Eileen McDougall’s Strange Case of Hero Worship
“He will see you now.”
Eileen McDougall looked up. It appeared as if she had some how dropped into an episode of Mad Men. The men with their greasy hair and nice suits, the women impossibly put together wearing dresses with perfect hair and make up.
Eileen looked down at herself. She was wearing a bright green dress and high heels. She touched her hair. It was and perfectly in place. At any other time, she wouldn’t have bothered with her appearance. She had spent the last four years at a Catholic all-girls school where caring was troublesome and sweatpants were the norm. How she got into this outfit, she wasn’t sure nor could she remember. Still, she was a student of Emile Lance Gould and as such, she remained calm, composed, and stoic – not giving anything away on her face.
She got up and did as she was told, entering an office. She couldn’t remember how she had gotten to this strange office or even this time period but she figured that if she opened the door, she might find out.
Eileen stepped in to find a man waiting for her at a desk.
He was forty, smart-looking, well dressed as the rest of the men but unlike the men, who looked like regular men, this man was above them all – the epitome of tall, dark and handsome.
“Ah, Miss McDougall,” He greeted. “Please, take a seat.”
Eileen nodded and did as she was tall, across from the man’s desk.
“Would you like anything to drink? I can call Wilma to get you something. Perhaps a water?”
“No. I am fine.”
“Miss McDougall, you are expressionless.”
It was such a direct observation, it through Eileen off. “Oh. I apologize if this offends you, sir.”
“Not all. May I inquire if it is something you do on purpose? Most girls shouldn’t go around looking so uptight or else they might become spinsters.”
Eileen inwardly twitched. She had to remind herself that clearly this was a different time period and her feminist, all-girls Catholic school education was something outlandish in certain areas of the decade she seemed to be currently in.
“I am an actress, sir. I am in training.”
“I always thought actresses were more expressive, more dramatic.”
“Not all, sir. Not if you’re a student of The Emile Lance Gould Method.”
Eileen surprised herself. It occurred to her that here she was, opening herself to a complete stranger. She didn’t even talk to most of her classmates this openly, but with this strange man, the words came flying out with ease. It was as if he wasn’t a stranger at all.
The man looked up, probably surprised at the name but not showing it in his voice. He was as stoic as Eileen. A mirror of her own expressionlessness. “The Emile Lance Gould Method?”
The man was acting as familiar with Eileen as she was with him. The words came before she could stop them, “Alright. Well, in acting there is something called The Method. The Method was devised by Constantin Stanislavsky. His method is all about using the past experiences and emotions to express a portrayal of a character. In this way, the actor does not just become a character, but rather has a better understanding of himself. It’s quite a powerful tool. Marlon Brando and Marilyn Monroe were both students of it.”
Eileen paused finally gaining some semblance of control. She was rambling. Although her speech had been even, surely that was a lot of information dumping on a man that was surely busy.
Instead, the man was listening to her intently, “Go on,” he encouraged.
Eileen nodded. “Well, you see there are many ways to teach The Method. One such way is The Emile Lance Gould Method. He said that actors and actresses should remain stoic when they are not on the stage and save up their expressions and feelings solely for the stage. So I remain stoic here, save what I’m feeling, and release my emotions on stage for a tour de force performance.”
“So you bottle up your emotions for acting?”
“That sounds like an excuse of a scared little girl.”
Eileen remained calm but inwardly she felt as if she had been slapped in the face.
“Excuse me, sir?”
“Does expressing yourself scare you, Eileen? Are you afraid of what people might really think of you if you were to be yourself?”
Eileen didn’t understand why she was suddenly being attacked. Strange sense of familiarity and word vomiting aside, this man had no right to make judgements about her. Who did he think he was?
“Or are you afraid that this is really you and you just made up an excuse to act cold towards people.”
“I did not fabricate Mr. Gould’d teachings. He wrote a very interesting book I read as a little girl where his method is described in detail.”
“Yes.” Eileen made sure not to make it known how victorious she felt.
The man pulled out a book and rested it on the table. The Stoic Actor.
“Emilie Lance Gould’s book.” Eileen breathed.
“Well, then, you see that it’s real.”
“Is it really?”
Eileen’s brow twitched, anxious to furrow. She resisted. “Sir, I’m afraid you aren’t making any sense.”
The man bore a gaze into Eileen and then, still looking at her, pressed a button on a device on his desk. “Wilma?”
“Yes, Mr. Gould?”
Eileen could stop herself from gasping but she couldn’t stop herself from sweating.
“Please call my wife and tell her I’ll be a little late for dinner this evening.”
“Will do, Mr. Gould.”
“You’re-” Eileen began.
The man took a nameplate from his desk drawer and put it on his desk facing Eileen clearly.
It read: Emile Lance Gould.
“You’re Emile Lance Gould.”
The man said nothing.
It was hard for Eileen not to completely melt into starstruck fervor but now more than ever, it was important to practice discipline. She had to, especially, in the face of her hero.
“I loved your book. I’ve been practicing your method for years, since I was ten.”
How could it be sad? That was a compliment! Eileen had found the method utterly brilliant and had sacrificed a lot to gain the ruthless self-control needed to be a student of his method. Now, here Emile Lance Gould was sitting in a random office in the 60s staring back at her and telling her not to practice it.
“It is sad to be closed off. You’re not a robot after all.”
“I don’t understand how you could say that. You’re the father of the method.”
“No. I am not.”
Eileen couldn’t believe this.
Evenly, “If you’re not Emile Lance Gould, who are you?”
The man’s eyebrows arched just a little bit. It was a small gesture of approval, as if Eileen had finally gotten it. “I am who you think of when you think of Emile Lance Gould.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You do. You are a very smart girl, Eileen. Try using your brain.”
Eileen paused and thought and thought. No. It couldn’t be. “This isn’t a dream. Is it?”
The man sat back in his chair. “You tell me.”
“It is. I detest stories where everything ends up just being a dream. I suppose that does explain my unceremonious drop into another decade. Well, does that mean that now since I know I’m dreaming, that I can control the area around me? Like, I could make turn you into orange pulp?”
“No. You do not have control, your subconscious has control. It called you to this particular dream because it has something to tell you.”
“Alright. What does it have to say?”
“You’re accepting it, just like that?”
“Do I have a choice?”
“Like I said before, you are a very smart girl.”
“You’re only saying that because you’re a manifestation of my mind.”
“You are not wrong in your assumptions.”
“Well, then. What does that mean? What does it mean that you’re how I picture Emile Lance Gould?”
“It is as simple as that. I am an imaginary manifestation you created.”
“I did not created Emile Lance Gould. I read The Stoic Actor dozens of times when I was eight.”
What kind of question was that? If he was a projection of a part of her subconscious, shouldn’t he already know that?
“Do you have any memories of reading it?”
“I-” Eileen paused and became dumbstruck. She realized that didn’t have any memories of actually reading the book. No. She remembered telling people she did, but the actual act of the reading the book escaped her. Try as she might, even with all her discipline, she just barely repressed her surprise. “I don’t.”
Eileen attempted to compose herself. “There really is no Emile Lance Gould?”
The man shook his head.
“No, there is an Emile Lance Gould.”
“Now you’re not making any sense at all.”
Eileen was finding it extremely difficult to resist expressing annoyance. “Yes.”
“Ah. You almost expressed some emotion there.”
Eileen composed herself. “I would find it very helpful if you explained to me what’s going on.”
The man inched forward, staring into Eileen. “Eileen McDougall. Emile Lance Gould. Eileen McDougall. Emile Lance Gould.” He began to chant.
“I don’t understand.”
He continued chanting. “Eileen McDougall. Emile Lance Gould. Eileen McDougall. Emile Lance Gould.”
“I don’t understand.” Eileen said a little louder.
The man wouldn’t stop chanting. “Eileen McDougall. Emile Lance Gould. Eileen McDougall. Emile Lance Gould.”
Finally, feeling the frustration rise up inside of her, Eileen let out a primal yell, “I don’t understand!”
Her facade melted away.
Feelings she had held back for ten years burst from her so easily.
She breathed heavily.
The man stopped chanting.
“Use your brain, Eileen. Say it with me – Eileen McDougall. Emile Lance Gould.”
Eileen didn’t bother to stop her eyes from widening.
The man sat back, and watched as Eileen got it together.
Emile Lance Gould.
The bulb in Eileen’s head suddenly illuminated.
“Emile Lance Gould is an anagram of my name.”
“So you understand.”
Eileen clutched her chest as if the realization had just gotten the wind knocked out of her.
“I’m Emile Lance Gould. He’s…me. And that means you’re me and I’m you.”
“All that stuff. I made all of it up.”
“So all that work I’ve been doing what was it?”
“You were afraid.”
“But why?” Desperateness seeped through her voice. She couldn’t remember the last time she had begged so openly off stage.
“You were afraid. You needed to explain your behavior. You didn’t want anyone to see you for you. It was easier to be yourself when you were pretending to be other people.”
“I-” Eileen was dissolving rapidly into her emotions. It was frightening, letting go. She couldn’t stop herself for showing her distressed side. She should have been embarrassed but she couldn’t stop. She just couldn’t get her control back. “Did something happen?”
Just then, the man’s door opened. A young secretary, Wilma, stepped in. “Mr. Gould, your presence is requested at the meeting.”
“Yes of course.”
“Did something happen?” Eileen screamed suddenly, surprised by the volume of her own voice. Did she always have the ability to be this loud? Did she always have this ability to say exactly what was on her mind? “You can’t leave now! I want to know! I want to know why I’m like this!”
Wilma just stared at Eileen, smiling, as if Eileen had wished her a good day.
The man simply got up and calmly began to walk out.
“Please!” Eileen pleaded and grabbed the man’s wrist.
“You’re a smart girl, Eileen.” He smiled slightly. The first time he had ever shown any real expression throughout their entire conversation. “Or should I say Emile? You’ll figure it out.”
The man ripped his wrist out of Eileen’s grasp and walked out, closing the door behind him.
Eileen couldn’t let him go that easily. He had opened Pandora’s Box of questions. There were so many things she wanted to learn about. Like, how was it possible that an eight year old girl was able to create this complex acting method? Or how had she tricked her mind into believing that she had read that book so many times?
Eileen lunged forward to open the door.
But there was no office.
It had disappeared.
The businessmen, the secretaries, the desks, Wilma, everything was gone.
No. No. No. No.
Not when she had so many questions.
Not when she had suddenly found the ability to ask them.
She wasn’t ready.
She had to stay.
But Eileen couldn’t will the office back.
All she could do was jolt back to consciousness.
Katie Grotzinger is currently a student at St. Edward’s University in Austin, TX. She has had one-act plays produced and a few short stories produced. She spends most of her time listening to Neil Young and watching documentaries.
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