The wig made his scalp itch like an addiction, and the lipstick tasted of something extracted from a marine life form, but Heath looked up at the gold statuette with its mother-goddess curves and blank face and bit back a shudder of vulgar joy. He would get away with this, he thought, as he followed the media people down into the auditorium.
He had practiced with heels, but they had delivered their punishment by instalments. Walking the length of the laboratory had been one thing, but hours spent waiting to get in whilst the nominees and celebrities stood for photos and interviews with the press. He wouldn’t risk talking to one of them, although it would be quite something to ask Melissa McCarthy about playing Winifred Churchill in Her Darkest Hour or Mercedes Carrera as Connie The Barbarian.
Heath loved the cinema of this world the way God loves: from afar.
Security ushered them to their seats. Heath sat down in a way which appeared feminine but he felt awkward, already sweating under his arms and at the small of his back. There are whoops and cries from the audience, a hubbub of chatter which swells like an orchestra before the lights fall down and the presenter comes out. Something pinched the back of his ankle and he cursed the shoes he had chosen, but he wanted to fit in with the beautiful people.
It was controversial this year because a man was hosting, which made Heath chortle when he read about it, but as Michael Gyllenhaal walked towards the microphone, Heath felt a foreboding bubble in the pit of his stomach.
They were the only men in the building. He wished there weren’t restrictions on sharing his work. They enforced the department guidelines on contact and interaction with a rigour which verged on the pathological. A Latin woman, in a black suit walked down the aisle, shot Heath a look which raised gooseflesh before she moved down the aisle. Michael made a few jokes about men, and the audience cackled with a fierce glee. He was playing to the crowd, Heath thought, and good on him. Men had it tough in this parallel universe, but the politics didn’t interest him because he was here for the culture, which was always upriver of politics, anyway. His throat was dry and he rubbed his tongue against the roof of his mouth to generate saliva.
The first guest hosts were the stars of Bitch, Where’s My Car?, stunning despite the goofy smiles and snapback hats, heavy bracelets and midriffs carved from wood, scarred with tattoos which made Heath stir in his seat. He had taped everything back and had to take a deep breath to control his reaction. When they announced the winner as a supporting actress in Thora Gump, Heath tutted and shook his head. An elderly woman shot him a look, and when Heath uncrossed his legs, she scowled with a cautious suspicion before she returned her attention to the show. His mouth was like the skin of a baked potato and he had a headache building at his temples.
Thora Gump was awful. Heath suspected Zemeckis knew enough story structure to adapt the best parts of the book, and Hanks was subtle enough to avoid parody, which he’d been saying long before Tropic Thunder came out, but here Jodie Foster had suffered under Nora Ephron’s affectations to create a saccharine clown show which felt like a cheap satire of the original.
Heath loved the cinema of this world. For every Thora Gump, there was a Saving Private Rachel. Joan Allen was amazing as the determined school teacher and Greta Gerwig as Rachel provided an intense, but brief introduction in the last act. Their failures and successes held the same allure for Heath, but here he was indulging his appetite for novelty and risking his life to do it.
His money was on The Running Woman, Karyn Kusama had done an amazing job on the direction and Saoirse Ronan had proven a ballistic and credible lead. He rated Frances McDormand’s role as Killian the equal of Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight, but he couldn’t share it with them. He shook with pain as his mouth cracked and bled with thirst.
The speeches. The tearful calls for action to the faithful. He needed the bathroom but his legs had gone numb and his calves were hot coals grafted to his bones as he struggled to his feet. The old woman scowled at him and he avoided her piercing gaze as he staggered from his seat. The Latin woman looked at him with frank interest as she walked towards him.
His leg shook and he remembered the pinch on his ankle. A subtle display of tradecraft as good as anyone in the department. Culture was upriver of politics, but as he pitched forward onto his knees and watched the Latin security guard walk towards him, he marvelled how his story had turned out.
Small but capable hands lifted him to his feet.
He knew where he was going. A room outside any jurisdiction. He hadn’t come to watch The Olivias as his work, but his passion. As he focused on the blank, beautiful faces, his knees bumped against the step as they loaded him into the van and shut the door. He wanted to tell him how much he loved this world, its achievements and tragedies, how terrible and beautiful a world of women was, but they lowered the hood over his face and someone thrust a fist into his trachea before throwing him to the floor of the van as it sped away from the auditorium.