[a short story by Joel Nickel]
People scurried around her in the shadows of the television set. Rupert Jones was sitting at his desk in front of the backdrop, taking a sip from his On Winnipeg with Rupert Jones coffee cup. He was speaking quietly to the panel of three women sitting opposite him. Their mics weren’t on and Phoenix couldn’t make out what they were saying.
She was on right after the next segment.
A woman came by and made some last minute touch ups to her make-up job.
“I should put a little bit more here to hide the bags under your eyes.”
The make-up woman finished up and then retreated back into the chaoic set.
Rupert Jones turned to face the camera, “I wish we had more time, but we’ve got to go to a commercial break. I’d like to thank Sandra Jensen, Kate Smith, and Janet Morris for joining me tonight. You can pick up Janet’s book Being Quiverfull and Kate Smith’s God’s Mighty Warriors, which are available online and in bookstores now. And catch Sandra Jensen, Wednesday nights at 7pm on TLC for the new reality show, Quiverfull. Next my guest, soap star Phoenix Eversong, talks to me about her return to the Winnipeg filmed, daytime soap, Alls Faire, and what brought her back to reprise the role of her award winning character, after this.”
“And we’re clear,” The man by the main camera yelled, “Back in 5.”
The make-up woman came around again, “Okay, we’re gonna set you up in that chair over there just as soon as the Quiverfull ladies get un-mic’d and then we’ll plop you up there,” She swatted Phoenix’s face with a soft brush.
She saw the three ladies stand up and walk off the set to the green room.
The stage manager motioned for Phoenix to come up on stage and sit down to be wired up for a mic.
“How are you doing tonight?” Rupert asked her and she turned to see the man she’d watched so many nights on television, sitting right in front of her.
“A little jetlagged,” she said. “And I have to fly back to Winnipeg as soon as I get outta here.”
Rupert didn’t laugh.
“We’re live in 5 . . . 4 . . .”
The music bed rolled and the cameras moved in closer.
“Welcome back, I’m here with actress and soap star Phoenix Eversong, best known for her role as Elizabeth Alls on the Winnipeg filmed, daytime drama Alls Faire.”
Inside, Phoenix was rolling her eyes. Best known for . . .
“I understand you had been killed off on the show earlier last year, why did you decide to leave Alls Faire and what was it that brought you back?” Rupert looked over at her with shrugged shoulders, his arms on the table.
Lie or tell the truth? No one wanted me as Phoenix Eversong. All my offered roles were just Elizabeth Alls clones.
“I . . .”
“Actually, before we get into those questions,” she thought of something brilliant. “I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on your previous guests.”
She heard a muffled voice behind the cameras sternly call her name. It was the studio publicist, Maxime. She’d briefed her only moments before on exactly what to say. She would not happy about this diversion.
She ignored the voice.
“I have to say that listening off stage . . . it was kind of frightening.”
“Frightening, really?” Rupert gave his signature eyebrow raise again.
“Phoenix!” This time the voice was a little louder and she was sure that people watching at home would’ve heard it.
This is perfect. She thought. A scandal, maybe they’ll fire me and I can sue ’em.
“I was thinking that, as it is the Christian right has an inordinately large amount of power in politics today. And if this Quiverfull thing actually takes off we would see an even higher percentage of the population perpetuating archaic ideals which throughout the centuries have proved to be antagonistic towards free thought, to women, and to anyone else who doesn’t fit their esoteric mold.”
“You’re saying Christianity is a bad thing.”
“Not at all, Rupert. I’m saying that following biblical Christianity too literally is a bad thing,” Phoenix shifted in her chair and brought her elbows down on the table to look more relaxed. “Listen, the basic views of Jesus are ones that I wholly agree we should all adhere to or at least aspire to. But somehow in translation it gets wonky. ‘Treat others as you would have them treat you’. ‘Love your enemies’. But where are those teachings when it comes to passing legislation banning homosexuals the opportunity to live in loving, committed, legal relationships?” Phoenix asked.
Rupert just nodded, knowingly.
“I also believe that a religious mindset only escalates this ideological conflict between us and them. Listen, I’m the first to admit that I don’t really know a whole lot about the wars; but from the way it’s being presented to me in the media and through conversations with people I meet, it seems to me as though it’s being promoted as a war between Christianity and Islam rather than a war between America and Afghanistan or America and Iraq.”
“Phoenix.” The voice was louder.
“So if it were up to you, would let religion continue?” Rupert asked.
“Of course, Rupert,” she smirked. “I’m not saying that we should abolish religion. Religion has a huge place in history and in art and in personal development. But I think that when we start drafting legislation based on religious views, it can be very harmful to the general population. Think about the witch trials!”
“You’re equating the Quiverfull movement with witch burnings?”
“Well, of course not directly. But I don’t think you can argue against the fact that it was Christians that went seeking out freethinking, outspoken women and executing them as witches. When any group of people is allowed to exercise extreme prejudice on another group of people, unchallenged, it’s never good. That’s all I’m saying.”
“That’s a little alarmist don’t you think. You’re making it sound like having a majority of Christians in power will somehow bring about an apocalypse.”
“Well, of course Christians wouldn’t think that because they’d be the ones in power; but what about people of other religions, and for that matter what about homosexuals? What about women?”
“I really don’t think that Christians are against women,” Rupert said.
“The woman in your last segment said it herself that it’s a Patriarchal system. And maybe right now there’s the illusion of equality, but if you’re saying that it’s a Patriarchal system there’s the idea that the male is somehow superior to the woman and they must be subservient towards the male gender. When more and more people subscribe to that ideology, that illusion will wear away and we’ll be left reverting back to the 50s.”
“I think that might be a little over exaggerated, but I’ve got to go for a break. Ms. Eversong, it was interesting to say the least, to have you on the show. Not at all what I thought we’d talk about,” he smiled. “You can catch Ms. Phoenix Eversong on the daytime drama Alls’ Faire, everyday at 2pm.”
* * *
“What the fuck were you thinking?” Maxime, the publicist, exploded into Phoenix’s changing room.
“What?” The woman’s voice grew shrill. “What?”
“Calm down,” Phoenix tried to hide a smile, “It’s not that bad.”
“Not that bad?” She shouted. “Not that bad? Do you even know who your fucking target audience is?”
Phoenix rolled her eyes.
“Christian, stay-at-home wives,” Maxime shook her head, disbelievingly, “Fuck, I’m going to be fired.”
“You’re not going to be fired,” Phoenix said, reapplying her lipstick in front of the mirror.
“Yes I am. You were supposed to talk about your return to the show. About how happy you were to rejoin the cast and . . . Jesus, we’re fucked.”
“Calm down. We’re not fucked. Do you realize how much media attention this is going to win us?”
“What? Are you crazy? No one cares about some stupid fucking soap actress except for the stupid fucking Christian, stay-at-home wives who watch her everyday at 2pm.”
“Hey,” Phoenix shot him an angry glare.
“Am I fucking lying?” she scoffed and began pacing, angrily, back and forth, “This is bad! This is really bad. I have to call the network.”
The woman took out her phone and began dialing. She realized that there was no reception in the room and abruptly left.
I hope I am fired from that shitty soap. Maxime was right. No one cares about me as an actress except for stay-at-home wives. But hopefully now I might find a larger appreciation for Phoenix Eversong the person and not, Phoenix Eversong the actress who plays Elizabeth Alls.