Famous Not Famous
The famous actress was sitting in front of her computer, reading a celebrity gossip website, because there was a photo on the webpage at which she was staring, and the man in the photo was her boyfriend, a famous actor, and the woman in the photo was not the famous actress. The woman in the photo was young, and French, and wearing leather pants. The famous actress was sitting in front of her computer and not wearing leather pants. She was practically 40, and from Dayton, Ohio, and wearing the same yoga pants that she had worn yesterday. Her eyes wandered away from the photo of the famous actor that she thought was her boyfriend and over to the living room rug, where her son was playing with his Legos. Technically, he was not her son. He was adopted. She had adopted him a year ago after a bad breakup with a different famous actor – although, that famous actor was famous only in Portugal, which was convenient, because that meant the famous actress was more famous than him in every country but one (Portugal). After that boyfriend had left her, she had decided she needed a child, right away, some thing that would fill the hole that his leaving had exposed inside her. But when she had told her agent about her plan to get pregnant from a sperm bank, he had made a face that looked like he was sucking on a rotten lemon, which meant that if the famous actress got fat, and was getting older, and had to spend her time being pregnant and taking care of a baby, she would never work in this town again. So, she had gone home, searched “adoption” online, and discovered that for normal people, of which she was not one, it took two years or more to adopt a baby, and if you wanted a baby faster than that, there would have to be something wrong with the baby, like a harelip, or dwarfism, or half-blindness. She knew she couldn’t have an imperfect baby; that wouldn’t make any sense. A few hours after that, she had found an attorney in Indiana who said he could get her a baby in six months or less, guaranteed, or her money back. It would cost her $100,000. She had flown in a private jet to meet the baby hunter. In a wood-paneled office, he had chomped his shark teeth, and he had pointed at his collection of framed photos featuring newborns clutched by wild-eyed parents, and he had convinced her. Five months, three weeks, and four days passed, and the baby hunter had a check for $100,000, and she was standing in a parking lot behind a hospital with a bread loaf-sized human in the crook of her arm. She had flown home, and the baby had slept the entire way. The following morning, she had heard the baby gurgling in his bassinet, and she had plucked him from his holding pen, and she had held him up in the morning light streaming through the gauzy curtains the interior decorator had selected for moments like this. She had inspected the baby carefully. According to the baby hunter, the baby’s mother was white, and the baby’s father was black. The baby was the color of a candy caramel square. It squirmed and wriggled in her grasp, uncomfortable and kicking at nothing. Legally, it belonged to her. The odds of it abandoning her at this stage were slim; it was too weak and vulnerable to fend for itself. Besides, it didn’t even have any money. Now, in the living room, her son was attempting to conjoin a big yellow Lego and a big red Lego. For the baby, this was akin to performing neurosurgery while wearing mittens. It grunted unpleasantly and farted. It could play like this for hours, muttering nonsensically, defecating itself, fiddling with whatever she handed it. Two weeks ago, the famous actor had held the baby, and he had told her that he would like to adopt it so they could co-parent it. Today, he was running around Paris with a French girl. The caption under the photo reported the famous actor and the French actress had shared a cozy lunch at a Parisian bistro. In all likelihood, he would have ordered the steak tartar. Who knows what the French actress would have eaten. Nothing, probably. Just smoked a Gauloise and brooded sexily at the famous actor, her lips a wet pout. In the next photo, the French girl was tugging at her hair, which had been pulled into a messy half-bun, and her pert nipples were poking through the thin fabric of her white T-shirt like they couldn’t wait to be photographed by the paparazzi and broadcast around the world. She scrolled further down the page. Here, the famous actor and the French actress were saying goodbye. It was hard to tell if the famous actor was kissing the French actress on the mouth or on the cheek. The famous actress turned her head from side to side, trying to get a better look, but it was hard to tell what was happening from 5,642 miles away. Suddenly, the famous actress felt sick. Her son had conjoined the big yellow Lego and the big red Lego and was attempting to add a big blue Lego. She went into the kitchen and opened a cupboard. She took out a sack of sea salt chips, a box of Stoned Wheat Thins, and a can of organic garbanzo beans. Without stopping, she ate all the chips, and all the crackers, and the can of beans. She closed the cupboard. The food rose up in her throat, wanting to get out. She swallowed hard, forcing it back down. She had eaten, and she would pay the price. She would be fat forever, no one would hire her, and the only photos they would publish of her would be coupled with headlines braying about how unbelievably obese she had become. In the other room, her son shouted something that sounded like a question, but she had no idea what the question was or how she could answer it. She sat back at the desk. She didn’t want her son to know anything had gone wrong with her plan to build a better life for them with the famous actor. She leaned close to the computer screen, and her nose bumped against the glass. She hoped she would find her reflection in the eyes of the famous actor. Instead, his pupils were filled with the beautiful French girl’s heart-shaped face. Not long ago, the very same website had published a photo of the famous actress and the famous actor walking the red carpet at a charity event for a disease she couldn’t pronounce and hoped she would never get. She had worn a skintight black dress, and her hair was slicked into a chic bob. The famous actor had worn ripped jeans and smelled like burnt toast and spoiled sandwich meat. Anyone could see she was more attractive and therefore better than him. Couldn’t they? Of course, she was getting older. Still, he was older than her. It wasn’t easy, for a woman, getting older in this town. She paid her facialist $1,500 for each bottle of fetal spinal fluid that she smeared on her face with religious fervor every night before going to bed in order to improve her complexion. She had been peeled by lasers. She had been injected with fillers. She had been implanted with silicone. She had a job to do, and that’s what it took to do it. Regular people thought you did it for the producers, the directors, the test screenings, the Q score, the paparazzi, the vanity. It wasn’t that at all. It was for the fans, not for their love of her but for their terrible intolerance of her getting older, for they could see no difference between themselves and her, and, for them, she had to be a god. It was the only way they could stand themselves; her immortality was their dream, the thing in which they believed. Once upon a time, she was a golden girl. She had set a record for what an actress was paid per movie. She had won awards. She had turned down parts and refused to audition; she was that good. Yet, over the years, under the burning klieg lights, something within her had begun to melt. By the time she had spotted the famous actor in a restaurant, he was 53. From across the room, she had scanned his face, admiring its deep furrows, and she had felt herself flush with envy. Why was he allowed to wear his true self, and she was supposed to battle nature to the death? That night, she had screwed the famous actor into his mattress, and she had wondered if she could suck the life source right out of him. Remembering how his hands felt on her made her want to rip her face off her skull, tear loose her limbs, feed herself to the dog. She hunched over in the chair, collapsing. She covered her face with her hands. She had discovered too late fame was a gilded sarcophagus. The stack of scripts was diminishing. She was forced to audition again, so they could see if she was still hot or not. The other day, she had walked into a cafe, and the only person who had recognized her was the barista who had waited on her the day before. She wasn’t a supernova, like she had thought. She was a shitty white dwarf. Soon, she would be an indistinguishable speck in the night sky’s constellations. She opened her eyes and looked at the floor through her fingers. She had not heard her son approach. His feet were on the floor next to her. His toes looked like Vienna sausages. She was overwhelmed by an urge to stick his foot in her mouth, to gobble him up, to consume him whole. It would be a reverse delivery; the boy who had come out of a woman she had never met would enter her dormant womb and bring her back to life. She swiveled the chair to face him. His diaper was askew and drooping. He had lost his shirt somewhere. His eyes were so dark she could not distinguish the irises from the pupils. Boy, you a old soul, ain’t you? the old black woman at the supermarket had cooed and grabbed at his chubby leg like she had owned him. Her son had gazed at the old black woman with rapt fascination, recognizing something in her. The famous actress pulled her son onto her lap and plucked the pacifier from his mouth with a soggy pop that loosed a line of drool that slipped across the perfect slip of his lower lip and dribbled onto her thigh. He reeked of stale urine, baby oil, things feral and unknowable. She drew the boy close, his legs sliding around her hips, the great dome of his inscrutable head knocking gently against her collarbone, his protruding stomach pressing into her overstuffed abdomen. She was famished, she realized. Whatever it was for which she longed, the famous boyfriend didn’t have it, the young French actress didn’t have it, the next starring role didn’t have it. She could feel the polar icecap of herself melting from her proximity to the child’s global warming effect. She leaned into the nape of his neck and inhaled the irresistible pull of desire that was somebody’s son needing its mother, any mother, the mother that was her.