Monday, 26 March 2012

Fiction Installment #12. Chapter 5, pt. 1: Marta

   What clothing is appropriate for the interview? The question crept up on Marta before bed as she shuffled hangers and cobbled together an outfit for the next day’s classes. A tried and true sweater and skirt combinations, or something else? She was favoring a new purchase to clothe the hired-gun role—Marta Spëk, Film Consultant—but could not match the acquisition and sketchy persona to specific wardrobe pieces. Artful layers of black, an imposing suit, sporty casual wear? Impeccable credentials are what matter, Marta told herself, and nevertheless fretted each time she laid out a uniform for the workday. She concluded that style was beside the point: it was only executives and actors who must weigh that; behind-the-scenes personnel are invisible so far as the public is concerned. Still, the compulsion rooted itself: create the pitch-perfect first impression. Logic warred with impulse and lost, and between home and campus she window-shopped in earnest and grew watchful for fashionable pedestrians. As for what to avoid, she needed to look no further than faculty meetings populated with dust-hued woolens, practical fleece vests, and faded cotton trousers; based on the evidence, a life of the mind left little room for style’s frivolity.
   The resulting compromise paired an old but timeless tweed skirt with a costly and uncharacteristically bright patterned blouse—the sales associate’s two cents: “Jewel tones are an important statement this season.” It was balanced, Marta had thought on the date of purchase, a modest though confident look-at-me declaration. Later, she squirmed over literal clownishness.
   A few years ago she’d overheard a student in a freshman composition class say to a friend, “some personality and a little beauty would be nice” in response to a question she’d arrived too late to catch. The reasonableness of the comment had struck her, as had the friend’s abrasive retort: “Yeah, but nice tits rule the runway, man.” Placing the Film Consultant look on the bed, Marta calculated—prayed—that her choice had attained a reassuring degree of personality and beauty. There was nothing to be done about modest breast size. Details were the final step—no brooch, one cocktail ring, scent applied well before arrival. While glasses ought to be left at home, contact lenses inevitably led to watery eyes. She’d wear glasses and make the switch in a restroom at the studio. Apply a coat of nude lip gloss too. Yes, definitely.

   Paying my own way, Marta thought, this cannot be an auspicious sign. Even as internal speech-making, the emphatic cannot felt loud and empowering; Marta repeated the silent word resolutely. Jaw set and arms crossed, she conjured an appropriately cinematic sequence of being seated immobile inside the train and watching the studio rep—young, panicked, job on the line—search for Dr. Spëk in vain, eventually having to return and report the vexing failure to appear, a wrench thrown into the works, if only momentarily. As vengeance fantasy it was mild and bargain basement cheap, Marta conceded as she embroidered the details, but pleasurable nonetheless.
   The rising pique was interrupted by a synthetic female voice declaring the approaching eastward station with an automaton’s uninflected vowels: “The next station is Metrotown.” Marta craned her neck again to study the cheerful route map above; only three stops remained.
   An electronic gong activated, the doors whisked shut, and the cars accelerated in computer-directed increments.
   Although the Skytrain was not the limousine buffed to an obsidian lustre she’d grown to anticipate, and a catered lunch at the warehouse production office dropped at the edge of suburban development did not match an exquisite meal at Spot Prawn @ The Four Seasons, the adventure of being airborne—gliding, nearly floating if the tracks were factored out—was a simple and true satisfaction.
   Marta respected the hygienic elevated trains for the utopianism they represented, smooth curved metal, glass, and plastic—untouched by grime, graffiti, litter, and, seemingly, corrosive time—that proclaimed sure faith in mind-boggling technology to remedy all past ills and usher in a future in which strife, poverty, and that pesky gap between pristine vision and pock-marked reality were relics, odd and distasteful curiosities from a bygone age, like slavery, night soil buckets, and rickets. Such hopefulness: it existed at a level of magnitude she could never reach. For that faith even obstinate biological limitations presented no hurdle; ingenious implants, prosthetics, supplements, and replacement organs promised limitlessness, an immortality of a sort. A veritable fountain of hale, unblemished youth.
   Marta’s gaze turned to fellow passengers. That engineer’s vision of a golden new age was instantly undermined by the reality of the anemic flesh and myopic eyes of the skinny slouched teenager who had boarded three stops before. One seat in front of the youth, an elderly balding man was rocked by a head spasm a cane and frailty belied. Deflated weariness prevailed on the many-hued faces. Sniffles, coughs, and sneezes of flus and colds—allergy-induced outbursts too, she’d hazard—were audible, staccato interruptions to the steady whirring hum of the forward-moving compartment. It was this constancy of imperfection—breathing in deeply she could detect faint traces of aerosolized nicotine and alcohol residue wafting from nearby pores, sour breath, as well as body odour of the armpit and mothball varieties—that unmuzzled Marta’s skepticism.
   As she turned away from the commuters she caught a spectral image in the glass, alerted immediately to practical outlet mall spectacles, national average height, and flat, non-cascading hair in the medium-brown of her mother’s entire family. Traditionally, outbreaks of a neurotic fixation on the negative were the consequence of nervous stress. Like a bad mood or a cloud today’s manifestation would duly pass; on the return trip, interview complete and decision made, there’d be none of this saturnine, no joy in Mudville assessing of the disappointing world. Marta counted on it. She’d taken a lengthy personality test years ago and one of the findings she’d been happy to hold on to was an “even-keeled” rating; complex algorithms had proven her a steady ship on all currents. The image was satisfying. As for the other, less trophy-worthy findings, they had been relegated to an indifferently visited self-improvement file located in a backwater cell cluster in her brain.
   Beyond the glass, the enormity of the panorama was dizzying. All the evidence of ceaseless human industry staggered the senses. Each hill was crowded with structures, and every house completely loaded with stuff sliding toward obsolescence and an eventual RIP in a teeming landfill. So many families, Marta thought, an overwhelming archive of joy and pain.
   Marta retracted her attention, hugging the notes and books arranged in the valise close to her chest—she’d chosen the valise instead of the usual canvas book bag with the hope that the mock-ostrich leather and vaguely European pedigree would broadcast an au courant world-class professionalism.

[Up next: the second part of Marta's trip to the production offices.]

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