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.
Someone said, ‘Alice.’ A woman was moving towards her. She was a short, middle-aged woman, dressed like a receptionist. She said, ‘Frances isn’t here yet.’ Then she apologised, ‘Sorry, I’m Terri. I’m Frances’s manager.’ Alice looked at her. ‘Sometimes we go out together,’ Terri said. ‘It isn’t weird.’
Alice and Terri stood next to each other. Terri looked across the pool and saw the famous woman.
Terri said, ‘Is that Kirsten?’
Alice said, ‘Yes.’
Terri looked like she wanted to go over. She didn’t. She told Alice that Frances had shot a fragrance campaign earlier that day. Alice didn’t know when Frances had become famous enough to head a fragrance campaign. Terri said Frances was planning on having a big night. Terri said she had twins, four-year-olds, but tonight there was a sitter so she would also have a big night. Terri repeated ‘big night’. Then Terri toasted the sitter. She struck her glass against Alice’s but Alice didn’t expect it. Alice dropped her glass.
It didn’t break. Alice picked up the now empty glass. Some people were looking at her.
Terri waved at someone for another drink, then she narrowed her eyes at Alice. ‘We should do a meeting sometime.’ Then she said, ‘Who’s your manager?’
Alice said she didn’t have one. Then Terri asked who her agent was. She told her.
‘Oh, I don’t like Brett,’ Terri said. ‘No one likes Brett. He isn’t classy.’
Alice said, ‘Brett’s okay.’
‘We were on the same flight once,’ Terri said. ‘Brett and I. This was coming back from Cannes. He was in first so I had to walk past him and he was wearing sunglasses and this cap, this A24 baseball cap. The logo embroidered. You get me. He was wearing an embroidered baseball cap and drinking champagne, and when I went past him he gave me this stupid smile. He’s an idiot. Fuck him and that cap.’
Alice stood quietly.
‘He does TM.’ Alice already knew this. Brett did transcendental meditation. He had spent a large amount of money in an office suite off Santa Monica Boulevard, was given a mantra, and often recommended Alice do the same.
Alice was still quiet.
‘I mean,’ Terri said, ‘he’s a fine agent.’
Alice made her way to one of the bathrooms. She felt unsteady. It seemed very important to get to the bathroom. Inside, Alice locked the door then climbed into the bathtub. It was the kind that had been sculpted from a single piece of stone. It was cool on her skin. Alice took out her phone and opened Frances’s Instagram.
She watched her latest story. Frances was with a group of people in cowboy hats. Alice didn’t know why they were wearing cowboy hats. Alice decided to call Frances. Frances didn’t answer so Alice called again. She answered. She said she was close. Alice heard giggling. She heard a man’s voice. Alice asked where Frances was. ‘I’m still at home. But I’m close. I’m on my way.’ Someone giggled again.
Alice got off the phone. She stayed in the bathtub for a while. Occasionally, someone beat their hand against the door. Then she looked at Instagram again. There was a new story. Frances was in a different cowboy hat. Frances held a toy gun.
Alice decided to leave the party. She called a Lyft. But there was a gate and the Lyft wouldn’t have the code for the gate, so when Alice left the party she walked down the driveway, passed through the gate, then a second gate she didn’t remember passing on the way in. She stood on the road and waited for the car. At times she thought she saw faces in the dark.
The Lyft was air-conditioned. Sitting in the cabin the air was sweet and cool. The driver asked whose house she’d been at, what was the party. Alice said she wasn’t sure then put earphones in. She didn’t put music on. The car drove.
He didn’t take the 405. The car wound through the Hills. It was very dark. The road curved. They passed gated drive after gated drive. Every now and then the trees would open and Alice could see the lights of the city below. They were driving for a long time. Alice slowly felt they were driving in the wrong direction, that they weren’t approaching her house but moving somewhere else. The driver speeding out of LA, taking her to the desert, somewhere desolate and vast. She imagined terrible and obscene things. She looked at her phone. She couldn’t track the ride’s route because, like in so many parts of the Hills, she’d lost signal. She panicked. She put a hand on the door. She wanted to test whether it was locked. She thought she would just open it. A test. She looked in the rear-view mirror and saw the driver’s eyes. They met hers. Alice gasped.
The driver pulled over. Alice was home.
In bed, Alice thought she shouldn’t take so many edibles.
Alice felt she needed to leave LA.
Her sister invited her on their trip. Her sister and nieces were going to New York. It was her nieces’ first time leaving Australia. Alice understood the invitation was a gesture. Alice and her sister rarely spoke. She said yes.
First they would fly from Melbourne to LAX, where Alice would join them, and from there they would board a domestic flight together. Alice would stay with them for the week – she had impulsively upgraded their accommodation to a two-room suite at the Plaza – then return home while they flew on to Disney World, Orlando.
Alice’s sister made an itinerary and emailed it to Alice three weeks before they stepped on a plane.
There was news. The week before the trip Brett contacted her. She had been approached for a role.
She met the directors that week, two brothers who worked together, and their casting director in a wood-panelled office in West Hollywood. Her agent had described them as exciting. They wore basketball shoes and were younger than Alice. They hadn’t sent her a whole script, only a scene. The scene was a woman confessing that something horrible had been done to her. Alice wasn’t sure if it was the kind of role she wanted or, if she took it, what exactly it would mean.
The brothers said they had written the role with someone like her in mind. ‘The money people want someone hot right now, but that isn’t what it should be. Fuck the money people.’ They listed a few other actresses. Alice understood they were actresses who had been written about in exposés. They wanted to test Alice because they were fans of her early work. ‘It felt real,’ one of the brothers told her, ‘like you were close to something.’
‘We want that for the role,’ the other said. ‘She’s complicated.’
Alice did what she always did with directors, she repeated them. She said, ‘Complicated.’
‘Exactly,’ the other said.
‘What we want to know is whether you can do something. If you can take us to that spot. We don’t want you to give us everything, but we want to feel everything.’
‘We want next level. Something more interesting than what you’ve done before.’
Alice thought the performances she had done before were interesting. Alice replied, ‘Next level.’ Then she did the test, the casting director holding a camcorder, one of the brothers recording with his phone.
She felt what she always felt acting. Even in a test. She felt the relief of being someone else.
For the next few days she didn’t hear anything. Then there was a callback, and another callback. One brother called her incredible. The other told her she had what they wanted. She asked her agent, ‘Do I need to test again?’ Brett said, definitely not. She had the part. Alice asked whether he was telling her she had the part or the directors had said she had the part. Brett replied, ‘These are details.’
Alice went to the airport. She passed security. She remembered there were edibles in her bag. She didn’t know whether or not she could have edibles in her bag. She took them out and dropped them in a clear plastic bin. She did this discreetly, then she waited.
Her nieces were excited to see her but they were also tired. Her nieces were thirteen and eight years old. When they saw her at their gate they yelled ‘Auntie Alice!’ Alice mainly saw her nieces in Skype calls. In person was different. Like a very small dog, her younger niece had too much energy in too small a container.
Boarding their flight, the attendant looked at her passport and then said Alice’s full name. Some people looked at her. Alice took her passport and walked onto the plane.
Alice’s nieces wanted Alice to sit next to them so she sat between them. Alice’s sister took a Valium and a strong antihistamine chased with another Valium. She lowered her eye mask. She slept.
Alice’s younger niece, Emily, said she wanted to watch Cars. Alice used the in-flight entertainment system. She searched. They didn’t have Cars.
Alice’s older niece, Claudia, said they had to watch something else, and Emily whined. She put her hands in the air and sort of flailed them. She made a noise. A person in front of them turned in their seat.
Alice said, ‘Both of you shut your eyes,’ then slid two Hershey’s bars out of her bag. She told them to open their eyes. She gave them the Hershey’s bars. Emily was excited by American candy. She hugged her. Claudia left hers on her tray table.
They watched a film in which computer-generated fish danced underwater. It finished so they began another. When she felt Emily get restless, Alice opened her bag and handed her another chocolate bar.
Claudia didn’t watch the film but asked about famous people Alice had been in movies with. Then she said names of celebrities and asked if Alice knew them. And Alice said, no, no, no, yes, and Claudia said, that’s so cool.
Then Claudia asked if she could take a selfie of them together and Alice said okay. Claudia looked at the photo for a long time and then said it was good.
Emily fell asleep, her breath soft like a small animal’s, a trail of chocolate slightly dribbled down her chin. The lights of the cabin dimmed. Claudia put a hand on Alice’s shoulder and looked up at her. She said, ‘I believe you.’ It took a moment for Alice to realise what it was Claudia believed. Alice didn’t know what to say so she said, cool.
When Alice got off the flight, she had four missed calls. They were from her agent.
‘Okay, they need you to test again,’ Brett said. ‘They want you, but they want you to test blonde. They need you today or tomorrow.’
Alice didn’t make it to the hotel. She took a flight back.
In LA, she wore a bad wig then a worse wig then resorted to a Vons-bought packet dye. The test was delayed one day, then another. The ends of her hair split, frayed. To calm herself, she drove to a dispensary. She stocked up: sativa, indica, hybrids. She drove back home.
Her sister called from the Plaza. Since having children, whenever she was mad, Alice’s sister spoke in a whisper. She whispered, then she whispered some more. Alice did what she always did when her family was mad at her. She sent a hamper. Because her sister was in New York, she chose Sahadi’s. She rang the store. She wanted to substitute the candied figs. The attendant said eight-year-olds would eat candied figs. Alice said okay and bought the basket.
Alice did the test. She didn’t get the part.
Sometimes Alice thought if she looked deep inside of herself, she’d find an animal, something coiled, something snarling. Alone in bed, she looked for it and found nothing there.
Alice lay on the living-room carpet and emailed her agent. In the months since the test, Brett had stopped taking her calls. The actor involved in her case had a film released. A small group of women picketed the premiere. Other than that, no one mentioned it. Alice wrote that she wanted a meeting. The sound of a helicopter, somewhere over the hills, passed, the glass of the house softly shaking. Then Alice wrote a more assertive email. She lay there. Outside, the city was like a piece of impure quartz, everything diffuse, covered in haze. Alice refreshed her emails.
Her niece, Claudia, had emailed to say that she understood why Alice had had to leave them. The email also shared an article from Teen Vogue about a certain actress. Claudia didn’t think it was right that people thought the actress was crazy but that she agreed with Teen Vogue that the situation the actress was in was crazy, the system. Teen Vogue wrote that you could change the system. Since the flight, Claudia often sent Alice emails. Other times, she emailed articles that quoted different actresses’ Twitter accounts, their tweets and the tweets other celebrities or annoying people on the internet tweeted in response. The conversation. Or Claudia would email that one of her friends had seen a movie Alice was in, and what the friend had thought. Claudia had turned fourteen.
Alice thought the articles were stupid. She didn’t read them but wrote back things like ‘wow’ or ‘I’ll have to read it later’ and then her niece would ask about when she thought it would be okay for her to come to LA and stay with her. To that, Alice didn’t reply.
Alice watched television. She rented a film people tweeted about in relation to Teen Vogue articles. The movie was about sexual harassment in broadcast news. Alice rented it off Amazon for $14.99. She began to watch it. In the film, a famous actress plays a news anchor, wears prosthetics and speaks in a slightly lower voice. The voice doesn’t really have inflections. It is just lower. The performance was nominated for an Academy Award. Watching it, Alice said a few things in a lowered voice. She read her emails to Brett aloud. Alice said, ‘I want to have a meeting.’ Alice said, ‘This is unacceptable.’ Alice said, ‘My schedule is free.’
She laughed. She was alone in her house. Alice turned off the film.
The reporter sat in Alice’s living room. Alice poured mineral water then put the glasses on coasters. Alice had to concentrate on giving even pours. This was difficult.
She had spent the early afternoon changing from one outfit to another, sometimes swallowing gummies whole. She’d only wanted to take a little, hoping to balance one with the other, one making her go down, and the other up. Then she’d taken some more, recalibrated, and then later, seated in the living room wearing Rag & Bone jeans, thinking ‘Rag & Bone jeans’, she took a little more.
The reporter was Terri’s idea. Terri, Frances’s manager, had taken Alice on as a new client, fired Brett, and had a plan for what Alice had to do. Terri had a specific vision. At no point would Alice discuss specific allegations. That was the past.
‘I’m excited we’re doing this,’ the reporter said. The reporter was a woman in black jeans, a sweater. She didn’t do Vanity Fair profiles, or Harper’s. She wrote for the New York Times. Alice didn’t think producers or casting agents read the New York Times.
Alice went to say, me too, but stopped herself at ‘me’.
There was a knock at the door. Alice opened it. Two men came inside carrying camera equipment, lights. Alice asked what was happening. ‘I was told the photographer was Wednesday.’
‘Oh, it’s not a big deal. He’ll take the photo while we talk. It’ll be simple. Laid-back.’
The photographer walked up to different walls, looked at them. The photographer asked if they could look at the patio. Alice nodded very slowly. They hadn’t waited. They were already outside, then they came back inside. They seemed to move both overly slow and too fast for Alice to follow.
The reporter picked up a book on the coffee table. The reporter asked, ‘Is this what you’re reading or what you put out for the profile?’
Alice said, ‘Sorry?’
‘Oh, okay.’ Alice wasn’t really listening. Alice was trying not to seem high.
‘I want to start on something simple,’ the reporter said. The reporter began speaking about a court case, a case that hadn’t directly involved Alice, but suggested things about a shift in culture. Alice heard the words ‘shift in culture’. She wasn’t sure what the question was.
‘Excuse me,’ Alice said. ‘I just need a minute.’ She got up and walked to the bathroom and shut the door.
She went through the things Terri had told her. ‘We’ll say you’re waiting for the right role but that it needs to be cerebral. Complex. You’re reading scripts. You’re not just playing anyone. You want something real. You’re still waiting for the new Hollywood. The one to come.’
Alice mouthed the words. Her hands felt hot so she washed them. She looked at her hands then she looked at her reflection. She noticed something had happened to her vision. It was like she had been watching a 2D movie that was now 3D.
This seemed funny.
Alice did not want to do the interview, any interview. She didn’t want to speak about certain things or represent them on-screen but this was the situation she was in. A situation where the things she wouldn’t do became mixed with the things she did. So, Alice decided to do something else.
She opened the bathroom window. She let out a laugh. She stopped herself, then she opened her mouth and laughed quietly. She put a foot up to the window, then an arm. She climbed out. And when she was standing on the patio, she didn’t stop. With her bare hands and feet, at the house’s lowest point, she pulled herself onto the roof.
She sat down there. What she could see was like the view from her living room, except for the expanse of the sky. It was sunset, the sky a blaze of orange, pink. She thought about the reporter and the photographer and his assistant in her living room. She thought about them sitting in the fading light, sitting there until the room went dark. At some point, they would leave. She thought, ‘I’ll wait them out.’ She giggled. Alice thought she couldn’t sit on the roof forever, but she could sit there for a long time. She would do transcendental meditation. She’d see it all and transcend it. She looked out. She could see past the eucalyptus trees of her yard, the cacti, and out past the palms, the entire city.
She said, ‘I fucking hate this place.’ She laughed. Then she said it again and again.
Artwork © Lorenzo Marasso, Another Splash View, 2020