On his first day at "theater camp", as he called it, Guy Grier spotted Margaret Culver, nee Clover. He himself had not been born Guy Grier, but rather Gary Gross. He had legally changed it the year before, keeping his initials to honor his father, he told people. In Margaret Guy felt he had an ally in the making, a possible conquest if he worked toward it, and certainly a friend at the end of the summerlong apprenticeship. He hated the word apprentice. It sounded so antiquarian, so other time and old world to him. It smacked of waiter and go-fer, and smelled just a bit of bus-boy. It wasn’t his goal when he auditioned for the company in The Berkshires. He had fully anticipated a role, maybe two, on the main stage, not a backstage job for each show and a few roles in the second, non-union company. Still, seeing Margaret across the audition room on the second floor of the Actors Equity building during the interviews and readings gave him some solace. If she was willing to take on this ignominious position why shouldn’t he, he thought.
And so it came about. They each found themselves hired, each took the same bus from the city up to the country, each spent that four and a half hours with Bonanza Bus Lines reading the scripts, finding their roles, speaking to no one, not even one another.
In the car from the Red Lion Inn to the Lavan Center, where they’d be living, they introduced themselves. And then it began.
"Are you okay with this?" Guy asked Margaret, "this intern, apprentice thing?"
"It’s fine," she said gamely, not wanting to talk about it.
"I heard you sing at the audition. Some lungs."
"She blushed. "Thanks." She took a breath, smiled, said some more. "You should hear my Caro Nome."
"What’s a ... carrynemo," he asked hesitating and stumbling over the words.
"Ca - ro No - may," she answered him. "It’s an aria, by Verdi from the opera. Rigoletto." She smiled, already knowing she had gone too far with him. "It’s Italian."
"I don’t speak it," he said plainly.
Looking up Margaret saw that the car was turning into an old resort hotel, dilapidated but charming. "We’re here," she said. And that had been the last time they talked about anything. The first play had gone by without further socialization. Guy wasn’t involved in it and was working backstage for the opening play on the main stage, handing props for the visiting stars, for Dusty Harrellson, for Mamie Dorset. Margaret was playing Anthora in a musical adaptation of the "Cholesterol Papers," the novel that had riveted America to its easy chairs for a year. There really hadn’t been that golden opportunity to take up where they had left off in the car.
But now they were both rehearsing this new play. He had been one of the voices chiming in on the chorus of "Margaret Loses." And now he had followed her outside, had spoken to her, had questioned her with her own words. Now he had her on a spot and she had to say something, mean something, or lose the opportunity forever.
"Margaret never knows, does she?" She had heard herself saying it out loud; knew she’d finally gone too far.
"And why doesn’t she?" he asked from somewhere in the darkness that surrounded her.
Her deep breath over and done with, she turned to look at Guy. "She just doesn’t," she said simply. She tried to smile but couldn’t manage it, so she spoke again, adding a bit of explanation to her response. "She never has and probably never will."
"Why not?" He moves a bit closer to her and she could see his eyes reflecting the moonlight. "Margaret seems bright. Margaret sings in Italian."
So, he had remembered that, she thought. Nice.
She’s smiling inside, he noticed, watching her eyes glint, showing him buried deep inside them.
"Margaret sings in four languages, thank you," she said with a perkier sort of sparkle in her voice. "Care to hear a sample?"
"No, thank you," he said, each word spiking and and deliberate. "Give me something in American English, please. Something I can sink my teeth into and understand the first time around."
"That’s shallow, isn’t it?" she demanded
"I’ll show you shallow, bitch," he said, grabbin her around the waist and pulling her toward him. He buried his tongue between her lips as their mouths connected in a first kiss that shocked, but never electrified Margaret. She pushed him away.
"Guy, that’s disgusting!"
"You sure of that?" She could hear the smirk in his question.
"Margaret will never know, will she?" he answered her. "You better get with the program, girl. You are bright. Get in step."
As he spoke he moved backward, away from her. It had been enough, he thought, enough for a first kiss, a first embrace. Margaret needed wooing and he was just the Guy to handle all that.
After he left her, still standing alone on the porch of the old resort hotel, she turned her face to the road beyond the barrier of trees. She watched cars whipping past, heading north to the center of the county and south toward the Connecticut border. She tried to see, in her mind, the people in those cars, to imagine herself in one of them slipping through the night on this old post road in the middle of nowhere, going somewhere else where life wasn’t merely a challenge but also offered rewards. Here there was only this terrible play, this over-the-top bit of serious fluff that only she had seen through at the reading. Here there was only despair. But if there was one thing she had learned at the hip of Thelma Clover, it was not to give in to these feelings. Not if you’re going to be an actress, Thelma always told her. Not if you’re going to be a successful actress. No despair Margaret. She could hear the words resounding in her ears, her brain, her lungs. No despair.
So she slapped her face a few times with the back of her right hand, an ungraceful gesture but effective. "Margaret never knows, does she," she said again and this time there was no one to say otherwise or even dispute the statement. She was, indeed, alone.