Tallulah DeWald as Carolyn rolled a counterfeit 100 EU note on the glass coffee table. With a weary half-smile, she pretended to inhale two thin lines of sugar. Then with a magician’s hand, she brushed the grains into the air. Her robe’s black satin kimono sleeves spread liquidly like stage curtains.
She leaned back, closed her eyes, and sniffed, embraced by the navy blue suede sofa. The front wisps of her silky white-blond locks were sticking to her cheekbones, dewy with shimmer-stick foundation like honey spread over porcelain.
Sitting beside her, Kit Bancroft — Gay Man 3 — solemnly began to plait her locks into a French braid. “Mmmm,” she let out a lackadaisical beautiful-girl sigh.
Chip Tegan as Gay Man 4 took her milky hand in his, admiring the glittering “Vamp” lacquered nails and silver costume gothic rings.
“You are so fabulous, Carolyn,” he said lovingly.
“All the magazines think you are the greatest! No one has ever dressed as chicly as you,” said Mickey Tate, Gay Man 2, pursing his lips and looking profoundly into her eyes. Three lines of dialogue in an independent film was just the first step, he reminded himself. And he thought again not to resent Chip, who not only got seven lines, but sat next to Madeline through the Yohji Yamamoto fashion show scene.
They all laughed and rubbed their noses.
Gay Man 7 returned with a tray of pink cocktails for all eight of them. Everyone’s pinkie daintily extended as each sipped the lemonade and grenadine. Maraschino cherries were slurped, stems tied in knots with their tongues — well, attempts at the feat were made.
Then Gay Man 5 pulled a box of chocolate-covered cherries out of his Yak Pak messenger bag. They all greedily devoured the chocolates.
“I love you all!” shouted Carolyn, teary-eyed, nuzzling her forehead into Gay Man 4’s strong jaw.
Then the thunderous sound of footsteps — well, that would be added later by the sound guy — and the front door blasted open.
“Who are these twerps?” shouted Michael Reardon as John.
“These are my friends! While you were busy working on your stupid magazine I found new people to confide in!” She slouched back into the sofa; her robe wilted about her heroin-chic limbs. With her hair mussed above her head, she looked like a photographic negative of a tulip.
He was bewildered. “What the hell is going on here? You lousy coke whore!”
“Alright, time to go back to Kansas, Friends of Dorothy!” Reardon always needed to suppress laughter with that line. He and Gay Men 2, 5, and 8 coupled in several varieties throughout the filming of Goodnight, Sweet Prince.
“How dare you use a GLBT slur in this household! And you call yourself liberal royalty! You’re a brute, John! An idle terror! I will have no more of this.”
The gay men all clamored for their cardigans and jean jackets while Carolyn put on a pair of Earl Jean jeans. “I’m going over to Michael’s place!”
“Well, I’m going to read these flight safety manuals in the meantime,” he muttered, slamming the bedroom door behind him.
That was Jicky Adler. She took off her specs, as the actors stepped off the stage, and let the black frames hang from the antique old lady-like emerald-studded chain around her neck. Accessorizing was her way of establishing an image of authority.
“Did they even have euros in 1997?” she remarked bitterly to her teenage cameraman, Macalister. “And the rings look cheap. Carolyn would never have worn Celtic knotwork.”
She ran her fingers through her hair and sighed. “God, I need a coffee. Would you mind managing the cleanup tonight? I’ll pay you time-and-a-half.”
A newscast interrupted radioChing’s Xylo music, just as Jicky walked through Marie Café’s rustic doors.
“The U.S. Treasury announced today that the debt has increased at a rate of 3.6 percent to a total of 25.4 trillion dollars, making it the third largest in history. The Congressional Budget Office will postpone the Mandatory Government Work Initiative — ”
“Grande mate latte, please,” she ordered, indifferent to the telecast.
“Darling!” cried an inimitable bell-like trilling laugh of a shout from the back of the cafe.
“Hanalei, honey!” she said, gleefully turning around to find her old friend, seated on a fashionably ratty, caftan-covered couch with Mylar MacBarron and Franconia Sujai.
“Hello, my little angel cake!”
“Now that I think about it, I think I’ll get a venti mate latte,” she said, facing forward.
The barista dumped the steamy mint beverage into the sink and picked up a larger cup.
“That’ll be $12.75,” he said, as she handed over her hot pink maxicard.
“You look gorgeous, Jicky! Who is doing your hair?” Hanalei trilled.
“Davide at Salon Kristoff. Highlights are only $750.
I go every six weeks,” she answered, patting her strawberry-blonde curls as she set her cup on the worn oak coffee table.
“I was just reading about him in Chic-ago! You are so lucky, I heard he’s very selective with his clients,” Franconia said, with a coy lilt, as though preparing to make a backhanded compliment.
“His boyfriend is the wardrobe manager for Goodnight, Sweet Prince,” she answered.
“Oh, how I envy the artist’s life. I’ve had twelve-hour workdays all month at the firm,” Mylar said, unbuttoning her silk crepe blazer, as if to emphasize the wardrobe demands of her profession.
“We were just on our way to the Wicker Park Mall
for our weekly indulgence. Want to join us?” Hanalei asked, putting a pen back in her purse, a magenta suede doctor’s bag of noticeably better quality than the felt clutch on Jicky’s lap.
“Yeah, come with us, sugar plum,” Franconia added.
“Umm, let me finish,” she said, or rather asked.
Jicky twirled a lock of her hair as she inspected the furnishings section at La La Boutique, “The apartment set looks so dumpy. I mean, I am trying to replicate the living arrangements of an über-elite late-’90s Tribeca power-couple. I don’t have to fact-check that Carolyn never shopped at IKEA.”
Mylar gently rubbed the silver tassels ribboning off a suede duvet cover, “Oh, how I love tassels.”
She looked back at a pair of onyx and redwood chairs. “And I most certainly will be getting those rocking chairs.
I’m so sick of the periwinkle loveseat in my parlor room — would you like it, Jicky?”
Jicky was horrified. How dare Mylar suggest she take unwantables off her hands! Although she could certainly use the loveseat, she was fine enough to buy a new one herself, thank you very much!
“I mean, for your film.”
“No, it’s not really my style. No, thank you.”
“Is this oxblood or vermillion?” asked Franconia, holding a cashmere v-neck sweater. “It will look so sexy on Britton.” She loved to remind her single friends that she is married — ”happily.”
Jicky inspected a crystal paperweight set down on gingham tablecloth. It was shaped like a sailboat, and it sprinkled rainbows and light about the place as she mock-sailed it in the air. “How precious. Well, I could make use of this as well — for Carolyn, I mean — this is so Carolyn.”
What’s another $670? she thought. Her father’s already serving ten years. On the shelves opposite, she spotted matching crystal drawer pulls. Oh, I guess I’ll need these too, she thought, placing them in her shopping cart beside the paperweight.
She picked up a chandelier table lamp that looked somewhat like an upside-down wedding cake. “Gorgeous!” she exclaimed, picking up a ticket to process and walked to the counter.
It was as though her wallet were an electrical socket. When she touched it she felt plugged in. First, there came the frisson from touching such supple baby-like hide leather and inhaling its nutty-butter scent. Then sparks and electricity, like power generated around her wrists. It flowed positive energy through her bloodstream. She felt warmth there as though she wore wristbands.
It was like hot stones! Like tantra. Her wallet vibrated through her charkas. What did her tantrika say was the mid-section? — Green! The green chakra, up to the head — powder blue — out to the top of her head — down her sex down — red — to her feet. Oh, buying . . .
She felt intoxicated with the power of purchase. Now she has these things. Before she didn’t! She massaged her wallet, drunk off this energy, as the checkout lady processed her goodies.
“That will be $9,529. And for an extra three hundred dollars the furniture can be shipped right to your door.”
“Oh, well . . . ” Jicky paused. She had spent so much more than she intended to already. Then, she overheard Franconia instruct the shop girl, “Ship, please.”
“Well, of course,” Jicky said. “That seems the most sensible option. Ship it to my address: 3496 Beach St.”
“I might need to leave soon. Lots of work tomorrow,” Mylar said. “Oh! But before I forget, I’m going to get a box of lavender-chocolate fudge. They have the most delicious lavender-chocolate fudge just down the way!”
“Lavender chocolate!” the other girls screamed.
“It’s only $19 a pound.”
“Then we three should go for violet and fig pudding at Café Marcel, my dear plum.” Franconia liked to call people “plum” and “muffin.”
“Violet pudding and champagne! I guess I can stay a bit longer,” Mylar said.
They all laughed and swung their hot pink shopping bags as they walked.
At Café Marcel, the girls split a violet fig pudding and a bottle of the toppest champagne. Hanalei asked Jicky about her craft.
“The world of film. It’s emotional pornography,” she explained. “It’s a constant attempt to twist your cheeks to push out tears. I don’t make films like that. My philosophy is to make things as emotionally painless as possible without neglecting the reality of the situation. Reality isn’t about little babies that make you cry.
It isn’t puppies and flowers or your dying relatives. That’s cutting onions, not filmmaking.”
“How very true,” Hanalei said, “I so much hate for my eyes to water, mascara to smear and so forth. So will you be at the gym tomorrow?”
“Humboldt Park Bathes. Oh don’t tell me you haven’t joined yet!”
“You aren’t a member yet?” Franconia asked, horrified. “It’s the toppest! And they have the most to-die-for Pilates equipment!”
“And a eucalyptus steam bath. So exquisite. I get my shiatsu massage and nails done in the salon. It is magnificent.”
“Oh, Jicky. We were to go for champagne and Xylo downtown tonight. Will you come?”
“More champagne? Well, but of course!”
Back in her darling, spacious apartment, Jicky took a bit of the lavender-chocolate fudge out of its glittered heart-shaped box and had a bite. So sensuous! It melted on her tongue. The shop girl called it “calming chocolate,” and that made it taste so much better. Jicky thought to herself that this chocolate must have been especially good for her — chocolate is good for you, isn’t it? Helps the heart? “Calming” chocolate must especially help the heart. And plus it de-stresses, like the ladies magazines always say. Since filming began, she had been under the most awful stress — migraines and aches in her lower back.
Massages certainly helped — she should join Franconia’s gym, she thought. A eucalyptus bath is just what she needed to rid this awful stress. Terrible, terrible that Jicky was under such stress. Chocolates and retail therapy weren’t indulgences — they were necessities! She needed those respites to live!
She stared at her lovely face in the mirror and smiled while applying a mint mask, the same curiously banal color as her third mate latte of the day — decaffeinated. She bought it on her way home from the mall.
Did the mask even matter? Could her skin have been any softer? It was just as moist as it was when she was nearly a teenager and never thought about free radical anti-oxide things. Jicky looked so much younger than 28. Nevertheless, the skin potions lined along her bathroom cabinet shelves, decoration in themselves — some in fact, were bought for no reason more than beautiful packaging — all served preventative purposes. For what if there were an apocalypse on her face the next day? She needed cosmetics like nuclear arms. One never knew. She needed a beautiful face, more than anything else, because after that, everything falls right into place anyway.
The clock chimed at eleven and she washed her face. First a brush of minerals over her T-zone, then a lovely Callas-eye with a black liquid liner. A bit of gloss and she was off.
Cover at the Xylo lounge was only $500 that night. The girls were seated delicately on a round couch. Franconia stared at a woman in a black below-the-knee stretch-velvet dress.
“I just do not understand why Janelle is — ”
“Big?” Hanalei offered.
“Yes. She has to be at least 150 pounds and at only 5’10 that’s a little much, don’t you think?”
“Do you think it’s because she can’t afford Slimantex pills or because she is allergic to them?”
“Maybe her husband goes for heifers. A friend of a friend is a brothel madam and she says the big girls go for top dollar — there are so few on the streets. Some kind of kink.”
“It is just so vulgar the way her breasts and hips curve. You can see the curve from outside her dress. It’s obscene to look at her.”
“Ugh, it’s revolting. You look at that body and understand why the Muslim women cover themselves. Clothes should wear you.”
“And Britton tells me women that don’t take Slimantex are revolting to him. All flesh. It’s cheesy, like wearing a negligee. Not at all sophisticated sensuality,” Franconia said.
“Good god! I’d bet Janelle’s thighs brush together when she walks,” Hanalei cried, patting her garnet choker and gasping; crossing her legs tightly to suppress the Sapphic fantasies Janelle’s peachy body inspired.
“Muffin, it’s horrifying. Scandalous,” Franconia answered, similarly aroused. Oh, she thought to herself, how delicious to be between thighs that rub together. It must feel like a python constricting! “Another bottle of Champagne, my real friends?”
Jicky got up and walked past the fountains toward the Xylo on stage. A lanky Asian man was plucking its green strings. Another man was pinging the bells. The music warmed her. It felt almost as good as buying something.
Faster! Faster! More! More! More!
She swayed to the cling-cling bells and chimes and closed her eyes. She dreamed of jewel-encrusted mosaics and mandalas spinning to the music in time. Then she tripped and blinked with a start. She had fallen right in the arms of a very handsome young man.
“Hello, enjoying the music?” he asked.
“Oh, I love the Xylo. This is a particularly fine instrument. I have never seen one with bells attached.”
“Yes, it seems to hit impossible notes. I have never heard a Xylo like it.”
“And you have to hear it live. You just have to. There’s no comparison.”
“It just doesn’t vibrate otherwise. You can’t really feel it in your headphones.”
“Oh!” She giggled that inexplicable giggle girls do when they like a boy and don’t want to reveal any shades of their personalities. The giggle that defines one as a portrait of both amiability and mystery.
“Do you come here often?”
“Well, I am very busy as a filmmaker. I just don’t get out much.”
“You are from Chicago.”
“Yes, indeed. And you? What do you do?”
“I’m an attorney.”
The Xyloist hit a particularly high note, and the vines covering the instrument went in bloom. Now, it was covered in red roses.
“Would you like a Samsara martini?”
He must have money — those Samsaras are mixed with real gemstone bits!
“Why thank you!”
“Why don’t you take a seat right there and I’ll come join you?”
Moneyed, handsome, and he took initiative. She liked that. The men these days and their watered-down instincts — always so wishy-washy — so coy about what to do and where to go; but she needed direction. She needed someone to tell her what to be.
His name was Ezra and his lips tasted like cantaloupe. She sighed a million sighs and stirred her Samsara; the gemstone glitters floating in the liquid reminded her of the sailboat crystal prism. The swizzle stick was gold-plated, topped with a gem-mosaic butterfly. Oh, how Jicky loved curio. She was in heaven that night: in love, in Xylo, in velvet, flora, and gemstones. Even the mirrorballs above made the room seem to dance with glitter.
“I like the blue sapphire flecks best, how about you?”
“Oh, the emeralds and rubies are my favorite.”
And they kissed again. She blinked her big brown eyes open to see straight ahead: a beautiful, thin, wispy blond — Tallulah! Her Carolyn! Should she have said hello? No, of course not, lest Ezra find the actress lovelier and leave the Xylo wistful, feeling he’d lip-locked with the wrong dame.
“Let’s go!” she said, leading him toward the door. But it was too late. She felt a tap on the shoulder and was confronted with Miss Honey-Spread Porcelain.
It was the dilemma of any female director, Jicky thought to herself. You want an actress to be pretty, because, she is, of course, a stand-in for you. And yet, you must grapple with jealousies throughout the shoot. So she needed a lovely like Tallulah, so that men that watched her film might think, oh, this woman that directed this must be at least as pretty as this lovely gal.
Jicky was a fine-looking woman, certainly, but sometimes the way the light would catch her face cast a terrible, embarrassing pallor. And she was no actress, regrettably. She was meant to be a leader. Yellow — bright yellow — was the color of her parachute, thank you kindly.
She should have animated the film. The jealousy was unbearable. She would like for Tallulah never to exist.
“Tallulah, Ezra. Ezra, Tallulah. Bye now!”
Outside, she gave her handsome new friend another kiss and her number, but it was pointless, she knew. After seeing Tallulah, how could he ever care about her?
Franconia was nearby, still commenting on Janelle’s appearance, “Her breasts are just appalling. Like fruit. I should go speak to her and tell her how inexcusable it is to walk around arousing people in such an obvious way. Look at the men all looking at her like hungry dogs!”
“Let those dogs look!” Hanalei insisted, thinking how badly Tallulah needed a spanking for her naughtiness, “Better a real live woman than pornography and pocket rockets!”
“Those dogs! They are devolving right before our eyes!”
“Oh dearie, would you like to see my Faberge egg in the ladies?” It was no secret that Hanalei carried her cocaine in a Faberge egg. The secret was, how ever could she afford one? Those antiques cost more than Franconia’s house! Franconia hated how Hanalei tackily showed off her little treasure, but needed a good keying to keep her mind off Tallulah’s cleavage.
The phone rang the next morning. It was Macalister. His image was blurry, but she could see he was on the set.
“What is it, darling?”
“I still don’t know how we’re going to do the plane scene.”
“I’ll think of something. Goodbye.”
“But I struggle to think how we might afford an accurate looking plane interior.”
“We’ll get to it when we get to it. Do I not pay you enough?”
“Oh no, not that.”
“More importantly, I think that cocaine use must have badly affected Carolyn’s appearance. I feel that a make-up artist — a professional, not the shabby guy I hired — some real skilled makeup artist should come in and outline the circles under her eyes. Maybe use a tallow foundation. She should look real yellow and shadowy.”
“Well, of course, Tallulah will always be pretty. I mean, this is to imbue the film in realism. Bye.”
The phone rang again. It was Franconia. She was in silky leopard-print pajamas. An eye mask was pushed up on top of her black curls like a headband.
“Hello, my dearest.”
“Sugar plum, it was fantastic seeing you last night”
“But Hanalei and I are just dying to find out: Who was that hot young buck escorting you out?”
“Just some man I don’t care too much for.”
“I don’t kiss and tell.”
“Oh, I forget to tell you: we’re going to build a pool in the backyard in the shape of a four-leaf clover!”
“Oh, how darling!”
“Yes! And the stem will be a hot tub. You must come when it is built. I’ll have a pre-pool celebration”
“It’s like a bachelorette party for getting a pool.”
“So, do you bring gifts?”
“Well, you don’t have to,” Franconia said, implying the opposite.
“I can’t wait for it!”
On her way to the set, she stopped by the boutiques in Humboldt Park, looking for something to get Franconia. After browsing several shops she decided on a silver charm bracelet, purchasing charms in the shapes of a diving board, a flip-flop, a shuttlecock, and a Frisbee.
Next to Pool Party Palace was a corner burrito stand; she couldn’t imagine how the owners landed such plum real estate. She’d never been in there, but could tell from outside the window that the tables were sticky and crumb-covered. Plus, the people inside were so tubby that if she squinted she’d mistake them for piles of tires.
At the opposite street corner, she saw a Debt Cab. Another lowly worker picking up trash, she thought. But then she saw the man’s face… It was her own father. Nearly forgetting the little purple shopping bag in her hands, she ran to him.
He was in an orange jumpsuit but unshackled. “Jicky? Funny face?”
“Dad? Why are you here? Why in Humboldt Park? How did you get out?”
He ran toward her. “I wanted . . . to see the sunshine. I haven’t you know, in at least seven weeks.” At 67, he was fit, if also poorly postured, and in good health; but his face was very sad. He smiled and laughed; but the orange uniform made his daughter feel ashamed.
Suddenly by force-field chain, he was dragged back to the Debt Cab. He moved slowly back across the street as if sinking in quicksand. She held him around the waist, like she did as a child, riding behind him on a bike. She struggled to pull him back, but it was no use.
“Now what’s going on here?” The warden appeared and spoke in a joking, patronizing tone.
She was slightly ashamed to be seen with a MVD worker, one who by the slope of the nose was clearly her old man.
“You know Adler, you’ll get out sooner if you just served your time down in the cells. Look, here you’re wasting yet another minute of all this time you have to serve,” he motioned toward the ticker atop the Debt Cab. It read “7 YEARS 8 MONTHS 32 MINUTES 5 SECONDS.”
“C’mon, lady. You know he isn’t allowed visitors off hours.”
“I was hoping you’d see how much I love him and let him go.”
Her father was a bonded laborer, a debt prisoner to Mastercard-Visa-Discover-Platinum. Oh, he got clean sheets and three squares, but not much else. He worked fourteen-hour days, seven days a week: construction, plumbing in particular. They used to call it “indentured servitude,” but it was really the only way to pay your bills.
The warden had the build and powderyness of a jolly Santa Claus, but he was not sympathetic.
“Oh ho ho ho, no!” he said, rubbing his white Isaac Asimov mutton chops. “See, that’s why it’s better to serve your time all at once without taking these breaks,” he said, glaring at the garish young woman and then chastising her father with a stern glance.
“I love you, Jicky.” He believed he got her through college this way. She was the first to go to college in their family.
Oh, she went to college, but many other things added to that tally.
“I’m…late for work, Dad.”
“I’m so happy to know at least you’re reaching your dreams, Jicky. Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine. I am fine. Don’t worry about me.”
Oh, she didn’t. Because, as she thought to herself, my film will be a huge hit, I’ll make the money back, and buy back my dad. It has to be a hit! Everyone loves Carolyn Kennedy — more so than Marilyn Monroe, more so than Marie-Antoinette, more so than J. Lo. I’ll have my own money soon enough. Lots of it! Then she walked into a boutique across the street and bought a vintage Missoni suit for Franconia’s party.
Ezra called that afternoon. She screened it. The image was real crisp. Of course her moneyed honey should have a top-of-the-line mobile! She was delighted. If he called again the following week, then she could pick up and they would finally date.
Of course, he could also have called because he knew Tallulah was inaccessible. Or maybe he was trying to get to Tallulah through her. Oh, that snake! She would have nothing to do with him!
“Goddamn you, Tallulah!” she screamed at her mirror’s reflection, unable to smile, instead counting every imperfection on her body from the mousy ears to the stupid freckles on her chin. She hurriedly draped a vintage sienna pashmina over her shoulders, secured it with an emerald broach, and was off to the party.
She clapped up the steps and around the Xylo. Franconia took her coat and handed her a cupcake with a cameo outlined in chocolate and peach frosting. Delicious!
“Franconia, how lovely your place is! I’ve never seen rugs like these ever!”
“They’re from Iraq!”
Now Franconia was ready to open her presents. Mylar got her a bikini with pieces of sushi printed on it. So cute! Hanalei bought her a set of 5,000 thread count beach towels. Other girls bought her a transparent inner tube filled with rhinestones, a purple pitcher and tumblers, and three other bikinis with stars, rainbows, and zebra-skin prints.
Then she opened Jicky’s gift. “Oh, this is adorable. I haven’t got a silver charm bracelet! And look at the little flip-flop charm! Oh! But now I have something for you!”
She handed the girls each a three-strand jade-bead necklace, secured with a rhinestone and mother-of-pearl clasp. The girls screamed with delight. Had they ever seen such lovely jewels? Why, they could eat them up!
They gobbled up the treats and draped themselves with the new jewels. Franconia’s dining room was inlaid with stained glass, and the mosaic colors bounced off all the girls’ faces and dresses.
Mylar had a little red heart on her forehead and a blue stripe on her cheek. She said to Jicky, “What a nice suit.”
“It’s Missoni, 1996,” she said, insouciantly.
“I know. I had something just like that. Where did you get it?”
“Um, Sonoma Exchange.”
“Maybe you’re wearing my old Missoni suit! I had my boyfriend take a bunch of my unwantables there several months ago.”
Oh, that bitch!
She left the party wound up, both giddy from the cupcakes and jewelry, and devastated by Mylar’s hostility. She ran to the elevator preparing to rip her stupid “new” suit into shreds.
She got off the elevator and ran straight into a warm, flat sternum. It was Ezra and in his hands was a bouquet of . . . chocolate-covered roses! She quickly forgot all about Mylar and the Missoni suit.
“What are you doing here?”
“I wanted to see you.”
“But the actress in my movie is so much prettier than me!”
“Yeah, but I don’t really care about those things,” he said.
Jicky took a seat under the ruby and crystal chandelier. The light made her look like a Botticelli angel. She fixed Ezra white wine and fennel apple canapés. He asked her some questions, which she avoided in order to maintain his interest, and she asked him about his job to better gauge what he was worth. Oh, yeah, he was loaded, she decided and smiled as she sipped the wine. His eyes glinted in the light like gemstones might. She was in love. Then she heard a knock.
She opened the door. It was the Santa Claus doppleganger MVD warden she saw on the street that afternoon!
“Get out of here! I’m busy!” she hissed.
He showed her his warrant. “I’m coming in.”
Ezra stood up and looked at the warden, confused.
The warden looked at her. “Jicky Adler?”
“Did you read your contract?” the warden asked.
“I never read anything.”
“Someone can stand in for your sentence for a maximum of only 20 percent of the years. You need to serve the remaining seven.”
Joanne McNeil is the science and tech editor of Brainwash.