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“If I’d known how amazingly hot you’d look in a dress, Bloom, all those nasty fantasies I used to have about you on set would’ve been a whole lot filthier.”
All eyes swiveled in the direction of the door as the rich, theatrical voice of Eomer carried over the conversation, yet it was Karl Urban – a dark-haired, loose-limbed scruff in battered Levis and an untucked plaid-flannel shirt – who had wandered into the small rehearsal theatre.
Orlando turned to face him full-on, watching Karl’s approach and his impending reaction with interest. He was wearing Aida’s signature costume – deep maroon velvet, deliberately faded and distressed to suggest the shabbiness of a garment often worn but never washed. It fitted his lean body snugly, wasp-waisted, dropped cap-sleeves and an artfully shaped neckline exposing a theoretical cleavage, clever ruching and the hint of a bustle giving the impression of hips. The hemline ceased at about mid-thigh, exposing superb legs in sheer black stockings. His own saucy little touch was a single ruffled garter worn on his right thigh. He hadn’t had to beg the costumer too hard to make it for him.
They’d made a deal over the shoes, or rather the boots. He’d wanted a pair of the outrageous fuck-me stilettos, but – in return for the garter – he’d acquiesced to the elegant little boots in black Italian leather that laced up to a point just nudging the swell of his calves. He even grudgingly conceded that the more ankle-friendly three-inch heels were a hell of a lot easier to work with, especially for someone who had discovered he couldn’t dance for shit.
“You,” Karl said as he neared Orlando, who stood with a slightly canted hip and an affected pout, “Look like every schoolboy pervert’s fantasy of a French whore.”
Orlando grinned, enjoying this, well used now to the reactions of others to this unlikely transformation – the stunned looks, the open admiration, and an inexplicable, almost compulsive need to touch him.
Karl’s hand reached out and gently tousled the coronet of dark curls and ringlets – ‘Leave it completely natural,’ Marton had instructed the stylist, ‘There’s plenty there to work with, just give it some shape’ – spiraling a single lock around his finger and then releasing it and patting it back into place.
“How are you?” he asked. He had abandoned Eomer and spoke now as he normally did, quietly, and with the distinctive Trans-Tasman accent common to the members of the local acting fraternity. His smile had melded with a look of faint puzzlement, “How long has it been?”
“Years now, I think, but too long, yeah.”
Even as the conversation remained imbedded in light, inconsequential small-talk, they scrutinized one another intently, an instinctive assessment of the person who would be an ad hoc lover for the next couple of months. Their on-stage interaction would be considerably more physical than verbal, and both knew from experience that the acting-out of sexual intimacy would be a hell of a lot easier if there was an element of genuine attraction from which to develop a tangible chemistry.
“I wasn’t expecting you today.” Marton said, joining them and bringing the moment to closure. He had waited just a little longer than strictly necessary before approaching Karl, wanting to assess that initial encounter, to satisfy himself that his determination to cast the two of them together had been justified.
Karl shrugged, “Yeah well, I slept on the plane and had to pick up some supplies. Curiosity got the better of me so I thought I’d drop in for a look-see. How’s it going so far?”
He gave the other queens a collective once-over. “And where in God’s name did you pick up that bunch of hags?”
“You need your eyes checked, lovey.” Kyle’s responded instantly, not the only one in the group who had been doing some scrutinizing of his own.
This was the first occasion that Orlando, Mark, the five other principal queens and the ‘spares’ had come together in full costume to rehearse the club scene. Only Orlando wore an original creation. The queens had been consulted and had their measurements taken, but their own original costumes were still in the making. In the meantime they were making do with their professional outfits. As a result, the small studio was not unlike a caged flock of birds-of-paradise, leather, lamé, satin, velvet, beads, studs and sequins supplementing the occasional feathers in their rainbow plumage. They were a spectacular sight.
Karl grinned, a perverse streak of honesty inciting him to add, “Sorry, fellas, but the rest of you look totally unfuckable.” He turned back to Marton. “And where’s your dress?”
“At the cleaners,” Marton said, laughter twitching at his lips as a quick glance past Karl saw Mark approaching from behind with obvious intent.
A scant second later, Mark’s arm closed around Karl’s neck in a none-too-gentle headlock.
“There are thirteen of us, Urban. It might be unlucky for you in a way, because I sure don’t like your odds of not getting dakked and having the size of your dick critiqued.”
Karl grinned, unfazed. “And your point?”
“Cut the ugly jokes or we might have to force-feed you into a dress and pass a comment or two. Might take some candid piccies, aye – might even post ‘em on the Net. Interested?”
Karl winced. “Nah, not really.”
“Good. No more ugly jokes then.” Mark released Karl, patted his hair and planted a kiss on his cheek. “Remember, mate, thirteen to one.”
“Twelve to one actually – I don’t have a problem with Bloom.” Karl looked Orlando up and down with unconcealed interest. “None at all.”
~ * ~
If he’d thought the social life he’d enjoyed with the Hobbits had been an incredible amount of fun, Orlando decided it had been more than topped by the fantastic time he was having in the company of the queens.
The official rehearsal period had started and everything now fell into two regulated schedules, one for the queens and another for the other actors. Because most of the queens were still working their normal jobs – usually four nights a week at various clubs – their own rehearsals were held in the afternoons, allowing them to sleep late as they normally did. Their ‘working days’ started at 2 pm, with an hour in the gym, followed by another hour in a dance and movement class. They stopped for a meal and then anything to do with costume and make-up was taken care of in the evening before they went on to their jobs, usually from 10 pm to 4 am.
The other actors had a schedule that confined rehearsals to daylight hours and left evenings largely free. There was enough flexibility and overlap to prevent the cast from splitting into two separate and distinct ‘camps’. Actors could attend and observe the dancers, and the dancers could sit in on the actors’ rehearsals.
Strictly speaking, Orlando’s day should have finished in the early evening but the temptation was there right from the start to simply go on to the clubs with the other queens, to be welcomed as a special guest and allowed entrée into their luridly colorful world.
He was freely invited into the dressing rooms, urged to try on costumes, to mess around with make-up and try on their wigs. He was enchanting and enchanted, and the adoration was mutual. And he found it an incredible turn-on being around all that gorgeous, sexually ambiguous flesh – masculine and feminine, softly curvaceous but firm and muscular, male pheromones and perfume, and the heady, addictive aroma of sex.
Two nights a week – Thursdays and Fridays, because Saturdays and Sundays were for Craig and the other nights were for rest which, by then, he badly needed – he went with them and stayed til dawn, grabbed a couple of hours’ sleep before heading down to the Maidment to start all over again.
One night he managed to drag Mark along to Palazzo – ‘It’ll give you some added insight!’ – and that was the night Kyle and Brett made them the offer.
“Come and have a turn on the cat-walk with us,” Kyle said, “You’ll just be two other dancers, promise, and with all the flashing lights, the crowd will be totally clueless that you’re not regulars.”
“Come onnn,” Brett cajoled them, “Chance to come out and shake it ‘round a bit. On the job training!”
Mark gave an adamant, “No fucking way!”
Orlando swayed between an unconvincing refusal and the belief that there wouldn’t really be any harm in it. The queens immediately started working on promoting the fun and excitement of it all and Orlando caved within minutes.
“Oh, alright, but really slut me up with make-up and I’d better borrow one of your wigs. I think Marton would shit bricks if anyone found out. C’mon, Fergs, do it with me. Aren’t you always saying you’d try anything once? So try this! It’ll be fun – something to tell the grandkids.”
“Oh right, yeah, I can see it now,” Mark said, making a token objection even as he started hauling off his t-shirt. “Lemme tell you, kiddies, about the night yer dear old Grandad got to be a kind of really bent Cinderella.”
“I get to be Prince Charming,” Brett grinned as he unceremoniously unzipped Mark’s jeans and began lowering them. “Boxers, Seventeen? I’m severely disappointed. They’ll have to come off, you know.”
“Leave ‘em!” came the terse reply, “Or no dress-ups.”
“We’ll work around them, lovey,” Kyle said, “And you can borrow these as well.”
He held up the twin globes of flesh-colored silicone, one in each hand.
Orlando looked at the falsies without even trying to conceal his revulsion. “Do we have to?”
“All our dresses have tit-space in them, lovey. Gotta fill ‘em up with something!”
Brett began to laugh maniacally and juggle another pair of the almost obscenely authentic looking breasts. “Two grand’s worth, sweetie, top of the range tits imported all the way from Blighty. All it takes is a couple of drops of glue and Boob’s yer Uncle!”
Kyle practically choked with laughter. “Oh you fucking idiot! Stop messing around with them. If you drop one, you’re going to be lopsided ‘til the next mail-train. Anyway, they’re too big for Ol’. Glue on your little ones or he won’t be able to stand up straight. Seventeen, sweetie, you’re a bigger boy. You can borrow my spares – and have a word with Marton, tell him to hurry up and get you a pair of your own.”
Brett made an issue of smearing the adhesive over Mark’s chest, his fingers lingering around suddenly erect nipples. Mark looked at the ceiling and groaned in mortification.
“I’m not getting turned on, right?”
“No, of course you aren’t!” Kyle snickered as he did the same to Orlando, “Oh, don’t be shy now, Seventeen. We’re all girls here.”
“Not me, mate,” Mark insisted, “Bloke interrupted at the moment but definitely still a bloke.”
“Not to worry, we’ll have those legs of yours waving in the air soon enough.”
Just over an hour later, two newly created queens regarded themselves in the full-length mirror with vastly different reactions.
Mark spoke first, glaring at the satin and feathers, and the platinum-blonde Marilyn wig reflected back at him. “Christ! Is that me?”
“Yep, that’s you, Seventeen-sweetie,” Kyle sighed, “You still look bloody rugged, but no-one’ll notice all that much, what with the lights and everything. Orlando, lovey, you look fucking fantastic! By all means give up the day job and come join us.”
Orlando stared at his own refection and felt distinctly out of sorts. Being Aida was one thing – he loved looking at her in the mirror with an almost narcissistic pleasure. There was something more delicate and beautiful about her than this – thing in front of him now – with the breasts, and the tube of red lamé moulded to his body with some discreetly placed safety pins, the Louise Brooks bob, the heavy black eye-liner, the red slash of a mouth, and the fuck-me shoes.
He thought she was incredibly ugly – compared to Aida – but he didn’t say it aloud. Instead, he asked, “Alright, how do we go about this?”
“Just watch us,” Brett instructed them as they left the dressing room and headed for the exit to the catwalk. “Shake it a bit, do what we do and most of all, don’t let the bastards pull you off the runway. They’re animals! And for Christ’s sake mind the shoes!”
They waited at the door, the loudness of the music making it impossible to talk. Orlando alternately watched the door and Kyle, waiting for some kind of cue. Even over the music, he could hear his own heartbeat pounding crazily in his ears.
Suddenly the door opened, and three dancers accompanied by a blast of light and music, pushed past them without even the barest hint of acknowledgement.
Orlando didn’t even have time to glance at the others before he was given a slight shove through the door onto the catwalk. He looked around in a panic as the others went on ahead. Almost immediately, Brett and Kyle began dancing together, so close they looked like a couple of snakes having a vertical fuck.
He fought the urge to laugh hysterically as Mark went off and started his own hyperkinetic version of some kind of dance he’d seen God knows where, and Orlando decided he’d better get moving, which he did, slotting his own rhythm into the beat of the music, the silicone falsies feeling instantly and unnaturally horrible, the weight of them jiggling about in the dress that was a couple of sizes too big despite the pins, the adhesive pulling on the skin of his chest and hurting.
There was the deafeningly loud music and constantly flashing lights – he’d catch one in the eye now and then, leaving a temporary big black dot in the middle of his vision and a momentary disorientation. He knew he stumbled a couple of times but all that practice in nightclubs around the world enabled him to cover it up and make it look like something you’d do to a fast techno beat.
And then Kyle was in front of him, gorgeously made-up, wearing the flowing Haldir wig, his eyes flickering in-synch with the light show. He grinned and flashed a bit of tongue, flung his head back laughing and then had a death-grip on Orlando’s hips, and another round of vertical fucking with himself the recipient snake. Impossible to not get turned on by it all – Kyle knew all the moves and delivered them expertly – including a deep-throated kiss that left him gasping for air when it ended, light-headed and vaguely disoriented again.
And then someone was behind him as well – Brett, he supposed – and suddenly it was a snake-threesome and the odd sensation of knowing his tits were being groped but not actually being able to feel it. Brett bucking against him, Kyle tongue-fucking his mouth again and then spinning off to engage Mark in some similar action.
It lasted barely ten minutes, but by the time he was back in the dressing-room, Orlando could feel the sweat running down his body in rivulets, his ears ringing, faint black-dot shadows still messing with his vision.
He collapsed in a chair, gulping for breath. “How the fuck can you do that every night?”
“You get used to it, lovey,” Kyle grinned, tossing a towel at him, “Coming out for another go?”
Orlando stared at him aghast. “When?”
“Half an hour. We rotate. Want a little calmer-downer?”
Kyle reached into his make-up case and pulled out a small silver compact. He flipped open the lid, carefully extracted a joint and lit it.
“You have the first one, sweets,” he said, handing it to Orlando, “Special occasion.”
“Leave some for us!” Brett insisted as he steered Mark towards another chair, lined him up and sat him down. “Fragile little tarts, aren’t they? Look at them, they’re completely shagged! They wouldn’t last five minutes here!”
Orlando handed back the joint and exhaled slowly. “Don’t think I want to go out again. It’s fun, yeah but – God, I think I need more time in the gym. You’re right, I’m shagged!”
“Oh I was too, the first few times,” Kyle reassured him, “You get used to it. How about you, Seventeen-babe? Coming out again?”
Mark had already dispensed with his wig and was attempting to towel off the thick make-up. “No fucking way, mate! You can have it!”
“Knew you’d see it our way,” Kyle practically purred and Orlando started snickering at the deer-in-the-headlights look on Mark’s face.
“Oh leave him alone! Okay, I’ll go out again for both of us. Just let me get my breath back and I think I might need some more tit-glue. Something’s about to fall off.”
“Righty-oh, we usually get a slower number next so it shouldn’t be so hard on you.” Kyle began to work with the glue, stopping only to suck from the joint again.
~ * ~
“You look tired,” Karl murmured, “How much sleep did you get last night?”
He and Orlando were sitting in the front row seats the following morning, waiting for Marton to start the rehearsal session. The mere power of suggestion prompted Orlando to yawn.
“About three or four hours, not sure. I’m okay. I’ll catch up tonight.”
Karl snickered. “Yeah right. I heard about your little performance at Palazzo last night.”
“Oh?” Orlando’s surprise was genuine, “How’d you find out?”
“Friend of mine works in one of the clubs – he rang me earlier and said the bitch queens are bragging about it to anyone who’ll listen.” Karl slid further down in his seat and leaned toward Orlando, adding even more quietly, “Listen, you be careful around them. They could get you into a shitload of trouble.”
Orlando grinned, “Yeah, probably, but they’re amazing fun.”
“I don’t doubt they are. They’re also a hard and opportunistic lot, always on the make, you know? No limits. They’ll eat you alive if you don’t watch out.”
Orlando swatted his hand dismissively. “Nah, they’re great. I love hanging around with them. Anyway, it’s research.”
“Hey, I’m all in favor of getting right into character, even doing work-experience for the sake of a bit of extra insight, but I don’t take it as far as making a complete lifestyle change.”
Orlando gave a huff of rising irritation. “Oh bullshit, now you’re exaggerating. I haven’t –“
Karl interrupted him. “Orlando, mate, when we do our bit on-stage – you know, when I give you the pretend hand-job, and we do the pretend tongue-kissing, and when I call you an ugly little slut and you bawl your eyes out all over me – once it’s done, it’s over, right? I’m not going to take you home after the show and fuck you because I think it’s going to add that little bit extra to the following night’s performance. There’s a big difference between acting a part and living a part. You’re crossing a line, mate, and it’s not a good thing.”
“But I like spending time with them just for the sake of it. Forget the research bit, alright? They’re also my friends!”
Karl feigned an air of petulance. “And I’m not? Marton’s not? And Mark and Craig and –“
“Why the fuck does everyone eventually beat me round the head with Craig and what he’s supposedly making of everything?” Orlando snapped back, angry now. “He’s down at Toujours, doing what he wants to be doing and I’m here doing what I want to be doing, and that includes going out and having a bit of fun. He knows everything that’s going on, because every fucking newspaper, magazine and internet gossip page makes sure of it. As far as they’ve figured, I’m already in a shitload of trouble but you know what? I don’t care! No one who matters to me has said anything, not Marton and not Craig. Whatever you think – alright, we’re friends, yeah – but really I don’t give a fuck what you think because you’re talking through your arse. I’m not the sort who can sit at home every night and read a book or watch the telly. I like to go out and have fun, and that’s what I’m doing and it’s really no one else’s fucking business so just – just back the fuck off!”
Karl looked at him for a long moment, noting the anger, and realizing that the subject had been firmly closed.
He gave a slight shrug and a toneless. “Fine.”
“Morning everyone,” Marton called out to get their attention, “The queens are on their way so we’ll be starting in about five minutes.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Karl muttered, “Let’s hold it for the queens.”
“Don’t be a prick,” Orlando muttered back.
“What are they needed for this morning? None of them are doing anything in this scene.”
“It’s a context thing. I’m getting fucked by the boss and they’ll be reacting to the before and after.”
“Surprised they didn’t ask to join in.”
“You’re really going to make an issue of this, aren’t you?”
“Only because I can see trouble coming, mate, but alright, let’s drop it.”
A sudden commotion drew their attention to the door as the queens paraded in with a chorus of cheerful greetings and then quickly seated themselves.
Marton took the floor and introduced the morning’s work.
“In the original play, there was a rape scene we thought was so ugly and unnecessary that we cut it out. Later, we replaced it with a fuck-scene. It’s not a rape because the sex is consensual. It’s not a love scene because they aren’t making love – they’re making hate more than anything. It’s quite simply a fuck in every sense of the word – harsh and quick. There are also several emotional and non-emotional motivating variables that will become quite clear when the scene is taken in context. There’s a power play between Aida and Frank, but after the act takes place, there will be some doubt as to who actually won.
“Frank doesn’t like to think about the implications of fucking another man. ‘If it’s wearing a dress, fucking it doesn’t make Frank gay,’ is his honest belief. Aida’s reason is self-explanatory. The sex may be consensual but it’s still coerced. She knows that if she withholds or complains, she’ll be out of a job and no longer able to work in – and I quote again, ‘The only place where I can be me,’ unquote.
“There’s an element of punishment in the act. Frank believes he’s punishing Aida for being a male and tempting him enough to want to have, and indeed take her. Aida punishes him ultimately by not telling him her deadly little secret. The audience are going to react to this scene twice. Immediately, as it’s happening – and the sympathy will probably sway toward Aida. Then later at the end when they realize she allowed Frank to have his unprotected fun knowing that every encounter increases her chances of passing on the HIV virus to him.”
Marton glanced at Orlando. “So, let’s discuss it.”
Orlando grimaced. “Not looking forward to this.”
“Too late, the scene’s too important to cut now. And the more you get into it, the more comfortable you’ll be in front of an audience.”
Marton consulted his notes again.
“Frank chooses his time carefully. You – Aida – have got the make-up and hair done which reinforces the femininity, but you haven’t yet dressed in your costume which is elaborate enough to get in his way. You’re currently halfway between Paulie and Aida – a bit over halfway. That kimono you’re wearing is passably feminine. The other queens know that when Frank shows up at the door, it’s time for them to step out for a quick smoke or something. What are they thinking as they herd themselves out the door?”
“That you’re fucking the boss for favors, lovey.” Kyle snipped.
“No one needs a favor that bad,” Jamie protested, “Sorry Johnno, but your Frank really is a slimy bit of shit.”
John Meagher gave the ghost of a smile and dipped his head in acknowledgement. “Thank you.”
“I’d be thinking ‘there but for the grace of whoever’s up there’ go the rest of us,” Sam laughed, adding, “And I hope he doesn’t get tired of the poor little bitch and start eyeing the rest of us.”
“I’d be thinking,” Mark said thoughtfully, “As Belle of course, that I wouldn’t mind a bit of it myself and if it’s worth trying my luck.”
Orlando mock-glared at him. “Bastard! You’re supposed to be my friend!”
Mark grinned wickedly. “Not til the next scene, mate, and then I’ll be coming onto you anyway.”
Orlando glanced pointedly at Karl, “And you’re supposed to be my boyfriend, Urban. Do your duty and defend my honor. Kill the bastard for taking liberties.”
Karl held up his hands in a gesture of defense. “Don’t bother me, honey. I’m too busy dying.”
“I think,” Marton interrupted, before humor sidetracked the agenda, “That we’ll have established that it’s almost routine – that it happens every night and that Frank considers it almost a droit de seigneur – he has the right to help himself and so he does. So there’ll be a confidence to his approach knowing that no one can overrule him. He has a certain smugness knowing there isn’t a damned thing Aida can do to stop him. And then there are more important underlying emotions here. Guilt for one – that he’s being tempted by another male. Our Frank is convinced he’s one hundred per cent het, aren’t you Frank?”
John laughed agreeably. “Oh yes, without a doubt.”
“Then there’s a certain amount of denial,” Marton continued, “He’ll wait for Aida to become feminized before he’ll come to help himself. He likes to pretend all the way that Aida really is a female. ‘If it’s wearing a dress when he fucks it, he’s not queer’, is he? He’s not a pervert, not in his head. Aida’s the queer pervert here, as well as all those queer perverts who dance around in dresses and give the customers hard-ons. Frank knows he’s the only true het in this joint. Denial all the way. He convinces himself she’s enjoying it because she doesn’t ever protest. That rules out rape in his mind, rules out coercion, rules out anything that might conceivably rattle his conscience. Aida wears a dress so she’s female, she’s a slut and a whore because she accepts money to dance the customers to arousal, she’s willing because she doesn’t tell him to fuck off, and she’s enjoying it because she doesn’t tell him otherwise. And he claims the power position because she submits. On the other hand Frank is probably a bit pissed off with himself for indulging his addiction to the nightly Aida fuck, but he’s probably translated that into being pissed off with Aida for forcing him to do it. Sound reasonable?”
“Not a very pleasant fellow, am I?” John laughed again, “You will do a handbag search of the audience beforehand, won’t you? Someone might react badly and try to bump me off.”
“At least you’ll have bonked Bloom beforehand, lovey,” Kyle piped in, “Which is more than the rest of us get. Can we all have a turn at playing Frank in rehearsal?”
Angela looked up from her cross-stitching. “Me too, I’ll be in that!”
Orlando dissolved into laughter, “You’re supposed to be my sweet, senile little old granny!”
“Oh, but I bet I was a bit of a goer back in my youth, though. Can I have a delusional episode, Marton, in which I think I’m eighteen and don’t have any grandchildren yet?”
Marton feigned shock and disgust. “Angela, I can’t believe I heard that! A highly esteemed thespian, a pillar of the entertainment industry, a – “
“Normal red-blooded woman,” she finished for him with an exaggerated wink, “Oh do give me a break, Marton. Just one little Orlando grope.”
“We’ll work something out,” Orlando promised, red-faced and still laughing.
“Now we’ll have a bit of a look at Aida’s state of mind,” Marton said, raising his voice deliberately in order to establish authority once more. ‘We’ve discussed this repeatedly Orlando, right from the start so would you like to explain her position?”
“Well,” Orlando began tentatively, slightly nervous about being the sudden focus of attention. “Well she’s at this transition stage from Paulie to Aida, not quite there but as you said, she’s a bit more than halfway there. Paulie’s not a very strong person but becoming Aida makes him feel better about himself, makes him feel stronger. The makeup and costume and the – the desire she works up in others – that gives him a lot of confidence. I mean Paulie’s a nobody but Aida’s a star, that kind of thing. So since she’s not quite fully in character, there’s still this vulnerability there. The mask isn’t fully in place – part of her is still exposed.”
“Is she afraid of Frank?” Marton prompted.
Orlando shook his head. “No, she’s not afraid of him, only of losing her job. ‘It’s the only place where I can be me’, remember? The only thing she feels for Frank is disgust or maybe contempt because of this stupid denial he has about her being really a male. She’d laugh at him if she didn’t think he was so pathetic.”
“How does she feel about herself?”
“She feels a kind of humiliation that the other dancers know what’s going on, that she isn’t fucking the boss but is being fucked over by the boss. I think Sam was closer to it when he said, ‘There but for the grace of whoever’s up there go the rest of us.’ They never say anything to her – only Belle does and she’s sympathetic – but she suspects they pity her or something. That makes her angry, makes her more aloof and determined to keep up this thing about being better and stronger than them. She’s so horribly blasé about it. She laughs it off. It doesn’t matter, doesn’t bother her, she’s so completely in control. That’s what she wants the world to see. But inside she’s ashamed and angry and bitter.”
“She also has a secret.”
“Yeah, she does. That’s probably the only thing she feels almost good about when it’s happening to her. It’s like she’s thinking, ‘Hump away, fuckface, because the chances are you’re going to get a bit of what I’ve got and won’t it be ironic when you finally die from the gay disease!’ It gets her through it and you know she’s thinking this because she asks him, ‘Do you believe in karma, Frank? Do you believe in doing unto others, reaping what you sow, and in what goes around comes around?’ I think that will be her little private joke, and that she’ll have this nasty little smile on her face. I think if the audience are paying attention, they’re going to start thinking, ‘Okay, what’s going on here? Maybe she’s not such a victim after all.’ I like that. I hope they get it. I don’t want them thinking she’s a complete doormat the way she was in the original play. I’d rather have them thinking that she was fighting back, even if it’s in a passive-aggressive way.”
Marton nodded. “I absolutely agree. Right, let’s make a start. John, Orlando, on the stage please. Assume the queens have been and gone and it’s just the two of you. There’s silence and tension – I want you to convey a sense of hunter and prey.”
The two actors met on-stage, exchanged a tentative smile and then took their positions, Orlando bracing himself against the back of a single chair and facing the auditorium, John standing directly behind him. What followed was a perfectly choreographed pseudo-rape. Every movement mapped out beforehand and timed to the second.
But there was nothing in the script to warn Orlando about the gusts of bad breath against his face that made his stomach churn, nor the fingers digging hard into the tender point where pelvis met upper-thigh – he’d have bruises there for months from that well-rehearsed and five-performances-a-week gesture of cruelty.
The hand wandering down between his legs, the sly, deliberate feeling-up until Marton put a stop to it and made a point of telling John that Frank would not have done that – ‘He would only encounter male genitalia and that would nullify his denial of Aida’s true gender.’ He instructed John to keep his hands up and further back, and Orlando silently blessed Marton for his observation and attention to detail.
But no one else was aware of the erection being pushed against him time after time – only the two of them – and it was quick and over and gone, lasting for only as long as the scene itself, the foul, rasping breath and the little grunt and that theatrical moment of orgasm, far more authentic than anyone could have imagined.
Shock and anger made him snarl softly over his own shoulder, “You sick bastard!”
The response was a barely audible little laugh and fingers digging again into his flesh.
”It’s all in your imagination, Orlando. Get over it.”
“John,” Marton called out, “Step back and out of the scene. Orlando, I want you to maintain that state of mind and move on. Improvise. Take your time and go with your instincts.”
Orlando was shaking and feeling really ill. He wondered if he looked as bad on the outside as he felt inside, and if they’d put it down to good acting or what.
Alright, Bloom, time for improvisation – experience is good for this, experience is your friend, okay, so you’ve never had some fucktard getting his rocks off against your arse in front of an audience of your peers but you’ve had wankers coming-on to you, forcing themselves on you, making threats, making promises, offering money, the works and what was the first thing you did, you escaped, found a quiet place to sit down, and had a drink.
Alright, straighten up, pull the skirt down to cover your arse – dressing-room, dressing-table, chair – need to sit down, my legs are really shaky – bench-top, make-up, water – Yes! – twist off the top, my hands are shaking worse than the rest of me, that first mouthful, and then the calm, ohhh, that’s better – mirror – do I look as bad as I feel? Curiosity killed the cat, mate, oh Christ, I’m a mess, is that me, no tears, Bloom, clichéd, overacting, I look like a ghost, but he won’t have killed me, I won’t let the fucker do this to me, act Bloom, it didn’t mean a thing, he’s still watching, straighten up, don’t let him think it mattered, act, ACT! so meaningless it was almost boring, yes, boring bastard, boring fucktard, you won’t fucking GET to me!
He lifted his head and looked directly at Marton, gave a slow smile and an affected air of boredom.
Marton gave a single nod, murmured a single word. “Perfect.”
He made a note on his script before adding, “Take five and we’ll go through it again.”
Much later, Orlando knew that the most credible moment to have protested, complained, objected, kicked up a stink or simply had a quiet word to Marton, had passed. If he said anything now – after all those hours of thinking and concocting some kind of plausible reason why he’d refuse to work with John Meagher – he realized it would somehow seem contrived and deliberate, even perceived as a little act of preciousness.
‘We were lucky to get him…’
And it would mess up Marton’s tight budget and rigid time schedule – they would have to pay him out and find someone else on extremely short notice. A deliberate slash in the canvas of Marton’s masterpiece-in-the-making – an irreparable flaw.
‘We’ll probably only get one chance at this… We were lucky to get him…’
He ended up telling Angela the next day as they were sitting on the stage in preparation for rehearsing their own scene, chatting about this and that until she innocently mentioned that scene.
“You were either acting very well, dear,” Angela whispered, “Or you really were having a miserable time up there. It’s not a very nice thing to have to do over and over again, is it?”
“The worst part, Ange’ – is that he actually did have a hard-on,” He added a little laugh to mask the revulsion, “And then he got himself off. It was really – God, so awful.”
“I don’t envy you. I do for the little bit of slap and tickle with Karl, but nothing’s worth having that pig rubbing himself against you like that. I’ve never liked him. First chance you get, one good kick between the legs, hmm? For both of us.”
“Yeah,” Orlando sighed, disappointed that there’d been no suggestion of complaining openly to Marton about it, or refusing to work with the bastard. He supposed his decision had been right after all. “Marton said we were lucky to get him.”
“Yes, we were. He’s a very good actor but it hardly makes up for the fact that he’s a beast in person. Reminds me of an actor I worked with years ago. He didn’t miss an opportunity for a quick feel or a sneak tweak. Just one of those things, I’m afraid. Chin up, though. You’re doing very well.”
He smiled hesitantly. It was an important little boost to his self-confidence, a compliment like that from a respected actor. He reached for her impulsively and gave her a quick hug and a kiss to the cheek. “Thanks, Ange’. I needed to hear that. I’m not going to let the sleaze put me off.”
“Good for you.” She patted his shoulder and then went back to her cross-stitching, leaving him to his own thoughts.
How the fuck do I get through this without going completely insane?
He remembered another time when he’d wondered the same thing – how to overcome an obstacle of time and misery while keeping his sanity intact. He had managed to break down that last year of his contract, by counting off interviews, signing off cities, mentally writing off each obligation as it was fulfilled. Perhaps a similar strategy might work here, and it was a much shorter period of time involved which had to somehow make it easier.
Alright, the scene lasts for about four minutes, that’s twenty minutes a week times four weeks, eighty minutes, or about an hour and a half, plus rehearsals. Marton doesn’t like to make important scenes stale by repetition so even if I doubled it, I’m looking at about three hours of this shit – unless I get really lucky and the wanker gets run over by a bus or dies in his sleep – or someone strangles, shoots, knifes or poisons him…
Three hours of his life in four-minute installments – not all that long if he removed disgust from the equation and considered it coldly and logically, and in terms of mathematical calculations.
Only three hours.
He’d survive it.