the stuntman has a headache

He taught his boys to sit through the credits, right until the end, past all the gaffers and grips and the rest of the chaff, and the minute they see his name, they let out a yell. He lets a smile pass across his face….”

 

by michael hulme

 

A bad one. A self-inflicted screamer, a stream of sunfire when he shuts his eyes. He’s slumped on a cafeteria chair, playing five-card stud with some German cameraman. He’s waiting. Despite it all, he’s twenty bucks up. Once the job’s through, he’ll burn it on a flood of beer. This sitting around’s getting him crazy; spare time sets him thinking, and thinking sets him sour. If the faggot actors could stop screwing up, just for one take, he could get hit by the car, get out of here.

He’s going to bounce off the hood, roll, lie prone. It’s Stuntman 101, but it has to look good; if it does, it’ll be the only thing about this flake production that does. They’ve got a wig to paste onto his head, a messy black jumble, so he looks something like the actor. He gets to wear a suit, a good suit, better than the one he wore to court. Sharp, fresh, absorbing precisely zero of the car’s impact. It’s going to hurt.

Plus the headache’s really bugging him. They’d can the shoot for any of the faggot actors, but not the stuntman. Take some pills, all the pills, drink some water, some whisky, but when we call you, by god, you’d best be on your game. Three years back, twin-saddled with cataclysmic hangover and Cuban hooker, he failed to show for a shoot in Reno. Had to spend the next twelve months jumping trucks in some hick town roadshow before they let him back, and that was only because some other guy busted some ribs. And now he’s got alimony payments. Keeping his kids in shoes.

His kids. He gives the tech a dry grin, scoops up the winnings. Figures he might as well check in across three time zones. He pumps coins into the hallway phone, hoping the bitch doesn’t pick up. Two rings, then Bobby’s nervous hello. Kid even answers the phone like a faggot. Having to explain no, daddy’s not in the telephone, daddy’s not going to crawl into your head. “Guess who,” he says, his eyes clamped shut.

There’s a pause. “Daddy?”

The stuntman smiles. “You got it, boy. Daddy. How’s my fighter?” Sure, Bobby a fighter. Give him a cardboard cutout to box, he’d scrape it on points. His fault. He’d raised them soft. The stuntman’s old man never held back. Sure, he hated him for it, but look where he was now. At Bobby’s age he was leaping his first ditch on his bike. Learning how to fall, how to take a punch. How to say “yes, Sir” through a tight throat and mouthful of blood. But she said – bitch always knew best – that “wasn’t appropriate parenting.” Even told her lawyer.

Bobby’s talking about going to the cinema with Max, some cartoon or another. Max. A dog’s name, not a man’s name. She always wanted a dog, something she could leash up and get to beg. Now Max was living in his house. He oughta make Max sleep in the kennel in the yard, make her walk him round the neighborhood twice a day so everybody’s wise to it.

“Daddy?”

“Yeah.”

“What are you doing?”

“Working on a movie.” He pulls the receiver closer to his mouth. “Your daddy’s about to get hit by a car.”

Bobby pauses. What the hell’s a kid who bawled his eyes out after skinning a knee going to say to that? “Will it hurt, Daddy?”

He laughs. “Not if I do it right.” He hears Bobby explaining to someone else how Daddy’s going to get hit by a car. He can’t hear the reply but he can guess it.

“Mister Johnson?” A little helper’s lurking at his shoulder. She’s cute. He’s seen her zipping around with drinks, scripts, notes, not shy to flash a piece. The pretty ones think that’s how you get on, and he’s not going to correct her. She smiles, points to the set and walks back. Nice ass on her.

“Time to go, kid,” he says. “You tell Sam I’ll see you both soon.” Schedule permitting. Loose talk at the agency of some Dreamworks helicopter ladder stunt down in Nevada. Blockbusters had the highest proportion of assholes in the business, but they paid out like Vegas. And his kids get to tell all the others. They’d be proud alright.

He taught his boys to sit through the credits, right until the end, past all the gaffers and grips and the rest of the chaff, and the minute they see his name, they let out a yell. He lets a smile pass across his face. This clown Max takes his kids bowling, to the park. Sure, well done Max, nice try. He throws himself off thirty foot ladders, slams cars through the sides of trucks, bounces off the hoods of saloons. And if all that fails, hell, he’ll wheel out the motorbike and leap another gorge for charity. All over the papers, maybe the TV. Poor Max. How will he ever compete with that?

He smirks, briefly, just enough for the headache to hit him again.

Originally published:
Issue Forty-One
February 2006

 

(illustration: john richen)


Michael Hulme lives and works in Norwich, UK, and is the editor of Norwich-based creative writing magazine nr1. He has a first class honors diploma in creative writing from the University of East Anglia.

 

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