Read by Gloria Sanders
George Vandemeer Jr., one of the most successful American writer-directors of his time, with a string of blockbusters to his name— but as yet no Academy Awards— was asleep in his palatial villa in the Hollywood Hills, dreaming pleasantly about his latest conquest, when he heard the distinct sound of a gun being cocked in his ear.
He opened his eyes to see a nine-millimetre Beretta pointed at his face. A woman’s face came into focus, peering at him with a deadpan expression.
“Gaaah! What the fuck—?”
He jumped, falling back against his monogrammed satin pillows. Three other figures were gathered around his bed, shrouded in darkness. There was something distinctly menacing about them — dark, morbid, brooding. A powerful, rotten smell assaulted his senses, like dead cat.
“Don’t you recognise me?” asked the woman.
George realised she was an actress he’d cast in one of his earliest movies, The Maxwell Identity, an action film that had been his breakthrough as a director. She’d played the love interest, of course. He tried to remember her name.
“Angelita,” she said, as if reading his mind.
“That was your character,” he said, frowning.
“No, that’s me. Angelita. Poor angelic little dead wife.”
George remembered now; he’d bumped her off in the first act. He’d had the hero, Jason Maxwell, and his wife drive off a bridge in Lahore, chased by a bunch of KGB goons. Jason had survived, but Angelita had drowned as he kicked desperately at the car window, watching her life slip away in bubbles behind the glass…
“You killed me off. I drowned, slowly, to give your hero depth. A tragic character flaw,” said Angelita.
George stared at her, bewildered.
The second woman stepped forward. She was a grotesque vision, with matted blonde hair, dark-circled eyes and an ominous stain on the front of her tattered white dress.
“What’s the easiest way to give your hero depth? Kill off his wife.”
“Who are you? Some kind of crazy feminist cult? What is this, Halloween?”
The women laughed. Angelita turned to the blonde. “Wow. What do you think? Are we some kind of crazy feminist cult? ‘Cause I think that would be pretty fucking cool.”
“Yes, it would be very cool,” the blonde replied. “But actually, for this guy, I think it’s more like Halloween.”
“Okay, I’ve had enough of this shit. If you don’t leave now I’m calling the cops.”
All four women aimed their guns at him.
“You can try,” said Angelita.
George fell back, deflated.
“What do you want from me?”
“Why don’t we turn on the lights so we can all see each other better? Bella, would you mind?”
The woman nearest the door turned on the lights. George shrank in horror from the ghastly sight. They were all dead. Gone, kaput, snuffed out, croaked. Dust had been bitten and buckets definitively kicked. These women had most certainly met their maker, and each in a most macabre fashion.
The stain on the blonde woman’s dress was, of course, blood. She’d been the wife of the rookie cop in his movie, Renegade Man: Days of Vengeance. George had bumped her off during a robbery in which our hero arrives home after a night out drinking, just too late to save her from a gang of villainous burglars. She dies tragically in his arms, after which he stands tall in the moonlight and vows to exact bloody revenge on all the world’s criminals, becoming in no time at all the teetotalling, vigilante-cop Renegade Man, driven by the underlying desire, throughout all his heroic actions, to avenge his darling—
“Celestine,” whispered George.
“Yup. Another angelic name. I think we have kindofa theme going here,” said Celestine. “The innocent, archetypal woman. Always the prize, the sacred vessel, to be guarded, rescued, even worshipped. But heaven forbid she actually develops a fucking personality.”
“Look, I don’t have time for this,” said George, “You girls got together, broke into my house, thought you’d have some fun? Well, this has been really funny — in a seriously fucked-up way — but that’s enough now. Time to break up the party, I’m really sorry girls.”
The third woman spoke up. George noticed that her head was lurching off her neck at a deeply unhealthy angle.
“Oh dear,” she said, “This poor man is labouring under a terrible misapprehension. He still thinks we’re the actresses who played us and not really us.”
With her clipped British accent, she was the archetypal movie Englishwoman, bright as a button and crisp as toast, somewhere between a librarian and Mary Poppins.
“Gosh, how rude of me not to introduce myself. But then again, seeing as you wrote me, I thought you might remember me!”
“Davina!” said George.
“Yes, yes, Dave for short. Did we even get to the nicknames stage in my character development arc before my dreadful, untimely demise?”
Davina had been the love interest in his latest sci-fi thriller, Quantum Stalker, in which the hero, a time-travelling secret agent, falls in love with her on a mission to London in the 1940s to kill the ancestor of the man who will destroy the planet via his diabolical plan to launch nuclear weapons against Russia. But our hero is subsequently attacked and left for dead by the archvillain and develops amnesia as a result, forgetting the lovely Davina. A heartbroken Davina hangs herself in despair at the failure of her jet-setting lover to show up for their engagement party. Too late, our hero regains his memory and rushes back to save her, arriving to find her swinging most artfully from a beam in an English attic, thereupon clutching her legs and howling bloody vengeance at the moon. Etcetera.
“Of course I’d kill myself just because I’d been jilted by some time-travelling Yank,” sniffed Davina. She came very close to George and glared at him like a schoolmistress. “You bumped me off so quickly, you fetishized my suicide so prettily—because we women have to look pretty even in death, don’t we? Well do I look pretty now?”
“It’s just a movie—”
“—Why was his story so much more important than my story?” demanded Davina.
“Or her story,” said Angelita, pointing at the quiet, dark Bella.
Bella stepped forward, wafting the rancid odour of the morgue before her. She was a pale, thin girl in a dirty medical gown. Her dank hair hung down, encrusted with bracken, obscuring a narrow, bluish face.
“My name is Bella, and I am a dead wife. To you, I was nothing more than a plot device. You killed me off to fuel your hero’s journey. My death propelled him to great deeds and extraordinary adventures… while I rotted in a forest, cold and alone. But I had my own dreams and desires. My own stories to live, my own journeys to make.”
“I will not be objectified, stripped of my identity,” said Angelita.
“Naked and dead on a slab,” said Celestine.
“Carved up under the camera’s clinical gaze,” said Davina.
“I will not be your fucking cliché dead woman movie trope,” said Angelita.
“It’s like you never even heard of the Bechdel Test!” said Bella.
They had all gathered around him and were glaring at him in rage.
“Jesus,” said George, “What do you want me to do?”
“Rewrite,” they said as one.
“What do you mean? Those movies are done, they’ve gone out.”
“Rewrite,” came the soft command.
“You’ll find a way,” said Bella, “Bring us back.”
“Back from the dead?” said George.
“You writers act like gods. You think you can do anything. So go on —bring us back,” said Angelita.
Angelita motioned at George’s computer.
“Now?” said George.
“Now,” said Angelita.
George sat at his computer, feeling the cold breath of the dead wives on his neck. He wrote a little then stopped. He got up and paced around the room. Sweating profusely, he wrote a little more, before groaning and deleting it. The Dead Wives watched him, concerned. He went out onto the balcony and lit a cigar. The women exchanged worried looks.
Angelita kept watch at the door. Time was passing. It would be light soon. Finally George came back and flopped down on the bed, defeated.
“I can’t do this!”
“Why not?” they chorused.
“I can’t write women!”
There was silence.
“That’s why I always gotta kill ‘em off,” he mumbled, shamefaced.
“You can write animals and monsters of every description, but you can’t write women?” said Davina, “Wouldn’t you call that rather a failure of the imagination?”
“I just haven’t done this before. I don’t know if I can,” said George.
The Dead Wives looked at each other anxiously.
“Why don’t we just — y’know — smoke him?” said Celestine. “I mean, we can write this ourselves. This schmuck has never written anything good anyway.”
“That won’t work,” said Angelita “How can we keep that up? They’ll find him.”
“We can bury him in the forest. I know the perfect spot,” whispered Bella.
“Well, thanks for just, like, planning my own murder in front of me,” said George.
“Shut up,” said Angelita. “Come back here and sit down. Try harder.”
George sat down again with his head in his hands. After a few moments he started tapping away. The night was almost over. Bella went to the balcony and peered out.
“It’s getting light. We’ll have to leave soon.”
“How you doing, George?” said Angelita.
“Do you have any idea how long it takes to write a feature script?”
“Shit,” said Angelita.
“What shall we do?” said Bella.
“Well, maybe we should just keep coming back until he finishes it?” said Celestine.
“Yes,” said Angelita. “That’s what we’ll do.”
“You can be our very own Scheherezade,” said Davina dreamily, “Writing every night for a thousand and one nights!”
George groaned, “This can’t be happening.”
“You will write us the greatest story ever to grace the screen!” said Davina.
“O-okay — and if I don’t?”
“Why then, we’ll think up a very interesting demise for you,” said Angelita.
“All right, all right, I’ll do my best, Jesus Christ!”
“Thank you sweetheart, you’re a doll,” said Angelita. “Well, ladies, it’s time to go, but remember George, we’ll be seeing you tomorrow night.”
“Good bye, goodbye…”
The Dead Wives wafted out onto the balcony and floated over the edge. George raced after them, arriving just in time to see them disappearing into the early-morning mist that had gathered over the treetops of the Hollywood Hills, as the pale sun climbed the eastern sky, casting a pink grapefruit glow over Malibu Beach.
From The New York Times
After the tragic death of George Vandemeer following a heart attack last year, his final film has just been released. The Dead Wives’ Club: Ultimate Badasses deserves to be heralded for generations as the finest action film ever made, featuring four of the most complex, vivid and enduring female characters ever written for the screen.
Associates of Mr. Vandemeer report that he spent almost three years on the script, writing only at night behind closed doors.
Mr. Vandemeer was said to have called The Dead Wives’ Club his magnum opus. The film has been nominated for Academy Awards in a host of categories, most notably Best Screenplay.
According to legendary film critic Rupert Egbert, “The Dead Wives’ Club is the first and only decent film [Vandemeer] has ever written, that was not simply a bunch of tired clichés strung together by a host of expensive special effects aimed at distracting the viewer from the total lack of characterisation and story”. Audiences too are turning out in droves to watch the veteran director’s swan-song, making its opening weekend the highest-earning of any film in recent history. If there’s one movie you’re going to see this year — make sure it’s The Dead Wives’ Club.
(c) Ilora Choudhury, 2016
Ilora Choudhury is one of the legions of frustrated ex-lawyers stalking London clutching their stories while mumbling incoherently about wanting to do something more creative. She’s written for a supernatural BBC TV drama in Bangladesh and is working on a feminist sci-fi feature screenplay and a novel.
Gloria Sanders’s work includes audio-book narration for the RNIB and collaborations with Cabinets of Curiosity. She has performed her devised one-woman show with Hide and Seek Theatre, The Clock, at the Brighton Fringe, the Pleasance, Islington, and the Artscene Festival in Ghent. She is fluent in Spanish.