Chapter Nine of Below the Line, a saga that begins with a prologue, a little life, interrupted
"Rand, do we have to? Tonight?" Angela Macintosh was tired, and they'd only just arrived. She loved her husband, but he drove her bonkers with this stuff. She watched wearily from behind heavy green eye shadow as he lumbered from behind his camera, pecked her on the cheek, and fussed over to the other flashbulb slightly behind and to her left. It was hot in the room and they hadn’t even got one shot yet. This could go on for hours.
Rand fiddled with a four hundred dollar slave strobe light that didn’t seem to want to flash.
"It's only gonna be a few more minutes, babe," he cooed. He checked the batteries on the new light. Duracells. Brand new. That couldn't be it. He walked back to the camera and hit the test function on the main unit, which was directly attached to the Nikon on top of the tripod. It flashed, but the slave didn’t. Puzzling.
Walking back past Angela, he tweaked her cheek playfully. She hated when he did that. He spoke to her like she was just a thing, directing his attention mostly to the new piece of equipment, his newer thing.
"This is gonna change the whole look of our stuff," he boasted. "We'd be able to publish this stuff." He let the comment hang alone in the air a minute, as if to say wouldn't that be a good idea, then went back to the tripod when Angela gave him a dirty look.
She knew what he meant. Those magazines would publish what he called "his stuff." Never mind that it was her stuff. They'd publish anything. The Girl Next Door. Forty plus. Fifty. Sixty even.
The corset had begun to pinch her breasts. The G-string was too tight on her hips where she'd put on a few pounds since the twins had left for college. And she'd always hated these goddamn stiletto marabou slippers he'd given her for their anniversary. A hooker wouldn't be caught dead in them. You could commit hara-kiri with one.
"Can I at least sit down? Take ten?"
"Yeah. Take five. I think I know what's wrong." He removed the patch cord that ran from the battery pack to the strobe. He had another in his gadget bag. While he was looking for it:
"Ya look gorgeous, sweetheart. Like a million fucking dollars."
"Well I feel like a twenty dollar whore."
"Good. That's the spirit. My sexy little bitch. Papa's little slut."
The new patch cord did the trick. The flash went off in test function. He advanced the frame on the Nikon, pushed the button, and the slave winked, for a five-thousandth of a second, amicably.
"OK. Now we're cookin'. Places, Angie."
She dragged herself over to the armoire. She placed her left foot up on the armchair, turning her left leg out so her thigh bulged on either side of the garter.
"Oh yeah, hon." Rand was glued to the viewfinder now. "Who loves ya, baby? Give it to me good now. Yeah!"
The twin flashes fired. Blue circles of retinal afterglow burned into her brain. She had a splitting headache and she’d already had a couple of Valiums.
"Finger in your stocking-top, my little whore. Enjoy it, baby. Gimme that come-hither look."
Angela gave him a "fuck you" look, which must have been close enough to what he was looking for, because the two lights went off again. The Nikon clicked quickly, maybe five or six times, and the twin strobes fired like machine guns, then recharged with that little whine they had.
"Great! Yeah! You want it, don'tcha baby? Hunh? You’re dyin' for Daddy's little surprise? Good! Good! Sit on the arm of the chair now, sweetie. Lemme see both legs spread for Papa now. Yeah! That's it!"
There was another burst of flashes. Like heat lightning in summer before a storm.
"Now the G-string, Angie. Slide your G-string down for Daddy."
"Shouldn't I stand up first?"
"Stand up and turn around a little and slide that thing, right down those long legs, baby."
She did as he asked. She always did as Rand asked. It was the essence of their relationship. She was glad for one thing, she thought, as she managed to slip the G-string down and step out of it with her right leg—these blue seamed stockings hid her varicose veins.
"Good! Now turn baby. Yeah, turn around. Catch the G-string on your heel...yeah...good, show me those seams, Angie. Good. Bend over now. Away from me, Honey. Oooh, that's good. That's right. Shove that precious right at the lens, Angela. Make me love it, baby."
They had done this a hundred times in a hundred hotel rooms. Wherever in the world Rand was filming he'd make what he called his "nasties." If they were ever killed in a plane crash she would die of embarrassment when the twins found Rand's "nasty" albums, dozens of them, in the closet. Once upon a time she had considered what they did as innocent, a kind of wicked little aberration that made him hard and happy. But somewhere along the line she'd grown very tired of this fetish. Tired and embarrassed.
"Lick your fingers for me, Angel. Yeah. That tastes goood, doesn't it?" Clacketa clacketa clacketa went the Nikon.
And he didn't get hard anymore. Not at this point, anyway. That would come later, maybe. She wondered if he was in the mood tonight. She’d have another Valium if he was. It was all just too much….
The camera ground away at her till finally the roll was finished.
"I think that’s got it, baby. You can relax now. You want a drink?"
"I want two drinks! Two more drinks!" She threw her G-string at the hundred and five millimeter lens. Ringer. She’d played horseshoes with her brothers as a girl. She had been good at horseshoes.
The bourbon felt good trickling down her throat. She undid the front of the push-me-up bra. Her breasts fell in heavy relief from their confinement.
"Ooh!" said Rand. "Candid moment! Great. Great!" He clittered away at her with his little portable "point n snatch" he called it. A zoom lens the size of a midget's dick, made in Germany, and the whole thing fit in his pocket. For moments like these.
Her breasts still looked pretty good. They were large, yes, but she wasn’t playing soccer with them yet, and there were no stretch marks.
She poured a bourbon for Rand. He accepted it majestically, pulled the Nikon on its crane-like legs into a corner out of the way, and sat sipping happily on the bed, ogling her over the edge of his highball. She reminded him of their son at about the age of five.
She deserved this. It was the logical end for a chorus girl. Twenty years ago she'd never have been able to see this far down the road—to an elegant suite in Mexico City’s finest hotel with a famous screen villain shooting cheesecake of her, but looking back now, yes, she could see how it all had happened.
She had been playing to sold-out houses at the Tropicana for a year. There was an ice-act, and a comedian, and a juggler, and the headliner—a dear little queer with a team of orangutans. It was not much of a life, after the first year, and Rand came along on that heist picture and she’d moved back to L.A. and done some TV work, and then the kids came and here they were. Not much of a story, but somebody would definitely publish the pictures. She washed down another Valium and poured herself another drink.
She looked at Rand. He had settled into the big pillows on the bed with a copy of The Death Dealer. No, they’d changed the title again. Liberty? No, that was months ago. Whatever brought them to change perfectly good titles the way they did? 46 million Death Dealer novels had been sold, so what was their problem? There was no logic to Hollywood. It was all a big crapshoot.
No matter. It was a good part for Rand. He was a totally despicable character this time out, and he got what was coming to him in the end. She wondered how they were going to manage that nasty little detail. She thought they ought to let him live this time. Maybe start a whole series of these films, like the bad guy in all the Bond movies. Maybe then they could retire. Play golf. Shoot landscapes.
There was a time when she’d loved the excitement of the shoot. She’d sit in her own canvas chair on the set and watch the crew working in complete silence most of the time, in that mechanical way the best crews had, with only hand signals to tell each other what was going on. But you got tired of it after a while. The waiting and the catered meals and the late nights on Friday and Saturday because they always had Sunday off and didn't have to pay the turnaround. And then you had the pool and your shopping and the museums and your trashy novels. And that was your life.
Her friends envied her: the traveling, the luxury of writing postcards in quaint bistros in the afternoon, the perpetual suntan they equated with success. She gave them no reason to doubt that she was successful. Hadn’t she raised two fine kids? Wasn’t she co-chair of the Rand Macintosh Celebrity Golf Tournament? Didn't she host the finest parties in a town famous for fine parties, and weren’t the best people always there?
Maybe she was being too hard on herself. Angela guessed Rand wouldn’t be needing anything more from her tonight, except maybe he’d like his feet rubbed later. She went to the bathroom, to get the whorish eye shadow off.
Maybe it was her fault she was tired and bored with her life, she considered, as the shiny green ooze flecked with gold came off in gobs on her kleenex. Whatever had she done for herself after she'd packed-in Vegas? When the twins were little the world seemed ready to fall apart. Other women her age—who didn't have children and weren't married to hard-working actors—were on the streets with picket signs in their hands and revolutionary rhetoric on their lips. They wanted Peace. They wanted Choice. They wanted Equal Rights for Women and Minorities. But Angela, a simple girl from Mt. Carroll, Illinois, with no taste for confrontation and no knowledge of politics, wanted nothing more than what she had—that good-looking man and their glamorous life. And now, when the years had given her more things than she ever could imagine, she knew it wasn’t enough.
"I am a cliché," she said to herself out loud, cornflower-blue eyes peering into the mirror from behind reddened eyelids glistening with cold cream, Nivea, like she'd used on the stage.
"What's that hon?" called Rand from the other room. He had ears like a dog.
"Nothing, lover! Doing my mantra!"
He didn't answer. He wouldn't be wanting the other stuff, and she was glad. She just didn't have it in her.
She rinsed her face with plain water, the way her mother always had, the reason, she imagined, she had no wrinkles. Soap dried the skin. She massaged her nightcream in, making sure to work it all the way up to her hairline. Her roots were starting to show, though you couldn’t really tell, since she was a real blonde, but Rand preferred the near-platinum she'd been when they'd met.
Even her hair-color belonged to somebody else. The hotel had a good salon. She might treat herself tomorrow.
She examined her figure in the mirror, after pulling off the blue stockings and draping them softly like a scarf across her collarbones. She had always been built. Now there was simply more of her. She was wider, nothing more. Except for the legs, of course, but that was from the boys, and the spidery blue veins were only in the back, high up where you couldn’t see them unless she was in a swimsuit. When she wore a suit she was careful to stay seated as much as possible. And besides, when she approached a man, he always looked at the boobs anyway. A bold man would stare boldly; a timid one would try to hide it. But they all looked. That was the one thing about men she knew beyond a doubt. They were into breasts, eternal babies.
She drew a bath. The suite had a big tub and she knew she'd use it often, for refuge in times like this. She poured some of the hotel's expensive bubble bath into the tub. Green froth rose like a magic potion, welling up from the smooth white porcelain, promising solace, for the while anyway.
Angela Macintosh stepped gracefully into the small maelstrom she'd created. She sat a while, on the fluffy white towel that lay atop the tub, letting the water and the soap and the heat play over her feet and ankles. The water felt good, sluicing between her toes. She rubbed her feet, her toes, softly at first, then with more pressure as her body remembered how good she was with her hands. The bottoms of her feet were hard, callused in a good sort of way, not a way that was ugly, because she took good care of her feet which were once her meal ticket and were now her primary means of keeping in shape. She walked everywhere, and for many hours too.
She probed the hard twin bones of her ankle, noticing the elegance of that part of her foot, how it was built both for the punishment of a dancer's life and shopping on Rodeo and also for the admiration, even adoration. Of men. Yes.
Her hands smoothed soft along the sharp edge of her shin, marveling at the two-day stubble that went to her knee and the reassuring strength of her calf muscles.
Angela eased her aging showgirl's body into the hot water. Perspiration had begun to run down her forehead and along her cheekbones. The tub was cool on the back of her neck and the coolness brought her a kind of contentment. But she wanted more, she knew. Contentment that nobody else, it seemed, could give her.
She touched the avocado-green surface of the bathwater lightly with her palms on either side of her broadening hips, barely skimming the surface of the water where the glassy emerald bubbles had not reached. It felt good between her fingers. It flowed warming and soothing between her legs and past her pubis and puddled in her navel. She probed that little well-spring with the fine-sculpt nail of her index finger, then dragged its fiery red hardness along the swell of her abdomen, below the fine white line of the twins’ caesarean.
How many years of this? How many times in how many tubs? In bidets and shower stalls and swimming pools and natural hotsprings? How many knights in armor had there been? Cowboys, Indians and lion tamers? How long would it take tonight and why was tonight so oddly different?
There were more answers in the world than questions, that much she knew for sure. The room was full of steam now. She could barely see her reflection in one of the angled makeup mirrors on the countertop across the room. She felt her body rising out of the heaviness of the water, floating, like the soul must float when death comes in the night and takes the pain away.
On Hollywood and filmmaking:
Below the Line
sex drugs and divorce
a little life, interrupted
- Hecho en Mejico
- Sam's Song
- Hemingway and Fortuna
- Hummingbird on the Left
- The Long and Drunken Afternoon
- Safe in the Lap of the Gods
- Quetzal Birds in Love
- Angela in Paradise
- And the machine ran backwards
a secondhand coffin
how to act
Right. Me and Herman Melville
Scylla and Charybdis Approximately
snowflakes and nylon
I could've kissed Orson Welles
the broken dreams of Orson Welles
the last time I saw Orson Welles
The Other Side of the Wind
Below the Line
Final Cut Pro
king of the queens
Kubrick polishes a turd
movies from space
Persistence of Vision
Apocalypse Now Redux
The Jazz Singer
We Were Soldiers