Walter felt happy for the first time in his life. It was a strange sensation, one he definitely was not familiar with despite the insistence of the world that he was the expert at it. He felt an excitement, a sense of potential. Each day he was engaged in the energy of the people around him. The tour was going great, the show was a lot of fun and they were genuinely helping people. He saw it in the audiences, read it in the letters, He did not know if his position was valid but he felt obliged to share whatever it was that he did know. And it seemed to be working.
The last three months had passed by in a second, yet he couldn’t imagine being able to recount even half of his experiences or emotions. They welled and stirred inside him like a pot of butterflies. He smiled as he looked into the mirror of his trailer. He had learnt so much about himself and others, how to express and share emotion, how to act and react, and when. Never why, though that was the question they always asked him. He studied the lines on his face as his smile faded. Was he still the same person?
No. Change was constant. Was he worse, better? He shrugged.
One of the more intriguing elements of his experience was the concept of philosophy. Many wise thinkers have apparently lived throughout humanity dedicating their lives to defining a purpose. He had involuntarily entered this lineage of quote makers and alcoholics and subsequently felt quite out of place, at the very least underqualified. But his quotes graced the front pages of papers worldwide, left interviewers smiling warmly, he had audiences laughing in hysterics at some chance encounter with irony (the involuntary nature, as one journalist, Harry Hargreaves, had written, the sheer comedic happenstance only fuels his genius. Bravo).
His face, still staring back from the mirror, offered an open minded invitation in the face of confusion - a frank blankness according to the otherwordly Mr Hargreaves, which no doubt caused a stir of poetic vigour bordering on unintelligible. Walter wondered how long he could keep this up. He had no formula, no mantra, no idea of the tangled lives that people kept offering him to unravel. Was his wisdom, however untraceable, an infinite source or a mine to be had and left bare when the riches fade? Would they tire of him? It wouldn’t matter how many tricks a pony has, eventually they will want a monkey. What if they ran the machine again, would he still be number one?
These questions were increasingly common, a consequence of his new job if that is what he should call it (he was being paid an embarrassing sum). The questions would generally float through his mind unchecked, like a plain work passed by in a museum. But this last thought was somewhat of an intriguing offering from the new wave. A conundrum, it tickled his curiosity like his first cryptic crossword. What if he didn’t come up number one? Would he miss it? Would he be glad to be rid of it? Would he be discarded for good or end up like the D-list celebrities desperate to reassert their authority over the public’s attention.
Again he smiled into the mirror, thought it was time to do something else. He had a team of make-up and wardrobe artists who were dedicated to his appearance. He had never tried on so many different clothes, first time he had worn a suit since his graduation dinner (and it was a stretch to call that a suit – looked more like a grocery store worker). He wandered out of his trailer. It was overcast that day, threatening to rain but never looking like it had the guts to actually go through with it. Still the threat kept most inside their trailers.
Manny, though much more approachable in person, was still clearly suffering from the ordeal with his father. He rarely spoke of Tony and when he did so he rarely finished with a smile. Phillip, or Hippy Flip, or Flip, was still leading the Walter Wallace bandwagon. The only difference now was that he was that he lead from a studio funded trailer, held parties for the more traditional fans who slept 6 deep in the combie. The parties were a constant fire hazard, the sound of cartoons and laughter sustained into the early morning hours.
The crew had less glamourous digs. They resembled a home share in Walter’s old stud apartment. Walter had expressed his concern to Alison and her team of Nick’s (whose name’s he was slowly picking up), but they seemed to accept it like an intern happy just to be there. Walter’s concern was then raised with Brian Smithwaite. Smithwaite laughed, but nothing else. Walter then offered some of them a bed or couch in his own trailer but Smithwaite waved this off as a security risk.
“But Phil always has people over to his trailer,” Walter said, a little childishly in the face of injustice, “and they aren’t even employees.”
“Walter, if Phillip were to be hurt it would be a cause for celebration, nature taking its course.”
Walter’s eyes wandered past the slums of trailer city and came to the new, temporary resident, Lucy Blues. His heart did a double take on its latest beat and his stomach turned into a balloon full of feathers, he didn’t know what would happen if the balloon popped but his queasy bowel suggested an unpleasantness. He hadn’t had much chance to chat with her, partly due to the busy schedules, but mostly due to his habit of ducking into empty rooms and hiding behind dustbins whenever their paths dared to cross.
The memories of his bravado at the train station and confidence in the hospital had faded, misconstrued into proof of his stupidity and awkwardness. This was all compounded by a complete lack of on screen chemistry. The first few shows they had been put on together for a segment or two and he had fumbled words, walked into furniture and once even dribbled. The merciful thing to do would be to spare him the embarrassment by no longer scheduling them together, but some cruel fate (most likely under the directive of Brian Smithwaite) kept their appearances regular – Today he would be doing a charity drive with her at the local saint sponsored op-shop. The balloon stretched, feathers fluttered.
But despite the heavy narratives going on within and without him, Walter still felt happy. He reasoned with himself that the scope of his embarassment, his anxiety, was in direct correlation to the feelings he had for Lucy. It was a sensation of life - to love and lust after something - and the more he did so the more he could engage with the sorrows of his fans. Perhaps perspective, and a realistic one at that, was the answer to their endless questions. Realistic meaning that perhaps Lucy didn’t share his feelings for her. He paused in contemplation, staring blindly at a cloud that slowly morphed into the shape of a cloud. He couldn’t quite reconcile this last thought. He preferred the idea of losing his title on the machine replay, preferred never gaining the title and learning what could be lost. The cloud morphed into a stern face, like that of a totem pole, stared at him. Walter stared back. He decided to go back inside and practice his lines for the charity event in front of the mirror.