The first line of this fictional short story was sent to my by American blogger, Beth.
Waking up in a cornfield still dressed in her habit, with nothing but a candle, a half-eaten almond joy bar, and a small mewing kitten gave her pause…
Nessa could feel a stiffness in her joints, indicating to her that she had been in that field for a long time, probably overnight. Her mouth was bone dry, and the fingers of her left hand felt cramped from gripping the large votive candle. What was left of the candy bar was covered in bits of earth and attracting tiny insects, and the kitten’s face had been so close to hers, she had jumped up in alarm as her eyes had opened.
Slowly coming round, she started to get flashbacks of the day before, like jump cuts in a movie.
It had started three weeks earlier, with a ‘phone call from Morrie, her agent.
“Vanessa baby! Have I got a great job for you!” He always seemed to shout on the phone. “The people at Almond Joy are looking for an attractive older actress to star in a TV commercial for their candy bars. I have put you forward for it, and there is a first call this afternoon. My secretary has sent the details to your cellphone, so get your gladrags on and knock ’em dead!”
At her age, any work was welcome. Gone were the days when Vanessa DeRoy could get regular work as the attractive best friend, the secretary desired by the boss, or even the good-looking mature wife opening the door to receive a UPS parcel from a grinning delivery man. It was all a long way from her younger days, and the more risque parts she was associated with back then. Once mainstream movies and respectable actresses began to show everything, her video-market movies had stopped being made.
Sure, there was still a fan base, even though most of them were in care homes by now. But the best that Morrie could do for her most of the time was face in a crowd stuff, a happy lottery winner waving an oversized ticket, or someone considering the purchase of a trailer in a retirement complex, nodding in approval. They said sixty was the new forty, but they had forgotten to include her.
The agency guys working for Almond Joy had loved her though. They wanted a Mother Superior character who was more excited about the candy bars than her religion, and she had fit the bill nicely. Nessa had been hopeful. Getting back on TV would make a nice change from late-night shifts packing boned chickens, and if Morrie got her a deal including repeat fees, it might well be the start of something.
Molly was the costume lady who fixed her up. “You look great in a habit, honey. Should have been a nun”. The costume was surprisingly heavy, and the headdress felt tight. The thick black pantyhose were hot on a summer’s day, and the heavy black shoes rubbed her ankles. But she was a pro, and when she left the trailer, she felt she looked the part completely.
Such as it was, the theme of the commercial was so much nonsense. Long ago, Nessa had stopped thinking about the crazy ideas those advertising guys came up with, so she just went with the flow. The nerdy director looked like he should have been in his bedroom playing vdeo games, but she paid him the same respect as if he had been Orson Welles.
“Okay, you get the idea. Mother Superior has never had an Almond Joy bar before. She takes one bite, looks up at the sky with delight on her face, and goes running into the cornfield, flinging away the candle she was holding”.
She nodded and smiled as if she had just been give the starring role in Gone With The Wind. “Got it, thanks for the opportunity”.
Fifteen takes later, she was sweating like a horse that had just won the Kentucky Derby, and feeling sick from the numerous bites of the chocolate covered candy. Then the guy called for a lunch break, and they went to the wagon parked at the edge of the field. How many takes did he want? How many times can you run into a cornfield looking up a the sky, and flinging away a candle?
Around the back of the portable facilities, Molly offered a flask. “Try some of this, honey. Take the edge off. If Miles has his way, he will keep you running into that field until after dark”. It made Nessa’s eyes screw up, tasting like some home-made hooch she had once tried in Kentucky, back in the seventies. But Molly was right. It took the edge off.
The afternoon had been something of a blur. At one stage, she had taken off the heavy shoes, and Miles had made her go and change the pantyhose as the heels of the shoes had torn them. But he had gone with the idea of her being shoeless, making out like it had been his idea all along. “Yes, no shoes. Another reference to her new freedom”. In the tent where she went to change the pantyhose, Molly had produced another flask.
Some time later, she recalled that Miles had seemed very pleased. “Fantastic! That’s a wrap! You really captured that wild spirit of a lifetime of religious frustration, and the joy of throwing off those shackles. Thank you, Miss DeRoy”.
That was when she had started running, and not stopped running. It had never dawned on her just how big a cornfield could be. Not until she collaped exhausted, anyway.
But she had absolutely no idea where the kitten had come from.