This year’s model of roommate had moved out. Normally such an event was a jubilee, setting Mandy on a frenzy of reclaiming the space and cleaning it completely, but her apartment, the upper of a duplex, was being covered in a slow dustfall and the stairs had more cobwebs than Miss Havisham’s; depending on when Mandy was leaving for work she could see a thread here and there, glinting in the sunlight. She was the host at a restaurant, The Junction, a job too boring to describe here. The only reason she continued was the owners, an old married couple, who were so nice, unless you came in with people and kept on your phone. Then they would shuffle by and whisper, “a screen is not a face,” which terrified everyone and delighted Mandy.
Honestly, the old married couple was not the only reason for continuing at The Junction – just the more entertaining one. There was also Mandy’s vocation, music, and she didn’t want any job competing with it, although recently she wondered if vocation was a word used for work that needed justification, to oneself or one’s culture. After a decade of writing and recording and gigs, with indifference from both the industry and the internet, there was just no compelling argument to continue that would hold up in the court of her mind. Nevertheless, some tired fantasy persisted that her music was worth defending.
Tired was the appropriate adjective, because lately, when Mandy tried to write, she ended up taking a nap. To be fair, LCD Soundsystem’s new album wasn’t helping. The songs were filled with white man spoken word about how he’s “still trying to wake up” and “got nothing left to say” and “in no place to say it” and MANDY COULD NOT STOP LISTENING.
But not tonight. A friend had invited her to a workshopped reading of a play. Mandy filled her travel mug with mostly Bailey’s Irish Cream and a little coffee, sipping it en route, ensuring she was in tipsy-top shape from the beginning. Attending a play of any kind is a perilous endeavor, let alone an original one that has not yet seen the darkness of a theatre.
Titled The Endurance of Light, it concerned a scientist attempting to recover from a miscarriage by having imaginary arguments with Hildegard of Bingen and Albert Einstein. Such a premise would interest anyone, but Mandy hadn’t read the premise, and anyway, it was better to be surprised. As the lead, her friend gave a detailed and dense performance, like a deep barrel of rice, imploring you to reach a hand in. Mandy put a hand in, then the other, then her feet, and by the end she was in the barrel; it was that good of a performance, and/or maybe that good of a friend, and/or maybe that good of a play. Afterwards, Mandy meant to just congratulate the playwright, but soon she was talking about the theme of “dryness” and suddenly her throat tightened and a half lid of tears closed over each eye and then she was leaving the theater.
It was the Bailey’s, it had compromised her sobriety more than expected, Mandy thought, but she drove anyway, went straight home. She baked a frozen pizza and resumed watching a BBC series from the early ‘90s, Prime Suspect, with a young(er) Helen Mirren. Had Helen Mirren ever been young? Even in the mid ‘70s, opposite Laurence Olivier in a piece by Harold Pinter, she seems in full possession of self. Mirren’s character in Prime Suspect, Jane, is obsessed with her work; it returns the favor by depleting her energy, time, relationships. To Mandy, this seemed like a fair deal: sacrifice a life for a sense of purpose. It was almost biblical.
Mandy was on series 3 of Prime Suspect, which follows the murder investigation of a rent boy. In a scene near the end, Jane is interrogating a man, Edward Parker-Jones, whom she knows to be guilty of numerous child rapes. Edward is a serpent, though, and the harder she squeezes, the more he slips. Out of ideas and in a fury, Jane begins reconstructing the night of the murder but is unable to finish, her voice choking on itself, face turning away, only to hear Edward reply, “no comment.” As he walks out, his lawyer assures Jane that “[she’ll] never have a case.”
Just then fellow officer reminds Jane that a journalist has been brought to the station for questioning, because they interviewed the boy hours before he was murdered. Entering the interrogation room, Jane asks if the journalist is still looking for a scoop. “I’m paid to expose the truth. It’s my job. A bit like yours,” the journalist asserts. “It is criminal that a man like Edward Parker-Jones is allowed to gain access to young children and all with the blessing of the social services…” Jane pauses in mid-rant. “A young boy called him the ‘Keeper of Souls’…it was his nickname. Good headline, isn’t it?” She slides the case file on the table towards the journalist, who stares at it, then Jane, asking, “Is Parker-Jones going to be charged?” But Jane leaves, closing the door behind her. The journalist opens the file, the music intensifying, the camera zooming closer and closer on a story waiting to be written.
The pizza was gone, and Mandy didn’t feel full, but then she hadn’t felt full since – regardless, she wasn’t hungry anymore. But she didn’t clear the dishes. She leaned back in the chair, laid a hand across her waist and watched the fade out.
I appreciate your writing as always, but I especially appreciate that you used “series” instead of “season” for a BBC show.
What a curious parallel. I loved the description of being sucked into the play via barrel metaphor, but when you started on Prime Suspect, I wondered–where’s he going with this? And then BAM, you went there and a slammed the file down and stepped out. Damn, Sir. Da-a-a-amn.