More than a few people have told me I talk like Scarlett Johansson. I have a low voice, I guess, which sounds funneled through fleshy lips.
I was with a man once who was obsessed with the resemblance. I mean he really got off on it. He liked to close his eyes and have me talk to him. It didn’t have to be anything sexy. I could say, “The bread is on the table,” and that would be enough.
“The bread is on the table.”
He’d sit there with his eyes closed and see my lips swell to Scarlett-size. I’d grow shorter—or so he told me—and my breasts filled a much larger bra.
“The bread is on the table,” and I was Scarlett. “I bought it fresh this morning.”
I’d babble on like this, and he’d smile and take my hand, and sometimes he responded to whatever I was saying, but mostly he just let me talk. I tried to keep it neutral, because I didn’t want to distract him. No complaints, no dilemmas, nothing relating to literature or politics or religion or war. Just something pleasant about a dog, or the weather, or some bread.
Sometimes it got too pleasant. He’d get so comfortable that he’d forget, and open his eyes, and Scarlett would disappear. It would just be me sitting there, rattling on about buttercream frosting, and I could see it in his face, how disappointing
that moment was.
But one evening when he was holding my hand and listening to me talk about a tree, he opened his eyes and continued smiling. “Go on, Scarlett,” he said, and it was clear he was still seeing her.
I went on. And he went on calling me Scarlett, playfully, until it was time to go to bed.
The next morning when we awoke he called me Scarlett again. And later, at work, he wrote me an email. “Scarlett,” it said, followed by a comma, followed by something about the car we shared.
I wrote back about the car, and made a crack about my job, and then, for a laugh, signed her name instead of mine. “Love, Scarlett,” I typed. I liked the way it felt.
Before long he was addressing all my emails to Scarlett, and I was signing them all Scarlett in return. He called me Scarlett at home, and at dinner with friends, so that eventually they, too, called me Scarlett, and I had no trouble responding. Soon enough, the authorities got wind of the situation, and my bills and magazines and paychecks began coming to Scarlett Johansson, and all the cards in my wallet bore her name.
It was pretty easy at first, being Scarlett. I never had to pay for a thing. But after a while, it got to the point where I would hear on TV that Scarlett Johansson was going to be appearing at such and such premiere, and I would think, “Oh no, why did no one tell me?” and I would hurry upstairs to change into something decent and grab some long-lasting gloss for my lips.
It was intense. There were shots to set up and lines to read. I had to be neutral all the time.
At the hundredth or so premiere, long after I’d split with that man, when I was more famous than I’d ever imagined I’d be, I encountered a novice reporter, hanging back from the herd with his mic. He seemed nervous and somewhat embarrassed to be questioning me on the red carpet.
“You’re not how I thought you’d look,” he stammered, in a manner that was actually very sweet.
I laughed, of course, but he was not put at ease, and all at once I remembered my past. “What did you think I’d look like?” I asked him.
“It’s really stupid,” he told me.
“I’m sure it isn’t,” I insisted, now urgently wanting to know.
“It is, Charlotte,” he said, using my long-forgotten name, which sounded so much like hers. “It’s impossible.”
“Because I look different,” I coaxed him. “Because I don’t look the way I sound.” I recalled another life with a car and a computer and a man who liked to close his eyes. A simpler life, before I became Scarlett Johansson.
“That’s right,” he said. He seemed almost relieved. “I thought you’d look like a loaf of bread.”
Katherine Hill is the author of The Violet Hour, a novel. Her fiction, essays, and reviews have appeared in Bookforum, Colorado Review, the Guardian, and n+1, among others. She teaches fiction in the MFA program at Arcadia University and is an assistant editor at Barrelhouse.
“Scarlett” originally appeared in Women’s Studies (TLR, Winter 2015).