SHORT STORY

 

Dead Ringer

As featured in ArtAscent “youth” Issue (august 2018)

 
 

Ding Dong! 

Who could that be? No one ever rang her doorbell these days.

Ding Dong!

It certainly wasn’t Harlow, she was nothing more than a glorious phantom now. Valentino too. The neighbors she once knew eternalized in their youth. Oh, how she envied them. 

Ding Dong! The chime a bit more labored now.

“Alright, alright, I’m coming,” she grumbled. 

She propped herself up on the worn velvet chaise she’d been occupying all morning and let out a yawn. A pair of limp cucumbers, once perky and cool, slipped from her eyelids exposing the drab cocoon she called home.

Tour guides who routinely ushered spectators along the famed boulevard were often overheard proclaiming it, “The immaculate palace of silent film star Isabella Vance!” 

Ha! If only they could see inside, she cackled. A palace it was not! 

The ceilings were stained an ashy gray from years of heavy smoking. Thick mold oozed from behind peeling wallpaper. The Moroccan tile floors, once frequented by Garbo and the Gish sisters, were cracked beyond repair. The dusty drapes, the frayed rugs were all just supporting players. She was the star! So long as she looked good was all that mattered. 

The bell sounded a fourth time. 

Unless that is Mr. DeMille with a goddamn script they can wait, she thought.

Isabella hoisted herself up from the chaise and scuffled into the parlor, eager to catch a glimpse of the bell ringer. A slender silhouette swayed beyond the wrought iron door but whoever it was she could not make out. Her eyes weren’t what they use to be, the consequence for years spent in the glow of klieg lights.

She lurched forward, gripped the knob, and yanked the leaden doors open.

The woman that stood before her was radiant. Her hair, loose and bouncy, was a shade of golden copper. Her skin, blemish free. She wore no jewelry unless you counted her pair of emerald eyes. A gauzy peach blouse that billowed with the breeze cast a delicate halo around her slim torso. 

“Are you from the studio?” Isabella asked. The red head looked perplexed. 

“Studio? No, I’m your neighbor,” the woman said, “from across the street.” She pointed her finger in the direction of a roof barely visible behind a mass of overgrown palms. 

“Oh, of course,  I only assumed because you’re simply radiant —”

“Peggy.”

Peggy? That’s not a name suitable for a star, Isabella mused. Things of that nature could be easily fixed, but her appearance! She was “It,” a modern day Clara Bow! 

“Well Peggy, we’re not getting any younger standing around out here. Please, come in.”

Once inside she watched her neighbor’s gaze take in the mess of half emptied containers of creams and serums that littered every surface.

Would she notice all the fake eyelashes scattered on the floor? The cucumbers now decaying on the chaise? 

“Excuse the mess,” Isabella laughed, “you know full well how much it takes to look beautiful.”

“I don’t do much really,” Peggy remarked, brushing a fallen tendril from her porcelain face. “Listen, I really can’t stay long. I actually just came by to see if you could lend me some mayonnaise?”

Isabella contemplated her neighbor’s flippant response. She doesn’t “do much”? Blasphemy! 

“Mayonnaise? Why yes! I have a new jar in the pantry. Wait right here.” 

That girl needs to learn a thing or two about self preservation, she thought. She wouldn’t let her spoil.

Isabella reached the kitchen and headed for a cabinet under the sink. She rummaged around the clutter of neon bottles until she located bleach, unscrewed its cap and carried it into the pantry. The mayonnaise sat lonely on a shelf. She opened it and poured in the bleach. After a quick stir, she replaced the lid and set off to hand over the concoction disguised in the condiment jar. 

“There you are,” Isabella said handing it to Peggy, who’d since drifted into the parlor.

“Thank you.”

As Peggy gracefully descended the driveway, Isabella caught her own reflection in the door’s glass. Horrifying! Had she looked like this all day?

She quickly retreated upstairs to her boudoir and flicked on a makeup mirror to examine her decaying complexion. She glanced at her forehead and saw her youth free falling into craters. Crows feet splintered from the corners of her eyes. She began to pull at her cheeks and tug her brows higher. She caked on makeup and smeared a thick rogue on her withered lips. 

Just then a thought occurred to her. She never asked Peggy what she needed the mayonnaise for. She only assumed Peggy would naively smear it across a slice of bread to eat. She wanted her dead, forever immortalized as an angel in the likeness of Marilyn. 

But what if she decided to use it for a hair treatment instead? She considered. Well, she’ll simply wake up tomorrow looking like Jean Harlow. What’s the harm in that?

Isabella smirked but the creases it formed on her face forced her eyes shut. When she reopened them she gazed into the mirror one final time. 

A silent film star flickering into obscurity. 

A moth, dusted in powder, heading toward the light.