Short story from Thomas Smith


15 Minutes

The combination of just waking up and dealing with the effects of a heavy night’s drinking made the journey from the hotel bedroom to the door seem unconquerable, but Charlie managed it – just only to be greeted by his agent, Russ, reciting the morning newspaper, with no consideration for Charlie’s hangover from hell. “Charlie Walker, the winner of the latest reality show ‘Worldwide'” Russ boomed out with pride. “Where contestants visit a new country every week, and live as locals.” Charlie was struggling to concentrate on what was being said. “Charlie survived the weekly votes, and went on to win the controversial prize of fame.”

So what does fame mean?” The girl approached Charlie in Sox, the latest in the long line of London hot spots, where Charlie was paid to make an appearance “as a prize,” the mystery woman clarified. “Basically a biography, and a film, called The Winner’s Story.” Charlie shouted above the repetitive thud of the music. “Cool. Bet you get this all the time, but, could I share a fish bowl with you?” Charlie knew why she had asked for this. He brought it on himself. In every country he visited with “Worldwide,” he would party with the locals. And the party always started the same way – with a fish bowl. On many occasions, this was greeted by a blank expression, until Charlie stepped behind the bar, and poured every spirit he could find, into a container, usually a bucket, and proudly said, “that’s a fish bowl.”

Earth to Charlie.” Charlie was brought back from the previous evening. “I’m saying that Cleo’s sold her story.” Cleo? Charlie tried to place the name. “The girl from last night?” Charlie asked, panicked by the prospect.

I can’t believe I’m having a drink with Charlie.” He offered a nod in response, but had no idea what she had said. She spoke again, and once more, the music carried it away from Charlie. She stood up and began walking away, expecting Charlie to follow, but instead he took his chance to slip out of the fire exit, and return to the hotel room he had barely seen, since he got back a week ago.

The disabled toilets. You dirty boy,” Russ laughed.

That didn’t happen!” Charlie pondered a while, before asking, “What’s this going to do for my image?”

Laminate it.”

What if this isn’t what I want to be?” Confusion creased Russ’s forehead. “On the show, I played a wild, partying fun guy because I knew people could relate to that. But it’s not who I am.”

Charlie reminded Russ why he went on the show. He wanted to be an actor. He knew the odds were against him, but Charlie didn’t care. He could see wonder in the eyes of people who called him a dreamer. The look of people who gave up on their dreams. Charlie would not wonder, he would know, one way or the other if it was destined to be a dream, or if it would become his reality. But after years of trying, he saw a crack in the back door, in the shape of a reality show, and squeezed through it.

Russ could see Charlie was upset, and tried to comfort him, in his unique style. “As long as you get the pot of gold, who cares if you caught a bus to the end of the rainbow?” This only served to provide Charlie with some confusing imagery. “Charlie, we’ve known each other for a long time.” Russ paused as if he was about to say something life-changing. “Stop being a little girl, take this chance and run with it.”

Eat your heart out, Oscar Wilde,” Charlie scoffed.

I’m serious. Do I think you’ve earned this lifestyle?” Russ gestured towards the magnificence of the hotel room. “No. But you did win a popularity contest and that can open doors.”

Do you think I was a good enough actor to make it, without the show?”

In six months, you’ll be forgotten. A nobody. A “didn’t you used be..”?” Charlie was hoping a point was imminent. “And then people will be more willing to offer you an acting job.”

I have to be famous and forgotten to get what I want?”

In a nutshell.” Russ cupped Charlie’s face. “Who knows? In two, maybe three years you could be on EastEnders.”

Really?!” It took a moment for Russ to realize that Charlie was being sarcastic. “Most actors dream of working with De Niro, Pacino. Not me. I want the fella who plays Phil Mitchell!”

You want to be an actor? Play this part. Play it for as long as they want you to play it. And don’t forget why you’re doing it.” Charlie’s face sunk with sadness, not because of the situation, but because he knew Russ was right. “You have two personal appearances tonight- both are running a contest with you as the prize.”

You didn’t answer me. Am I good enough without the show?”

Russ sighed, before answering, “Honestly? I think you’re slap-bang in the middle of mediocrity. You won’t be out of place as an actor, but you won’t stand out either.” Russ gave Charlie an apologetic slap on the arm. “But with this chance, you’ll get what you want.” Russ turned to leave, but froze by the door, as Charlie had the last word. “You’re right. I need this. But you’re also dead wrong. Once they throw me that ball, I will run with it, and I will stand out.”

Pausing momentarily from her fishbowl prize, the latest contest winner checked Google on her phone. “Steve McFadden is the actor who plays Phil Mitchell. Why?”

Just trying to remember.” Charlie surveyed the nightclub and saw many people he thought had left their dreams at home, and got lost in hedonism. And at that moment, he swore he would not go native. Charlie smiled, and reverted back to the character she wanted to see. “Let’s get wasted!”