins, metallic threads, and come up with some really sexy numbers. Lyrics started to form in her head.
She would write songs again. It had only been four days, but she was refreshed, she was relaxed, and it was time for the staff to return and get the household up and running. The thought of the house full of people again, however unobtrusive, was daunting. She looked at herself in the mirror.
The long dark hair hung straight on either side of her high cheekbones, which were not as prominent as they had been a few days ago. With a bit of henna it could glow. Her wigs were always full and curly, so her long slightly coarse dark hair framing her face gave her a totally different look, familiar only to those who watched her first TV appearances, and they were mostly in Britain. Without all the eye makeup her eyes looked softer. She looked like a different person, but she still looked good, just not glamorous- but glamour was only a façade anyway. What she had in abundance was personality, and a good heart…
The ducks were quacking on the Canadian Lake as the woman with the dark hair threw crumbs to them. She flicked her head and threw it back from her face. She was smiling slightly and her skin glowed with health. She was wearing stretch jeans that had just enough give for her sexy curves. Over them she was wearing a mohair jumper that was eye-catching with big plastic sequins, coloured patterns and long and loose. In Canada it did not look out of place, they loved their big patterned knitted jumpers.
The man who saw her there wandered over, with his own bag of crumbs. “G’day”, he said, “Howrya goin”. His soft Canadian accent doing a parody of the Australian vernacular made her throw her head back and laugh delightedly. He sat comfortably next to her.
“Are you all settlied in now? Are you getting to know the locals OK?”
“Oh yeah, it’s great. I’m going to sell my knitting through Janet at the Post Office to a boutique in Los Angeles.”
“Hey, that’s fantastic, then you will be able to stay on here!”
“For now, anyway. I’ve never felt so at home. I love the mountains, lakes and forests, I feel in touch with everything here. I even like the cold winds!”
“Hey, you haven’t seen the snow yet.”
“I can’t wait!”
“Did I tell you I have a sled and a team?”
“A team of what?”
“Team of huskies, you know, dogs.”
“Where I came from that would have meant you owned a basketball or baseball team. Dogs would be great, could I see them sometime?”
“Sure, when it snows I’ll take you out on the sled.”
For the first time in the few weeks they had shared the park bench, he slid his arm along the back of it. She didn’t move away.
“We’ve got a show coming up from the city tonight, some guy impersonating Cher, they say he’s really good. How would you like to come with me?”
”Sure, sounds like fun!”
“Are you still in the Mitchell cabin?”
“Yeh, mine should be ready in a couple of months. Now my jumpers are selling I can put in a few luxuries, like a hot tub and a nice fireplace, and central heating! My family want to come and visit as soon as it is done.”
“You should come and see mine. My hot tub is in a courtyard and I have a great fireplace for when we get snowed in. It’s over towards the lakeside, not far from where they are building the new cabin. Is that yours?”
She pointed over to the side of the lake on the right, and the loose sleeve exposed a femininely rounded arm, with golden skin and a hand with Indian rings and long nails, pink and natural.
“Yep, that’s a stone’s throw from mine. I’ve been too busy writing to ask who it belonged to.”
“How’s it going?”
“Oh, the publisher rang, and he’s happy. Just the usual editing, etc before it goes to print, so shouldn’t be long now. The last one is into reprint, so that is good.”
“Is that the one you gave me?”
“I really liked it, you have a great way with words.”
“I don’t seem to have around you, I get a bit tongue-tied. If I tell you something will you promise not to laugh?”
She laughed as reply.
“Sometimes you remind me of that singer, Britt, but you are much prettier. If she had been sitting here, I wouldn’t have asked her to the show tonight.”
“Aw, she’s too hard, too fake, too unattainable.”
“Britt reached her hand to his cheek, turned his embarrassed face towards her and kissed him slowly and lingeringly.”
“That is the nicest thing anybody has ever said to me!”
©Eunice C. Hobson-English
49/29 Waratah Street
61 2 49684867