Thursday, April 14, 2011

Fallen star

(This is a work of fiction for The Red Dress Club)

She was on her way to the Walk of Fame.

My childhood friend.

Actress. Singer.


You didn’t just watch her; you could feel her. Her presence captivated every being in the room. A fly buzzing around a warm spotlight? It too, probably stopped and fell silent.

She achieved greatness – reveled in ever-glowing Broadway lights and eventually made it in Hollywood. Yet I still felt her friendship. She maintained a private connection between us somehow, the only true confidante I had ever known. My best friend.

I was afraid when she faltered. I was shattered when she crashed.

She lashed out at paparazzi. She couldn’t sleep. She turned to negative influences in a feeble attempt to regain the comfort she used to know. This shining star? Squandered her light. My poised friend? Lost her grace.

Eventually, I forced myself to tell her goodbye.

A ringing phone burst through my dreams around 2 a.m. on a rainy night. I heard the sobbing even before I croaked out my semi-conscious hello.

“She’s gone. She’s dead!”, her mother managed through tearful outbursts. My friend who had it all was no more. She pushed the limits on her life – and the prescription bottle of Valium on her nightstand.

Her funeral was simple. Elegant. I glanced out the church window and glared at the photographers with disgust. I prayed for the anger and pain to release through the tears that rolled down my face. For days afterward, I struggled to get out of bed. I nourished myself with the few staples remaining in the pantry. I cried. I beat myself up. I cried more.

The phone rang incessantly. Friends, neighbors, and reporters wanted to talk about the now-sensationalized news story. I yanked the cords and vowed never to answer the phone again.

Mail was overflowing on the side table where I haphazardly tossed it each day. I sighed. It was time to take a small step towards life again. There, in between a utility bill and flyer full of coupons, was a pink 4x6 index card with no postage, my name scrawled on one side.

I collapsed onto my knees. My blood pressure spiked. Was this a joke? No... I‘ve seen that handwriting for 22 years. It was her.

Later, with shaking hands and vomit rising in my throat, I pushed open the door to the pizzeria. Except for one table with three sauce-covered children, the place was quiet. I scanned the room – there she was. Now a blonde in a baggy sweatshirt.

“What the hell?!?” I demanded in an angry whisper. I slid into the booth, relived but trembling with fury.

She looked up, her face still gorgeous but her eyes filled with tears.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I tried to call sooner, but you never answered. What happened to your phone?”

“You have no idea,” I said through gritted teeth. “I… I don’t know if I’m ready to face you. Just talk. Quickly.”

She tried to stifle her tears by pressing on her eyes with a napkin.

“I ordered a deep-dish pizza.”

I glared at her.

“It takes a while to bake,” she blurted out quickly, “so the waiter should stay away for a bit.”

I continued to stare as she chewed on her bottom lip. She closed her eyes, held her head in her hands. I was losing patience. Finally, she looked me in the eye.

“I was lost… I had it all… but it was… wrong.”

My walls began to crack. “The pressure?”

She sighed. “Pressure, yes. Suffocation. I missed…. life. Me. I know what I did was totally screwed up. I’m so sorry. But… I... needed to start over.”

We stared out the greasy window, unspeaking. The pizza was placed on our table. Drinks remained untouched. She sobbed. I turned to her tear-streaked profile, saw her shoulders shuddering.

I made the first move. I stretched across the table and gently retrieved her hand from her lap. I held it in mine. Eventually, she broke her stare out the window and looked at me.

I smiled.

Tentatively, she smiled back.

I asked for the pizza to go.

Prompt #2: One week after attending the funeral of a close friend, you receive a postcard in the mail with the words, 'I'm not dead. Meet me tonight at Guido's Pizzeria. Tell no one.'

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