Down on Her Luck

By: Carmen DeSousa

Alaina’s Story

“You never know what worse luck your bad luck has saved you from.” — Cormac McCarthy

Chapter 1 – Lady Luck Flees Town

To the extreme distress of my roommate — Joe was my boyfriend, really, but at thirty-nine, the word boyfriend sounded hokey — I’d spent all night practicing lines from the Broadway play for which I planned to audition this morning.

Joe walked sleepy-eyed into the second bedroom of our tiny apartment, which we now used as an office since I’d started sleeping in his room, and held up his phone, presenting me with the time. “It’s four a.m., Alaina. Could you try to keep it to a low roar? I have an important meeting at nine a.m., and I’m almost certain all my neighbors are nine-to-fivers.”

“Sorry,” I croaked out. I smiled at the one word that came out as a gravelly purr. I’d screamed my lines, stretching my vocal cords so tightly that Eddie Van Halen could strum a chord on them. Now my voice was low and raspy, exactly the sound I was going for. If I rested my voice, it should have that perfect Kathleen-Turner edge I wanted by the time I auditioned. With my luck, though, I’d get to the audition and have laryngitis.

Still, it had to be done. This was it. My last audition, I’d promised myself. I was a tad older than most casting directors were looking for, but I still looked young enough. If the CD didn’t skip right to my age on my résumé, he probably wouldn’t notice, especially since the auditions were taking place in a theater.

For the last twenty years, every time I auditioned for a lead role, I was too short or too skinny. Too young or too old. Too tough or too feminine. Not this time. Everything about me fit this part. This was the role I’d waited twenty years to land. And unlike the last twenty years, I refused to accept a minor role. No way did I want to spend hours every evening waiting to deliver a few select lines. Supporting roles paid the bills, but they didn’t feed my soul. This time, it was all or nothing.

After two more hours of whispering my lines, concentrating on expansive movements and dramatic facial expressions, I decided it was time for face-and-hair detail. Tweezers held at the ready, I scrutinized my reflection, inspecting my blond hair for any stray grays. I didn’t have many, thankfully, but the few grays I had refused to rest silently among my other hairs. The wiry little sprites seemed to have a mind of their own, always popping straight up. I knew if I continued to pluck out the steely invaders, I’d end up looking like a middle-aged porcupine with thousands of hoary spikes, but I hadn’t had the time or the extra money to get a root touch-up job, and the last thing I needed was to show up at an audition looking like I was over thirty. Made no difference that the audition was for a play with a title that indicated my age was perfect — if not too young — I still had to look younger than my thirty-nine years.

“Alaina …” Joe rapped on the bathroom door. “How much longer?”

“Just a sec …” I tossed all my toiletries back into my shower caddy, snatched my cosmetic bag off the toilet seat, and opened the door. Normally, having one bathroom wasn’t an issue, since typically we worked different shifts. Most days, Joe was showered and shaved before I even rolled out of bed to make coffee.

Joe dashed by me. “Thanks.”

The door clicked shut, and I ran to the attached mirror above our shared dresser. After I set up all my primers, concealers, and makeup in the order that I needed to apply them, I glanced up at my reflection. The black lacquer-framed mirror was large enough, but the lighting was better in the bathroom.

As a teenager, my best friend, Markus, and I had spent half of our awake hours either watching TV shows or reading books based in New York and had fallen in love with the idea of beautiful lofts with soaring windows and rooftop balconies. We’d planned to split the rent on an apartment like we’d seen on Friends, which wouldn’t be an issue, since we’d been nothing but good friends. The two of us had had grand plans: he’d write the plays, and I’d star in them. But he’d stayed in Pittsburgh to take over his parents’ real estate company, and I left for New York as soon as I graduated high school. I had never dreamed I’d end up in a shoebox-size two-bedroom apartment with three windows that if you lined them up in a row would be smaller than Joe’s Smart TV.

Both my mother and drama teacher had assured me I’d star on Broadway someday, that I had that extra oomph that producers and directors were looking for. Sadly, my only full-time acting job was my day job, where I pretended to be overjoyed to serve food and drink to rich New Yorkers.

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