Ellen Scheuermann


Looking in the mirror as a child—footie pajamas bunched on the stepstool, leaning over the sink’s porcelain lip—I practiced dying, staring into my eyes then shutting them suddenly, trying to take myself by surprise. The idea of forever scared me, but not being part of it scared me more, so I, perhaps foolishly, went into the movie-making business.

And—really though, isn’t it ridiculous to go on, doc, telling you what you already know? If you insist, I suppose, for the sake of the exercise. I’ll try not to bore you.

So, as a young director I fared well. I loomed over sets with my big-buckled belt, extracting glimmers of brilliance and throwing them onto screens across the nation in splashes of color and heat. The standout was the outer space thing about that—you know, famous at the time, the name escapes me. The new generation alone understood me, the papers wrote. I earned their praise.

And you know, I wasn’t half-bad. I deserved a good hunk of that praise. But I wasn’t great. I had enough sense to know that, at least. It became kinda laughable, the fuss over my little Kodachrome reels. On the set they acted as though “Action!” was the new call to prayer, like they could absorb wisdom or I could dispense it. Easy to have contempt for those people, ya know? The needy, the gruel-seeking Olivers of the world. You hang around sick folks all day, you must know. I owe you an elbow to the ribs when these shakes stop. Anyway, I stowed their awards under the bathroom sink so I wouldn’t have to look at them. Affairs with untouchably beautiful women wilted from bored neglect. I wrote long, heartfelt letters to fans and burned them unsent, suddenly full of disgust with myself. What matter is the opinion of a sycophant? My glory had turned cold.

Can you loosen the straps? My wrists are sore.

Take two. I lost my creative focus. Movies transported me no longer. I left the state, bought a house in West Virginia near a clairvoyant preacher (of what faith, he never said). Soured on greatness, peace would have to do. The preacher read my aura. He said we were brothers in a past life, hung out in a monastery. Said I didn’t belong to the cloth anymore, but to the grander vistas of these earthly planes: mountains, the sky. We took a vow of silence and walked in the river. We took a lot of acid, soldering our minds together in some otherworldly other-world. I woke up on the living room floor alone to empty pockets and a missing safe.

Back in Hollywood, a swing and a miss. Where is Mr. Schuster’s clarity? His vision? the papers asked. I bought a bigger belt buckle, bedded less exotic women. There was other bad stuff, but I’d rather not go into all that with my sister here—

Oh, right. She’s gone. Fuck, I’m old. I remember a few times every day and to tell you the truth it gets me pretty raw. Actually I’m rather tired for the memory recall game. Enough, alright? Don’t wanna hear it. La la la la la la la la la la la la la la la. Sand in the ears, it’s the ostrich way. Let me tell you, those beasts mis-be-have on sets. Super mean, powerful legs, do you in with a swift kick to the head, brain toss-style. It’s delicate tissue, right? Of course you say you know. I feel the pressure. It comes and goes.

You’re not done yet? C’mon, I’m going crazy here. Ha. Good timing, me. That’s what I did wrong: I should’ve gone into theater! Live-action art immortalizes one better; it’s so obvious to me now. Whaddya say about a farewell performance? Right here, in the ward. Nothing packs ’em in like the old specter. Absolutely no rehearsals, everything off the stabilizer cuff and straight to the fans’ ears. You can almost hear them tittering in their seats, daintily pressing their split sides, a-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha, and cue music…

Okay, yes. I hear you. My name is Grant Schuster. I feel alright. Tired, sure, but always tired these days. A little woozy. That’s a side effect? I see. It’s pleasant.

Have I told you about staring in the bathroom mirror as a kid? I fell once, tipped the stool over and cracked my head. You think that has anything to do with what’s happening to me? A concussion blooming into something more, just a few decades late? Of course that’s not how it works. Geez, take a joke. At least there are no mirrors in this room. The only reflection comes from the dark bulb of the TV, mounted in the corner. These days the surprise comes when I open my eyes: an old man in crumpled sheets, a shiny string of drool spackled on a bib. No, this isn’t how I pictured it. I give a knowing wink at the image, halfway shutting it out: Baby, you’re a star. Give me two more takes, just two more takes till this tumor takes. Get it? Keep up, doc. This comes and goes, enjoy it while it lasts, because soon it’s [scene missing] underwater radish, a slick lump lodged between my skull and the part of my brain that controls something important, pulsing like an—ow!—angry fist that cut! Cut! I said cut, dammit!


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