Harry was late.
He pulled into the first available parking spot and peered at the car’s console clock. Ten past five. He took the yellow porkpie hat from the seat beside him and pushed it onto his head as he got out of the car. He slid the keys into the pocket of his loose-fitting blue-jeans, their bottom cuffs rolled up, and ran along the footpath, his ox blood brothel creepers making a reassuring thud on the footpath as he went.
The large golden letters declaring the office of Phoenix Studios were printed atop a freestanding yellow sign on the footpath. He barely glanced at the words, ‘Auditions today…’ on the sign as he swept past and into the building.
He called the lift and watched the numbers above it count slowly down. As the lift doors slid open, a pair of blonde women flowed out, their perfumes wafting strongly around them. Harry gawked at their nipped waists and stilettos as they fluttered by, stepped in after them and pushed the button to the fourth floor. His hands shook nervously and a line of sweat ran down his back as the lift slowly rose from the ground. His heart raced when the lift opened and he saw the gold-emblazoned Phoenix across the glass doors. He marched into the white vastness of the reception area, stirring up remnants of familiar perfume that hung in the air and came to stop at a white reception desk.
“Can I help you?” the receptionist asked. Her plain brown eyes peered at him over the rims of her glasses.
“I’m… I’m here for the audition.” He placed his hat on the counter and wiped his clammy hands on his pants.
“Sorry, but we’re-” she began nonchalantly.
“You’ve no idea how hard it was to get time off work.” He wrung his hands before him.
“But, Sir, it’s not-”
“I know, I know, I’m late and I’m so, so sorry. But, please, you’ve got to give me a shot.” He raised his hands and pushed his palms together as if in prayer.
“All I need is a few moments. This could be my big break!”
“Alright, alright!” She frowned, the frustration thick on her face. “Please, take a seat. I’ll let the producer know you’re here.”
“Thanks so much, this means a lot.” Taking his hat from the counter he chose a seat from the uncomfortable looking chairs lined up against one wall.
“Excuse me, Mister Collingwood,” the receptionist said into her telephone headset as she adjusted the mouthpiece before her. “I have a gentleman here for an audition.” She paused, listening. “Yes I tried to tell him, Sir, but he insisted.” There was another pause and she nodded absently. “Of course, Sir.” She rose from her desk and peered at Harry. “Please follow me,” she said, motioning him to follow. “And your name?”
“Harry. Harry Hartley.” He rose and followed her across the room, marvelling at how short she was even in her heels.
She led him along a corridor to a set of double doors. She knocked and after several moments, pushed the doors open to reveal an office, the wood-panelling inset against walls of blood red.
“Mister Collingwood, this is Mister Hartley.”
Harry held his hat against his chest as he stepped past her into the room. He had expected to be nervous but the sensation of walking into the room knotted his stomach. It felt as if he was being marched into the depth of creature’s maw to be devoured.
“Thank you, Cynthia. That will be all.” The man seated behind the desk waved at her absently.
She nodded and closed the doors behind her.
Without standing, Mr Collingwood motioned towards a pair of chairs opposite him. “Please sit, Mister Hartley.” The expensive designer suit and authority in his voice suggested the producer always got what he wanted.
“Please call me Harry.” He shuffled forward and took a seat.
“Mister Hartley, you understand that-”
“Oh, yes, Sir.” The words rattled forth from Harry’s mouth like a runaway train. “I know I’m very late but it was the only time I could get off work. My boss is usually flexible but we were two staff down and the lunch shift was hectic.”
“Yes, yes, that’s fi-” Mr Collingwood’s words were forced to stop at a crossing as the train thundered past.
“You’ve probably seen plenty of people today all trying to get that big role. Like most of them, I’ve been to many auditions for many different roles over the years and been passed over by most…”
“Yes, I’m s-”
“Sir, if you’ll just let me audition, I’ll prove that I’m the best man for the role.”
“It won’t take long. All I need is a few minutes of your time…”
“Harry!” Mister Collingwood’s tone was sharp and he raised his hand before him bringing the train screeching to a halt. “I’ll let you audition, just stop talking!”
“Oh, thank you, Mister Collingwood. I really appreciate the opportunity,” he said more softly.
“Very well.” The producer breathed deeply. “Why don’t you start with a simple character pose?”
With a nod, Harry slipped off his leather jacket to reveal a white tee-shirt, then drew it over his head to expose a tanned chest and crafted stomach. Returning the hat to his head, he pulled it down over his eyes and slouched back into the chair. With a cigarette hanging from his mouth, he casually lit a match.
“Mister Hartley! You can’t smoke in here!”
“Oh…well, I…I don’t actually smoke.” Harry broke the pose and shook the match until it went out. “They all smoke in these old movies and I…ah…well…wanted to get it right.”
“I see, well, you did a good job.” The producer rested his hands on the desk where a small mountain of files sat. “What about lines, do you have prepared?”
“I do, Sir.” Harry pushed the brim of the hat up with his index finger. “Listen, baby, when we first met, you and me, you thought I was common. Well, how right you was. I was common as dirt. You showed me a snapshot of a place with columns, and I pulled you down off them columns and you loved it; havin’ ‘em coloured lights goin’. Wasn’ we happy together? Wasn’ it all okay ‘til she showed here? Huh? Wasn’…wasn’ we happy together, wasn’ it all okay ‘til she showed here, hoity toity describing me like an ape?”
“Wow.” Mister Collingwood nodded slightly, a look of surprised in his eyes. “That’s the best Brando I’ve heard. Been rehearsing long?”
“Jus’ ‘is week.” Harry retained the voice as he replied.
“I’m impressed! So, you look like him and sound like him, but can you act like him?” Mr Collingwood waved to an open area beside his desk. “Show me.”
Getting to his feet, Harry took the cigarette in hand, tossed the hat to the floor and began stalking around the room, his gait perplexed and tense. He flexed his arm and lifted the unlit cigarette to his mouth. Then, with a frown he took a single deep breath and stiffened his arms before him. “Stel-laa!”
Harry turned at the sound clapping and saw the producer was standing. “Amazing. Just amazing. You could be Brando himself.”
“I watched the movie a few times, Sir, that’s all.” He smiled, a warm rush sweeping over him. “How do you think I went? Do I have a chance at the role?”
“You did a good job; a very good job. But it’s a little hard to say.” Mister Collingwood sat down again. Leaning back, he crossed one of his legs over the other.
“I wasn’t good enough?” Harry said self-consciously as he collected the hat from the floor and held it before him by the rim.
“Your audition was near perfect, Harry, but unfortunately you’re completely wrong for the part…”
Mr Collingwood paused as Harry’s face sank, the colour draining from it.
“…the part of either Stella Kowalski or Blanche DuBois, that is, which is who I am auditioning for today. With that in mind I won’t be asking you to screen test. However, I am auditioning for the character of Stanley Kowalski tomorrow morning at ten sharp. I suggest you come back then.”
Harry could only stand there dumbfounded.
“And, Mr Hartley, don’t be late.”
* * * * *
“You got all that from one picture?” Karl asked. He stared up at the painting they’d been looking at for some time. It was their first date and he was already starting to feel out of his depth with this girl. He turned back to the painting of the bare-chested man sitting in a deep red room with an unlit cigarette.
“Every picture tells a story,” Anita said. “You just have to be able to pick it.”
“But, it’s just a picture.” Karl’s face gave away his confusion. “Where do cars, actors and elevators come into it?”
“Your imagination, of course!” She chuckled, but it didn’t break the look of befuddlement from his face.
“Did he get the role?”
“Probably.” She shrugged, her eyes flashed at him as she moved on to the next painting.
“What do you mean, ‘probably’? Didn’t you just make it up?”
“I just don’t understand,” Anita said, in male voice, as she peered up at the new painting. It was of a confused man standing in a park near a pond. “I just don’t understand what happened to all the fish!”
© AJ Key 2013