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Christine in Hollywood

Sally Cragin

When Christine arrived in Hollywood she brought with her a brand new B.A. in film from a mountain college. She suspected that the other piece of paper, on which her favorite teacher had scrawled the names of five video directors and their phone numbers, was more important.

Amazingly, one of the directors steered her towards a job -- a week-end shoot minding the cameras and lighting gear for a heavy metal video. What could be better? She liked El Pinhead's records, and she loved working with cameras. Though she was exhausted at the end of three 12-hour shooting days, she was also exhilarated. Even better, the job led to another. And that job to a third. Work begets work. She started to get to know people, and, with the confidence of the employed, wasn't shy about calling people she'd just met, looking for work. After all, it was Hollywood. Isn't that what you were supposed to do? And she knew she was a good worker, good with people, anal about the equipment. Unfailingly prompt, even if no one else was. When you started from the bottom -- and who didn't? -- as a production assistant, you had to be good. And, you had to know somebody.

Six months of regular work had made her complacent. But then the dusty Hollywood spring eased into the steamy Hollywood summer, and the work just wasn't, well, happening. Summer traditionally marks the season's end for nearly all TV work. Tapings stop, bands go on tour, the entire capital-I Industry settles into a stupor. In May, she coiled the last hundred feet of four-ought cable for a Dickwads shoot, and didn't have any work on deck. That was all right -- she'd earned a rest. By the first week of June she was getting concerned about finding work again. If her calls were returned, it was invariably with discouraging words: "Nope, sorry, band's out of town, no money for videos, they're shooting in Mexico, the company folded, don't you know it's summer? Nobody shoots in the summer, get a tan, geez, honey...."

Christine panicked. She had called everyone on her list. She had called everyone she knew. She imagined a sea of pink WHILE YOU WERE OUT messages spiked on a hundred empty desks. Unread. She wanted to cry, and then she called her college teacher.

"I don't know what to do," she found herself saying. "Everything was going
so well. There were all these jobs. And now--"

Her teacher sighed, and Christine realized she'd been whining. "I'm really sorry for calling you up like this. It's just that I've spent the last week punching numbers and getting nowhere."

"It's okay," her teacher said. He had been one of the younger faculty, a serious guy with a real flair for teaching Fellini. "It happens to everyone. It happened to me." He then told her a story about getting shut out of a film set when he'd thought he had the Second Assistant Director job sewn up. It was a story he'd told in class, of course. Christine looked at the clock, and realized she'd been talking a time zone away for nearly half an hour. She tried to wrap it up. "Well, listen, thanks for hearing me out," she cut in. "I guess I should make some more calls."

But her teacher hadn't hung up. Instead, he'd given her another name and phone number. "Margie's a little, uh, brusque, but tell her I gave you an A and I never give As." He laughed, and Christine felt a bit better as she hung up. She twisted the scrap of paper, and punched the number. She'd had to leave a message of course. But somehow, it was okay.

The next day, she went down the phone list again, getting more machines, and more disconnections. If she reached the administrative assistants, she tried to be friendly but firm, making a note not to call the number until three days had passed. She had a feeling there was a subtle distinction between forceful and pushy and she didn't want to be one of those people. The pushy ones. But she called Margie's number, and, a miracle, got Margie.

"It's perfect timing that you called," the producer said. "My dear friend Sylvie -- you know, Sylvie Frost? the cabaret singer? is trying to get her life together before her two weeks at the Coco Cabaret. She calls it a comeback, but I said, `Darling, where did you go?' Nowhere -- but she's looking for a personal assistant, to help her with the business. Call her," Margie urged. "I'll tell her to expect you."

Christine was astounded, and said nothing for a moment. Margie regarded silence with suspicion. "You were a student of Bruce Prendergast, right?" she said. "Oh yes," Christine said. "He told me to tell you I got an A."

Instantly she regretted it. She sounded 18, a kid, not someone who was 23, with six months real Hollywood experience under her belt. "Well, good for you," Margie said. Now, her voice sounded snappish. "Maybe you can help Sylvie balance her checkbook. I'll tell her she can recognize you by your Phi Beta Kappa key. That's a joke, honey, relax, and call her."

Christine had never heard of Sylvie Frost, let alone her Top-Ten 1965 hit, "Never Ignore Me," but she called the number. The woman who answered the phone sounded like she'd just been woken from a nightmare: "Yes?" she barked.

"Sylvie Frost?" Christine asked. "I'm Christine. Margie Feinbaum said I should call you. I understand you're looking for an assistant." Christine had rehearsed these three lines for about ten minutes before she called. Sylvie sounded relieved. "Right -- Margie said you'd be calling. I need someone to pick up my gowns at the studio, make some calls, lick some stamps, and just generally clean up my files. Where do you live?"

"Hollywood," Christine told her, and waited to be asked for her experience, her qualifications.

"Right," Sylvie said. "You've got a car, right."

Christine was taken aback, "Of course I have a car," she said, bristling. "I couldn't get to my job if I didn't have a car."

She was in curlers and kimono, but the hand that applied the face's make-up was clearly experienced at having its subject seen from the nethermost galleries.

There was a moment's charged silence. Christine thought she'd offended the woman, but it was the right answer for Sylvie, who laughed. A low growling chuckle that was not devoid of warmth or humor. "Oh-kee, kiddo," she said, and gave Christine directions to her house. Christine hastily grabbed her Thomas Guide (she never left anything of value in her car -- the neighborhood), and found the appropriate page. Carefully, she noted the twists and turns, the false trails and cul-de-sacs of the Malibu hill system. Sylvie was moderately patient, until she'd led Christine's pencil trail straight to 28944 Ruffled Wren Court, a tiny lasso-tipped street that dangled from an intestinally twisted thoroughfare. "Okay kid, Chris," she said. "Ten ayem mañana."

"Bye," Christine said to the dial tone.

Christine allowed an hour for the morning's drive, and she was glad to leave the hanging heat and smog in her Hollywood delta `hood though she couldn't shake off a feeling of foreboding. She punched up AC/DC on her stereo, "Highway to Hell," and shook her head along to the flaying guitar solo. "It's only for two weeks," she told herself. Two weeks, then back to leather guitar boys and coiling cables.

She found the house without trouble, and was 15 minutes early. So she killed the engine, and surveyed her new workplace. Two bougainvilleae, viciously pruned though in full crimson glory adorned the front door of the perfectly ordinary split-level. The curtains were drawn, and the garage door was closed. No plants in the window, no lawn chairs on the patch of front porch -- not even a newspaper on the doormat. Christine looked at the other houses. If there were cars, they were concealed in the out-buildings. The neighborhood had the feel of a fortress, though one temporarily abandoned.

Christine got out of the car and approached number 28944. It was five minutes to ten. She pressed the button by the door knob and didn't hear an answering ring. But the door suddenly swung open-- "as if she were waiting for me by the mail slot," Christine thought later -- and Sylvie greeted her.

She was in curlers and kimono, but the hand that applied the face's make-up was clearly experienced at having its subject seen from the nethermost galleries. Sylvie's eyebrows were pencilled circumflexes, her blusher suggested the cheekbones of an Apache, and her lipstick was as orange as a scraped carrot. Christine nearly shook her head in amazement but caught herself. "Howyadoin' kid," was all Sylvie offered by way of greeting. "This way," she said, leading her down a central hallway. Sylvie wore pink maribou-trimmed mules and lifted her feet surely, as if she was used to the spike heels sinking into the thick pile of the rather dingy beige wall-to-wall.

As she traipsed dutifully after Sylvie, Christine snuck glances at the framed photographs that rested on the floor. They documented a frail gamine with Walter Keen eyes and a wistful, black-lipstick smile. Campy `50s balloony-lettering with titles such as "My Guy, Guy" and "Love Me Later."

The pictures had been arranged in chronological order, which gave Christine the somewhat disturbing sensation of seeing Sylvie -- or the woman in the pictures, who surely could not have been this antsy old hen stepping claw-like before her -- age instantaneously. "My career," Sylvie said, sensing her eye movements. "Someday, I'll tell you the whole story, and show you my Grammy, but today it's work-work-work!"

Sylvie slowed down in the kitchen, an airy chamber of white ash paneling and chrome-finishings. A rack of gleaming pots and pans dangled from iron hooks in the ceiling. "Nice," Christine thought -- she once worked in a restaurant, and could recognize quality cooking equipment. But the tile counter was bare save for a coffee mug, a spoon, and an uncapped jar of instant coffee. "Oh god," Christine thought. "I'll have to bring my own tea." But, of course, she said nothing. Sylvie stood by a doorway at the other end of the kitchen. "I work in here," Sylvie said, leading Christine to a windowed alcove adjacent to the kitchen. A battered wooden desk held a large computer, still in its manufacturer's plastic sacking. There was an office chair in dingy black; it listed on its castors. "These are my files," Sylvie gestured to a couple of Nordstrom's shopping bags, "and that's my Rolodex," she laughed as she yanked open a file drawer. It was brim-full: scraps of paper, business cards, wrinkled napkins, all scrawled. "I need these typed on cards, and eventually inputted into the computer, but I haven't hooked that up yet. The business of today, the main business, is I need you to pick up my gowns. The big show's in just two weeks. You know where The Studio is, right?"

"Sure," Christine said. "Burbank, off Cahuenga --"

Sylvie just stared at her. Christine noted that the mascara on her lower lashes left little ellipses crawling across the slack skin under the eyes. She improvised. "If you're coming from Hollywood," she said. "If you're coming from the west, it's the 101 to the 134."

Satisfied, Sylvie handed her a crumpled receipt, and after agreeing to pay her mileage, she released Christine to the cozier confines of her car. With the door closed, Christine roared away so quickly she had to fumble with a pen and a scrap of paper to note the odometer mileage. But she screamed along to "Highway to Hell."

* * *

The wardrobe man at The Studio was a dour dumpling of a man who handed over the big bundle with a cadenza of put-upon sighs. "You tell Sylvie if I wasn't the biggest fan of hers she has on earth that we wouldn't keep her schmattes here," he groused. "It's not the goddamn studio system anymore -- and we won't have room after this month because of the war picture," he said. "But tell her she's past due on her bill." He handed her an invoice, which Christine crammed into her pocket. "If I stick around, I'll probably be the one cutting the check," she thought and then shuddered. Cranking up the Nirvana tape on her ailing tape-deck, she drove at a gas-conserving 55 all the way back to the split-level.

She had to knock at the door, and Sylvie answered it, clutching a cordless phone to her right ear. She shooed Christine back into the office, and gestured towards the Nordstrom's bag. Christine took out a handful of crumpled paper and slowly started sorting.

* * *

All that week, Sylvie called her at eight a.m., or a little after to ask if she could come "a little earlier," than the ten a.m. they'd initially agreed upon. By the end of the day, she would defiantly plead with her to stay later than six p.m. But it wasn't too stressful, Christine thought. She was able to make some headway on the Rolodex, and once Sylvie even offered her lunch. Still, Christine brought her own, usually a sandwich and apples and bananas to keep her going later in the afternoon. Sylvie's house was far from the mini-malls in Christine's neighborhood that offered a bucket of Chinese noodles for two bucks. Christine forced herself to take walks after she ate her lunch on Sylvie's back stoop. She was used to working long hours without a break on the video shoots, but after a few days with only Sylvie's presence for company, Christine realized she was in danger of losing her mind. "Prolonged exposure to how Sylvie's mind worked will send me running up the Hollywood hills to the big sign, to fling myself off the H," Christine thought. "I just know it."

"In truth, Sylvie is a simple person who only needs to get her own way to be happy," Christine realized. "If she is thwarted at any point in the pursuit of that happiness, she is out for blood. Really," Christine reflected, listening to Sylvie scream at her manager, "Well, tell the blood-sucking bastards they can squeeze it out of my ass, do you hear, my fucking ass" -- "Sylvie is just a filter for darker forces at work. If she was treated nicely by the powers that be --" Christine overheard Sylvie telling the same manager in the same conversation, "Really? Billboard compared Barbara Streisand to me?" and then making a noise that resembled a sickening cat's purr -- she just let those emotions slide through the mesh of her personality.

But, more often, Sylvie was shouting, and when she was shouting at her manager -- "Well, fuck Milwaukee, how can a town that ruined beer have any taste? I wouldn't go back there anyway" -- she knew that after Sylvie had slammed down the phone she would ask Christine if she "hadn't finished that Rolodex yet" or invoiced the bills (Sylvie had about a dozen credit card account rolling, half of them with her name and half of them with her name and "incorporated" after that), or done some other task that Christine considered bookkeeping, and that she would not ask so much as demand in a petulant whine.

On Friday, she prudently handed Sylvie a typed invoice, stating her hours and mileage. "$8.50 an hour, right?" Sylvie said, sweeping a pile of magazines from her vanity chair as she sat down. She rummaged in her make-up satchel and took out a white vinyl checkbook.

"It was nine," Christine said. "We agreed on nine. I asked for $10 an hour, and you said $8. We settled on nine, plus 25 cents a mile." Christine bit her tongue so she wouldn't say what she was thinking. "You rude bitch," she fumed, folding the check and putting it in her back pocket.

"Now, next week --" Sylvie said. "I won't need you during the days, because I'm rehearsing at The Studio, but on Thursday, you need to be at Coco's at six. Dress nice, okay, kiddo?" -- this said with a grim little half-smile. Christine nodded, and Sylvie continued, "And make sure that my dressing room has two bottles of Evian and a fruit platter. The meshugganah always scrimps on the fruit platter. Make sure there's kiwi. I have to have kiwi when I perform."

"Sure thing, Sylvie," Christine said. "Have a good weekend," she offered, suddenly feeling guilty about call-
ing Sylvie a bitch. "I must not think bad thoughts," she sang along with X on the tape deck on the long ride home. "I must not think bad thoughts."

* * *

On Monday afternoon, a miracle occurred, and Christine got a call from someone she knew in a post-production house, needing some fill-in work. She worked for the next 12 hours, and when she got home after midnight, found five messages on her machine from people she didn't know. They were messages that went along these lines: "Yes, this is Joe Henderson -- I'd like to make a reservation for Friday's show. Please call me back to confirm," and "My name is Gladys Temple. I would like a pair of tickets for Saturday -- the evening show. Is there a matinee? Uh, I'll call back." When she'd played through them all, Christine realized that these people must have mistaken her number for the Club Cabaret. She started replaying the messages, and writing down the information. "Mistaken it, or been told otherwise," she thought, as she wrote down the last message -- "half a dozen seats for Ina Lazarowitz, Mrs., please make them close to Sylvie." Exhausted, she ate a cold bowl of brown rice, and fell asleep, without bothering to pull off her jeans.

On Tuesday, she woke at ten, and called Sylvie's house. No answer, so she called the service. "Uh, Sylvie, this is Christine, I got a bunch of calls for people wanting to see your show. Call me, if you want the information. I wrote it down." She thought about calling the club, to relay the information, but she was late at the post-house, so she just left. When she returned home, dazed and worn after another 12-hour day, there were even more messages from people wanting tickets, wanting orchestra seats, wanting dinner, not wanting dinner, needing to change their reservation to Friday from Saturday. Christine didn't bother to write them down. Instead, she called her friend Hope, whom she knew would be up past midnight. "Can you believe it?" she said, explaining the situation.

"Sounds like a bear," Hope said. "How long do you have to do it?"

"Just for two weeks. God I hope something turns up before then, though."

"Well, hit those phones, honey."

"I'm hitting them with both fists."

* * *

Thursday afternoon Christine tinted a lock of her hair chartreuse. While the color dried, she painted her finger and toe-nails black, and, as six o'clock approached made up her eyes with inky streaks of powdered kohl, and squeezed into her favorite dress-up outfit, a black vinyl jumpsuit with the front unlaced right to her cleavage. She slipped into a pair of Frederick's of Hollywood hooker heels which she'd bought years ago at a yard sale in Boulder. On each instep was printed the Frederick's logo, with "Hollywood" in nearly-faded gilt letters underneath. Back then, she'd never dreamed she'd actually live there, or that her car (a battered, but still peppy Toyota) could have made the trip over the Rockies. But she'd made it -- she had arrived. Smiling, she put a Dead Kennedys' tape and a tube of black lipstick in her black leather knapsack. Driving to the club, she found an unaccountable surge of excitement. Not quite nervousness, more like pleasurable anticipation. She hadn't seen Sylvie in three days, and, though she couldn't think warmly of the woman -- that haggling over 25 cents an hour -- she was sufficiently recovered from being around her. "It will be different at the club," Christine thought. "It won't be that awful unlived-in house."

She was a little early, and found the backstage door without difficulty. A custodian directed her to "Miss Frost's" dressing room, and at the mention of the name, Christine felt a thin tweak of dread. "Oh, god," she thought. "The fruit platter. Did I call about the fruit platter?" She was sure that she had. "Did I mention the kiwi slices? I must have mentioned the kiwi slices. Oh god, if they're not there, I'll have to hit the Vons on the next street and buy her some." Christine reached for the door, and flung it open. The room, smallish, actually painted green, was empty. But there was the fruit platter, cheerfully cartwheeled with slick green disks of kiwi berry set on a table.

A moment later, Christine heard the tell-tale click of Sylvie's mules, and in she swept on the arm of a heavy little man with a shameless toupée. She wore a black bugle-beaded dress, with a purple rabbit-fur cloak. Violet high-lights were added to her hair which had been styled in a 1920s bob. "Your hair looks nice, Sylvie," Christine said by way of greeting. "Thanks kiddo. Nice touch with the green in yours," Sylvie said, and handed her the cloak. When Sylvie unwrappped herself, her gaze strayed to Christine's chest and she whistled. "Nice bazooms, kiddo," she proclaimed, and then, seeing Christine's eyes open wider, added "I'm KIDding," with a stagey wink. Then she turned her attention to the fruit platter. She selected a slice of kiwi and popped it into her mouth.

"Watch your lipstick, hon," the man said. Sylvie chewed and then extended her tongue. "Thkin," she said, tweezing it off the tip with two red lacquered fingernails. She flicked it on the floor, and turned to face the two of them. "Marty, my manager, Christine my personal assistant."

"A pleasure," Marty said, grinning. Christine shuffled the cape in her hands before extending her palm. "You can hang up the cape, honey," Sylvie said in a softer voice. "I won't need it until I blow out of here. So, Marty, how's the celebrity count out there?"

"All the biggies,"Marty said, reeling off a couple of names of stars from sitcoms long running in syndication. "A veritable Who Was in show business," Christine thought, but kept silent. Sylvie was busy at her vanity, thickening her eyebrows with a stub of pencil. "Marty, do you want a drink?" Sylvie asked, and then, to Christine, "Kiddo, ask the barman for a double scotch--"

"Chivas," Marty corrected.

"-- for my manager, and order something for yourself. Then, come back here, and help me get ready to go on, and then you can watch the show up front. With Marty -- we get a side table -- we rate, right, Mart? Haw!" Sylvie barked, winking elaborately at her reflection.

Christine departed and after briefly rambling in the mysterious backstage hallways, opened a door and found herself in the darkened barroom of the Coco Cabaret. The bartender polished glasses with a bit of towel and a couple of cocktail waitresses leaned against the counter. They looked at Christine and looked at each other. Christine felt very conspicuous standing there alone. She shrugged her shoulders to get the bosom part of her jumpsuit to hike up a little higher and said, in a voice that was almost loud, "Excuse me. I'm Sylvie Frost's assistant. Can I get a double Chivas and a Coke please?"

"No problem. How is working for the diva?"

"It's a job," Christine said, but with a smile, so he won't get the wrong idea. "Ya gotta work," the barman said. He was a good-looking guy, with a swathe of jet-black hair. He might have been 25 in the cozy amber light of the Coco Cabaret Starlight Room, but he wouldn't see 40 again. "Hollywood," Christine thought. "I gotta get a real job." She received the drink, and initialed the bar tab. She made her way back to the dressing room without incident, and delivered the drink, then sat quietly in a folding chair in the corner while Sylvie and Marty chatted conspiratorially. Another man had arrived, who wore a tux: Sylvie's accompanist, Peter Gumble. "I love ya, Pete," Sylvie said, fixing Peter a steely gaze. "Just take it easy on the arpeggios in `Second Hand Rose,' Okay hon?"

It wasn't a question, and Peter nodded over his fingertips which were pressed together in a kind of spread-out prayer position. "Salaam, mistress," he muttered, and Sylvie laughed. Christine leaned against the wall and sipped at her Coke. The four of them were silent, and then Sylvie started warming up. She sang a series of "La la las." Then she warbled, "Do re mi fuck you la ti do!" and then down the scale, "Do ti la so fuck me re do." Marty laughed dutifully, but Peter yawned, and lifted a leg onto the other knee so he could scratch his calf. He was wearing garters. "I gotta get out of here," Christine thought. "Everyone I've seen tonight is at least 30 years older than me." Finally, Sylvie's warm-up was interupted when another young man, this one with -- oh no -- dyed blond hair and a falling face lift -- knocked on the door and opened it simultaneously. "Five minutes Miss Frost," he said. "Awright," Sylvie said. "Well, family, showtime." She rose, and gestured for Marty to take Christine out to the front room. "Time to make the money to pay all of you sweet people," Sylvie muttered. As they walked through the backstage hall, Marty and Sylvie fell behind Peter and Christine. There was a fire door at the end of the hall, and all four stopped. Marty kissed Sylvie on the cheek -- peck peck -- air kisses. "Oh god," Christine thought. "I hope she's not going to make us hold hands and say a prayer. I'll leave right now if she does."

But Sylvie didn't, she just gave Marty a push, and he opened the fire door for himself and Christine, and led them into a back lobby of the nightclub.

"This way," he said gruffly, pushing Christine through another door. They were at the front of the room, facing an endlessly long and blindingly shiny black grand piano. "That's ours," Marty whispered, pointing to a tiny table scant yards from the piano. "Oh god," Christine thought. "I'm going to be trapped here, up front." She maneuvered past the piano, and pulled out the chair farthest from the stage. The stage was a tiny platform painted black, with a stool and a solitary standing mike. Though the club was dark, and Christine's eyes were still adjusting, she could see that the house was indeed pretty full. Marty took the seat next to her and moved the chair so that he was facing the stool. After a moment the house lights dimmed even more, and a voice over the PA announced in huskily masculine tones, "Ladies and gentlemen, The Starlight Room is delighted to present the inimitable --" the voice stumbled over the word, pronoucing it "intimable" "-- Sylvie Frost!"

Peter Gumble entered through the opposite side and took his place at the piano. The spotlight that was trained on the mike stand shot unsteadily over to him, and his eyes were closed. After a moment, he began to play. Very loudly, and very quickly, something that sounded, to Christine's confused ears, a jazzy medley of Adult Contemporary themes. A vamping bassline and a little ragtime, and then, after a dramatic pause following some crashing chords, a wheedling little theme, thick with sentiment that Paul McCartney would have tossed out of his post-Beatles oeuvre for being too gooey.

He played the melody three times and then Sylvie swept on stage with her arms raised in welcome. The spotlight lurched off of Peter and came to rest on Sylvie. A harsh blue-white light, but it made her sequinned dress irridescent. "Like an oil spill," Christine thought. Sylvie was smiling, and snatched the mike from its stand, deftly unlooping the cord and tossing it in front of her. "I have always loved you," she belted. "All the live long day. And don't you know I'll always love to --" Here a conspiratorial smile, and as she sang the final verse, Christine realized that a goodly portion of the audience was singing along with Sylvie "-- Laugh and sing and play?"

Christine slumped in her chair. She had forgotten her drink in the dressing room, and wished she had something to focus on besides the gaping mouth of her employer. "I wish I smoked," she thought. "But she'd probably bitch me out and refuse to pay me since I'm this close to the stage." Sylvie sang the song, telling the audience as her lover that she "knows they want the best for her/For what is life without true love/The world is big and mean and cold/And must heaven be above?"

"No!" Sylvie sang, breaking up the song. "Heaven is right here on earth -- right here tonight in the Starlight Room, where all you dear wonderful people have come to have a laugh, and sing a song." Then she sang the theme to "The Carol Burnett Show," "Seems we just get started --" and, spoken, "Hey Pete!" Pete's hands lifted off the keyboard.

"Yes Sylvie?" Peter answered.

"Didn't we just get started?"

"I think we got started 20 years ago darling," Pete said. And then launched back into another song, as the audience guffawed. "Jesus, it's really an act!" Christine marveled. She looked at Marty who was smiling broadly, although his eyes were narrow slits. Somehow, another full Chivas had materialized on the table.

Christine found her attention drawn back to Sylvie. Mesmerized. She couldn't take her eyes away. Sylvie sang, and sang, and sang. She told some jokes about being married -- evidently she was married to another crooner who was famous -- the people in the audience seemed to know who this was -- but Christine was perplexed, and that was a lead in to "Send in the Clowns." "Pretty cruel," Christine thought, but she couldn't help but be moved by this languorous vibrato-drenched rendition of the first song -- save the Carol Burnett theme-- that she'd recognized thus far.

"She's something, huh, kid, What was your name?" Marty asked. "Christine," Christine said. "Yeah," she added, "She's something." When Sylvie got around to singing her signature tune, "Never Ignore Me," which Christine remembered her producer friend had mentioned, it seemed like years had passed since that phone call. All that existed in the world was Peter Gumble hammering the keys, and Sylvie whispering, crooning, cajoling, into the mike.

* * *

At last, it was over. Sylvie took her bow, and Christine felt a hand at her elbow. Marty nudged her to stand up, to give Sylvie a standing ovation. Christine, dazed, did as she was prompted. Then, Marty was gone, working the room, telling the celebrities he'd spotted to join Sylvie in her hotel suite. Christine stood and then sat, as the houselights came up, and people got up to leave. She wasn't sure what to do. She suddenly realized she was tired to the bone, and wondered whether she would get paid for the 90 minutes Sylvie was onstage. She looked around for Marty, and saw him engaged in some backslapping by the bar. "The hell with it," Christine thought. "I'm calling my machine before I go back-

She made her way to the lobby and dropped her quarter in the phone. She punched in her code, and heard, "Hi Christine, it's Nick over at CPR. Guess you're not there. Well, give me a call when you can, I'll be here `til way past midnight. We've got some stuff coming in that needs to go out in the next two weeks, so if you want, you can work straight through." Christine checked her watch. 10:30. Excited, she dialed CPR. "I'm not too late, am I?" Christine said. "Are you guys pulling an all-nighter?"

"Yeah, and my assistant just went home with food poisoning. Why -- you want to start now?"

"Yes!" Christine said. "I just have to tie up some things, and I'll be over in the next hour."

"Good," Nick said. "We can really use you. Bring your toothbrush -- "

"I'm there." Christine told him.

When she got backstage, there were a few people waiting for Sylvie to come out. Peter was standing against the wall smoking a cigarette. "Sylvie still in there?" she asked. "Yeah -- " Peter said, "and she was looking for you."

"Well, I'm here," Christine said, and thought, "Not for long."

Christine knocked at the door, an authoritative two raps. Marty opened it, revealing Sylvie exhaling a gray plume of cigarette smoke. Two couples were in there with her, the women both in red and black sequinned evening gowns. "It's my little personal assistant!" Sylvie crooned. "Come in here and meet my brothers and my in-laws. Or my out-laws. Haw haw haw!"

The sisters-in-law giggled but the brothers, two bankerly-looking types, extended meaty hands as Christine sidled into the room. "I bet she wants her check -- doesn't she!" Sylvie said, reaching into her handbag.

"So, Christine," Marty said. "Did she kill? Or what!"

"She killed," Christine said sincerely, amazed that Sylvie was actually handing her a check for -- was it? -- it was! the full amount owed.

The two brothers went into conference with their wives, and Christine eased back to the door. "So, darling, am I seeing you next week?"

"I'll call you," Christine said, smiling a smile as big and white as the Hollywood sign that hovered over her next week's work at the production house.

"Kiss kiss!" Sylvie said to Christine, but she'd turned toward the mirror as she said it.

"Kiss kiss," Christine said to herself, practically running down the hall towards the exit sign.

Originally published in the June-August 1993 issue of Boston Review

Copyright Boston Review, 1993–2005. All rights reserved. Please do not reproduce without permission.

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