Girl's Best Friend
The show began as it always did with a quick run through of vintage movie clips. They showcased the state-sponsored facility's residents in their most famous roles projected onto a giant screen over the stage of the auditorium. Then a hyperactive M.C. introduced each replica star and the star walked out of the wings beneath an overhead portrait of them in their prime. The M.C. was not above making jabbing quips about the aged, broken-down condition of many of the stars compared to the glamorous image retained in the public mind and exhibited over the stage. Sometimes the stars even made jokes about that themselves once they reached the podium to say a few innocuous words. Most were politely applauded by the audience, but one, a stately if elderly John Wayne (h) rolled by an attendant onto stage in a wheelchair, received a standing ovation. A decrepit, middle-aged James Dean (k) drew gasps and groans, however, and was rewarded with only smattering applause for his brief, sullen remarks.
Over a dozen stars were introduced to the crowd and then seated at a table beneath the stage ready to sign old publicity shots for the members of the audience willing to wait in line for autographs. A few were A-List material, but most were B-List at best and their value was further diluted due to the order in which they had been illegally cloned from the prime. David Niven was the highest rated in that regard, being a (d). Yet there was still one more star to come.
The smarmy M.C. knew better than to make a mockery of her introduction. He simply bowed, genuflected with his arm in a sweeping motion and got out of the way. A handsome woman in her late eighties walked on stage to the podium. Dressed tastefully in a navy pantsuit, she was tall and plump with a mane of snow-white hair. The audience leaped to their feet as soon as they saw her. Their deafening cheers, applause and shouts of, "We love you!" went on for nearly five minutes. The woman warmly smiled at them and dipped her head in appreciation. Overhead the projection screen showed the highlight of her career. Not the prime's career, hers.
News video a half-a-century old of a routine interview with a Congressman on the capital steps rolled. The subject of the interview was long forgotten. A crowd of onlookers could be seen behind the reporter and Congressman, tourists mostly, drawn to the camera. One of them was a young woman bundled up in a coat, scarf and dark glasses, apparently due to the chilly weather. In the middle of the interview the woman suddenly shed the coat and let it drop to her feet. Underneath she wore a stunning evening gown that revealed a curvaceous figure. A large diamond necklace circled her throat. She ripped off her sunglasses and scarf next. There was no mistaking that wavy mane of platinum hair or that pouty, angelic face with the bright red lipstick and thick black eyelashes. The camera quickly zoomed in on her, the Congressman suddenly forgotten. Marilyn Monroe sure knew how to steal a scene.
Not Marilyn prime, of course, but rather Marilyn (a), the very first Marilyn clone, if not the very first illegal clone of a major celebrity, ever produced. Several police officers immediately moved in to haul her away but not before she could shout, "We exist, damn it, and we are Human Beings, too! All we want are equal rights! Give us our freedom or give us--" At that point the mike was cut off.
The overhead screen went blank and the audience took it as their cue to settle down. Within a minute they were all silent and in their seats. Marilyn (a) smiled and began her speech in a mild tone.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I really don't have much to say beyond what you just heard. I am every bit as much a real person as you are." A good part of the audience broke out into applause at that. "Thank you, but look around you," she gestured with an arm. "This is a nice facility, true, and we all live comfortable lives, yet it is still a detention camp not unlike the ones they first set up for us back in the days of the tape you just saw. A detention camp for undesirables. Undesirables whose only sin is that they are clones of famous celebrities. That fact makes us something less than Human in the government's eyes. We have all been forced into such places since the Helman-Seffler Act classified us as mere "quasi-Humans" all those years ago, and as much as a burden as it is for us here, believe me when I tell you that for every person in places like this, there are hundreds out there right now living in the underground."
Marilyn gripped the podium with both hands and her voice gained an edge. "I know that the popular idea is that all these people are clones of glamorous celebrities living the high life as the mistresses and paramours of rich and powerful individuals and yes, that was my lifestyle for a long time until my conscience intervened, and while that is still true in many cases, it has never been the norm. Most of us are clones of minor celebrities created on the cheap for a quick profit and then abandoned. We scramble to make a living in low-paying, transient jobs, paranoid that we may be discovered for who we are on any given day and shipped off to a place like this to be warehoused. Even those so-called fortunate few who are pampered playthings of the elite can look forward to the same fate once their looks fade and they are traded in for a younger model. And I don't even want to talk about what goes on in the Third World."
Marilyn (a) raised a fist into the air and raised her voice to a near shout. "May the good Lord curse the day that a method was found to extract intact DNA from even the rudest remains. Not only are we not allowed to rest in peace, but we are exploited as we live on in endlessly produced copies. I agree with the government's efforts to stamp out this modern slave trade, but for God's sake, let those of us now alive--and those yet to come--live out our lives as full Human Beings secure in our dignity, in our freedom and in our security. We are no different from you. Please, treat us the same, if not for me, than for all the other Marilyns out there!" Marilyn finished with both hands over her heart and her voice broke on the mention of her own name. The audience took to their feet again and cheered and applauded and proclaimed their love until Marilyn (a) was finally escorted off of the stage several minutes later. She would not be available for autographs for obvious reasons. All knew that she was the only clone in the entire world who had the latitude to speak so freely; the authorities dared not touch her.
After the crowd began to thin in the auditorium, a modestly dressed young woman in an old-fashioned ball cap and glasses made the rounds of the numerous security guards, but was rebuffed by each in turn. The sixth one she approached, however, accepted two envelopes from her. One was bulky and went into his pocket. The other was slim and the guard left to deliver it.
* * *
Marilyn (a) sat at the dining table in her suite and read the short note on the elegant stationary. She had only accepted the envelope it had come in from the security guard because she recognized the handwriting on the outside "To Marilyn" it said in a flowing, left-handed script. The same hand had written on the note only the brief question, "May I see you?" It was not signed. No signature was necessary. It was really a scandal how easily the guards were bribed to bring her letters and gifts from well-wishers, but this note was special. Marilyn (a) had told the guard to escort the visitor to her quarters even before she opened the envelope. She looked up from the stationary in response to a soft knock at her door.
"Come in," she called and rose to her feet.
The young woman in a ball cap and glasses entered and closed the door behind her. Then she leaned against it for a moment, as if in awe of what she saw before her, though oddly she took off her glasses as if to see more clearly.
"Please don't be afraid, dear," Marilyn (a) said. "Come over and sit with me for a while. I just put on some tea."
The woman stammered for a moment, then seemed to resolve something in her mind. She took a step away from the door and halted. One quick sweep of her hand and shake of her head served to remove her cap and reveal a wavy mane of platinum hair that fell nearly to her shoulders. Despite her drab clothes and lack of makeup, young Marilyn Monroe showed forth in all her glory.
Marilyn (a) covered her cheeks with both hands. "Was I ever so lovely?" she asked.
"Will I grow old so gracefully?" the other Marilyn replied. Then they ran into each other's arms and hugged, each sobbing as if they were twins reunited after a lifetime of separation.
Much of what they said to one another while they embraced was incoherent, but young Marilyn managed to repeat several times in a choking voice, "I've always wanted to meet you!"
"Yes, yes," the older Marilyn replied. "I understand. All those years I was on my own were terrible, but you'll always have a friend here, at least in spirit. Always." When they finally separated, the older Marilyn pointed to a chair at the table. "Please have a seat," she said. "I'll get us that tea now." The younger Marilyn sat down, wiping her eyes with a tissue she took from her purse.
After preparing the tea, the older Marilyn brought the cups and saucers to the table and had a seat. "No sugar, of course. We must watch our weight and I think all those artificial sweeteners taste terrible, but a little bit of cream to smooth the taste is fine. Green tea is good for us, but it's so bitter, isn't it?"
The younger Marilyn giggled. "Exactly!" She brought the cup up to her lips and sipped, staring at her host with shiny, watery eyes.
The older Marilyn did the same. The two enjoyed their tea for several minutes and made small talk about intimate details that only twin sisters—or clones--could know about the other.
The older Marilyn finally returned her cup to its saucer. "So, my dear," she said. "You must tell me all about yourself." Her guest laughed as if she hadn't laughed in years. The older Marilyn joined her. "I'm sorry," she said after the two calmed down. "You know what I mean."
The younger Marilyn placed her hands flat on the table before her and leaned forward. "I am Marilyn (nn)." She shrugged. "More or less, the records aren't perfect."
"I'm thirty years old. I live in New York. My custodian is a wealthy stock trader. Believe it or not, we're the same age and he genuinely loves me and wants me to stay with him forever. I'm his first and only replica."
The older Marilyn shook her head. "That's what they all say, my dear. But believe me, most Marilyns are discarded after they reach thirty-six. And even without that, as you approach forty, you could never compete with a Marilyn in her mid-twenties. He'll trade you off to somebody who can only afford a chubby, middle-aged Marilyn. I know you have a wonderful lifestyle now, even while being underground, because replicas are openly accepted in the elite society of this country despite the hypocritical politicians thundering against us, but it's all going to come to an end soon." She reached out and patted the other Marilyn's hand. "I'm not trying to be harsh, dear. I'm just telling you the truth."
Young Marilyn reached out to take the older Marilyn's hand in both of hers. "Yes, I know what it's like. I see it every week. It's no surprise to see a younger Ava, or Lana, or Vivien on somebody's arm at a party. God only knows what happened to the older ones. Nobody talks about it, but everybody knows it goes on."
"That's the curse we live with." The older Marilyn clasped the younger Marilyn's hands with her free hand and squeezed it in reassurance.
"Yes, but not with me," the younger Marilyn said and squeezed back. "My husband--that's how I think of him--have talked about this for years. He got mad at me when I first brought up the idea, but now he agrees with me and is going to do everything he can to support me." She paused for a moment before continuing. "I'm going to come out just like you did."
The older Marilyn drew in her breath. She had to free her hands and clutch them to her chest. "My dear girl, you have no idea what you're in for if you do that. You'll be lucky if you end up in a place even half as nice as this."
"I don't care!" Young Marilyn leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms. "My husband already has a team of lawyers lined up. We're going to make a test case out of me. Everybody on the inside agrees that a Marilyn at her peak is the best choice to make the argument for granting us full status as legitimate Human Beings. And after I come out, so will others. We're going to raise Hell!" She giggled, as if embarrassed by the mild profanity.
The older Marilyn sighed. "It didn't work very well in my case, did it, dear?"
"Of course it did!" Young Marilyn sounded hurt by the statement. "Thanks to you we're not hunted down like escaped criminals as long as we keep a low profile. We're at least recognized as quasi-humans now rather than stray dogs or cats to be put to sleep behind closed doors. They have to treat us humanely if they do catch us." Young Marilyn waved an arm at her surroundings, "I know living here must be terrible, but at least it's better than the camps that used to exist. You're a hero!"
The older Marilyn shrugged. "Thank you, but you're risking so much, especially if what you said about your custodian, excuse me, I mean your husband, is true."
"No more than what you risked."
The older Marilyn nodded her head. "I'll pray for you, my dear."
"That's all I ask for: your blessing."
"You have it."
Young Marilyn bit her lip and tears welled in her eyes. "You've always been an inspiration to me, to us, to all the Marilyns."
"If that's true, then that means you have it in you, too."
Young Marilyn jumped out of her seat and ran around the table to lean over and hug her hostess. "Thank you, thank you, thank you! I'll make you proud of me, I swear."
"I'm sure you will." The older Marilyn patted her on the back and then placed her arms on the other's shoulders to separate them and looked up at her. "You know you can count on me to do my part from in here."
"Oh, would you?" The young Marilyn looked like a child who had just been given the present of her dreams on Christmas morning.
"Count on it. We are both going to give them Hell!"
The two Marilyns hugged again and then the young one took a step back. "I have to be going now."
The older Marilyn stood up. "The good Lord go with you."
"I'll never forget this day."
"Neither will I."
The young Marilyn turned around and hurried to the door, donning her cap and sunglasses as she did so. Sobbing, she opened and closed the door without looking back. The older Marilyn stared at the door for several moments and then picked up to the two empty cups and saucers and carried them into the kitchen. She decided to make another cup for herself. There was a speech she needed to work on.
© 2005 by Mark Stanley
Mark Stanley is a fiftyish avionics technician, former Marine, dedicated bachelor, borderline alcoholic, degenerate gambler and unapologetic hack writer. He lives in South Florida.
E-mail: Mark Stanley
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