Crush: Chapter 5

Photo: Mike Meeks

Make-up is finished. I am doing last minute breathing and voice exercises. Trying to hype myself into a good mood for the broadcast. But I can’t stop picking up my phone and doom-scrolling.

A serial killer was running above my head as I was commuting to work. Someone intentionally drove a truck into a line of people queuing for Marks & Spencer and is currently on an active stabbing spree. There’s a man-hunt happening around where I am right now.

I can’t make it feel real. It is just news on a screen. Just something that is vaguely in my way. It has the same urgency in my mind as my Disney+ watchlist. That scares me, in a numbing sort of way. Homer Simpson, deliver me from my inanity.

The police have put out a description of the suspect. A mid 20s-to-mid-30s male. They say his height is between 5′ 10″ and 6′. They describe him with short, black hair, wearing a grey puffer jacket, dark blue jeans and black boots. The article says he was sporting a surgical mask originally but that he might have taken this off. That could be anyone.

The next story reports that the home secretary is asking protestors to stay at home while the manhunt is active. She reminds people that protests are illegal under current coronavirus legislation. I look at the pictures of the protest on the live feed. People are holding up slogans like “Hate speech is not free speech,” “Feminists against Islamophobia,” and other oxymorons. I don’t understand what this has to do with the events at hand.

I scroll back to the suspect’s description. It doesn’t state the suspects religion or assign any motive. I check a couple of rivals news sites. It’s the same. I flick back to the pictures of the protests. It doesn’t make sense.

A knock at the door drags my attention from the screen. Janet steps in. I swivel the chair around and face her. She is dressed in a sequined, ankle-length dress with thin shoulder straps. She is perfectly made up and her hair hangs in elegant waves to her shoulders. “Can I help you?” I ask.

“That’s no way to greet an old friend,” she says, closing the door behind her. “I just wanted to say that I have no hard feelings.” She lifts a hand to her heart.

“Why would you have any hard feelings?”

“What do you mean?”

“My career was ruined. Your career, if you can call it that, was boosted.”

“It was just a misunderstanding,” she sighs. “I thought you would be bigger than this.”

“Put that on your social media now.”

“Put what?”

“Say what happened was a misunderstanding and that I did nothing wrong.”

She rolls her eyes, “I can’t do that. It’s not topical anymore. #MeToo is over now. Well, it’s not trending anyway.”

I exhale and lean back in a chair, “You know, some of the stage management team still won’t talk to me. Two of them quit when I was announced,” I say, neutrally.

“They were probably on the way out anyway,” she says.

“OK.” I turn around and continue with my warm ups. I see her approaching me in the mirror.

“You know,” she says, “if you play your cards right you could still have a chance with me.” She places her hands on my shoulders. I reach into her head. She’s absolutely fucking serious. The mental gymnastics she is performing are immense. The cracks of cognitive dissonance smoothed over with the thick polyfiller of entitlement. She pushes her thumbs into my shoulders. A bit of bile spits into the back of my mouth.

The door opens and Cathy steps in. She looks at the scene and has to suppress a smirk with a cough. “Sorry,” says Janet, “just a bit of co-star chemistry.” She gives Cathy an aloof grin.

“Right…” says Cathy, swallowing a laugh. “You’re on set in three minutes.”

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