Saturday, June 30, 2007

Confessions in Black & White III

Chapter III

      The following Saturday, everyone in the makeshift film studio was on edge as Kay changed the actress’ mark for the twelfth time, much to the woman’s annoyance and her male counterpart’s indifference.
      “No, no, it’s all wrong!” she shouted for the thirteenth time as the film reel skidded to a halt. Shaking her head rigorously, she stepped out from behind the cameras and lights of “her” world and unto the black and white backdrop of the actors’ world. “It’s all wrong. Let’s try it over here.” She grabbed the actor and actress by the elbows and picked out a new location farther to the right of the set.
      “Hit it here. From the top,” Kay instructed, swirling her finger upward in the air to indicate that things would begin rolling from the beginning of the scene. She stood behind the cameras, arms crossed critically and a tight frown darkening her face.
      The actress ran toward her new mark, the large fans from last week again billowing her scarf in imitation of a breezy day. The actress was caught inexpertly in the actor’s arms and held tightly for an instant. The actress stared up at him for one…two…three seconds before she was supposed to break free and leap unto the bridge, throwing herself off with abandon as the man reached desperately to pull her back. At the moment the actress was supposed to break free though, Kay again called cut, rubbing her temples in irritation.
      “Will!” she shouted with the same intensity with which she would have shouted a curse.
      Will Lawley, who had been unexpectedly invited to watch the wonders of Kaysa’s film studio in action, emerged reluctantly from the corner of the room where Krystof had lurked the week before.
      “Will, come over here.” Kaysa jerked her head in the direction of the set. “I want you to stand in Rick’s place.”
      The male actor, Rick, stepped aside, as did the actress. Everyone watched silently as Will shyly make his way forward.
      “You want me to what?” he asked, half shading his eyes against the lights of the staging area. He looked so small all of a sudden, and unsure where he was usually confident and at ease.
      “I want you to play Rick’s role for this take.” She led Will by the elbow, just as she had her paid professionals earlier, to his mark. “I want you to catch Denise when she runs toward you, hold her tight while she tries to get free, and then reach out to stop her from jumping off the bridge.” She ran through the motions as she described them, and Will automatically followed her instructions, creating the first smile of satisfaction any of the cast or crew had seen out of Kaysa since they’d started rolling film at six in the morning.
      “I need new life in this scene!” she declared to everyone and no one at the same time as she stepped away from Will. “It’s dead to me now. –Dead.” She looked at everyone sternly through her shades, which she had lowered her eyes after the fifth take, before looking back over her shoulder at Will. “So now we’re going to try it with you.”
      Uncertain of what to say, Will said nothing and simply nodded.
      “From the top,” Kay instructed the camera operator.
      The slate snapped and the scene ran through a complete time.
      “Better, better,” Kay nodded, rubbing her angular chin thoughtfully. “Let’s try it once more though. And Will,” she pointed, “this time I want you to kiss Denise –hard –right before she breaks free. –Go.”
      “Wait, what?” he protested.
      “I want you to kiss her,” Kay repeated, her head bobbing up and down behind the camera lens.
      “But I’m not the actor here. I thought I was just doing this for a fresh perspective or something…”
      “You are. And now I want to see some fresh perspective with a kiss.” Kay snapped her fingers and the slate appeared.
      Will appeared to grit his teeth, mentally, if not physically, and he did fine until the point in the scene when Kay called out “now” for the kiss. For an instant it looked as though he really would. He leaned his face in, neck craned, but then he pushed the actress back away from him.
      “What?!” Kay practically screamed, throwing her arms in the air. “What? We were there, what happened? It looked great.”
      “I’m not your actor,” Will said, a bit of anger and frustration in his voice. “I don’t have to do this.”
      Kay grabbed her hair and dug her nails into her skull. “Fine, get out then. Just get out. Rick. Do exactly what he just did, but for God’s sake, I want to see a fucking kiss this time. If I have to spend one more hour looking at this scene unfolding badly, I will cut this entire fucking film.”
      Will made the most of his escape, using the same side door to the alley that the three of us had used at the beginning of the week. I followed him, barely catching Kay’s final command to roll again.
      “God, is she always like that?” he asked me, running a hand through his hair.
      I shrugged. He put on his jacket, shaking his head to himself.
      “She’s just Kay,” I tried to tell him, but he had already made up his mind to get out of there. He crossed the street with a half-wave in my direction.
      It was just like Kay to let a genuinely nice guy like Will walk out before even getting the chance to walk in.

      That night, Kaysa took the actor Rick back to her flat as some sort of personal vengeance, and Will left two messages on her answering machine.
      “Can you believe he called?” Kay sat on a stool in the studio just before midnight, cigarette in hand, posed with her hand on her chin and her elbow balanced on one knee. She looked like a model for Rodin’s Thinker.
      “Yes, of course I can.” I snapped a picture of her on my Nikkon. She was letting me photograph her as a guide for my modern portrait painting class, which she had only reluctantly agreed to be the subject of.
      She shrugged and changed poses. “Well, he can’t expect me to call him back.”
      “Will seems like such a nice guy though,” I said.
      “Exactly. What on earth would I do with him?”
      Kay had a point, I supposed. She was probably too bad for a good guy. “What about Rick? I saw you guys get in your car together after the shoot.”
      “I should probably replace him. He’s a bad actor and a bad lover.” She said both indifferently, mere statements of fact. “It would be a pain to find someone to fill in now though, I guess. A nd then we’d have to redo the bridge scene, which is the last thing I want to do, so I guess I’ll just have to keep him around anyway.”
      “For the movie, or for your bed?” I asked with the practiced smirk I’d picked up from her over the years.
      She laughed. “Definitely not my bed.”
      Kay put out her cigarette and stood up to undress while I changed rolls of film for the nudes I would also use for my painting. Once undressed, save her sunglasses, Kay laid down on the cold polished concrete floor in front of the gray drape we’d hung over several easels. The flash on the Nikkon made her look like a marble statue. I took shots of several poses in silence.
      “Try something a little more sensual,” I instructed, and as I did there was a knock on the door. Walking over, I opened it to discover Krystof.
      “What are you doing here?” Kaysa demanded when he entered the studio without even asking if it was okay. She made no move to cover herself.
      “I went to your apartment and no one was there, so I figured you must be here. You don’t have much of a life otherwise. –What the hell’s going on?”
      “I’m photographing Kay for my next painting,” I explained, keeping my distance from him, but moving back toward Kay.
      “Naked?”
      “It’s art, K, don’t be perverted,” Kay rebuked.
      “Would it still be art if Beck was a lesbian?” he asked, sitting on a stool and making clear his lack of intention to leave.
      Kay must have rolled her eyes behind the shades, but she changed poses silently. I snapped the flash again.
      “So what do you want,” Kay finally asked, finally looking back toward her brother. “Shouldn’t you be off being social, ruining women’s lives and drinking yourself into oblivion?”
      “Hostile, hostile, sister, mine,” Krystof tsked. “Can’t I come appreciate art?”
      “You don’t appreciate anything.”
      I didn’t say anything, just continued doing my best to get decent shots of Kay, which wasn’t necessarily difficult. Her body, while thin, was not exactly sickly. Her muscles were fairly well-defined, likely because of her like for sailing and riding. The shadows created by the flash would show up long and dark when I developed the black and white film. I was sure at least one would make an excellent portrait, if not several of them from which I’d end up having to choose. Krystof, meanwhile, rifled curiously through several piles of papers, canvases and tools on the counters and floor.
      “How did the film go today?” he asked.
      “Miserable. Like always.”
      “Bad lighting again?” Krystof teased unkindly.
      “Bad acting.”
      “There’s no sound, how can there be bad acting?”
      “Apparently it’s possible.”
      “Beck, you have to verify this.” Krystof finally addressed me. “Can there be such a thing as bad acting in a silent film?”
      “I don’t know, but Kay wasn’t happy with the guy. He didn’t hit his mark well at all.”
      “You didn’t fuck him, did you?” This was clearly directed at Kay again.
      “Of course I did,” she said as though his question was as idiotic as her answer was a given.
      Krystof shook his head and continued his exploration of the studio’s wealth of random treasures.
      “Is this one yours?” Krystof pulled out on of my paintings from a year ago, but looked at Kay for a response.
      “No, that one’s Beck’s.”
      Krystof replaced it without further interest. “So do you guys want to get a drink when you’re done with this, or no?”
      I pushed the button down on the last picture on the roll and Kay rose to put her clothes back on. I looked at her and shook my head no. There was no way I wanted to repeat the previous weekend.
      “I’ll get a drink, I guess,” Kay shrugged. “We’re done here, right?” she raised an eyebrow at me.
      “Yeah, this should do it.”
      Pulling her shirt over her head, she leaned forward and kissed me on the lips, a gesture that always made me want to recoil, but when I held myself rigid and waiting for. “Great. I’ll see you whenever then. I don’t know if I’ll be in the studio this week or not. I might go to Paris or something.”
      She and Krystof left the studio, her hand in the back pocket of his jeans and his hand on the back of her neck. I closed the door behind them and indulged in just a couple minutes’ contemplation of what disaster might ensue.

      They went to Revolution on St. Anne’s Court. The bartender nodded at them as they entered, and Kay leaned over the crowded bar to give him a kiss with barest hint of tongue.
      “A pitcher or what?” he asked, shaking Krystof’s hand after Kaysa’s enthusiastic greeting.
      “Absolut,” Krystof said, which was their usual, and a sarcastic testament of pride to their native Sweden’s strongest drink.
      “Absolut Kurant,” Kaysa corrected, getting her feet back on the ground after leaning so far over the bar.
      “Coming right up,” the bartender assured. “We can get you a good booth in the back, close to the music.” And sure enough, a snap of his fingers made this very thing happen.
      “We come here too much,” Kaysa said once they were seated. She lit a cigarette and offered one to Krystof.
      “It’s the only place to come for good vodka,” he reminded her, though she didn’t need reminding. He accepted a cigarette and lit it from hers.
      “But the décor’s fucking ridiculous.” She gestured at the communist posters and photographs.
      Krystof let out a great cloud of smoke. “What, it doesn’t make you want to brood and damn the system?”
      “We are the system.”
      “And that’s just what all these idiots would say.” Krystof waved at the packed bar, full of trendy and well-dressed people from an arrogant, but not quite insipid, class of London elite.
      The bottle of Absolute Kurant arrived with two shot glasses and Krystof offered his credit card to start the tab. “Go ahead and send over a bottle of Belvedere, too,” he instructed as Kay took a shot.
      “We should’ve started with Belvedere and waited for the Kurant,” she mused.
      “It’ll be fine.” Krystof took two shots, one right after the other. “So you shot a scene, screwed an actor, and played naked today. Is that all you did?”
      “Pretty much a summary of my life. Although I occasionally screw men who aren’t actors.”
      “And women, too,” Kyrstof pointed out with a gleam in his eye.
      “Only a couple of times,” Kay shrugged, blowing her smoke into his face so that his eyes would burn.
      “I heard you’re toying with Will Lawley,” Krystof said disapprovingly.
      “Where’d you hear that?”
“He was at the fucking party, Kay, we clearly have friends in common. People talk, and when they talk about you, I listen. –So what’s the deal with this guy?”
      Kay shrugged, turning her face away from him. “He’s nothing. He’s nobody.” She brought her cigarette to her lips and adjusted her sunglasses.
      “Why won’t you look at me and say it then? If he’s nothing?”
      Kay jerked her head toward him. “What are you trying to say?”
      “I don’t know, you tell me. Did you let him watch you filming today? Did he call you afterward?”
      “God, what are you, a stalker? Not everything in my life is your business.”
      “Yes, it is. Because we’re the same person. Nothing is yours without being mine.”
      “Whatever.” Kay poured herself a shot and took it in one smooth movement.
      “You’d only wreck a boy like Will,” Kyrstof warned. “And trust me when I say that in the end he is nothing more than a boy.”
      “I’ll probably never see him again. There’s not much risk of wrecking him without even seeing him.”
      Krystof let out a sharp, half-laugh, pouring himself another shot of the Kurant, and one for Kay, too. “Goes to show how little you know about yourself, Kay. A bitch like you? A guy doesn’t even have to see you to be ruined. Just the memory of those long legs,” he slid his hand up her leg under the table of the booth, “and that long hair…”
      Kay laughed and pushed his hands away. “Keep your hands to yourself or I’ll ruin your life.”
      Krystof grabbed her wrists and pulled her closer to him across the seat of the booth until she was almost on his lap. “I’m serious, Kay. If you get involved with this boy, you will fuck him up and it will be all your fault when he is never the same again… Is that what you want?”
      Kay licked her lips, despite being disturbingly close to her brother’s face. Her heart was racing at the very idea of ruining Will, as long as it was her fault. All her fault…
      “Promise me, Kay…that you will forget about Will Lawley.”
      She smiled and kissed him on the lips. “I promise.”


Thursday, June 28, 2007

Confessions in Black & White II

Chapter II

      When Kay woke up the following mornings, she was no longer wearing her jeans. She sat cross-legged on Krystof’s bed in nothing but her camisole and underwear, cigarette in hand. The sunglasses, which had been thrown on the floor at some point the previous night had not only survived, but found their way back to her face. Krystof was lying shirtless on the bed next to her, staring at his ceiling with his arms locked behind his head.
      “Do you want an omelet?” he asked, his voice rough from the late night screaming and alcohol.
      Kaysa shrugged sluggishly. “An omelet could be good.”
      “I don’t know if we have eggs.”
      Kaysa said nothing, just brought the cigarette to her lips again. After another bout of silence, Krystoff decided to add, “I never forced Beck.”
      Kaysa smirked but without malice. “Right. I’m sure she was drunk and climbed on top of herself shouting, no, no, no.”
      “That’s not the way it happened.” Krystof sat up, scratching his head awake with both hands. “I don’t know why you don’t believe me.”
      “Because I know you.”
      Kay smashed her cigarette in a coffee cup on the nightstand nearest to her, standing to pull on her jeans. She pushed the top button through the denim hole and made an excuse to leave. “—I’ve got to get out of here. I’m supposed to meet my broker at three.”
      “No omelet then?”
      “You said you didn’t have eggs.”
      “I said I didn’t know.”
      Kaysa shrugged. “Same thing. I’ve got to get out of here anyway. I should shower.”
      “Want me to drive you?” Krystof offered. “You gave your keys to Beck last night.”
      “Don’t worry, my car’s downstairs.”
      Krystof walked to the window as Kay left the bedroom and, sure enough, her Audi was still parked out front. He watched her get in and drive off, wondering if she had left her jacket lying somewhere in the front room.

      Kaysa walked through the door of her flat and began to undress before it even closed behind her. She walked naked from the foyer to the bathroom and performed a cursory inspection before getting under the shower. She always did this after spending too much time with Krystof, as if to reassure herself that she was, in fact, a separate person. It was only when she was sure that this was true that she stepped under the steaming stream of water and washed away everything from the night before.
      An hour later, she again left her flat, but this time in a Tiffany-blue, knee-length dress. It was longer in back and cut to a V, both between her sharp shoulder blades and at the hem grazing her tight calves. The front of the dress also fell to a deep V between the two soft mounds that only barely rose from her chest and rarely required a bra. She wore high heels with pointed toes that made her taller than her already unusual height, and her hair was still damp, though loosely contained in a messy chignon at the nape of her neck. Although the dress softened her appearance, her eyes were still blocked by black and her lips were still unsmiling. She could have stopped traffic descending the steps of her building, but wouldn’t have even noticed as she peeled down the street toward the West End.
      Twenty minutes late, she strolled into the Connaught hotel restaurant to find her stockbroker already seated and enjoying a glass of chardonnay.
      “Morning, Daddy,” she said, kissing him on the cheek and sitting across from him.
      “Hardly morning, darling,” he scolded as he opened a black folder in front of her. It looked like a menu, but it was actually a list of her current assets and holdings, and she removed her sunglasses to look at it. “I ordered you the salmon,” he informed her, filling her wine glass from the bottle on the table.
      Kaysa’s father was an average-looking, almost non-descript British man and could easily be passed without notice on the street, unlike his daughter. While Quinn Stevens had always been a successful stockbroker and popular socialite, it was still a wonder to people that he’d managed to marry the only daughter of an eccentric Swedish nobleman who had lofty ideas about pure-blood Scandinavians. Quinn was known to blithely joke that he’d simply “gotten lucky,” and his later divorce came as no surprise to anyone.
      Quinn had been the attentive parent in their childhood, but Kaysa and Krystof had grown apart from him after the divorce, and had instead been raised by their manic and sometimes crazed mother. It was only in adulthood that Kaysa had begun to know her father again, and they met one Sunday afternoon a month at the Connaught to go over her stock portfolio, which he had willingly and skillfully crafted into better financial quality than even his own. He must have felt it was the least that he could do to make up for her tragic adolescence.
      Once they finished a summary of the numbers that had gone up, her net increase over the past month, and a lot of technical jargon that Kaysa was uninterested in understanding, Kaysa’s father ventured, hesitantly as ever, into more personal questions.
      “And how’s your brother?” he asked.
      “Still a reckless bastard.”
      “You shouldn’t talk about him that way,” he dared to criticize. “He is your brother, after all.”
      “Blood ties are overrated.” And although she wasn’t referring to him in particular, Quinn Stevens accepted his daughter’s rebuff in silence.
      By the time dessert was laid on the table, their waiter was infatuated enough with Kaysa to clumsily pass her his phone number under her plate, sending her father into a fit of indignation.
      “The absolute nerve,” Quinn fumed, tearing up the paper after Kay had pulled it out and examined it with amusement. “You’d think that in a place like this we’d be able to eat in peace, without some lust-struck idiot… I want to see the manager!”
      And true to his word, Quinn Stevens sent for the manager and gave the man such verbal abuse that they were excused from paying for the meal as an apology for their “harassment” –it had become harassment by then –and the manager vowed that the waiter would be fired as he personally walked Kaysa and Quinn to the door, prostrating himself at every step.
      “It’s a disgrace,” Quinn emphasized again, as his daughter put her sunglasses back on and was handed her car keys by the valet. She got in with a wave to her father and drove off without another word: a silver bullet shooting down the road.
      “If I didn’t like the Connaught so much, we should only eat at Quaglino’s from now on.”
      The manager apologized again, and offered his favorite client his next meal on the house.

      On her way toward the Thames, Kaysa’s mobile rang three times. Twice it was Krystof, and once it was me, so she ignored it. She felt like painting, felt like it was the only possible outlet for the things that she was feeling, so she parked two blocks away from the studio she rented with me and several students and former students of the University of the Arts, London, or U of AL, as we sometimes referred to it in short. Although Kaysa hoped that no one would be up there as she approached, she had a feeling, soon to be proved correct, that I would be perched upon a stool, practically waiting.
      “I figured you would be here,” Kaysa said as way of greeting after pulling her key out of the lock and letting it fall shut behind her.
      “There’s not much else to do on a Sunday,” I shrugged, trying not to give away my anxiety, or the fact that I had known she would come to the studio eventually that day. “So what happened?”
      Kay pulled up an easel from the corner and began to make a frame for a canvas. She shrugged and said, “What do you mean?”
      Getting information from her was so difficult, as it was inherently against her nature to share anything, let alone personal parts of her life.
      “Last night.”
      “Nothing. We yelled and got more drunk. I forgot you don’t drive manual. How did you get home?”
      “I took a taxi.”
      She stretched the canvas over the new frame and pushed in pins to hold it in place. Her narrow fingers seemed perfect for the task, and she performed it expertly, as though she’d done it all her life –as though she’d been born with the knowledge of how to do it right the first time.
      “God, Kay, I thought Krystof was going to… I don’t even know what I thought he was going to do to you last night.”
      Kay looked over her shoulder at me, but I could only see my reflection in the tinted glass over her eyes. “Krystof likes to hurt people, but he’d never hurt me.”
      “How can you say that?” I dared to challenge her –as I rarely did. “How can you say you know him and still be so sure he’d never hurt you?”
      She straddled a stool in front of her fresh canvas, her back to me. She kicked off her shoes and balanced her toes on the support pegs of the stool so that her calves clenched. She didn’t even cover up the expensive fabric of her dress with a smock: she was just going to paint and come-what-may. She pushed her sunglasses to the top of her head and picked up a brush.
      “He’s my brother. He’s my twin,” was all she said, but all I could hear was the echo of Krystof’s angry words from the night before as he’d held Kay’s skull dangerously in his hand.
      I suppressed a shudder. Kay, however, calmly smeared red paint over the white canvas, apparently deaf to the echo I’d heard. I couldn’t help but wonder what she was seeing for the canvas, what she would paint…
      I was eight years younger than Kay, just nineteen, and I often felt like her charity project, even though she preferred to call me her protégée. Kay was an icon at U of AL and had spent three years there in an almost militant pursuit of the arts. She had entered a program in 2002 to study painting, although she’d just come from the Royal Ballet School, where she’d been a promising rising star.
      Seven years previously, she’d been at the Royal Conservatory in training as a concert harpist. On the harp they’d called her a siren who mesmerized audiences. The critics swore she spun the classics, from Chopin to Bach, into new spells, but without warning, she’d left the harp for ballet points. As a dancer, she’d been dubbed an angel by both the reviews in the papers and her rivals on the stage. She was fluid when she danced, as if her bones were as hollow and weightless as the wings of a bird; as though each step, each spin, each jump, cost her absolutely no effort at all. She danced the lead in every production until her third year when she decided one morning to give up the stage entirely and take up a paintbrush.
      And this, too, she had excelled in amidst praise from faculty and galleries and the media alike. There was something to obsess about in her elegant appearance and her impressive range of talents. Was there anything she couldn’t do? People had to ask themselves. Even I had to ask myself.
      And even though she had practically dropped out of U of AL and was in the midst of experimenting with film, Kay still came to the studio to paint every once in a while. But she wasn’t like me. She wasn’t like the other people who shared the studio. She never came to the canvas with a chip on her shoulder. She didn’t have years worth of self-doubt or self-hatred, or any of the things it seemed that I and my colleagues were always bringing into the studio. She sat down without ever knowing anything, without having any future or any past, just some colors and a whim. Painting was a metaphor for her life, maybe even more so than dancing or the harp.
      “Have you finished working on the bridge set for next week’s shoot?” she asked me as she used a palette knife to mix a darker red than the one she was using from a bottle.
      This was why I was useful to Kay: I could mass-produce. I was the brush, the mastermind of 3-D black and white behind her precious movie project. I couldn’t use Matisse-like color or Kandinsky-inspired expressionism like Kay, but I had mastered depth and I could turn canvases –or curtains, as the set employed –into boxes to hold streets and cities and mountains, if that was what was required. It might not have been a romantic talent, but at least it was mine.
      “Yeah, I just have to move it in tomorrow and put the pieces together.”
      The next day, as Kay and I were doing just that, we had an unexpected encounter while struggling to get the rolled curtains into the studio. The old doorways of the furniture warehouse were not always conducive to the often bulky film and prop equipment needed for the shoots, and getting them inside could turn into an adventure that often lasted hours. I would sometimes think to myself that Kay would have been better served by choosing an old carpet factory for her fantasy studio, but I never voiced the thought out loud.
      “Shit, this is never going to work,” Kay complained, pushing up the sleeves of her blouse and perching her sunglasses higher up on her nose. “We’re going to have to fold it.”
      “If we fold it the paint will crack and with all those huge lights you’re using, every crack will show up in the background,” I argued, unwilling to let my masterpiece be destroyed, or even marred.
      “There’s no other way to get this in!”
      “Need some help there?” a third voice interrupted us.
      Kay and I turned, and where I saw the man who had been her disastrous dancing partner at Krystof’s party the other night, she saw only a good Samaritan there to save her movie set.
      “Yes,” she said immediately. “Grab that end, and help us get this Godforsaken curtain through this door.”
      Within minutes, the three of us had maneuvered not only that curtain, but the other two rolled backdrops and fragments of the bridge which also needed to be assembled. The stranger offered to help us with this task, too, and Kay again accepted while I stayed silent. I wondered if he was going to try to casually mention the party and the kiss and the scene caused by Krystof. I also wondered what kind of coincidence or conspiracy could have brought him to Southwark on a Monday.
      After getting everything set up in the studio, we went out a side door of the warehouse and sat on some of the discarded crates from props and equipment. Kay pulled out a cigarette to smoke, and I took one when she offered it. Our still nameless helper, however, declined, and the three of us sat for a few minutes in silence.
      “You don’t remember me, do you?” he finally said to Kay.
      She turned her covered eyes to look at him, and I could imagine her look behind the black lenses: her eyes narrowing to slits to examine him more closely as her memory wracked itself to remember.
      “I try not to remember most people,” she replied casually. “These days everybody thinks they know somebody.”
      “I guess that’s true,” he nodded almost philosophically. “But I never knew you to begin with.”
      “You say never knew me, and yet expect me to remember you?” Kay half-laughed, but without mirth. She looked tempted to examine him more closely, as though he might be an exotic animal masquerading in human skin. Instead, she brought her cigarette to her lips again.
      “Well, it was just the other night, in Notting Hill… If anything, I thought the proximity of time might have helped.”
      He faltered a little, not sure what to say next, and Kay was completely unhelpful. Any normal person might have been embarrassed, might have been apologetic, might have had any reaction except Kay’s, which was to simply raise an eyebrow and wait for more to be said. –As though enough had not already been said. I pitied this poor man instantly, whoever he was, and I was surprised when he mustered the courage to continue his doomed quest.
      “Your name is Kaysa, right? Kaysa Stevens, Krystof’s sister.”
      “His twin” she clarified.
      “That much is obvious. And I’m Will. William Lawley.” He held out his hand to her, and after a significant pause, Kay slipped hers into his. “It’s a pleasure.”
      Kay should have smiled, but she just inclined her head. “Tell me, Will, what brings you to Southwark?”
      I could see him contemplating whether he would get farther with the truth or a lie, and that was when my suspicions were confirmed that he had actually purposely come to the Borough in hopes of running into her. Stupid, smitten pup. I debated whether to let my pity from earlier vanish…or double.
      “Actually, I had overheard you mention furniture houses in Southwark, and a film hobby of yours at the party, so I couldn’t help but think then that this would be the most likely place to run into you again…”
      “So you wanted to run into me again?” Kay asked –almost demanded.
      “Of course. You never took your glasses off for me.”
      A semi-stunned silence gripped us all, even Will, who must not have been aware until that moment of the type of flirtatious spider web he had managed to get trapped in.
      Suddenly, Kay let out a laugh. I wondered if I’d ever heard her laugh before, and couldn’t be certain, in the two years I’d known her, that she ever had. At least not like that, with so little mocking that it was almost happy. I stared at her with a half-open mouth, and even spared a glance toward an equally confused Will.
      “Is that what brought you here?” she asked, removing the shades and letting the full impact of her face wash over her unassuming victim. She raised one corner of her lips in a crooked little smile while Will and I both stared at her with more than a little awe. Her face was so singular that it was easy to believe it the source of all the power she held over men. The combination of sharp and smooth features could never be duplicated or imitated. She blew out a puff of smoke and slipped the glasses back on.
      And so it begins… I couldn’t help but think when I slid another glance at Will and found him still staring, his own lips slightly parted, his brown eyes transfixed. The prey caught in the spider’s web…


Monday, June 25, 2007

Confessions in Black & White I

Chapter I

      She was beautiful. She wore big, vintage sunglasses and a long, white scarf hung low down her back. Her arms were flung wide and taut, fingers spread, and her chin was tilted up toward God. She was standing on her toes, perched for an instant on the railing of the balcony before she fell forward, like a bird.
      She was flying, soaring…crashing.
      “All right, stop!” Kaysa called, unfolding herself from a chair behind the cameras and lights. “That’s good. Thanks everyone; we’ll call it a day.”
      Her announcement created a low din as people began to murmur and shuffle around the large warehouse building turned makeshift film studio. The woman lifted herself up off the large inflatable square that broke her otherwise dramatic fall from a set balcony no more than five feet off the ground. She took off her sunglasses and pulled the scarf from around her neck. Kaysa loved the way the scarf fluttered perfectly in the breeze manufactured by two small fans on each side of a Mole-Richardson light.
      “That was good. I think we really got the shot we needed there,” Kaysa told her. “So we’ll see you again next week at 6am, same as this time. Same wardrobe, make-up, everything. We’ll be shooting the bridge scene, so this will all be out of here…” Kaysa waved her hand at the set being cleared away. “Sound good? Great.”
      The woman had no chance to reply before Kaysa was on her way again, telling film students where to put equipment and when to show up the following week. From the corner of the warehouse, Krystof watched his sister. She was as thin as the rails of the film-set balcony, and her cheekbones were as dramatic as the large, harsh lights she preferred when filming. Her blond hair normally would have reached to the small of her back, but she had it twisted it up in a bun, covered by a scarf as though she would be riding in a convertible. She wore brown trousers, high heels, and a cream tunic that almost faded into her pale skin.
      “K, are you ready?” she asked, appearing like an apparition, suddenly right under his nose.
      “Yeah, let’s get out of here.” He draped his arm across her narrow shoulders and steered her toward the door, into the sunlight and away from the steel chaos.
      “What did you think?” she asked, lighting a cigarette.
      “It looked good.”
      “Even the lighting?” –Kaysa was always critical.
      “Yeah, even the lighting. –Whatever the fuck that means.” Krystof took the cigarette from his sister’s lips and took a slow drag. “What do you want to do for lunch?”
      “Lunch? I can’t do lunch. I’ll gain weight.” She pulled out a pair of large sunglasses from her shoulder bag and slid them on her face even though it was cloudy. They were almost identical to the ones the actress had worn earlier and she was instantly transformed into a thinner, paler, version of Grace Kelly. She took the cigarette back from Krystof and shifted her bag to her other arm. “I’ll see you tonight?”
      “My place. Ten. Bring vodka,” Krystof instructed, kissing her flatly on the lips.
      The two turned to go separate ways down the street, back-to-back mirror images growing farther apart. They were twins, and nearly identical for all that they were fraternal. Krystof was slightly taller, and his chin was more square, which was good in a man; he would have looked awkward with Kaysa’s tapered round one. They both had smooth foreheads, straight noses, fair skin, blond hair, and most disturbingly of all, the same eyes. Sharp, gray, with only the slightest claim to blue. Individually they were intimidating, and together they were downright overwhelming.

      Kaysa walked three blocks and flung away her cigarette before grabbing a bus to Soho. She ducked into number 14 Kingly Street where I was already sitting in a booth, waiting.
      “Kay, right here!” I called, beckoning her with a raised glass of Strongbow.
      She came over without smiling and pushed the sunglasses to the top of her headsince the light was so dim. Although it was only late afternoon, the Red Lion was packed and smoky, and outside it was beginning to look more and more like rain.
      “How was the shoot?” I asked as she sat across from me.
      “It was shit. How was work?”
      “Same. What about this actress though? I thought you said she might be the one. That she might really fit the role.”
      “She did. I think I’m actually going to stick with her, but the lighting was fucked. The shadows didn’t fall right at all.” She shrugged it off and the conversation threatened to lag.
      “How was Krystoff?”
      “A prick as ever.” She removed the scarf from around her hair and pushed up her sleeves as she ordered a pint of cider.
      “I thought things were getting better between you two.”
      “They are. –That doesn’t mean he’s not still a prick.” She lit a cigarette and blew a puff of smoke away from me. “I’m going to his place later tonight.” She took another drag, which might have seemed like a nervous gesture to anyone but me. She crossed her arms and looked at me speculatively before asking, “Want to come?”
      What a loaded question.
      “I don’t know. I wouldn’t want to intrude…” I took a drink of beer to stall.
      “Fat chance of that,” she laughed, knocking some of the ash from her cigarette into the tray to her right. “There’re going to be people drinking. You know: all those Kensington crowds.”
      We both laughed at that, which somehow led me to accept the invitation, disastrous though I knew it would be.
      “Great. I’ll pick you up at 10. Wear something monied.”

      When Kaysa showed up at 10:30 that night, she was wearing old jeans and a camisole under a corduroy jacket. Her blond hair was loose and flawlessly straight while long silver earrings hung from her earlobes to her shoulders. I felt suddenly frumpy in my black cocktail dress, not at all sexy and poetic like I’d felt while getting ready. Kay could make any woman feel frumpy though.
      “Are you ready for one hell of a night?” she asked, shaking a bottle of vodka under my nose with one of her dangerous grins.
      “Let’s do this.” I held up my own contribution, a bottle of red wine, but my voice lacked any enthusiasm as I climbed into the passenger seat of Kay’s Audì.
      Kay tossed the bottle of vodka in the back and shifted gears hard as we headed into Notting Hill. The radio was loud enough to prevent conversation, and I was fighting a losing battle with regret for letting myself be dragged to one of Krystof's parties by the time we pulled up in front of an excruciatingly trendy Victorian row house. Though Kay had always said that Krystof lived in his money, I suppose I hadn’t figured on it being so much money.
      “Well…this is it,” Kay said, glancing at me as we stood on the street. “Now or never.”
      She pulled out her sunglasses and covered her eyes before taking the front steps two at a time. You could smell the smoke and feel the pounding music before she even opened the door and let herself in, leaving me to trail reluctantly but close behind.
      The house was so full that there wasn’t really room to make any sort of “entrance,” but people still noticed when Kay came in and everyone turned to stare at us. From between all those eyes, Krystof emerged wearing a fitted grey sweater and faded jeans. Kay held out her bottle of vodka.
      “A present for you, K.”
      He took it and kissed her on the lips, hard, with almost the same amount of vengeance Kay used to change gears while driving.
      “And you remember Beck,” Kay added, gesturing back to me.
      “Welcome as ever,” Krystof smiled, kissing my lips, too. He already smelled and tasted like vodka.
      “It’s not hard liquor, but I wasn’t sure what else to bring,” I said as way of explaining the somewhat expensive bottle of Merlot.
      “Excellent choice,” he assured.
      Kay ducked around her brother and disappeared into the crowd, leaving me stranded as Krystof went to put the alcohol in the kitchen-turned-bar. I hated parties, and I tucked my hair self-consciously behind my ear.
      Kaysa hated parties, too, but she cured this hatred with alcohol and cigarettes, wedging herself in the middle of a group of men in their late twenties discussing politics, philosophy and art. Their faces bounced off her sunglasses, keeping her separate, even while a part of them.
      “And what do you do?” one of the men asked.
      Kaysa finished her martini and ate the olive before answering. “That depends on what you mean. I do something different every day.”
      “Well of course, but what do you do?” another man interrupted, somehow believing that putting emphasis on a different word would get a different answer.
      “My sister’s an artist, and a jane-of-all trades,” Krystof stepped in to answer, slipping his hand around the back of Kay’s neck, under her hair, which was limp with the humidity created by so many bodies pressed together. “Aren’t you, Kay?”
      “All depends on what you think art is,” she smiled tightly, pressing her glass into his chest. “Fetch me another, won’t you?”
      Krystof reluctantly disappeared to do as he was bid and Kay boosted herself up on the dining room table, shunning the number of open chairs around her. She pulled up one knee to her chest and rested her pointed chin on it as if she was done with the conversation entirely, but the circle of men were not so easily deterred. After all, they were men who had gotten what they'd wanted all their lives.
      “What kind of art are you interested in?” the first man asked.
      “Most kinds. Film, currently. I’m shooting a silent, black-and-white feature at the moment.”
      “Silent film? Black-and-white? How deliciously old-fashioned,” the openly gay member of the group declared.
      “Not at all. The main character’s a woman.” Kaysa's eyes would have been unreadable, even had the sunglasses not hidden them. The men laughed, but Kaysa didn’t even smile.
      Krystof reappeared with a martini and handed it to his sister. She finished it in two hard swallows before lighting another cigarette –at least her third since arriving.
      “I watched a part of the filming today,” Krystof elaborated as it was clear Kaysa would not. “It was tremendous. It might be silent, but it’s action-packed. When it’s finished it’s going to be visual amazing, visually gripping.”
      Kay rolled her eyes, and though no one could see, you could hear it in her voice. “I wouldn’t go that far.”
      “Nonsense. My sister: the budding producer.”
      “Is this what you want to do with the rest of your life?” one of the men asked, surprise in his voice.
      Kay shrugged with a smirk. “The rest of my life? This is just a little hobby.”
      Of course, no one asked how much this “little hobby” cost, though they were all sure it was expensive. No one asked where she was getting the money, either. Everyone knew it didn’t matter. With people like them, the money always came from somewhere.
      “Where are you filming this little hobby of yours?” the same man asked instead.
      “In an old furniture factory the other side of the river. In Southwark.” The other side of the river was basically the slums to these people. “I’ve converted it almost entirely into a functioning studio.” Kay flicked some ash carelessly on the carpet.
      “It’s something right out of 1950s Hollywood,” Krystof assured the group. “Huge lights, elaborate sets. You’d almost expect musical numbers to be coming out of it.”
      “—Except that it’s a silent feature,” the man pointed out.
      “Right,” Krystof shrugged.
      Kaysa laughed at that and dropped her cigarette into her martini glass before sliding off the table. “There needs to be dancing,” she announced, pushing her way to the stereo system while pulling her hair away from her neck. She peeled off her jacket and tossed it aside without even looking to see where it landed on the floor. Her ribs were almost perfectly visible underneath her camisole, and a bit of the hollow of her back showed just above her jeans. She changed the CDs and turned up the volume, taking the arm of the man closest to her and pressing herself against him.
      She was drunk, but she didn’t care.
      “Whoa there.” Kaysa's captive grabbed her gently by her bony shoulders. “Wait just a minute… How about taking off those sunglasses, beautiful? Letting a guy get a good look at you?”
      People around them, in the haze of smoke and booze, took up the dance initiative with pleasure, and Kaysa examined the man holding her as far away from him as the grinding crowd would allow. He was good-looking, a few inches taller than her, with nice teeth and a lopsided smile.
      “What’ll you give me if I do?” she asked.
      He leaned forward and put one hand on her hip. He was close enough for her to realize that he didn't smell at all like alcohol, and when she didn’t pull away, he kissed her in the hollow of her neck just below her jawbone, but not lustfully. “I’ll give you one twice as good,” he whispered against her ear.
      Kay lifted her hand and curiously threaded her fingers into his hair. “Twice as good? Promise?” She could see his pulse pounding through the skin of his neck between his jaw and ear, and she leaned in to kiss him there. “I wonder what you’ll give me for my name then…”
      Krystof watched from the dining room as his sister pressed herself against a total stranger and without taking his eyes off her, he grabbed a bottle of vodka from the table to poor himself a shot. A swift jerk of his arm sent the shot burning down his throat. As I walked up behind him, I narrowly dodged his swinging elbow.
      “Great party,” I said, with less sarcasm than I’d intended.
      “Yeah, fucking great,” he agreed, his eyes still on Kay, taking a second shot when she kissed the stranger’s neck.
      Krystof slammed the shot glass down on the dining table so hard it almost broke, or so it seemed to me. I knew he was going to go into the next room, to do something stupid, and I thought about reaching my hand out to stop him, but I didn't. I knew better. I watched without surprise as he went up to Kaysa and pulled her away from the stranger, taking her out of the room in the opposite direction.
      “Let go of me,” she told him, twisting her arm in his grip, trying to free herself.
      They were headed upstairs, and I followed behind, not sure what else to do.
      “Take off those stupid sunglasses,” he ordered her, after flinging her into his bedroom. “You look ridiculous.”
      Kay stood there, defiant for a minute, and then removed the glasses coolly. She clenched them in her right fist, which she then perched on her hip while staring at her twin expectantly, one eyebrow raised in an almost ironic look.
      “Any other commands?” she asked, a razor-sharp edge in her voice.
      “Yeah, quit making a fucking fool of yourself.”
      “There are worse things to be than a fool,” she hissed at him.
      “And what the fuck is that supposed to mean?” Krystof demanded.
      “You know what I fucking mean.” She jabbed her finger into his chest.
      They were both angier than I'd seen them in a long time, and I gasped involuntarily when Krystof's hand shot out and grabbed hold of Kaysa's hair by the roots, close to her skull. He yanked her head back so he could look into her eyes.
      “I’m your brother,” he said between clenched teeth. She was speechless in pain for a second. “I’m your twin,” he emphasized.
      “Let her go!” I interrupted from the doorway, not daring to go in the room, afraid to get too close to their rage.
      “This is none of your business,” Krystof said without looking at me, but he let go of Kay, pushing her away from him. “Get out of here, Beck.”
      “No,” I said, with more conviction than I felt.
      He turned his head and glared at me. “I said get out!”
      “Go, Beck,” Kay said. “This isn’t about you.”
      But I protested, “I’m not just going to leave you here!”
      “You heard what she said; she told you to go.” Krystof cut off my argument, and I wasn't sure I would dare to argue again.
      Kay fished her car keys from her pocket and threw them at me. “Just get out, Beck. Take my car and get out of here.”
      I caught the keys and stood for a second staring at them in shock before turning and running down the stairs. I heard the bedroom door slam behind me, and I was out on the sidewalk before I remembered that I was not only too drunk to drive, but I also didn’t know how to drive Kay’s manual Audì. I put the keys in her glove compartment and hailed myself a taxi home.