Earlier tonight they shot the scene where Robert invites everyone for a nighttime swim. They all walked arm-in-arm down to the beach, white linen silhouettes under the wind-swept pines, the warm air scented with chamomile. Everything was sepia-toned and through the video-assist it looked like a faded black-and-white photograph. The fat pink moon cast its spell on everything–the camera, the actors and the crew–and it was if they had indeed slipped back in time. At the beach they entered the little swimming closets and emerged wearing bathing clothes, the tow-headed children laughing and calling to one another in the semi-darkness.
This was the scene where Edna, who has just learned to swim, makes her first independent foray into the water. She sneaks off down the shore, away from the group, where Lang had two cameras set up: one on the beach behind her, one in the surf to catch her coming in. The gulf water is gentle and warm and Mae holds her arms out for balance as she wades in. There is a wonderful shot of her, black against the glowing ocean, embracing the moon.
Between takes, Lang had gone to Mae’s trailer to check on her. The door was open and as Lang drew near she could not discern the individual words but heard Mae’s voice rising toward panic. When Mae saw the director at the door, she told the person on the phone that she’d call them back later and stood in the trailer’s kitchen with her arms wrapped around her chest.
“I’m just a little nervous about this scene.”
Lang left the door open. “I know the swimming costume is quite heavy but the water will be shallow. You’ll always be able to touch. I give you my word.”
“I don’t mean that. I mean, it’s just very… significant.” Mae had her mouth hidden behind the palm of her hand as she paced between the table and the sink. “So I swim out there and then, for no apparent reason, I start freaking out and splashing around like I’m drowning.”
“We’ll take wide shots of your double for most of it. We’ll just need to get a couple of you running into the surf and of your face in the water. I’m using a phantom camera, more than two thousand frames per second. It sees so fast it makes everything look slow. We’ll catch every drop of water.” And every twitch. Lang knows you can’t use a phantom camera on an insecure actor.
“I’m still trying to figure out what I’m afraid of.”
“Mind if I sit down?”
“Of course. How rude. Would you like some lemon water?”
Lang slid into the seat at the table and accepted the glass. She took a long drink while Mae waited with her hand over her mouth. During these weeks of filming, Lang discovered that Mae likes to be treated like a child. Not like a helpless idiot, but like the apple of one’s eye. It is the universal longing to be taken gently by the hand and encouraged down the path toward the future, the desire to be formed and fed and nurtured into something magical. If it was Eleanor, Lang would pull her down to sit in the nook beside her and throw an arm around her shoulder. She would make a joke about how the moon looks just like a fat lady swimming across the sky, she’d tell her that she didn’t have to do anything she didn’t want to do but that Lang would rather die than do anything to hurt her. Just thinking about Elle made Lang choke up. She waited for the sympathy to expand and dissolve before she spoke.
Lang said, “Remember, Edna is just coming down from the music she heard after dinner so she’s still feeling the Chopin. Plus she’s not a strong swimmer and there she is, all alone in the ocean at night, practically naked, as naked as one could dream of being at that time. She feels exposed to the music and the ocean and the moon. She wants to lose herself in this magical world.” That night the moon was perfect and Lang didn’t want to miss it. They should start soon. “Does that make sense?”
“Have you ever gone swimming in the ocean at night before? It’s quite lovely. Surreal. I imagine that the sensations of music and beauty and independence and possibility might be overwhelming to Edna. Perhaps she is afraid of losing herself—or of not losing herself. Maybe it is her own smallness she is afraid of, not the immensity of the ocean. When she steps into the water, everything on her surface will be washed away. She will no longer be a wife, a mother, or even a woman. She will leave her own small existence behind and enter the vast, limitless life of the imagination.” While she sipped, Lang looked around at the bowlful of lemons, an ivory white corset hanging from the back of a door, piles of books and cds. “If you like music you might listen to Chopin for the mood. William Markham could probably recommend something to help you get the feel of each scene. He’s doing the score. Have your assistant ask.”
Mae stood with her mouth hidden in her palm and her eyes fixed on some faraway point. Finally she said, “Sometimes I have dreams of swimming.”
Mae sat down at the table beside Lang. “My friend told me that in dreams, water is emotion. She said that water represents emotion and that if you dream about water, then it’s telling you about your emotional state. Like if the water is full of monsters then you’re afraid of your feelings, like they might pull you under or eat you, but if the water is warm and safe then maybe you’re just happy.”
“Sounds Jungian to me.”
“What kind of water do you dream?”
“That’s a funny question.” Lang ran her hands through her hair. What if the hand over Mae’s mouth was just there to hide her smile? For a moment Lang imagined the hand pulling back to reveal Elle’s cocky smirk. She blinked again and imagined a black hole in the middle of Mae’s face, a ravenous, gibbering maw.
Lang closed her eyes to answer. “I guess sometimes I dream of my childhood friend’s pool. Her pool was kidney-shaped, like a figure eight. One time we found a snake in the water which seemed ironic, since we weren’t allowed to swim at the beach in the summer because there were too many creatures, too many jellies and sharks—but they were real ones, not imaginary.” Lang opened her eyes and tried to look sure of herself. “I promise that you won’t find either one anywhere near this beach tonight.”
She stood up and held her hand out toward Mae, but Mae kept her eyes on the wedge of lemon suspended in her glass. “Did you kill it?”
“The snake you found.”
“Oh. Of course not. I took it to the field across the street and let it go. It was perfectly harmless. And rather lovely, like a bright green ribbon.”
“I’m glad.” And then Mae gave Lang her hand and unleashed a toothy grin.
Lang smiled back and led the girl down the sandy path toward the ocean.
QUESTION: What kind of water do you dream?
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