NOLAN GREGORY DIES!
By Noelle Rose
Spoiler alert: Nolan Gregory Porter, number one stud on You Only Live Once; husband to Electra, then Tanya-Jane, then Izabelle, then Electra again; father of five children by three women, will die next week. The cause of death is currently unknown, protected by a gaggle of soft-spoken writers in oversized glasses.
Three weeks prior: Joshua J. Thatcher, New York native, runner of marathons, gentle rehearser of lines, father of two young children and newly engaged, who after couch-surfing his way through a graduate theater program landed a role on a small show with a shaky following and built the empire of daytime drama’s most influential leading man, dies by suicide at age 47.
Between two deaths: My YOLO castmates and I gather together in a church lobby. We’re used to standing among one another on set—in bars, in living rooms, in offices, our arms crossed, or leaning on desks, or swirling vodka in glasses while our bodies remain erect, angled at unseen cameras. Today, though, we don’t quite know what to do with our hands as we talk mostly about Josh, but also Nolan Gregory. The more we talk, the harder it becomes to unwind Josh from his character, always in orbit around him.
Someone heaves open the door to the sanctuary, the light flooding through its windows latching onto us. Enlarged photos sit in easels in front of the altar: Josh in a red flannel shirt, one arm around each of his children; Josh on one knee silhouetted against a sunset, hand-in-hand with his fiancée; a closeup of Josh’s (maybe Nolan Gregory’s) face, a set of glowing white teeth.
We do funerals on screen nearly once a month.
There was the burial for Pashley’s two year old son after he fell from her balcony, a small white casket covered in teddy bears.
There was the memorial service for Casanova when he went missing in Belgium after crashing his plane, the body never found. In the on-set church, we gathered in the unspoken knowledge that he would turn up months later in some Belgian woman’s kitchen, stricken with amnesia, searching her face, her canisters, for meaning. They would fall in love and together discover that she was Belgian royalty, a long-lost princess stolen from her crib.
I didn’t pay attention in those services. Instead I studied how Berkley spoke to Jessica, the way her lips parted when he touched her arm. I watched for signs of Berkley’s infidelity. The director yelled cut and someone came to fix my hair.
Last month, I learned to ride a horse for the first time. I mounted the gleaming chestnut animal in my designer riding suit, a black helmet that clipped under my chin. As the CGI screen hurled trees and clouds behind me, the horse (replaced with a prosthetic) reared up and threw me (replaced with a body double) off. Injuries sustained: a theoretical fractured hip beneath a hospital blanket, a scratch on my forehead covered with a band aid above a face of full makeup.
Nolan Gregory sat at my bedside. In the previous episode, I confessed to him my fear of horses. A horse killed my mother, I said quietly into a martini glass. She loved him and he killed her. How do I know that won’t happen to me? I was talking about my impending riding lesson in preparation for an upcoming modeling gig, but I was also talking about love. Nolan Gregory’s knees touched mine on my velvet couch. He brushed a chunk of hair off of my tear-stained cheek and smoothed it behind my ear, leaning in close to my face. Maybe it’s time to get back in the saddle, he said. Josh’s breath curled in on me, soft and spearmint.
Everyone knew I would survive. She’s a fighter they stage-whispered to each other in waiting rooms, in bars, in bed. Three episodes later, I was walking with a thin, bejeweled cane.
No one leaves quietly from the dramas. Everyone is fabulous. Every woman is pregnant. Everything is on fire.
Today, no one has bothered to do their hair. In the pews, the younger actresses sit bare-faced, the older actresses have coated their lips in soft pink hues and applied their waterproof mascara in globs. The tears sitting on every face hold a new quality.
Thespians moonlighting as ordinary people stand one by one to give eulogies. Dressed in black, they are shadows of the typically-fierce. They say, “I wish I’d known how hard things were for him,” and, “We have a responsibility to raise awareness,” and, “Let’s take care of each other.” Their voices are quiet and quivering, and some do not reach the back of the full church.
When I need to cry on cue, I jab a pin into my thigh. The action must be performed subtly so as not to register on camera, and high enough on my leg that the scar doesn’t show when I wear dresses.
Over post-funeral catered hors d’oeuvre, we speculate—How will they kill him off? When was his last day of filming? What were his last lines? I pop crab cakes in my mouth. His last lines are what’s relevant here, markedly different from his last words.
A common experience after a loved one dies: The feeling they’ll come through the door like it’s any day; the inertia in dialing their number, then remembering.
A less common experience after a loved one dies: Continuing at a place of employment where everyone is conditioned to believe that death is temporary, that the possibility of the dead returning is a worldly likelihood.
Days after the service, the writers messenger the script. They kill off Nolan Gregory in a ski accident, to be performed with camera tricks and a body double. Sometimes fiction is just fiction.
I’m not there when Nolan Gregory dies—I’m stowed away in a closet on Berkley’s yacht, nibbling grapes and listening to his mouth against Jessica’s neck, an engine humming below me as the boat tears through miles and miles of perfect blue water.
Noelle Rose received an MFA in Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her recent work can be seen in Hobart magazine, and her chapbook "Floor Plan" was published with Dancing Girl Press in 2016. She lives in Chicago.