I don’t know what I was thinking of when I wrote this. Certainly nothing specific. I think I was just salty about shit like this happening in real life.

Remember when Spectre was coming out and people were like “Oh, Bond’s going to make out with an older woman!” and Daniel Craig was all like “You mean a woman the same age as him?”.

Truly, horrifying.

Also, does one thousand three hundred words still qualify as flash fiction? You know what, I don’t care. No-one’s reading this anyway.


Infantalise

The Casting Director had a dilemma.

His latest project was lacking a crucial element. The male lead was locked in, that part was sorted. A sex symbol, a sure box-office draw, a well-known and recognisable face. People didn’t want to see a new man when they went to a film. How could they be expected to understand a film or sympathise with its protagonist if it wasn’t played by a fifty year old man they’d already seen?

This part was simple, but that wasn’t the part that the Casting Director was having trouble with. That part had been a no-brainer. As with most things in life, it was women – girls, sorry – that were proving to be the problem.

Arrayed before the Casting Director were the profiles and pictures of a good dozen or more candidates for the love interest. A varied selection of slim women – ugh, that keeps happening; girls! –  ranging from those in their early twenties to those in their early-mid twenties. Looking over them the Casting Director frowned.

“What is it?” Asked their ever-eager Gopher sitting besides them. The Gopher rarely did anything useful. Mostly he was there to spout off inanities and to have ideas (and projectiles) bounced off of him. In this he excelled.

“None of these are acceptable,” the Casting Director said grimly, getting very confused between two almost-identical blondes. He had a moment of acute vertigo where he feared that overexposure to narrow standards had somehow meant that all such women – whoops again, girls – had started to look the same. Then he realised they were actually identical and he had merely been given duplicates of the same actress for some reason. He pushed them away regardless.

“They test positively,” the Gopher said. They did, he wasn’t lying. The tests had been positive. The Casting Director shook his head.

“Not good enough. Not good enough! Who picked this handful of wizened hags? Which barrel of dessicated, withered failures were they dug out of? We need younger!” He said, slamming a fist onto the table.

“Teenagers?” The Gopher ventured. He did have a selection of them on standby just in case. The Director glowered.

“Younger!”

“Children?” The Gopher asked, wincing a little. That might be pushing it, but they could probably get away with it. He’d have to go gather some profiles though. He sort of hoped this wasn’t the case.

“No! We have to go younger! Not babies either!” The Casting Director pre-empted that particular option, leaving the Gopher at a loss.

“Embryo?” They asked, bewildered. They did not possess the Casting Director’s genius and couldn’t begin to fathom what they might be driving at. That, and it was part of their job to voice the wrong idea so they could get yelled it. It was a living.

“Embryo he says! I don’t want to disgust the audience with some age-ravaged crone! No, younger than that! Before that!”

The Casting Director hurled the profiles aside, brushing them to the floor with a sweep of his arm. The Gopher gasped appreciatively. Once the last headshot of a beaming young woman – terribly sorry about this, it’s just a force of habit: young girl – had fluttered to the ground the Casting Director reached over to his multi-purpose intercom and pushed the buzzer.

“Send in the Augur,” he said.

Moments later the Augur was wheeled into the room, strapped in place on their trolley. The old ways of letting them rummage around in bird guts or fiddle with tea leaves had been most inefficient. Nowadays you tapped into them directly and this Augur was no different. While one aide pushed the Augur into position by the table another delivered an envelope to the Casting Director. He did not thank them.

“Youth is the essence of beauty, at least with girls. Everything else is secondary or springs from youth to begin with. But the instant a girl is born – nay, conceived! – she has age, and therefore no beauty. And it is UNACCEPTABLE for her to exist as such while on camera!”

The Casting Director was talking more to himself and the Gopher just happened to be caught in the splash-zone (as it were) but they nodded anyway, jaw slack with adoration. The stench of wisdom was eye-watering. With the envelope open the Casting Director was leafing through its contents with a look of intense concentration on his face. In a short span of time he seemed to find what he was looking for.

“We can do much better,” he said, smiling at what he’d chosen. The Gopher, eager to see what all this was about, craned their neck to catch a glimpse and saw in the Casting Director’s hand a photograph of a smiling, cuddling couple. This mystified the Gopher, who watched the Casting Director lift the picture up and waft it in front of the Augur, who was dribbling a bit.

“Analyse this for me,” the Casting Director said. The Augur was jolted into activity by a mild shock and lazily focussed their scrying apparatus on the picture, wriggling in discomfort against their bonds as the nature and fabric of reality fed itself through their brain. The results of this was fed on a small ream of paper that emerged from about halfway down the Augur’s platform. The Casting Director took it and looked it over.

“You see, this one is close but no cigar,” they said, discarded both the ream and the photograph with a sigh. Both wafted across the table towards the Gopher, who remained in the dark. The Casting Director looked at them sideways.

“You don’t know what’s going on, do you?”

“I..do…but you should say anyway,” the Gopher said. The Casting Director sighed again, rubbing their face. Reaching over the table they picked up the photo, holding it up so the Gopher could see.

“This is a couple. A couple in love. Traditionally what happens when a man and a girl love each other very much is that a child is produced at some point down the line. As is well known to science this child begins life first as a twinkle in the eye well before any physical form begins to come together.”

The Casting Director moved a finger so it pointed directly to the smiling faces of the couple.

“The twinkle is what we want. The merest hint and glimmer of a girl. The very pinnacle and perfection of youth – someone not yet even born. This one is no good though,” they said, dropping the photo again. The Gopher, who’d seen the twinkle but hadn’t really known if it was a good one or not, blinked.

“It’s not?” They asked.

“It’s a boy. No age limits on boys.”

“Oh. Right.”

The Casting Director ran the the photos through the Augur one after another. Most were discarded. More boys, or twinkles that failed to pass muster for one reason or another. The twinkle of women – ugh…’girls’ – who would be unacceptable. Things looked bleak until, quite suddenly, he leapt to his feet with a cry.

“This one! This one!” He said, holding aloft a photo that looked curiously like the first. The Gopher watched on in stupefied awe. The Casting Director cradled the photo as though it were his own child, cooing down at it:

“We’ve found our leading lady.”

Later, once the film was finished, audiences were wowed by the easy and comfortable chemistry demonstrated on-screen by the male lead and his romantic interest. Of particular note was the much anticipated first kiss, with those watching proving very receptive to the sight of a grown man making out with a photograph. Accusations that she was a flat character were plainly baseless.

How nice it was, the critics said, to see an older actress given a chance to play such a role.

END

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