A short story by Anita Dalton
 

The Date
a short story by Anita Dalton

I know that Christopher Walken doesn’t talk with just anybody, but try to tell that to my friends. One supporting role, the friend of a friend in a summer sleeper, and they think you should be dating Leonardo DiCaprio, or Keanu Reeves. Like they know. I am still working as a waitress, still barely able to make rent in my pathetic one-room on the wrong side of Ventura Blvd. When I told them, Lucy said, “Jesus, he’s old enough to be your grandfather. I can’t believe that you actually cut your hair for this man.” Marcie said, “Gross! I mean, this is the guy from Pulp Fiction we’re talking about, right? The guy with the watch up his ass?” Cara said, “Eiuuuu! What if he wants to sleep with you? What will you do then?”

I should be so lucky. “He’s married. He’s not going out with me to score.” Anyway, I don’t listen to them. They have no clue. There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for Christopher Walken, should he ask. Those girls only like men who are boys, with heads full of artfully mussed hair, deep tans, bleached teeth and six-pack abs. They have no idea what is it to be enthralled by someone.

He came into the restaurant where I work. He didn’t try to disguise himself (like that works, like no one knows that it’s Julia Roberts under that hat, behind those sunglasses, pouting oh-so-seductively in the back of the restaurant at the darkest table). Everyone noticed him as soon as he walked in, but everyone was trying so hard to be cool that they pretended they didn’t see him. What a bunch of losers. It seems strange to call them losers, this group of people who pay more for pants than I do for rent. But what can I say? For the most part, LA sucks.

But when I walked up to him to take his order, he looked up from his menu and his eyes hit me in the stomach so hard it was all I could to keep from falling over. I exhaled sharply. I’d know those eyes anywhere. Those are the eyes of a man who has stolen his soul from God, and ultimately didn’t feel it was worth the effort.

He looked up at me and said, “Circle of Love, third starlet from the left as you look at the screen, they made you dye your red hair black so that you didn’t compete with the lead. Please bring me the Greek salad and the steamed mussels.”

What was I supposed to say? I mean, it was a statement, followed by a demand for specific food. He didn’t ask for any comment from me. I knew the worst thing I could do was gush at him, like “Oh, Mr. Walken, I can’t believe you noticed me in the movie. I had such a small role,” all disingenuous but clamoring for more attention. If he had noticed me, with such detail, then it was already clear he thought something about me, either good or bad. Why say anything? Why risk fucking it up? So I said, “What would you like to drink?”

“Green tea, with honey on the side.”

I nodded slightly then went to place his order. A couple of hipster Goth girls with fake tits and leather lace-up capri pants paused at his table briefly, striking poses and peeling the labels off their Korean beers. He barely looked up from his feta cheese salad. I walked through their perfumed haze and put his tureen of mussels in front of him. He pushed his salad plate slightly to the right, keeping his hand on it. I looked at him, locking eyes, and he nodded slightly. I reached over and took the plate away, his knuckles brushing my hand.

My hand seemed to radiate heat from his touch, and I instinctively put my hand to my mouth, rubbing my lips against the warmth. I exhaled again, and my skin felt electric and the little hairs on the nape of my neck stood up. I tended to the other customers in my station, rich normal people and one singer who was really famous several years ago, who snarled and noticed the hipster chicks and would never go home alone. I was aware of Christopher Walken’s every move, even as I had my back to him. When he was ready for his check, he signaled slightly. I nodded to let him know that I had seen him. As I walked from the kitchen doors to his table, he looked up and watched me. “Thank you very much,” he said as I gave him the check.

He put cash down on the table and stood up and left. When I went to take the bill to the register, I noticed that he had left the check behind. The bill came to thirty one dollars, and he had left a fifty dollar bill. On the fifty was written, in neat block printing, CALL ME 555-6363. I again felt as though the wind had been knocked out of me. For a second, I thought that this was one of those fluke things, because I hadn’t seen him writing at any point. Some ATM had given him the fifty, just like I always seemed to get the ones with “JESUSSAVESREPENTNOW.” But then I figured that Christopher Walken might just keep a fifty dollar bill on hand for the one occasion he might meet someone he would want to see again later. I fished enough money out of my tips to cover the bill, and pocketed the fifty.

I spent the rest of the night waiting my tables, thinking of nothing. I couldn’t concentrate on anything, not even the idea that I might have Christopher Walken’s phone number. My mind had never been so empty. I wondered for a second if this was what it was like to achieve Zen. This was not lust, or erotic haze. It was the feeling of knowing God.

When I got home, I fell into a deep sleep, knowing that I would call him and that the number on the fifty was really his. And I was right. The next morning, I called the number and got a voice mail message. It was his voice.

“Thanks for calling. Leave your number and I’ll set something up. However, before I do, I want you to cut your hair. Stop wearing so much jewelry around your face. You need to stop cluttering yourself. I’ll be in touch.” BEEEP.

“Um, this is Elizabeth…” I realized that he didn’t know my name, and felt really dumb telling him. My palms began to sweat, like they did when I went on my first audition and had to stand topless in front of seven fat men smoking cigars, magnificently bored by me and my unadulterated breasts. The call left me just as vulnerable. It left me feeling just as unnatural.

What else should I say? Something clever, something knowing. I had spent an hour rehearsing what I would say but Christopher Walken’s message to me made the little speech irrelevant. Before I could think anymore, my brain made my mouth say, “My phone number is 555-0920. Um…goodbye.” I slammed the phone down as though I had been making a particularly disgusting prank phone call and the person on the other end suddenly cried out my name.

No use berating myself. No use pretending that I was really cool. Christopher Walken is a married man who is older than my father and I know, like I know my birthdate, like I know my name, that he is not sexually attracted to me. I hadn’t acted cool at the restaurant, I was a dumbass on the phone. There was no sense pretending that I was a cool soignée blonde, cut along the lines of Sharon Stone crossed with Gwyneth Paltrow, but with less style and more intelligence. I was a goober and Christopher Walken wanted to meet me, and perhaps it was my lack of cool that made him want to know me. Maybe he wanted to show me the way.

I cut my hair, started wearing small pearl earrings, no necklaces, and  waited for him to call me back. On television, I watched him arrive at a movie premiere, looking haunted and sardonic, and I felt as though he knew I would be watching when he looked into the camera. Every word seemed to be directed at me. I worried that I might be becoming a paranoid schizophrenic.

Two months passed. I still wore no big jewelry around my face. I had to go and get my hair trimmed, because it was starting to grow out. And I waited and waited. I was given a small role in an independent film that would eventually be lauded at Sundance, or was it SXSW? It paid shit. I considered firing my agent. Then I waited some more, through the summer and through part of what passed for fall in LA.

Then in October, he called. I was at work, of course, but he left a message on my call notes. Caller ID said UNKNOWN. “I would like to meet. I will see you tomorrow at 9:00 at a place I like to visit when I’m in town.” Christopher Walken then proceeded to give me directions to a club, a private club whose name I didn’t recognize but whose neighborhood was far ritzier than I was comfortable being in.

A wave of stage fright washed over me. That was when I called Marcie, Lucy and Cara. I needed help. I mean, I know how to dress, up to a point. But I generally look like a normal girl, nothing spectacular, nothing to notice. The only thing I ever had that made me stand out was my long hair. My hair used to fall just above my waist, and I trimmed it myself. A certain group of really assholish insiders started to call me Rapunzel, and even though I was embarrassed, I refused to cut my hair and eventually it became my thing. I mean, I had to dye it all the time for different roles, but I felt it was my signature. I still cut it all off when Christopher Walken told me to.

Anyway, Marcie, Lucy and Cara told me to wear black, of course. I don’t wear a lot of black because I am a red head and am very pale and when I wear black I feel like I am glowing in the dark. But Cara said, “With your porcelain skin, black will make you look so sophisticated, like Helena Bonham Carter.” “Like Gwyneth with red hair, the way she looked in Sliding Doors in the scenes where she left him,” volunteered Marcie. “Yeah, now that all of that hair doesn’t cover your neck, you really do have a kind of Audrey Hepburn elegant neck thing going on. Tell me again why you cut your hair?”

So I told them that Christopher Walken told me to cut it and that I was going to meet him and that’s when they freaked out on me. I was unable to convince them that this was not a sex thing. I’m not religious, I’ve never had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, but when I think of Christopher Walken I know what all those holy rollers feel. He showed up out of the blue. He asked me to do something I didn’t understand. I did it with no questions asked and now I was being rewarded with an audience with him. I know the analogy is missing something, but I felt a lot like Abraham after he offered to kill Issac for God. I’d been tested and I had performed properly.

But I would sleep with him if he asked. There would probably be a bigger picture involved. I would probably grow from the experience. But he is married. I think I mentioned that.

Anyway, I got a cab and went down to the private club. I ended up wearing a black dress, a tight tank dress with sheer black tights and ankle boots. I didn’t wear much makeup, but I was wearing a really pretty crimson lipstick with cinnamon undertones, so I thought I did look somewhat sophisticated. I was so nervous that I kept kicking the driver in the back through the seat. He glared at me from the rearview mirror. I arrived. I climbed out of the cab and gave the driver a smaller tip than he was used to on this side of town, but I’m poor and have no interest in playing otherwise.

As I approached the doorman, I wasn’t sure what to say because I was not a member there. In fact, I wasn't sure that women could be members there. However, as I began to tell him that I was here on the invitation of Christopher Walken, he opened the double doors for me and said, “Mr. Walken is waiting for you in the main suite on the third floor.” I was pleased that I wasn’t going to have to explain myself, but a fleeting and disturbing thought went through my head. He’s done this before.

I walked to the elevator and passed an older couple, She was dieted to the bone, wearing a beige, beaded silk sheath. Her face was beaky and her neck was corded and she could have stood to gain 20 extra pounds. I wondered about what would happen to her if she ever fell; I pictured her shattering like a piece of brittle china. She was looking at me, the head-to-toe look that catty, bitchy women give to another woman who threatens them in some manner but to whom they feel superior anyway. The man didn’t notice the brief, intense examination we gave each other, rattling on about a stock he owned that was not performing as well as he had hoped.

I was definitely underdressed.

I was relieved that the elevator was empty. I don’t suffer from claustrophobia, because I can be in small enclosed spaces, like Porsches, as long as there aren’t many people in them. The closest I ever came to a complete personality disintegration was when I was in an elevator that had 60 floors to descend. The elevator was empty when I got on, but a group of about ten people got on and the door shut before I could get out. I was wedged in the back, it was summer, and the elevator was really hot. We kept stopping at each floor, and more people kept piling in. I glanced at the sign that said MAXIMUM CAPACITY 2500 pounds, and there were three people who weighed at least 250 pounds a piece (this was not in LA, where being fat is illegal, where you are morally bound to shun the obese lest they think that you accept them and their sinning ways) and then another really fat woman crammed herself in, and we were only on the 49th floor. I mean, this woman was fat. Not plump but stop-in-your-tracks, stare-on-the-street fat. I began to scream, but there were so many people that the door closed before I could shove my way to the entrance. I kept screaming.

Finally a man pushed the button for the 45th floor and when the doors finally opened I threw myself from the elevator. The fat woman looked at me with something like horror, and I shouted to her, this being the most cruel thing I ever said to another human being, “If the cable broke and the car came crashing down, I could not imagine a worse way to die than to have my face wedged into your Super-Sized McDonald’s ass at 100 miles per hour!”

Everyone was quiet, but then several people filed out of the elevator before the door shut again. We all walked down the emergency stairs, silent, except for the sound of heels clicking on concrete. I mean, no one said a word. After fifteen floors, my calf muscles started to shake. We made it to the lobby just as the elevator made it (like I said, the goddamn elevator was stopping at every floor), and the fat woman stepped out and saw me and immediately looked away, face flushed, forehead perspiring. She was sweating worse than us, the group that had left the elevator and descended 44 floors in a non-air-conditioned stairwell. Jesus, that was the worst thing I ever did to another person. I could feel her heart breaking with shame, and I was responsible.

But I also didn’t die in a crowded elevator. For this reason, I cannot ride subways when I’m back east or even sit in crowded buses.

So I rode the elevator to the 3rd floor and wandered around until I found the main suite. I walked up to the door, and stood there. I would tell you what was going through my mind, but there was too much rolling around in there to be able to speak of it all. I raised my hand to knock, but then I noticed that my hand was shaking, It was the same hand that had brushed up against Christopher Walken so many months ago. This isn’t real, I told myself, and I began to pace, thinking about my third grade teacher who used to make me cry when I fell behind in line by asking me in front of the whole class if I thought I was a privileged individual who didn’t have to follow the rules like everyone else. That woman’s humiliation never left me. Never.

I was afraid I was in for something similar. I had no idea why Christopher Walken had decided to bring me here. I continued to pace, and once I was about 20 feet away from the door, I realized I had to get the fuck out of there. I idolized Christopher Walken and I couldn’t risk my adoration this way. However, my pacing took me in the wrong direction. I had to turn around and retrace my steps to get the elevator. As I walked past the door to the main suite, Christopher Walken was standing in the open doorway, looking at me, amused.

“Would you like to come in?” he asked.

“Um…” I stopped suddenly, my boots rubbing together, making a terribly realistic fart sound. Oh God, he thinks I just farted. I tried to rub my boots together again so that it would be obvious that it was my boots and not me. He just looked at me, and shook his head. “Will you stop that and either come in or leave?”

“Um…” I gulped and quickly ran into the suite. Great. Now I was sweating. Sweating and faux farting.

I walked mechanically towards a plush, green velvet couch, with cherry trim. I sat down and immediately felt myself sliding forward. I dug my heels into the Oriental rug and pushed myself back. I then realized the couch was horsehair and wished I had sat in the velveteen chair. I felt my leg start to move up and down, in that nervous, tapping from the knee down that I do all day long. I had to consciously make myself stop fidgeting or I really would end up on the floor. I looked around the room. It looked to me like a reproduction for Brideshead Revisited or Masterpiece Theater.

Christopher Walken sat down in the chair I had been coveting and looked at me. “You shouldn’t wear black, you know. It makes you look washed out and sinister.” He was wearing all black and he looked washed out and sinister. “This look works for me, but you are too gooney to walk around looking this way. You are an Irish Rose, not a New York sophisticate.”

I was listening and processing what he was saying. “You’ve stopped thinking. You need to stop thinking more. Now that you’ve stopped cluttering your body, you need to stop cluttering your mind.”

I tried to think about what he had just said, but all I could do was look at him. He was sitting across from me, his right ankle on his left knee. I just sat there and looked back at him.

“So, tell me, what are you thinking right now,” he asked.

“Umm … I don’t think I’m thinking anything.”

“Would you like to know what I’m thinking?” He uncrossed his legs and leaned forward eagerly, his elbows on his knees.

I thought about it for a second. “Yeah, tell me what you’re thinking.”

“Would you like to know what I would love to do right now, more than anything?”

Actually, I didn’t because I knew what he was going to say. “I know what you want to do,” I answered.

He smiled and said, “Tell me, tell me, Miss Elizabeth. What do I want to do right now, more than anything else.”

I faltered then spat it out. “You want to kill me. You want me to be still,” I blurted.

He smiled and settled back into the chair. He was pleased that I had figured it out so soon into the game.

“I can’t let you kill me,” I offered, “but I can see how that would be appealing. To die at your hands. It would be better than sleeping with you, better than anything.” My mind was so clear.

“I know,” he said. “I couldn’t kill you, no matter how much I want to kill you. That’s problematic, but I’ve learned how to cope with it. I’m glad you understand why this is such a compelling need for me. This will have to suit, this lesson. It’s just as good, in some respects.”

I nodded in agreement.

“A pretty girl cannot be just a pretty girl. You understand that, don’t you?”

Again, I nodded.

I slid from the couch and sat on the floor at his feet. We sat there the most of the night, perfectly still, and when I finally left, I just got up and walked out. We didn’t say a word. There was nothing to say and nothing to think and I was very grateful. As I stood, waiting for another cab, I noticed how little artificial light there was on this side of town. I looked at the stars in the sky, glad to see them, pleased to get a glance at the celestial in my everyday life.

  

©2000 Anita Dalton

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