Chapter 1 of Ian Canon's First Novel, "It's A Long Way Down"
Purchase Ian Canon’s first novel, “It’s A Long Way Down.”
Out on the balcony of his large master bedroom in Los Angeles, under the silver hue of the moon and the stars, David Emmeret Smith flipped through the mental file folder that contained the last 56 years of his life. By anyone’s measure, his life had been a success, was currently a success, and on its present trajectory, would offer more success in the coming weeks. But, instead of drinking in the joy of his achievements, here he sat, staring up at the universe, wondering what it meant to anyone, to everyone, to exist, to be, and to succeed in a world like his.
David was an artist and his art was acting—and that is not to say that all actors are artists, but simply that this one was. The New Yorker once wrote of him “...he was the preeminent actor of a generation. His talent was only exceeded by the admiration of his peers and his ability to connect with an audience.” In the last ten years alone, he had won three Golden Globes, each of which coincided with an Academy Award nomination, but as of yet, his coveted 13½ inch golden man had escaped him. Now his fourth—and, he thought, possibly final—nomination was upon him and the word around town was that the prize was his to lose.
One would not have had, upon meeting him, the immediate impression of a great artist. His face was soft and round and worn, but, in the age-soaked lines, there yet remained a comfort—a nostalgia for another time, like the worn out trinket-lined walls of a grandparent. His unkempt hair was a pale blonde, thinning, but appropriately for a man entering into the latter half of his 50s. He had the triumphantly squishy body of an elderly hedonist and an indulgent artist; he wore thin black circular frames and kept his yellow beard short. Often, as was currently the case, a cigarette dangled from his thin lips—a bad habit he paid little attention to, to the dismay of his wife, Alice.
It had been ten years since his first nomination, which meant it had been ten long years spent considering what came next: a revered peer thumbs an envelope, turns over the seal, and calls out a name, his name. He makes his way through the crowd as they rise from their seats and break into deafening applause. What should be a monumental, life-changing event, a world-altering experience that kept him up with excitement, instead filled him with dread. This was his Mount Everest. But what happens when a climber breaches the top and returns home safely? What is he—who is he—after that? Is he still a mountain climber? Or is he a man who once climbed a mountain? When you achieve your life’s work, what do you become? These were the thoughts that occupied David’s mind every night and every day since the passing of his mother three months ago. Her death brought with it a nihilistic wind sweeping through his life, leaving behind a crater of meaninglessness perpetually expanding and contracting as the day of the awards approached.
The moon now hung low in the sky and a grapefruit globe of light tickled at the edges of the earth. David’s wife stumbled out onto the balcony rubbing her eyes.
“Have you been out here all night? It’s almost morning.”
Alice, her oval face illuminated by the mature moon, leaned against the sliding glass door, scrunching her nose at him. Though she maintained a charming likeness to the girl he had met 25 years ago, both her face and body had rounded with age. Her once rich, deep blonde hair had gone grey, and her face was lined with the contours and folds of time. David, however, perhaps moved by love’s ignorance, couldn’t detect the signs of sand moving through the eternal hourglass. To him, the bushy brown eyebrows that furrowed in his direction were the same that he had met at an off-broadway production of Death of a Salesman. David was Willy Loman, and Alice, a stage-hand, had recently taken her first job out of college. She was this tiny, rapid-firing mouse in a black turtleneck, which she tucked into high waisted faded blue jeans, poking in and out of where she was needed on short, scurrying legs. He could see it from a distance, the ebullient energy she carried within her small-frame. As he watched her, before he knew her name, he called her “little mouse.” Quickly, they were inseparable, then living together, then married. Now she was behind him, disappointed in his apparent insomnia.
“Can’t sleep,” he said, flicking ashes over the side of the balcony, watching them fall a few feet and simmer in the dewy grass.
“My mind’s a mess. Mother, the nomination, the win, my future. Too many things for one man.”
“But it’s past five, David.” She joined him at the ledge, looking out over the horizon. “You have to be up in three hours. You’ll be a zombie tomorrow.”
He wiped a stiff hand across his forehead. “A few more minutes. I just need to clear my head.”
“It’s just…” she sighed and walked back inside.
“I love you,” he mumbled to the trees. They responded with a waning rustle.
He closed his eyes and let the cool morning air tickle his face. His mind wandered towards his mother, Janet, half-awake on a hospital bed, more bones than body, a phantom of the woman who raised him. Her pale hands extended
towards him, beckoning him closer. He took her bony hands in his—they were cold, almost inhuman. She mumbled something unintelligible before closing her eyes, never to open them again. The flatline of the heart monitor still rang in his ears.
A far-off alarm pulled David from the cotton embrace of a dream. He groaned, rolled over, and flopped a loose hand around the side table like a fish out of water. The ringing stopped. His arm went limp beside the bed. He basked in the few seconds of silence allotted to him before opening his eyes: 10:00AM blinked in and out of existence. His eyes sucked into their sockets and he shot out of bed.
In a single motion, he was dressed and running down the stairs. At the kitchen table, Alice sat calmly, eating her breakfast, reading the paper, as if unaware of his tardiness.
“What the fuck?” He buttoned the last two buttons of his shirt and slipped the tongue into his pants. “Why didn’t you wake me up?”
She folded the newspaper away from her face. “When’s the last time you’ve gotten more than an hour or two of sleep? I did you a favour.”
“But now I’m more than two hours late!”
“Darling, you’re Caesar. They can wait for their Caesar.”
“God damnit. You know that’s not how this works.”
Alice shrugged and returned to the paper. He shook his head, grabbed a muffin from the table, and was out the door.
Thirty minutes later, he arrived on set: an elaborate green screen setup surrounding a structure that looked specifically ancient and vaguely Roman. A re-creation of the infamous Theatre of Pompey, the historic site of the assassination of Julius Caesar. The film was to be a mainstream, heavy-on-CGI epic, detailing (in historically-inaccurate fashion) the popcorn version of Caesar’s life, titled “The Rise and Fall of Gaius Julius Caesar.” It was a relative departure from David’s arthouse roles, but what the hell, he thought, the money would be nice, and it might be a bit of fun to goad the critics into wondering what he was thinking following up his Oscar nominated role in “Goodbye Blue Sky.”
The first to recognize his presence on set was the director, James Thomas Reid. By all accounts, he was a man of exceptional averageness with, other than being able to turn a profit from a turd, no distinguishable talents. The only memorable feature he had, in person or character, was his closely cropped beard, which was a hodgepodge mix of red, orange, and brown. He was running towards David, one arm up in the air, steaming from head-to-toe.
“For God’s sake! Do you have any idea how late you are?”
“I know, I know. I’m sorry, James,” he said, looking through the man. “I haven’t been sleeping well and Alice took it upon herself to reset my alarm.”
James’ expression, all at once, evened out. “Ah, I suppose wives know best, don’t they, David?”
“So she tells me.”
“Well, get moving. Wardrobe is waiting for you. Today’s the day. A once in a lifetime moment to act out the biggest betrayal the Romans ever committed.”
“I’m going to be crucified?”
“Alright, so it’s the second biggest betrayal. Still, an exciting day!”
“Can’t wait,” David said, his eyes rolling in their sockets.
He moved past James and into the set. A small crowd of idling actors, stage hands, and extras had gathered around the replica of the Theatre of Pompey, and a familiar voice distinguished itself from the crowd.
“Sleep in again, David?” it said with a forced, English accent.
Standing in the middle of the pseudo-theatre was a sharp featured, wiry man with a frame noticeably smaller than the toga that was draped over it. A rubber short sword hung from his hip and an ear-to-ear grin was painted between structured, gaunt cheeks. His deep black hair was disheveled and curly, sitting atop a strong Roman nose. This was Scott Peterson, playing Marcus Junius Brutus, the man who would bring down the great dictator.
“Need my beauty sleep,” David said, without stopping.
“That you do, Caesar.” He unsheathed his sword and pointed it at David. “But hurry up. You have a date with destiny.”
In the last few months on set, David had taken to Scott, seeking him out when he was bored, enjoying his brash humour and straight-forward manner. Even dimly lit bulbs light the way in total darkness.
David, rounding the length of the set, exited at the back, into an opening between his set’s warehouse and the one next door. Parked outside was a massive, double-sided trailer that served as the on-set wardrobe and makeup area. He knocked, then entered the twin on the left. A young woman, the costume supervisor, had her legs up, scrolling through her phone. Startled, she scrambled to her feet.
“Oh, hi. You’re here. Let me get your toga.”
At the back of the trailer hanging from a rolling rack was a family of costumes, all Roman. She pulled one out, which had a large red tag on it: “Caesar, death scene.”
“Be careful with that,” she said, handing it to him. “You wouldn’t want to prematurely burst your blood packs, would you?”
“I suppose not.” He took the outfit out of her hands and was surprised by the unnatural weight of the packs hidden within. He donned his Caesar’s hair and robe in a change room at the back of the trailer.
He passed Katherine on the way out. “Don’t you look to die for,” she said, looking up from her phone.
David suspended the word “dying” in the air, before continuing towards the set.
“Alright everyone, it’s been a long day. Let’s bring this home.” James sat back down in his director’s chair.
“Scene 41, take 18. Action!”
Caesar strode through the corridor of the Theatre of Pompey and immediately the chatter died down, heads turned, bodies rose, and the attention was on him.
“Caesar!” Tillius Cimber called out, raising his hand to get the attention of the dictator. “My brother! What will become of him? Have you yet reached a decision?”
“The matter is still being contemplated, Tillius. Have patience.”
“Patience!” Tillius ran towards Caesar and struck him in the chest with a fist. “You’ve made promises, Imperator!”
The rest of the senate closed in on the commotion, inching their way towards their dear leader.
The Dictator’s pupils bulged and his face tightened. “You dare strike out at your Caesar?” he shouted through clenched teeth.
Their gaze met and the whole room, as if holding their breath in synchronicity, went dead. “You are no Caesar of mine,” he whispered.
“Now!’ Servilius Casca shouted.
The clang of swords unsheathing wracked off the walls. The surrounding throng of robed men lashed out at their Caesar. Unsheathing his own sword, he stood his ground bravely. He parried a single blow, then another, before he was struck from behind and staggered to one knee. Another slash came at his face, and another at his shoulder, and another at the spine of his back. He collapsed as the men, like a pack of crazed dogs, crowded over his body. He disappeared among the slashing betrayers.
The men dropped their swords and slowly cleared away, as if they knew not what they had done. Caesar was left alone, covered in his own blood, breathing heavily, and mortally wounded. The cowards watched as he crawled desperately towards the foot of the Statue of Pompey, reaching out for it in his delirium, as if his old friend and enemy could see him now.
Brutus approached the dying dictator, touching him gently on the shoulder, then turning him around, wanting to see, for the last time, his face. As he held the dying man in his arms and unsheathed his dagger, tears welled in both men’s eyes.
Realizing the extent of his betrayal, he whispered, “Et tu, Brute?” as Brutus plunged the end into his gut. A single tear rolled down Brutus’ face.
A high-pitched “CUT!” broke through the thick emotion in the air. “I think we got it everyone! That’s a wrap for the day!”
Scott Peterson, formerly known as Marcus Junius Brutus, even more formerly known as Scott Kaufman from upstate New York, held his hand out for David.
“God yes. I didn’t get much sleep.” David followed Scott to the craft table.
“Too excited to sleep?” Scott asked, as he poured two coffees.
“Stop playing coy. You know exactly what I’m talking about. Hell, a stranger could yell the same question at you from across the street and you’d know exactly what they’re referring to.”
David, his attention waning, blew on his coffee.
“Well, are you?”
“The Academy Awards?”
“Jesus, David. Yes, the Oscars.”
“Haven’t thought much about it.” He popped the top off his coffee and continued to blow.
“Then why haven’t you been getting much sleep?”
“Frankly, that’s a personal question.”
Minutes of silence passed between the two. They sipped their coffees and watched the busy bees dismantle the set.
“Alright, maybe I’m a little nervous,” David said. “Maybe I’m really nervous. Hell, I don’t know.”
“But you’re a practical shoo-in at this point. Everyone knows it.”
“I guess I’m not everyone. I don’t think I have a shot in hell.”
“Seriously? Everything I read is stating it as an inevitable fact of life. David Emmeret Smith: Oscar winner and acting legend. God only knows why you decided to join us plebs down in the popcorn flicks.”
David took exception to the phrase ‘top of your game’ as what goes up, will inevitably come down. “Okay. I get the message.”
“I’m serious. I would be practicing my Oscar speech every night. Twice a night. Three times a night. It would be the only thing I would be thinking of.”
“You’re going to own this town for a night, David.”
“If I was you, I would be over the moon.”
“I’d be screaming it from the rafters. A man on a mission.”
“Is that all?
“A lifelong dream. Success coming out of my goddamn ears!”
“Jesus,” he said, slamming his coffee down on the table. “Can you shut up for a second?”
The scene around the two slowed as heads turned to watch the impending car crash.
“Sorry, David,” he said, and the commotion resumed.
“It’s alright. I get it.” David used napkins to wipe up the small ring of coffee around his cup.
“Maybe I got a bit too excited.”
“Maybe I’m just being an asshole.”
Scott met David’s eyes. “You’re definitely being an asshole, David.”
The room was still, then a smile broke on David’s face, followed by laughter. “Thanks.”
“You know what I think you could use?”
“A drink. On me.”
David looked at his watch. “Why not? Where to?”
To read the rest of the story, purchase Ian Canon’s first novel, “It’s A Long Way Down.”