Drew can never remember the difference between “sensual” and “sensuous” but the Liliens have a dictionary in their library so Drew slips down the hall, feet sliding on the wood floor. She’s wearing Tom Lilien’s black socks, a pair of his boxer shorts and nothing else. Her hair hangs dirty and loose. Why bother getting dressed? It’s probably ninety degrees outside.
In the library, the water in the pond outside fills the room with its dark green perfume. She has every window in the house thrown open like arms to embrace the day. The sun ricochets off the water and fills her eyes with whirling sparks and she must pause and blink for a moment while her vision adjusts to the page in front of her. Sensate, sensational, sensory, sensualist: the sibilance tickles. Her lips taste like salt. Somewhere outside, a leaf blower is humming. The noise trembles to her ears on waves of heat.
For several weeks now she’s done nothing but write. She is completely immersed in the project, full to the brim with Mae’s story. She gave up looking for clues about Mae’s past and opened her mind to the present tense. At first, it felt awkward to write in the first person since she had always preferred to use an omniscient narrator but now she is Mae, larger than life and better than before. She sleeps wherever sleep takes her and eats when she remembers. She is a window left ajar, a gaping mouth, an open book, a dilated pupil. She moves through her new awareness with arms outstretched like the sibyl in the cave, feeling around for the leaves on which she will read the secrets of the universe.
At this moment–facing the pond outside the window, holding the heavy dictionary in two hands– a picture is forming in her mind. It has something to do with a conversation she had with Judith Moon the photographer who did not have time to meet but had returned Drew’s call from New York early this morning. The ringtone caught Drew snoozing in the office chair and for a moment, the woman’s husky voice in her ear had given her a slap of recognition. Before she fully woke up, just for a second, Drew had thought it was her mother calling.
But no, it was the photographer. After exchanging the usual pleasantries, Ms. Moon divulged that she had never worked with anyone who understood the camera better than Mae, that with each new pose, Mae’s body would twist automatically to the perfect angle, as if she had been there before. What were the exact words she used? (Drew closes the dictionary and hefts it back to its spot on the shelf. She stands there scratching her armpit.) She said it was as if she had slept in that pose.
At the time, Drew had considered that statement poetic but now she sees its absurdity. Who poses in their sleep? Sleeping beauty. Dead people, perhaps. Didn’t Joan Crawford sleep on her back with her hands and face oiled and bandaged like a mummy? They said something like that, she’s sure. She should ask Wayne. He’d know. She considers calling him. Where did she leave her phone? She wanders down the hall past the plants drooping in their pots towards the kitchen.
Judith had also said that during her sessions with Mae they hardly spoke a word to one another and that during a close-up, Mae could see her face from the outside: “As if the camera was a mirror.” Drew stands in the kitchen doorway scratching, thinking that she should have asked Judith if that was actually possible or did she mean it metaphorically. Maybe one can see one’s reflection in a camera lens? Like if you get close enough, you might see yourself in the eyes of the person you’re looking at, right? A tiny inverted reflection of yourself replicated in their eye….
Drew freezes in front of the refrigerator, trying to grasp the slippery idea by its tail. It had something to do with the photographer and something to do with something Mae once said about that picture of her in the pool with the coke can. Young Mae’s metallic smile floats in the air in front of Drew’s eyes, daring her to jump—come on in, the water is fine! Drew shuts her eyes– if she doesn’t move, maybe the idea will come–but instead of Mae, her own mother floats before her, sitting at the dressing table where Drew used to watch her apply her makeup in the morning. How lovely it was to see the brows darken and arch and then that trembling, delicate moment when her mouth would open but not to speak, open simply to receive the lick of color from the little tube of lipstick. The red slides on and the mouth warps into something bigger and realer than before.
Drew opens her eyes; it’s gone. She’ll have to go over her notes.
She opens the refrigerator. She has already eaten the things the Lilien’s forgot to throw away before they left for their trip: the take-out leftovers, eggs, cheese, carrots, potatoes and pickles. She cleaned out their freezer and finished off the rice, pasta, and every can in the cupboard. There’s nothing left but condiments. On a high cupboard shelf she finds a bag of dried beans and spends a few minutes considering the instructions before she remembers the microwave popcorn at Mae’s. She pulls on some clothes and grabs her notebook but doesn’t bother with shoes.
Do you want to start from the beginning?