The House.

Submitted into Contest #121 in response to: Write about someone in a thankless job.... view prompt

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Fiction Contemporary

She'd first met Mason last year, in one of those stupid charity events she is always being dragged to, though she’s known of him for a long time.

He is an actor. No. He is an artist. He is a director. No, he is a filmmaker. “He only makes real movies,” her friend had told her, and though she still hasn’t seen a single one of them she can picture them clearly in her mind, his pale face stark in contrast with his dark brow, the smudge of mascara at the corner of his eyes, the lines of foundation the brush leaves on his cheek, because even if only the 60s knew real movies, he still insists on filming with the highest possible quality.

Seeing is part of it,” he says constantly, though she has no idea what it is supposed to mean. “Looking isn’t enough.”

He still does interviews, of course, though she thinks it’d be better for him to stop. Watching them late at night, the blue light of the computer violent against her vision, she goes over his answers in her head until she has them memorized.

“Real Art,” he says, “like real human connection, is barreling down the path to complete annihilation caused by mainstream media. Soon we will see Art rotting in dumping grounds next to cheap polyester crop tops.”

Real, truthful Art. She can hear the capitalization in his voice, and she thinks what everyone else thinks: that he is an arrogant bastard with no real social competence, and even if he reads the paper every morning, his fingers stinged with the constant smell of paint, and has opinions over everything that has ever happened in human history, he doesn’t, and never will, actually vote.

She remembers dinner with her dad, that first one, where she’d spent her own money buying him a new suit, minutes spent sitting on the bathroom sink, her legs around his waist, adjusting the way the tie fell over his chest until it was perfect. He’d looked good—so good she’d almost forgotten what she was actually meant to be doing, watching his lips as he gestured, rather wildly, at the dinner table, his fork licked clean of the brown, salty meat sauce, steamed green beans sitting untouched on his plate.

“Think about it,” he’d said, his mouth full with panna cotta, “my Art is exactly what people need right now. And not people like you, sir, of course,” smiling, his teeth stained from red wine, “but the working class. People who work all day, and then sit in front of their television sets, eating microwave meals and watching reality shows until their brains melt out of their skulls.”

Her father had nodded politely, smiled when needed, and when he was walking them out of the house he’d given her the look, and she’d rolled her eyes, and he had touched her shoulder as if to say, whatever you want.

And she did want him, though sometimes she questioned herself. Yes, he is a prick, she thinks, recalling the night they’d first met, but isn’t he good, too, in his way?

He’d approached her first, and she let him think it’d been his idea. Mason, catching her gaze across the bar, had walked over slowly, lion-like, and offered to buy her a drink like a real gentleman. He had smiled, even laughed at one of her jokes. He had touched her wrist, softly, so quickly she almost didn’t even register it, and she touched the collar of his dress shirt and kissed him in the bright pink bathroom. And the next day, she had woken up with a letter from him on her doorstep. Distaste drips in slowly, like wine in water, tinting the bright color of the evening with the bleakness that had soon followed. He doesn’t text, never calls. He sends her letters, his handwriting messy, ink spots bleeding into her fingers, barely comprehensible. It’d been romantic at first, she thinks, but now she wishes he’d just get a phone like a real person.

He’s always talking about realness as if it is a proper adjective to describe the world by. Real Art soon becomes common, coming from him, and it’s long lost its charm, sounding, to her ears, like a sneeze. As if every time he encounters something unreal, he gets an allergic reaction and must defy it in order to live. His biggest pleasure comes from talking film, though few movies can actually be called films, and, did you know, the age of cinema is making a comeback, and, no, don’t interrupt, let me speak, darlin’, I think I might be leading the chargeoh, what? no, none of those puny critics really understand, but Real Artists don’t need the critics support to flourish, Iwhat? no, who told you that? No, Noir is actually about--

“Real artists don’t need to justify their art, you know,” she’d dared say once, and didn’t hear from him for two months.  

But she loves him, sometimes, when she doesn’t hate him, and anyway, who cares about love? There are most important things. He sends her letters, for God’s sake, who does that? Mason is a lot of things, not all of them nice, but he’s an individual, he makes her laugh and he is, at heart, a romantic. She’ll die before admitting it out loud, but really, maybe all that girls really want is to be loved like this, with no strings attached, with their own space. Alone she feels at ease, and when it starts to feel suffocating, there he is, smiling, a bottle of champagne in his hand, celebrating her, the new house, his new movie, the Oscar he’s bound to win. And, sure, he’s tough sometimes, hard to crack, but it’s all worth the effort. What’s inside is worth the noise of the hammer, sledging down, and she can already see the gasps.


_______________



At lunch with her mother, she says, “I just don’t like how he keeps doing these interviews. They do more harm than good, and he always gets so frustrated. Do you know how many blind items there are talking about how rude he is? He isn’t rude! These interviewers don’t know how to do their jobs! You can’t ask him the same questions you would ask an actor playing a superhero.”

Her mother, impatiently trying to flag down a waiter. “Just tell him to stop doing them.”

“Mason isn’t like that,” she says, following their server’s movement over the other tables, like a snake avoiding the stones on its path, how obviously they avoid her mother’s gaze. “He isn’t like dad. I can’t just tell him to stop doing something.”

Mother sighs, defeated, letting her hand drop. “So, tell him the cameras they use make him age ten years. Tell him no one watches interviews anyway, because,” she laughs, “who even does?”

“A lot of people, mom.” She raises her hand. She can’t help but smile slightly when the server hurries over to them, the black leather of their notebook shining in the early sunlight that streams in against the bay-water.

“Hi, dear,” her mother coos, “can you pack this up for me? I always like to take the rest home with me.”

She glances down at her still-full plate, red shrimp looking up at her on top of their lettuce bed, and she can almost already smell the rotting fish scent that will linger on her mother’s fridge for a whole week until the house cleaner comes and finally throws it out.


_______________


EXT. FLASHBACK, HOME — DAY.


The house stands on top the cliffs, overlooking the ocean. From below, she thinks it looks lonely, like Atlas holding the sky up. He laughs, pats her head. He says, “You’ll see. You’ll love it.”


EXT. HER HOME — NIGHT.


Sand stings her nose as she lays outside, catching the last stream of sunlight as it filters away, slowly, like a photograph revealed in a darkroom. Hefty clouds gather uneasily, like flocks of birds, over the sun, the promise of rain making the waves churn. But it’s still pleasant, so she stays, warmth sticking to her skin as if she’s covered in glue, and she stretches uncomfortably, swatting a mosquito that buzzes in her ear, cracking open one eye to watch as it flies over her chest to land on her leg, its tiny body convulsing, overcome with the salty tang of her blood.


INT. FLASHBACK, HER HOUSE — DAY.


“No,” she says, firmly, for once in her life. “Mason, no.”


EXT. THE HOUSE — NIGHT.


“Darlin’.”

She hears him coming, the small heels of his dress shoes clicking against the polished floor. He calls for her again, his tongue rolling inside his mouth, and even with her eyes shut she can clearly see him, the way he puts his arm to the side, the tips of his fingers grazing every surface it can reachthe marble kitchen island, the exposed white brick wall, the black leather couchtipping grease everywhere as if he’s dropped a bowl of popcorn.

“Darlin’.” She hates the nickname. She wishes he’d call her something normal, like baby, or honey, something that sounds sweeter, something that invites a response. Like her name.

“Darlin’.” He’s reached her, hovering over her, a long shadow splayed over her naked legs. “What’re you doin’?” 

“Sunbathing.”

“Ah.” Behind her closed lids, she can imagine him looking over the green patches on the cliffside, into the ocean, tracing the horizon line with his eyes. “But the sun’s long gone.”

“It was here before,” she answers, and hears the smile in his voice when he answers

“I bet it was. Want to come inside?”

“Not yet.”

“Come on,” he puts a hand on her shoulder. “I’m hungry.”

She goes.


INT. THE HOUSE. KITCHEN — NIGHT.


The microwave beeps one, two, three times. Steam is still rolling over the food when he begins to eat, rudely shoving it in his mouth, not pausing to chew before beginning, “I think they’re finally going to nominate me.”

She raises her eyebrows. “Really?”

Her surprise seems to upset him. “Yes, of course. Yesterday Night is a hit.”

Running the plate under a stream of hot water. “Is it.”

Yes. I think having Michael in it really helped with the critics, you know they just love him.”

Handing him a napkin. “Do they.”

Yes. And Benny on the score, too it’s like, explosion noises. They just love ‘em.”

The napkin sits, untouched, across them. “That’s good.”

Yes, it is. I think this is the one, baby.”

She turns to him, then, and says, “Kiss me.”

He does, reaching over the island to grip her shoulder, but it is brief, unfeeling, and that sinking hole inside of her expands until it stops at the edge of her ribcage, her sternum black and devoid entirely of life. His breath smells faintly of chicken. She raises her hand, running her finger around the seam of her mouth.

“I think we should get married,” she says, and he stops chewing, a piece of spinach hanging from the corner of his mouth. He looks young, sitting there, a glimmer in her eyes she recognizes. The lighting in the house is cold and lifeless, casting dark spots beneath his nose, beneath his cheekbones, making him look alien and off center, sharp in a way that suddenly scares her.

“Sure, darlin’,” he smiles slightly. “Maybe after award season.”


INT. THE HOUSE. BEDROOM — NIGHT.


Mason snores at her side while she scrolls, the laptop forming a heat puddle on her lap that spreads over her chest and legs, making her sweat. Tonight she is looking at reviews.

Yesterday Night is a solid sophomore project from Mason Wye, one of the article reads, surely to be loved by many unfamiliar with Wye’s career, though if one is to compare his later movies as an actor with Yesterday, one understands why he should’ve stayed in front of the cameras.

You don’t get it! She wants to scream, to throw the laptop across the room. Acting was killing him. Directing and starring in Noir had almost given him a heart attack, and she can’t well marry a corpse, can she? She tilts her head, watching as his chest moves up and down, a thin line of drool dripping down his chin, and she thinks that, yes, he will win. She doesn’t need to watch Yesterday to know it.

And he will marry her only when he is seventy and dying from cancer, when she is sixty and still here, miraculously, here to hold him and kiss him and love him, because God knows she has hardly anything else to do.


November 26, 2021 23:00

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