White Whale Review: An Online Literary Magazine Untitled Document
WHITE WHALE REVIEW
LIAM CALLANAN
Liam Callanan is coordinator of the PhD program in creative writing at the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee, and is the author of two novels by Delacorte Press: All Saints (2007) and Cloud Atlas (2004), which was a finalist for the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best First Novel. He has written for Slate, The New York Times, and The Washington Post, and is an executive producer of the Poetry Everywhere animated poetry series, appearing on mass transit video screens nationwide.

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MR. FANTASTIC

Liam Callanan

Fat Frank wouldn't take off his pants. Never mind that the studio was freezing; it was Melody’s last day. Everybody was doing it: Clean Joe Green, weekend sports anchor, he was doing it. Even Melody, pulling a solo weekend anchor slot on this, her last day: she was doing it. And she never did this sort of thing. But she wanted to – wanted everyone to – tonight.

Frank continued his stately progress to his place on the set: trademark girth, trademark limp, trademark Fat Frank.

“C’mon Fat Frank,” Joe called. Joe was wearing a yellow tie, blue blazer and red boxers with bright white polka dots, and was shooting Nerf hoops with a few fully- clothed crew members. Frank took his seat and began looking over his script, pen at the ready. At least Joe wasn’t hassling him to “shoot a few.” Almost all forms of athleticism, even Nerf athleticism, seemed designed to embarrass Frank.

“Four minutes to air,” buzzed a voice over their earpieces, or IFBs. “Fat Frank,” Melody said,

pouting. “My last day.”

Frank’s pen skipped, just a bit. Your last day, he had written last night; the first draft of his note to her. It was awful; it rhymed. The seventh draft was in his pocket; hardly better, but it did not rhyme.

Frank smiled; Melody went to her place. The station’s “arts critic” – his contract mandated the title – Frank usually taped his segment in advance, but had made an exception for tonight, for Melody. His script was short, in any case, and what notes he’d added consisted mainly of a dark-blue “M” that he’d been embroidering in the margin with his ballpoint. He looked up, made eye contact with Joe, but not Melody. Then back to his script, underlining the last word of his last line, his tag line for going on 15 years: “Fantastic.” Around town, his nickname was “Fantastic Frank.” Around the station, it was shortened to “Fat Frank,” which he was – just 20 pounds shy, in fact, of his contract-negotiated threshold of 300.

“The camera adds pounds,” he used to tell people, when he could still joke about it. “And they accumulate.”


“Mariners scored again, Joe,” came a voice over the IFBs. Joe missed his shot.

“What’s the big deal, Frank?” Joe said, taking his place behind the desk. “Oldest prank in broadcasting. Nobody sees, so nobody knows. Jack Palance used to do it.”

Frank stared. “You mean Jack Paar?”

“Jack Frost. Jack Diddily. When the best-looking thing on two legs” – he nodded at Melody, who was following the exchange absently – “at this station tells me to take off my pants, I don’t ask. I get to unbuckling.”

“Fat Frank!” Melody chirped, and this time Frank had to look at her. “Please, everybody’s just in boxers. And boxers are so hip.” She stood and spun to show off her ensemble: a trim red blazer over a silk blouse, tucked into oversize green and orange Miami Hurricanes boxers. She was a little less than half Frank’s age, a little more than a third of his weight, and had more than twice his hair, though hers was dyed, too. She had been at the station six months, and had slept with as many men at the station during that time, if you believed the

stories, which Frank did not. She was too lovely. She was, in fact, the most beautiful object that Frank thought he had ever seen, and that included all six floors of the Vatican Museum, whose beauty had left Frank speechless and weeping when he toured them last summer, alone.

“Three minutes,” said the voice in their ears.

Frank coughed. “Melody, my dear,” he said in a paternal voice, for his feelings toward her could only be fatherly, he knew. After all, she was half his age. That’s why he carefully limited his fantasies of her to nothing more intimate than a slow waltz across a darkened floor, the music swelling as the camera lingered. Father of the bride, perhaps? A favorite uncle? A beloved friend? He had not slept with anyone for five years, not since the “Amazing Alaska!” cruise he’d taken as a “Celebrity Guest!” And that woman was older – in bed, she proudly boasted of having the body of a 60-year-old. Frank had previously taken her for 50 and, thinking on it now, realized she must have been at least 70. Perhaps 100. The woman sent him an anniversary card each summer, in honor, it would seem, of their shipboard dalliance. She signed her name,


“Grandma Foxy.”

Melody looked at him, and he gripped the pen a little tighter, but who could see that? “Don’t you have to check your script?” he asked. “Read through it.”

“They did it for me,” Melody said and padded over to him, bare white feet slapping the slick black floor.

“They won’t be going with you to your new job in Salt Lake,” Frank said, listening to himself to make sure it sounded – what was it? – fatherly. He had no experience with situations like this – a bit of loveliness, live, beside him. His purest crushes – through his 20s, 30s, 40s – had been with women onscreen, exclusively. No one in real life, on land or sea, ever looked so perfect, so irresistible – and he’d looked, some. But they had the wrong body, the wrong face, the wrong make-up. The lighting was always poor and the background noise just that, not music. And yet here, these last six months, had been someone more charming and sparkly than any star he’d seen in years. Right here, beside him, night after night, the cameras on. Here was a movie

he’d finally been able to step into.

Melody moved closer, and now the distance between them could be measured in inches. Was Grace Kelly prettier? Maybe. But Grace had never whispered Frank’s name, not while wearing boxers.

“Frank,” Melody said quietly. She was one of the few who didn’t insist on appending it with “Fat” every time, and Frank loved her for this alone. This, and the fact that she always smiled at him, always took pains to touch his forearm to make a point or say goodbye or hello or maybe just to make his heart seize up. Like now: she leaned over, bright eyes, bright teeth, soft lips, and whispered: “C’mon, drop ‘em!” A shudder ran through Frank’s chest and straight to the floor, and for a moment, he was unsure where his pants were – up, down, or back at home, in the closet, hanging neatly and patiently, awaiting his return.

“Seats, please. Melody, we’re starting with the fire,” said their IFBs.

“Did someone change the TelePrompTer?” she called, moving back behind the desk, her walk sure, her voice not. “Did you change it?”


“You’re going to go straight to Jeff for a live shot. Welcome, intro fire, intro Jeff. Ad lib.”

“Not in the ‘Prompter?” Melody called, studying her script. Frank looked over, and though he promised himself he wouldn’t, he looked at her legs, from where they emerged, smooth and pale from the boxer shorts, to where they turned at the knee, to where they ended, toes now tightly curled around the bottom rung of the swivel chair. She was chewing her pen.

“Grand slam, Joe,” a crew member called out.

“Good golly,” said Joe. The rule was, no swearing on the set, even off air; you never knew. Joe looked at Melody, who stared at a script, pen nervously in hand. “You…want…me…to open?” Joe asked the ceiling, one eye still on Melody. “Big night for the Mariners. We get fires all the time.”

“No, Jeff’s got a killer shot of a fireman rescuing this baby.”

“Babies trump,” said Joe, looking down.

“Tits, tots, pets and vets!” said Melody. “The T’s of TV!” “And we’re one minute out. Good show

everybody.”

“Fluff!” swore Melody. Joe shook his head a bit and laughed, and Frank caught him leaning back, ever so slightly, for his own view of Melody’s legs. Melody was still chewing her pen, still staring at her now outdated script. A crew woman in headphones pointed to the clock counting down on the wall behind the cameras.

“Melody,” Frank whispered, low but forceful. She looked at him and he touched his lips.

“No,” she almost cried. Frank drew a finger along his own chin to show her where her lipstick had smudged. Even after she’d gotten it, he left his finger there a moment, still able to feel her chin in his hand.

“30 seconds.”

Frank blinked awake, and quickly slid what he’d scribbled earlier over to Melody.

“WELCOME TO THE FIVE O’CLOCK NEWS. I’M MELODY ROGERS, HERE TONIGHT FOR ROGER WILKES. OUR TOP STORY, A HORRIFIC APARTMENT FIRE IN KINGSBURY’S HISTORIC


DISTRICT. K-U-T-E REPORTER JEFF NELSON IS THERE. JEFF?”

Joe looked at Frank’s note-passing and grinned; Melody just smiled wide, lifted her head and spoke the lines just as Frank had written them, just as she was cued. Now Frank bit his lip, worried that “horrific” would throw her. When she delivered it, he could hear her not stumble over the word, but notice it, and he noticed her. No one else did.

Jeff was up on the monitor now, “reporting live,” uncombed as usual, brow theatrically furrowed as usual. Frank looked for flames, but saw none. Finally, Jeff intro’d a tape from earlier, and they all sat back while it played.

“Deathtrap,” said Joe.

“Cool shot, isn’t it?” came Jeff’s voice through their earpieces. Frank had never gotten used to the constant chatter in one ear, certainly not Jeff’s chatter.

“Where’s the baby shot?” someone asked.

“Coming up, coming up,” Jeff said.

 

 

“Have your outro?”

“All set,” Jeff said. “Melody, they drop trou’ for you?”

“Joe, yes; Frank, no,” Melody said, shooting Frank a pouty frown.

“Fire officials estimate the damage could run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. But ask the families who lost their homes tonight, and they’ll say what’s gone, is priceless.” Frank pinched the bridge of his nose as a smoldering teddy bear came onscreen. “Reporting live, Jeff Nelson, KUTE News.”

“Thanks, Jeff,” Melody said. “We’ll be back with weather, sports, news…and a movie review from KUTE’s very own Fantastic Frank Douglas, right after this.”

“Clear. Back in 90.” “That bear was so cute,” Melody said. “So tragic.” Frank shook his head. “Oh, c’mon Frank, you’re just not being any fun at all tonight.”

“Wait a second,” said Joe. “Who the hell is doing weather? I didn’t see Bernie in the newsroom.”


“One rarely does,” said Frank.

“Could be your big night, Fat Frank,” Joe said. “ ‘Cold front, over Topeka…’”

“Please,” said Frank.

“Oh my God!” Melody shouted. While the commercials rolled, the live remote monitor showed Jeff Nelson, pantless, but wearing a long firecoat, talking and laughing with some firemen.

You go, Jeff,” Joe said. “See that Fat Frank? See that? Jeff, who ain’t got nothing to show, he’s dropped his pants for Melody.” Jeff looked like he’d been rescued, his knobby knees, hairy calves peeking out from beneath the big reflective coat.

“You are so sweet, Jeff!” Melody shouted.

“I thought the inside joke was, anchors behind the desk didn’t wear pants,” Frank said. “Which I actually have heard of happening, though usually in smaller markets.” No one was listening.

“Since we’re off air, can we get a close up on those Marky Marks?” Melody said, laughing, and Frank listened, carefully, hungrily, storing away every note in her voice, her laugh, its timbre, its

sound. Too pretty.

Jeff did a little dance in front of the camera, which zoomed in on his rear. He, too, was wearing college underwear: Kentucky Wildcats. He turned around, and the camera focused on his crotch, where a cat-like face appeared with the words, “GO BIG CATS.”

“Mee-ow,” Melody said.

Joe had been whispering with some of the crew; now, as one flashed him a thumbs up, Joe deepened his voice a bit and imitated the show director: “Ahh, Jeff, hang on, we’re going back to you live in five, four, three, two – “

“Fluff!” Jeff shouted. The camera shot opened wide, and Jeff dropped to a crouch, the coat gathered around him.

“Uh…snipers! Jeff Nelson, KUTE, crouching here in Kingsbury’s Historic District, where unconfirmed reports of sniper fire dog firemen’s efforts to put out an earlier blaze…”

Joe leaned back with a huge laugh and succeeded in crashing to the floor. A pair of techs


ran up and righted him, checked his mike and earpiece. Melody laughed through it all, but what Frank would remember, treasure, was the little sly look she gave him in the midst of the mess – Jeff ducking the “snipers” on the monitors in front of them, Joe helplessly giggling on the floor of the set. It was a look Frank had never seen before, and it meant everything. It was like an actor making an aside, but it was more than that. It meant a shared bond, a connection, a common bemused disdain, and indulgent tolerance for all the foibles of this tiny station, this tiny town. It meant she really knew him, he thought. Like he knew her. One to one.

“We’re back in 30.”

“Snipers!” said Joe, chuckling. “Fluffin’ Jeff.”

“OK,” Melody said, “who is doing the weather? Doesn’t Bernie come on by now?”

“We’re looking for him.”

“Fall back plan is–?” Melody asked, getting nervous again. She and Frank looked at Joe.

“Oh, no,” Joe said. “Only Fat Frank’s got the pants for the weather walk, and besides, he’s always

tweaking me about pronouncing all those south county towns wrong.”

“They notice,” said Frank, soberly.

“Look, you dingle,” Joe said. “They should be glad they even get their little assignations mentioned on my show.”

“Quiet!”

Frank stood in front of the giant blue weather wall while crew members fussed.

“Does this blazer button, Fat Frank?”

“You’ve worked with a blue screen before?” “You’re just doing local and state. We’ll keep it short and skip national, OK?”

Frank suffered it all with heavy sighs, eyes turned theatrically skyward. “Yes, yes,” he said.

“I would do it, Frank,” Melody called over. “But I don’t think it’s right for the anchor, you know, to abandon his post.”

“Her post,” Frank said gallantly.

“At least you wouldn’t block out most of the


western United States whenever you turned in profile,” Joe said to Melody.

“The southern parts, anyway.” He leered. Melody smiled sweetly. “We’re certain Bernie’s not coming, then?” Frank asked one more time.

“Nice and short, Fat Frank. 60 seconds. Just stick to your mark, keep it short, and toss it back to Melody for Joe’s intro. OK, stand by.”

“Last chance for the pants patrol,” said Joe.

“Stuff it, you prattling monkey,” said Frank. The lights were hotter in front of the weather wall.

“Fluff me,” said Joe.

“Don’t be dingles, you dorks,” hissed Melody, and then turned to the camera, just in time. “KUTE weatherman Bernie Dolan is, um, out sick tonight, so pinch-hitting is our very own Fantastic Frank Douglas. Frank, does this mean the weather’s going to be, oh, fantastic as well?” As she spoke, she turned to face him full on, and Frank lost himself a moment in those bright eyes. She wore color-changing contacts, which also made her eyes water. On the set, she often looked as though she were

 

ready to cry tears of joy over whatever she was about to say, or had just said. Frank wondered for a moment what his eyes looked like to her, or to Joe, or to the crew, or the guy at the dry cleaners, or the waitress at the 24-hour diner he’d often frequent with a book on sleepless nights. What did they see?

“Frank?” Melody asked. “Well, sorry, Melody!” Frank said, roaring to back to stage life. “I was just trying to think of another word for – FANTASTIC, but there it is, FANTASTIC. Here’s hoping no one from out of state is watching tonight, because if word gets out how FANTASTIC it is around here, the place will be overrun! We’re looking at 75 and sunny through the end of the week, overnight lows in the lower 60s. Up in the mountains, take it down about ten degrees, with midday highs around 60, overnight lows in the upper 40s. But still, beautiful early fall weather for northern Utah.” Frank caught a glimpse of himself on the monitor and saw that he was pointing to Canada. “…Not to mention for…Sas-katchewan.” He tried moving his hand down the blank wall, guiding himself with the monitor just off the set, but he kept caressing Canadian tundra; he couldn’t figure out how to get his hand down to


Kingsbury. So he put his hands in his pockets, and unconsciously began pointing out different spots with a jerk of his head, doing a quick weather recap for each: Las Vegas…Denver…Sacramento. Then he smiled back at Melody. “And let’s look at your Salt Lake City weather, since that’s where KUTE’s own Melody Rogers will be heading later this week.” Melody gave Frank a sad smile, which shook Frank to such a degree that he simply said, “Warm and pleasant, and I hear the people are, too.”

“Thanks, Fantastic Frank, that’s sweet.” Frank ached from head to toe – standing there, under the lights, doing weather, losing Melody – it made him generally ill.

“How about Bernie, F-F-Frank,” Joe said with a manic smile. “What do you think the weather’s like where he is?”

“He’s at home sick,” Melody said quickly.

“Oh, if he’s where I think he is,” Frank said, “he’s roasting.”

“We’ll be right back with Clean Joe Green’s Sports Scene in just a moment,” Melody said.

 

“Clear. Back in 60. Soft intro, sports, dog show, Fat Frank, and out.”

“Frank, you were awesome,” Melody said. Frank gave a courtly nod, and limped regally back to his seat. “You should do weather all the time,” she added. “But I guess it’s no fun standing.” Frank offered a tight smile. “What’s the limp from, anyway?” she asked.

“Honey,” Joe answered, “you can’t carry 400 pounds on two knees and not wobble a little.” Frank opened his mouth to correct Joe, but 280 didn’t sound much better than 400, so he gestured weakly and sat back.

“Hey guys,” Melody shouted skyward, “I’ve got to take a potty break.”

“No time,” the answer came, but Melody was already moving, crew chasing after to make sure she was unhooked. Joe darted over to Frank.

“Sign this, Fat Frank,” Joe whispered, looking after Melody. A fuzzy, sad looking dog cartoon appeared on the front of the card: “Dog-gone,” it read. Frank opened it. “We’re sorry to see a good dog go.”


“Good dog?” Frank asked.

“Just sign it,” Joe said. “And we’re having a little surprise party for the kid right after, over on the cooking show set.” Frank read the different inscriptions – “You go, girl,” “Don’t forget us!” “Vaya con Dios, senorita!” – the last of which seemed to be Joe’s addition. Frank uncapped his pen, and to annoy Joe, took a leisurely moment to begin writing, though he knew what he would say.

“Just write something,” Joe said. Frank looked at him blankly, then lowered his gaze to the polka dot boxers. Joe involuntarily crossed his legs. “They glow,” he said. “The dots.”

“Handy,” Frank said. He looked at the card again. “Have a Fantastic Future!” he signed quickly, and then added the same signature he put on publicity photos: “FF.” Melody ran back in, and Joe snatched the card away. Frank watched him go, and then slipped a hand into his breast pocket to make sure his card was still there. He surreptitiously slid out the buff-colored envelope, and rubbed it gently between thumb and forefinger. It was beautiful stationery, specially ordered, its weight and silky

texture reminiscent of the softest bed linen. Reading what was written on the front – “Melody” – reminded him of the hour-long debate: blue ink or black, blue or black, and then, the two smudged attempts with blue, and this final, clean version in black. He’d drawn a little line under her name, as though it were a careless afterthought, and now he wondered if it was.

“Give me something on those Mariners,” shouted Joe.

“I’m ready,” said Melody, shooting a bright smile at Frank, and then turning to Joe. “What do you want me to say?”

“Ask me about the Dodgers,” Joe said, not looking up.

“30 seconds.”

“The Dodgers?” Melody asked. She looked at Frank, who sourly shook his head and mouthed, “no.” Melody’s face contorted in some alarm. “Mariners,” Frank mouthed, but Melody shook her head frantically: Yes, Mariners, but what about them?


“Good evening, I’m Melody Rogers, in the anchor chair tonight for Roger Wilkes. Well, Joe, how about those – ” She cocked her head a moment, and Joe looked at her smiling, giving away nothing. Frank was willing the words, transmitting them telepathically, staring them into the back of her head. “How did the Mariners get their name?” Melody asked weakly.

“How did who?” Joe asked, laughing.

“The Mariners,” Melody repeated, substituting a goofy smile for poise.

“Who knows, Melody, but they’re getting a better name tonight after their performance at home in Seattle. Let’s take a look, here in the first inning…”

Melody stood up and wandered over to Frank while the game highlights played.

“He can be so mean,” Melody said.

“He’s harmless,” Frank said. “How are you feeling? Sad? Nostalgic? Excited?”

“Nervous, I guess,” said Melody. “This is my big

 

chance, you know. The woman I’m replacing went to Los Angeles,” she said. “But I can’t think about that, not yet.”

“Well,” Frank said, and paused. He got ready to say it: we’ll miss you. But Melody spoke first.

“So what about the pants, Frank?” Melody asked.

“Melody, dear, I can’t. Some of us look attractive in shorts,” he said, gesturing vaguely at her, and refusing to look down. “Some of us look better in pants. I am among the panted.”

“Oh Frank,” she said, “everybody looks foolish. It’s just a joke. You know, so you can say one day, ‘oh yes, I once did the news bottomless.’”

“Say that to whom?” Frank asked. “You big sourpuss,” Melody said, smiling, and tugged at one of his pant legs, just below the knee. Frank held his breath, and kept holding it, until she’d straightened up and walked back to her chair.

“That’s not all the sport news for today,” Melody was saying. “Today was the fifth annual Flying Dog Open out at Title Creek Park.” On the screen, dogs


leapt into the air and caught Frisbees under jet-blue skies. “Dozens of canines competed for the Top Dog award, and in this competition, being at the top means being very high indeed.” She’d mistimed it, and the shot of a dog soaring over a man’s outstretched arm ran by before she finished. “We’ll be right back with Fantastic Frank’s movie roundup, right after this.”

“We’re clear.”

“Sorry about the dogs,” Melody called out. “Did you catch that?” she asked no one in particular.

“Those animals are incredible,” Joe said. “And did you see, Frank? Not a one of them wearing pants.”

Frank was toiling over his script, doing math in the margins. How far was it to Salt Lake? Four hours? Three? He remembered jumping station to station in his youth, like Melody, up the ladder one rung at a time, until he’d gotten to Kingsbury – and then what? Just stopped climbing? Why? Why didn’t he go to Salt Lake City? Or Phoenix, or Chicago, for that matter? Or gone all the way – Los Angeles, New York? He’d gotten too heavy to climb, Joe would

say. And maybe that was part of it. But Kingsbury was friendly, easy. It had its quiet pleasures. It didn’t have much in the way of culture, but that could be had via catalogs, press junkets, vacations, movies. If you had to live somewhere alone, this was a good place. Good enough.

All of the sudden, Melody was saying, “To finish up tonight, we go to our very own Fantastic Frank Douglas for a quick look at the week at the movies. Frank?”

Startled, Frank thanked her, but moved smoothly through his script. Current releases, new releases, videos. Everything got a good review; the only negative things he said were when he warned parents away from ones bad for the kids. After his final “fantastic,” it was goodbye, goodnight, and someone popped a cork in the cooking show kitchen just seconds before they went off the air. The final shot caught all of them looking surprised and laughing, even Frank.

“Good show!” shouted Melody once they were off-air.

“Good enough!” shouted Joe. “Fiesta!”


Frank slipped away to take off his make-up, and the party began.

 

When Frank returned, he surveyed what Joe had laid in for the festivities: two bags of chips, three cases of beer, a fifth of vodka, another of tequila, and a bottle of Cook’s American champagne. Still, Melody seemed very pleased, very flattered, and was on her way to becoming very drunk.

“We still have an 11 o’clock wrap-up to do,” shouted Joe with a laugh and a beer raised high. Melody clinked bottles with him.

“Fat Frank!” Melody all but screamed. “C’mon, join my party.” Frank held up a single finger, and then lumbered stiffly off. He returned a few minutes later with a couple of bottles of pinot noir he’d spotted in Wine Spectator a few months back. He did not know if Melody liked wine, but he liked the idea of introducing her to it if she didn’t.

“Laissez les bon temps rouler,” he said, and held the bottles aloft in what he felt was a jaunty, open

manner. Joe rolled his eyes; Melody didn’t see him. She was sitting on the kitchen island, a beer in her hand, her legs swinging back and forth like a twelve-year old. Frank opened one of the bottles and dribbled some out into a plastic tumbler. Six months? Six men? Couldn’t be.

More chips arrived, then pizza, and then more alcohol. By 9, most of the crowd was drunk and pantless. Frank had long since stopped worrying about whether they’d be ready for the 11 o’clock; unable to find takers for his wine, he’d finished one bottle himself and had made a good start on the second. He was feeling fine, and for a change, light, buoyed not so much by the wine – or so he convinced himself – but the thought that something good was happening. A young woman with a good future was getting a start on that future. Fine. Frank forced a flush of paternal pride, and with the help of the wine, almost succeeded. He’d carried on conversations with a number of people at the party he’d never spoken to before, and it seemed as though they’d talked of great, grand things. At the start of the party, he’d longed to sweep Melody off her feet, and twirl her about the floor between the


the cameras and the anchor desk while the cameras looked on admiringly. But his desires mellowed with the wine, the conversation and conviviality. Now it was enough to stand and talk and smile nearby; every now and then he’d touch his chest with what he hoped looked like an absent air, and feel the envelope, the note, still resting there, and take a deep breath.

And now people were dancing, Frank realized. Music was coming from somewhere, some pulsing, electronic hoo-ha. Before, Joe had eagerly whispered that he’d remembered to bring his Sinatra CD, so Frank had better get ready for the final “New York, New York,” kick line. But this was not Sinatra, not yet. Frank searched the floor for Melody, but she was arm-wrestling some guy on the kitchen’s cutting board. Joe, however, was leaping about with the older woman from the tape library; two men from the crew were slamming into each other, falling down, and then getting up to go again. Frank took it all in, sipping and nodding, always keeping an eye on the floor. Legs were fascinating: they came in all shapes, muscular and thin, thick and veined, hairy, smooth, scarred, clear. Someone had broken into the promotions closet, it seemed,

because most everyone was wearing leftover KUTE gym shorts from last year’s celebrity hoops challenge. Frank was certain there were none in his size, but stopped short when he realized he was even entertaining the thought. He set his face into a grim line and swallowed the last of the wine.

Then he saw her. Spinning in the middle of the floor like clothes on a line, Melody, untucked, bounced from dancer to dancer as the music throbbed. Frank watched her carefully, crossly, until Joe appeared at his side.

“OK, fat guy. You got pants on, but that doesn’t mean you can’t dance.”

“I can’t dance, Joseph,” Frank said, bending down to tell Joe this, surprised to feel dizzy as he did so.

“Please, Fat Frank, I see 300 pound linemen dance on the football field all the time. Bum leg or no, just get out there and swing. Show the kid a good time,” Joe said, and slammed his hand down on the counter. One of the wine bottles rolled off and clattered on the floor, unbroken. “Shhhhoofly,” said Joe, groggily.


Frank threaded his way to the center, feeding off the shouts of “Fat Frank! Fat Frank!” that sprang up all around him. Melody spun over to him, smiling wildly. Frank looked away for a moment; she was too lovely. When he looked back, she was sashaying up against him, and Frank began to rock his shoulders in what felt like hep-cat fashion, keeping his feet rooted to the floor. Melody reached up and clumsily loosened his tie; his instinct was to interfere, but the wine conspired with her charm to render him powerless. So, too, was he unable to stop his belt from being unbuckled, and from sliding out from around his waist. Melody caught her tongue between her teeth, and looked up, a wild look. The crowd hooted and cheered. Terror swelled up from somewhere within Frank, but he was too happy; Melody was having too much fun. It was like a lurid moment in a movie that he’d intended to fast forward past but instead found himself watching, remote in hand, waiting.

And besides, it was just his belt.

Then he heard Joe behind him: “Fat Frank, your moment is here!” Frank felt Joe’s fingers dig into his pockets, and then yank down. Frank finally

panicked as he remembered that these were his new pants, specially tailored for a loose fit, the first pair that had fit him comfortably in two years. They came straight down.

Melody screamed.

Joe swore.

Frank bent over to snatch up his pants, but they snagged on the knee joint of his prosthetic left leg. The leg was new; the old one had gotten heavier and heavier, it seemed. He was still back and forth with the doctors on adjustments for this one, so they hadn’t fleshed it yet. The reflected glare of the studio lights was almost blinding to anyone who looked at the leg’s titanium gleam, as most everyone did, except for Melody. Frank thought he heard one of the crew say, “Fan-tas-tic!”

Joe fumbled down, and gently helped Frank pull his pants back up. But they kept snagging, and eventually, Frank leaned on Joe – to such a degree that Joe couldn’t move – and kicked off one pant leg, then the other. At least he’d worn the dark blue plaid boxers from Brooks Brothers. Melody stood with her back against the anchor desk, breathing in


gasps, but slower and slower.

Frank walked over to Melody, staring into her face, waiting to catch her gaze. “Melody,” he said boozily when he’d reached her.

“I’m – I’m, oh Frank,” she said, crying a bit now, desperately not looking.

The music was softer now, everything was.

“Care – to – trip – the light fantastic?” he said, and he was startled to hear the words sound as sulky and awkward as he felt, because he’d rehearsed them in daydreams a dozen times before, before he ever knew there would be an opportunity to ask. But in rehearsal, the words were delivered with a smile and answered with one, he was wearing pants but no prosthesis. In rehearsal, he had two fine legs and danced like a star.

“Hey, Frank,” Joe said, behind him now. He came around between Frank and Melody, weaving a bit, and punched Frank lightly on the shoulder. “You old dog, keeping this a secret,” he said. Frank imagined Joe dropping to the floor, unconscious. Instead, Joe looked at Melody: “Go ahead, kid, a

dance with Mr. Fantastic.” Melody wouldn’t look at either of them, and ran from the room. Frank felt his breathing quicken and quicken until he realized he was crying.

“Put on the goddamned Sinatra!” Joe shouted. “Frank,” he then said softly. “She’s a silly little girl. They’re going to eat her alive down in Vegas.” Salt Lake City, Frank thought, and just stood there, 280 pounds, even with one artificial leg, and sobbed. Joe moved close, and as “The Way You Look Tonight” began ringing through the room, he gathered as much of Frank up as he could into an embrace.

They began to sway with the music. Frank held on, eyes shut tight, no longer able to watch whatever happened. All those faces. All those legs. Sinatra sang song after song, and Frank tried to rearrange the night, the months that Melody had been in Kingsbury, the years that he had been here. He imagined different openings, different endings and sifted through different soundtracks. Sinatra would do fine, he thought. This song – now it was “Fly Me To The Moon” – would do fine. Let the camera drift back and away, he thought, and saw


the shot: circling up to the ceiling, holding at center just the two of them standing there, he and Joe, swaying, until a scent, a touch, a voice, a whisper – “mind if I cut in?” – and two thin arms reaching around him, a head falling to his chest. And who could say? Eyes closed against the crowd, Frank couldn’t see Joe, his own leg, their legs, or Melody standing there, leaning against him, moving with him, his note to her pressed between them, all of it possible, invisible, fantastic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © Liam Callanan. White Whale Review, issue 1.1


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