A short story by R Young.
Eyes on me, eyes on me all the time. No, I’m not out of my mind, not yet I don’t think. It’s just that . . . Look, in the ambience of our days, you’ve got to be aware, I mean intensely focused, disabused of all fantasies with CCTV on you wherever you go. So, yeah, I’m not deceived by the blandness of daily life, but I do wonder what I’d get if I edited together my comings and goings.
So we fade in from black with a long shot of Frances Madden’s house, a humble bungalow on a humble street facing Back Bay with its marshes and shallow inlets. Now we cut to a grainy overhead of Fran coming out of her house and locking the front door. She glances around but does not spot the camera, yet she senses its all-recording eye. She spits into the nandina bushes, an unexpected gesture just to throw off the voyeurs, and we follow her as she walks around to the garage.
Cut to the garage interior as she opens the door and sunlight overexposes the doorway as she enters. Now Fran is in the garage and she lifts the hood of her battered old analog Dodge pickup to check the oil.
Closeup of the dipstick with a black oily glob on the end. Pull back to show Fran shoving the dipstick back into the engine and wiping her hands on a greasy cloth.
“Motherfucker,” she says, then glances into the rafters where Clove has certainly hidden a camera. “Hey,” she calls out. “Probably ought to bleep that.” She walks to the back of the garage and searches shelves. There! She finds it, a can of motor oil. Now we follow her as she stomps back across the garage to the pickup, kicking tools and empty oil cans out of her path.
“Funnel,” she grouses. “Where’s the sonofabitching funnel when I need it?”
She rummages around in the trash barrel, pulls out a plastic Coke bottle, finds a box cutter and uses it to slice the bottle in half. She returns to the engine. “Damn,” she whispers, gritting her teeth and glancing around for a can opener.
“Where’s that churchkey?”
Resigned to a less than prefered method, she sighs, grabs a screwdriver, and pokes two holes on opposite sides of the top of the oil can. She enlarges one of the holes by twisting the screwdriver around in circles. She wipes oil off the screwdriver. Using the halved Coke bottle as a funnel, she pours oil into the engine.
And so it goes.
Not very interesting, my right? Well, the reason why it looks dull is simple—you really do not know what’s going on in Fran’s head all this time. Does it appear that she’s rushing things? Bingo. You’ve got it. What you can’t see on the screen is the reason for her haste. She simply does not want to be late for the first day of shooting on the documentary she’s working on with her partner Clovis. They made a solemn pact to be prompt . . . now this!
Fran removes the jerry-rigged funnel and slings oil off her hands while glancing here and there around the garage. Where are the cameras? Why does she sense that Clovis is watching?
“Clovis? Are you getting any of this? Okay, well even if you’re not, I have a message for you. I’m on my way, so you best be on time. Seven sharp.”
Exterior long shot of Fran’s garage as she backs out to the street and drives off. We follow the pickup across the town of Bay St. John to a scruffy quarter near Emerald Beach. Assumption Street at this early morning hour is dark and shaded by live oak, hackberry, and pine.
No Clovis in sight.
Where is that asshole? I can’t stand the disrespect he shows me. After all the times I’ve saved his ass? Like when he borrowed cash from me—begged me to go to the ATM machine at two in the morning to get it—to bail his mother out of County Lockup—again—only to have her skip her court date—again! Or the time I payed the doctor bill when he broke his ankle climbing into his sister’s pecan tree to rescue her cat Peaches.
Okay, so he’s not so awful, as men around here his age go, but he can be a lummox, forever screwing things up by barreling in and insisting that he likes to help. Me, I’m always saying, “Back off Clove, let somebody with good sense handle this,” but it does no good. Dealing with him? It’s like throwing water on a skillet of flaming bacon grease. All you get is burn everywhere and stinky smoke.
I park at our rendezvous site at the end of the street where Annunciation intersects with Back Bay Road in the shadow of the abandoned PrettyPet Cat Food plant. I begin unloading gear, which is no easy chore. I keep all the production paraphernalia because I can’t allow Clovis to keep the cameras and tripods and such with him. He gets crazy ideas in the middle of the night and lurches off on crazy tangents, like the time he disappeared for a week filming a bar band—The Snakes, for fuck’s sake—on the road all the way to Port Arthur!
As I unpack the tripods, I keep an sharp eye on the dilapidated cannery building. At this hour, the only living creatures skulking around are the feral dogs and armadillos that hang out. I know they’re eyeing me, so I eye them back. When setting up a shoot, it pays to be wary.
Maybe with a voice-over we could get a sense of Fran’s state of mind as she stands there with her pile of movie gear waiting for Clovis who is, as always, later which is totally in character for most life-long potheads I know. But we don’t want to put that into words. Clovis has delicate nerves.
So let’s open this sequence with a high crane shot of me and my pickup in the shade of the PrettyPet plant. We sloooooowly close in as I light a cigarette, the first of my five for the day, and pour coffee from a thermos into a tin cup. Google says that coffee negates the bad effects of tobacco, so every day I drink as much as I can stand. My blood pressure is normal, so I figure I can handle the extra caffein.
I have time to kill so I think up something to do. To my way of thinking, way too of much of life is spent waiting for the next thing to happen. How to put this wasted time to use has led some quantum mechanics to propose twisting everyday analog thinking.
It works like this. Let’s say I want Clovis to have arrived here on time. To get him here on time, all I have to do is visualize myself doing something about it in, say ten minutes. I picture myself ten minutes older, my cigarette crushed underfoot, my voice sounding the words Clovis shows for the shoot with Fran at the promised moment of seven o’clock.
Close-up of my face now, my eyes dark in the shadow under the bill of my cap, on my lips a cynical grin as I give a faint nod, like Belmondo in Breathless. Now we slowly pan to the left as Clovis’s Bonneville chugs into view on Assumption Street. I hold my wrist up to eye level. Insert a shot of my watch face as the digital number turns to 07:00.
Clovis is here! What happened to those ten minutes?
“Wot?” calls Clovis as his car slides to a stop in front of me. “You look like you’ve just lost your, I don’t know, . . . y’know?” The engine idles with a deep tubercular rumble.
Close-up of your foot as you lift your boot off the ground. Insert here shot of sandy clamshell gravel. Ah ha! No cigarette butt. This is one clue that proves the time warp. The cigarette you smoked during that ten minutes is not there. Why? Those ten minutes have vanished.
Would coffee confirm it? That coffee that I have already had a cup of, what if it’s still in the thermos?
To test your theory, you say, “How about some coffee?”
Clovis switches off the coughing engine and the scene is gripped by a nervous quiet. “Jeez, Fran, I forgot to bring any coffee . . . sorry!”
Remember, this should be printed in deep selenium-toned black-and-white, soft focus like Bressaï photos, the Seville Feria series. You can smell the trembling, hormonal lust flowing between you and Clove. The essence of desire smells of honeysuckle.
“Well,” you say, “it’s a good thing, then, that I remembered to bring a thermos.” With a sly squint (not a wink) you raise a finger to heighten the drama, then you reach for the pickup’s door.
Cut to a close-up of Clovis’s expectant face. His eyes ask Does she have the coffee?
You open the door and grasp the stainless steel cylinder. Then you turn and hold it up for Clovis to see. You want to explain to him how you just warped spacetime, so you begin to form the words This proves it but you wisely decide to spare Clovis the details. His grip on reality is already warped enough.
Clovis’s eyes widen as he says,“You’ve got the coffee! That proves it!”
He opens his car door and springs out. His wild hair is tamped down under a tattered straw fedora (not a Panama), with sun-streaked ringlets askew over his ears and down his neck. His eyes have the disturbed glow of a man suppressing intense joy. His teeth glisten, causing tiny lens flares.
You step back.
You say warily, “But Clove, what does it prove?” You hand him the thermos.
“It proves,” he says as he unscrews the thermos cap, “that you really do . . . ”
You pray love doesn’t come next.
“. . . want this documentary to be great!”
“Shut up and pour,” you say with relief . . . tinged with apprehension. You are about to say Is that insecticide I smell on you? when a siren screeches from behind the vine-choked cannery walls.
“Jeez, Clove,” you say. “I thought the PrettyPet was shut down years ago.”
“Isn’t that siren calling the morning shift of oyster shuckers to work?”
Clovis gets this puzzled look like he often does when faced with a conundrum, then his eyes widen and he grins. “Siren? What siren?”