The opening of a short story still in the can
Arnold Pepper makes his way slowly across the lot; he wears a suit, a black trilby perched on his balding head. As he walks he taps out time with a hickory walking cane. When he gets to the corner he stops and feels for the edges of a sealed manila envelope in his breast pocket. It beats like a second pulse. He checks the time on a watch that stopped fifty years ago, runs his fingers along the inscription and thinks about endings.
Nothing lasts forever, Arnie. He teases a tissue from his pocket and catches the memory.
Connie holding his hand.
Connie looking into his eyes.
Connie walking away.
He drags his thoughts back to the fate of Christian Black. His greatest creation: the revered hero of Millennium Pictures.
One question buzzes on people’s lips, weaves through speculating minds and folds itself into the LA smog: will they do it? Will they kill Christian Black? And the answer to that is in Arnold Pepper’s pocket.
Arnold looks at the line of perfect trees planted in a world of rubber bricks and hollow facades. Everything that happened, happened right here. Moments captured in frames, each one playing out in his head, the counter starts at 00:00:00:00. He sees it at the corner of everything.
The Arnold Pepper story: a cast of writers, producers, editors, key grips, costume designers, set painters. Even stars before they twinkled. Now most are nameless faces. But not Jimmy Cox. The man with the big dreams. Two rookies, two stories, two endings. He thinks about what happened and closes his eyes.
When he opens them again the light has changed. Aerial shot. Arnold looks at the sun, climbing a cerulean backdrop. When he looks back he sees shapes. They float like ghosts in front of him and paint scars on white walls. Hard to capture.
Now he’s aware of people around him; sound bytes snapping off. A girl laughing, someone yelling, maybe even a dog barking. He tightens his grip on his cane and remembers his appointment with destiny: the fate of Christian Black.
Christian Black is the man who lived the life he never did. A life that unfolded in storyboards. Words squeezed out of actors, like puppets. One common purpose: to tell the story the audience want to hear. Love, hope, passion, drama. All the gloss with none of the in between.
He wonders if he could, would he go back and rework his own life the same way. But there are some scripts no one wants to read.
“Hey Mr P, how ya doin’ Sir?”
When he turns he sees Jazz, the guy who fetches the mail. Lips glossed into a Marilyn Monroe pout as if he’s kissing air.
“The end of an era,” Jazz says. “So how does it feel?”
Arnold leans both hands on his cane and looks right at him. “You know I started in the mail room,” he says, “did I tell you that, Kid?” He squints, studying the features of Jazz’s face. He wonders how he gets his bleached hair to stand up like quills.
“I think you might have told me,” Jazz says grinning. “The mail boy in like 1857 or somethin’ right?”
Arnold doesn’t laugh. Instead he looks at the AIDS pin Jazz wears on his T-shirt like a statement. He wants to ask him about his friend. If he’s out of the hospital. But he says nothing. Deletes the scene.
Jazz speaks. “And I suppose you’re gonna remind me how you knew them all?” he says. “Like Bernard G, THE director of all time.” He smiles in wide angle. “Apart from you, of course, Mr P.”
A group of young actors rush past. They’re talking about his movie. About Christian Black. Every girl’s lover. Every guy’s best friend.
“They filmed two endings,” the girl says.
“Hey, you bored with the mail guy now?” Jazz says.
When he looks back Jazz is standing with his hands rested on his hips. “A lot of memories, huh?”
Too many memories, folded into rolls of film. Curled like sleeping cats.
The job was a favour for his uncle, who was doing a favour for his mother.
“That boy will daydream his life away,” she said. “He needs direction, a focus.”
Good choice of words.
Now the counter reads sixty years and twenty-six semi-decent movies. But everything has an ending.
When he looks back he sees that Jazz is still watching him
“No anecdotes about the GREAT Bernard Golden today?” he says, hints of a Puerto Rican accent. “How you didn’t even know who he was?”
FLASHBACK TO: MAY 1951
EXT. FILM STUDIOS –MORNING
SEVENTEEN YEAR OLD GEEK MAIL BOY gets lost on his first day at Millennium Pictures.
BERNARD GOLDEN — handsome dark looks, grey suit, cigarette propped between his lips — watches the MAIL BOY CROSSING THE LOT
Hey Kid. Come ‘ere. Don’t you know this is a restricted area?
ARNOLD PEPPER – THE MAIL BOY
(looking around nervously)
No Sir. I was just looking for Bernard Golden
You mean that know it all, arrogant A-hole? You better watch him Kiddo. He bites.
Arnold looks across the office block, blinds at the windows. Thinks about all those that have gone before him. But there are some endings that can’t be scripted. He thinks about a car taking a bend too fast. About Connie and Jimmy.
“There’s a hundred ways to tell a story, Kiddo,” Bernie G told him. But what they’ll remember is how it ended.”
Arnold turns the phrase over in his head, inadvertently taps the envelope that sits next to his heart.
“It’s what lives in their heads when the ice cream has melted and the popcorn’s rotted.”
Extract of short story Director’s Cut © Debz Hobbs-Wyatt. Can not be reproduced without author’s permission