Award-winning novelist and short-story writer Tom Vowler offers the next contribution to Flash Fiction Month with Scene Forty-Seven.
She’s made it. He doesn’t recognise her name – she must have married – but there is something about her face, when she does disapproving or upset, that catches his attention. He assumed her career, like his, had stalled after the film. But there she is, some fancy US drama. What would she be now? Early forties. A little younger than himself, he recalls.
He gets the email address through her agent. An old friend from England, he says, wanting to catch up.
Hello, he types. I hope this finds you well.
It had been his first role of any note, having previously scraped a living from fleeting but regular appearances in sitcoms, the occasional voiceover. She’d had a small part in that hospital drama, but was otherwise known for the stage.
The director, an unremarkable journeyman, was out to shock, to ruffle establishment feathers in the twilight of his career. He wanted relative unknowns to play the parts, so their egos didn’t compromise his aesthetic vision for the piece. On three occasions during the audition he said the scene would be the main character.
I’m not sure where to begin, the email continues.
She clashed with the director for days beforehand, but he insisted the scene was integral, that it had to be done that way. The only concession she got was on the number of crew allowed on set that afternoon: two cameramen, someone on sound and the director. She could pull out, she was told, but she’d likely not work again. He’d see to it.
I saw you in that new series, he types. It’s got a primetime slot over here. You’ve done really well.
He’d played her lover, recently jettisoned. Scene forty-seven opened with an argument. Take me back, he said over and over. I’ll do anything. I’m sorry, she said, it’s finished. There’s someone else.
The director kept talking about authenticity. He wanted the audience to experience what she felt. Shortly before filming, the director had taken him to one side. We can only do this once, he said. I don’t want you to hold back. Don’t worry about what she says or does. We only stop when I say cut.
The script was vague at this point: there were probably only half a dozen lines of direction between Argument moves to bedroom and CRAIG leaves the flat. Just go with it, the director said. Draw on whatever you have to.
It was the last scene they had together. He saw her on set during the rest of the filming, but they hadn’t spoken again.
What’s America like? he writes.
The reviews were polarised. One called it the most important artistic endeavour of the year. Another regarded it gratuitous and sickening. Calls came for a ban, which were largely resisted. He never watched it.
The parts began to dry up. He acted for another year, maybe a little longer.
Pouring another drink, he deletes the email.
Scene Forty-Seven by Tom Vowler is part of a Wales Arts Review series publishing original flash fiction pieces by some of Wales’ top authors in a celebration of the unique literary genre and National Flash Fiction Day.