Last Chance Charlie

“Have I ever been good?”

He wondered, as he entered a staring contest with the mirror. His irises were as dead as river stones. Crow’s feet stretched tightly above his cheekbones like the swirling fingers of distant nebulae.

He had been in his dressing room now for 9 hours. It had been his practice for the last 30-odd years to spend the night before and day of an awards show, in his dressing room. He had never vandalized anyone’s furniture or scandalized anyone’s daughter and so it was that this and other slight eccentricities had been given a pass.

He was absolutely discreet about his use of various substances and various women. In the industry he was considered the epitome of a gentleman. He had been married to the same actress for 25 years until her death from breast cancer. Media coverage of him by her side in her last months had catapulted him to near saint status and created a renaissance of sorts for his career.

At 56, he was still an exceptionally handsome man. He had never thought this about himself but nonetheless took great amusement and often times a bewildered pleasure in the base power this gave him over others.

“Pleasure is merely what we take back from death”, an acting coach had once told him before popping the button fly of his favourite Levi’s and giving him his first blow job.

It was during such times that he remembered her.

She was not real, at least not in any way that he could confirm, by, say, leafing through a phone book or stalking various social media platforms. He was not a religious man – the product of an explosive marriage between a secular Jew and a hard-drinking Catholic – nor a spiritual man or even a vaguely curious new-age dabbler. So it was that the appearance of her in his dreams for the last 50 years had been, to say the least, beyond unsettling.

And the really odd thing was that she had grown with him. So the first time he met her in his dreams she was six or so. They were sharing the same third arm, using it to hoist an enormous sandwich to their mouths, she biting off the left corner, he biting off the right corner. They stopped every so often to look down at their conjoined torso and the arm sprouting from it.

As they grew the tone of the dreams shifted. During puberty they met in moist caves bejeweled with rainbow stalactites. He would undress for her, she would undress for him. Standing opposite one another they would study the changes in their bodies. Finally when he was 17 he held his hand out and gently caressed her neck. It was, the single most erotic act he had ever experienced. Even all these years later, all the women, all the parties, no kink left unexplored, nothing would ever compare to that simple caress.

But the worst part was that he did not even know what she looked like. Upon waking he was only left with the delicious ache of something half-fulfilled, and drunk on this feeling he would always remember too late, to try to hold on to her image.

And they never spoke, not until he was 31 and two days away from marrying his wife.

“Are you trying to kill me!” She screamed at him through sobs that caused her diaphragm to shake. They were standing under a tree so large that it dwarfed the church next to it. Wind pushed rain into their nostrils and mouths. Sheet lighting lit the horizon pink.

“Tell me how to find you!” He screamed back.

“You already know how!”

And then, a single platinum finger of feral electricity split the tree into two halves. The back half destroying the roof of the church, the front half falling toward them, a wall of fire. He woke up crying, then spent the next eight hours throwing up. Everyone thought that this was merely a case of pre-wedding jitters. Even if he had known how to begin to tell someone about her, he knew deep within his being that this was not something that could be spoken about.

He saw her less often after that. And it was more like seeing a video of her, or looking through a window at her, rather than actually being with her in the dream.

The night before the awards show, he had tossed and turned on the dressing room floor. Refusing the cot offered to him, he had made a simple bed out of a bathrobe and a towel.

She had come to him that night, not in any form but as a sense of wholeness.

He would want for nothing if he could find her, and she would not judge him or ask him to explain the last 50 years of his life. It would be as two elements meeting, two water drops returning to one unimaginably vast puddle.

Words like those written on fogged glass formed:

“Now or never.”

So it came to be that he finally understood the meaning of her tearful words all those years before. He laughed. Had it really been so easy? All this time!

It was two hours to air. He did some stretches. Peeled off his designer briefs and splashed his favourite Creed cologne liberally across his body. He passed a boar bristle brush through his ear length hair that had once been nearly black but was now transitioning to a deep silver. He rummaged through his wash bag for the little pick-me-ups he never went to an awards show without, but instead of taking one he tossed the dark blue bottle back like a shot of tequila.

Lying back on the floor, he stretched out his arms and legs, and though he delighted in feeling this connection to a body one last time, he would not miss it.

About the Author

Danielle La Valle is a writer of short fiction and poetry. She has been published in Montreal Writes, The Sriblerus and The Bookends Review amongst others. She enjoys expressing herself through a variety of mediums but her true passion has always been to write. She has been writing stories since she was seven and in that time has managed to fine-tune a scattered imagination into a unique voice. Her writing tends to be dark but tinged with hope. She often employs supernatural themes as a way of navigating the female experience in general, and more specifically, the experiences of women whose emotional and psychic landscapes are at odds with perceived norms of femininity.
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