ALCHEMY: A SERIALIZED STORY BY GEORGE KAPLAN – PART FOUR

premiere night copy 2A serialized story by, George Kaplan

Weeks passed. Hana Koblish was chosen as the new Executive Assistant (a pretty absurd title I know, and I was one) while, amusingly, Bernie Birnbaum found himself saddled with Mendenhall and the two proceeded to drive each other crazy. I, on the other hand, was right where I wanted and did not want to be.

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Things were getting weirder. Working ever more closely with Grace Mark had brought a new intimacy to our relationship, she told me about her sister Christina, a casting director in England; her niece Jessica, an aspiring actress; and her nephew Jeremy, an artist. She told me that she might once have had children but that her two marriages and her various relationships never seemed to be in the proper condition coincidental with her or her partners’ desire to try for them. I told her in turn about my brother, Christopher, who is difficult like me, gregarious somewhat unlike me, and gay, very unlike me. I told her about our childhood in Canada, our friendship, and how we’d coped when we lost our mother aged 10 (him) and 12 (me), I talked about moving to the United States a couple of months after her death and the encouragement that my father, a fragile man on the surface but with deep reserves of strength beneath, had given me when I announced I wanted to be an actor.

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I mentioned how my English aunt, Aimee, an actress, had helped me with my dramatic studies. I even talked about growing up in a half-Jewish, half-Christian home and about my closest friends Claudette, who described herself as a part-time lesbian which as far as I could tell merely meant that she’d kissed a girl once, and, Emeric, who I envied for his ease with people especially women (I didn’t tell her that nor did I talk about my marriage or any romantic relationships). So, it was all peculiarly, pleasingly semi-intimate, our working rapport was fabulously smooth running, our complementary talents oiled along by
similar senses of humor.

.

If it wasn’t for that strange Feeling of mingled familiarity and unfamiliarity that seemed to warp reality whenever I was with her then it might have been fine. Well, if not for that and the much more mundane sensations of hopeless not-quite-love and disorientating, to my mind, equally hopeless desire, that is. The event that finally pushed me to the point where I was determined to escape my predicament was as simple as it was mortifyingly embarrassing. It returned me to my teenage years, or it would have, if anything quite this humiliating had happened in them…

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We were sat beside each other running over the interminable details of a four-picture deal we were negotiating for a client on a laptop; Grace Mark was, as usual, partially draping herself over me while pointing at things she wanted to alter. I felt half-exhilarated, half-discombobulated; trying not to enjoy her closeness too much or make a fool of myself by letting on that I did, I also attempted manfully to ignore her teasing comments; in fact I had convinced myself I’d done a good job at that, had even more or less patted myself on the back for this when… it happened. I can’t claim that there was anything “weird” about it – I won’t attempt to blame the Feeling or anything like that. All I can offer as explanation was that I had let my guard down, or had allowed a sense of comfort to invade my mind. What happened was this…

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Grace Mark was telling how once the deal went through she would she would go to bed for a week, dar-ling, then pointed something out to me on the screen; as she leaned forward her hair fell on my face, her voice faded to a soft susurrus as I, and it pains me to write this, softly and involuntarily inhaled her perfume. A bare moment passed before I realized what I had done, and recognized that I had closed my eyes. I opened them with a jolt. She was watching me, a triumphant “gotcha” in her eyes, an amused smile playing on her lips.
.

There you have it, I was caught in an absurd, involuntary act. I must have blushed bright pink as if I were thirteen again. But, the thing was, although it was clear that she had observed me doing something so embarrassing and had extracted satisfaction from that observation, and the knowledge that I knew that she knew – it sounds like a romantic farce even as I write it! She didn’t say anything. The stumbling apology that wanted to tumble from my lips died in my mouth. She gave me what I swear was half a wink (just to make it worse) then turned back to the screen and continued talking, until I, even in my abject state, could recall how to speak and pretend that nothing had happened. Even though my stomach felt liquid, my eyes were teary (for God’s sake!), and I was – and this is the ridiculous kicker – impossibly aroused in a queasy way.

.
Usually a mistake like that would lead to a hell of coldness from the woman in question, which would lead to self-recrimination and guilt on an epic scale – I am after all the son of a Jewish mother and a nominally Catholic father. However, Grace Mark didn’t push me away or freeze me out, she appeared to be not-so-obscurely pleased with my accidental confirmation of all the suspicions she’d had about me, and had a whole new repertoire of glances and teases; so it was a different type of torture, even with my “brave” conviction that I was going to have to do something if only I could figure out what. And, on top of this, as you’ve probably intuited, I did still experience the epic guilt and self-recrimination of which I spoke, which seems to me now (and seemed to me then, in my less, shall we say, hysterical moments) both endlessly awful and hilariously absurd. Grace Mark wasn’t offended after all, for whatever unfathomable reason. She was enjoying this; as if she was the sophisticated sexy cat and I was the fumbling befuddled mouse that loved her in some
weird adult cartoon.

A week elapsed following the “perfume incident”. Both the mundane feelings and the Feeling felt to me as if they were building to a crescendo, while I… I felt as if I were vibrating like a plucked too-taut string. I was occupied not just with my work but also with trying, almost manically, to hatch some scheme that would gain me escape.

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Unfortunately, even as I was – ironically – becoming ever more inspired in my work with Grace Mark, each of the schemes I constructed in my thrumming imagination seemed more inept than the last. I had the oddest feeling that the walls of my office were going to lift away at any moment, revealing that I was on a soundstage and that my life had become a kind of reality-warping practical joke. Or, maybe, just as I was struggling to come up with a brilliant plan to get me out of working with Grace Mark and away from feelings and a Feeling that were overwhelming me, Rod Serling would appear as if from nowhere cigarette in hand, and instead of saying anything would merely laugh in my face. Yes, you might say, I was in quite a state.
.

It was a Monday when Grace Mark mentioned something that would change everything, that would provide resolution and Revelation, if we have to be portentous. And I truly think we do. There was no lead-in, no preparation she just said it as we were discussing a tricky renegotiated contract for a talented if temperamental television actor, “Oh, by the way, Davide. I hope you’re ready to dress up in your best bib-and-tucker,” she said regarding me with a sly smile, “You’ll be accompanying me to the shindig at the whatchamacallit. You know, the one celebrating what’shisface’s career even though he can barely remember his own name, now, poor dear.” To say that I was shocked by this would be wild understatement. I knew who what’shisface and the whatchamallit were, but this was the first thing I’d heard about my going along to the “shindig”. And that I would be escorting Grace Mark? It was lucky I was sitting down because I suddenly became so woozy that I temporarily lost sensation in my legs, and I don’t think dropping on my face in front of her would have done much to improve my situation.

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Grace Mark turned her attention to me, a familiar smile playing puckishly on her lips, a smile that intensified as she noticed the agonized grimace I quickly – but not quickly enough – tried to compose into a neutral expression. As a clumsy attempt at distracting her I asked her why Martin Glass wasn’t accompanying her only for her to amusedly inform me that Glass had taken up with a 22 year-old “tootsy-pop” of an actress as part of what she called “his latest mid-life crisis”, adding silkily that if he thought he was still in mid-life then he was likely to live to at least one hundred-and-ten, a comment that did at least make me chuckle. She turned abruptly semi-serious telling me that she valued my presence and that the shindig was an important opportunity for us, before getting up from her chair putting a pretty lacquered-nailed hand on my shoulder and near-whispering “And, of course, it wouldn’t be FUN without you, daar-LING!” To which I had no answer but a weak smile while also feeling an elated boyish fluttering in my chest, somehow complementary to the queasiness.

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And suddenly, there was something else as well. The not-deja vu of the Feeling omnipresent when I was near Grace Mark suddenly sharpened, the “vibration” I had been experiencing increased as if it were the product of a single pure note; I felt the way glass might just before it shatters when subjected to a certain pitch. For no reason I could fathom I was suddenly possessed by the notion that I was finally, finally, coming to the point of elusive Revelation: no matter how irrational, impossible, that seemed. As you are about to discover, that notion was true.

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On the day of the shindig (a term I wouldn’t ordinarily use which hadn’t suddenly been leant piquancy by Grace Mark’s vibrant use of it) I went home at 3 o’clock readying myself to meet Grace Mark at her house three hours later. It won’t come as a surprise to you that I was thrumming like a tuning fork, both physically and well whatever the opposite of that would be – spiritually? Metaphysically? Ach, each of the terms I could use seems worse than the last, even now. It’s really hard to get across a sense of the numinous without appearing a new-agey chimp or a candidate for the nuthatch. I think I’ll just stick with the tuning fork metaphor and trust you can infer how I felt from that. I had slept for barely thirty minutes the night before and as a consequence the hours I spent at work would have felt like I was experiencing an out-of-body experience, Feeling or no. I got home from the agency, got dressed, then spent over an hour alternating between looking at my self in the mirror (almost as if expecting, hoping, to see a face other than my own, unsatisfactory one, there) and obsessively looking at Google Maps to make sure Grace Mark’s home was where I thought it was and hadn’t somehow teleported away.

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At 5:15 I set out, the absurd fantasy that my car would choose that day of all days to do me a favor and die on me proving to be just that; a fantasy. Waiting until 5:15 was in itself a cunning delaying tactic; I was convinced that the killer traffic would delay me but the joke was on me, as, impossibly, ranks of automobiles parted before me as if I were Charlton Heston as Moses. Someone Somewhere Up There Likes Me? That wasn’t the first thought that sprang to mind. I arrived at seven minutes to six which should have suggested to me even then that the laws of physics were not all they were cracked up to be.  But, then, when I pulled up to the house and really saw it for the first time something fell into place.

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© George Kaplan for Vickie Lester and Beguiling Hollywood, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to George Kaplan for Vickie Lester and Beguiling Hollywood with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

4 Comments »

  1. “…softly and involuntarily inhaled her perfume.” Well, that sums up how I feel while I read this, George. I’m involuntarily inhaling some writer’s perfume, so potent and intoxicating that I have to come up for a breath and remind myself that this is a piece of fiction!! Oh my, this truly IS delicious. What a treat!

  2. Lisa, YOU are delicious! What praise! I’m so pleased Alchemy has affected you in that way. “Intoxicating”? That’s what your lovely remarks on my tale are! THANK YOU, MS GRIPPING! 🙂
    Warm Regards, Georgie K

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