Saturday 24 June 2023

'The Exposure of Delight' by Fiona J Mackintosh

for Martha Mansfield



Before they keep your name off the marquees because no one wants to think of death when they’re at the movies:

Before the photoplay’s rewritten to give another girl the lead:

Before bacteria swim upstream through your veins and your blood pressure sinks so low your organs fail:

Before the morphine nightmares make you claw and rip your blackened skin:    

Before the press is told that you’ll be fine:   

Before the fire sears through your dermis to the tissue and bone:   

Before someone drops a lighted match (though no one seems to know whose match it was) and your hoop skirt goes up like a Roman candle:

Before all that:

You are 24 years old and happy.

Happy sitting in the automobile to watch the final takes, looking forward to Thanksgiving turkey and sweet potato pie at the Menger Hotel.

Happy to be on location in San Antonio and playing the lead, a Southern girl in love with a Union soldier.

Happy when a wild Texas storm sends the scenery flats sailing over Brackenridge Park.  

Happy walking the dusty evening streets past Chinese laundries and burros with dappled hides.

Happy eating tamales in the Plaza, listening to the jaunty accordions as the chili peppers burn your throat, and later drinking bootleg liquor under oak trees draped in shrouds of Spanish moss.    

Happy to have been on the cover of Photoplay magazine, to have acted with Barrymore and Lugosi, to have been a Ziegfeld girl, a vaudeville star, a Broadway actress at only 14 years old. Knowing pretty girls are ten a penny in your business, you’re happy as a goddamn lark to be up there in the blinding lights, stretched wide open for the world to walk right in and help themselves to anything they see. 

 

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First published in With One Eye on the Cows, Bath Flash Fiction Volume 4, 2020.

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