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Flaming Queen

Flaming Queen

by Jim Piazza

A lover of old movies and their stars spends the day up close to a legendary actress. 3,450 words. Illustration by Thomas Warming.


All she had left were her cigarettes. All I could give her was a light.

I wasn’t some dimple‐chin Holden dying for a dip in her pool. And she wasn’t gunning for some big comeback. She already had plenty. Mostly horror. By then, it was typecasting. The face was half-frozen and lifted, more like yanked. I don’t know what she was going for but whatever it was, the doc didn’t get there. She wore these high ruffled old maid collars to hide the sailor’s knot of a neck and shoulder pads jutting out like a Chinese pagoda so you’d think she was sitting up straight. Top it off with a saucer hat sitting sideways on the wig like it was just flying by and got stuck.

I might’ve felt bad for her. But she wasn’t like that. You got the feeling if she could’ve lifted anything heavier than a lipstick she would’ve plugged you with it. Still, there was something between us, something more than just the chipped cocktail table crammed with gin‐fizzes and stacks of old Photoplays wrapped in plastic. Like I said, I wasn’t some glamour boy thumbing for a ride to nowhere. I was drawn to her, that’s all.

And just so you know, it was up and up, vice‐versa. Maybe she took to me because I was young. Youngish. And she could tell I was fascinated. They could always tell. But you had to be careful with those old Hollywood types. Those ancient little dolls held together with dim hope and enough rouge to paint the side of a barn.

Make no mistake, they could still suck the oxygen outta you if you weren’t watching your step.

They’d start with the favors.

“Could you hand me my bag, dear?”

Then it was making it so you’d cancel a date or two just to see ‘em.

“It gets so lonely in that dentist’s waiting-room.”

Set up phony appointments to give you a leg up.

“I know a Zanuck.”

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