The Rise and Fall of a Star
The floors of the small house creaked and groaned, as Richard hauled the last piece of furniture into the main room. It was a significant difference to the sprawling farmhouse he had grown up in, with five brothers and three sisters.
It was a life he had to leave behind - after the great war ended. Profits began plummeting, and he knew that they were not going to recover, any time soon. Everyone knew it, but no one had the guts to say it.
He wasn't cut out for the farm life, anyway. He knew the city was where he was destined; where he would find his fame and fortune! Well, close to the city, for that matter. The shanty on the edge of New York was all he could afford on his meager savings.
The movers that helped him were kind enough. They worked hard and were fast in bringing the rest of his belongings in; leaving them so that he could arrange them to his liking, afterwards. Not that there were so many ways to arrange a wooden dining table, a few chairs, and a writing desk.
As he looked over his things, he saw an unfamiliar package among his belongings. It appeared to be a wide and short wooden crate, nailed shut. Canvas could be seen spilling out between the loose slats. Richard wasted no time, taking the hammer to pry the boards apart.
At last the top of the crate popped loose, and he pushed it aside. He slowly peeled it back, revealing a large circular mirror set in a golden frame of burnished gold; with thirteen spokes like the rays of the sun.
He gasped, having never seen - let alone possessed - such a brazen show of wealth. His mind immediately jumped to the thought of selling it, but surely the previous owners would be looking for it. Who else could possibly afford such a thing? He would have to hang on to it, for the time being.
It looked awkward over the small water basin, seeming to gleam and dominate the entire room... the entire house, for that matter. He stood before it and wiped away a smudge with his tattered washcloth. He said out loud to his own reflection that it would be a sign of his coming fortune. He spoke of wealth and fame; those words became a mantra to him, spoken every day, as he washed his face.
It was not long after that the winds of a cruel winter came blowing; howling through the slatted wooden walls, at all hours.
He now spoke the words with a bitter twist, as his knees knocked with shivers. There was some luck in finding fair work as a handyman, but it wasn't enough! He licked his chapped lips, as his stomach growled. He had to venture through the snow to the market, in hopes of finding something fair with the few pennies he had left.
The market street was mostly empty, save a few stalwart vendors who still peddled their shriveled vegetables and smoked meats. He was at least able to allow himself a portion of each; bringing a smile to his face, as he hitched his bag over his shoulder.
As he was about to return home, he heard a heavily accented man call out to him.
Richard apprehensively walked towards him, careful not to slip on the icy streets. He realized that the building the man was exiting was the cafe, whose sign was buried under the snow. The man offered to buy him a cup of coffee, to take off the chill.
Richard, while still apprehensive, had no real desire to decline. He had not made any friends, among the simple folk, and his family has yet to be any less cold than the weather. He nodded and followed the man inside.
The dark-dressed man led him a small corner table, where they were promptly greeted by a waitress in a woolen dress with a white apron. The man ordered two cups with cream & sugar and gave the kind of wink that would have earned him a black eye, if she had been his sister or his own girl. He then turned his attentions back to Richard.
He introduced himself as Harvey "Harv" Burns and offered his hand.
Richard shared his own name and shook his hand.
Harvey asked where he was from and asked if he had ever seen a movie.
He confirmed that he did, once, leaning back as the waitress placed a tray on the table with a carafe of black coffee, two small mugs, and two small dishes with cream and sugar. The film he had seen was a small affair, only twenty minutes.
Harvey made no delay in preparing his cup, and Richard followed suit. Between scoops of sugar, Harvey casually asked if he had considered starring in one.
Richard dropped his sugar spoon and looked up at the man with wide eyes. He admitted that he had dreams of it.
Harvey cracked a sly smile and nodded, saying how they needed someone to play a stableboy in his new movie, and the man they had cast before had vanished.
Richard couldn't help but blink, while his jaw hung open.
Harvey reached across the table and put his hand under his chin, closing his mouth. He sipped at his coffee, telling him to return to this place,next Wednesday.
He raced home after downing his coffee and receiving his little pep speech. It was almost as if the snow had been replaced with springtime blossoms, the way he bounced along with this broad smile. Even when he slipped and fell square on his ass it couldn't break his mood.
The filming of "A New Saddle" went off without a hitch, and by the end of the month, he had an offer to star in "The Heiress' Folly". Even more offers came in; keeping him perpetually busy and his snazzy bank account growing. He had never stepped foot in a bank before, other than to deliver payments for his father's loans.
People were starting to notice him in the streets, which only added to his arrogant swagger and strut. A year and a half had passed, and he was taking on lead roles and partying along side other great stars; from Harold Lloyd to Gretta Garbo - who had started at the same time he had. But the only one he had truly cared for was Bea Libby - or Pauline Frederick - as she preferred to go by.
Her icy blue eyes stunned him when he first saw her on the set of "Her Honor, the Governor". It took him some time to court her, but when that ice melted - they stoked a fire unlike any other he could imagine. Out of his entire fortune, it was what he loved the most.
While the passions raged strong, he was slightly put off by her lack of commitment, but attributed it to her very recent divorce. Still, he could ask for nothing more. He stopped his affirmations to his mirror, which now hung in the sitting room of his small manor - quite modest in comparison to those of his colleagues.
It was in 1927, that two things changed. Pauline was hinting at commitment, and the industry was turned on it's head. He would never forget the night that he exited his Model A Duesenberg to see the premier of "The Jazz Singer" - the first talkie.
He assured Pauline, as they walked into the theater, that such a premise simply would never take off, and that it was a far greater waste that they would never be able to see her dazzling eyes or the ruby red of her lips. He proposed that he could commission a painting together to immortalize themselves, to which she gave a noncommittal chuckle and stroked his arm.
Much to his chagrin, the talkie was an enjoyable experience and took off faster than a freight train. By the summer of the next year, the roles in silent movies were scarce and his renown began to dwindle. His stutter overcame him, when he tried to speak the lines aloud - if he hadn't completely forgotten them. The directors had been less than impatient with him - as if all he had done in the past were nothing. The actors who had started in broadway faced little - if any- difficulty in the transition.
Before long he had no choice but to catch up with the times. He found himself standing in front of his gold framed mirror once more, and he recited his opening lines for what must have been the twentieth time.
Richard spoke his lines with a dramatic flair, but began sputtering and forgot the next sentence. He stopped and clenched his jaw, before throwing the script down. He shouted at his reflection, cursing at himself and entering a litany of his failures.
He struck the mirror with his fist, and his face scattered. He let loose another burst of profanity as the blood from his now slashed hand gushed over his hardwood floors and painted red streaks against the white walls.
He wrapped his hand in cloth and raced down stairs. Pauline was at her own home, this evening, so he would have to drive himself. He didn't exactly trust her driving skills; especially on a rainy night.
He rushed into the car and turned the engine. He was careful not to get his blood on the leather seats. The rain hadn't let up. It rapped over the roof of the car over and over. Fog seemed to rise and grow thicker, while his blood trickled out from between his fingers.
His head began to swim; be it shock or loss of blood, he did not know. He was scarcely even aware, when he missed the curve of the road and flew down the hill, until the car struck a tree and threw him through the windshield.
He woke up in a hospital bed, wracked by pain. His groaning must have drawn the attention of the nurse, who rushed over with a silver spoon full of harsh-tasting Dicodid. He swallowed, and struggled to ask his questions, though he found himself wishing he endured his agony in silence.
He had required countless stitches, after the windshield had shredded his face, when he was ejected from his seat. Several hours had past that he lay in the pouring rain and teetered on death's edge, until the busted guardrail was reported to the sherrif, and he was later found.
He rose from the bed on weakened legs and walked to the mirror on the far side of the suite. Despite the nurse's pleading he tore at the bandages that bound most of his face. The revelation of the gore brought a guttural cry; stitches covered his face and crimson slashes etched across it like a web.
His cry must have been louder than he thought. A handful of nurses and two doctors rushed in to guide him back to his hospital bed. One of the doctors admonished the presiding nurse for giving him an extra dose of Dicodid and failing to check the charts for instructions.
Richard sobbed in the bed, while the other doctor struggled to keep his hands down so he could not touch his face.
After a few minutes that felt more like hours, the other nurse returned for an injection. The effects were near immediate, and his struggling ceased.
After a brief time for recovery, he was discharged and returned to his home. A few closer friends bothered to send flowers and sweetmeats, but even fewer came to visit and check in. Most of his time was spent alone, in the quiet of his manor.
The stitches were gone in a week and a half, but the angry lines remained bulging and bright. Just after their removal, Pauline came to visit once more. Her eyes never rose higher than his neck but were mostly looking towards the floor. She informed him that she would be taking some time away, and she wished him a speedy recovery.
She dodged his kiss and stepped away towards the door, but Richard raced to stand before her. He shouted and cried, pleading if her reason was because of the accident.
She did not answer the question, and she instead informed him that she could not breathe and rushed out the door.
No other visitors came, and he haunted his manor with naught but mice for company. After a few months, he received a letter from Harv inviting him to new restaurant just outside of Culver City.
He rode the trolley from the hills and through the city. It was a starkly different experience on the streets than what he was used to. Smiles and joyous waves were replaced with averted eyes and the pointing of children, who were quietly reprimanded by their parents.
The hostess of the five star "Bougainvillea" restaurant was no better, when she insisted that they take a private seating in the back. She tried to pretend that it was a token of good will, but he had seen enough acting. They didn't want him to be seen by the eating guests.
Even Harvey's eyes betrayed that his perpetual smile was born out of sympathy, but Richard never addressed it; even as they settled into the latticed corner and placed their orders.
Harvey did his best to assure him that this didn't need to be the end of his career. Richard's mood crashed; however, when Harv confirmed that the only roles he would ever really be able to take were those of villains or monsters. He stood and stormed off, leaving Harv with the bill.
His first course of action was arranging a party like none other. His assets had stopped growing, but he was not going to be swept away because of an accident. The best wines and champagne in southern California were bought up, and caterers were enlisted in droves. So many people were invited that even security became a necessity. All of Hollywood was to be coming!
The servants politely chatted animatedly among each other while Richard sat on the stairs with his face in his hands. The only visitors that came outside of the paid servants were a few stragglers who he wasn't even certain he had invited.
The hours slipped by until an hour past midnight, and the now drunken revelers who hadn't even greeted him filed out with the caterers, leaving behind a scarcely touched feast.
He slept on the stairs, some time after the tears stopped rolling. Everything he had worked so hard for was lost.
His only company ever after was the radio, which spouted news from the outside world, in all its cruelty. He had planned to find labor work in the city, but the economic crash had set in, and he'd no doubt be sent off to some work camp. Some time later, when he resolved to take his life back to the farm, the Dust Bowl struck. Even when he was near penniless, he had never felt so desperate.
He looked around the hall of his house, the grand furniture he had no been able to sell off sat covered in white cloth like ghosts frozen in time.
He slowly made his way up the stairs, finally resolute in an idea that had only lurked in his mind in the darkest hours. He withdrew his revolver from under his mattress and loaded it.
He then dragged himself to his sitting room, where the only two pieces of furnishings that were not covered were a high-backed chair positioned before the mirror that changed his fates. His eyes followed the sinuous curves of the sunburst and then the shattered silver. All but one shard still clung within the frame, the one that had burried itself deep in his hand.
Richard sat and leaned into the chair. When he looked at his face from this very angle, his face looked so painfully normal. But it was all a damnable trick. Instead of the permanent scowl that was stitched onto his face, he saw a wry smile that mocked him, reminding him of who he once was.
He brought the barrel to his temple - the one part of his face not shown from the missing shard. With his other hand he ran a finger over the scars. It was just a trick. He swore that the mouth moved, whispering, goading him to make the next move.
He wrapped his finger around the trigger and pulled. His unblinking eyes staring back into his old face and everything he once had.
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