What’s left of a man who’s been captured by the pictures? What does he have inside of him that can contradict the masks he's worn, the scenes painted by the paparazzi? What combination of the words written that he never uttered will be chiseled on his tombstone?
He made his way to the record player and stared at the needle, methodically attempting to coax out a beautiful sound, but instead struggling against an imperfection. A sigh escaped from deep in the hollows of his chest and he closed his eyes.
He pictured the day he had met her, years ago after he left the theater on opening night of his first picture. He had worn a poorly created disguise (an ill-fitting bowler meant for a much larger head, a trench coat two sizes too big for his lanky frame, and an adhesive mustache he had kept from his theater days) and sat in the far back row, closest to the exit. He wanted to leave abruptly when the picture ended, prior to the audible reactions of the audience.
He feared both praise and condemnation, but often told his fellow actors neither mattered much to him. His goal had always been to remain adrift in a sea of sharks, neither becoming one of the shiver nor hiding from their wrath. His very nature was a contradiction that left him with a constant headache coupled with a persistent twitch in his left eye.
The second the screen began to fade from a scroll of names to black nothingness, he rose up and headed for the exit door. As he turned the knob, he felt a gloved hand slide up the back of his neck and gingerly lift the bowler from his head. He turned to find a slender porcelain frame with dancing green eyes donning his hat atop a head of dark curls. She let a loud, rapturous laugh explode from her mouth and stuck out her hand.
"How do you do, sir? I hope you don't mind, I just had to see what was under that brim."
Her smile flashed a line of pearls framed by raspberry red lips. He took a moment to take it all in, consumed equally by the lust he felt for her beauty and the despise he felt for her brashness, before realizing the noises occurring around him. Patrons walked by in pairs, discussing his work in a slew of judgmental exclamations ranging from magnificent to appalling, from enchanting to tiresome. It was all he feared and loathed about his career, brushing elbows with him as he stood there in a frozen stupor. Snapping into a fit of agitation, he grabbed the bowler from her head and turning towards the exit.
"I'll be going" he muttered, left eye aggressively twitching, and pushed his way out of the theater.
After running down the block with one hand on his hat and the other on his heart in an effort to keep both from escaping him, he turned the corner into an alley. He bent down to catch his breath and covered his ears, fearing more patrons might pass by on their way to dinners, drinks, and whatever other form of merriment their minds chose to pass onto after judging the art created by another human being.
"This is a pretty grim place to be in such a hurry to" a familiar voice said as the hands of its owner slid up his arms and pulled his hands from his ears. Had she followed him here? What was she after?
"I don't care for being followed" he said as he arose, looking down the alley to see if there was a throughway for escape. Surely, she couldn't run as long as he could. As he squinted towards his exit in the distance, his eyes met with a brick wall. "Damn it. Damn it all."
"Damn what? Are you as mad as you looked on the screen, Seymour? You really looked about as mad as they come you know," she adjusted her heel as she talked. "I really ran just now. I mean, I really ran! I felt just like a kid racing home from school. We should do that again. Let’s do it again, okay?"
"This isn't some sort of game, alright? I'm trying to get the hell away from you. Is that clear now? And how do you know who I am? I never told you my name. And another thing, why do you think a person wears a disguise in public? Do you understand what that means? You're not too bright."
"I'm not bright? You look like a toddler playing dress up in his father's clothes. How do you expect anyone to be fooled by this?" She ran her hand over his cheek and ripped off the faux mustache, adhering it beneath her nose. She let out a giggle and winked. Leaning her body against his and pressing her lips to his ear she whispered, "How do I look now, handsome?” As the last word escaped her lips, he felt his body stir with what he knew she had been playing for since the moment she stole his bowler in the theater. He wanted her.
If he had known how it would be to enter her world, to become a part of this script yet to be written, he might have thrown her to the ground and ran further into the safety of his solace. Instead, he grabbed her face, pulled it close to his and kissed her hard. It was passion, released from years of masochistic restraint. It was everything he could feel inside of him, the beginning and end to the blood flowing through him and the only moment he ever wanted to hold onto. This was what wanting felt like. She pulled her face from his hands, let out another loud laugh, and took off down the alley.
He ran after and caught her body between his own and the brick wall, kissing her again. They made love in the alley, against the wall. He remembered looking at the bricks and thinking, This is a dark red, a dying red. Her lips, those raspberry lips, that's the color of life. She breathed life into him that night.
But this was not that night. This was a day when the sun came in through a bright sky over the mountains in their cabin despite his desire to be shrouded in darkness, to be the black abyss after the names finished scrolling. This was a place where life couldn't be found. The color that poured from her mouth was so familiar. That red, that raspberry red, seemed to have found union with the red from the brick they pressed against that night. It had become her blood, the blood that now graced her lips and trailed down her cheek.
He felt the eyes of the reporters waiting out there in the world around him, ready to uncover what he had done, waiting to bind his life to this one act. He felt the gravity of what waited for him out in the hallway, the impact of life crashing into death and the weight of that space in between as he tried again to capture a moment.
If only she could have given him the silence he craved. He had asked so many times. At least, he believed, he spared her pain. If moments of ecstasy take us out of our body and moments of pain bind us to our physical form, then he had struck a fair balance. He looked at her body and thought of the moment before he poured the poison down her throat; her body, in a dance of passion and her lips curling into that smile of pure joy. He had done all he could to make it peaceful.
He looked back at the needle, ran his hands over the arm and adjusted it until the music began to play. It was a symphony. He put on his coat, his bowler, and then opened the briefcase on the chair, removing two items before closing it again. One was a small bottle containing the answer to the darkness he craved, the other the fake mustache from the day they met.
He put on the disguise and walked over to her, kissing her one last time. The red of her blood coated the plastic hairs that tickled the edge of his upper lip. He then picked up the suitcase, tipped the contents of the bottle down his throat, and headed into the hall, letting the symphony play as he walked down its length. Reaching the end, his quick potion gave him solace in his last moments of breath, transforming the plaster wall ahead of him into a brick wall, the hall into the alley.
He pressed his body against the wall and tried to imagine her lips, but all he could see was the red of that cold, hard brick against which he had first pressed her body. His left eye twitched. It was a dying red.
Kristin Blacker is a writer and creative tinkerer currently residing in Denver. She will be venturing to LA this winter to pursue her craft and experience the sweet madness that is the City of Angels.