The Dresser Too
By: S. Scott Bullock
“It was such a silly play. Not lifelike at all. And you know how I feel about art and reality.” Celeste turned away from the lighted mirror and faced Natalie. “The relationship between an actor and their dresser is different. Don’t you think Natalie? Aren’t we so much different than the characters in that play?”
“It was an amateur production of ‘The Dresser’ for god’s sake, Celeste. That’s material not exactly suited to an amateur production.” Natalie moved a stack of magazines on the chaise and sat down. “And I’m more of your assistant than your dresser, don’t you think?”
“I hate this dressing room.” Celeste said turning back toward the makeup mirror. “It’s so cramped. And that monstrosity you’re sitting on? That is truly the ugliest fabric I have ever seen in my entire life.”
“I could have someone exchange it if you’d like.” Natalie moved her hand along the chaise. “But I kinda like it. Especially the texture.”
“You would.” Celeste said smiling. “And no, we don’t need to raise another stink around here. This is the most unaccommodating theater we’ve every played. Except for New Haven. Remember New Haven?”
“How could I forget.” Natalie said still stroking the fabric.
“Could you hand me the bottle, dear? It’s time to start the war paint. How long till curtain? Are we at half-hour yet?”
“Yes, we’re at half-hour.” Natalie stood and pulled a makeup bag from the shelf above the mirror and set it down in front of Celeste.
Celeste stared at her reflection and leaned forward. She stroked the loose wrinkled skin of her aged neck.
“God, I’m old.” She said with a sigh. “I’m so old. How old am now, Natalie? I’ve lost count.”
“You don’t want to know, ‘Seal’.” Natalie said using the pet name she had made up for Celeste.
“No I don’t. You are right once again. Every year it takes more and more of this stuff to make me presentable.” Celeste opened the makeup bottle and poured some out on a makeup sponge.
“Every year more. Soon I will disappear beneath it. I will simply be a walking layer of Max Factor Number Seven where once was a beautiful young woman.”
“You are more beautiful with every passing day, Seal, and you know it.”
“And you, my dearest, oldest friend, are a sweet-talking liar.” She touched the sagging skin of her neck again. “The only woman that can get away with a neck like this is Maggie Smith. It works for her. It doesn’t work for me.” She pulled a makeup brush and powdered blush from the bag. “Speaking of liars, has Benton signed in yet. That old fart always waits till the very last minute. Worries EVERYONE to death.”
“He’s here.” Natalie said bending down and looking at Celeste’s reflection. “You need a little more base on your neck.”
“There isn’t enough in the bottle for all this skin.” She waggled the skin on her neck with her finger.
“Here.” Natalie said taking the bottle and sponge from Celeste. “Let me.”
Celeste raised her chin and Natalie applied the makeup.
“You are too good to me, my darling. I don’t deserve you.”
Natalie finished and put the bottle down on the table.
Celeste lowered her chin and took out a brush and powder. “Got to powder this down or my face will run like a candle on a hot radiator.” She stopped, the brush halfway to her face, and her breath caught in her throat. Her face grimaced and tears rolled down her freshly made up cheeks. They left trails as they fell.
“What?” Natalie knelt down and turned Celeste’s face to her. “What? Why are you crying?”
“I’m so old.” She said pulling tissues from a box on the table. “I’m so damn old and ugly and it’s just a matter of time before I start forgetting.”
“Forgetting what?” Natalie said taking Celeste’s hand.
“Everything.” Celeste answered. “Everything. My lines. My life. Everything.”
“Well, that’s enough of that.” Natalie said taking the tissues from Celeste and dabbing at her cheeks. “Enough of that. You are not ugly and your memory is just fine. And yes, you ARE old, but as they say, considering the alternative, old is okay.”
“I met Charlie Chaplin once.” Celeste said picking up her makeup sponge. She dabbed at the the tear tracks. “He was old and frail. His daughter told me that he was starting to forget things. The three of us were having tea at her house in Bel Aire. Geraldine. Her name is Geraldine. Charlie wanted to meet me after seeing me in ‘A Doll’s House’. I remember that day so clearly. It was pouring down rain and everything smelled of that lovely wet-rain smell. Fresh cut flowers were everywhere around her house. Beautiful huge bouquets. They made the inside smell like the outside garden. Geraldine had made tea cakes and piled them high on a four tear cake plate. And we had tea. Earl Grey. With lemon and honey. And Charlie just sat there. He would start a sentence and then just stop. Midway. He’d look out the window at the pouring rain, and then at his cup, and then at his daughter. Searching. I will never forget that look on his face. That look of being lost. He looked so lost. And frightened. I never want to feel that. Or look that way.” She stared down at the brush in her hand..
“Don’t get morbid on me. ‘Forgetting’ is not inevitable. And pick up the pace. Time’s a wastin’” Natalie said moving back to the chaise.
“It’s not morbid. It’s life. And life can really, really fall onto the skids sometimes.”
“Like, you have to tell ME?” Natalie said smiling.
“Why do you insist on wearing white on opening night?” Celeste said pointing a finger at Natalie’s reflection. “It’s not becoming.”
“Why do you always criticize my fashion sense.” Natalie said adjusting the tuck of her blouse.
“Well that’s just it. Fashion sense. I fear you lack it. And I say that with love.” Celeste began fishing through the bag. She pulled out an eyebrow pencil worn to a stub. “I suppose I should keep my mouth shut about it. I’ve never had that particular gift, though, being able to keep my mouth shut. That’s what Rebecca always said to me. ‘Mom, sometimes you just need to keep your mouth shut.’ But I never learned how to do that.”
“Really?” Natalie said grinning a Cheshire cat grin.
“Don’t be fresh.” Celeste began lining her eyes with the pencil stub. “Did Rebecca pick up at ‘Will Call’?”
“Yes.” Natalie said fussing with her blouse collar.
“All three?” Celeste said lowering her eyebrow pencil and staring hard at Natalie’s reflected face.
“Three?” Natalie said staring back.
“Rebecca’s new ‘friend’ and Cameron are supposed to come tonight.” Celeste pulled another brush from her bag. “I’m not at all interested in meeting her new ‘friend’ but I haven’t seen my grandson since he was eleven. How much time till curtain?”
“Ten minutes. Do your lips.” Natalie reached into the bag, pulled out a lipstick tube and handed it to Celeste. “Here. Coral Fantasy. Because we all need a little fantasy.”
“That’s the last thing I need. Theater is too damn much fantasy.” Celeste took the tube, pulled off the cap and rolled the stick upward. “Why do you stay with me?” She spoke with her lips stretched over her teeth applying the lipstick. It made the vowels and consonants sound distorted and comical. “I certainly don’t pay you enough, so I seriously doubt it’s an issue of money. So why then? Why do you stay with me?”
“I…” Was all Natalie got out.
“I used to ask Malcolm that all the time.” Celeste rolled the lipstick down, put the cap on and slid the tube back into her makeup bag. She looked up and into the eyes of her own reflection. “I never could understand why he stayed with me. I was always rehearsing or performing or going on tour. All that time for myself with none left over for him. And when I asked him he’d always say the same thing. ‘Because I love you.’ He’d say. ‘Because I love you.’ Isn’t that lovely, Natalie?”
“Yes. It is lovely.” Natalie said with just a hint of sorrow.
“Do you love me too, Natalie?” Celeste said smiling. “Is that why you stay too? Because you Loooooooove me?”
“Not like Malcolm did.” Natalie grinned. “That’s for damn sure. But I do love you, Seal. You are very special to me.”
“I’m not paying you any more for that.” Celeste grinned putting a little more blush on her cheeks.
“Not too much blush, Seal.” Natalie stood up and leaned into the mirror for a better look. “You’re not playing a hooker.”
“Don’t be uncouth.” Celeste said and put down the makeup brush.
“I have plenty of couth and you’ve got five minutes. Get a jiggle on.”
“Five minutes? But the boy hasn’t come by and called five minutes yet?” Celeste turned toward the door. “The boy hasn’t come by. Has he Natalie? Has the boy come by calling five minutes?”
“If he did, I didn’t hear him either, but I have a watch, Seal, and you’ve got five more minutes.”
“I don’t trust watches. Especially yours. Go ask the boy.” Celeste turned back toward the mirror. “I’m done here. The doctor has done all she can for this patient. But I’m afraid it’s terminal. Terminal oldness. With a neck like a pissed off turkey.”
“Oh my.” Natalie clutched imaginary pearls. “You’ve said a naughty word! What’s come over you, Celeste Montgomery!??!”
“Smart ass.” Celeste dropped her brush into the bag. “Go ask the boy.”
“My watch is correct. But I’ll get the boy.” Natalie patted Celeste’s shoulder. “You are a royal pain.” She said and opened the door.
Celeste regarded her reflection again.
“You’re going to forget your lines. You’re going to forget where you are and you’re going to go out there and make an ass of yourself.” She said to her reflection.
The door opened and Natalie walked in followed by a young man in his twenties.
“Celeste.” Natalie said seriously. “Donald has something to say to you.” She motioned toward the young man. “Donald.”
“Three minutes till places, ma’am.” Donald said. He nodded to Natalie and walked out of the room.
“Thanks, Donny.” Celeste called after him, staring at Natalie. “I told you your watch was wrong. It wasn’t five minutes till places it was three.”
“You asked me two minutes ago!” Natalie said laughing. “That would make it five minutes till places.”
“I still don’t trust your watch. Now help me with my wig.”
“No wig in the first act, Seal.”
“Oh. Yes. Sorry.” Celeste stood up and adjusted her skirt. “Costume okay?”
“Perfect.” Natalie said smiling.
“Mrs. Claymore, Mr. Deloreo, so nice of you all to come.” Celeste said with a grand hand gesture.
“Huh?” Natalie asked.
“My first line.” Celeste said smiling. “I always say my first line out loud before curtain. Just so I won’t forget. “Mrs. Claymore, Mr. Deloreo, so nice of you all to come.”
Natalie picked the makeup bag from the table and placed it back on the shelf.
“You ready to head to the stage?” Natalie asked taking Celeste’s arm.
“As ready as I’ll ever be.” Celeste grinned and walked arm in arm with Natalie toward the door. “When I was six years old my father gave me a bracelet.” Celeste said, “It was silver and had imitation rubies all around it. I told him that it was the prettiest thing I had ever seen and he told me that the only thing prettier than that bracelet was me.”
They walked together down a long carpeted hallway. Beige walls lined with bad oil paintings met a ceiling hung with florescent fixtures. As they walked, Celeste talked.
“He told me that he loved me more than life itself and that if I ever felt scared or alone that all I had to do was put on my bracelet and he would be near me, loving me and holding me and making me safe. And it always worked. Even after Daddy died, whenever I needed him I just put on my bracelet and he was there.”
“That’s very sweet.” Natalie said.
“I need it now.” Celeste said quietly. “I need that bracelet now.”
They stopped in front of a set of swinging double doors.
“Ready?” Natalie asked.
“I don’t ever want to forget that story.” Celeste said looking up into Natalie’s eyes. “I never want to forget about my bracelet and my Daddy.”
Natalie opened one of the doors and walked ahead into the large dining hall. She turned back toward Celeste.
“It’s okay, sweetie. Come on in.”
Celeste stepped in. Natalie took Celeste’s arm and led her to a long table. All the seats but one were taken by the elderly and ancient.
“Here you go, Seal. Here’s your seat, sweetheart.” Natalie pulled out the chair. She straightened the blouse front of her nurse’s uniform and pushed the seat in after Celeste sat. “I’m going to go take care of some things while you eat, Seal. I’ll be back in a bit. Eat everything on your plate and talk to all your friends here.”
Celeste looked around the table smiling.
“Mrs. Claymore, Mr. Deloreo, so nice of you all to come.” She said.