The Actress (Women Gone Mad)

20 06 2009

The Actress

I knew her before she was famous. We met one afternoon at the Silver Dollar, a bar that specialized in extremely cheap beer. I was working at the Ministry of Correctional Services as a file clerk. It was a temporary position while I worked on my painting. Some afternoons I would leave work feigning illness and this caused some concern at the Ministry where my superiors became alarmed at my failing health. I spent those afternoons either painting or drinking depending upon my mood. Some afternoons I did both which usually led to a terrible hangover and frightful canvasses the next morning. It was a time before air-conditioners so that all government workers were let go early on hot days in the summer. It was on one such afternoon that I first met her. I headed for the Silver Dollar, a bar on Yonge Street that served cheap beer during the day. The place was always packed but I knew through experience that if you made your way into the dark chasms at the back of the room you could almost certainly find a seat.

Marcus, an old high school friend, cried out to me as I stepped through the gauntlet of tables. There was no mistaking Marcus’s voice. He sounded like the television actor who played Wally in the  Leave It to Beaver  sitcom. I saw the girl beside Marcus right away. There was always a girl beside Marcus. It wasn’t that women were anymore attracted to Marcus than to other men, but they felt comfortable with him. The women were almost never his lovers. Not that Marcus didn’t have lovers but he seemed to keep them stored away someplace for family gatherings and other public social events. Marcus was associated with many of the theatre groups in the city. His sister was a member of Second City and would become a renowned actress.

“Michael,” Marcus said after I had slid into the booth the couple occupied. “This is Penny.”

“For my thoughts,” I smiled.

Penny laughed.

“Oh, I like this one, daddy. Can I have him?”

Marcus laughed and slapped Penny playfully on the hand.

“Now be a good girl. Michael is one of my old mates from Michael Power.”

Marcus turned to me. “Don’t pay any attention to her. She’s an actress. Simply can’t stand not being paid attention to. Ignore her and she’ll have her panties around her ankles in five minutes. Guaranteed.”

“Marcus!” Penny cried.  “You’re making me sound like a brazen hussy.”

Marcus roared with laughter.

“Did you hear that?” Michael cried giving Penny a peck on the cheek. “You are stupendous.”

At that moment the waiter arrived and I realized why Marcus had called me over. He was not always so generous with the company of his female friends. Marcus was broke. He needed my purse to cover his expenses. Marcus told the waiter to fill the table. I took out my wallet and flashed some money at the waiter. And then Marcus began to regale us with a story about his most recent adventures with the police. Marcus was always in trouble with the police, not that he was a criminal but he seemed to skirt the edge of the law. Now he was in the process of operating an after hours club and he needed to devise methods of warning patrons when a cop had been spotted in the place.

As Marcus talked I watched Penny. She had a strange sensuality about her mixed with a schoolgirl innocence. Her blond hair was pulled back tightly into a pony tale so that her high cheekbones and large blue eyes dominated her face. When she smiled I noticed her eyeteeth that grew out of the tops of her gums.

“I’m a vamp… pire!” she giggled when she noticed me staring at her.

“I’m sorry for staring,” I said.

“You’re still staring, darling!”

She had noticed my eyes reaching for her blouse whose buttons were undone revealing white milky skin and full braless breasts. The look in her eyes gave me such a fright that I choked on the beer I was drinking.

“Watch it old boy,” Marcus cried with delight as he patted me on the back.

I took another swallow of beer.

Penny leaned back in her seat, sipped on her beer and began to give me the once over. In her beauty there was arrogance. She knew that I was hers, and she wanted me to know that she had no interest in me. Perhaps I was being defensive, but I felt like the defeated prey in the hunt, submitting to the great beast. As I lowered my eyes, Penny lunged at me with her smile.

“Don’t give up so easily!”  she laughed knowing that she had conquered me.

“Otherwise,” she added, “you’ll fall madly in love with me.”

I tried to smile.

“He already has,” Marcus laughed.

We drank for some time. I paid for another round. Marcus continued to talk about his after hours club, which he insisted I attend. Penny was quiet until Marcus began talking about her career. She had a bit part coming up in a C.B.C. drama. She was playing a slut in a story about a high school girl who accuses one of her male teachers of rape. Penny was playing the best friend of the girl who is raped. At some time in the evening Penny and Marcus departed and I was left behind to finish the beers on the table. When I finally staggered out of the bar, it was well into the evening.

I met Marcus again the next week, but he was alone. I asked about Penny. He said she was working and had gotten another offer, a big offer to do a bit part in a film by an important American director. Marcus gave me the address of his after hours club and I promised to attend one evening.

Months passed. One evening as I sat spinning the channels on my black and white I saw Penny. She was sitting on the hood of a ’64 Buick in cut offs and a tank top. The drama was forgettable but she was electric on the screen. The eroticism that I’d only had a glimpse of that night in the bar was all over the small screen. She was only on the tube for a few minutes but I could not get her out of my mind.

It was almost Christmas when we met again. I was sitting at the window of a Croissant shop that I frequented each morning before reporting to work when I spotted her. She was standing at the curb of the street ready to cross, dressed in a beautiful white mink coat. Even though I could only see her in profile I knew it was Penny. Beside her a short fat fellow with long stringy hair turned and stared at her. He began to speak. For a minute she attempted to ignore him. Then she gave up and turned away and looked right at me. When our eyes met I knew that she had recognized me as well. What I didn’t expect was the smile that followed. A minute later she was sitting beside me.

“I didn’t think that we would ever meet again,” she smiled.

After I got over the delight of meeting her again, I noticed for the first time that her makeup was smeared. I offered to get her a coffee. She asked if I would get her something to eat. When I returned to our counter with several buns and two coffees, she ate like she was famished.

“I’m starving,” she smiled.

I laughed. She was more beautiful than I had remembered. But still I wondered about the makeup.

“It’s warm in here,” I said. “Why don’t you let me hang up your coat?”

“And get arrested,” she smiled, cradling a cup of coffee in her hand.

I must have had a puzzled look on my face because she leaned over and whispered in my ear.

“I’m stark naked under this thing.”

My mouth dropped.

“Boyfriend. He kicked me out. This was all I could grab. The bastard threw my clothes out the window.”

“Oh,” I said as if this was a story I heard all the time.

“They must have blown all over downtown by now,” she laughed. “His apartment is on the thirty second floor.”

“Well, you’re taking it awfully well.”

“I’m just lucky I met you. I don’t have a cent on me and thought I’d have to walk all the way to my apartment. Can I borrow cab fare? I’ll pay you back.”

I rooted in my pocket and handed Penny a twenty.

She laughed again.

“Somebody might think you’re paying off a hooker!”

We talked for some time. She told me how she had gone to the theatre the evening before with her boyfriend, who was also a big time producer in the city, and who was also married. They had a fight over his wife. Penny didn’t want to be his mistress. She was afraid that every time she auditioned now she would have to do so on her back. It was important she said not to get labeled in the business. The next week she was off to Hollywood for a small speaking part in a movie with a well known though aging actor. I asked if she was the love interest. She shook her head and laughed.

“I have to be pregnant all through the movie. I have no idea how to play someone who is pregnant.”

“Well don’t look to me for advice,” I responded.

We both laughed.

“Marcus said you were a painter.”

I nodded and then explained that I was struggling to produce work and to find a gallery that would show it. Because she seemed interested I talked about painting for some time although the longer I spoke I detected a growing boredom in her eyes.

“Would you paint me some time?” she asked.

“Well…” I hesitated.

“You don’t find me interesting enough?” she asked. She looked hurt.

“No,” I said and blushed. “You’re beautiful. I’m not sure my skills would do you justice.”

Penny smiled and leaned over and kissed me gently on the lips. I sat there frozen, afraid to move; afraid that anything I might do or say would be the wrong thing.

“You’re wonderful,” she smiled. “But I’ve kept you too long. You’re probably late for work as it is.”

“No,” I replied. “I mean, I’m late but who gives a shit!”

“Well,” she laughed.  “Well, I have to get going. This was a terrible morning until I met you. Don’t forget me, Michael. And thanks for the money. I’ll make it up to you.”

And then she left, once again disappearing out of my life. How could I forget her? Every time I had a silent moment, thoughts of Penny would fill the void. I tried to paint her from memory but it all turned into garbage. There was something about her beauty that I could not seem to capture on canvass, something in her smile, a seed of something ugly. Occasionally her name would appear in the entertainment section of the papers. She was seen with this actor in this restaurant on these occasions. Hers was a different world than mine and I was resigned to never meeting her again. Life went on. My temporary position with the Ministry ended. I painted most mornings and went to the Silver Dollar late every afternoon. I became involved with a woman named Mary. Mary was working at the Toronto Central Library and attending night classes at George Brown College. I thought I was in love.

Mary met Marcus one Friday evening at the Silver Dollar and they were immediately close friends. Marcus insisted that we visit his after hours club. I hadn’t gone to the club and had no intentions of visiting it. Marcus was someone I could only take in small doses, but Mary insisted. So we tramped off to the club, which was nothing but a boarded up store on King Street near the Don River.  Once inside the house, the place was much more interesting. There were sofas and couches everywhere with some rooms filled with mattresses. Marcus had several refrigerators set up in the kitchen where he sold bottled beer at outrageous prices. The place was dark and noisy and smoky. Music played throughout the house. And it was packed with people. I got Mary, myself, and Marcus a beer. Even in his own establishment Marcus was not picking up the tab. We walked around and as we entered each room, Marcus introduced us to people including a couple of comedians from Second City. On more than one occasion we were offered a joint, which I passed on to Mary who was like a vacuum cleaner when it came to smoke. Finally I decided to take root on a sofa and encouraged Mary to continue her tour with Marcus.

The room was so dark and filled with smoke it was difficult to make out the people in it. There was a woman across the room, dressed in a sleek skintight skirt smoking a cigarette. She seemed to be looking my way but it was difficult to tell much in the room. I looked away. Near a window I spotted someone I knew from the Ministry. It was one of the girls who worked in the Minister’s office. Someone sat down beside me on the sofa.


I turned.

“Penny?” I said. She was the girl in the skintight skirt.

“Of course, you silly,” she laughed. “Did you think it was your mother?”

We talked. I could tell by Penny’s voice that she was stoned. I asked her about her trip to Hollywood. Everything had gone well. The movie had been released to great reviews. Penny asked if I had seen it. Embarrassed, I had to admit that I had not. Penny scolded me and made me promise to see it. She took a joint out of the handbag she carried over her shoulder. Even in the light I could see her nakedness under the dress. I didn’t want to smoke but could not see how I could refuse.

“You still have to paint me,” Penny giggled.

“I’m not much good at portraits,” I confessed.

“Would you paint me naked?” she asked. “I’ve always wanted to be an artist’s model. You read about all those models of Degas and Picasso and it sounds so romantic.”

“A lot of them were hookers,” I said.

“What do you think I am?” Penny snapped. It was strange. I thought I was with a happy beautiful woman one moment only to be revealed to something different the next, a hurt wounded animal.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

Penny shrugged, shook off her mood, and turned back to me once again the beautiful gregarious actress.

“I missed you,” I said and then began to speak like someone in a panic afraid that I might never get to utter these words again. “I’m not sure why. We hardly know each other. The morning I met you at the coffee shop, I thought you were the most beautiful woman I had ever met. A guy like me doesn’t have much of a chance with someone like you but I couldn’t get you out of my mind. You were like a vision, a miracle.”

“A vision!” she laughed mockingly, smoke curling out of her mouth.

“You’re angry?” I said wondering what had made me open up like that. I meant nothing to her. That was clear to me now.

“No kidding,” she barked and then noticing my reaction to her remark added, “This isn’t fair to you. I got some bad news.”

“Oh,” I said. “You want to talk about it?”

She looked at me and broke into a hysterical laugh. Everything I said seemed to set her off. I supposed she found it comic that someone in my station in life would presume to counsel a movie star on show business.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t mean to invade your privacy.”

“Oh,” she smiled and patted my knee. “You are so sweet. Sweet and stupid. Did anyone ever tell you that?”

“Not in that combination,” I smiled.

Penny leaned over and hugged me, then running her fingers through my hair, kissed me on the lips. I thought my heart was going to burst out of my chest.

“I’ve never met anyone like you,” I said. I felt so weak sitting there beside her, waiting for her next move, afraid to raise my hands and touch her.

Penny did not respond. She finished the joint she was smoking and then stuck the roach down between the cushions of the couch.

“Take me someplace,” she whispered in my ear.

God, she was beautiful. I leaned over and kissed her on the mouth. Her mouth opened as her tongue reached into mine. Her hand slid up my trouser leg and over my groin. I grabbed her hand and we slipped out of the house. All the way in the cab to my apartment she was all over me. There was a frantic desperation about Penny that was frightening but very exciting. There was no protest from her when I slid my hand beneath her dress. We had just turned up Church when she slipped my cock out of my pants and into her mouth. I looked up into the rear view mirror where the cab driver was smiling. It was like that all night. When I woke up the next morning I turned over in my bed expecting to find Mary and remembering that I had come home with Penny. There was no one there. On the kitchen table under a cup of coffee, half empty, now cold, there was a note. It read: I’m sorry, Michael. Go to a doctor and get an AIDS test. I’m HIV positive.

I never saw Mary again. I was tested and everything came back negative, but for months I wanted nothing to do with women. I couldn’t explain it to Mary, couldn’t tell her what had happened that night with Penny, couldn’t tell her that I thought that I might have AIDS. How do you tell someone that death sleeps inside you? I felt angry, violated. I destroyed most of my work. It all looked so trivial.

Penny was arrested several months later and charged with the attempted murder of dozens of men. No one charged the man that had infected her. I looked at the pictures in the paper. She was beautiful but there was still the suspicion of the illness in her face. Or was I just reading into her face? They talked about her case on all the networks. Debate raged on both sides. Some said she was a cold calculating serial killer. Others said that she was a righteous avenger for all the women that had been abused by men. Larry King interviewed her. Who was she? he asked. Lizzy Borden or Joan of Arc? Two thoughts kept crossing my mind. Why did she do this to me? Had I hurt her in some way? Was I just one in a long list of her victims? A second thought also haunted me. Why did I still love her?



One response

21 06 2009
The Actress (Women Gone Mad) « power of h Weblog

[…] th­e or­igin­­a­l: The­ A­ctre­ss (W­om­e­n­ Gon­e­ M­a­d) « po… Share and […]

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