Buttermilk and Liverwurst

It was so hot that the air in the room seemed to have solidified overnight. Vera must have forgotten to set the fan running before she went to bed. Or had she tried to cook again when she got in? Her head pounded and her breathing scratched like she’d got through five packs of cigarettes, which was unfair because she didn’t smoke, not even when she was soused. Everything in the apartment glowered black and orange. Vera reached for the half empty glass of water on the other side of the bed, the only evidence that Ed had slept over. She was grateful that he wouldn’t see her like this. There are some levels of fame where everyone you date is a fan without having properly noticed you – you were just always there, already familiar.

Her heels ached in the fluffy kitten-heel mules so she kicked them off, retrieving her secret slippers from under the bed, the ones that dragged along the floor like mutt’s ears. What this hangover needed was a Bloody Mary. Funny that Ed didn’t stay. He didn’t have work today. There was no ice in the icebox. Did it make one an alcoholic if you went and mixed one up anyway? Her drink tasted like a fortified gazpacho, but the tabasco would surely help revive her sore throat.

She glanced at the hallway mirror on her way back to bed and gasped, her tumbler shattering on the terracotta tiles. Incredibly, where her neck had once been, she could now see right through to the faded paisley paper on the opposite wall. There was nothing between her chin and her shoulders. Trembling, she felt behind her chin and the skin was smooth, as if her head were a pig-skin ball. No need for tabasco, her throat had cleared.



As Vera opened the door, Valentino skittered noisily over the imitation marble floor to meet her, sounding as if a necklace had burst with its beads rolling in every direction. No matter how polished the surroundings, you could never displace the smell of dog: dust, muck, and jelly. She rubbed his ears fondly. The designer entered from behind a velvet drape, pins held perilously between her teeth, shooing Valentino from the room.

‘Angel,’ she said, spitting out pins, ‘is it possible you’ve gotten even thinner?’ She briskly kissed the air by Vera’s ears and gestured for her to get undressed. The costumes for the Army Christmas Musical were hanging on a rail. Vera smiled as the designer pulled up the hem of a skirt to show her the stitching, sighing in pleasure as the pink chiffon floated lazily back to the ground. Looking through the other pieces, Vera gave an involuntary shudder at the white fur-trimmed red hat and cape; she hated Christmas in LA. A reminder: must phone mother later. Vera felt a dryness in her throat and gulped. She would send her mother a postcard.

Vera gave a little growl and pulled away as hands reached out to untie her scarf. The designer pushed blue-tinted shades up onto her head, lit two cigarettes and held one out, waiting, ‘Did a boyfriend of yours hurt you?’ The designer (or Ms Edie in such intimate moments) understood silence as confession. ‘You know pancake can cover that. I’ll bell Dolly and have her bring some over right now. What shade are you? Twilight Tandem? Ivory Novella?’ Vera sighed like a rattlesnake and unwound her ugly scarf. She had expected the designer to faint or to scream, instead she replaced the telephone receiver calmly back on its cradle. ‘Well, Angel’ she said, gesturing at the rail of costumes, ‘these are all going to have to be redone. Thank goodness you look cute in a turtleneck!’



Idling at the lights on Western Avenue, Vera gripped the steering wheel one-handed, the other holding an orange popsicle (lunch) that was dribbling onto her bare thighs. Just as she was about to move off a convertible screeched across the junction, manned by an invisible driver. It would have seemed like a textbook joyride, were it not for the car’s handsome passenger, familiar from the fan magazines and her boudoir the night before. What was Ed doing, laughing gaily as some jailbait hussy hurtled him round LA? Instinctively she threw the popsicle stick out of the window and followed. She and Ed weren’t ‘exclusive’ but if he was getting mixed up with delinquent kids, she didn’t have the stomach to see him anymore. No matter how useful he might be to her career. She hoped it wasn’t that.

After the junction dash her quarry slowed to a canoodle. Vera bit her lip as Ed leaned down to caress the driver. How long had this been going on?

‘I make a lousy PI, but they’re so busy with each other that they’ll not notice me,’ mouthed Vera brightly to a ghost camera. Ed and his companion pulled up to a fashionable restaurant in Rodeo Drive. She felt a tug in her chest. He could have called or left a note. They had been together only last night. Had she been neglecting him so badly with the rehearsals? Ed walked round to the driver’s side door to open it and Vera almost crashed as she saw her neck hop out, wearing nothing but her grandmother’s stolen pearls.



Vera licked the salt off her asparagus and laid it neatly back on the plate. The maître d’ was laughing at something witty her neck had said, his gold tooth flashing in the sun. Although technically she was a wronged woman, she felt despicable spying on Ed like this. He looked relaxed and happy for once. Vera shaped the complimentary bread into pathetic cannonballs, stacking them up on the off-white table linen. When had they grown close? Tête-à-têtes while Vera slept? Stolen glances while she was in the shower?

Her neck did a sensual little shimmy as a fluorescent lobster was set down on its plate. Ed picked up the lobster crackers and – crack! He tugged out pale-pink quivering flesh from the lobster’s claws – crack! Tossed each piece in the air and her neck caught them like a seal – crack! Ed was applauding – crack! The band started playing something frenzied. Now they were dancing! Ed was dancing. Ed! Who had always refused to dance with Vera because she was a pro. Vera stood up, bringing the tablecloth with her. The smashed crockery drew the attention of the whole restaurant. Blinkered by rage she strode towards the couple but found herself being pinned across the chest by hoodlums who had materialised from nowhere. She reached towards her neck, which gulped unmistakably then said with a phony Brooklyn accent, ‘Kindly remove this broad, I have never seen her before in my life!’



Isn’t there anything else we can do? Wrote Vera on the large notepad she now carried with her (accidentally starting a minor trend for oversized handbags).

‘Thing is,’ said LG, ‘Your neck has probably found herself a smart lawyer willing to argue that she’s not under contract to us, even if you are. Hell, she’ll probably say you forced her to work for years against her will.’

Will you be replacing me in the army Christmas musical? Wrote Vera, unable to look up from the carpet.

‘With that pretty waist and those dainty hooves?! Don’t be crazy! Of course, I can’t see into the future and there may be, um, casting issues if this separation becomes permanent or word gets out about your, um, accident.’ He shrugged, stubbing his cigar out on Mary Pickford’s ceramic cheek.



Sat in her trailer, Vera iced her bloody toes. Filming had begun on the Army Christmas Musical. The designer had worked miracles with the costumes, each of them cleverly covering the well-proportioned absence between her chin and shoulders. This lack of flesh might have troubled the punters, but thankfully her co-star Rosie could fulfil the promise of a plunging neckline, and Vera was contributing a lot of leg to create visual balance. Flicking through the latest issue of Life while she waited for hair and make-up, she came across a striking full-length portrait of the neck, posed against draped satin with a worldly and sexually confident air. It was a shock to see it looking like that. When they had been together Vera’s image had been much more bobby socks and strong white teeth. Had her designer agreed to style it? Of course she had.

The neck was causing a big sensation. Apparently, all the studio bosses were ringing the neck and begging it to go to expensive restaurants to discuss its career. The neck gave an interview saying that ‘musicals were dead.’ It had recently enrolled in the Actors Studio on the advice of its new friend Marlon, hoping to make an appearance in ‘something serious’ on Broadway. It had signed with United Artists. With typical consideration for others, Vera threw up in the wastepaper basket.



The most pressing question asked about the trial was who was dressed better for court. The neck had donned a demure black veil and the faintest scent of orange blossom for the occasion. Vera wished her hair a shade less ‘showgirl’ and her showgirl legs a shade less hidden by the stand. Both studios agreed that the trial was good business either way. The cat was out of the bag that the neck causing a big sensation was formerly Vera’s. Hollywood is a small town of velvet curtain-twitchers.

An enthusiastic member of the Malibu Harlequins Amateur Dramatic Society, the judge demanded ‘ocular proof’ of the complainant’s abandonment. Vera unwound her scarf, moving slowly, as if pinching the tip of each finger in turn to remove long satin gloves. She heard the courthouse hold its breath, then gasp. Vera smiled reassuringly. Camera bulbs flashed.

‘It’s a trick!’ blurted a poxy youth. Frowning, the judge shuffled over to Vera and asked, ‘May I?’ passing his hand through the gap between her head and her neck, like a magician. ‘Remarkable,’ he muttered as he went back to his seat.

In its defence, the neck complained bitterly of being forced to work a punishing schedule for no remuneration, of being dressed in cheap jewellery which stained it green, and fondled by the hairy fingers of studio executives. Vera’s feet would be next to skip out on her, it warned.

This was all undeniably true. we were a team wrote Vera, eyes brimming pink. The neck turned away.

The judge ruled in favour of the neck. It wanted its independence and had proved itself capable of gaining employment, a fiancé (Ed grinned down from the balcony), and a name for itself (Barbara Lee) in a short space of time. This was the land of the free after all. It would be wrong to force an ‘association’ which made the neck unhappy.

Vera left the courthouse on LG’s arm. Rosie, Danny, and Bing, her co-stars in the Army Christmas Musical, were signing autographs, with Danny doing comical impressions of the judge, and sometimes Vera. Across the courthouse steps the neck was giving interviews, nestled comfortably against Ed’s firm chest.

Moving as fast as it is possible in stilettos and a pencil skirt, Vera lunged. Grabbing it round the middle, she attempted to force the neck back on the smooth stump between her shoulders.

‘Cut it out Vera, you’re choking her!’ screamed Ed, ripping Vera’s hands away from his lover. The neck fell to the ground pitifully and Vera, blinded by tears, howled in pain.



It was horribly hot in the room. Vera felt around with her feet for her slippers; toes connecting with fur, she padded into the kitchenette. She knew that despite everything being the way it was, she wouldn’t go back home to mother. Even with a hit song, the Army Christmas Musical would probably sink like a body rolled into the reservoir. The neck was right, musicals were dead. Pulling on a mint-coloured dressing gown she went to unlock the mailbox. On principle, Vera refused to wear something that covered the gap between her head and shoulders when at home. Her neighbours were used to the sight of her head levitating above the communal swimming pool like a golden dragonfly.

There was a postcard from her cousin Kate, a few items of probable fan mail, and an official-looking envelope bearing her typewritten full legal name. Vera sliced it open with a manicured nail. It was a letter from United Artists forbidding her from being on the lot at the same time as the neck. She sat down on a sun lounger and lit a cigarette. Her feet twitched.

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