Roger kicked the leaves at the side of the path to see what was poking out from underneath. His coarse leather shoe hit a wallet. It had been a long day, he was a manager at the drive-thru and had spent the previous nine hours directing teenagers to mop, serve, and keep their baseball caps on. Roger kicked the wallet again so that it fell open. There was a photo looking back up at him. She was pretty, but plain. Mousy, even. And she was not smiling, just looking straight into the camera. He picked up the wallet. It was a man’s wallet, and when he looked through it, he could see that it belonged to a Gustav Milberg, born 1972. The girl must be his daughter then? He continued riffling through, hoping to find some sort of contact information. There was no cash in there, but everything else seemed to be untouched. There was a small slip of paper with scratchy handwriting, the only words written were “Thursday 24th– 11am flat 14b Bishops Mill”. Roger didn’t question his actions as he slipped the wallet into the sport bag that held his awful uniform, and took it home with him till tomorrow.
Thursday also happened to be his day off. Roger woke at ten and set off to Bishops Mill to find 14b, to find Gustav Milberg. As he waited for someone to answer the door, he began fretting that it might seem he had taken it (and thus the cash) in the first place? Should he just leave it on the doorstep and go? And he didn’t know who would open the door anyway, but as he wondered about it, it happened. There stood the mousy girl. In her underwear.
“Yes?” she asked, impatient already.
“I’m looking for Gustav Milberg, please?” He fumbled in her presence.
“Well he hasn’t bloody turned up, has he? What do you want?”
Her response threw him. Roger had absolutely no way of deciding whether he trusted this woman or not. He had, in the past, rued his bad judgement of character.
“I have something for him”, Roger conceded, a little enigmatically.
“You aren’t one of Fish’s guys are you?”
“Just come in and keep out the way till he gets here” she was already walking off as she said it, barely caring whether he took up her offer or not. She strutted ahead of him in her expensive, barely-there silks. The tiny apartment was crawling with film crew. Roger didn’t know where to put himself that was most ‘out of the way’. The girl was putting on heavy makeup with large brushes, on the other side of the room. There was a four poster bed, perfectly made, in the middle of the open room, and a couple of fat men assembling black poles and cables around the place, attaching equipment in corners and to the ceiling. Roger wanted to put the wallet on a chair and go. There wasn’t a chair, there was nowhere to sit, so he stood in the corner by the door.
Twenty minutes later, and no one had paid him any attention. He wanted to tell the girl he could come back later, but she was flitting around with different people, doing things, moving things, talking technically about the job at hand. Roger couldn’t decide if he felt uncomfortable or not, so he tried to just catch her eye each time she went past, but she never met his eye.
“Excuse me,” he begged, eventually, “it’s gone twelve, do you think he’s coming?”
“Doesn’t look like it, does it?” she rolled her eyes like it was obvious. “What size feet have you got?”
“Excuse me?” Roger wasn’t sure what use it could be to her to know that.
“Have you got feet that fit in Gus’s boots? He’s not here, we need to start.”
“We’ll I was just going to give him this and leave, actually, I er” Roger felt uneasy about what wasn’t being said.
“Don’t worry, you wouldn’t be getting your kit off, we just need a window cleaner to come in off the balcony and watch. Common, you’d be doing me a huge favour, Gus is a no-show, I had to pull strings to get him this. I can’t blow it now. What a twat.”
Roger looked round the room; there were about twelve men, all butch, and one other woman. She was fully clothed, in a uniform of some kind. He couldn’t tell if she was an actress as well, or here as a genuine courier/janitor/pest controller. He tried to guess from her makeup, but she was turned sideways from him. The woman in her underwear was looking at him, waiting for an answer.
“Is this a porn film?” Roger asked, under timid breath.
“No, it’s a tragic love epic, with comedic interludes and Helen bloody Mirren. Do you want two hundred or what?”
“Quid?” Roger felt gauche even asking, but his head was spinning, but maybe in a good way? Nothing ever really happened to him, exciting or otherwise.
“Yes. Quid. Cash, today, if you put Gus’s costume on. Can you do it or not?”
Roger never lived in definitive moments, but now would be one. “Yes” he heard himself saying. The words left his body, and over he went to where the girl pointed at a window cleaner’s uniform hung on the bathroom door.
“I’m Roger,” he told the girl, as he crossed the room.
“Mirabelle.” She tossed out the word like it wasn’t worth a thing, but Roger smiled awkwardly at her and went to change. In the tiny bathroom he undressed himself and pulled on the overalls. They were held together with Velcro, and Roger’s heart skipped a beat as he considered possible amendments to his role. But as it was, he was excited to be doing this. He’d only ever been on the other side of the screen, alone, in his grotty little bachelor pad, box of tissues, picking all the movies with brunettes on the cover. This was it. He stepped out of a little closet toilet, into a porno set, ready to do what he is told, surrounded by a bunch of dudes watching him watch her.
Being on a budget, there wasn’t an actual window cleaner’s pulley outside the window, he was just going to stand on the balcony, and they would edit carefully later, apparently. He stood outside with the wiper, and began to clean the window.
“Method actor, are we, mate?” came a voice. Roger instantly felt that childhood guilt of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It obviously showed. The man yelled again; “Keep going. We’re nearly ready to shoot.” That turned out to be the director, in a lemon coloured hoodie, and burgundy plastic glasses. His face was fat, and you just had to trust that there were eyes in there somewhere; he seemed to be seeing what was going on.
That was about as much direction as Roger got. That and a manic hand gesture when he was due to walk into the room through the balcony doors. Having no idea what reaction was expected from him, he did his best on a memorised back catalogue of similar porn plots. Just stand and watch, he figured. So he did. Mirabelle was on top of the covers, with headphones on, and her eyes shut. She was alone, but enjoying it no less. Both she and Roger were smiling. After coming, she lay there for a moment breathing, heavy and deep, and then opened her eyes. Roger was frozen, the perfect plank of wood. “Oh!” she squealed, like a little girl. Then, like a pro, improvising, Roger asked her if he could use the Fawcett in the kitchen, his bucket was empty.
“No! No no no! That’s not in the script!” yelled the director.
Roger fell right out of the moment. “I haven’t seen a script,” he pleaded, “Mirabelle just told me to go with it”.
“Who is this new guy?” the director looked around the room for an answer. “No. Forget it. We might actually be able to use some of that.” Mirabelle’s face softened, and Roger realised she’d been waiting with bated breath for the director to okay it all. “Right, that’s it for today guys. I’ve got to get to my son’s birthday party on the other side of town so back again tomorrow at three. Any objections? Good. Go find Jag for your money before you leave.”
Roger was stunned. Staring in a porn film was the wildest, the only wild thing he’d ever done. This would be the secret to sustain him. Tomorrow would be Friday. He’d call in sick to the drive-thru, some other fool can tell the teenagers to shovel chips all day, and count the exact change carefully, he told himself in the mirror before he left. The wad of cash in his jeans felt good. He went over to say goodbye to Mirabelle, but he didn’t really know what to say. She turned around to face him just as he got near. She didn’t look that bothered to see him.
“Thanks.” He managed, rather pathetically.
“No, thanks for covering, I owe you.”
Roger smiled softly, and felt ridiculous. He turned to leave. Just as he got to the bottom of the stairs in the block, he remembered Gustav’s wallet in his jacket pocket. Shit! he thought. He’d do it tomorrow.
Mirabelle scrubbed off the thick make-up that she’d worn for the cameras. She pulled on her grey hooded top with Brooklyn across the chest. She tugged at her tight jeans over her long flawless legs. She picked up her huge handbag and flew down the stairs. She headed down west to the bus station, and caught the first going to Northfield, she was heading to Gus’s house to bang at his door.
She won’t be prepared for it though. She’ll walk right up to the door like nothing is wrong. She’ll bang on it like she’s got a right to be angry. And then everything terrible will unfold for her.