Chinua Achebe says that the English language, when altered, can be used to bear the burden of his African experience. I extrapolate from that and try to put it into painting.
Njideka Akunyili Crosby
New York Live Arts presents
I go blank for a moment and do not know what I am doing here in this claustrophobia of bright young things, but reflected in the window I see the Kevin Lu suit that I cannot afford and my lenseless blue-and-green spectacles, which are an excellent imitation of a designer whose name I forget but Caitlin would know. She helped me pick them out, back in California, along with the suit, saying they would be perfect for Cannes, would make the most perfectly nuanced presentation; she had explained that the designer’s initial wave of fame had crested, and that between the backlash from too much exposure and very strong design essentials only the very best people still wore her work. The frames, she said, were the sort of thing that a young auteur director would wear to broadcast his idiosyncrasy and indifference to status. I remind myself of this story in hopes that it will make my image mean something but its meaning, if any, remains obscure to me except in so far as I know it to be above my true station.
An hour ago I was over the Atlantic and jet lag has gnawed a hole in me. I am all but leaning on Caitlin as she scans the crowd that presses in too close around us; I feel the heat of their bodies, can pick out the individual perfumes and shampoos, the dark musk and metallic chemical citrus. There are conversations, but the music is so loud it is difficult to hear, and it is difficult to see who is listening to whom as the gazes and bodies of the people around us turn first one way then another, and I stand there in the heat and confinement, holding up my drink as though to explain my presence.
Beside us is a pretty, young girl, American, somehow specifically Midwestern, and she is looking around as though this is the most interesting party she has ever attended. Caitlin whispers in my ear, “Behold the actress.” This is a game she taught me. I whisper, “I see cheerleading practice on some sunburned big sky field.” She whispers, “She has been so careful to not get pregnant.” I whisper, “Affirmations in the mirror: I am pretty! I can make it!” She whispers, “Think of the undersea calm as she gets on a Greyhound in the pre-dawn half-light, and now here she is at the Cannes Film Festival. How very exciting for her.” The actress sees me looking at her and shows me her smile, entrée, she believes, anywhere. Her teeth are thick and white. I feel the cold liquor in my veins and smile sicklily back, trying to look like I could make her famous.
I sag against Caitlin, my arm sliding around her waist, my head resting on her shoulder. She tolerates this intimacy and I take advantage of our closeness to study her mouth’s slight upward curve, her cheekbone’s swell, the tattoos of geisha and ukiyo-e cherry blossoms swarming on her bicep as she reaches up and absently strokes my hair while scanning the crowd for, in her phrase, someone worth exploiting. I remind myself not to presume too much, as, despite our friendship, she is beyond me, the kind of poised, inviolable art girl unmoved by the forces that push other lives toward the quotidian, the kind who dates trust-fund poets with edgy facial hair, or bipolar guys in bands, but never the likes of me. But then someone opens his cell phone too near our faces and in its chill light I see the thin lines around her mouth, the dark swelling below her eyes and I wonder where she has been sleeping; I entertain images of rank hostels, long nights in train stations, eurocents scraped out of her backpack for a baguette. But this is not true, or if it is true, only temporary, because Caitlin is in Cannes to close a deal. Her short film Circe is playing in the festival and her feature film, A Long Night in Silver City, is on the verge of going into production; the details, though she has explained them, remain vague to me, an interlocking and ever-shifting tangle of tacit promises, potential backers, scripts written and discarded, talent above and below the line, but it all adds up to her moment, a chance to escape the world of hardscrabble student films and make the big-time. When she invited me to come with her I had just come into a certain amount of money—not much by Hollywood standards, or, now, by Caitlin’s, but enough to back a film in the indie world, enough, as Caitlin put it, for a certain traction—and, though in the year since I met her I have never known her to pick up a check, keep a boyfriend, or make any progress on her dissertation, I feel that she is opening a door for me, a way out of a joyless world of cubicles and office parks and into an altogether more luminous future.
I am fading and badly want to go; Caitlin sees this in my face and says, “Soon. Remember: parties are work.” Finally we are outside, waiting for a cab. Caitlin lights a cigarette. I raise an eyebrow. “Only in Europe,” she says. She offers one and I decline. I have never smoked, I tell her, the sole possible exception having been once long ago when a girlfriend decided she was a bong. Caitlin takes a drag, puts her mouth on mine and exhales.
The jarring lights and blurred reflections outside the cab’s window could be any city’s night. She says we are going to a villa where she is staying with her people: Jason, her producer, who has business interests in Eastern Europe, and April, her production assistant. I say, “I’ve never met a film producer before. Is he rich?” “Rich enough,” she says, and then we are at the villa, which turns out to be a small apartment on a hill. Caitlin says that we are young and the festival is young and an artful bohemianism, a studied indifference to materiality, becomes us, and in any event Long Night is still at the stage where it swallows money rather than creating it. Noisy laughter from within as I notice a real villa a little farther up the hill, palm fronds and baroque ornament just visible over its high wall.
Within the apartment (which is very small, has only one bedroom) there is another party, people sitting all around and glasses on every surface and I have the sudden conviction that I have come to France only to pass through the parties in an endless succession of rooms and that I will never sleep again.
Caitlin sits me down at a long table where her friends pick at congealed dishes and says, “This is the person I was telling you about,” with a slight emphasis and her friends, April and Jason especially, seem friendly, almost excessively so. April is a small Malaysian woman with a blurry accent and Jason a tall American who sounds like he’s from Los Angeles and looks like a B-movie leading man, someone I might expect Caitlin to fancy but she pays him no obvious attention. I was expecting a strong sense of them but they are somehow generically, moderately pretty, could be anyone waiting in front of a nightclub.
Jason is giving tarot readings to a trio of somewhat plain and apparently smitten English actresses, laying out the cards between dishes of greasy blood and bits of gristle. I try to catch Caitlin’s eye, but she is busy accusing April of being competitive over men, which April strenuously denies, when she can get a word in. A short, shabby, English film student named Ron tells Caitlin how he is going to fund his films by making amateur girl-on-girl pornos. April observes that there is good money in porn—slap up a website and you’ve got an income stream—and Jason offers to help out on the set in any capacity whatever. Ron, I see, has a crush on Caitlin and is at pains to hide it, which, as she is beyond his lights, is just as well for him.
My focus fades as people trickle in and out and I lose track of the dramatis personae as they pour drinks, make the rounds of the table, snuff cigarettes in wine, have whispered conversations. There are fragments of half-heard explanation—someone’s father was a gypsy, someone else was going to be a museologist, or might have worked for Sotheby’s. In the fog of drink their faces lose clarity but I am aware of their boredom and a collective restlessness, a sense that everyone is on the verge of going.
It’s late when the last guest leaves and there are not enough beds; Jason and Ron share the couch in the living room and the rest of us are in the bedroom, April and Caitlin on the one twin bed and I on a narrow fold-away, and, though the darkened room is full of quiet conversations, I am soon asleep.
Sometime in the night I open my eyes in the susurrus of a passing car and there is April, naked, the fine down on her back white in the headlights, and then darkness again as the car leaves and she pads off into the living room.
I lie on my back, trying to make my breathing slow and even but I think of the smoke and sweetness of Caitlin’s exhalation and ask if I can get in with her. I have excuses for my boldness—liquor, exhaustion, how far we are from home—but, as she says yes, they prove unnecessary. Her body is cool and soft but there is a reluctance, and in a brief flicker of headlights I see her pale breasts and her face, closed with tension, and when I ask her what’s wrong she says nothing, nothing is wrong, and I proceed. When April comes back she starts to crawl in, feels me, giggles, and goes away.
By daylight the apartment is tiny and depressing, the kitchenette sticky with spilled margaritas, dishes filling the sink. Caitlin, seeing my dismay, is embarrassed. She says, “Even with festival inflation four hundred euro a night for this dump is ridiculous.” She fills mugs with coffee and quietly suggests that April, who found the place and delivered payment to the landlord, is taking money off the top. “I thought April was your friend,” I say, and she shrugs.
“Is there a plan?” I ask her, though she seems sleepy, almost disoriented, and were it not for the others being up and about I would take her right back to bed. “Plan for what?” “For the festival. For getting me a production gig.” “We need to get you a festival pass.” “What does that get me?” “You can get into movies and parties,” she says, as though explaining the obvious. “And then?” I say, but a text message comes in that absorbs all of her attention and she says she is sorry but there are things she needs to take care of, she will meet me at the registration tent.
When April gets out of the shower she comes to sit with me; I ask her what she does and she says she does what she has to to get by, which seems to entail pink-collar jobs around Paris. She has a husband there but they have been on the verge of divorce for years. There is a rich septuagenarian barrister in London who is like a father and possibly her lover.
She asks me if I have ever considered whether I might have powers. “Like power of attorney?” I ask. No, not like power of attorney—like psychic powers. No, I say. April explains that at the last Cannes Jason had made her aware that she had previously unsuspected spiritual power. April says, “We are all spiritual beings.”
I stand in the sun in the line for the registration tent wearing a dark Domietta blazer (one of Caitlin’s favorite brands), sweat running down my back, my sunglasses nowhere to be found. Caitlin doesn’t show, and, wherever she is, she is ignoring texts. At the front of the line I affect casual confidence, approach the bored girl at the registration desk and, as Caitlin has instructed, say, “I am a producer.”
With a festival pass in hand I have nothing else to do so I find the Palais de Cinema and wind up watching a movie called Hotel. The dialogue is in German and the subtitles are in French, and, as I know neither language, I can only relax into my seat and let the images flow over me. The film is about a young woman who takes a job in a hotel in a remote forest; the hotel is full of odd silences and dark corridors and though the other staff are, or seem, friendly, they do nothing as she is drawn quietly and inexorably into the hotel’s shadows, and I am strangely happy sitting there in the flickering dream-light of cinema watching this woman come apart.
After the movie I find the trade show in the basement of the Palais. The films are international and overtly commercial—a tough Taiwanese cop betrayed by lustful sisters, an ancient evil haunting Bangkok’s upper air. The corridors and courtyards are all but empty, just fluorescent light and video screens playing trailers on endless loops. Touts and weary assistant producers sit by stacks of glossy brochures, and I suppose that the real business of Cannes is done on hotel verandas in the rippling shadow of jacaranda, that only the desperate and undesirable must sit and sweat in the still air of the Palais.
In the afternoon we all go to a party thrown by the Swedish Film Institute in the outdoor patio of a restaurant on the Croisette. It is hot and bright and we guzzle the free cold wine. We stand in a knot and talk only to each other, eyeing other groups doing the same, except for Caitlin, who has hardly spoken to me and is busy working the crowd; I wonder if her animated laughter, her touching of shoulders, her obvious engagement with whatever is being said to her are getting her any closer to shooting Long Night, and if she has forgotten about me.
“So, how did you get your money?” April asks blithely, at which Ron looks disgusted. “Um, I guess Caitlin told you about that?” “Of course. I hope you don’t mind my asking. I’m so glad you’re going to be working with us,” she says, laying a hand on my arm. “Actually I’m still looking for a project—Caitlin’s helping me find one,” I say, confused, but Ron directs my attention to a young Swedish woman at the center of the party (that she is the center is obvious), an actress, blond and fair and in a black dress, her shoulders burned red by the sun, smiling slightly and looking as though she were standing on a plinth behind velvet ropes. Jason fidgets and says that what he really wants to do is hook up with a starlet. In due time he approaches the actress and shortly thereafter he leaves with us. I ask him how it went and he shakes his head and says it was his shoes—I look down past his dress shirt and wool slacks to his stained, heavy work boots.
Ron, Jason, and I share a cab back. Jason regales us with tales of sexual conquest—an Irishwoman in a hostel, a hippie who blew him on a train, an ex-lesbian roofer who begged him for it on a job site. “Job site?” I ask. It turns out he goes back to California to do construction work when he runs out of money. I am on the verge of asking him if this is the norm for producers but he looks pained so instead I encourage him to tell me about having sex with April.
Caitlin’s short film, Circe, is scheduled to show that night in one of the small theaters downtown. The two of us walk over steep dark hills toward the old town and she tells me how she does not think her film is really ready, wishes she had had more time to edit, is ashamed. I make the required comforting noises though I have no reason to believe in them. I ask whether there will be film big shots in the audience and she says perhaps, she hopes so, she thinks not. In fact, she says, there will probably not be many at all. The showing is, really, at the periphery of the festival. In fact, she has paid to have her film included.
At the theater all the movie posters advertise THE CANNES FILM FESTIVAL. The lobby is empty—no one checks our passes—popcorn sits cold and congealing behind an unlit counter. On the screen inside the theater palm trees sway in washed-out blue sky and dark feet tread on cracked mud. There are about 20 people in the 200-seat theater. The film is a Finnish documentary about rural life in Africa, the voice-over in French, village after indistinguishable village, black faces squinting in sun. I fall asleep and wake to Caitlin’s whispered cursing. On screen there is a fixed image of a field planted with peanut vines—it flickers, resolves, flickers again, and the screen goes dark.
The houselights go up and the projectionist comes out and says something in French. Caitlin says flatly, “They are having technical problems and are going to start the documentary over from the beginning. It is 45 minutes long. We were 35 minutes into it.” There are now 12 people in the theater.
When Caitlin’s film finally starts, we are alone. My head lolls—I am barely awake. I apologize to Caitlin but she wordlessly brushes me aside, intent on the screen.
Her film is black and white, shot on a stock that made the lighter tones silver. The cuts are abrupt, the lighting harsh, and the sound and video not always in sync. I pry my eyes open and sleep pulls them down again, over and over, blurring the boundary between film and dream. Certain images have stayed with me: A man and a woman in spare white rooms trading harsh words and cold silences. A woman’s hands, every hair and wrinkle and arch of bone, her skin spotted with what might have been blood, her hands moving under a tap, the water braiding around her hands, pooling in her palms, falling away.
Ron and I sit silently in an open-air restaurant listening to Caitlin rant about April, her face a flushed mask of gorgon spite. “She hasn’t done any work this entire trip. She is totally unprofessional—people have come up to me many times and asked me why I’m working with her. I’ve lost deals because of her. And I can not believe she fucked my producer. I can not work with her making things so complicated and fucking everything up!”
Inwardly I question whether Jason is anything like a producer, and, even if he is, what it matters that he slept with April, but I say, “She seems nice enough to me.”
Caitlin looks as though she has been stabbed. “Why are you defending her?” As though with dawning realization, she says, “You’re going to fuck her, aren’t you?”
I say, “No, I’d be afraid Jason would get jealous and kill my big, important production deal at Universal.”
Her face clouds and she looks like she is gathering herself for a new attack but Ron says, “Tell him about the phone.”
Caitlin giggles and brings out a cell phone that, she says, she stole from April last night. April, apparently, already has a new cell, to which Caitlin sends a text message: April, my name is Mike Hunt. I have your phone. The pseudonym puzzles me until I say it quickly and hear the hidden obscenity.
Caitlin says, “She’s so stupid she won’t even wonder how I got her new number from her old phone. I can just hear her saying, ‘Where is Mike Hunt?’” Ron chimes in, “I can’t find Mike Hunt! Have any or all of you seen Mike Hunt?” They go on in this vein but I stop paying attention because the Swedish actress from the party is sitting down at a table across the street and I wonder what it is like to have a film, to be famous, or nearly, not just to have one’s calls taken but to have numbers to call in the first place.
Caitlin hands me the phone—April has just sent a text message reading, Mike, I sense that you have beautiful eyes—and offers me a turn but I say “No” and then “Isn’t this beneath you?” Caitlin says, “You have shown character, young man.” Then the check comes and Caitlin can not find her wallet, for which she apologizes breezily. As I collect my change, I tell her that the festival isn’t working and can we just leave, get out that night and go to Italy, to Venice, perhaps. Ron looks away and after a moment Caitlin says she has too many things to do in Cannes.
There is a party on the coast, an achingly desirable party with a guest list, a doorman, and the real possibility of celebrities, and though we are not invited, there are suggestions of angles to be worked, connections to be finessed, so we pile into cabs and make the long trip down the corniche. I am wearing a Hugo Boss suit I bought on my own authority; Caitlin praises it, fussing over the knot of my tie, and I see that she has made herself up with particular care and venture to kiss her but she puts a finger on my lips and pulls away, and then we are at the high white villa on the cliffs, looming over us like an architectural ghost of the ancien régime, though part of me wonders whether in another context I would see it as a McMansion writ large, a clumsy stab at fanciness.
The cabs disgorge us into a carchoked rotunda. A crowd mills around—I see a lamé miniskirt glitter in headlights, its owner shivering in the night air, her pointedly disaffected date lighting a cigarette and blowing an arabesque of smoke, and I see that they and everyone are pretending to ignore the apparently cross-culturally constant big black doorman who stands by the gate, barring us from paradise. Around me there is a sense of assumed gaiety that intensifies when a precisely coiffed woman emerges from an Aston Martin and glides past the doorman and inside without seeming to see us; we rotunda trash can only look after her, take in her rumpled Prada, inhale the contrails of her perfume.
While Caitlin and the rest keep up a creditable chatter I walk away and find a flat boulder by the cliff edge where I lie down on cold cigarette butts and listen to the breakers. The villa’s upper floors are just visible and the warm light of its windows is, I imagine, the outward glow of some secret center of the night, a place forever closed to me, but I accept my exclusion graciously as I know that if I were somehow to pass through the gate and go up the stairs I would find only an empty room and that the fulcrum of the night, if there was one, had moved on.
Caitlin finds me and announces that the doorman has gone and the party is now open. Beautiful people trickle out and we rush to take their places in the house full of bright light, cool white rooms, minutely arranged flowers in rough vases. Everything is expensive but the house feels untenanted; Jason has heard it belongs to a Saudi sheikh but I see no one who looks even remotely Arab and I can not imagine that even a rarely visited sheikh’s house would feel quite so much like a Pottery Barn. There are surly red-eyed bartenders at an open bar and half-empty bottles of rosé sweating on mahogany tables.
I drink flat Cristal and search the chafing dishes for sausages and blini. Caitlin finds some women she knows in the crowd who greet her with a great show of warmth and what seems to me a marked inward reserve. An Englishman with a biker jacket greets her effusively and touches her too much. I am cornered by an aging Italian physicist who has reinvented himself as a writer of sitcoms—he wishes me to understand the full sweep of his commercial literary ambitions. Caitlin sees my distress and extricates me, smiles, tells me it is a good party, a useful one, but I look at the people around us and see a fixity in their smiles and a tension in their shoulders and it seems that the bonhomie is a fragile meniscus. “Is this going to do anything for us?” I ask.
“How do you mean?”
“Will being here help you close your deal? And are there any film people here who you could introduce me to?”
“I introduced you to Jason and April.”
“Them? Losers. Utter. My brother went to Alcoholics Anonymous with Princess Leia, which is nothing, but makes me twice the insider they’ll ever be.”
“Listen,” she says, and takes a breath, and pauses, “we might be able to accept a certain level of investment funding for A Long Night in Silver City. We could think about making you senior producer.”
“I thought that was already all but locked up.”
“Certain things haven’t really quite come together yet and there is, you know, an opportunity for you to join the team.”
“You know I’m not rich, or even close. Would what I have even make a difference?” Tight-lipped, she nods.
“I see,” I say, wishing I was anywhere else. “You know, I might want to look around more. I’m not sure I’m ready to commit myself.”
“You’ll never do better,” she says. “No one will even talk to you, and if they do they’ll just try to fuck you, take whatever you have, and walk.” A sharp reply is on my lips but I see her face and say, “I still don’t even know what Long Night is about. Why don’t you tell me.” And she does, or tries to, but her eyes water and she swallows her words and I keep having to ask her to repeat herself. There is much “We’re still working on the structure” and “There are story problems” and “That’s not firm.” Eventually I gather that the story is about a woman who wants to write, or maybe make films, or possibly music, but she has no access, and she is poor, and her friends promise to help but they are false and the walls keeping her out are high and rising ever higher, but sometimes there are cracks in those walls and through them she can see the one thing she wants, infinitely remote, forever denied her. A bartender announces that the party is over.
I lose Caitlin in the exodus but find her in the rotunda allowing herself to be nuzzled by the Englishman with the jacket. I try to take her elbow but she won’t look at me and the Englishman squires her into a cab. I call out for her as the cab drives away and the Englishman shouts something at me that would probably be insulting if I spoke soccer hooligan. She doesn’t come back to the apartment that night.
In the morning I try to leave but my French does not go past Frère Jacques, I do not understand how the local phone system works, and when I finally do get through to a hotel with an English-speaking clerk they are booked solid for the festival. I try to rent a car but after walking two miles to Hertz-Cannes find that my credit cards have stopped working. I call for the train schedules but am transferred and transferred again down tinny crackling lines and interrogated by faint, querulous, somehow indignant French voices until, transferred again, I sit for minutes listening to a single high note over the static before realizing that the note is a dial tone.
The signature events of Cannes are the premieres, to which my fraudulently obtained credentials give me entrée, and that night I go to one with April. It is a black-tie affair, for which I am unprepared, so Jason lends me a white dress shirt, which fits surprisingly well, and Ron a tuxedo jacket, which, as it is three sizes too small, I carry slung over my arm. April speaks with bitter regret of a friend who has a Dolce & Gabbana dress that she could have borrowed had the friend not just left town.
In the cab I admire my shirt and say that Jason, if not the brightest spark, can be a very good fellow. April says that in fact he is quite smart, she has had a number of very good intellectual conversations with him.
The great auditorium of the Palais is a vast dark vertiginous space, the seats arrayed as on a cliff face. The film is Wong Kar Wai’s 2046, part of which is set in a Gilded Age Singapore that April, who is sweet to me, says was the world of her mother’s youth. The rest is about a train, somewhere in the future, running on an unending track, and on the train there is a woman who is also a machine, sitting and waiting, blue neon grid-lines of distant cities flickering over the stillness of her face, and there is something she is trying to remember, or perhaps to feel, and the train and the distant lights and her unmoving emptiness have no end as the film, it seems, has no end, durationless, though it may have been me or perhaps the hour.
Later that night I get a text from Caitlin asking me to meet her at a party. I lay in the backseat of the cab, the window down, the tepid wind on my face as we rush along under the roof of smog and cloud, and I have the sense of rushing through the shifting basements of the ocean.
The party is up in the hills. The driveway is long and a brook runs beside it; the cab pulverizes oak leaves and raises a plume of dust. The host, a dapper middle-aged man with a bow tie and swimmer’s shoulders, is so mannerly that we have chatted for several minutes before I realize that he neither knows who I am nor what I am doing there. I tell him I am with Caitlin, who does not seem to be there; with no click of recognition, the host says he has not seen Caitlin in quite some time, professes himself glad that I have come anyway, and introduces me around.
I try calling Caitlin but she does not pick up. Now and then she sends me texts telling me she is almost there, I should just wait a little longer. I try to chat up the pretty, distant French girls, the healthy-looking American women in jeans who all seem to work with cameras, and am gently deflected by their mild and imperturbable politeness. There are rumors that someone important is coming, perhaps Johnny Depp, perhaps Michel Gondry, but there is never any concrete information. I send texts to Caitlin and watch the headlights of arriving cars but these dwindle and then stop as the hour of possibility becomes the hour of exhaustion. The other guests make their reluctant goodbyes and finally the host, bag-eyed, grey faced, and in need of a shave, invites me to stay as long as I need to sober up, to sleep on the couch if I like, and goes off to bed, leaving me in his dark living room, alone, looking out at the muted glow of the city.
Another text from Caitlin sometime around 3:00 in the morning; she is sorry, she is at another party, I should come. The cab brings me to a warehouse lit with UV; within is the motion of silhouettes, glowing white shirts, white teeth. I prowl the crowded dance floor, the darkness putting a decent face on my solitude as I dispatch texts into the ether. I want badly to go but have no other destination, and, as Caitlin would say, parties are work. Strangers are packed close around me; I intercept a passing drink which chills my hand so I make short work of it and take another and I am starting to sweat.
I start to lose the thread of things.
“The frames are a Dolly Asano original,” says a girl with bangs and wet lipstick who is called Vanda, or maybe Vanadium, and goes to USC. Her voice is didactic, almost prating—she hasn’t yet reached the limits of upper-middle-class parents, a good rack, and a certain amount of reading.I try to focus on the frames of her pale blue eyeglasses but they keep skittering away in the general motion so I drink my drink as I have drunk too much for another drink to matter. “Her reputation peaked a few years ago, but now, between the backlash from overexposure and her strong design essentials, only the right people are wearing her work.”
“Very nice,” I say. “The kind of thing a young director would wear. To show that he is an individual. And doesn’t care about status.” Her mouth smiles and is so red and near, and I am past consequences, so I go in and it is all pleasant enough for a while but then I believe I recall a sense of falling. Scenes are missing here. But eventually there is commotion followed by Vanda across the room with a tall man in an Armani suit (he looks like his mother dressed him for success—I want to tell him to lose the tie and stop trying too hard), and laughter, and then Caitlin is holding my head as I am sick into a white resin wastebasket that blazes like an ultraviolet sun.
“I didn’t see you tonight,” I say.
“I was busy.”
“Busy working at parties where you weren’t invited?”
She scrapes a napkin across my mouth, hushes me, strokes my hair. I say, “Behold the auteur. Not that you make films, not really, but if you did, they’d be just like Bertolucci.”
Serenely, she says, “In fact, I met a producer tonight. She’s making a Mandy Moore movie in Santa Barbara, and wants me to be her assistant. I’m getting an entry in IMDB.”
I say, “You met no one. If there was a producer from Santa Barbara, which I doubt, then she, like you, is less than she appears. Still, how very exciting for you.”
Then she is rising and by the time I weave to my feet she has been absorbed by the crowd. I try to follow but am disoriented by the black light, the milling celebrants, the cold liquor swilling in my stomach. There, for a moment, her back in silhouette between the dancers, and then she is gone; when I reach the door there is just sodium light, the few stars, an empty street.
Zachary Mason lives in California. His first novel, The Lost Books of the Odyssey, was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2010.
This issue of First Proof is sponsored in part by the Bertha and Isaac Liberman Foundation and the Thanksgiving Fund.
Additional funding is provided by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, The New York State Council on the Arts, and readers like you.
Chinua Achebe says that the English language, when altered, can be used to bear the burden of his African experience. I extrapolate from that and try to put it into painting.
Njideka Akunyili Crosby