Winter lived like a parasite in the belly of the Scottish summer. I was walking through the Glasgow fog with a stranger wearing a wool scarf tied around his throat in an annoying knot. This was a well-bred knot, a knot that placed him in the class of people who know how to fluff pocket squares and pop open pocket watches with their thumbs. He was handsome like a mannequin, striking and bland, but he was even better looking in person than he was on television.
We arrived at a bar set into an old bank. The ceiling was covered in paintings and carved figurines. He pointed at it. I nodded. There’s never anything clever to say about ceilings. It brought us no closer together. The purple light by the bar drew out the sallow terrain of his freckles and the lint on his jacket. He ordered a Diet Coke from a wide-eyed bartender. She barely blinked. She possibly has never blinked. I ordered white wine. He let me pay.
“It isn’t worth it to drink during filming,” he said. I agreed, like I had been there before myself.
He told me his anecdotes. He had parents and ambition. He had an ex-girlfriend who still called. He was very average. I thought he’d have better stories. I listened carefully anyway and thirty minutes later I had him looking at me with a dopey, lustful shimmer in his eyes.
“I like the way you say words,” he said.
This was easy sleight of hand. I figured out what he liked and said the right things in the right ways. I reflected him back onto himself. Voila, I was both the magician and the showgirl. He thought he was smitten with me but he was really just bewitched by his own reflection. I’m pretty, sure, but the prettiest faces are mirrors.
An even more practical trick: Never stay too long at a bar with a man who doesn’t drink.
We stood out of the rain in the cold entranceway waiting for a taxi. We were crowded in with two teenage police officers waiting for the peace to be disturbed and a group of drunk girls wearing tight dresses, cheap shoes and no jackets. He touched the underside of my arm softly, like the leaf of a pretty plant. The girls jabbered and hooted in unintelligible Scottish accents. He translated, flattening out their vowels into his prim, high-class English. One of the girls noticed him. She tugged on her friend’s arm. She let some hair fall in her eyes and parted her lips. She turned to him and asked him if he was who he was.
He smiled at her. He smiled at them all. He smiled a big, famous smile. He had big, famous teeth. He said yes. The girls giggled and gripped each other in thrill. I enjoyed their compliments to him as much as I would have if they were delivered to me directly.
We went for coffee. He ordered a cappuccino. I ordered the same, nonsensically, out of deference to him, as though I hadn’t been drinking my own kind of coffee my entire life. The cappuccinos came with chocolate powder sprinkled on top. We finished the coffees and went back to my hotel room where I went to the bathroom and saw a smear of chocolate on my lip. I had been strutting around like the princess of Scotland with a movie star on my arm, all the while covered in chocolate like a sticky child. I asked him why he didn’t tell me about it earlier. He said he thought it was cute. I didn’t like him at all.
He went to the bathroom. He disappeared for too long. He took one of those a strange male birdbaths that left water in weird places on the sink. He came out and put his hands on my waist like an uncle forced to dance with his niece at a wedding. We had no chemistry. He was like a videotape of a roaring fire set into a fake fireplace. He gave off no heat. I did. I could have burned the wet stone castles of Glasgow to the ground with a strike of my heel.
I dragged my magic show into the second act. I figured out where he wanted my body and laid in that space, a dead body in a chalk outline. It was fine. He liked it. Of course he liked it. It was programmed entirely for him.
“I thought you would be colder,” he said at the end.
I wanted to say that yes, I am colder, but I didn’t. I was in no place to be myself. Instead I did something cute with my face. In his sleep he cooed like a street pigeon missing a foot.
Then it was 8:00am. He urgently wanted to get breakfast.
“I usually get up at six,” he said, like I had been holding him captive without food and water, like he hadn’t spent the morning an arm’s length away from a mini-bar with a terrific selection of nuts.
Downstairs he ordered a horrifying breakfast of rashers, bangers, beans, blood sausage, etcetera. His plate seemed to beating to a pulse.
“I had a reasonably good time last night,” he said, in that dry way the English have of smothering the last puffs of enthusiasm out of things that could have been nice.
We went to his car. I mistook the right-side driver’s seat for the passenger’s and tried to get in. We laughed at my Americaness. I could have been a billionaire from Tucson or a potato farmer from Maine, any old American with a driver’s license and an opinion about the right side of the road. We had nothing in common.
He drove me to the airport. He said some things that I cannot remember about Glaswegian rugby sectarianism and script writing. We said goodbye. He drove away with the wipers on, back towards the never-ending flat grey of the northern sky. I sat in the orange-upholstered visual assault of the Glasgow Airport Easy Jet terminal and tried not to think of him. He hadn’t been dazzling for a second. He dazzled me anyway. Fame does sparkly things to dull men. But fame, of course, does not equate to talent.
We did have one thing in common after all.
He will never be as good an actor as I am.