Rachel Stevenson; Play Dead

Play Dead

Everyone was in mourning. Everybody grieved for our golden boy, our North London lad who had made it big in Hollywoodland, starring in a franchise of action movies that the intelligentsia liked for their “psychological depth” and the plebs for their chases and crashes. But now he was dead, killed where he was born, in London town.

            Immediately, a shrine was set up at the side of the road where his car had smashed. There were round the clock grievers, like the paid mourners in Victorian times – the chain coffee shop next to the site had received good publicity for distributing free lattes. I was a bit concerned for their lungs given they were at the side of the North Circular in Hendon.

            I took a quick photo on my phone and uploaded it to twitter. Many other people were doing the same, the site had become a tourist attraction, like Jim Morrison’s grave: people wanted to witness the Steve Evans mourning experience – I was there. I was part of history. One girl was prostrate on the pavement, crying her eyes out. The Samaritans had set up a special number.

            I spent twenty minutes there and then, bored, decided to take the tube down to Tottenham Court Road and do some shopping. I popped into a café and ordered some lunch, but stopped chewing as a man walked into the caff. He had the hood of his top pulled down low and was wearing sunglasses on an overcast day. He had the definite look of someone trying to remain anonymous and failing. I walked over to the man’s table and without asking, sat down. He lowered his menu, looked at me, then raised it again.

            ‘Are you a professional Steve Evans lookalike?’ I said. ‘Is that why you’re trying to remain incognito?’

            ‘Look, man,’ the man said, ‘I’m just trying to get some food here.’ He sounded like an English person doing an American accent. ‘I’ll take a coffee, black, and lasagne,’ he said to the waiter, who was hovering nearby.

             ‘You are him, aren’t you? Steven Evans?’

            ‘He’s dead, man, don’t you read the news?’

            ‘You know, there are already conspiracy theories about your death. That it was the studio head that did it. After your last stretch in rehab, they said that you needed to quit Hollywood.’

            ‘Look, man,’ said the man again, ‘I don’t know who you’re talking about.’

            The microwave in the back pinged and the waiter brought over a plate of lasagne. ‘Coffee’s on its way,’ he said.

            The man picked up his fork and started to eat his pasta. He chewed with an increasing look of horror and eventually spat it out into a serviette.

            ‘Not good?’ I said.

            ‘It tastes fucking appalling,’ he said, in a London accent.

            ‘Let’s see,’ I said. I used his fork to try some. It was fine.

            The waiter brought the coffee and the man tried it, spitting it out into his cup.

            ‘Everything tastes like dust,’ he said. He took off his sunglasses and looked at me. He had a mole on his cheekbone that I’d never noticed in the cinema. Perhaps they airbrushed it out. ‘I don’t know what to do. I’m not hungry or thirsty or tired or happy or anything. I’m just here.’

            ‘A crash like that must have affected you very badly.’

            ‘I remember the crash,’ he said. ‘It’s afterwards I don’t recall. I remember the lights and the fear and the krang of metal. But then, I was walking away. I don’t remember getting out of the car, but I was on the sidewalk and I was walking up the road. I went home and I passed out.’

            ‘Your body was identified by your mother,’ I said. ‘She couldn’t get it wrong, surely. Is the gossip true? Are you trying to leave Hollywood?’

            ‘I like Hollywood,’ he said, ‘I like being rich and having a big house. I came back here to see my mum. I was only in rehab because the studio made me. I threw up at a party – to them, that’s alcoholism. Puritan nation, you know?’

            He tried his coffee again, making a face.

            ‘What happened after you got home? Did you see yourself on the news?’

            ‘Not at first,’ he said. ‘I think I just slept for days. Then when I woke and checked my messages, well, there weren’t any. Nor emails. I tried to ring my agent, then my mum, but I couldn’t get my phone to work. But then I saw that I was dead on the news. I thought maybe it was a hoax by the studio to promote my new film. I saw a picture of myself that the paps took, covered in blood with a big wound through my chest. But that could have been faked. Couldn’t it?’

            Would they go so far as to kill a lookalike, I wondered.

            ‘The thing is,’ he said, ‘I do have a big gash on my chest that wasn’t there before. But how can I be alive if I’m dead, if I’m in the morgue?’

            ‘A case of mistaken identity?’ I mooted, ‘have you been to see your mum?’

            ‘It’d frighten the life out of her. She has a dodgy ticker.’

            I felt awful for him. I reached out and put my hand on his. It was stone cold and I pulled it straight back.

            ‘What’s wrong?’

            ‘You’re freezing.’

            ‘Well I’m dead, aren’t I. Corpses are cold.’

            ‘Show me your gash,’ I said, and then blushed.

            He smiled and unzipped his hooded top, then undid the buttons on his shirt. The wound looked awful, as raw as a butcher’s window.

            ‘May I?’ I pressed my fingers against the scar, which was cold and hard. The waiter, lounging at the counter, regarded us with interest.

            ‘Come on,’ I said, ‘let’s go somewhere else.’

            He left some money on the table for his meal and we went out into the rain, walking up the main road to Warren Street tube. The leaves were mulchy under our feet, reminding me of the time I stood squishily on a dead rat whilst taking a short cut through the cemetery.

            ‘Where do you live?’ I asked.

            ‘I’ve an apartment in Highgate,’ he said.

            ‘Shall we go there?’

            We had to wait five minutes for a High Barnet train, during which time he paced the platform like a polar bear.

            ‘I feel like I should be glad I’m alive,’ he said, ‘but I just feel…uneasy.’

            His flat was beautiful but sparse, no books in the bookshelf, no photos.

            ‘This isn’t my real home,’ he said, looking at me looking around. ‘My home in the hills is where I keep all my stuff. I used to stay at my mum’s, but my agent suggested property investment, what with the London market the way it is.’

            ‘How are you feeling?’ I asked.

            ‘A bit dizzy.’ He sat down on the white sofa, staring straight ahead at nothing. ‘You could ring my agent for me,’ he said, and he pressed some digits on his phone before handing it to me. ‘Go on.’

            ‘What’s his name?’ I whispered as the phone rang.

            ‘Her name’s Jennifer.’ A hoarse voice answered. ‘Yes, what is it?’

            ‘It’s Steve,’ I said, ‘I mean, I have Steve Evans here, to talk to you.’

            ‘What the hell is this?’ said the voice. ‘It’s 5 a.m. What kind of sick fuck prank calls people about their dead clients at five in the morning. Are you insane? How did you get hold of his phone you sick bastard, I’m going to – ‘

            I clicked off.  ‘She doesn’t believe it’s you.’

            ‘She’s a hard cow. We’ll try again later when she’s had her coffee.’

             ‘This is shit, isn’t it,’ he said suddenly, angrily. ‘I’m alive and dead. I’m a survivor of a fatal car crash, I’m Jimmy Dean, I’m Jimmy Dead. I don’t know. If I’m alive, I’ve cheated death, I should be happy, but what’s the point in being alive if I can’t contact anyone, I can’t be in films, I can’t have my life? I could go to the press – ta-da – scoop of the century, but what if there is a body in that morgue, what if they prove it’s me? What then? How could I get a job now, the story’d be more interesting than my role, I’d be forever the guy who came back from the dead. The first zombie filmstar. I’m a ghost, a phantom, a fucking nothing. My career’s done. I’d never be seen as a great actor. It’d be nice for my fans if I came back from the dead, wouldn’t it? But am I really here? You see me, don’t you? And the waiter, he saw me. What if I take a picture and upload it to twitter – a spectre selfie? Here, you do it.’

            I snapped him on my phone but when I tried to look at the picture, there was nothing there.         

           *

Biography

Rachel Stevenson grew up in Doncaster, South Yorkshire and now lives in London, UK. She has contributed to Smoke: A London Peculiar, Here Comes Everyone, A Cuppa And An Armchair book (Createspace Publishing, 2011), The Guardian travel section, Are You Sitting Comfortably podcast, and her work has been made into a short film for the Tate website, narrated by Christopher Eccleston. She completed an MA in Creative Writing (Middlesex University) in 2012, and was longlististed for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize 2015 and the Royal Academy/PinDrop Short Story Award in 2017.

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