Caroline Wilkinson

The Movie Star

The movie star looked around the restaurant, searching for evidence of his fame—a smile, a self-conscious display of joy—but the room was dark and nearly empty. Adele's lips were breathing in a sea of obscenities, moving silently. Her lipstick led him to different memories of nights in the garage. He was smiling at no one when the waitress dropped a slice of lemon. Looking down at her stinging fingertip, she couldn't see any cuts in the skin. The light was dimmer than usual—or maybe the night was folding in on itself, hoarding all hope of moving forward. This thought lingered like a tune in the near distance.
      Adele wanted her father to sit at the booth in the corner. The waitress was staring at them. If only he would move. She would sit in the pool of light falling there, if only he would take a step. She wanted to say, Let's sit there in the booth, but she knew her voice would fall into his palm where he held her desire. He knew what she wanted: to sit where everyone could see the waitress was jealous. Night was bleeding, crying behind a wall of a hand. The waitress didn't seem to care about the ache of this silence, a knife in the throat. Her face was hard with resolution. She wasn't going to tell him once more to sit wherever he wanted.
      The pain of waiting—the wasted hours in between scripts—rose in her wake. She was walking across the room with glasses of water cradled in her palm; the movie star was sinking into the obscurity of the wide-eyed audience. The ghost of his fame flickered across Adele's face. He smiled down this girl in whom his hands and heart lived.
      "Do you want to sit in the booth in the corner?" he asked.
      She nodded. She was stuck inside the music box that her grandma gave her for her birthday. Her father's smile sat on the other side of the glass. A thorny tin can was turning, making the notes play. She was a real girl whose father loved her. These legs making her follow him were real. Someone with a fortune had bought his love; the smile behind the window had disappeared. Trying to connect this moment to her grandmother, she shuddered. The thorny can was turning through what she used to think of as real skin. She was unreal and squeezing her wrist. No one could see her shuddering—unless the waitress was pretending not to see.
      The anemones on the table were trying to survive, but the room was peeling up at the edges. Their complex vision, their textured eyes, would be dead in another day or two.


I was reading Emily Dickinson when I first drafted this piece. Dickinson's poems made me think about the extremes of fame and anonymity. Each extreme has its own power, and I saw them as well-matched opponents for what turned into a quiet battle of a scene.