I have to ask myself, is there any greater confirmation of my enduring mystery than this:
I am surrounded by cameras and microphones and notebooks and clickingflashingblinding lights. The chaos of the movie premiere turns around me like a planet in a strange orbit with me at the centre like a black sun. I am here, inside a Galaxy of critics contained within a Universe of hacks and lifestyle journalists and vloggers. We all affect the same expression of bemused disinterest. Like we move in these sorts of circles all the time; like we are Virgil instead of Dante. We are critics and voyeurs. We have to pretend we’ve seen it all before.
on the other side of the red carpet are the public with their supine eyes and gormless smiles and selfie sticks. They’re here to be near celebrities; to try to reach out across the void of their own insignificance and grab the coat tails of greatness. They’re here to catch star dust; here to smell the elite (even though the elite smell exactly the same as they do: like the beach at low tide; like wet dogs; like sweaty bedrooms and Dutch ovens…)
the red carpet, like a River of Blood, runs straight past us and the stars of the film drift along it like human effluence, whirling and turning on its weird currents. Sometimes, they stop to sign autographs or show off their extravagant diamante dresses and couture shoes. Sometimes, they wander over to the press enclosure and give dead-eyed interviews, filled with pre-approved sound bytes to people who’ve heard it all before. We all know the lines about telling important stories at the right time and finding the character incredibly challenging and the writing being the thing that tempted them to the role instead of the seven figure paycheck. It’s bullshit. It’s fantasy. But it’s something we all buy into collectively. If we didn’t we wouldn’t be here.
But the truth is, not one of them knows why they’re really here. They’re not here to reach out and touch greatness, or to pick up some tidbit of tattle or promote their latest work so they can keep cashing those massive paychecks. These are only the circumstances by which they find themselves caught in my terrible orbit. You see, on this night – on this one glorious, wonderful, aggrandising evening – they’re here because of me.
Yes, me the grimy tabloid movie critic who had to perform figurative fellatio on my editor just to get this gig. The one who spent years concealing their identity, fearing they would be found out, obfuscating and living in ignomy and now, finally, I have this one glorious night of…of celebration? No. Recognition, then? Yes. That’s it. Finally, I am about to be recognised. Finally, they are putting me up on the screen. Finally, they will see how I held a mirror up to the world to show it what a sick place it had become.
I wonder how far the movie will go in recreating my tableaus? I hope they have done their research. I hope the makeup and special effects department have gone into forensic detail. I hope that the bodies look just the way they did when I left them: half naked, bitten and notched like the slutty flesh holes they were. All I left behind was bits and pieces. Detritus and bone and blood. So beautiful. I hope they appreciate my talent for deconstruction. I hope they appreciate the mis en scene I created.
Someone jostles me out of my fantasy and I catch the scent of perfume. A female colleague pushes past me, gives me a horny look (even now that I am old, I never have trouble attracting the attention of women. More than one of my friends’ wives has put in a drunken pass; more than one of my daughter’s friends has lingered longer than they needed near me, laughing at my jokes and enjoying my attention). She totters past on her high heels and I follow her wriggly walk with my eyes. Fleshy arse pressed into a skirt too small. Plenty to get your hands into. Plenty to peel off. She fixes her hair and nods to her camera man and then catches my eye again. I give her some of my twinkle eye charm and watch her start to melt before her camera man says something and she turns away to call one of the stars of the film over for another fawning interview. She has long blonde hair. Perfect to catch hold of. Perfect to pull her here and there and twist around my fist and pull out by the bleeding roots.
Obviously something about tonight has whetted an appetite I thought long-since satiated. I can feel the old desire burning inside me and I set my eyes wandering, looking for a distraction coming along the River. I see someone I recognise and immediately all thought of the woman and the games we could play is gone. My eyes narrow. I feel my pulse in my ears. I hear my blood in my veins. I watch the man. Watch him squinting in the glare of the spotlights, looking lost and unsure. Ignored. Just some nobody caught unawares in my black gravity. I approach the railing in a frenzy of ecstasy.
“Excuse me,” I shout. “Detective W______?”
He looks surprised to hear his name called. He mutters something to his wife and then lumbers over. His face is all splinters and rough edges. Detective W______. He was the head detective on the Pleiades murder investigation. He is the author of the frustrated masturbate-athon that this movie is based upon. I have heard that he has never given up searching for me. I have heard that even now, from the obscurity of long ago retirement, he keeps a case file of evidence and clues and works on it at night, trying to find my face in the entrails of my victims like some mad soothsayer.
As he moves towards me like a lava floe, slow and inexorable, I experience a rare thing: an emotion that goes beyond disgust or fleeting pleasure. It takes me a few seconds to locate what it is. It feels like maggots in my stomach; it feels like a weight on my chest. It is, I realise, nerves. My lips are dry. My stomach is aching. What if, I ask myself, he knows? What if he looks at me and senses something is off? I have always felt there was a psychic connection between us; some sort of spark. Perhaps he will feel it too?
Maybe I want that to happen?
There is something delicious in the idea of being found out.
He brings his granite face over to me. He is a stone chunk. He breathes hoar frost and looks angry to have been recognised.
For a second, I cannot speak. I am star struck. I lick my lips. My palms are itching. Colour is rising in Detective W______’s cheeks. He is starting to get angry. He is famously short tempered.
I speak slowly, feeling my way towards what I want to say. “Detective, you were the lead investigator in the Pleiades case and you wrote the book that this film is based upon. I wanted to ask you, do you really think, given the severity of the murders in question, that this film should even have been made? Doesn’t it aggrandise the killer?”
Detective W______ pauses for a second, then starts to speak. He talks about the necessity of the story telling process and how he believes that it’s good – maybe even necessary – for the public to see that in some cases, despite everyone’s best efforts, there isn’t always a happy ending. He finishes by adding that he still hopes, one day, for a successful conclusion to the Pleiades case.
He says it all with uncommitted eyes and a toneless voice, like he’s reading from a script. I realise that he doesn’t recognise me for who I am. Disappointment sets in. I try another tack.
“Detective, what would you say to the Pleiades killer if he were here tonight, about to watch this film?”
Detective W______’s eyes narrow. His nostrils flare. He looks at me, suddenly intent and watchful. The old detective instincts have awakened and he is probing my eyes, jousting with my intellect.
“I would hope,” he says, “that if he saw the horror – the unimaginable torment – that he created for…for these seven families…if he saw what he did projected up there on the big screen he might…might still be human enough to recognise the magnitude the…the atrocity of what he has done and feel enough remorse to finally come forward and let justice have its day. The families of these victims deserve peace.”
His wife calls for him and he glances around at her. “I think I have to…”
I nod pleasantly. “Thanks for your time, Detective.” I hold out my hand and he takes it. I hope for a jolt of electricity. I hope for fireworks. I hope, most of all for connection. But there is only his sweaty palm and my own disappointment and then he is stepping away. I watch him as he rejoins his wife. I watch as he drifts up the River like human refuse. I think about him long after he has finished thinking about me. I think about this:
His youngest, comeliest daughter is now living in upstate New York. A nice detached house with a husband who’s away an awful lot. I know these things because I like to keep my options open. I imagine a house call. Nice and quick and bloody. A love note from me to him. A gentle reminder of life’s impermanence.
But I’m older now and I prefer to sink my teeth into celluloid instead of skin. Maybe I should make friends with him instead? It wouldn’t be hard. Men like Detective W______ don’t make many friends. Their loneliness gives them a quiet sort of desperation. A need which they believe, in their hubris, that no one else can sense.
Someone taps my shoulder. It’s the woman from before. She smiles at me shyly. “It’s starting,” she says.
I look around. Everyone has left. The River is running dry. The ushers are collapsing the barriers, bringing out vacuums and steam cleaners to wash the carpet. The crowds have drifted away and the critics have made their way inside. I nod to the woman and she walks off.
I linger here for a second, waiting on the edge of anticipation. I have a knot in the pit of my stomach like the one you get at the top of the rollercoaster, just before the world falls out underneath you and for a few seconds, it is like gravity does not exist. Here I go again, I think. Here I go, back doing what I have always done best: taking things apart. When I think about it, I suppose the only difference between being a critic or a killer is philosophical. After all, the capacity for violence is inherent in the role. It’s what we do for a living: kill peoples’ creations; butcher their babies; rape their futures. I suppose, when all’s said and done, I only went from deconstructing human bodies to deconstructing their dreams.
And in the end, either way, I’m only doing my job.
I make my way into the rustling darkness of the atrium, settle into a seat in between faceless critics with their notebooks in their laps. I won’t be taking notes. My review is already written. I am going to tear this one apart.
All that is left, then, is the experience. Before the illumination. Before the enlightenment. When there is only anticipation. That’s where I live now.