Reluctant PlayersbyRainbow Skin©
"I'm going to fucking kill Hannah Marriot."
"No, I mean really this time. She just does this to fuck up the actors, I swear she does. In this case literally so."
"Think of the money."
"Think of getting typecast as the scheming bitch in Hannah Marriot plays. Look, if I do this I'll never get the Mrs Gorston part. You can't have twelve-year-olds watching the wise and saintly schoolteacher who was last seen sucking dick in the Empire at Bristol. Jesus H., Ronnie, I can't do this. I'll just have to tell Cliff I can't do it."
"Which is more important to your career? Will Cliff let you? And you don't really...?"
"Don't know, don't know, and yes I do suck dick, this is Hannah, remember. No realism spared. I think she's trying to stretch the boundaries, or maybe it just turns her on. Some nasty voyeur streak."
"But... you don't... really...? She surely doesn't expect...?"
"Oh come on, Ronnie, acting? Acting? We're actors? We pretend? His penis does not in fact enter my mouth at any point in the proceedings, but I'm paid quite a lot of money to give a very convincing visual pretence of it to the unwashed philistines who have paid forty quid a pop to get front row seats because they heard there was cock-sucking in it, and after the interval when they've refreshed themselves they come back to watch me tonguing some young actress, who by the way is probably Hannah's next victim."
"Well, you've done sex scenes before," Ronnie said, distinctly uneasily. The noises of ire and disgust and exasperation that Jemima had been making as she flicked through the playscript over the breakfast table had left him, if anything, more downhearted than he usually was at her reception of any new play. Jemima hated living playwrights with a passion, he often thought; and phenomenally successful new ones like Hannah Marriot represented a personal affront.
Jemima eyed him sarcastically, looking away from the script for once. "I have done sex scenes before, in the sense that I have been in a bed, sheet up to our necks, bra on, with a poof rolling onto me and us both going 'oh oh oh!' for ten seconds, yes."
"The Tiger House."
"Okay, full frontal in The Tiger House and Brian Metcalf squeezing his erection against a part of my groin where it didn't do anything very interesting. I admit there was The Tiger House."
"Actually I thought Brian Metcalf was a poof. He's very poofy when you meet him. Clammy hands. Was he really erect?"
"Sometimes. Couldn't see it from the audience, of course. Weren't allowed to in those days. Now we're enlightened. And he's not a poof, he's a luvvie, it's just his gimmick to camp it up. He'd have been very happy to get into me, I can tell you. I was quite enjoying it by the end of the run. I was wet and he could feel it and we were both frustrated."
"Jemima! You assured me, you swore to me there was nothing going on! You said you weren't interested in him."
"I wasn't, you fool. We didn't want to do it with each other, well he did, obviously, being a man, but even he knew he couldn't get away with actual penetration before an audience of four hundred. So funny watching him trying to hobble off the set detumescing as fast as he could."
"Now I thought that was never supposed to happen. I naively supposed professional actors could control their... their bodily functions."
"Oh, dear child."
"And don't dear child me, Jemima. The Harkness sarcasm is for when you're being interviewed."
"No dear, it's for when I loathe the person I'm speaking to. I just happen to loathe all interviewers, as a race. Now. I can't do this play. Or can I? What do you think?"
"Well, what exactly do you have to do? How explicit?"
"Okay, well Hannah knows she still can't get away with visible cock-sucking. She just says 'Marie gives Declan a blow-job. After he reaches climax he collapses back on the bed and laughs.'"
"Why does he laugh? No, wait. Don't tell me."
"Good choice. Did I mention we're naked? It's not just parting the zip of his trousers and fussing about with his underpants, it's me prancing round for five minutes giving the front row my bush and floppy tits. Anyway, I don't mind that. The philistines don't get to touch me. Declan does, lots."
"Who's the Declan?"
"Cliff's been talking about John Collier or Bill McGee. For someone to act with I'd rather it be Johnny, but I'd rather Bill's dick in my face. I think. I'm guessing," she added, appeasing his rather startled look. "I assure you I don't know Bill's dick. He's just rather nice."
"Yes, I screwed Johnny, you know I did. Before you. I told you. It was okay but he's getting on and so am I. New blood is what I want. Hah!" she suddenly laughed with a wince. "What's Bill McGee doing now?"
"Well Coriolanus finished a while ago, so I don't know. You could --"
"No, now. He's sitting at breakfast like this, with some twenty-year-old dolly bird pouring his tea, and he's very tactfully emphasizing how much older I am than she is. 'Jesus H.,' he's saying, 'that Jemima Harkness is forty-three! Her tits are floppy and she's fat from her children. Honeybunch, I can't do this play!'"
Ronnie had been saying very little all the time, because he was fearfully hungover, and trying to eat enough stodge to get his system back to working before he went out to make a nuisance of himself to publishers. He let Jemima get voluble because he thought it was good practice for an actor to make use of all their indignant expressions. He momentarily lost interest in his jealousy and went off to find another painkiller.
"You haven't asked me about the tonguing."
"You said you tongue some young thing. I assume that's easy to fake though. Who is she?"
"Do you know Carlotta Massini? She was in The Hustings, played the courier. Quite a pretty young thing, striking looks, and not a bad actor. I mean, she doesn't just get parts by, um, you know."
"Cock-sucking. Or in Hannah's case pussy-licking."
"I don't think Hannah is, you know. I've never seen her with anyone, and she doesn't really come over that way. Vampire if anything. Sucks human blood and returns to her own planet. Would you like to meet her properly?"
"Is that a threat? Okay, so this young Carlotta is lying there, legs spread. Go on."
"You're enjoying this, aren't you? You'd love to see me eating someone out. Wouldn't you?"
"Don't be silly," he lied, "I know how much you despise dykes."
"I don't despise them! Two of my best friends are dykes. I just hate the thought of it. Eck!"
"But surely you just sort of approach the general area of her naked parts and move your head to and fro a bit while she does the 'oh oh oh!' part. How awful can that be?"
"Oh come on, I'm going to be an inch away from her cunt, I don't think I could face that smell. It really, Ronnie, it really does make me ill to think about it."
"Oh yes, starkers. We all spend half the time starkers. I don't think there's anyone who doesn't... oh wait, there's an airport official in Act Three who unaccountably manages to keep his uniform on. Possibly because it's in Terminal 4 at Heathrow. Not that that would stop Hannah. Look, here's the... where is it... okay, I'm seducing this young thing. Fine, I don't mind kissing her. That'll be nice, I've got no problem kissing women. Next I cup her breast longingly. She's still got her skirt on at this stage, I'm just seducing the top half."
"Gotta do it right. Oh my fucking head. Oh my, oh I can't go out today. You have to do this play because I'm going to lose that Doubleday contract. It was a piece of shit anyway."
"Then I suck her tit. That's probably quite nice too, it's just soft and... Oh, but Ronnie, Hannah's such a sadist. This next bit. 'Marie licks Anna's genitals for about thirty seconds, first probing the depths of her vagina before sucking on her--'. Oh for christ's sake, why does she have to be so bloody explicit?"
"Oh ignore her. That's the director's job, Cliff won't want all that, it'll probably disgust him more than you, the old queer. He'll choreograph something abstract and symbolic."
"Oh Ronnie, Ronnie, dear child, this is Vampire Marriot from Planet 9, if we cut the thirty seconds to twenty-five we might as well set it in the Alps and dress as Rastafarians."
"Well it all sounds very difficult. Getting your mouth close to this nubile young Carlotta's budding pink quim, I can see how unpleasant that must be. It's quivering with... is Carlotta a lesbian, do you know?"
"No. The time I met her at Michael Dougall's party she had a handsome, a very handsome young man in tow. They seemed happy and perhaps a bit in love, I'm not sure. She's very nice. A sweet girl. I hope it is her, if I do do this hideous play, and if I do have to French-kiss a woman, at least it... Oh."
"I'm being very selfish. I just had a horrible thought."
"Oh, no, Jemima, don't be silly."
"Shut up, Ronnie, you know I'm right. She's crying over her muesli thinking that appalling old woman Jemima Harkness is going to be... she's going to be absolutely devastated, because this is her break for the big lights, co-star in a Hannah Marriot..."
* * *
"Miss Harkness, please, come in, Lovely to meet you."
"We did meet, I think. Do you remember Mike Dougall from Eurofilm?"
"Oh yes, of course I remember you, how could I forget? I was honoured. But we didn't really talk then, did we?"
"No, I was trying to wangle one of the Sisters and you... er..."
"I don't know what I was doing there," Carlotta giggled. "I was basically hiding. I know I was wondering who to talk to. I just ate the canapés and told Lee I was lonely. My boyfriend," she added, to Jemima's eyebrows of enquiry.
"I was just telling my partner he seemed a very nice boy," she smiled.
"We're getting married in March. Can I offer you, um, nothing? I'm afraid I..."
"No, it's fine. Congratulations. I hope you're very happy. Nothing?"
"Um, well... I've got tea-bags, but only soya milk. And no sugar. Or herbal. Rose hip, camomile, um...? Cinnamon zinger? I'm sorry, I haven't been..."
Jemima looked over the girl's spare frame and everyday clothes, then around at the furnishings of the bedsitter. Half the ornaments were little-girl objects that had not had a chance to leave their growing owner behind. "How old are you?"
Carlotta's lips framed a twenty-number then hesitated. "Nineteen," she admitted.
"And you're... forgive me for asking some personal questions, but if we're to work together on this madwoman's latest enterprise we need to get to know one another. You seem... how shall I put this... not very well off?"
"You need money, and this play is going to be exposure as you've never had before."
"Literally," Carlotta laughed. The child's giggle was very appealing. She had used none of this on the TV show Jemima had seen her in, where she was a very austere and cool young lady of considerable elegance, nor in the play where she had been a foul-mouthed and anarchic delinquent with severe depression: the contrast between both roles, and the intensity with which she had played them, had already impressed Jemima, and now she was starting to find another creature altogether.
"And... pardon me for being blunt... you are obviously not a lesbian, but are you perhaps bisexual? You knew there was this scene in it when you went for it. Did you --?"
"Um, no, no. Of course, I've had, but no, no. I've never been, intimate with anyone the way this... requires..."
"This is the problem," Jemima sighed heavily. "Neither of us wants to do a lesbian scene. I certainly do not want to, and the situation is even worse for you. So if --"
"Why is it worse for me?"
"Because... because I am much older?"
"But that's silly! You're what, thirty-five? Maybe older? You're at your prime. I would have thought, taking the characters, I'd be, I mean, Anna'd be the lucky one because she was getting your experience."
"That's so kind of you. I don't know you very well yet. I can't tell whether you're lying."
"I'm not. I mean, Lee said --", then Carlotta broke off, and blushed furiously.
As she watched, Jemima decided then and there to pull out of the play, if she could thereby make things easier for this attractive and modest young woman; but she was afraid that no other Marie would be any better in this situation. She was uncertain how to proceed. "I'm sorry, I've distressed you?"
"No. No it's just that..."
"Lee said he thought I should be over the moon to get you."
"Well he is a very sweet young man. I thought he was. When did you discuss it? Has he read it?"
"Yes, he helps me like that. Reads with me, coaches me. He's not an actor, he's just... still a student, French and German, going to be a teacher. But we go over everything together."
"Of course. Um, so he didn't, shall we say, forbid you?"
"Oh no, he knows how much it means to me. And, of course... you know."
"Well he didn't say but obviously it's a turn-on. He'll be in the front row watching me make love to a gorgeous woman. He's not going to say 'I forbid you', is he? Not like it's another man."
"You don't know Hannah Marriot, I suppose? Personally? You know she's going to create a stink if we try to do it symbolically. She wrote an explicit sex scene so she expects her actors to do it."
"That's horrible for you, Miss Harkness."
"It's Jemima. And why. Why worse for me?"
"Because you've got to... to lick me. Or pretend to. I couldn't do that. Whereas all I've got to do is lie there. Even if you did it for real, I might, to be honest, to be completely honest I might enjoy it. Do you know what I'm saying?"
"Yes. I'm relieved you can take it that way. And I assure you I have not the slightest intention of letting my tongue actually touch your private parts. If that's any consolation."
"Oh god, that is... Jemima. Thank you!"
"Sweet creature. Do you mind kissing?"
"Now?" Carlotta said, startled.
"No! I meant in the play. And rehearsing. Why would I want to kiss you now?"
"Oh. Because... I'm sorry. I wish I could offer you something."
"I'm going to be completely blunt now. Have you ever done anything that could be construed as a sex scene?"
"Ever kissed anyone for a part?"
"And you're aiming to do very explicit lesbian scenes for your first attempt? Carlotta, is this wise?"
"Probably not, but it's just such a break. I can buy clothes, I can...," she trailed off, beginning to cry. In any other circumstance Jemima would have moved closer and held her arms around her, perhaps kissed her on the hair. She cursed that by the very nature of their relationship she could not do this.
Then she thought about it some more. "I've just realized I'm afraid of letting you think I have designs on your body, despite my protesting too much. I should like to hug you. Would that be all right?"
They hugged, and Jemima kissed her lightly on the cheek. "We'll fight Hannah. Get her to change it. If we both refuse to do it when we're into rehearsals, we can hold our ground. I'll make all the noise and you just stand firm too. That okay?"
* * *
They hugged, and Jemima kissed her tentatively on the lips. Carlotta, hesitant at first, twisted as she responded and broke off quickly.
They hugged, and Jemima kissed her lightly on the lips. Carlotta lightly returned it, twisting as she responded and breaking off uncertainly.
They hugged, and Jemima kissed her softly on the lips. Carlotta, with a sigh, twisted to receive it and drank in the warmth.
They hugged, and Jemima and Carlotta kissed, their soft lips joining and becoming wet in the warmth of their searching. Jemima undid Carlotta's light blouse, as the young woman gazed in uncertain discovery at her own chest, over which the other planted several soft, barely touching kisses, holding that breast and bra cupped in her hand.
Carlotta lay on the bed fully clothed, but for her blouse, and three people watched her as she writhed in rising orgasm with Jemima between her legs, smelling the unfamiliar but heady womanly scent flow up from the separating cloth.
Carlotta clung onto Jemima as they were leaving, whispering in her ear, with half a laugh, "I've been so scared of this, but I was thinking at least I'm getting used to it. But we've hardly begun the real stuff."
"Mm, I know," Jemima said, picking up her distress or tension despite the laughing way she had addressed her. "Poor dear, it's a bit cruel to get us half used to it, then we've got to start all over again for dress rehearsals. Un-dress."
"I know the part. This is the only bit that's worrying me."
"I was watching Hannah at one point. I bet she's going to love watching you squirm tomorrow."
"Squirm? You mean... voyeur?"
"No, I meant cruel actually. I still don't know whether she's actually a dyke but I do know her smirk of triumph, hide it as she will. She's hoping we'll be unprepared."
"But how can you prepare for this? Well I have been. With Lee. But that's not quite the same thing," Carlotta laughed. It was refreshing to see her animated again. She had still not taken her casual caress of security away from Jemima's arm, and Jemima was thinking very fondly of her, enjoying the idea that the girl, whom she had grown to like a great deal, was looking up to her for comfort. They were alone in a corridor at the back of the theatre now, both ready to leave but neither with plans for the afternoon.
"Would you..." Jemima began.
Carlotta looked at her, liquid eyes, head dipped to one side, and pulled her wayward hair back with a hand. "What?"
Jemima could only smile at the innocent prettiness of her protégée. She was feeling very pleased to be working with someone she hoped would be doing great things, at the beginning of her career, and though she had not yet articulated the thought, she wanted to stay friends with her and her quietly witty Lee once the show had ended. "Do you trust me?" she made herself say at last, a poor question that had no good answer.
But, "Oh of course I do!" Carlotta yelped, almost annoyed. "Oh Jemima! I love doing this with you, it's been such an education. And I'm not really worried about the... the sexual content, except that I'll be unprepared and look stupid. Whatever you want to... to..." she faltered, then leaned close and kissed Jemima. Their lips merged in the very pleasant and non-sexual way they had developed through rehearsal, and as this lasted, no-one to watch them and rate them and give them cues, just a tip of tongue edged through those lips before Carlotta withdrew and softly smiled.
"Carlotta, you're a pet. Well, I think we need to practise. Alone."
"Yes," Carlotta answered after a short inward reflection. "Yes, that's obvious really. We need to get comfortable wth ourselves."
"Now? Are you doing anything?"
"Must ring Lee, we might be going out, but not for hours. Where?"
"Your place is closer and more resembles the spartan atmosphere of the theatre. You mind? We'll pick up some milk on the way, if you don't mind."
* * *
Jemima dropped a grocery bag onto the bench and fished for the milk carton to put it into the fridge. She also added the other perishable items, Ben and Jerry's and a group of nice cheeses, Brillat Savarin and Pippo Crème and Gorgonzola, having wheedled out an idea of Carlotta's taste in the guise of idle tattle through the aisles. She would rather like to have included some more basic nutrients, but nuts and vegetables would make it look too embarrassingly like a food parcel. She shifted the bag towards the back of the kitchen bench hoping Carlotta would think no more of it while she was here.
Indeed, Carlotta was nervous. It was nearing dusk and she had on slight clothing, a light top ill-suited to the autumn that was gathering pace outside them and to the clammy apprehension within her. She knew she came across as naïve and rather suspected Jemima had not realized how much thinking she had done, and how far she had gone into what might be. What they had had, and what they would have live in the play, was physical contact, perhaps even physical intimacy, and neither wanted to transmute that into erotic intimacy. But the contact was erotic, undeniably, and it was unavoidable that both would be feeling some sexual curiosity about the other. She had no idea, for herself, about how much she actually wanted to explore that.