The Casting by James Harvey

Those of you with eagle eyes may have noticed something missing from our brand new anthology, Scattered Reds. Due to an editorial error, one of the brilliant short stories that was accepted for publication was unfortunately not included in the hard copy of the book, however we would like to honour it here. Please feast your eyes on The Casting by James Harvey. James is originally from West London and studied creative writing at Roehampton University. James is 25 years old and lives with his Mancunian girlfriend Esther. His writing heroes include Nick Hornby, Jay McIherney, and the guy who wrote the bible.

The Casting
You get on the central line at Holland Park and you do what you always do: you begin casting for your own disaster movie. If there was some kind of nuclear attack whilst we are stuck beneath London’s surface what kind of community would be forged?
You need to cast: a hero, a villain, and a love interest. You need to cast: a comedian (because the seriousness might be suffocating), a high-powered businesswoman who is too important to die, and a weirdo. You need to cast a crying, whinging coward.
You sit down and peep out over the top of your copy of The Metro that you just picked off the floor of the train. You look at the row of faces opposite; usually you give these people the first dibs on being in your disaster movie – sitting opposite them you can study their faces and behaviours for longer.
First you’ll cast the hero. You do this because if there isn’t anyone sufficiently heroic – it is you who will have to be the hero. Being the hero doesn’t suit you, you have already cast a role for yourself: philosopher, wise sage and King of Cool (being a hero is very hard work – you’ve read all the comics. Would you have gone to all those lengths to save Mary Jane? Not fucking likely). You look at the row of people opposite and as always they fit neatly into the three categories that you have established regarding commuters on the London Underground: You have the Day-Dreamers that stare into mid-space avoiding all eye contact or external stimulation; Then there are The Readers who need external stimulation or they’ll die, then there are The Tubes who stare at the Tube map and advertisements. Traditionally, your hero needs to be a Reader. A day-dreamer will take too long to click into gear to become a man/woman of action. A Tube has neither the imagination nor the balls to act independently and emerge from a crowd. A Reader will be the first to form a plan and vocalise it. You stare at the man in the collect-the-tokens Monster Munch Tee-Shirt – a day-dreamer. Next up, you look at the blonde girl with dungarees and the blood-red lipstick – she’s eating a cheese string – a day dreamer and weirdo. You cast Blondie-dungarees as your weirdo (who knows what this cheese string eating joker is capable of). You turn your attention to the black man in the beautifully fitted shirt, the light reflects of his smooth bald head, his chunky biceps visible through the shirt. You think the man looks like Shaft or something (the Samuel L Jackson version). The man’s a Reader and he’s reading The Guardian – you think this could be worse. You think this man is looking like the hero and that one day Shaft is going to be the best man at your wedding. You cast Shaft as the hero.
Next you decide to cast the villain. Who amongst these people could come up against Shaft? Nobody looks likely. You dismiss Monster Munch boy instantly, but your eyes are drawn to the floppy-haired Sloan Ranger next to him; tanned in that that healthy sun-kissed way that only posh people who own horses can tan. You think you would quite like to see Shaft punch this man in his awfully punch-able face- you don’t like his ornate facial hair or his chinos. He’s a Reader – the villain needs to be a Reader for the same reason a hero needs to be a reader – they’ll form a plan first a vocalise it. He’s Reading Oranges are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson, and that’s a book you like – this makes you dislike him less despite his punch-able face. Then he sneezes really loudly without covering his mouth or nose. You cast Floppy McSloan as your villain.
The Businesswoman who is too busy to die is always the easiest role to cast. You used to leave it open to both sexes but you worried you were spreading your chances of finding romance too thin. In the case of a disaster the harsh Businesswoman’s character would soften over time revealing hidden depths of humanity (you think about Sandra Bullock – she has made a whole acting career out of playing Businesswomen who were too busy to die.) You look around the row opposite and don’t find any women with briefcases. The carriage you’re in is throbbing with tourists and teenagers. In desperation you cast a woman based on the look of the back of her head; her hair is cut into a neat bob and she appears to be wearing a sensible coat. You know time is pressing and you’re getting off soon. You always like to imagine the beginnings of your new community by the time you get off the tube. You cast neat bob lady as the Businesswoman who is too busy to die. You cast the man in the collect-the-tokens Monster Munch tee-shirt as your comedian (he can’t take himself too seriously at any rate you think).
You still need to cast your romantic interest but you saw her as soon as you got on, she is sitting next to an older woman who might be her mother. This girl has long, dark hair and big brown eyes. She’s wearing a multi-coloured knitted poncho that makes her look like a Peruvian tomato saleswoman. She has a great laugh and you heard her pronounce bath – (ba-th) intead of(bar-th) and you thought that sounded great. One of the first conversations you’ll have together will be getting her to say grass in her northern style whilst you say grar-ss and she laughs at your lazy vowels. You cast the Peruvian Tomato Saleswoman as your love interest.
And, you look around for a crying whinging coward.
The train stops and the lights go out. You can’t see any of the faces in the dark anymore or only just barely. Your thinking: ‘shit, this is it, this is really it. This is my disaster movie.’ You’re not ready for the reality. You’re a Day-Dreamer and your body doesn’t click into action. You start to sweat and you start to breathe more heavily. You start to panic. You’re not the Philosopher, wise sage and the King of Cool. You’re not cool enough. Shit, shit, shit is all you think. Some philosopher you are.
Then the lights click back on and the train starts to move again- and you’re really fucking relieved. You look at all the other faces: calm and relaxed and more or less as they were. You wipe the palm of your hand against your sweaty forehead you know what character you are if you’re not the Philosopher, wise sage and King of Cool.
You cast yourself as the crying, whinging coward.

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