It was getting harder and harder.
Billy had been awake for the past half hour, unable to sum up enough will to get out of bed. Once he did, he would have to do his push-ups. He dreaded the labored breathing in that position of supplication, focusing all his energy on lifting his body just one more time each time, until finally he could do no more. The relief of ending a set was only temporary, for there was always another set, whether in the upcoming minutes, or the upcoming day.
And the more he thought of his dread, the more he dreaded.
Why was he doing this to himself? And for how much longer could he do it? For the past six months, he fought this questioning with half-hearted “You can do it!” monologues, not just during the push-ups, but before doing them, while still in bed. And lately, he would even stress about it the night before.
If only he could do the push-ups like a command to be obeyed without hesitation, as though he had no choice in the matter anyway, as though he weren’t there at all. Unfortunately, he couldn’t choose when to not choose. The very idea contradicted itself.
Seconds before getting in position, he thought to himself, I just can’t. I’m going to end this now, because I’m going to end it anyway sometime. What about my job? This is taking away too much of my energy for other things. And I do have a life!
But he did the push-ups anyway. While catching his breath, he allowed himself the few minutes of triumph, knowing it wasn’t over. It could never be over. It was a little like training to die; he might as well get good at it.
Billy hadn’t worked long at Enernity Studios. He had just gotten the hang of writing incidental music for ‘Marina Ligaya,’ the studio’s first foray into the lonely-mermaid-meets-shipwrecked-sailor-prince genre, when he was told of its cancellation. This meant that he, if hired back for the producers’ next project, would have to redo a score from scratch. The fact that he had done it once before only raised expectations of himself. A deadline in two months daunted him like few things ever had.
He waited in the smaller conference room, along with the ‘Marina Ligaya’ cast and crew, some of whom had become friends, but who still saw him as an outsider of the core group.
“You’re sticking around. Billy,” Allie, who played Marina Ligaya, the sexy mermaid herself, called out to him. He had been trying to avoid eavesdropping, but looked up at the mention of his name. “Direk likes what you do,” she said of famed director Vigil Anastasio, credited as producer of the show.
“Yeah, he told me so,” Billy said.
“He did? That’s a good sign,” Allie remarked, and she looked deep in thought. “Good for you.”
“And what about you? You’re not so bad.” The compliment just slipped out. He could have come up with a better one. She smiled, and turned back to the others. That was nice of her, he thought.
Vigil came into the room, not bothering to look at who was present. “So we’re still shooting on location, same beach. Have you guys heard of ‘Baywatch’? On TV, not the movie.”
Some raised their hands. Billy didn’t. He was too young to know of the 1990s hit show, which revolutionized the way people saw lifeguards. They didn’t just save lives; they had lives, and very exciting, dangerous, sexy ones, at that. Billy had had this perception of them all his life, without knowing where it came from.
“Well, that’s what we’re doing. Having it in the beach keeps us below budget. We’re calling it… Beachway.”
Allie, the natural spokesman of the group, asked, “And we’re all a part of it?”
“Yes.” Vigil’s eyes turned sad, even as he said it. “Can we talk a little, in private?” he asked Allie. They moved to the far corner of the room, but everyone, remaining silent, could still hear what he had to say. “I’d like to use you, but I’m not sure yet how. Sometime midseason, if we ever get that far.”
Allie could only keep so much of the strain out of her voice. “Is it me?”
“Well, yeah. I don’t want you to get down on yourself, but you’re just not pretty enough, or just too bleah for a lead role, or even a main cast role. Look what happened with ‘Marina.’ We took a chance, and we failed. We did, not just you. People tuned out.” In Vigil’s mind, it sounded reassuring.
The rest of the group watched as Allie left the room smiling, ever the actress. Vigil stretched his mouth, before chuckling. “That went well. But seriously, let’s give her a round of applause. Bravo.” By then, Allie was too far away to hear the clapping, or to know what it was about.
Billy was the last to talk to Vigil. “I don’t know you very well,” the director said, “but you’re cheap enough for a competent scorer. Do you have any ideas?” By this time, Billy had researched about ‘Baywatch,’ and several other references Vigil had sprinkled throughout the meeting. An appropriate cheesy theme was already surfacing to Billy’s consciousness.
“Just starting to…”
“Okay, let’s see it.” Vigil handed Billy a tablet with its keyboard app on. Billy was just beginning to play the first descending sixteenth notes, when Vigil grabbed it back. “Wait. Try working on this.” And it was clear that Vigil had come prepared with his idea, which to a newbie like Billy sounded like something to play in a cattle farm. “Can you do that?” Vigil finally asked.
“I could,” Billy said, not meaning it to sound condescending, but Vigil didn’t notice anyway.
“Good, good. Just think ‘Baywatch.’ What would Mitch Buchannon do? If you get stuck, let me know. That’s three, maybe five, themes. How’s Friday for you?”
“I can do Friday.” Billy was dispirited from witnessing Direk do his thing, but planned to rework it to the point of no recognition.
He exited Enernity, spotting Allie with her former small-screen lover Dorito Diaz, smoking by the side. Thinking he may have been interrupting a moment, Billy went on walking.
“Care for a smoke? What happened?” Dorito asked.
“Oh. Just some pointers, how to approach the scenes. He’s quite the musician too, that Direk.”
“Come on, sit with us,” Allie said. “If you don’t mind the smoke.”
“Hey, I’m sorry about whatever that was, earlier,” Billy said, approaching the two.
“It’s bullshit,” Dorito said. “Always needing a scapegoat. The scripts are crap. No, the scripts are okay. It’s Direk. His style is so…”
“’90s,” Billy offered.
“I was going to say ‘lame.’ He says it’s what the people want, but I don’t think he’s ever met the people.”
“Want one?” Allie offered a cigarette.
“I’ll pass. I try to keep my lungs clear.” In the silence that ensued, Billy felt the need to complete the thought. “I do push-ups, see, and anything that makes it harder…”
“I get it,” Dorito said.
“Have you noticed that you’re too careful with what you say?” Allie asked.
“I am? Uh, I don’t mean to be.”
“Exactly,” Allie said, laughing.
Dorito interrupted. “I’m headed out. You sure you don’t want a ride?” he asked Allie. “You, Billy?”
“I’m good,” Billy said, knowing the invitation wasn’t for him.
“Yeah, I’m sure. Have to soak this up a bit more, while I can,” she said of Enernity.
Billy and Allie said nothing to each other, until Dorito’s car was out of sight. “He’s an okay guy, really. But a terrible driver.”
“He can drive fine. It’s the road rage I can’t stand. That’s why I say no.”
“Oh. I was like that too, sometimes. Back when I was driving.”
“You? No, you’re too gentle… I mean, so what if they stop in front of you? So what if they hog the lanes? It’s a stupid car. There are worse things that you can be pissed off about.”
“Like people with road rage.”
“Yeah, like people… You’re making fun of me already?”
“Now that you’re unemployed, why the fuck should I care?” As he said it, it seemed funny, by its sheer meanness. He was ready to apologize, if she didn’t say anything.
“I’m not unemployed.”
“I was just…”
“I have my YouTube shows. An album I’m recording. I’m doing a movie next month. And two hours of thinking about it, this is a good thing. Vigil Anastasio rejecting me, when I didn’t like working with him… Not everyone respects him, you know.”
“I’d like to hear the album.”
“Sure, come by sometime. I record at home. So you don’t smoke?” She took another cigarette for herself.
“Well, why not?” he said, taking the pack she was holding, and managing to lift up a stick after much trouble. “I may have touched some of the other ones.”
“That’s okay. I already have AIDS,” she said casually, holding the lighter to his cigarette.
“Cool,” he said, inhaling first-hand smoke for the first time since university, not that long ago.
“Hope you don’t have too much of a problem. With the push-ups.”
“Just one should be fine.” Billy did consider what effect his shortened breath would have on the pain of doing push-ups the next day, but also factored in that he was hanging out, bonding perhaps, with an up-and-coming celebrity of sorts. She may have just gotten booted out of ‘Beachway,’ but did have a growing following. The vanity of being associated with such a person, Billy figured, ought to ease the burden on his hands. Little did he know how right he was.
Will Billy and Allie find happiness? Together? And what does Mary from the title have to do with anything? You can find out by getting ‘Man of the East and other stories’ on Amazon Kindle. Or asking me for a copy nicely.