Lucinda, In Reverse
15:00 The fading star of stage and screen lets droop the curtain closed, lets it scrim again the streetlight filling the window. The street will be empty, she knows.
14:50 Reede, Lucinda, in reverse, removes across the room. Her tee-shirt, now a pale blue bleached from a hundred offscreen washings, loosely hangs from shoulders, obscures the contours famous. "Surrender, Dorothy," it says. Even in retreat, her footsteps on the rug betray the remnants of her wellknown wellworn grace.
14:38 Backward still, she steps onto the mattress, lowers herself to sit Indianstyle, her back against the headboard. Pan to pillows, on the floor by the door. She inhales, a sussurance audible. Return. Her lips' purse seems practiced.
14:20 Her uncrossed arms now cross. Now uncross again.
14:12 She taps with fingernails her teeth, seven times. She is aware of this but cannot help herself: that all her movements appear too large for the space she occupies: a bed in a bedroom in a million-dollar bungalow on a West Side street, leafy, historic fashionably.
Sometimes she pronounces the word "again" with a British accent. You reach an age where you stop keeping track of which are affectations, and which are habits.
14:00 Outside, a whisper distant of engine now becomes a purr as a car approaches, now dies.
13:55 The car door opening is like a bullet returning to gun.
13:42Close-up of ashtray: a cigarette butt rises to her fingers. She rolls the butt in the ashes. An ember blooms orange to life. She sits, stealing smoke blue from the air, and blows it back through a cigarette that with each breath grows, as though made of nothing less light than air. She reflects not for the last time that like a man a cigarette benefits more from your glamour more than you from its.
She is the kind of woman who when she smokes bites her nails. Both drove Ben crazy. She wasn't ready to surrender the habits or affectations she's been returning to, she told him over omelettes, surrendering the ring: she wasn't ready to change her life. They would be in the tabloids the next day, his name below hers: Reede, Lucinda. It's not even real.
10:30 The cigarette its full length approaches, the singe line sweeping, a wildfire backdrafted, until all that remains is the wrinkled edge of a whitepaper cylinder. Flame to lighter leaps and disappears. Lighter and cigarette slip swift into softpack. She replaces them in the bedside table drawer. Her real last name is Polish: an eight-consonant pile-up.
10:00 Her arms she raises above her head. The tee-shirt rises, crumples curtainlike into her hands outstretched. She leans over the bedside and replaces the shirt, once Ben's, on the rug. Then, sitting up, her lower half hidden by sheets, she hugs herself. Alone like this, she is not comfortable with the bareness of her skin.
Her contracts always specify: no full or partial; she knows this has enhanced her mystery, driven up her price. Ten thousand boys and men have dreamed themselves to sleep of those breasts, she knows. And always with her bra removed, a wonder across the face of whatever man she's with spreads. She will briefly herself in their eyes see, and more briefly will feel beautiful. Privately, though, after, when in the dim light she looks down, she will just feel herself unspooling, her light slipping away. She never remembers she's always felt old, even when her star was rising. She never remembers she's always felt ugly, after, except with Ben, who's gone.
9:15 --Fuck, is what she says, quietly. It sounds like: Cuff.
9:00 A pillow by the door stirs before flying to her hand. By the headboard she replaces it. Two more pillows in sequence rapid follow, rising to the clutched fingers of her left hand and her right. The pillows refind their mark behind her.
The hall is carpeted, and though her attitude becomes of listening intense, she cannot hear his footsteps unreceding.
8:43 The door opens. Jump cut. His back appears. He pauses there, turns at her to look, and says what spun forward would be: Call me. Or don't. He turns away.
8:25 She cannot see his face as he backs toward her and on the bed's edge sits down. Off come his shoes and pants. "I don't get you at all," is what he says, though the audio arrives in reverse.
Men rarely look less photogenic than when wearing socks, underwear, and a shirt only.
8:00 --About what are we using each other for, the subtitles say.
--About what? is what he asks.
--I just need some time to think, is all, she explains.
--I thought we had something
They've known each other for hours only.
7:25 He says, --I feel like a piece of meat.
Off come his socks, his shirt and underwear. From the recesses dim of the wastebasket bedside a used rubber rises. He palms it, then returns it to himself surreptitiously as back under the covers he rolls.
She is the kind of woman who takes the pill, but makes him wear a rubber anyway. He is the kind of man who doesn't object. She will realize that maybe this is part of the problem: that he isn't the prick technically she wishes he was.
6:30 --Okay, he says.
--Now? he asks.
--I just think, she repeats, --You should.
--I think you should go.
5:30 --I need to be alone now, she says. They both are lying on their backs, eyes locked on a ceiling where a patch of light soft from the window barely holds back the darkness.
5:00 --Wow, he says, tentative.
4:40 6. 5. 4. 3. 2. 1. She silently numbers the moments decorum requires she observe before she kicks him out. There is less to her now than there was before, she feels. She feels she's expended some thing non-renewable. She wants it back again. The last of warmth and light dwindle quickly away, leaving her again beached. He leaves a cool damp patch on the sheet she has to stay still to avoid. He rolls onto her.
--Sure, she says. Fine.
--I'm going to... he says.
4:12 They lie for awhile there, soaking sweat into skin, breath backward coming, heads turned away from one another on the pillows.
She knows this is uncharitable: maybe they like to say to their friends: I made Lucinda Reede come. Why do they always want to know? She will not answer.
3:30 --Wow, he says, then, Did you...?
3:00 Into her he collapses, panting, hairy, constricting her chest. A few more thrusts bring him off. He has waited.
2:38 She shudders and tightens her legs around the small of his back, as if this could keep it from leaving her. She feels the warm kisses of a thousand eyes, softcovering her skin. This time, it really is like acting.
1:45 This time, she feels it welling up inside her, a wall of blue shimmering into the sky, into the light lofting her, pulling her far away from the land where he lies, a speck, a prick on the horizon. She moves slowly her fingers.
Everybody knows about the fifteen minutes, the time alotted in the sun. What they don't tell you is that for every fifteen minutes thereafter, a little more of the light leaves you, like an audience from a theater filing: a continuous function by emptiness limited.
1:00 But reaching, now, she shines a little brighter than she will in fifteen minutes, when she will pull back the curtains and see where a car should be a space.
0:20 Swells decrescendo, restoring the surface.
0:15 Waves carry her feet first toward the shore until she is there again beneath him. These ocean images come on their own.
0:10 Her eyes unclose.
0:03 Reede, Lucinda lifts her fingers from herself and folds her hand behind her head, moaning abstractly.
0:00 She is capable of shrieks convincingly free, has produced in her chest method flutters. She's found that her most believable performances come when she pictures the first time she rode nohands on her tenspeed: forward hurtling on a boy's Silver Schwinn, out of the saddle rising, hugging the frame with her knees as her arms thrust into the sky. Usually she performs some kind of substitution emotional, remembering a really sensational flan, or Ben in bed, with whom she first felt that ocean.
Reede, Lucinda: she's always has been the kind of woman who believes it's easier to let them think she's moved really than to field the questions that with the public are inevitable otherwise. This time will maybe be different, though, Lucinda Stryznjak is maybe thinking. Isn't this what she's always thinking: that this time she will ascend, somehow unpretending, to return a little lighter, maybe slightly less alone?
About the author:
Garth Risk Hallberg holds an M.F.A. from New York University and lives in Brooklyn. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Glimmer Train, Evergreen Review, h2so4, Em, and Harcourt's Best New American Voices anthology. An illustrated novella, "A Field Guide to the North American Family," is due out this spring from Mark Batty Publisher. For more information, please visit www.afieldguide.com.