Oct/Nov 2014  •   Fiction

This Is How You Make a Movie

by Joseph Han

Tapestry artwork by Susan Klebanoff

Tapestry artwork by Susan Klebanoff

There's this metaphor for a character being stuck in a tree and rocks are being thrown at him or her. In this case it's a woman, and she must come down and do something about it, make some gains, have some setbacks in act two, then climax, not that kind, but whatever, that's a bad joke, really I mean an avalanche of redemption and change melting and resonating into your clothes. If it were me, which in this case it is, I'd pick the right song for the soundtrack and grab an axe to not only chop that fucker down but also turn the story into some whodunit psycho killer of vengeance, upward shots of me and all.

Interior, Robert's room sometime past midnight, and I can't see the digital clock since I took off my contact lenses. He woke me up to give him a massage. Had to climb out of my impression in the memory foam bed. I'm not sure when to stop, and my palms are starting to get strained. His back is clammy, and I think of reading time in elementary and how we'd get in a train and give each other massages, how I'd somehow end up behind someone I didn't like or got in front of someone with weak hands. If I had to do this for eternity, and at this hour it seems endless, it would be a special kind of hell.

"How's this to add to Greek mythology? A woman's punishment in hell: she must stare at herself in a mirror and watch herself age forever."

Robert doesn't answer. I can't tell if he's sleeping since his breathing is soft. If it's slow, he's drifting off.

"Ape, that's dumb," he says in pauses. "Hell is about labor, physical torment. No one wants that. Yours is too… psychological."

"You know, I hate when you call me that. You only do that when you follow up with something negative to say, robot." I scratch down his spine.

"Oh, primate hate," he says. "April, April, April. Real ape, real ape, real ape."

Now would be a good time for a flashback-explanation of how I end up here while I continue to massage the asshole, which sounds wrong.

Robert wants to be a director and is majoring in creative media, and I happen to take a class with him for fun and work sound for a group project. Cut to montage of us talking and laughing on campus, cut to eating and kissing and falling off screen to bedroom and close ups and music. Repeat. Cue card three months later and same montage, different clothes, and then another two months and a more serious montage mostly focusing on me noticing couples and hand holding and public kissing and jump cut to a more recent strand in the narrative where Robert works on a pirate feature film, and I'm personal assistant, and we argue about whether or not I should make omelets for the cast. Dissolve to black. A perfect romantic drama-comedy, or dramady, as they say.

I fall off his back to the right, and he turns away from me. I think about how earlier in the day, the makeup artist joked she was lubing the actors up, because that's the trick when it comes to making beads of sweat stay, like plastic drops of rain or dew on fake flowers. It's funny how even though it's a pirate movie, the characters are on land the whole time and there isn't a ship.

"Let's talk now, April. I'm up." He flips onto his back and puts his hands behind his head. "How's that one class you're taking, the art one. And what else again?"

"Film studies, but yeah, did you know Vikings would bury ships with their dead for safe passage to the afterlife?"

"That makes sense."

These are his favorite words, conversation motifs to follow up whatever I say. When I brought up the idea of things being more official, like where he saw this going and how I wanted something more than just what we have, Robert just nodded with his hand to his chin, the way he looks at the camera or computer when he's editing films, as if he were looking at something play before him and it was his choice to change the plot, which it was. But the only thing he said was it made sense, and at that moment it felt like he was seriously considering it. I had hope until it changed into impatience. I always thought he was pursuing me. I trace my finger on his shoulder in lines like infinity, the same way he used to on me. But instead of that sign, I think about bowties and eyeballs, a racetrack.

"Why don't we steer this ship to sleep, Robert?" I'm tired, and I just want another day to start and another scene to end.

"You mean death?"

He covers his eye with his hand and does a cartoonish evil villain laugh through gritting teeth. Robert thinks eye patches look stupid, so he's not using them in his film. What he doesn't know is that they were used to adjust to the dark in crucial times of navigating or battle. It was my suggestion, but the actor thought it was bothersome, too, especially since he already had eyeliner done to both eyes.

"Okay then, what are you doing tomorrow? I have errands to run."

"Can they wait? I have to revise the script a bit. From what I've filmed so far, the ending I had in mind doesn't look so good. Also meeting Gavin for drinks later."

"I need a new water filter."

"Dig a hole and do that plastic sheet thing to collect water. Who knows, maybe you'll find some relic."

Which reminds about what I found when I was organizing my room: coloring books I've kept from when I was a kid. I was always the kid who colored really hard with crayons, and I'd asked my Dad why his coloring looked more interesting. There were stripes and polka dots and added scenery or props, and he'd tell me that no one ever said you couldn't do things how you wanted to—the lines are just there.

"Never mind."

Before he went on to telling stories himself, Robert wanted to do documentaries and just started filming a bunch of interviews. He called it "Everyday" and got to talk to some people about their lives and what led them to where they were. After all this footage he got, it was a matter of piecing everything together—their words, stories, insights to their lives, and how they complemented one another. The more he worked on the film, the more it frustrated him, and I think its because he was starting to get nihilistic—or some shit like that, I believe he said. The one thing I remember clearly: one day he was editing and had Jaws on the TV, and he watched a scene of a group of construction workers eating lunch, a close up of one just chewing, cut to the white wrapper of the rubbish on the ground.

"This is how you make a movie," he said, but he never did finish it.

I try to stay still as possible so I can fall asleep. It's what I want most right now. Dissolve to black.

"So April," Robert says while spooning me. "You feel that? When are you going to sleep over again? If only it could be every day."

Earlier-me would have taken that as romantic, the right thing to say at this given moment. Cue the close up kiss and camera spinning around us if we were standing. But I really know what he means by that, and I don't know how to respond, so I think about leaving and just don't want to have thoughts anymore.

On the road, on my way back home, there'd be a shot of me crying from outside of the car through the windshield, quick cut to a cat stuck in a tree, a battered final girl from some slasher movie waiting in the closet for the monster to show up, unless she really is the monster. The pouring outside and the window wipers at top speed seems endless, pattering and wails on loop. This drive from his place to mine could be a figure-eight racetrack, but maybe I can't see that from the car. Rainwater doesn't need to be filtered.

My phone keeps vibrating in the cup holder, but I ignore it. I drive through an underpass, and for a second everything is silent, timed perfectly with a missed call and a wiper pulled back. I wonder if I could drive home without headlights or streetlamps, no eye patch and all. Another underpass is coming up, and I don't see any cars coming from behind me in the rearview mirror, so I pull over to the side of the freeway under cover. It's quiet except for slow breathing, like I'm drifting off. No rain hitting the car, just everywhere around me instead. If I had had a script back there and actually responded to Robert, that April would have just agreed. But really the lines are just there, and as I look in the overhead mirror and it feels like I could look forever, I realize this may not have been a story worth telling, and the ending I had in mind doesn't look so good anymore.