Monday, 2 April 2012

Fiction Installment #14. Chapter 5, pt. 3: Marta

   The short-term options, Marta thought, are simple: walk to the studio or stand and wait for an inbound train and, later, a perplexed and likely curt email. Calling a taxi would be silly.
She strode to the exit stairway. What kind of cut-rate studio is this, she wondered, Jakob Nugent will probably ask me to split the cost of our no-frills lunch. Or we’ll each plug coins into a vending machine and retrieve plastic-sealed sandwiches. She felt stalled. While the effort of the walk might erode her composure, Marta suspected that not arriving at all would be something she’d bemoan louder the executive and his assistant, the daydream of her crucial necessity revealed as being only that.
   Grumbling as she trudged along the sodden makeshift path at the road’s edge—strewn, she counted, with a narrow range of discardables: cigarette packages, torn condom wrappers, fast food takeout bags, soda cans and beer bottles, Styrofoam containers, trampled clothing, plastic bits snapped off from cars, and panties (why were there always panties?)—Marta envisioned herself as the kind of crazed abject individual living beneath septic overpasses or within the dirty blackberry brambles that thrive on the perimeter ground between commercial buildings.
   Hearing the volume of the fault-finding, she paused. Were these low utterances like a gateway drug—one unexceptional day you begin with a few choice expletives, and soon enough you’re pushing a stolen overflowing shopping cart and warning passersby of your precarious mental balance by talking several decibels louder than what’s acceptable in polite society?     
   Marta switched focus to the approaching interview, terminating the portal to madness.
   At the foreground of the blocky mass of white stucco and vinyl-clad buildings a single guard waited on duty, soaking up afternoon sunshine. She’d leaned a stool against the plywood booth that housed gate controls, a computer, and communication equipment. Stray blonde locks fell from beneath her police-style cap.
   Marta had been given no pass code or specific instructions about a gated entrance. Her name, she supposed, must be on a list.
   The guard did not move as Marta approached.
   “Good afternoon,” Marta said.
   The guard nodded, but remained silent. She didn’t remove the mirrored aviator sunglasses when she faced Marta. And though the creased woman appeared to be a stone’s throw from retirement age, Marta imagined she might be nicknamed “Sarge.”
   Marta patted the valise. “I have an appointment.”
   “Do you now?”
   “Yes. With Jakob Nugent.”
   “Lucky for you.”
   “Excuse me?”
   “Pardon me?”
   “Your name, girly. What. Is. It?” The woman couldn’t be bothered to mask impatience.
   “Spëk. Dr. Marta Spëk.”
   She scanned a computer tablet. “Right, there you are. Be a doll, will you?” Handing Marta a clipboard, she tapped at a line for Marta’s signature. In exchange for the clipboard, the woman gave Marta a photocopied site map; with an incongruous bubblegum pink nail she etched a path to Building 7.
   “Watch your step, honey. There’s always some jackass PA running with scissors or some damn thing. They get younger every year, I swear to you. Little cucarachas.” Insectile fingers scurried in the air. “There’s a lot of material there, but it’s not quite a dress. You know what I’m saying?”
    “Thank you for the assistance.” Marta thought the woman should work on her interpersonal skills; sitting through a course on hospitality similar to the one waiters are required to pass before serving the public could polish that gravel abrasiveness. The guard hadn’t been rude, quite, but close. Crusty. Salty. Odd. “Half a bubble off,” her father’s judgement. In any case the experience had been distressing. That schoolyard bully routine was the domain of overcompensating guards in banks and at border crossings, not grandmothers.
   Marta’s footfall echoed. There were no costumed extras, nor fanciful props being carted from one soundstage to the next. Likewise, the dangerous scurrying PAs she’d been warned about made no appearances. The locale appeared deserted, though the mild green of the day suggested a spontaneous group picnic rather than an angry work stoppage.
   Paused at the entrance Marta told herself that the sign taped to the window of the entrance of Building 7—Desert Queen Productions sat over an image of the Great Sphinx onto which Elizabeth Taylor’s face as extravagantly eyeshadow’d Cleopatra had been superimposed—was without significance. It was a graphic designer’s little jest and bore no relation to the ideas stored in the minds of Jakob Nugent, the director, the studio, or the screenwriter, which if nothing else would not be campy and would have commercial viability or artistic integrity as an ultimate target. Hester Stanhope, Queen of the Desert? It would be too ridiculous. The sign was an indicator of nothing, and makeshift, likely the project of an underling with an excess of free time.
   She climbed the stairs to the second floor. The large room was unimpressive, furnished with leased items otherwise found in the offices of a used car dealership—dark woodgrain plastic surfaces, neutral metal cabinets sitting on tough indoor-outdoor carpeting, off-white electronic equipment. A residue of latex paint hung in the air.
   Unable to locate a washroom where she could change into contact lenses, Marta walked to a woman at the nearest desk; the blonde immediately held up an index finger. Marta waited as she completed the call.
   “Yes, what can I do for you?” She spoke rapidly, eyes attentive to far corners of the room. Marta, admiring the delicate coral shade of the woman’s lipstick, expected the receptionist to rap the surface of her wristwatch at any instant.
   “Hello, I have an appointment today with Jakob Nugent.”
   “Alrighty, my dear, that narrows things down to a small army.” The women wore a white message T-shirt: “We Must Avoid Deluded Motives.” 
   “Pardon me?” Marta’s exchange with this blonde was becoming as awkward as the tussle with the gatekeeper.
   “Jake, er. Mr. Nugent has scads of appointments all day, all week in fact. What’s the name?”
   “Spëk. Dr. Marta Spëk.” Why hadn’t the guard made a call? It would be efficient compared to this lunatic repetition.
   “Aha, hello, we were wondering what you’d look like. I’m Lora Wilkes.” She cackled then, a sound like no other that suggested a perturbed parrot and a cartoon witch. Marta was tempted to ask how closely she matched their predictions. Of course they’d want to guess. Fair is fair, she admitted, and after all she had spent plenty of time charting the probable Hollywood excesses of her soon-to-be colleagues.
   “A pleasure to meet you.” Marta held out her hand, feeling stiff, under scrutiny, and overdressed. Lora—whose firm ample bust looked to be the product of elective surgery—had swiveled her chair toward another woman whose computer screen display caused an eruption of laughter. Hand lowered hand, Marta saw that this crew was familial and boisterous, if unprofessional; while workmates, they’d still likely go out for dinner and drinks or catch a movie. A composed and altogether more insular environment existed within the Dark Tower—a monastic one minus a hearty sense of community and surgical augmentation. Marta had informed few of her colleagues about summer plans and had heard nothing from anyone else except holing up with business as usual—grant applications, conference appearances, journal essays, reviews, and chapters for forthcoming books.
   “Hold on a sec, love, I’ve got to get this. Newsflash: LA is king and he knows it.” She tapped a hasty reply on the phone’s glass surface. Lora glanced up and gestured toward the executive’s partially open door. “The meeting of the minds is that way! Have a seat right there, and we’ll set it in motion in just a bit.”

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