I’m four hours early to the broadcast studio. Cathy is already signed in. I take a moment to read the names on the visitor sheet. All of the stage management team are already signed in. I didn’t realise that they arrived this early. I exchange a few words with the security receptionist. He looks vaguely familiar. I don’t recall the name on his badge. When I hand the pen back he wipes it thoroughly with and anti-bacterial wipe. I can’t think of anything to say so I ask him if he’s seen the new Mulan film but he says he’s stopped watching new films.
I go through the stage door and walk around the back of the cameras to get to my dressing room on the far side of the set. Cathy and the stage management team are on the set having one of those trendy standing meetings. I notice most of the crew are not wearing their masks properly. They spot me passing behind the cameras, stop their conversations and stare at me. I give them a friendly wave. I can feel a vague tremor of worry emanating from them. Just nerves I guess. I’ve learned not to overanalyse everything I pick up.
My dressing room is bare except for a bottle of spring water. The rider hasn’t even been set up yet. Christ, I am in early.
The tuxedo I am supposed to wear is here, hanging on the back of the door, freshly pressed. It probably arrived last night. Costume don’t fuck around. They had my sizes three months ago and emailed me every week for any weight update. Nobody has any faith in my professionalism anymore.
There is a soft knock at the door. Cathy enters the room and asks, “What are you doing here?”
“I thought I worked here?”
Cathy frowns, “Have you been drinking?”
“No.” She moves closer to smell me. I can smell lemon. The cheap perfume that she buys at the market.
“I can smell coffee. What are you trying to cover up?”
“Nothing, I stole it.”
“You’re doing that again? It’s so cringe.”
“It’s so cringe,” I imitate her squeaky voice. She smiles. I smile. The tension dissolves.
“Why are you here so early?”
I raise my arms, “There’s fuck all to do. I can’t even buy a newspaper and read it in a café because of this tier 4 shit. Or is it tier 5 now?” Cathy lets out a little sigh. “What?”
“Everyone on the team thought you were coming in to storm out.”
“Coming in to storm out?”
“Yeah, coming in early to find something to complain about to give you an excuse to quit.”
“Why would I do that?”
“I know, I told them that’s not your style.”
I laugh, “What’s my style, Cathy.”
“You’d just not turn up.” She shrugs.
“Bollocks, I’m a professional!”
“Oh really. I bought tickets for Jack and the Beanstalk. On the poster it said you were starring…”
“I had COVID symptoms,” I say avoiding her eyes.
“You were probably at home drinking Suntory and watching blow job compilations on Porn Hub.”
“I’ve quit that shit.”
“You quit drinking?” she raises an eyebrow.
“No,” I laugh. “Drinking is fine. I’ve quit porn. That shit is…” She raises her eyebrow even higher. I reach into her mind, just a little. “But you didn’t think that I was going to walk out.”
“You’re in my head?”
“I thought you were running out of that… power. Aren’t you saving it?” I shrug
“So, what are you worried about?”
She purses her lips and squints her eyes, “I thought you were coming in early to dump me. Or worse.”
“Tell me you love me.” She laughs. I force a laugh. I do love her.
“Why is the stage management team here so early?” I ask.
“This is when we arrive, the set doesn’t just appear five minutes before you go on stage.” She looks around, “Your rider should be here by now. They’re late. That’s why we get here early, to sort out all of the things that don’t happen as they’re supposed to.”
“What happened to the rider?”
“I don’t know. I’ll chase it up when we get a second. Probably just traffic.”
“The streets are dead.”
“So do you have time to… you know… get dumped?”
Cathy smiles and shakes her head, “Yes I do. But I thought you’d be here later. So you have to wait.” She blows me a kiss then leaves.
Make-up won’t be here for another couple of hours. I root around in my bag. There’s an iPad Mini but it’s only got 5% charge. There’s a book buried underneath it. Something that Cathy gave me about four years ago when we were filming B-roll for something else. Before we started fucking. Or whatever it is we’re doing. It was the height of summer and I was hungover from a bender. It was horrible. I’d read her mind the day before and discovered she was in to me. Not because I was famous. She liked the ways I looked at things. She thought my cynicism was cute. But I was in a shit mood and I took it out on her. Because I knew she would take it.
At the end of the shoot she chucked the wrapped book at me saying I didn’t deserve a birthday present. It was The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea by Yukio Mishima. I open the cover, wondering if I remember how to actually read a book.
Forty-five minutes later there is another knock on the door. It’s a delivery boy with the rider. A platter of fresh fruit, nuts, seeds, a few cheeses, some overpriced coffee and tea, sparkling water in cans, dumb shit. I don’t even like some of it. A rider is a statement, nothing else. If I actually want something I just get it on Deliveroo.
“Thanks,” I say, taking it from the flustered delivery boy.
“Sorry I’m late. It’s hell out there,” he says.
“Yeah it’s crazy, something has happened. A few roads are blocked.”
“OK, well no harm done I say. There must be an accident I guess.”
“I have to shoot. I’m behind on the next one.”
“Shoot then,” I say, and smile generously.
“Thanks,” he turns to leave but stops. “It’s good to see you back on TV. I never believed any of the stuff that came out on Twitter.”
“I mean, even if it’s true, what they said you did, it wasn’t even that serious.”
“Don’t worry it’s not true,” I say, my broad grin tightening.
“Right, lack of evidence.”
“Lack of evidence… because nothing happened,” I say nodding. He nods. “Anyway, you better shoot.”
“Good luck tonight.”