Just Like Her but Selling Pharmaceuticals

Actors and writers both use emotions and sense memories as tool and canvas. Throw in a doppelganger, a loved ghost, and the fact that we were using our skills and training to sell questionable pharmaceuticals for non-union wages, and well, you get one hell of a mentally confusing shoot. I went home that day and wrote to exorcise the creepiness. Grief, understanding, comradery, and sharing stories of love and loss is why I write and act and always hope this work helps others understand grief and loss and their opposites.

On set, it’s never easy to concentrate. 

On set, with all the lights and cameras and make-up and costumes and props and art and fellow talent. Talent, the word always makes me snicker. But then through the trailer mirror I spot the actress who is playing my sister, and boom, I’m floored. Not because she is beautiful. (She is.) Not because she is famous. (She isn’t.) But because she is a dead ringer for my lover who died three years ago today. 

On set, same face, a decade ago, we met. The same long forehead with a concentration vein running down the symmetry of the same nose, almost flat at the eyes, a cutie upturn at the tip. Same chiselled jaw jutting past succulent, strong lips. Can’t help but stare, side-eyed, scrolling madly through the inner hard-drive. Her laughter at the hairdresser’s crack echoes around a sealed-off-for-safety goldmine. 

On set, the first and second scenes flit by in a blur. Must have nailed my lines. What lines? ProCare provides outstanding customer care and convenient home delivery for the mailing of prescription medications and medical supplies to qualified patients with diabetes and chronic illnesses. What marks? Tape on the floor. What are marks and lines but emotional milestones and what-stones because the director says nothing but good job, guys. Good job. 

At lunch, we sit beside each other. Trade Instagram accounts. I call up an old photo, smiling happy, embracing, post-show, my lover in a flamenco dress, all long haired and tanned and healthy. I hold the phone over her corn and beans and sparkling water and say you know you look exactly like someone I used to love, loved, still love.

On set, does love end at death, I don’t ask. 

                    Doesn’t she look like you? 
                    Yes, she does, a lot. Who is it? 
                    She’s dead. We almost married. 
                    Oh, I am so sorry. 
                    Forgive me if I stare. I’m not a creep. 
                    I do look like her.
                    You’re her resurrection. I can’t stop looking. Sorry, if that’s freaky.
                    It is freaky. 
                    I’ll try not to stare, and if I act weird, it’s that, not you. Just me. Her. You. Sorry.
                    What happened?
                    Ovary. Er. Ovarian cancer. Three weeks. Wasn’t even fully diagnosed.  
                    Stare away. 

On set, I do. All the time wondering how what I said makes her feel and having no idea. 

On set, I try to imagine not to imagine. I try to use the past tense. The present tense feels unfaithful. Our future tense has passed away. I try to use my empathy muscles, but they are chess moves just out of mental reach. 

On set, I don’t know if my lover still feels and is watching and laughing and even put this coincidence, herself, in my path to help me remember. 

On set, memories are gorgeous tools, as much as us, this actress, this set house, this set family. We play the story, are paid to deliver. Ready. Sound. Set. Rolling. Action. 

On set, we have a scene where we must hug. Not a dramatic moment, just a normal, good-to-see-you, sis. The director, with technical motives, asks for more than eleven takes. Each hug brings us closer and closer to a finished past. A place rarely captured properly on screen. Each hug gets longer and longer until I am holding on to I don’t know what. 

Each hug sells the pharmaceuticals better and better home delivery for the mailing of prescription medications and medical supplies to qualified patients with diabetes and chronic illnesses until the actress playing my sister whispers secretly in my ear, I don’t mind, I feel what you’re doing, you’re doing fine, but let’s keep this professional.

DM O’Connor has an MFA from University College Dublin & the University of New Mexico. He is a contributing reviewer for Rhino Poetry and fiction editor at Bending Genres. His work has appeared in SplonkA New UlsterFractured LitCormorantCrannogOpossumCRAFTThe New QuarterlyThe Irish TimesThe Guardian, and others. In 2021 he was the recipient of the Cuirt International Award for Fiction, the Tom Gallon Short Story Award, and a writer-in-residence at the Kerouac House. He is grateful for the support of the Arts Council of Ireland and Words Ireland.



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