by Heidi Moore
Margot was at my desk when I got to work. "Is that what you're wearing?" she asked me.
I turned off my walkman. "Uh, yes." I needed a cup of coffee, morphine, anything.
"Oh, I'm sure it will be fine," she said attempting a note of cheer in her voice. She ran her fingers over her hair, smoothing it back while I took off my sunglasses and coat. She wore a French twist, which had been determined the height of hair fashion just a few weeks before by the newspaper's annual in- and out-of-style list. I shook my head slightly, hoping my hair would fall into a style.
"Well, I'll meet you at lunch time," said Margot, and then she sashayed off.
At a quarter to twelve, we met in the ladies room. I was at the mirror trying to adjust my belt so that the puckers in my dress didn't act like pleats and accentuate the fat around my hips. "You getting nervous?" I asked. I had decided that I would treat this situation exactly like the thing it was: me escorting someone to the next step up. It's kind of like helping an old lady inside with her groceries. If you're there, able-bodied, and doing nothing else, why not help a fellow human? What else is there to do? Of course, I wasn't opposed to getting some karmic reward for it, if the universe would have it that way.
"I am a little nervous, I guess," Margot answered. "But it'll be great! The worst thing that can happen is it will be an experience."
We took the subway to the nearest block to the agency. Riding without complete sensory cover, having to act like part of the scenery, like a normal person, gave me stabs of anxiety. I kept checking the buttons on my dress, looking to see if my slip was showing.
"God, you must be nervous," Margot announced to me and everyone on the train. "You're all over the place."
I held my breath for a second. The thing is, people forget all social rules once they're on public transportation. They think nothing of staring at you way too long. I felt like I was on television, like everyone in the car was my audience. I couldn't help it. I started singing. "You ought to be in pictures, you're marvelous to see ."
Margot turned and looked at me suspiciously. Clearly, she thought I had snapped in the few moments we had been on the subway, but then when she took in my whole face at once, she was somehow convinced that I still looked sane. "Very funny," she murmured, in a voice that was all at the same time cordial and hushing.
Then it was our stop. We walked several blocks to the address in Margot's pocket. "Now, we don't have to do anything, right?" I said this as we walked up the stairs to the door. The agency was on the second floor of a townhouse in a part of town where we should have been uncomfortable.
Margot waited until we were inside before she answered. "No, all you have to do is talk to the talent scout."
About five other people sat in the waiting room with us, all of them ugly, as far as I could tell. It was painfully evident that none had my destiny secreted away in a purse or a backpack. I whispered in Margot's ear, "No competition here," and though she roughly slapped me away, she caught my eye in another moment and winked. She knew.
We had to sign our names on a sheet of paper hooked to a clip board using a glittery silver magic marker. Our name in lights already. A television set in the corner played an obviously in-house produced video about the firm.
"Talent Search could change your life," the spokeswoman said. She evidently had been coached for this performance. Someone must have told her to speak slowly because if you speak fast, it's unprofessional. Be Professional. She had taken that advice to the extreme. Either that, or some comic in the video studio had changed the pitch on the voice track and slowed her down for entertainment purposes.
"We have work for all kinds of talent," the voice was saying, slowly, slowly. "Are you tall? Are you short? Do you look like a celebrity? You've come to the right place." I felt even more average when I examined my competition a little more closely. One guy looked just like Santa Claus. A head poked out and called his name. Santa waddled away. "Take your coat," she shouted at him. "You'll be exiting through another door!"
I panicked. "Oh God, Margot. I'm not sitting here alone."
"Did you think you were going to go with me and hold my hand? Just meet me downstairs afterwards!"
Sure, I thought. If you live that long. "You know, this isn't a very good neighborhood."
Margot looked at me like my presence was becoming a liability. "Don't worry about it."
Just then the head called Margot's name. I sat there another minute and three more women entered. They were manicured and made up nearly to the point of cosmetic exhaustion. I could tell from their sneers that they thought I was in the wrong place. I checked to see if I was still wearing clothes, buttoning the top button of my dress, which was already closed.
"Becky Martin," they called. My shoulders felt heavy, heavier than my feet. I had the strange sensation that someone had turned the room upside down. I stood up quick, hoping I would know how to stop moving once I got to the vertical position, hoping my feet wouldn't then start moving upwards and over my head.
In the next room, a woman sat at an enormous white desk, two windows behind her letting in all kinds of somehow unflattering daylight. It was so bright in there, I could hardly see. I couldn't imagine how she would evaluate my features, much less my talent, with all that light in there. I do, for any number of reasons, prefer candlelight.
"Name?" she barked. I knew she had heard them call me a minute before.
"Becky," I said, like I was the only one.
"Becky what?" Becky isn't one of those names you can use by itself like Iman or Charo.
"Becky Martin," I said, thinking it sounded a whole lot like Nancy Drew or June Cleaver or Wonder Bread or something. I must have looked positively Midwest. Average hair. Average dress. Average name. Average girl.
"And you want what, Becky?" This woman had very black hair and very suddenly had developed an accent of some sort.
"Uh, well," I stammered. I hadn't really thought of this one. What I was really hoping for was the moment when this entire situation was over. I envisioned myself going back to work, quitting my idiotic job and then living off my savings for a while and finishing college. Maybe I could teach for a while, even open my own school. This was the first moment I had even thought of such a thing. My throat felt dry. Suddenly I was elated.
"Becky, perhaps you're confusing me with someone who has all day," yipped the woman, who was beginning to remind me more and more of a Yorkshire Terrier. "What are you doing here?"
"I came with a friend," I said, this time a little too quickly (and gleefully).
She rolled her eyes and sniffed. "Okay. Stand up and turn around." Her accent had disappeared again, but now her voice had taken on that subtle sing-song quality of impatience.
I stood quickly and twirled the way a little girl might to show off her skirt. I didn't even suck in my stomach.
"Mmm " she moaned. "Sit down, please." I sat, wondering how she was going to tell me it wouldn't work out. "You might consider acting classes," she said, with a fresh accent. I looked at the ceiling, imagining whether I would need to work part time or if I could just enroll in college and hang out. "I would think about casting you in a commercial or some kind of a character role, but you have no stage presence. That doesn't mean you couldn't learn," she added unconvincingly. "In fact," she continued, fabricating, "I believe you may actually have some hidden talent there. I'll give you the business card of an excellent acting coach. Perhaps he could help."
"Fine," I said, standing. "Thank you so much for your time." I walked away with a snotty little wave. "Bye."
Margot stood outside the townhouse looking like the sun had chosen her alone to shine on.
"She hired you!" I shouted. I was so happy for her. It had worked out perfectly. I had escorted her to this place, and in the process made a few decisions of my own.
"Well, just about," she said, optimistically. "She gave me her best friend's phone number. She says he's the best acting coach on the East Coast. Supposedly, he can bring out my talent. After a few classes, when I develop my true stage presence, she thinks she can cast me in a commercial or something." Margot's face was so smooth, so at peace.
I crumpled the business card in my pocket and dropped it through the hole in the lining of my coat.
"How did you do?" she asked.
"Well," I said, stalling while I thought of a story to tell her. "It's like I told you, I'm not really a natural, you know. She didn't see any talent in me."
"Oh well," Margot said. "What do you think I should wear to acting class?"
We walked to a little diner with dirty windows and had lunch. At the end of a grilled cheese sandwich and Margot's monologue about the wisdom of that clever talent scout, I finished shredding my third paper napkin, as I am wont to do when I'm bored. I made dozens of little paper balls out of the edges.
It could have been an interesting, even engaging conversation if I had told her I intended to march right back in the office and resign that very day, but to my mind Margot had forfeited any future rights to know about my private thoughts when she rambled on so long about herself and her options.
"Shouldn't we go back to work?" I finally sighed. Maybe she was in the middle of a sentence, I don't know.
Margot looked at me sharply for a second, but then agreed. "Oh, thanks for going with me," she mumbled as we walked out of the restaurant.
I hailed a cab. Suddenly I had no time for subways.