The court settled for damages. The damages awarded were over two-point-nine million dollars. The sum was for current and future lost earnings, to be paid by a media conglomerate. They were not Alice’s lost earnings, they were a man’s, but for one long afternoon her name, among others, trended on Twitter and for weeks afterwards Alice’s phone vibrated with phone calls and emails and text messages. Alice changed her number. Then people found the new number. They called her family. They called people she had gone to school with, other actors, crew members on films she had starred in.
For a while Alice had thought she still might be sued. There were conference calls linking one side of the Pacific to the other. Legal counsel in Australia, the States. She took the calls on her patio, where her cell didn’t cut out. Risk was discussed. Then it looked like she wouldn’t be sued as long she didn’t make another statement. But people wanted her to make a statement. Then they tired. The news cycle moved on.
As it happened, Alice rarely left the house, a small, two-bedroom mid-century she owned in Los Feliz, all dark wood, hillside views and glass. She wasn’t working. She took in a shelter dog, a black greyhound named Brando. Brando had a scrunched-up face, like a boxer’s. He had suffered. Brando ran around the house. Brando peed on the floorboards, the tiles, Alice’s bed. His black lips parted, his tongue lolling out. To put his leash on, they wrestled. He bared his teeth. At night, Brando looked like a demon, a jackal. After four days Alice took the greyhound back. She apologised to the shelter staff and, in the hope they would not speak to reporters, donated a sum of money. The shelter staff spoke to reporters.
Alice’s friend, an actress who had become an executive producer for a successful show on a streaming service, had an assistant deliver Alice a clear quartz stone. It came in a box and inside the box was a handwritten note. Alice couldn’t tell if her friend had written the note or if the assistant had. The note told her the stone could magnify intentions, and just as you could see through the stone to what was behind and in front of it, it would allow you to look through the present and see the same.
Alice didn’t do what the note told her to do. She didn’t meditate with the stone, but she did sometimes, when anxious, eat an edible, one or a handful of gummies, and hold the quartz as she lay in bed or on top of her bed, and though she didn’t think her intentions magnified or gained a sense of clarity, she felt something. Like the glass of an air-conditioned room, the stone was cool to touch, and Alice sensed that outside Los Angeles stretched beyond her windows like an establishing shot, across and over the sycamores and palms, the stucco houses, the lanes of traffic and canyons and valleys, the 45-foot letters in sheet metal and below them the private pools that littered the hills, little dappled points of light.
The hard thing, as Alice saw it, was that something bad had happened to her and it was private and then it wasn’t. And now when people thought of her, Alice intuited, they didn’t really think of her. They thought about someone else and the things that someone did. Or that she was manipulative, opportunistic, untruthful, a whore. The people who thought these things also said them, online.
The actual event in her mind had long since taken on a kind of filmic shorthand. A meeting in a hotel room, a room of people emptying to two, the declined offer of a drink, an embroidered robe coming undone. Then Alice, alone in a carpeted hallway, stepping aside for housekeeping to pass.
This happened a long time ago, after Alice had appeared in a string of independent features, cheap mumblecore dramas, but before she had been to Cannes, before her fame had waxed and begun to wane, and before she’d starred in the studio-backed period piece which was both critically and commercially panned, but allowed Alice to purchase her house outright.
A decade passed. Alice continued acting. Then the exposé came out and her name was mentioned among others, and Alice didn’t know how her name was mentioned, or whether she should say something or not say something, each choice having the potential to be damaging but damaging in different ways. She made a public statement, then she regretted making the public statement, then she regretted regretting the statement.
Alice was in a period between jobs, a period she was intimately familiar with, when it could seem like she might never work again, and then something would come up and she’d be out on location, submerged in bright light, surrounded by technicians or the thin
walls of an RV trailer, colour-coded, Post-it-noted scripts spread out before her.
But a role didn’t come.
In the now, Alice understood that she needed to do something but what that something was seemed unclear to her, difficult to articulate. Standing on her patio, Alice called her agent, Brett. But Brett didn’t answer. It was his assistant. Then Alice realised it wasn’t his assistant, but someone else. Alice said, ‘Put me through to Brett,’ then the voice said, ‘Okay,’ and then Alice went on hold and then she was taken off hold, and she could hear something, a voice, Brett’s, but muffled. Then she was back on hold. Then the first person answered and said, ‘Brett’s in a meeting,’ and she said, ‘Who am I speaking to?’ and the voice said, ‘I’m the intern.’ She said, ‘I’ll leave a message,’ but it was too late. The line was dead.
Alice began to take small trips out of the house. Instead of calling her myotherapist out, she got into her car and drove to her myotherapist’s office suite. She lay on a white towel and listened to the gurgle of a water diffuser. She was touched and had delicate acupuncture needles placed into her shoulders and neck. She ordered and drank iced coffees sitting at roadside tables. Sometimes Alice noticed a black van idling, and her pulse would quicken, and then the van would keep going and she’d realise it was following someone else, a realisation that sometimes made her feel better and sometimes made her feel worse.
She wandered through luxury department stores. She went to Nordstrom. She ran her hand across bedding as a sales attendant described thread counts. She couldn’t tell if the attendant recognised her or not.
Alice asked, ‘Does it come in a set?’
She brought the set home, washed the sheets, then let them dry in the sun. It was late in the afternoon. She ate a gummy, not because she was anxious but for the feeling of everything becoming soft around the edges. Then Alice lay on the living-room carpet and watched the light turn technicolour, then fail.
Her mother called from Melbourne. Alice’s mother described the things she had to do or things that had happened to Alice’s sister, her nieces, the trip her sister was planning, how she’d bought her children travelling clothes, filled out passport forms, visas. And though the call often cut in and out, Alice repeated, ‘That’s nice. That’s nice.’
Alice still spoke with her mother, though they didn’t really talk, their lives had diverged so much they no longer shared a frame of reference.
When Alice had only been in LA one year, her parents had flown to visit her. They had visited her apartment, at the time a walk-up off Fountain Avenue Alice rented with three other women. All actresses.
Alice’s mother had entered all of the bedrooms and taken the curtains off their rails. She asked Alice where the washing machine was. Alice said she didn’t have a washing machine. She went to a laundromat. Alice’s mum held the curtains and frowned. Her father pointed outside the window and asked, ‘Is that a coyote?’ Alice’s apartment looked down onto the complex’s trash cans. Alice said, ‘No, that’s just someone’s dog.’
Alice’s parents didn’t want Alice to stay in her apartment while they were there, but with them in their hotel. It had a pool. Her father would sleep on the floor. Alice said no.
Alice took her parents to Hollywood Boulevard to walk the Walk of Fame. She wore large sunglasses. Her parents walked on the stars, the scuffed terrazzo, and read the names aloud. Her father said, ‘One day you’ll have one,’ and Alice said nothing but felt something keenly, something close to pain, because though it was tacky, he had said exactly what it was she wanted.
On the corner of Hollywood and Vine, a woman lay in the centre of the intersection. She was yelling. She screamed. She had her arms above her head and rolled. Cars slowed, honked. They drove around her then away. Alice’s parents wanted to help. They began walking onto the road. Alice adjusted her sunglasses. People honked at her parents. It took a moment for Alice to realise she was still only watching.
‘Are you listening?’ Alice’s mother’s voice leaked out of the phone.
Alice slept and didn’t dream.
‘We’re only doing the set cocktails.’
Alice said she didn’t drink. Alice felt she was already a little high.
‘Like I said, it’s set.’ Alice thought he was probably an actor. Pouring drinks he was like everyone else. Playing a role.
‘Just hand me a Diet Coke.’
The Diet Coke came with a slice of lemon floating in the glass. She took it out with her fingers and walked out onto the deck. She dropped the slice in a garden bed, brought the glass to her lips. She felt light, like air.
Alice wasn’t sure whose house it was. She rarely went to parties in LA anymore but had decided to come to this one, coaxed by her friend Frances. Frances was twenty-two, had acted professionally since she was six – the same number of years Alice had – and took college credits online. They had filmed a movie together, years ago, in New York State, going to the same bad karaoke bar after shoots, and still kept in touch. To Alice, the Hollywood Frances inhabited seemed more exciting than the one she did.
The party was in a large house cut into the Brentwood hillside. The house was like being in the future, sleek glass, polished concrete floors. There was a pool and people by the pool but not yet in the pool. Alice stood next to it. She knew Frances wasn’t there.
Across the pool, Alice could see an actress who was more famous than she was, someone who could be recognised by first name. People were crowding her. They looked where she looked while never quite looking away from her. They waited to see where her attention was. To talk about what she wanted to talk about. Alice had spent so much time in LA, over a decade, almost two, but this was still something she found difficult to tell, whether the actress was innately magnetic, or if it was just the fame, so much fame that you could see it like a bend in the surrounding light.
Alice looked away. Whenever Alice was at a party with a pool, she remembered an industry party she’d gone to when she first came here. She was twenty-three. The party was hosted by an Australian funding body. It was confusing. There were agents and casting directors all at a hotel, a rooftop bar in the city. There was a pool. A girl, an actress, decided to jump in the pool because she thought it would be funny or that it would show that she was fun, that she could be magnetic. But no one else got in the pool and the girl waited and then got out of the pool and the bar staff gave her a T-shirt and the T-shirt was branded with the name of the hotel. So the woman went to the bathroom and came back, and stood on the rooftop, still damp, wearing the branded T-shirt over her dress. And she stood there, Alice watching, with an expression that was still smiling but also fake, and the girl stayed like that for a while and then she left.
Alice felt like the girl standing wet by the pool, though she was dry and at a different pool and would not go in. She kept thinking people were looking at her, seeing faces in her peripheral vision, but when she turned her head, no one was looking.