The actress is struggling with the scene, the final one they’re supposed to shoot for a Panzier Pharmaceuticals commercial, so the director calls for a break because she’s heading for a meltdown. She’s supposed to catch a grape in her mouth, tossed from across the table by her salt-and-pepper-haired husband while a multi-ethnic menagerie of gathered neighbors cheer her on with fawning approval. For the life of her, she can’t pull off the trick.
“Can’t we move on?” she asks, and the director suppresses the urge to knock over the craft services table. He wonders if there’s room in the budget for a CGI grape, and why the easy path—a steady ad agency paycheck he’d long ago sold out his film school dreams to collect—has to be so hard.
“What does this pill even do?” she asks.
“It’s for wellness,” he says, whatever that entails. Panzier’s marketing people gave him a handful to try out when he agreed to the gig—perfectly safe, if not quite ready for FDA approval—but he’s been wary of sampling them. They have yet to settle on a name for the drug, so he’s taken to calling it “Fuckitol,” because that’s how he likes to imagine this pill would make him feel.
“This stuff will change the world,” they told him, and they want to be ready to hit the ground running once the drug is ready for market. Despite knowing the futility of the endeavor, he feels an obligation to deliver an ad to match. He’s designed one in a montage style: the heroine braving a windy afternoon to hang a festive tablecloth on a clothesline, digging her hands into a bin full of earthy mushrooms at a local farmers’ market, directing her husband with wild gesticulations to pull a pie from the oven. All in support of a narrative pastiche that will culminate in the hands-free catching of a casually pitched grape during a dinner party that purely illustrates how effortlessly happiness can be achieved with the right chemical balance. If Fuckitol can deliver on this promise, it’ll sell better than Flintstones Chewables.
He follows the actress as she stomps off into her dressing room. “So this is what my career has come to: catching treats in my mouth like a circus seal. I should just quit. Who even watches commercials anymore?”
The director can sympathize. But he knows art can overcome even the lowest medium. Last week, he got misty-eyed watching an LTE data network bring far-flung families together for a mother’s birthday. A beer commercial once compelled him to call his father out of the blue and talk baseball for an hour. Is this a sign of wellness, that he can be so swayed by his emotions, even after all the professional failures and quashed ambitions of this craft that should have left him numb by now to cheap sentiment? When he thinks of the potential effects of Fuckitol, he imagines an invisible foam barrier enveloping him in a light, spongy warmth as it provides a buffer from all the forces of the world that would have him realize that what he does with his life amounts to nothing. What price would he pay for 50 mg of such feeling?
The director pulls the orange pill bottle of Fuckitol samples from his pocket and offers the actress a tablet. “Maybe it’ll help you connect with your character.”
She swallows the pill without even looking at it, and the director takes one, too, because what else is left to try?
“It’s supposed to come on fast,” he says. “Whaddya say we try one more take?”
“Give me a minute,” she says. “I want to see if I feel anything.”
“Sure,” the director says, “let’s see how it makes us feel.”
Steve Trumpeter’s fiction has appeared in Sycamore Review, Hobart, Jabberwock Review, Chicago Quarterly Review and others. He teaches fiction writing at StoryStudio Chicago and co-hosts a popular quarterly reading and music series called Fictlicious. Find more of his work at www.stevetrumpeter.com.