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About the Author
Date of Birth:February 21, 1962
Place of Birth:Pasco, Washington
Education:B.A. in journalism, University of Oregon, 1986
Read an Excerpt
Where you're supposed to be is some big West Hills wedding reception in a big manor house with flower arrangements and stuffed mushrooms all over the house. This is called scene setting: where everybody is, who's alive, who's dead. This is Evie Cottrell's big wedding reception moment. Evie is standing halfway down the big staircase in the manor house foyer, naked inside what's left of her wedding dress, still holding her rifle.
Me, I'm standing at the bottom of the stairs but only in a physical way. My mind is, I don't know where.
Nobody's all-the-way dead yet, but let's just say the clock is ticking.
Not that anybody in this big drama is a real alive person, either. You can trace everything about Evie Cottrell's look back to some television commercial for an organic shampoo, except right now Evie's wedding dress is burned down to just the hoopskirt wires orbiting her hips and just the little wire skeletons of all the silk flowers that were in her hair. And Evie's blonde hair, her big, teased-up, back-combed rainbow in every shade of blonde blown up with hairspray, well, Evie's hair is burned off, too.
The only other character here is Brandy Alexander, who's laid out, shotgunned, at the bottom of the staircase, bleeding to death.
What I tell myself is the gush of red pumping out of Brandy's bullet hole is less like blood than it's some sociopolitical tool. The thing about being cloned from all those shampoo commercials, well, that goes for me and Brandy Alexander, too. Shotgunning anybody in this room wouldbe the moral equivalent of killing a car, a vacuum cleaner, a Barbie doll. Erasing a computer disk. Burning a book. Probably that goes for killing anybody in the world. We're all such products.
Brandy Alexander, the long-stemmed latte queen supreme of the top-drawer party girls, Brandy is gushing her insides out through a bullet hole in her amazing suit jacket. The suit, it's this white Bob Mackie knock-off Brandy bought in Seattle with a tight hobble skirt that squeezes her ass into the perfect big heart shape. You would not believe how much this suit cost. The mark-up is about a zillion percent. The suit jacket has a little peplum skirt and wide lapels and shoulders. The single-breasted cut is symmetrical except for the hole pumping out blood.
Then Evie starts to sob, standing there halfway up the staircase. Evie, that deadly virus of the moment. This is our cue to all look at poor Evie, poor, sad Evie, hairless and wearing nothing but ashes and circled by the wire cage of her burned-up hoop skirt. Then Evie drops the rifle. With her dirty face in her dirty hands, Evie sits down and starts to boo-hoo, as if crying will solve anything. The rifle, this is a loaded thirty-aught rifle, it clatters down the stairs and skids out into the middle of the foyer floor, spinning on its side, pointing at me, pointing at Brandy, pointing at Evie, crying.
It's not that I'm some detached lab animal just conditioned to ignore violence, but my first instinct is maybe it's not too late to dab club soda on the bloodstain.
Most of my adult life so far has been me standing on seamless paper for a raft of bucks per hour, wearing clothes and shoes, my hair done and some famous fashion photographer telling me how to feel.
Him yelling, Give me lust, baby.
Give me malice.
Give me detached existentialist ennui.
Give me rampant intellectualism as a coping mechanism.
Probably it's the shock of seeing my one worst enemy shoot my other worst enemy is what it is. Boom, and it's a win-win situation. This and being around Brandy, I've developed a pretty big jones for drama.
It only looks like I'm crying when I put a handkerchief up under my veil to breathe through. To filter the air since you can about not breathe for all the smoke since Evie's big manor house is burning down around us.
Me, kneeling down beside Brandy, I could put my hands anywhere in my gown and find Darvons and Demerols and Darvocet 100s. This is everybody's cue to look at me. My gown is a knock-off print of the Shroud of Turin, most of it brown and white, draped and cut so the shiny red buttons will button through the stigmata. Then I'm wearing yards and yards of black organza veil wrapped around my face and studded with little hand-cut Austrian crystal stars. You can't tell how I look, face-wise, but that's the whole idea. The look is elegant and sacrilegious and makes me feel sacred and immoral.
Haute couture and getting hauter.
Fire inches down the foyer wallpaper. Me, for added set dressing I started the fire. Special effects can go a long way to heighten a mood, and it's not as if this is a real house. What's burning down is a re-creation of a period revival house patterned after a copy of a copy of a copy of a mock-Tudor big manor house. It's a hundred generations removed from anything original, but the truth is aren't we all?
Just before Evie comes screaming down the stairs and shoots Brandy Alexander, what I did was pour out about a gallon of Chanel Number Five and put a burning wedding invitation to it, and boom, I'm recycling.
It's funny, but when you think about even the biggest tragic fire it's just a sustained chemical reaction. The oxidation of Joan of Arc.
Still spinning on the floor, the rifle points at me, points at Brandy.
Another thing is no matter how much you think you love somebody, you'll step back when the pool of their blood edges up too close.
Except for all this high drama, it's a really nice day. This is a warm, sunny day and the front door is open to the porch and the lawn outside. The fire upstairs draws the warm smell of the fresh-cut lawn into the foyer, and you can hear all the wedding guests outside. All the guests, they took the gifts they wanted, the crystal and silver and went out to wait on the lawn for the firemen and paramedics to make their entrance.
Brandy, she opens one of her huge, ring-beaded hands and she touches the hole pouring her blood all over the marble floor.
Brandy, she says, "Shit. There's no way the Bon Marché will take this suit back."
Evie lifts her face, her face a finger-painting mess of soot and snot and tears from her hands and screams, "I hate my life being so boring!"
Evie screams down at Brandy Alexander, "Save me a window table in hell!"
Tears rinse clean lines down Evie's cheeks, and she screams, "Girlfriend! You need to be yelling some back at me!"
As if this isn't already drama, drama, drama, Brandy looks up at me kneeling beside her. Brandy's aubergine eyes dilated out to full flower, she says, "Brandy Alexander is going to die now?"
Erie, Brandy and me, all this is just a power struggle for the spotlight. Just each of us being me, me, me first. The murderer, the victim, the witness, each of us thinks our role is the lead.
Probably that goes for anybody in the world.
It's all mirror, mirror on the wall because beauty is power the same way money is power the same way a gun is power.
Anymore, when I see the picture of a twenty-something in the newspaper who was abducted and sodomized and robbed and then killed and here's a front-page picture of her young and smiling, instead of me dwelling on this being a big, sad crime, my gut reaction is, wow, she'd be really hot if she didn't have such a big honker of a nose. My second reaction is I'd better have some good head and shoulders shots handy in case I get, you know, abducted and sodomized to death. My third reaction is, well, at least that cuts down on the competition.
If that's not enough, my moisturizer I use is a suspension of inert fetal solids in hydrogenated mineral oil. My point is that, if I'm honest, my life is all about me.
My point is, unless the meter is running and some photographer is yelling: Give me empathy.
Then the flash of the strobe.
Give me sympathy.
Give me brutal honesty.
"Don't let me die here on this floor," Brandy says, and her big hands clutch at me. "My hair," she says, "My hair will be flat in the back."
My point is I know Brandy is maybe probably going to die, but I just can't get into it.
Evie sobs even louder. On top of this, the fire sirens from way outside are crowning me queen of Migraine Town.
The rifle is still spinning on the floor, but slower and slower.
Brandy says, "This is not how Brandy Alexander wanted her life to go. She's supposed to be famous, first. You know, she's supposed to be on television during Super Bowl halftime, drinking a diet cola naked in slow motion before she died."
The rifle stops spinning and points at nobody.
At Evie sobbing, Brandy screams, "Shut up!"
"You shut up," Evie screams back. Behind her, the fire is eating its way down the stairway carpet.
The sirens, you can hear them wandering and screaming all over the West Hills. People will just knock each other down to dial 9-1-1 and be the big hero. Nobody looks ready for the big television crew that's due to arrive any minute.
"This is your last chance, honey," Brandy says, and her blood is getting all over the place. She says, "Do you love me?"
It's when folks ask questions like this that you lose the spotlight.
This is how folks trap you into a best-supporting role.
Even bigger than the house being on fire is this huge expectation that I have to say the three most worn-out words you'll find in any script. Just the words make me feel I'm severely fingering myself. They're just words is all. Powerless. Vocabulary. Dialogue.
"Tell me," Brandy says. "Do you? Do you really love me?"
This is the big hammy way Brandy has played her whole life. The Brandy Alexander nonstop continuous live action theater, but less and less live by the moment.
Just for a little stage business, I take Brandy's hand in mine. This is a nice gesture, but then I'm freaked by the whole threat of blood-borne pathogens, and then, boom, the ceiling in the dining room crashes down and sparks and embers rush out at us from the dining room doorway.
"Even if you can't love me, then tell me my life," Brandy says. "A girl can't die without her life flashing before her eyes."
Pretty much nobody is getting their emotional needs met.
It's then the fire eats down the stairway carpet to Evie's bare ass, and Evie screams to her feet and pounds down the stairs in her burned-up white high heels. Naked and hairless, wearing wire and ashes, Evie Cottrell runs out the front door to a larger audience, her wedding guests, the silver and crystal and the arriving fire trucks. This is the world we live in. Conditions change and we mutate.
So of course this'll be all about Brandy, hosted by me, with guest appearances by Evelyn Cottrell and the deadly AIDS virus. Brandy, Brandy, Brandy. Poor sad Brandy on her back, Brandy touches the hole pouring her life out onto the marble floor and says, "Please. Tell me my life. Tell me how we got here."
So me, I'm here eating smoke just to document this Brandy Alexander moment.
Give me attention.
Give me adoration.
Give me a break.