Maybe I was a poor choice to interview Charlotte D'Alma because, in a way, I hate her. And that's not just because we have the same first name, although that is a very weird thing. It's just that she's done everything I want to do in my whole life and she's only one year older than me.
In my first year at journalism school, I had to read a lot of newspapers and magazines to decide on my specialty, and I kept running into her everywhere but the sports pages, talking about television and success.
She's so big that in a way she makes me feel out of balance. I don't know why her favorite color is any more interesting than my favorite color.
I never expected to meet her before I was famous myself. But then it happened that she was doing some kind of tour of shopping malls to promote some new very worthwhile TV series that nobody wanted to watch, and the shopping mall people were trying to drum up business by offering an interview with our newspaper, and I'd decided to hang around the newspaper office all summer instead of going home to be hovered over by my parents.
By early June most of the other underclassman reporters were gone, and the seniors were either drunk or still taking exams, so I got assigned to the interview.
Actually, the summer school editor tried to send another girl, but I lied and said she'd already gone home so I could have it.
Having read all those stupid articles about Charlotte D'Alma, I think I was most qualified anyway.
On the day of the interview, I rode the bus out to the mall, writing notes on my lap with my legs stretched across the aisle.
The bus driver told me to put my feet down, but I left them where they were, knowing full well I could smash him under my boot when I was famous.
It was an old mall, bypassed by the highway and getting to be known mostly for the rollerblading possibilities in the parking lot, and I made my way to the closed-down beauty shop where they were holding her feeling pretty confident. I had already decided that my questions were going to be tougher than the ones everyone else asked.
"I'm press," I told the guard at the door of the salon. I guess I must have been convincing, because he let me in without a word.
Once I got in, though, I realized he probably didn't know half the people there. There were dozens of people in that tiny room, all of them moving. Some were carrying cigarettes and plastic bags full of dresses, some walking and talking on the telephone, and in the corner there was a big girl eating a pickle.
Then, suddenly, I saw her. At the back of the room, she was sitting in a beauty chair, surrounded by people, the center of attention.
She had an almost a purple kind of glow, as if she were still on TV. Seeing her just a few feet away was like a mix of the real world and the TV world, and for a moment it seemed as if I were on TV too.
She looked up for a minute, and it was one of the strangest things I had ever seen. She really was pretty. She was prettier than normal people.
I made it to within two three people of her, but after that the bodies formed a solid wall. The assistants around her were holding her head and her arms, doing her hair and her makeup and her nails and massaging her shoulders all at once. I don't think she could have moved if she'd wanted to.
"Excuse me," I said, pushing through. "I'm press," I said.
No one paid any attention to me.
"Can I talk to her?" I said.
"She's got a lot to do before going onstage," said a thin man with fluttery hands. "She has to meet some contest winners from the junior miss section of the department store, and she's got a radio call-in, and several interviews with journalists, all in the next twenty minutes, because someone can't schedule right. Thirty-five people on the payroll, and not one can schedule right."
I was standing right next to her, now. I could look down on her in the chair. A manicurist was holding her fingers.
"I'm a journalist," I said.
"For who?" said the fluttery man.
"Just for my college paper."
"You go to college?" Charlotte said eagerly.
She spoke. It was really stunning to hear her voice. It was just like her voice on TV.
"You're ruining your lip-liner," said the make-up man.
"I go to college," I told Charlotte, "but I'm not studying journalism. Most of the classes I'm taking now are to help me when I'm famous." I watched a woman put mascara on her. "I'm taking voice so I can speak well when I'm famous, and dance so I can move well when I'm famous, and poli sci so I can use my power wisely when I'm famous. And photography, to learn about posing."
"But you're working for the college newspaper," said the first man.
"I'm practicing being a reporter so I know how to respond in interviews," I told her.
They stood Charlotte up, and then put a bag over her head. The bag, I guess, was to keep all the makeup from smearing when they put her outfit over her head, next. After that they fluffed her hair.
"I want to cut my hair," said Charlotte.
"Don't even think about it," said one of the fluffers. "Your fans like your princess hair. You're their princess."
"And there are 35 people on your payroll," the man said.
She was finished, and for a moment, she stood there looking at me, looking my short hair and my ordinary hip outfit up and down. I hated her. I was tired of her being fussed and fawned over while I stood there clutching my pad and pencil. I'd had enough of her standing astride my life like a fuzzy pink giant.
"Why are you famous and not me?" I said.
"Because you have better luck," she told me.
Of course, that made no sense, but they were already hustling her off towards the contest winners, and there was no way I was going to stand around and wait.
When she left I realized I had exactly one quote to build a story around. I had no idea how I was going to do it. But it was my first big interview, and I needed a memento for my scrapbook. I've kept scrapbooks, so that my biographers will be able to piece together my life.
I looked around the room, saw the vanity table, saw, caught in the mascara brush, an eyelash. I picked up her eyelash on a bit of Scotch tape, and I brought it home with me, brought it all the way home on my finger. I keep it taped to my mirror, just to remember what I'm aiming for.