The question is: does he have to kill you? Can the movie end any other way? No, we’ve decided. He seduces you and then he murders you. That’s the only option. Though, to be fair, neither of us knows much about sex. What happens or how it ends. What if there isn’t a murder?
Neither of us has been with a man.
Brix and I fight over the musty negligee. Who gets to be the girl? We both want that role.
The one who doesn’t get to be the girl has to be the male lead. The seducer. The murderer. You’d think it would be the best role, the most powerful, but it’s not the one we want. The upside: the male star is allowed to do anything he wants to the girl.
In the distance, even at night, you can hear the highway noise coming from the 101. Brix’s grandmother, Bernadette, always stays in her bed, day and night, and she gets ambitious when she drinks. The last time I was here she glued metallic cameos of Hollywood starlets to every available toenail, including mine. Get away while you can, Brix tells me. You’ve been warned.
They live on the edge of Whitley Heights in a Spanish bungalow. At dawn I wake, still hoarse from screaming during my murder. You’re welcome to join me, Bernadette calls as I tiptoe past her room to use the only toilet. There’s another toilet in the so-called guest quarters, but I don’t want to go outside in my nightgown.
Brix tells me not to encourage Bernadette but I like her stories. I climb onto her lumpy bed. At first she looks like she doesn’t remember inviting me. She blinks, slow and long-lashed, a lazy animal in an early Disney film. I point to a black and white photo and ask her about it. It’s like putting coins in a machine.
He was infatuated with me but he was married, of course. I wouldn’t let things get too serious. His wife, well, she was lovely to everyone. They had a big house in West Hollywood and they were always throwing parties. She didn’t satisfy him, though. They had everything, an absolutely gorgeous couple, but they were so unhappy.
Another slow-motion blink. Bernadette’s face is numb from Botox, a white sea of resistance. No wrinkles, but something eerie in their place, a shock of dyed black hair next to pale skin. She gets a cigarette ready but doesn’t light it. Says, I don’t know, little girl, I don’t know anymore.
Has she forgotten my name? The sky is colorless like it can’t decide what to wear. Tomorrow when I go home, I’ll watch the old movie channel and try to pay attention, even learn a few lines before it all turns to a cradle of melodrama. But those are not the stories I like the most. They make me fall asleep. I want the tales that keep me riveted until sunrise. I want to be scared. I want to run for my life.
I steal away to start a breakfast of crêpes and French roast. I serve Bernadette in bed, my treat. My gratitude. She orders champagne, a running joke that is sometimes serious. On the days when she can find a drink, the stories geyser-spray out of her. She drenches me with tales of ripped panties and romps in turquoise pools, enraged lovers and diamond watches, pill-popping and flying in convertibles toward the sea.
Brix is still asleep in her quiet room. She stretches and then blinks like her grandmother. A little tremor crosses her face when she first wakes up to her inheritance of ceiling cracks and wavy glass windowpanes that distort the world. Or maybe she’s remembering what she did to me the night before.
When it’s dark again Brix and I put on Bernadette’s old costumes and run around the property. It’s Heroine Night, which means that there are two girls now. No men on the set. We pretend that someone is trying to chase us to our grave. It always ends with a scream. We risk waking the neighbors. They might call the police but nobody can save us. We take turns with the scream, the best line in our movie.
Standing in the dark, in Bernadette’s clothes, I am desirable. Pretty. I am sexy enough to be sacrificed and so grateful for this opportunity. I take the garden hose and deliver my Oscar speech.
Jan Stinchcomb is the author of the novella, Find the Girl (Main Street Rag, 2015). Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Cease, Cows, Necessary Fiction, Conium Review Online Compendium, A cappella Zoo and Paper Darts, among other places. She reviews fairy tale-inspired works in Notes From Rapunzel’s Tower, her column for Luna Station Quarterly. She lives in Southern California with her husband and daughters. Visit her at http://www.janstinchcomb.com
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