Saturday, February 11, 2017

Short Fiction: I Do All My Own Stunts

We called him Lucky. He was our thirteenth. He was the last of the first batch cloned when our Prime was five years old and a successful child actor. He still walked with a limp from jumping off a building, but he had only retired as a stuntman after a close call with a rifle blank left a facial scar the doctors couldn't hide.




I was sixteen at the time, but they had fixed me up with the crows' feet and gray temples of Prime at thirty. I was in an understudy class, monologuing along with Prime as Caligula, when Lucky called me to the big house. It was a long hike, and I recall feeling curious, not a bit apprehensive.


Lucky met me at the back door with a smile. "We're looking good," he said. His grin was wide and toothy - we get buck teeth, and when he was young we couldn't afford that many braces. As I followed him through the house I tried to imitate his gait, but it was loose, chaotic, everything the understudies were trained to avoid. I almost bumped into him when he stopped at Prime's office.


Our original was watching a Kennedy speech, working on his gestures. To my eyes they were flawless, but as we watched he stopped, sighed, and restarted the video. As he leaned over he noticed us at the door. "Thirteen," he said. "What's new?"


"It's the filming with Crozier tonight," he said. "I've been keeping an eye on the understudies, and I think Fifty-two here could do everything he needs you for."


My heart jumped. I hadn't stood in for Prime in anything other than mo-cap since I was nine, playing his younger self after Fifty-five broke his arm. "Give him the scene with the Chiefs," he said.


I had memorized Prime's working script, of course, and I nailed the lines, trembling on the inside. After half a minute Lucky stopped me. "What do you think?" he asked.


"He's pretty good," said Prime.


Lucky slapped me on the shoulder. "How about you send him to Crozier tonight, and you accept Miss - " Prime joined in. "Accept Miss Anderson's invitation," he said. "I don't think that will happen."


"Come on. Three hours," said Lucky. "It would make her year, you know that."


"I think if Fifty-two is good enough to play me playing JFK he's more than good enough to play me."


Lucky rolled his eyes. "I don't think so. Look, she didn't invite - "


"She didn't include the words 'primary' or 'clone' anywhere on the invitation. She'll be fine. Send him."


And so that night I was in a tuxedo that cost more than I had, arriving at fancy restaurant in a limousine. I was confident enough playing a wealthy socialite, but I spent the entire ride trying to mimic the intensity of off-camera Prime.


"Kid." The driver had rolled the interior window down. It was my face, lined beyond its years, with a garish scar from ear to ear. "Remember, you're all of us."


I should have known she would be early. I saw her before she saw me, and when she looked up and noticed me the delight on her face broke my heart. She trotted up beside me and took my arm. "I'm so glad to see you," she said, and her voice was raw.


She was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, and we talked for hours. I spoke from my memorized catalogue of witty dialogue. Her responses were so perfect I wished for a notebook. She had stories, too, from her childhood with a diplomat father, her foreign aid work, and month-long music career to anecdotes about every director who was anybody. I was too dazzled to wonder why Prime had given this up.


Then the band struck up a waltz, and she pulled me from my chair to the ballroom floor. She had danced with Prime at the royal wedding, and I was hardly in practice. Her face fell. "I knew you wouldn't come," she said.


"I'm sorry," I said. "If you want me to go..."


"Stay with me," she said, and she wrapped her arms around my shoulders.


"Don't worry," she whispered. "I knew it wasn't you when you saw me. You were happy."


I remembered Prime, his noble, proud expression. I remembered his film catalogue, screened for us every month of our lives, and I couldn't recall a scene where Prime himself smiled.


"You're young. You don't usually pick up cologne until you're eighteen," she said.


Her eyes were closed, but a tear was on her cheek. "I didn't mean what I said. I'm glad you came."


She let out a breath. Musical. "I love you," she said. "Not just a part of you."


I could hardly speak. "I... I love you," I said, feeling like a little boy one moment, as chivalrous as Prime the next.


"I know you do," she said. "Not just a part of you."


I kissed her goodbye, gently, awkwardly, and helped her into her cab. Lucky was waiting for me in the limo. He didn't chuckle when I collapsed into the seat. "She is..." I began.


"The most beautiful woman in the world," he said.


"Why?" I said. "Why doesn't Prime..."


He turned around in his seat. "Our Prime is a good man," he said. "He knows that more people love him than just Miss Anderson. He knows how much his acting would suffer if she broke his heart."


"We do love her," he said. “Not just a part of us.”


I realized I was crying. I knew, deeper than anything I ever had, that he was right.


--


Note: This story was well-received by my beta readers, and I have a very nice rejection letter for it saying that they all really liked it but it lacked a little "something." I didn't go with my gut for the ending, and said readers liked the original ending better, but it doesn't seem to be in my notes. Suggestions are appreciated.

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