Disclaimer: I don't own Sunset Boulevard, only a CD of the soundtrack. I haven't even been to see a production it nor have I seen the film…do I even have any right to type this?
A/N at first I thought a new ending was needed because I hated it, however on further reflection I realised it worked…unfortunately...so instead of writing a different ending I wrote some one shots about what the characters may have been thinking…Joe is my favourite character. He's flawed but he's a good person. This is what I like to feel he was thinking in his last scene. Drabble. One shot.
So I told Betty to come over. Gave her the address. Maybe that was a silly thing to do, maybe…but I'd just realised something and that was going to have to shape everything I did. I clicked the phone back onto its receiver and stared at Norma. Really stared. She begged me to hit her but not hate her. Too late. My anger and revulsion burned on a cold heat that was revealed in my eyes. Of course I hated her. She was going to rob me of the one person I loved one way or another so, damn it, I'd do it on my own terms. I gave her a disgusted look and turned away. She didn't hang around but slunk off somewhere. What did I care where she'd gone? Outside there was a flash as lightning forked through the sky and a few moments later there was a growling rumble as thunder rolled up. No rain.
Suddenly it all caught up with me. My life, what I was about to do, my future…and I slumped onto the sofa. The depression was crushing. Trapped, no escape…I knew that, but like hell if I surrendered to that organ upstairs.
The shriek of the doorbell pierced my conscience and I walked swiftly to the door. I knew exactly what I had to say…what I had to do…and then I saw Betty. She was standing there so silent and beautiful, hair wild from the wind, dark eyes overflowing with concern and worry. I couldn't look at her. How could she make me feel so ashamed of myself without even speaking? No matter. I'd already realised what I'd gotten myself into.
"Come in," I muttered, looking off to the side.
"Joe, what's going on?" she sounded so scared and I wanted nothing more than to comfort her…but that wouldn't have worked. She was speaking but the words were washing by me unheard – I couldn't look at her, though all I wanted to do was memorise her face in every tiny detail. Instead I studied the room in tiny details. What a trade. The plush red curtains stirring in the breeze from the partially open French doors, the crushed velvet sofa resting on the wine carpet and scattered liberally with feather cushions. Yes it looked comfortable and warm, with the chandelier hanging like a beautiful jewel above but on second glance all I could feel was the emptiness of it all. The fireplace was cold and dead, the walls were bare except for her pictures and that beautiful chandelier was unlit so that we were standing in the half light cast by the odd lonely lamp and the lightning from the storm. It was all so stupid! I wanted to knock that bowl of caviar onto the carpet and grind it in. Smash the bottle of champagne…oh, Betty was still in the room, still talking.
"You said you loved me tonight!"
I winced. Yes. I had. It was true but would make things harder now. I clenched my fists. What had to be done had to be done…and didn't I just hate myself for it.
"Say something Joe!" burst from her, a desperate plea in a cracked voice.
"Have some pink champagne, some caviar…" all bitterness bubbling over into words – it poured from my mouth in a torrent. The horrid, ugly, leering materialism of it all. I was barely aware of what I was saying. I was attacking it all, everything, every little annoying phoniness that had irked me since I'd got here.
"Who's it belong to?" Betty asked in some sort of awe.
It stopped my rant short.
"Just look around you," I sneered. Betty glanced around the walls and her eyes widened as they fell on the giant picture of Norma above the fireplace, in one of her regal poses.
"That's Norma Desmond!" she breathed.
"Right on the money! That's Norma Desmond! That's Norma Desmond! That's Norma Desmond! That's Norma Desmond!" I jabbed my finger at the various other portraits, miniatures, framed black and white photos – signed no less. An ego the size of Manhattan.
"Why did she call him me?" her voice was small, scared, willing me not to confirm her theory. Sorry Betty. Now was my moment. I had to hurt her, wound her so deep it'd chase her away for good. It wasn't too hard. I was so full of self-loathing that I'd decided she was too good for me. I didn't need to act I just told her. The plot was just like a bad movie script. She put her hand over my mouth, tried to silence me. She was in pain, I could see. Her fingers were so light on my skin it drove me crazy. So delicate. I loved her, burned for her.
"Just pack your bags and let's get out of here."
She was still willing to forgive me. Sweet. I'd long gone past the point of forgiving myself and I still I had to drive the knife deeper.
"You mean all my things? Have you gone mad?" No, I wasn't going anywhere. Her eyes were filled with horror. The last twist of the knife was already tripping off my tongue.
"I'm afraid there's no room for a wife," I said dismissively. My temper suddenly flared again. "You should go back to Artie and marry the fool!" I snapped. That hurt me because it was what she'd do. She'd marry him and he'd have her forever and I'd have nothing. He'd have what I'd had briefly, never to have again. That was the sharpest stab to the heart. I'd had a taste of heaven to have it snatched from me.
"I can't look at you anymore Joe!" she half sobbed, disgust and despair deeply etched into her face, and fled the room, crashing through the French doors blindly. The red velvet curtains billowed inwards as the wind caught them. Rain lashed the pavement outside. It must have started while we were talking.
I let my head drop to my chest as the misery washed over me, the one little show of weakness once I knew she'd gone for good.
You have to understand, I did it for her. I think I had some inkling of what would happen…it was John the Baptist after all, and I couldn't let Betty get caught up in that. I hurt her badly, but if I'd told her the truth…well she's Betty. She never would've gone.
My reverie was broken when I saw Norma out the corner of my eye and I glared at her. She must have seen the hatred in my eyes because she halted halfway down the stairs. Hand trembling slightly on the banister. An old wrinkled hand, the knotted veins beginning to stand out. Her face was strained, deep purple bags under her eyes, loose flesh hanging from her cheeks despite all the work her hired people had been doing.
I suddenly felt sick.
With a blank face I climbed the stairs. She reached for me muttering, "thank you Joe", like an ingratiating puppy. I shook off her hand as she took my wrist. Her touch felt like thick rubbery tendrils of some squid, trapping me, pulling me down to drown alone in the dark icy black ocean depths.
I went into my room and picked up my typewriter. A strange thing to grab really. I should've just left once Betty had gone but damn it I'd make this dramatic. Heck, I'm a writer. Carrying the hulking metal I made my way slowly down the stairs. There was no hurry. I'd draw out my leaving like she'd drawn out my staying.
Norma's eyes were wild, wide and staring frantically.
"What are you doing Joe?" she asked with a shaky laugh. I ignored her. Let her get it.
"You're not leaving me?" she whispered disbelievingly.
"Yes I am Norma," I replied firmly with bitter relish.
"You can't!" she shrieked with panic. "Max!"
"It's been a bundle of laughs," I said sarcastically, "and thanks for the use of the trinkets." I pulled out the cigarette case and gave it to her airily with a half sneering, "a little ritzy for the copy desk back in Dayton."
I half turned to go…then looked back at her. As I've said, I'm a writer. I couldn't resist a farewell speech. This woman had stolen everything from me. I wanted to make her feel a fraction of the pain I did. Hell, I wanted her to feel twenty times the pain I did but that would've been impossible.
"There's something you ought to know. I want to do you this favour; they'll never shoot that hopeless script of yours, they only wanted your car." I watched these shafts hit hard with grim satisfaction – not pleasure – satisfaction. There's a difference, subtle though it is. She was getting what she deserved. Yes I had cared for her but I hated her now, almost as much as I hated myself. I was going to give her everything she had coming.
"That's a lie! They still want me!" she yelled back, and as a clincher, "what about all my fanmail?"
I'd hoped she'd bring that up.
"It's Max…" I said with a drawn out hiss, "…who writes you letters. Your audience has vanished. They left when you weren't looking." And the last poisoned barb. "Nothing's wrong with being fifty, unless you're acting twenty."
And with the last of my needles sticking in her mind I turned to go, descending more stairs.
"I am the greatest star of them all," she breathed behind me with imperial finality.
"Goodbye Norma," I said dismissively, not turning.
"NO ONE EVER LEAVES A STAR!" she shrieked.
The gunshot reverberated around the house as the piece of hot metal thudded into my back with a soft thwump. I felt it slip in and my blood start to pour out. I'd forgotten the gun. The weirdest thoughts danced in and out of my mind and I kept walking. The pain was blinding, something physical to go with the emotional…or maybe eradicate it. It was hard to remember…
At the bottom of the stairs the typewriter slipped from my grasp and crashed to the tiles. My strength was departing rapidly with my blood. My vision was black. I staggered but didn't fall. I was dying but like hell if I surrendered and died in that house…that TOMB.
I wonder if she shot the chimp.
Rain. It's light caress on my skin. Made me think of Betty. My Betty.
There was the faint patter of feet in the background. I barely heard it over the roaring darkness.
I hoped Betty had got away from this place.
Two more shots. Bang! Bang!
The third bullet I didn't feel, I was already falling.
It was all right. I was out the house. I was free.
The last breath of my life fled my body just as I smashed into the pool.