Chapter 21: Horning His Way In
Stan didn’t like to be critical, but the problem really was Marie. It wasn’t anything specific, or even anything obvious. It was subtle—the way her eyes went, the way her hands stayed limp at her sides or rested on the bed. How much hotter would the whole performance be if she just used her hands a little more?
He tried, of course, really tried hard to interest and excite her. He took his duties as a husband seriously. But there she was—lying there, expression vacant, limp and docile. He shut off the tape.
This had always been a tricky problem, even before they had started taping themselves. And what could he do? If he criticized her performance—not just on this tape, either, but on any of the tapes they’d made lately—she would take it personally. No matter how carefully, how tactfully he put it, she would overreact and they would fight.
He walked to the dining room and refilled his glass. The problem wasn’t really with Marie, of course—he never thought it was. But standards changed over time. When they first started making tapes, everyone had cameras, no one knew how much light to use. Stan had even recorded one tape on SLP—sure, he saved about fifteen dollars’ worth of videotape that way, but the quality was unspeakably bad. So they had learned. Slowly, over time, they all made better tapes.
That was part of the reason he’d bought that editing machine. It was in the basement still, hooked up to the old portable black and white TV; he hadn’t yet tried it, just plugged it in and let it sit there, waiting for him to read the thick manual.
He’d tried to make that clear to Zsolt earlier, too: this wasn’t about him making better tapes than everyone else, it was about all of them doing better.
Of course, the problem wasn’t Zsolt, it was Keith. First, horning his way into their group, practically uninvited. Now putting out more tapes in a week than any of them had ever made in a whole year. Any of them could have done the same—or at least Stan could have, no problem. Darrell, maybe not. But the point was, they cared about quality, not quantity.
His glass was already empty again; luckily he was still standing in the dining room, by the sideboard. He pulled the cork free of the bottle again and refilled.
Back when they were younger, Marie had been the pretty, artsy girl, and Stan was really proud when she started dating him. Cute gave way to old pretty quickly, though, and the wrinkles around her eyes and mouth had appeared and then deepened a lot in recent years. The girl who looked hip and sassy and jeans and a white t-shirt now looked like any other normal, shapeless mother.
But Stan didn’t care; she was still better-looking than all the other women in the neighbourhood, even if most guys couldn’t see it. Elena, with her boyish gymnast’s body? Nothing very remarkable there. Lisa, all flabby, rolling skin? He refused to understand what all the fuss was about.
Even on their tapes, even with Marie’s lack of care at how she came across on camera, their sex was a lot more—what was the word? Sexy. Their sex was just much sexier than their neighbours’. He could take the best thirty minutes of footage from his tapes, and guaranteed it would be twice as good—twice as sexy—as the best hour of all the neighbours’ tapes combined.
He filled his glass one last time and placed it carefully on the sideboard one last time, while he went down to the basement to retrieve the manual for the tape editing machine, leaning heavily on the railing as he slowly made his way down the stairs.
Stan closed one eye and concentrated, and the clock-radio came into focus: 2:35. Well, he’d gone to bed later than this. He didn’t have any clients to see in the morning anyway. Who cared? He was an adult.
He slipped under the light bedspread, careful not to jostle Marie. “Thought you weren’t coming to bed tonight,” she said, her voice ringing clearly in the darkness.
Damn. He hadn’t woken her; she hadn’t even been asleep. Probably waiting, laying there fully awake, just to give him hell for coming up so late.
“I was working—” he said, and stopped. The r’s and w’s were too big and round, and he couldn’t seem to get his tongue past them.
“You’ve been drinking,” she said, with a drawn-out, melodramatic sigh.
Although she was being a complete bitch, Stan didn’t feel like arguing. “Just a couple,” he said, making sure his voice went mostly into the pillow. She didn’t reply.
He was in a bad mood, despite the scotch. The editing machine was pretty complicated, it turned out, lots of knobs and buttons and a feed system for the tape that was just incomprehensible. The manual was no help either. It was in six or eight different languages, just a few pages of actual manual. No diagrams. One page was in there twice, too, so another page had probably been left out.
The stuff that was in there, too, was obviously a loose translation from the original Japanese or Chinese or whatever. When he realized that the “play” button was called “going press” in the manual, he threw it away in disgust.
Still, he had paid eight hundred bucks, so he’d have to figure it out eventually. If only Keith hadn’t started putting out so many tapes, he’d feel...
“Are you going to turn the light off?” Marie said beside him.
Stan opened his eyes—he hadn’t realized they were closed—and found that his bedside lamp was still on.
“Yeah,” he said, and reached over to turn it off.
“What’s wrong?” Marie asked. Stan gauged the sound of her voice: was she pissed off? Being bitchy? He couldn’t tell—it sounded like she was actually concerned, in fact.
“Nothing important,” Stan said.
“C’mon.” She nudged him lightly with her arm. “’S going on.”
“It’s nothing. Really.” How did she know? He wasn’t especially drunk, hadn’t come to bed especially late. How could she tell something was on his mind?
“Okay,” she said, and rolled over, leaving him there, sitting up in the dark.
“We got two new tapes today,” Stan said. Suddenly it felt very important to get Marie’s attention.
She turned back, only part way, but he could tell her face was towards him now. “From who?”
“Keith ’n’ Lisa.”
“Oh.” She turned back a bit. “Both of them?”
“Yeah. And that’s not all.”
“Kind of. I was talking to Zsolt—he got three.”
“They’ve been busy.”
“They sure have.”
“You don’t—” She paused, uncertain. “You don’t want to watch them tonight, do you? Because—”
“No,” Stan said immediately, calm but definite.
“I mean, if you really—”
“It’s okay. It’s already late.”
“Okay.” He could feel the tension in her body relax. Was it that bad, the idea of sex with him?
“It’s not a big deal,” he went on, his mind barely keeping up with his own mouth. “It’s just that I figure if anyone’s going to get more tapes around here, it should be me.” He quickly corrected himself. “Us.”
“Well, it’s not like I want to see his flabby ass that much anyway,” Lisa said.
She always missed the point with things like this. “You’d think he’d be more considerate, anyway,” Stan said, hoping to drive the conversation back to what mattered.
“Zsolt’ll give us the tapes when he’s done. Or whoever.” She turned back towards him and snuggled up against him a little.
“I just—it’s like he doesn’t want to follow the rules. Like he’s trying to cause problems.”
“Maybe he doesn’t know the rules yet. I don’t even know the rules.”
“That’s not—of course, the rules are just—” He stopped in exasperation, started again. “None of us needed the rules spelled out. We just knew them. Never had a problem. Now Keith comes along—” He stopped there; his point was made anyway. His tongue was dull and stiff, so it was too much effort to talk.
“It all falls apart,” Marie supplied helpfully.
“His wife seems like a real tart,” Marie said. “All, hey, everyone, come stare up my giant pussy.”
Was it really that big? She seemed normal to him. “Yeah,” he said in support, Lisa with her legs spread wide open now very much on his mind.
“Have you met her?”
He banished the image, as well as he could. “Who, Lisa? Just once. She barely said a word to me.”
“Tart.” She snuggled closer, put one thigh across his legs. The rough, thick patch of pubic hair tickled his skin.
“It’s just annoying,” Stan said, surprising himself a little at admitting it. “It’s why I want to make a really good-quality tape. Anyone can make five tapes in a week.”
“Not really, just—” Stan wished she hadn’t interrupted his train of thought; he was sure that he’d been going somewhere with that, but now he couldn’t remember where.
“I was just kidding,” she said.
Then why say anything at all? Just let him—whatever. “Anyway, the point is, people shouldn’t just put tapes out whenever they make one. It’s not the point of all this. It’s disrespectful.”
“What is the point of all this?” she asked.
Stan was surprised and annoyed to find he didn’t have an answer ready for this. Again, she was just distracting him from what he was trying to get out. It was there, somewhere; it had been on his mind all day. She was making it harder to figure out what he meant, not easier.
“If we want to make more tapes, we’ll make them,” she said. “If we want to share them, we will. I like doing that. It’s exciting, right?”
“So it’s fine. If people want to give us tapes, fine. We’ll watch them or we won’t. If people want to watch our tapes, we’ll let them or we won’t. Right?”
Stan shrugged. This lecture could end any time.
“So if Keith wants to be a jerk like this, fine. We won’t give him any of our tapes, and we won’t bother watching his. Problem solved.”
Stan was feeling more and more tired as their conversation plodded on. He shifted so that his head lay uncomfortably on the pillow. “That sounds good,” he said.
She lay an arm across his chest. “So we’ll make a couple of tapes that will knock ’em all dead, right? And we’ll give them to Darrell and Zsolt and that’s it.”
“Sounds good.” Her thigh, still pressed against his, tightened noticeably.
“You’re too tense,” she said, her voice barely more than a whisper.
Her hips swivelled and were suddenly on top of his. “Shh,” she breathed, her face now right beside his. “I’ll do everything. You just relax.”
She slid down, then up, then down, then she was around him, hot and smooth and wet.
Stan reached up to lift her nightshirt over her head, but other than that he did as he was told.