“I’m not a fool,” announces Ms De Buck to no one, over her cigarette holder. Her arthritic fingers shake as she blows blue smoke up against the mirror. “Of course he doesn’t love me.” She gestures to the thin creature holding her pearls to clasp them around her neck. Another plume of smoke. The witch sits huddled in her dressing room, surrounded by her cauldron suitcases of unpacked furs. She won’t move until the curtain rises. Nerves, she says. Her ankles understand the phrase more literally.
“Keeps them talking though, doesn’t it?” She continues, her monologue unanswered by the shadow fastening pearls around her neck. “Been here since 1883, darling.” More smoke. The shadow strains a cough. “Still talking about me, me and my men.” Small white hands pick up the witch’s powder and brush it against her crevassed cheeks.
“He’s the most handsome, my Harry. Not like my first husband. Or the second. Beauty to the rich belongs. Who said that, dear? Victor Hugo?” She smooths her greying hair with a frail fingertip. “I was Esmeralda, once. 1901.”
The thin girl says nothing, as usual, her stern small face creased in concentration as she paints a thick layer of carmine onto the thinning mouth. It looks ludicrous. A moth pretending to be a butterfly.
“Of course, I’m most well known for my Cordelia. Virginly astute, the critics said.” A long pause. “Would be hard to fool the punters now with that.” A smothering layer of black eye pencil. With her wig on, she could pass for forty. Under bright light.
“Does he screw the chorus girls?” She asks, in a moment of insecurity. She knows the answer. The girl politely says nothing. “I don’t care. I just don’t see much of him now-” She stops abruptly. “When am I on, girl?”
The shadow speaks. “Four minutes, madam.”
“Is the theater full?”
Silence. No one comes to see the painful fragility of a fading star.
“Help me get up, dear.” Says the witch, bending over her table with shaking wrists.
The shadow assists. As the great actress leaves her dressing room for the last time, she stops, framed with a calm neon clarity.
“I used to be Cecile De Buck. Once.” She peers at the thin girl. She has very grey eyes. She can’t be more than twenty five. The stage bell rings.
“Will you remember me?”