Whatever Happened to Ann Darrow?
She lives in my spare room, forever caught in the leathery palm of her monstrous abductor. She hangs there, over the sewing table, a frightened beauty trapped for all eternity. Her elegant frailty, satin fabric dripping from pale limbs as she feigns terror. Dangling above the Empire State Building, her fate in the hands of a giant gorilla. Her pencil thin eyebrows, her feet tiny, her waist even tinier, clearly disproportionate. Illustrated in vivid colors, the bright red dress with lips and heels to match.
I bought her at a yard sale in the basement of an apartment building near the river. She was rolled up and stuffed in a trunk like some worthless 90’s club kid; the man in the overalls and a grease-stained thermal undershirt didn’t realize her value. I handed him the five dollars, not bothering to negotiate for this priceless treasure. I carried her home under my arm, on top of the world, like King Kong himself.
I laid her flat on the floor and placed heavy objects on the four corners of the poster in an effort to smooth out the roll. My tea kettle, a stack of soup cans, a scented candle in a glass jar and the fake tree in a plastic pot from the living room. Kong took up most of the scene, his eyes red with rage, his name blazoned in large block letters. In much smaller print, her real name in italics, Fay Wray. The timeless scream queen, the horror movie legend, famously buried at the age of ninety-six in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.
The first time I hear her voice, I think I’ve finally lost my mind. After three days of display, pressed flush against my blue painted wall, three days of watching me sit in my faded armchair with a book that I barely register, she speaks.
“Pardon me, honey,” she says in that 1930’s movie star accent, “I can’t help but notice you spend a lot of time in here staring off into space.” Her face drops the mask of fear, and she rolls onto her side to rest her head in her hand. “What’s your name, anyway?” When I don’t answer she smiles. “What’s the matter, cat got your tongue?”
I tell her my name is Jane and ask her a series of questions, starting with “Ann, is this really happening?” She assures me that she is in fact, a sentient being. “And you can call me Fay,” she says, “Ann Darrow is just a character.”
I continue my interview. “How did this happen? Are other dead celebrities in the same situation? When did you first realize your soul was trapped inside this vintage rendering of your most iconic role?” She doesn’t have any concrete answers.
I wonder if I inadvertently performed some kind of ritual when I tried to flatten out the poster. I think about earth, fire, water, and air, the cans of food, the candle, the teapot, and the plant. I think I remember whispering something. Something about wishing to learn all her secrets. I wonder, for a moment, if I’m a witch.
Fay’s not sure if my unwitting spell has any bearing on the situation. She explains that at the moment of her death her spirit railed against the void and flew, a phantasm rushing through her upper east side apartment. She swept down a winding staircase, at the bottom of which, rows of large promo posters from her films decorated the front hall. In a moment of confusion she willed herself straight into the very one that I stumbled across and has been stuck inside ever since. “I know I can get out,” she says, “but I have a sneaking suspicion that I won’t be able to get back in.”
She tells me that the past eighteen years have been filled with uncertainty. Her family sold off most of her estate, and the poster wound up in an old Los Angeles theater for about a decade. She watched the millennium unfold, unravelling the clues of social change through the cues of the revolving audiences and the films they came to see. I start to tell her about things like the me too movement. About body positivity, inclusivity and gender fluidity, but she waves a wan wrist. “I know all about it, and it’s about time too. On all scores.” She stands up, balancing carefully in her heels in the curve of Kong’s fleshy hand to show off her waist. “I used to starve myself constantly and they still painted my figure even smaller. I’ll tell you something, in those days, a girl could never do enough to get paid, if you know what I mean.”
Fay sits down now, cross legged, and leans forward to listen. I tell her about my job as a janitor on the midnight shift at the paint factory around the corner. I tell her about the guys in the maintenance shop, the way they stare at me when I come in to collect the garbage, even though I’m in coveralls and a hairnet. The way the industrial overhead lights glint on the hundreds of half-naked pin-up girls that plaster the walls. “They’ve got everyone from Pamela Anderson to Britney Spears in there”, I say, and she rolls her eyes. “Some things never change. It’s hard for a girl to feel like anything other than a piece of meat.”
We talk about love, about my ex-husband who ran off with another woman. How when he first left, I wanted to die. She tells me no man is worth dying for. That husbands are like stop signs, there’s always another one just down the road. “Look at me,” she says, “I had three of ‘em.” I argue that I’m no starlet with directors and princes and tycoons vying for my attention.
“Aw, who needs ‘em anyway,” she kids, then an expression of wonder comes over her face, as if a spotlight is shining overhead. “Say, what if me and you, we hit the road together.” Fay thinks that if she steps out into the real world, she can live life all over again. She’s not sure how she knows this, she just does. “I’ll be twenty-six, just like I was in 1933. I’ll start fresh there, and then I’ll change and age just like you.”
“But you’re immortal right now, you can live forever in all your youthful, beautiful glory.”
“I’m stuck is what I am, and the way I see it, so are you.”
I imagine what it must be like for her, sitting stagnant for years waiting around to see where she’ll end up next. Each new home shabbier than the last. She’s right, and I tell her so.
It’s approaching eleven so I call my boss and tell him I’m not coming to work tonight. Faye arranges herself on the edge of King Kong’s fingertip, extends her delicate leg forward with a perfect turnout, and gracefully leaps out of the poster like a doe. She jumps and twirls and dances, and I do too. We hug each other and devise a plan. I find a buyer on the internet for the mint condition original print currently in my possession, and Fay raids my closet. She is not impressed with what she finds but manages to cobble together an outfit by tying up one of my blouses at the belly button, wrapping one of my scarves around her head, and sliding into the tightest pants I own, which are exercise leggings. She looks glamorous and delighted with herself, and I brim with excitement.
Within the hour I find a man on the internet willing to pay a thousand dollars for the poster, once I explain to him that it originally hung in Fay’s own apartment and bears her signature. She scrawls her name with a sharpie before we carefully roll up the poster and place it back in the cardboard tube it came in. Hopefully, our buyer won’t notice that anything is amiss. We pack up a couple of suitcases with clothes and snacks, and by midnight we are piling into my rusted Toyota Corolla, giggling like schoolgirls. We drop off the package at a random post office the next morning, no return address, and follow the signs for New York.
Fay says we can find work in the city, as waitresses or actresses or secretaries. That we’ve got enough cash to get us through until our first paychecks, and then we can rent a room somewhere. She knows we won’t be able to live on Fifth Avenue, like she used to, but she doesn’t care. “There’s a whole world out there, kid, full of possibilities. Who knows what can happen!”
We are sitting at a café near Central Park when my cellphone rings. It’s the buyer, and he’s angry. “Where the hell is Ann Darrow?” I place my hand over the phone and mouth his question to Fay. “Tell him she flew the coop!” she yells, “Tell him she split!” I hang up on him, and we burst into laughter and raise our lattes, clinking our foam cups together. The sun shines down on us like it’s the final scene of a movie; I can almost see the ending credits rolling and it’s a glorious day filled with the promise of opportunity. We are Thelma and Louise; we are Laverne and Shirley. We are Two Broke Girls. We are not-so-plain Jane and Fay fucking Wray.
Sara Dobbie is a Canadian writer from Southern Ontario. Her work has appeared in New World Writing, Bending Genres, Ellipsis Zine, Trampset, and elsewhere. Her stories have been nominated for Best of the Net, Best Small Fictions and the Pushcart Prize. Her debut fiction collection is forthcoming from ELJ Editions in 2022. Follow her on Twitter at @sbdobbie and on Instagram at @sbdobwrites.
Charlene Elsby Interview
by Matt Lee
... The psychotic internal monologue is just a compendium of private thoughts on display ...
The Quaint Hornbill House Story
by Mandira Pattnaik
... A friend of mine once shot a dove. / Its spouse, instead of fleeing, / perched itself near the dead one ...