Number 59 | Teen Ink

Number 59

April 30, 2014
By ACkYeFirst SILVER, New London, Connecticut
ACkYeFirst SILVER, New London, Connecticut
8 articles 0 photos 7 comments

Favorite Quote:
"If you listen to the beat and hear what's in your soul, you'll never let anyone steal your rock 'n' roll." - Memphis: A New Musical

I clicked the pen against my leg. The song in the coffee shop played quietly in the background, some vaguely recognizable tune with a pleasant melody. A mocha sat in front of me, teasing me as I waited for it to cool off. I had my reporter’s notebook in front of me, the one where I gather all my facts and observations. Biographies of the people I’ve talked to, cookie cutter interviews. “Did you ever think you’d really be this famous?” “What made you first want to act?” “How did you get such a beautiful voice? It must have been SUCH a challenge.” Same questions, same answers. Working this job is like watching a movie that rewinds constantly, showing you the same scene over and over again. If you’re lucky, you can pick up the subtle differences each time it plays, but even those run out eventually. Guess I was never that lucky to begin with, either. I’ve seen this film a million times – or, let me be exact. About 58 times. Today’s number 59 – the 59th time I’ve watched this movie. I clicked the pen a little more fiercely, then set it down and waited for the MGM lion to roar. Then I can countdown until the credits roll.

I heard the bell on the door jingle. I didn’t look up – there’ll be enough chaos when my interviewee walks in. I stared at the pages of the notebook, trying to think up some Van Gogh-worthy doodle to fill it. It never materializes, for I realized that someone is standing next to me.
“Good morning” she said, matter-of-factly. “You look like a reporter.”

Internally, I shrug. Heard that one before – a few times, actually. I stand up as well. “Yes, ma’am. I’m Jack Lane, from the local news. Thank you for agreeing to meet with me, Ms. Monroe.”

She shrugged and took my hand. “I can’t say no, darling. You of all people should know that.”

I cocked an eyebrow and considered the meaning behind those words. They were the sort of words you expected a woman like here to speak seductively, as if the two of you shared some hidden secret. With fluttering eyelashes and a dazzling smile for the camera. Yet she said it so plainly, so nonchalantly. I glanced down at the blank pages of my notebook – had I picked up the right assignment?

She caught my look at the book. “Well, let’s not waste your time. How ‘bout I order something and we get started?” She turned off toward the counter, and I sat down, watching her. Something wasn’t quite what I had expected from her. Then again, I had never actually seen Marilyn Monroe offscreen – and not with so much time since she had acted in a film. When had the last one been? A few years ago? No wonder she had agreed to speak with me. She had probably exhausted the supply of mainstream papers and was moving into these small-time publications. Cynicism, where’s your cynicism, Jack? Hang on to it, Jack - it’s the only thing that puts these interviews of the rich and famous in perspective. I opened up my pen and waited patiently.

A moment later she sat down, blew on her plain black coffee in a white mug, and raised her eyebrows at me expectantly. “So, what do you have for me, Jack?”

Again, that sort of nonchalance. Where is the Marilyn from the movies, breathy voice, subtle winks, whatever sort of tempting images floated through the American dreamer’s head? I suddenly felt like these questions I had in front of me were – obsolete. But they were all I had, I suppose. I cleared my throat and forced the first one out. “Ms. Monroe, can you tell me just why you wanted to be an actress?”

She cocks her head and gives me one of those really? looks. “I could waste five minutes of your time, or you can just go pull it verbatim out of some other article. I always make sure to give the same answer for all of you reporters. Makes your job easier, doesn’t it?”
I frowned and gazed at her for a moment. “Yes, but it’s much less entertaining that way. And I get paid less.”
She sighed. “Well.” She straightens her head, puts on a show of reciting lines in a monotone drawl. “It was always my dream to be onstage. I just love being in front of lights. When I was little…”

“Stop!” Before I knew what I was doing, I had interrupted the most famous woman in American film history. “We don’t have to do this, if you don’t want. I’d rather interview someone who’s a little less irritable.”

Marilyn let her head c*** again. Now there’s that sort of temptress look, the raised eyebrow, the coy smile. “Would you? I’m too boring for you?”

I stared right back at her. “You are when you pull that put-upon schoolgirl act.”

She dropped the temptress look and glared at me. “How’s this?”

I leaned back in my seat, looking now at some furious middle-aged woman. “I don’t care. Just… pick one!” I didn’t even understand those words I had just spoken. Pick one what?

She grinned, a sad grin. “There you go, darling. Now you’re catching on.”

I decided I’d take her word for it. “Um, thank you. Let’s move on.”

“Ask me something I haven’t been asked before.”

“What’s that?”

She leaned in closer to me. “Something I’ve never been asked. Something I don’t have an answer to.”

I set the pen down and crossed my hands on the table. “Fine.” I thought for a minute. Images of photographers swirling around this woman flashed through my head. Pictures of her in record stores, movie posters, little girls playing dress-up, arguing over who gets to be Marilyn next, young men discussing her flowing blonde hair or shapely body. I came up with the only question I could possibly imagine never hitting her ears. “Who are you?”

Marilyn pulled her head back, slightly shocked. Then she smiled, ceding victory to me. “You take orders seriously, then.”

I shrugged and picked up my pen, motioning to her. “You demand, I respond. That’s how it worked for you in the movies, right? The sweet little girl always wins?”

She snorted and took a sip of her coffee. “Something like that.” She set the cup down, and suddenly her face turned pensive. “Who am I.”
The change was so staunch, I lost the fact-seeking reporter front. “I mean, it’s not that hard, is it? Just tell me who you are. Your personality, hobbies, you know?”

She nodded. “I know. I know.” Marilyn snorted and gave me a hard look. “I’m whoever the script tells me to be. I’m whichever poor girl is traipsing about onscreen at that moment. I’m the princess, I’m the dancer, I’m the sweetheart, I’m the foreign girl. I’m whoever the director wants me to be.” Here she stopped, and forced her eyes into a harsher glare. “I’m whoever fills the words in the dialogue, charms the audience, convinces every man to love her, makes every girl jealous. I’m whoever is needed to play the part. I become whoever I need to become to accomplish my goals, and my goal is to get the next role, hoping maybe someday I can pick one and stick with it.” She took another drink of her coffee. “Got that, Jack?”

Pick one. Recollections of my earlier frustration snuck back into my head. Pick one. I realized what I meant when those words had launched off my tongue. I met Marilyn’s gaze. “Yeah, I got it. I’m leaving the page blank. You don’t have an answer.”

She shrugged. “Sure, I do. I’m America’s sweetheart. I’m what every woman wants to be. I’m every man’s dream. I’m Marilyn Monroe.” She picked up the spoon out of her coffee mug, and glanced at her reflection. Then she dropped it onto the table with disgust. “I’m Goddamn Marilyn Monroe. Whatever that happens to mean to the masses.”

“Sounds very self-assured.”

She laughed. “Let’s go back to your earlier question, shall we? Why did I become an actress. Actually, no, let’s rephrase that. Why did I stay an actress?” Here her face fell, slightly, and her mouth hung open as she attempted to shape the next words. “I stayed an actress because I’m good at being someone else. Because it’s easier to fill a strange pair of shoes than to find your own buried in a closet of skeletons, mistakes and failures. Because I can fake it, make the crowds smile, feel for a brief moment like I’m where I belong, all that jazz. Then I go home, down a drink, and do it again the next day. I stayed an actress so that I could fulfill everyone else’s roles, because Lord knows I don’t have time to figure out what mine is.”

I silently stared down at the notebook, still blank, still waiting for Number 59 to regurgitate the stories of earlier stars. She’s not going to. I flipped to the back of the book and starting writing. Whoever, shoes, failures, roles… keywords and abbreviations pile up on the page.
“Are you happy?” I asked her when I finished writing.

Marilyn downed the last of her coffee. “I’m remarkably good at being different people. I’m remarkably good at being Marilyn Monroe. I guess that’ll have to do for me.”

“You didn’t answer the question.”

“It’s a silly one. Of course I’m happy.” She put the spoon back in the cup and folded her napkin neatly. “That’s what it says to be on page seven of the stage directions. And, on top of being remarkably good at being someone else… I’m remarkably good at following directions. Just like you.”

She stood up and gathered her things. Marilyn nodded towards my notebook. “You planning on publishing that?”

I glanced at the notebook, then up at her. “I don’t know. It’s not the usual.”

She snorted. “Don’t publish it. I can’t stand the idea of another role. Thanks for your time, darling.” Marilyn Monroe put her coat on, and walked out the door of the small-town coffee shop.

The next morning, I walked into the publisher’s office. My boss came up to my desk and gave me a smile. “So, Jack, how was Ms. Monroe? Delightful, I’m sure! When’s the article going to be ready?”

I twirled the pen in my hand, felt the notebook pressing against my leg as my reporter’s bag leaned against my leg. Then I spoke. “I actually won’t have it, sir… I… she wasn’t there.”

“Seriously? Marilyn Monroe stood you up? Lady never misses a chance to be in the spotlight!”

I imagined Marilyn with her black coffee, shaking her head and laughing sadly at his statement. Knowing her roles all too well, able to pull one up at a moment’s notice but never able to keep it there. “I know, sir. Too many different people in that store… I must have just missed her.”

The author's comments:
Author’s note: This story is not based on factual evidence of the subject’s life; she died in 1962, right in the midst of her film career. Instead, it details a potential reflection of hers had she lived past her untimely death, into middle age.

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