Mother is late again. She pulls up and Zach throws himself on the floor. She’s promised a treat if he behaves at the beach. He has Bobby’s soft Augusta drawl. “Ass cream, Gramma, ass cream.”
We stop to give Jenna a lift to the airport. She knows how mother feels about her work. So on the drive over to her apartment she texts me, “Contract girl 4 for Vivid=No anal and guys wear condoms.” Jenna is five one and sculpted. Guys in high school creamed when they saw her.
Mother drives while Jenna sits beside me and continues to text. “New name Savannah Haze. My brand re-launch.” Zach reaches his dimpled arms for Jenna/Savannah, and she gives him a big kiss on his neck. He giggles and that does it, she’s giving him busters now, loving all over his little neck.
Jenna tried to get me to go with her to the audition but Bobby got shipped to Afghanistan in the surge. We could use the money. Mom wants to help but Bobby has his pride. I have no earthly skills. Jenna does girl girl but she never made a pass at me. I kid her about it and act offended. One of the Vivid contract girls fell in love and refused boy girl for a long time. Word got out and she lost lots of money. She’s back to anal and feet now, Jenna says.
We drop Jenna curbside. She has just enough time for her flight to LAX. I get out and walk her inside. Zach keeps screaming for ass cream. Mom says don’t be long, dear. She has a long frown for Jenna.
Jenna pulls me into a hug and tells me Bobby will be OK, she swears. She’ll say a novena. It must be all over my face. She asks me to water her plants while she’s gone. She’s away a month at a time. She bought a new condo in Studio City when her agent got her the Vivid gig. She’s relieved. She says she has sex less than me now, her contract is that good. I tell her I’m happy for her but no one has sex less than me. I miss Bobby awful. Jenna tells me I can jill off to her movies, she’ll send me some. I tell her no thanks. She has new peep toe shoes. Her toes look like ruby candy. She’s my friend since second grade.
At the beach an old man watches from his balcony. He’s got binoculars. I tug at my top, then flip him off and run after Zach, who is barking. He thinks he’s a dog.
The Director watches from the balcony of his high room, tracking the women and their little boy as they make their way to the island beach near Savannah. The mother is fair, pixie cut, the daughter tan, free of affect connected and purposeful.
Ten am, the sun scorches. The Director says that we are too afraid of death to love wisely or to discover beauty; forfeiting beauty in exchange for love we begin to die before we have learned to live. To cast and crew he says what torture it is to play opposite an actor who looks at you and sees someone else. He grabs the actress, the actor: if everything around me were true how would I behave?
The Director lifts his binoculars. A man walks past the two women, who struggle with the toddler’s seat buckle. The girl is quick.
The Director sits in a raised chair at the pool. Below, on the beach, the women pull the boy in his red wagon. The mother shakes her head, rolls her high shoulders, cracks her long neck. The girl is twenty-two, too old for the part. Elise, his producer, texted him that his lead is back in rehab. Her boyfriend too.
Every action has a purpose. The beach girl bends at the waist to help her son with his pail and shovel. She is within reach of her little boy, available to him, a terrible beauty promising connection but remaining essentially unavailable. Nothing we do is neutral. The Director believes that only what happens before the age of eighteen is essential, he wants to be that buried child. Girl as Mom. As actress. Every actor’s life is broken in half trying to escape self-awareness. At the moment you lose it you diminish your receptivity to experience. The best actors learn to hide as creative life becomes a shield, a way of keeping life at a distance. It saddens him. The girl is ruined, he thinks, even while embracing her beautiful distortions.
Better to watch her bury her boy in sand. Buried child. His delighted squeals, the easy grace of the grandmother’s smile. A day at the beach, and nothing more.
Certain tribes of aboriginal descent believe that a photograph can steal a soul, imprisoning it within its amalgam of polyester, celluloid, salts and gelatin. The Director smiles to think himself a thief of souls. He leaves the Pentax camera around his neck. The girl will go untouched, unnoticed, unremarked, the perfect line of her body undisturbed. A role must have continuous being and unbroken line. He watches her, preserving all necessary distance, until at last he raises his weary arm and makes the sign of the cross over her, over the mother and the boy, and the beach, as if in a papal blessing, as if his heart is not rent.
She has two dimples just above her perfect ass, dimples you have seen before, in a woman you once knew in a life long ago. You order a chair and umbrella to be placed alongside her encampment: a large pile (monogrammed Louis Vuitton waterproof canvas bags, cooler, red wagon heavily laden), and you wait. Waiting is what you do best
The young woman, when she approaches, looks like Kate Moss at twenty-three. Tousled blonde hair below her shoulder blades. Four inch silver teardrop earring, left side, closest to you. Her mother lovely as well, her hair in a blunt cut, a two piece swim suit. The little boy is delightful, curly blond hair, uncut, a boy of two. For him they pull the big red wagon on the beach. They arrange their lives around him. They follow his every move, the male of the species. He carries pail and shovel in his starfish hands. Women without men, at the beach.
But the girl is twenty-three — can still be called a girl, before the sadness of twenty-four, or worse, twenty-nine, before the requisite changes of twenty-five, when the world calls women like her to account, to questions she does not now entertain, the girl at twenty-three, she stops your heart.
You have known her, you know her now. You smile at the mother and go on watching behind your summer hat of straw, your large striped beach glass. Under the ocean-blue umbrella in the summer sun.
The girl wears a black string bikini and as she watches her boy, places both hands on her hips.
The little boy has a sturdy body. He digs his shovel into the wet sand, then abandons his toys to chase a dog into the soupy surf. Both women run after him. You lift your fork to your mouth, then stop, exhausted. Eating seems like such work, is there no end to eating, must we go on doing this simple act forever? The girl bends at the waist to help her boy. Her breasts do not separate nor do they hang. Her line is perfect.
Her chest is small, her thighs and legs, everything well proportioned, but her ass and hips are kept from being too small, she has escaped looking anorexic and depleted only by giving birth to that boy.
Her boy has run off again. He kicks a ball under your chair. Now she moves toward you, smiles.
“I’m sorry,” she says.
She is sorry. A lifetime of apologies. They simply can’t, and never do, apologize enough. Beauty and her shade, sorrow. Her mother looks and smiles too. We go on smiling. You lift your weary arm.
When they go you’ll keep coming back for her. You will wait. A week, a month, she may be nowhere in sight, yet present, still. Each day you will see her more clearly. She has made every person on earth seem unnecessary.