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American Mistress

American Mistress

 

It was odd what had come over Jake’s parents. Usually they argued. Sometimes violently. But this morning it seemed they had found some sort of common ground. His father sat at the kitchen table at his typewriter as his mother brewed a pot of coffee. They didn’t seem to notice that Jake had entered the kitchen to make breakfast.

“The heroine should open her umbrella and step out into the rain,” she said, pouring her husband a cup coffee as he sat hunched over their shared writing project.

“No, it would be more dramatic if she got soaking wet from the downpour and then searches for an umbrella vendor to buy one,” his father said squinting through his thick glasses at the white page. Then he banged at the typewriter keys like an inspired concert pianist.

“Stop! I’ve got it!” she said. “Type it out exactly like this. The cab pulls over at Grand Central and Sabina can see the downpour from outside the window. She asks the cabbie if he has an extra umbrella…”

“That is asinine. No New York cabbie would have an extra umbrella in his car.”

“Ok, maybe a tall dashing guy wants to get in the cab and he gives her his?”

“Why would he do that?”

“Because he finds Sabina irresistible. Perhaps this is where we should introduce a love interest.”

“This is not a romance screenplay, sweetheart, this is a political drama about a real-life woman who claims to have had an affair with a world leader. The President is the only love interest we need.”

“But it would establish that she’s a loose woman.”

“She’s not a loose woman. She is a woman of high morals who happens to be seduced by power.”

“But little is really known about her. So we have to fill in the blanks.”

“Sweetheart, we have been hired to write a first draft about a woman who says she slept with Ronald Reagan. That is a big enough story.”

“By the way, the check cleared today. We should take the kids out for a nice dinner.”

“Of course I am all for it. But first we have to get the opening scene done.”

She lit a cigarette. Soon the small alcove kitchen was filled with smoke.

This project to write a draft of a screenplay for a Hollywood producer was bringing out a passionate creative fire in Jake’s parents. The screenplay was to be called American Mistress and they had been advanced a whopping five hundred dollars and told to deliver the first draft within two weeks. His father’s expertise in writing had heretofore been delegated strictly to the occasional porno short story for stag magazines.

A certain Mr. Pinewood had visited the house. He was a short stocky bald man with a Long Island accent whose claim to fame was that he had made a movie called Corrine which featured an all black cast and had been nominated for an Oscar. He was currently in pre-production on a new comedy about God taking an apartment in Queens and opening up a deli with Jesus as a business partner, and so he did not have the time to develop this new property about an alleged mistress of Ronald Reagan, who, at the time, was still in office.
“This movie will be bigger than All The President’s Men!” Mr. Pinewood had said.

“But is any of this dirt corroborated?” Jake’s father had asked over vodka and tonic.

“Who cares, as long as we can say it was based on a true story we have a built-in liberal audience. The conservatives can go to hell.”

During an evening with Mr. Pinewood and his wife, Jake’s parents got totally drunk as they celebrated this lucrative new opportunity that came totally out of the blue.

Now in the kitchen the two of them could not seem to agree on the opening moments of the script. Fueled by coffee and cigarettes, they vacillated between having Reagan’s mistress owning an umbrella, to borrowing one from the cab driver, to stepping out without one and getting drenched, or having her first encounter with Reagan right there on Lexington Avenue. They had to finally agree that no president of the United States would be hailing a cab in front of Grand Central. Meanwhile, outside the house it had been raining all morning, thus the inspiration for the cinematic downpour in the screenplay.

Their ideas became more convoluted from the buzz of caffeine and nicotine.

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“Listen honey,” Jake’s father said, his bushy eyebrows furrowed. “We have to get past this first scene. We only have two weeks till deadline.”

“Well, maybe there doesn’t have to be a goddamn storm.”

“We both agreed that it is more dramatic if there is a downpour.”

Just then thunder clapped from the skies outside that kitchen in New Rochelle, New York.

“Let’s nix the storm, but go with her meeting a tall, dark and handsome man,” Jake’s mother said.

“She is going to have an affair with the US President so there’s no need for a second love interest. That would just muddy the waters. It makes me seriously doubt your fidelity to me, if you keep suggesting yet another man entering her life.”

“Hey, you’re the one who writes smut for grocery money, and I never say anything about it.”

Just then sixteen-year-old Jake, said, “You guys woke me up with all this racket. I’m going to scramble some eggs now, can you just cool it a little?”

“Good morning, Honey,” his mother said. “We didn’t see you there.”

“You guys don’t see anything ever since you got hired to write this stupid screenplay.”

“This is a big deal for us,” his father said through the thick smokey haze.

Jake’s parents never made deadline, the financing for the film fell through and the producer, Mr. Pinewood, suffered a fatal heart attack in Montauk. Yet, that morning in November, Jake decided to become a writer.

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