CHAPTER 1 -- PAUL WAKES UP
The sound of Maggie in the shower wakes Paul up and the first thought that enters his mind is how much money he owes. It’s been this way for a month, ever since he moved into her apartment to hide from the bill collectors and the car repo guys who are chasing him for his used Toyota Camry. He used to think of sex first thing in the morning, not bills. His eyes would open and he’d catch a glimpse of Maggie’s perfect tan skin crisscrossed with sheet marks and then their eyes would meet and they’d grab each other. This morning she slid out of bed while he was still asleep.
He kicks off the sheets and listens to her shower, humming and splashing, while the spring sun streams through the window. The sunshine drives back his worry and he sees himself frozen in a perfect moment -- a morning in June in his 30th year, his life still ahead of him, and his best girlfriend of all time just ten feet away, naked and wet…and then his worry returns.
That, he realizes, was probably the highlight of his day, and he files it away in his brain as a moment worth remembering. Paul does this often; he calls them his “movie-moments,” when he both experiences life and observes himself within it. Paul has plans to someday open his mental file cabinet and pull out all the movie-moments he has ever had, and recreate them as cinema, larger than life --
The door to the bathroom swings open and Maggie’s head pops out.
“Do you mind getting the paper before the sprinklers go on?” She closes the door without waiting for a response.
Paul jumps out of bed and pulls on jeans and a t-shirt, happy to have a task. After four years of college and two years of graduate school and a 3.8 GPA, he is more than qualified to fetch a paper. It might be his only job all day, but he’ll do it and he’ll do it well. He stumbles through the cool apartment and out into the sun.
Maggie lives in a Spanish style building with eight apartments facing a courtyard. The building starred in a film noir thriller from the 40′s, shot in crisp black and white. In one great tracking shot, the rain-drenched hero walks from the street through the open archway into the courtyard, past a bubbling fountain and right up to the apartment of the femme fatale who would be his demise. Today the fountain is filled with dirt and the tall archway is blocked off with an iron gate. Paul holds it open and grabs a Los Angeles Times from the pile in front.
Maggie is pouring coffee when he gets back. Paul smooths the paper on the table for her and then sits down to watch her prepare her breakfast. Maggie’s long brown hair is still wet after her shower, and Paul admires how her bathrobe perfectly frames her hourglass figure. Erotic thoughts flood him, but he keeps them to himself. He likes her like this in the morning -- fresh, without makeup and intent on getting to work, oblivious to how that mere millimeter of terrycloth covering her ample bottom and small breasts can drive him nuts. He imagines walking up and spooning her from behind, and breathing on her neck. She would act shocked, insisting that she looks terrible.
But he resists. She must get to work, and his love gestures are not welcome on a busy Monday morning. When they both had jobs, it was a different story. A little erotic affection used to bring them closer before they both rushed out the door. But not anymore. She’s doing him a huge favor letting him stay with her, so he must focus on being a helpful and productive boyfriend, and not a lazy and horny loser.
The phone rings. Maggie keeps pouring milk over her cereal.
“Aren’t you going to get that?” Paul asks.
“It’s a creditor looking for you. He called yesterday morning at the same time.”
She shrugs. “I don’t know, I just hung up. I think they’ve figured out that you’re living here, or hiding here, or whatever it is you’re doing.”
The answering machine takes the call, but the is volume down. Maggie moves next to the kitchen table, eating her Cheerios as she studies him. Paul can see that he’s crossed some line in her mind. She looks settled and in control, and that control makes her look beautiful. Beautiful, because he is losing her.
“So, which is it?” she asks. “Are you living here? Or are you just hiding?”
She shakes her head, disgusted by the answer. “Excuse me, I have a job to get to.” She goes into the bedroom.
And what a job it is. Maggie is the personal assistant to an asshole who produces TV award shows. Every day she patiently organizes the man’s entire life and then in a crowded production meeting he will throw his fruit salad at her because she hasn’t taken out all the grapes. Their nickname for him is “The Screaming Asshole,” a name he earns at least twice a week. It’s a miserable way to make a living, but then again, she can pay the rent and Paul can’t.
The sound of a sliding closet door brings him back -- he’s missing their show. Paul goes into the bedroom and props himself up against the headboard so he can watch Maggie dress. It’s their ritual, regardless of their mood, like morning coffee.
She drops her robe and stands there in just her panties, staring at the clothes closet with legs apart, fists on her hips and her breasts out. She looks like a modern Vermeer, calculating every permutation of the professional woman’s uniform. She finally breaks her gaze and grabs some pantyhose, holding them up like evidence of a crime.
“Ten hours a day, five days a week, I force half the skin on my body into these, so you can be a filmmaker.”
“I’ll wear them too if you want.”
“You should. It’d be good research into what it’s like to be a woman.”
She pulls the nylon up each leg, imprisoning her flesh, then puts on a lacy bra that snaps in front. Then comes a black pencil skirt, a loose blue silk shirt with a big collar and a tight black jacket that flares at the wrists.
“That’s it, movie’s over.”
“What about the makeup?” Paul complains.
“I’m out, I have to get some on the way,” she mutters. “Then again, if Herr
Director insists it be part of the show, he can always go buy me some.”
Paul pulls out forty dollars from his jeans pocket. “Here, buy what you want.”
Maggie looks at the money. “Is that all the cash you have?”
“No,” he lies.
“What we need, forty dollars can’t fix.” Maggie walks out.
Ouch. Good one, Paul thinks. Paul hears Maggie’s keys tinkling. He must make a move. He jumps off the bed and darts into the living room before she can leave.
“How about I take you out tonight? We’ll do Indian food and then go see Buster Keaton at the Silent Movie Theater.”
Maggie pauses, blinking slowly, biting her lower lip.
“That’s what normal boyfriends and girlfriends do, right?” Paul asks. “Come on, it’ll be fun. I’ll tell you all about the four job interviews I’ll find today.”
“Okay,” she nods. Her real smile comes back, flush with hope, and he can see that she still wants it to work. She kisses him on the lips and leaves for the day.