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Bird’s Nest In Your Hair

Chapter Sixteen

After his assignation with Julie, Tom had the day off from Videosyncracy, as he’d scheduled the evening for his continuing education down at the studio with the pornographers. Things didn’t usually get started for that crowd until the afternoon, which was a good thing for Tom since he hadn’t gotten in until well after three in the morning the night before. He’d left the hotel room after just a few hours with Julie, leaving her in a tangled swirl of sheets and clothes. She didn’t stir when he got out of bed; she actually didn’t stir until 10:00 the next morning, when the maid knocked on the door and she woke up just enough to yell “I’m still sleeping, come back later!” Tom had taken a long, hot shower when he’d got back to the condo, then quietly slipped between the sheets and stayed as close as possible to his edge of the bed until morning.

He naturally felt a little sheepish when he got up the next day. Did Helen know? Probably not, but he wasn’t sure she’d let him know if she did. No, she probably knew, but she’d never let him know she knew. Not right away at least; this was one way she maintained control. When they first moved in together she said that sooner or later they were bound to be attracted to other people, and that he or she would just as likely act on these instincts as not. The point was not to hurt or embarrass the other. At the time Tom wasn’t sure whether she was reserving the right for herself or for Tom, knowing his past and not wanting it to mean the end. Helen may not have known the specifics, but she was a realist and Tom wasn’t about to hide it from her if she’d asked about it. What they had couldn’t exactly be called an ‘arrangement’, much less an ‘understanding’ or anything else that suggested that a boundary had ever existed for their extra marital activities, articulated in advance and established for mutual maintenance by each. Their ideal was to not have an ideal, at least when it came to sex. Helen was obviously doing her part for Tom and Tom, for his part, was happy to go along with that. What she wanted out of him he wasn’t exactly sure.

He’d started stocking the store with her videos, and though it wasn’t much of a moneymaker for the store or her, it nevertheless provided an important service for concerned customers – especially since Purple Video (a smut store down the street) had been closed a few years before. Pay per view, pictures on the Internet, streaming video, mail-order porn: all this was profitable and in its own way convenient, but the trouble was with the inevitable trail which, however thoroughly erased, never leaves the more paranoid lecher comfortably secure. The humble video store fills that need. Nothing beats a cash transaction: no names, no numbers, and a hat, sunglasses, and even a false mustache can be used by those paranoid clients imagining pesky, investigative reporters searching for another exposé on the sordid activities of some of the shameless, shame-filled citizens of Seattle.

At the kitchen counter next to the breakfast nook, Helen poured an orange juice and with a smile (half a smile, a third… gone) she said “Hello, good morning, there’s fresh coffee, just made it.”

“Yeah, I’ll need that. I’m not used to three or four drinks at one sitting.”

Helen cheered up a little as he talked. “You’re going down to the studio today, right?”

“Oh yeah, I’ll be there.”

“Roger was asking if you could fill in for Tom today.”

“I am Tom.”

“The other Tom, dummy. He was busted again a couple of days ago. At least he’s not missing anymore.”

“Wow, my chance with a camera.”

“It’s a nice break for you. I’m telling you, Roger likes you, you’re doing well, you’re getting to know the equipment, and you’re going to be doing whatever you want before too long.”

“It’s a good gig, I know. I’m lucky. I’m thankful.”

“Thank Roger. Thank yourself.”

“Well I’m starting with you.”

“That’s what I’m here for.”

They both sat and stared at each other for a moment.

“So … you got in kinda late last night,” said Helen.

“Yeah,” said Tom, noncommittally. “You shoulda stopped by the store.” He sat there feeling stupid for a second. Helen let it all sink in for a good couple more.

“So … been working on any scripts lately?”

“Sure,” said Tom, feeling somewhat relieved. “Tossing a few things around up here,” he said, tapping the top of his head with his index finger. He was eyeing the Sports section the way hikers look for a cave before the rain comes.

“Talk to Roger. He really knows how to put a movie together. Even if it’s just, a, you know…”

“Yeah, sure. Fleshing stuff out is always a good idea.”

“Well, he could help you figure out what shots would work for whatever you’re thinking.”

“Hmm.”

“Tom, are y’all there in there? You seem a little distracted this morning.”

“Yeah, sorry. Maybe a little. But I definitely have some of good ideas about some projects. But I could always use some new ideas and scenarios. Now I keep thinking of porn stuff myself. Maybe I could help Roger out with some of them.”

“Like what?”

“Like a mother and daughter show.”’

“It’s just so old, Tom. Nobody cares anymore, and if nobody even thinks it’s perverse, it’s not really perverse. On the screen they’re all just bodies now. We’re all just bodies, really. And you know I think we should just work or way down to erotic instruction videos.”

Tom was wondering whether these reactions had as much to do with personal static as it did with the idea itself, but he knew it was better to let that one go. It was a good thing he had going with Julie, after all, and he didn’t want to lose it, not yet. He’d been on the verge of trying to get some pictures of her, and at that point there was no saying where it could all lead. Where exactly did he want it to lead? He pondered this for a moment, but was uncomfortable thinking about Julie in front of Helen. He wondered whether Helen could tell. He’d heard about married couples that were able to read each other’s minds, although in their case he realized this would only work in one direction. Of course Helen had always seemed to know more about him than he did himself.

They sat together in silence for five minutes or so, finishing breakfast and reading the paper. His was simple – a banana and a cup of coffee. Helen had an English muffin, covered in butter and raspberry jam, which were now running together in tiny marbled swirls, down into the honeycombed crevices of the bread. After she had finished, a few two-toned, oblong drops remained. Because of her nails, she could only get at the sugary blend of butter and jam by pressing her fingers almost flat against the blue porcelain plate. After licking her index and middle finger, she stood up and walked the plate over to the sink. Tom had discarded the Sports in favor of the Arts section, but looked up when he sensed her standing by.

“I’m doing the radio show this afternoon, so I’ll catch up with you later.” Had her tone changed as she was preparing to leave? It was impossible to say.

“That’s right. Go easy on them, okay?”

Being in the business, Helen was sometimes called on by various members of the media to act as an ad hoc spokeswoman for the adult entertainment industry. It was a position from which she’d like to resign, but some of them had become friends for whom she liked to do the occasional favor. This particular show was a kind of Howard Stern imitation, always looking for the latest sensation on the strip circuit. Helen didn’t take her clothes off much anymore, not that it would have mattered on the radio, but she’d been on the show a number of times before, accompanying some of her fresh talent.

“Oh yeah, I’m easy, you know me. Good luck with Roger.”

“Yep. I guess I’ll see you down there.”

They didn’t kiss, but smiled at each other before she headed down the hall and he went back to the daily TV guide.

After awhile he pushed the paper aside and took a fresh cup of coffee into the living room. He was thinking about last night, thinking that maybe he’d crossed the line in his conversation with Julie. He was used to skirting the edge of something forbidden in a lot of his conversations, but with Julie he wasn’t sure how much he wanted her to know about the rest of his life. After a few minutes he picked up his notebook and began fishing for ideas. Even bodies need a plot in which to be placed. As had become his habit lately, he began by trying to make up titles for porn. Something witty was best, something sexual, certainly, but better still if somehow tied to popular culture. He worked at this for a few minutes before lifting his feet onto the couch and stretching out into a more comfortable position. He needed to get his mind off of porn; there would be plenty of time for all that this afternoon. He tried to think of something that was really on the cutting edge, something like the independent movies or the European films he’d always wanted to make. He turned on the television and settled into a recent release on one of the cable stations, looking for inspiration. He was able to follow it for almost an hour before he fell asleep.

He was back at the fraternity, although it wasn’t clear if he was twenty years old again or was just there for a reunion. Everyone was upstairs enjoying the party, which he’d left because he was wearing only his white briefs. He’d held his hands in front, worried that he might flop out of the fly. Downstairs he looked for a shirt, found one that was blue, or one that he’d hoped was dark blue because he really didn’t want to wear black. He had a thing about black. He convinced himself that the shirt was blue by merely saying the words to himself, “royal blue”, and certainly couldn’t have seen the color in the dark. He got tangled up trying to reach back into the sleeve, began turning around, and then became more and more disoriented as he spun around in the dark. A light nearby, and then a lot of lights were burning so brightly that he was blinded, and a crowd in the room seemed to be moving in on him like a pack of wild dogs. His head was throbbing, was he on the set already? He was, until his eyes opened, and then everyone left, leaving Tom alone on the couch under the lamp he’d turned on for writing. Now sunlight was streaming in from outside. The sky was an immaculate blue. ‘Like a swimming pool,’ he thought to himself, ‘or my shirt,’ and then forgetting the dream he rolled off the couch to take a walk outside. He wanted his head to be clear when he went down to the studio later in the afternoon.

Comments

  1. Anonymous says

    Very well written. Didn't hold my attention that much, because I'm tired from work, because for some reason I found myself thinking the characters were gay and feeling my usual Catholic disapproval, and because it can sometimes feel a bit brittle – although I realise my own tastes are sentimental.

  2. I'm not sure brittle was the right word. I think I was probably referring to the precision of the description. For example, of Helen mopping up the butter and jam from the English muffin. Had Proust written in this way he might have been satisfied with describing the angle at which the madeleine entered the cup – did he bother to say if it was a cup? – of tea. And we'd never have gone back to Combray.

  3. The precision is impressive, though, in its own way, although analogy is more moving.

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