You, In Movies
by Mark Emerson
You were always pretty, but prettier in pictures. Look. The yearbook. Smooth topped scalps pushed sideways over bumpy foreheads, but not you. Your hair, easily parted, a touch of Harrison in the taper over the ears, a bit of Brad in the upside-down eyes.
Every town needs drama, most of it false. Created. Imagined onto blonde girls with hefty hips and passive dreams. But yours was true. Your attendance quickened every room. Even your little memories included in the highlight reels of our screening room lives.
It didn't take long for you to leave us behind. We expected it. I remember a conversation once.
I'm going to California.
At the end of the summer.
We'd all been lazy, but you were plotting. Sometimes you get lucky, you thought. Sometimes you're taking the exact same ride as everyone else, and without warning, the wheel stops at the top, you aloft, a view of everything you've ever seen twinkling beneath. Sometimes you get that view for free.
I didn't think you were very good in the first one. You, the privileged friend who steals the girl, ultimately foiled by the charm, the goofiness and the pure heart of the leading man, an ex-stand up comedian who got the view. You smiled at the junkets but didn't say much. That's when you met her. She had the view from space, from the moon. The latest in a string of odd and/or handsome, much talked about affairs. You were speculated about. People wondered. And suddenly you made it: you became a perforated sheet of tabs, dissolved for yearning hallucinations.
You moved into a gleaming white cube in the hills perched on crumbling sandy banks covered with flammable grasses. Her gleaming white cube. Footlights set into thickets of desert roses threw bounced spotlights up its walls and you bounced off them too. When weren't you on stage now? When did the performing stop? Did it ever really start in the first place?
You concentrated on things you knew. Like your name. Foster Stowe. You repeated it to yourself in your mind, sometimes out loud, but it seemed to escape you.
Foster Stowe. Foster Stowe. Foster Stowe. Faster Snow. Faster Snow. Fastest Tow. Fast Tits Toe. Fast To Go. First To Go. First To Know.
This you chalked up to fame. But you couldn't help repeating it. You asked Julia about it.
Sometimes it's like I can't remember my own name.
Mmmmm. What do you mean?
Can you say it for me?
Just say it a few times fast.
Foster Stowe Foster Stowe Foster Stowe. There.
I like your name.
I used to.
But not anymore?
Let's hear you say it.
Faux Sister's Toe.
Do not do this to me.
Four Sizzle Store.
Baby, stop it.
Fort Sticker Tour.
She asked you to leave the cube when she found you on a stepladder one night, stenciling your name with paint pens against the stucco that faced the canyon. Fern Sterno. Ferdinand Show.
You started sleeping in your trailer on the set. You had one duffel of clothes and rolled your own cigarettes and Linnie, your leading lady, was clearly in love with you.
Can I come in?
You're here so late.
I'm here too. We're shooting new pages for the escape. Did you see them?
I have to get in the tank tonight and it's freezing. I mean, Debbie will do all the underwater stuff, but I have to get in for cutaways and stuff.
Can you do something for me?
Can you say my name.
Like that, but keep saying it.
Okay. Foster Stowe. Foster Stowe.
Foster Stowe. Foster Stowe. Foster Stowe.
Fostisto. Fostistro. Frosty Snow. Francisco. France's go. Francis Po.
Frantic Row. Frampton Store.
You needed a new name. You were sure of it. Linnie agreed. After that night she was never able to call you Foster again. Mostly, she called you Mister. You didn't tell anyone about your plans but you started asking everyone their name which, on the whole, they found flattering.
What's your name?
Hey, you're Foster Stowe aren't you?
Kind of. What's your name.
Yeah. Hey, I loved you in Terminal Realm.
Scott Osberger. Scott Osberger. Scott Osberger. Ska Dance Burglar. It's God's Oz Burger. It's Good Odds Burner.
What are you—?
See? I'll take a latte and one of those muffins. The one with the powdered sugar.
Linnie took you into her Silver Lake bungalow and let you roll cigarettes out on the concrete patio. She asked you to call her Linnie, at least for now, and not to make too much of a big deal about it. For now. But when she crossed behind you on the other side of the screen door, you could feel her pause, her eyes on the crease between your neck and shoulder blades. You could feel her weighing the same question, without countering the scale with an answer: What is your name?
You had taken the tofu dogs off the gas grill. She had cut tomatoes and poured two glasses of chianti, their competing hues attractively placed on the butcher block on the counter. She was naked, from the rear. Her back crossed with a single bow, her neck exposed under her brown ponytail, creased by another line of white. Tonight, she said with her back still turned, then pivoted to face you.
Tonight, we find your name.
You swallowed. You pulled your stomach back to your spine.
- - -
You lay naked, stray blades stroking your scrotum and ear lobes, the juniper and lilac from the hills wafting and soaking into the spongy turf. Linnie left two candles burning on the grill cover, dripping wax over and down the iron sides. You turned your chin to look down your nose and watch it cool just above where it would then drip to the concrete. Linnie had left her apron over the sink and lay on her side.
How do you feel?
I feel okay.
All right, Mister. It's time to think.
Do you need anything?
You've had your protein. You've had a little wine. You should be in good shape for this.
I feel good.
Good. Now do something for me. Say my name.
Say it again.
Linnie Robertson. Linnie Robertson. Linnie Robertson. Lynn E. Robinson. Li'l Robber's Son. Little Raman Sun. Litter Amundsen. Ladle Almond's One.
Later On I'm Stung. Letter On My Slum. Leather On Muslims.
Stop. Stop now.
She rolled onto her back. You thought you could feel her cry, a small tremor between the sod and the desert beneath, but you didn't look. You felt something cross under the arch of your foot and over your toes but didn't move.
You tried to take all the things that were in the back of your mind and bring them to the front. Imagining an attic full of boxes, based loosely on your grandmother's attic, you dreamed yourself lifting them to make them disappear. You thought back to the small city you grew up in. You thought of a party in high school. I was a shadow at this party, a few words volleyed between us, but there I was, straddling a keg, trying to simultaneously pump it and not sink into the quicksand in the earth around it. You thought of me. You thought of as many faces as you could remember. Lyle. Ken. Kendra. Dana, the girl, on top of Dana, the boy, in a lawn chair by the woodpile. You felt things falling away from you as you became more and more unaware of the grass, the air, the naked woman beside you. You thought of every home you ever had. You missed them. You thought of the cube and it lodged there for a moment. Was there any such thing as a perfect thing? The cube strived to be. You felt your senses, so simultaneously alert. You could feel yourself remembering the moment you were in even as you lived it. You thought you felt gravity loosen its grip and your back leave the ground. You thought of pulling yourself off the ground and arcing in one long streak into the ocean, face down. You thought of all the water it takes to make your body, then you thought of your body as only water, candlelight dimly reflected in the ripples of your abs. You were briefly, but deeply, glad that all the work you had put into those abs had paid off. Water. Reflections. Water.
Linnie crinkled the grass at your side.
What was that?
Abs abs abs abs abs abs abs abs abs abs abs abs abs abs abs abs abs.
Linnie repeated the word louder, trying to crack it into pieces.
Abs! Abs! Abs! Abs! Abs! Abs! Abs! Abs! Abs! Abs! Abs! Abs! Abs! Abs!
It was perfect. Unbreakable. A single syllable that did not distort or dissolve. Linnie stopped repeating it and rolled over to your side. She put her head on your chest and you lifted up your arm to stroke her hair.
Okay, Abs. I'm next. But not now.
She dipped her shoulder and lifted her chin to look in your eyes.
You shouldn't call me Linnie anymore. I don't know what my name will be. But it's not Linnie anymore so don't call me that. Okay, Abs?
- - -
There was a lot to do. Now that you had found your name there would be a lot of calls to make. A lot of explaining. A lot of surprise. You thought about it without panic, but you didn't exactly rush to spread the news.
Your inertia seemed to break and you spent less time on the patio. You started taking long runs, uphill, over the narrow roads and into the hidden canyons of the park. Linnie, the nameless Linnie, spent hours stocking food. She remained over the butcher block for hours, as naked as the night you found your new name, and filled plastic containers with evenly cut vegetables. Every morning she would get up and after a shower and coffee stand evenly and erect over the board, pulling carrots and pickles from plastic bags and jars and reassembling them in smaller pieces, making stacks that extended from the back corners of the refrigerator and lined the door shelves.
You stood behind her, sweating. You could feel cool sweat beading over your rear and knees, between your shoulder blades. You pulled from the day-glo bottle of sports drink you had picked from your dwindling supply stashed in the fridge's crisper.
She juked sharply and caught your eye.
She straightened, relieved.
What are you doing?
She motioned over her shoulder with the blade and chin, a masculine move you didn't recognize.
How was your run.
Good. You know. Fine.
There's some mango in there. If you want.
Yeah. I saw. No thanks. I um— I called Derek.
Derek, your agent? You did?
And how'd that go.
It was tiring. So I went for a run.
So what are you thinking about.
I think I've got it.
Yes. I want some mango.
She padded over. Pulled a plastic bowl from the fridge and peeled the cover off, a half moon of mango pinched between her thumbs and forefinger.
She pushed it between your lips and your stomach shivered.
You swallowed the slice whole and growled to clear your throat.
Nokia Nokia Nokia Nokia Nokia Nokia wait.
Is it No-KEE-yah. Or NO-keeyah.
No-KEE-yah. No-KEE-yah. No-KEE-yah. No-KEE-yah. No-KEE-yah. No-KEE-yah. No-KEE-yah.
No-KEE-yah! No-KEE-yah! No-KEE-yah! No-KEE-yah! NO-keeyah! NO-keeyah! NO-keeyah! NO-keeyah! NO-keeyah! NO-keeyah!
Nokia fell over your shoulders, pulling her bony hips tight up against yours.
We did it.
Run away with me. Let's run away.
You felt your mouth on her hair, your chin on her ear. The two of you bobbed like ducks on a lake. You heard yourself say,
We already have.
About the author:
Mark Emerson writes advertising in Manhattan, trying to sell computers and mayonnaise, and fiction in Brooklyn, trying to sell short stories and novels. He recently received an honorable mention in Ink Magazine's short fiction contest (mandatory first line: "Last month the television exploded.") He will be starting the MFA program at Goddard College in the fall.