Sydney

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           Sydney wondered what the Duke had on his mind. It was strange being so close to someone, so intimate with them, and yet not have a single clue as to what they were really thinking. He had known John for some time now---always Mr. Wayne when he talked about him with the others, which he knew was too formal, priggish, but he couldn't help himself---ever since they'd made the Sands of Iwo Jima together, when the Duke still had most of his own hair but was starting to get a little thin on top. That had been when he had first joined the Entourage, as they grandiosely referred to themselves, brought on board by Web Overlander, Mr. Wayne's favorite make-up man, as temperamental as any actor if not more so. Those were the days and they still were, though the picture they were currently making was certainly nothing to brag about, some grade B desert adventure made on location in a harsh environment that specialized in extreme temperatures of heat or cold, which did nothing for his constitution. But there was no use in complaining, you just went wherever the Boss went and did your job and that was all there was to it, not that there was anything terribly difficult with what they had to do, essentially just lie on top of the Duke's head and make it appear that he still had a full head of hair, nothing to it for an old pro like Sydney, who could perform such a task in his sleep.

           Sydney had long ago forgiven the Duke's resentment of him, an antipathy that had largely turned to grudging acceptance but sometimes still flared into open hostility. If he remembered correctly, the Duke's first words on seeing him were: "What the hell do I need that thing for? I'm wearing a helmet in this scene, anyway." Sydney had wished he was dead, that's how much those words had hurt. How could Mr. Wayne be so cruel to an underling whose only purpose was to make him look good? But Sydney had adjusted quickly and accepted the idea that he would never be appreciated, that he would always be regarded as something shameful, to be kept secret, seen, but never noticed. Sometimes it was hard to keep that golden rule, not to do something to attract attention to yourself, to shift position ever so slightly in the middle of a close-up, but so far Sydney's professionalism, which he credited to a mysterious, innate ability, had never once deserted him. Fortunately, John was a pretty nice guy once you got to know him and got used to his direct style. He was brusque with almost everyone, but only because he was a perfectionist and wanted everything to go well, a trait that Sydney recognized in himself.

           Underneath him, the Duke groaned and lurched forward in the powerful style that Sydney had grown accustomed to. He wondered why they were wandering around the desert at this time of the night but didn't mind since otherwise he'd just be back in his box, hoping to get called for the next day's shoot along with all the other wigs, me, me, pick me! It was rare though not unheard of for the Duke to keep him on when they weren't working, it usually happened when the Duke had a public appearance to make where it wouldn't be proper etiquette for him to constantly wear a hat or when the Duke wanted to go out on the town, which had seemed to be the case earlier tonight when they had gone to a bar where Sydney wondered if they were still shooting the movie because of the characters who had joined Mr. Wayne and their ensuing conversation. Then---Sydney shuddered to think of it---the narrow escape he'd had when they'd left the bar and the Duke had fallen into the pile of excrement and he, Sydney, had almost fallen off into it too---God! That would have been the end of him for sure because there was no way he could have been cleaned up sufficiently to continue his duties, he would have been discarded forthwith, if indeed Mr. Wayne would have even bothered to have recovered him. But somehow he had managed to hold on and not even get a speck on him, it was a near miracle, which Sydney liked to think he owed to all his experience working with Mr. Wayne, but knew it was more luck than any skill on his part that had saved him.

           Sydney felt a swell of euphoria when he imagined how jealous the others would be when he told them about his midnight adventures with the Duke, especially that foppish French wig Jules, who thought he was better than all the others and barely deigned to acknowledge their existence. Mr. Wayne had six different hairpieces that he used, him, Jules, Andy, Fergus, Max, and Paulie. Most of the time they all got on fairly well and were like family, even rooted for each others' success---"Oh, I hope he wears you today, instead of me!"---that sort of thing, maybe not totally sincere, Sydney often got the feeling that when they encouraged each other like that they were just trying to raise their own spirits and somehow make themselves more deserving to be picked by having such an unselfish attitude, it was a cutthroat world, the world of wigs, because it was so unbearable not to be picked for that day's work or the next, it was the only life they had, otherwise you were just left to sit in a box on a shelf, wondering in the dark if this was it, you were never going to be called on again, you were just going to be forgotten or thrown out, replaced by someone new with less wear and tear, but then that glorious moment when the lid to your box came off, almost as if you were being rescued from the grave, just when you had lost all hope, and you were chosen to play the role that fate or whatever had decreed for you to play, perhaps not a leading role but a role just the same. To Sydney, there was nothing more beautiful. He imagined it was like seeing the sunrise, or something even more lovely.

           He often wondered how it was that he could think and feel these things, being a mere hairpiece. Jules's theory, related with his usual disdain and with a French accent that Sydney now realized was probably phony, was reincarnation, that they had past lives as human beings and were being punished for their misdeeds, and perhaps for the misdeeds of their ancestors, too. Sydney supposed that was possible, except that he couldn't remember having any past lives, much less committing any crimes that would have warranted him being brought back as a wig. Was that the way the universe worked? He liked Max's idea better, that they were all alive because in some way everything was alive, or conscious, even the rocks and trees, or a piece of machinery like a car. That was something Sydney could believe in, except it still didn't explain everything such as how was it that he was aware of things without having any sense organs? How was it that in his mind or consciousness he was able to hear or see things, albeit imperfectly, like he was dreaming? Perhaps that meant that Fergus was right, that everything they thought they sensed wasn't real, was just an illusion, including their own existences and John Wayne, though how that could be Sydney had no idea, anymore than he knew how he knew his name, or that he was a wig, or even what a wig was. He had just always known those things somehow. Sydney tried to remember his origins, but it was as if that knowledge was not permitted to him. The best he could remember was that he had always been a wig, and that one day he had joined the Entourage and started working for John Wayne. Everything else was blank. Whoa! Sydney felt the Duke falling again and rode him down to another crash landing, this time more prepared for the flop than he had been for the first, maintaining his position with little effort. The Duke seemed unharmed, getting up after only a few seconds. Sydney wondered if it was normal for Mr. Wayne to have this much trouble staying on his feet on a night out on the town, but before he had much time to consider the question he became aware that the Duke was talking with someone again. Earlier, after the first time Mr. Wayne had hit the dirt, he had seemed to engage in a conversation with a camel, and then a short time later, Mr. Wayne had seemed to be talking to God, or the Big Guy, as Mr. Wayne liked to refer to him. Now, as far as Sydney could tell, Mr. Wayne was talking to a spirit, a ghost. What did it all mean? The best that Sydney could come up with was that the Duke was doing an actor's exercise pretending to talk to these characters, or was so drunk that he was imagining these conversations, or they were shooting scenes for a movie that Sydney hadn't suspected until this moment was being filmed, which would explain why Mr. Wayne still had him on, but if that was the case, then where were the lights, cameras, crew? Sydney listened but couldn't really hear anything, most of the words were muffled, it was rare when he could hear anything clearly, besides just sounds, but there did seem to be someone else present who was talking to the Duke unless, of course, the Duke had disguised his voice in order to play both roles, if another actor wasn't present or a real ghost, which Sydney considered the remotest possibility but to be fair one he had to take into account, especially in light of his own status. If he could exist, if he did, then why couldn't there be ghosts too, things that just couldn't be explained? If there wasn't a rational, scientific explanation for everything, though, the category into which Sydney guessed he fell---what did that mean?

           The dialogue with the ghost seemed to be over. Sydney felt the Duke's fingers brush against him, scratching in the area of the Duke's scalp that he was covering. This made Sydney very nervous because considering the strange mood that Mr. Wayne seemed to be in there was no telling what he might do. What if Mr. Wayne blamed him for his itch? Sydney always felt safest when the Duke had completely forgotten about him, didn't even know he was there, but now---Sydney's worst fears were realized when he felt himself being grabbed, ripped from the Duke's head, and the next thing he knew he was sailing through the air, Mr. Wayne shouting "I'm a free man!" It occurred to Sydney that he was free too now, but didn't want to be.

           After a brief flight, a sensation that Sydney found amazingly pleasant, he softly landed right side up on cold ground. His first post-Duke thought was: what had he done to deserve this? Hadn't he always served Mr. Wayne faithfully, without complaint, done the best job he could? Then he realized that it didn't matter: even when you did nothing wrong, you could still wind up abandoned, a cruel lesson that Sydney wasn't sure what good it did him to learn.

           He wondered if Mr. Wayne was still here, or had left him to his fate. Perhaps the Duke would feel guilty over his behavior and come back to retrieve him, even realize that he still needed him, but did Sydney really want that? To his surprise he found it exhilarating to be on his own like this, to have the opportunity to do something different with his life, but what else could he do? What did he want to do? He was made for only one thing. He didn't even know where he wanted to go or how he could get there. He had some power of movement but it was very limited, he would need someone to come along and pick him up, or for a strong wind to blow him somewhere. He wished the other wigs were around so he could ask their advice, but they were too far away to communicate with.

           Sydney felt the ground quake as if someone was approaching, footsteps indicating a ponderous bulk. Was it the Duke returning for him already, overcome by remorse for his callous treatment of a faithful employee? Despite his excitement just a short time ago over his newfound independence, Sydney hoped so, which he supposed was cowardly but he liked the Duke, he liked working for him, basking in his reflected glory, except this didn't seem like the Duke's walk to him, it seemed much heavier and four-footed. Sydney's suspicions were confirmed when he felt the heavy nose of some creature sniffing him, then, to his horror, teeth nibbling at him. My God, was he going to be eaten by some desert beast? Chewed up, masticated beyond recognition, then spit out as unpalatable since he wasn't edible, or, worse, swallowed anyway to make an unimaginably hellish journey through the creature's intestines where, if he wasn't completely dissolved, at the end he would be excreted as a sodden, disgusting lump? Sydney prayed this would not happen to him and it seemed his prayers were answered when instead of eating him the creature picked him up in its teeth and flipped over backwards where, after executing a perfect somersault, evincing an athletic ability that Sydney did not know he possessed, he landed, again right side up, on a meaty, tufted hump, which to Sydney strongly suggested camel.

           The camel began moving forward, essaying a sauntering gait that Sydney found oddly reminiscent of the Duke's. He wondered why the camel had picked him up. Out of pity, or some instinct to provide protection for the most exposed portion of its body? That seemed more likely. Whatever the reason, it felt good to Sydney to be back in the saddle again, so to speak, to be working so soon after being abruptly fired for no reason at all, just for doing his job. It did wonders for Sydney's ego, even if it was only a camel he was working for now, a dumb beast. He supposed it was unseemly for him to take any pleasure in this sudden turnabout in his fortunes, that it was disloyal, even mercenary, but, Sydney reasoned, that was showbiz.


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