The Actors Farm
Millie was watching the toast burn. Her eyes fixated on the top slits of the toaster where the steam was slowly billowing, and her fingers tapped along the countertop in anxious anticipation. The tub of margarine beside her hand, knife lazily placed in the center of her paper plate.
Baylor had just turned on the stereo – his "Electronic music of the Swedish" remix tape that always made her feel like she was in a pseudoIKEA ad, because the apartment had always been sparsely decorated.
When her two pieces of toast burst up fully cooked and wonderfully burnt she grabbed them fast, tossing them with her customary quickness onto her plate, so as not to burn her hand. She could feel Baylor's eyes on her as she scraped the butter across the bread with her knife. The sound was mechanic, and louder than she'd meant it to be.
"What are we up to today?" Baylor asked, she heard one of the chairs near the table scrape across the floor and the crinkle of the newspaper flap as he opened it to the leisure section.
"I have that thing with April that I was telling you about." She lied.
"You remember…" She reached into the fridge for the juice jug, and started to pour, she could feel his eyes on her again: "that thing downtown…"
"Oh," she was glad he stopped her. She didn't want to talk anymore.
Rather than going to the table and sitting with him, she hopped up onto the countertop and crossed her legs at the knee. Plate balancing on her thighs she tried to chew quickly. The sound of their deliberate silence was like a scream. She was almost done with her toast when Baylor got up, his bowl of cereal cupped in the palm of his hand. There was still milk in it, and he poured the rest into the sink before placing it into the dishwasher. Some of the milk splattered onto her arm, but she didn't move to wipe it away.
"I have rehearsal this afternoon," he told her, taking a step closer. Her feet were covered with oversized knee socks that had bunched down above her ankle. They were an off grey color and he stopped himself from a sudden urge to touch her foot. She was wearing a long oversized t-shirt and her knees were exposed. He reached out to her, touched the top of her kneecap, feeling her tepid skin he pulled her crossed legs apart and fit himself inside the gap, her legs limp on either side of him. "I won't be back until later, really late actually."
"Okay," she said a little too quickly. He laced his arms on the small of her back.
"Maybe we could go out afterward?" He kissed her neck slowly, his mouth was warm, "Like we used to," he breathed.
Her legs instinctively tightened around him when he touched her so suddenly, but she quickly righted herself. "I have to go get ready," untangling herself from him, she slid her body down the side of the counter. He reached for her hand and with a little smile she kissed him lightly on the cheek. "I don't want to be late," she reasoned, and quickly made her way out of the kitchen.
Afterward when he followed her into the bedroom he sat on the bed and watched her reflection in the bathroom mirror. He watched the way she pulled on her dark jeans, standing on tiptoe to button them at the waist. Watched the way she pulled on her boots, first one, and then the other. How she flounced her long hair by running her hands through it, and finally how she tied her scarf around her neck and a loose knot.
"I'll see you later," she breathed, giving him a quick goodbye kiss before leaving the room. He could hear the door click shut quickly as she left.
When he was alone he moved through the apartment differently than he would have had she still been there. He turned off the stereo, the only sound was the traffic outside with the occasionally far away voice, either from another apartment or from the street. When he took his shower he didn't mind that she had already taken all of the hot water when she took hers. He never took overly hot showers anyway. He took the shampoo bottle that they shared and rather than squeezing some into his hand he let it run down the drain; he never used the stuff, but he needed to dispose of the amount he would have used down the drain so she wouldn't notice.
When he toweled dry he stared at his reflection in the steamy mirror. He never had to shave, even though he had always had a full thick head of hair and any normal man would have had to shave twice a day at least. He ran his hands through his hair, trying to make it look like he hadn't done anything to it but there was no point. It was always the right length, though he never cut it. Always combed even though he had never owned a brush – the only time he did comb it was when Millie was watching him. Like how when they first moved in together they would brush their teeth side by side at this same sink.
His fingers moved underneath his eyes, he often didn't sleep through the night but he had no stress lines to prove it, or any other signs of age. Millie had already started to notice the first few grey hairs intermixed in her bangs or at her temples. "Fuck," she would shout from the bathroom, "this is bullshit" and she would pluck any that she could find out.
The first night they slept together she had commented on how oddly perfect his body was – not just the post-coital satisfaction talking but an honest observation that rather than going to his head he found himself embarrassed about.
He wasn't handsome. No woman had ever swooned at the first sight of him, and there were no websites or fan-cults for him, as other actors had. He just was as he had been made to be.
Terpsichore, his teacher and the only mother-figure he had ever known had always told him, as well as his brothers and sisters that he was not meant to be idealized. There would never be shrines devoted to any one of them. Their audience would never fantasize about one of them after a performance. But they would, she told him, always be so entranced by their performances that it would be like they were on stage rather than them. Their style so open and exposed that when watching them you couldn't help but be transposed on stage when them. When he played a part on stage the voices of the men in the audience would come out of his mouth. Despite the female actor he was paired with it would always be the face of the female audience that he stroked.
He was warned early that he would never be like a normal man, he would never hold the attention of a normal woman long, the spell he kind cast could never be stronger than it was on the stage, and any woman would instinctively know – not at first maybe, but eventually – she would sense that he was different than her, too different to be with for long.
Baylor saw it in Millie's eyes now, saw it in the way she pulled away from him. Even when she slept she was only satisfied at the edge of the bed, as far away from him as possible.
He knew all of his lines by heart, his movements blocked in perfect unison with stage and audience, and he was bred to take direction, but also offer it as needed. Writers adored his ability to transform even the most basic monologues into vivid sighs of human understanding.
Terpsichore had warned him, like she warned all of them – you exist only to portray someone else. You are no one. You are nothing.