Twenty-four short stories and 27 poems that reveal the human experience.
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"Public Image" is a collection of short stories and poems that focuses on ordinary people who are faced with difficult choices. The title story, "Public Image," reveals the dilemma of a woman whose husband is privately abusive and publicly adored. "Carol and Jeremy" is a dialogue between a married couple who have very different ideas about their relationship. The protagonist of "No Expectations" is a fading Hollywood actress who must decide if the cash earned from a degrading reality show is worth her self-respect.
There's much more. "Remembering Bobby Gitteon" is an unflinching portrait of a U.S. Marine who was killed in action in Iraq. More lighthearted stories include "Unlce Hiram," who is the unwitting muse to a writer who struggles to finish a story.
Kelly Richardson flipped open her cell phone and punched a speed-dial selection. The manicured nails of her left hand drummed the glass top of the wrought-iron table.
"Jack? What did the director say? Do I have the part? C'mon, you're my agent. Just tell me—I'm a big girl. What? Charlie chose Rebecca? Why? Charlie said I'm what? Too old?"
Seated on the terrace of her Agoura Hills apartment, Kelly gazed across the canyon into the setting sun over the distant Pacific Ocean. The weather was cool and she shivered in her UCLA sweatshirt and jeans. Three years ago she and her ex-husband Ray had owned a home on the beach in Malibu, only a few miles from where she now sat on her terrace. In Malibu she had never gone in the ocean because the water was much too cold and the waves were too big, but the house had been a wonderful setting for the parties she and Ray threw for their A-list colleagues in the movie industry.
As a result of their highly acrimonious divorce, which was profitable only to the two sides' legal teams, Kelly and Ray had been forced to sell the Malibu home.
"I saw Charlie at the awards this summer," she continued. “He told me that he loved me. Said he saw everything I did. What? Yes, I'm sure it was a very painful decision for him. Bastard! And that damned Rebecca. Last week I saw her at the Polo Club. She was drooling all over me and acting like I was her long-lost sister. How could she do this to me? Yes, I know that business is business. She's young and cheap. Call me when something worthwhile comes up, okay? Yes, I'm seeing this guy Raphael at nine tonight. Yes, I'll be very polite. Bye.”
Kelly closed the phone. She reached for her vodka screwdriver. The ice was melting and the drink was getting watery. She shivered and stood up. With a glance at the setting sun she turned and went inside.
“Too old,” the director had said. Was that really the reason? After all, the entertainment industry was evolving. In the old days, once an actress hit thirty she was relegated to maternal character roles. But wasn't the old system supposed to be changing? Plenty of women Kelly's age were getting leading parts and even doing love scenes. Kelly knew that in Hollywood what people told you to your face often had nothing to do with what they told their business partner or drinking buddy or spouse. Charlie had said that Kelly was too old. Charlie might have said, “Kelly didn't have sex with me, so I'm not hiring her,” or “Kelly’s agent screwed me on another deal so I'm getting back at him,” or “My leading man wants to have an affair with this other actress and he's the box-office draw so he gets what he wants.”
Deciphering the actual content of a Hollywood conversation was often akin to reading tea leaves.
Kelly sauntered into the kitchen. A pile of mail lay on the granite counter. She absent-mindedly flipped through the envelopes and catalogues. Neiman-Marcus. Victoria's Secret. Straight to the trash—don't want to see all those nubile young models. Screen Actors Guild letter. No, it was a bill for annual dues. Maybe later. More catalogues.
A pale yellow greeting card envelope caught her eye. She held it up and instantly recognized her father's uncertain script.
Might as well find out what Dad has to say this year.
She slit open the envelope with a paring knife. The front of the card showed a colorful illustration of a stage. The right red curtains were drawn back, and there were cartoon people in the front rows of the audience, cheering and clapping. On the stage was a girl dressed in a pink tutu. She was beaming at the audience. Her blue eyes were like enormous saucers and her hair was a pile of saffron yellow curls. The girl was in the center of a spotlight's illuminated circle.
Kelly flipped open the card.
The printed message said, “Happy Holidays to a Real Star!”
The handwritten signature was economical: “Love, Dad.”
Kelly tossed the card on the counter. Christmas was three weeks away. Dad was always punctual with his annual Christmas cards.
At least he isn't asking for money. When the jobs were coming and Kelly was working steadily, she could easily afford to send Dad a few thousand to keep him afloat. But times had changed.
Maybe some day I'll call him, she thought. Maybe someday I'll whack myself in the head with a hammer, too. Same difference.