The squat fact of Undre Arms was mood leavening every day Marta approached the apartment building’s proud coat of arms stenciled black, green, and gold on the glass of each entrance door. Years ago she’d substituted a set of hairy tradesman’s arms lifting cinderblocks for the twin lions, oak leaves, and medieval-style shields, and it was those imaginary armpits that now greeted her.
Dating from 1969, the three-story shoebox came from an engineer’s office with no taste for Age of Aquarius embellishment. Marta’s forecast called for its numbered days: homely touching on forlorn, the graying stucco and mildewed patches could be foolproof lures only to developers, who viewed low-rise apartment blocks as bygone low-density no-nos that should be converted into high-density, small footprint profit.
Compared to any of the recently erected city condos selling for obscene dollars per square foot, Undre Arms was a spacious bargain; even with the scurrying, paper-devouring silverfish insurgents that bred in drains or beneath floorboards and never failed to startle, Marta fondly called the place, and its ample closets stuffed with books, home. She expected to linger there until making the fateful, adult leap to home ownership, a leap inevitable and yet so momentous—the daredevil’s inaugural skydive or the suicide’s posture on a building’s top story edge?—that with thoughts of the awesome commitment and expenditure she continuously pushed the date forward.
Marta’s parents were both firm believers in squirreling away for the unavoidable rainy day. Every time the real estate topic arose she’d wonder if that fateful day had dawned. Delaying the decision again, she foresaw being pushed out: arriving home one afternoon and finding an unwelcome letter crammed under the door that announced the building’s sale and imminent destruction. “Vacate the premises immediately”: no doubt the owner’s son, eyeing a future of conspicuous sports car consumption, would savour the phrase.
After settling—voicemail checked, mail read, take-home work filed, a dish of no-fat yogurt eaten—Marta dedicated a few minutes to the computer, checking work email one final time before halfheartedly Googling name combinations, beginning with “Hester Stanhope biopic.” She found little, and nothing of value.
Evidently no Amelia Earhart, Elizabeth I, or Virginia Woolf, Lady Stanhope warranted no big budget, no public relations underling paid to stimulate advance interest, and not even a compulsive blogger unleashing pre-production trivia. As for “Jakob Nugent Lora Wilkes” and the production company, the information was likewise scant.
Marta imagined local production companies operated with such minuscule budgets that they could claim notice only with a film festival debut. Less charitably, she supposed the Stanhope project might be a made-for-a-specialty-television-network movie and so destined for justified obscurity from the moment it had been okayed. Or worse, she feared, the screenwriter might have disinterred The Nun of Lebanon—the biography’s revelation about Stanhope’s doomed love affair barely scandalous when published in 1951—and converted the woman’s life into syrup, all emotional anguish and tearful au revoirs.
Marta admired the long dead aristocrat’s instinct for adventure, not to mention the willingness to thumb a nose at convention. Though “Film Consultant - Marta Spëk” might ultimately appear in the smallest of fonts as the credits rolled, Marta felt averse to collude with a production company that would sully Lady Stanhope, the forgotten accomplishments, or the old time derring-do. Stanhope had been an odd bird who grew increasingly eccentric each year, and her pipe-dream reign in the ruins of an abandoned monastery would be easy to misconstrue. Granting the film’s exploitative designs, Marta supposed her professionalism might fortify scenes, smooth down rough edges, and cull out vulgarity as well as anachronisms.
[So ends Chapter 1. What's next? Chapter 2, naturally; it's the first serving of Jakob Nugent.]