Though he had been conscripted into the role long ago, Jack Worthing took his responsibility to Wellington Wells seriously. “Uncle” Jack was the face of optimism and stability. He acted as master of ceremonies through the good times and saw the town through the bad, emboldening them when prudent, encouraging them to endure when it was not – or rather he would have if indeed they’d ever had any bad times. When anyone wrote to him about their worries and concerns – which was surely a symptom of having too few problems – he allayed any doubts or questions and set them back at ease. He saw it as his duty to be the very embodiment of keeping calm and carrying on, a shining example of stalwart English spirit that Wellington Wells could rely on and emulate.
He didn’t have much of a memory of how his fellow entertainers felt about their similar standing in the world. So many of them left the industry at some point between the indeterminate then and now, preferring a life of anonymity. Jack was very nearly the only one left, save for some hobbyist musical acts. He had the vague feeling though, that the way Nick Lightbearer was fidgeting and looking unsure of why everyone else seemed so pleased to be in his presence was not becoming of an entertainer of his notoriety.
Nick and his band were here for a light interview and a live performance. Nothing out of the ordinary, certainly there shouldn’t be cause for him to be nervous? It wouldn’t do to have him looking like that on live television though. He too had a duty to his fans and he didn’t look like he was up to performing it, Jack thought with some judgement.
Then again, Jack supposed there were times when he himself wanted for someone else to be Uncle Jack, if only so he could enjoy such a reassuring presence. Jack took pity on him and sidled up to the space next to Nick on the wall he was wall-flowering on.
“You look like you have a touch of stage fright,” Jack said to get Nick’s attention. “Nothing a little Joy won’t fix right up.”
Nick jumped at being addressed, but his glossy and bloodshot eyes went wide when he saw who was talking to him.
“Oh fuck, Uncle Jack!”
Jack laughed at that boorish acknowledgement, but wondered whether the shot would be close enough for the redness in Nick’s eyes to look strange on film. He glanced over at the stagehands setting up. They were placing the camera far enough back that it shouldn’t be a problem. As for the more pertinent matter at hand, he fished his pill bottle out of the breast pocket of his blazer and popped the lid off with his thumb.
“Did you not expect me to be here in my own studio?” Jack joked as he shook a pink capsule out and offered it to Nick. Nick snatched the pill out of his hand and swallowed it without a second thought.
“No, I just didn’t know if… look, you’re, uh… you’re cool, right?” Nick said, twirling his hand about in a conspiratorial way.
“Haha, I don’t have anything stashed away in my dressing room beyond the usual, if that’s what you’re asking,” Jack deflected in his characteristic cheer.
“No, man, I mean…” Nick seemed to struggle to decide if he wanted to say what was on his mind. “Look, I got these tabs from that guy in the ash cart. Blue. And they are hitting all wrong. They’re making me ask questions and think about things, man,” he complained. “Stuff no one else here could even start to understand. Except… maybe you could? I think maybe you get it.”
Jack looked upon Nick’s desperate yet glazed eyes and gave him that practiced warm and inviting smile he gave the camera every day.
“Well, I certainly hope that you would feel just as welcome as anyone else to bend Uncle Jack’s ear over it,” he invited.
Nick stared a little too long. Maybe he was trying to gauge whether he wanted to tell Uncle Jack Worthing about whatever it was that had him looking so squirrelly or maybe whatever those blue blotting papers were made him slow on the draw, but ultimately he seemed to decide that Jack could be trusted.
“Do you ever wonder what the point of it all is when everyone forgets? Does it matter if everyone loves you if they forget about you the second you’re out of sight?” he asked. “If I disappeared tomorrow, would it be like peekaboo where if they can’t see me, then I may as well have never existed to them at all? And if it would be like that, am I doing anything that matters now?” Nick stopped his manic lament and sighed.
“The fans forget, man,” he said, coming to his forlorn conclusion. “They’ll see us on the telly tonight and tomorrow they’ll forget. Are we really even here if they don’t remember it?”
A quite existential problem, not one Jack would expect someone like Nick Lightbearer to be having. It was a dilemma the likes of which Jack was dutiful to avoid pondering himself. He’d have to now if the two of them were going to get through this TV segment.
“They do forget,” Jack commiserated, “but they record the things that are important to them, you know. I should think between the two of us, we’ve got enough celluloid and vinyl to stretch from here to Barrow Holm, don’t we? Of all things, they put quite a great deal of effort into remembering us,” he said, trailing off in his familiar light chuckle. “We matter to them, Nick, and they make sure they don’t forget us even when we’re out of mind.
“In a way,” he mused aloud, “you and I are going to live forever.” He didn’t like his delivery on that line. It lilted downward a little too much at the end. Nick was hardly going to criticize though. Instead, he considered Jack’s words – such as he was able in his state.
“Far out,” he said eventually. “Can I bum another Joy?”
Jack scrutinized his demeanor. He seemed perkier now, fears about his legacy assuaged or perhaps he’d just forgotten his Joy in the first place. Jack didn’t want him to be too loopy to remember his own lyrics though.
“Maybe you should let that one set in first,” Jack suggested.
“Come on, maaan,” Nick wheedled.
“What is the third song in your set list?” Jack quizzed, testing his acuity.
Nick thought for a moment and then, guessing, said, “‘Have You Met Sally Boyle?'”
“I’m afraid not,” Jack chuckled, using joviality to blunt whatever disappointment Nick would feel about failing his test. Nick huffed and searched his own pockets until he came up with a Joy pill and popped it in his mouth.