Reality Road Kill (work in progress!!!!)

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There’s no sign of any repo men at six-thirty in the morning, so Paul feels safe enough to drive his fugitive Camry back to Maggie’s apartment. He putters down Highland Boulevard against the morning traffic heading into Hollywood and the Valley. At the stoplight, he glances over and sees men sipping coffee alongside women putting on lipstick in the rearview mirrors, already on their way to their studio jobs, Paul thinks. Meanwhile, he’s on his way home with fifty bucks to his name.

He gets to Cochran Avenue, circles the block to check for the repo men again, then turns into the driveway and coasts between the buildings into a one-car wooden

garage behind Maggie’s building. Hers is the only unit that comes with a garage, and she lets him use it to hide his car.

Paul waits and lets the cool dark of the garage soothe him. It’s not even seven yet and it’s already eighty degrees outside. His head throbs. He touches the back of Andy’s knit cap where his wound is. It’s still tender, even with all the gauze bandages Andy stuck under there.

Paul takes a breath. Maggie isn’t going to be happy. Time to go inside.

When he gets to her front door he finds Rupert, the pompous English actor who lives upstairs, handing her the morning paper. That’s his job.

“Paul. You look ravished,” Rupert grins.

“Rupert. You look English.” Paul grins back and steps inside.

Paul collapses on the couch while Rupert and Maggie chat about his big

audition that afternoon. She wishes Rupert good luck, shuts the door, and all her cheeriness disappears. “I waited for you at the theater last night for an hour.”

“I got a job shooting video last night. I left you a note.”

“And I left a message on the machine telling you I’d meet you at the theater. You should have called me at work.”

“I’m sorry, I was in a rush. I thought you’d come home.”

“What kind of job keeps you out all night? Were you shooting porn again?”

“No, and I only shot porn once. This was a movie premiere, and some repo men found me there. I stayed at Andy’s all night, working for him, just like I said in the other message I left you, the second time I called. You must have been home by then.”

“I was. I just wasn’t picking up,” she replies.

Paul considers ripping off his knit cap and showing off his wound, but going for pity seems the wrong move right now. She might not even care at all, which would make it hurt even worse.

“Something else happened last night,” he says. “I may be up for a real job, it’s a network special, doing audio. Andy referred me.”

Maggie crosses her arms, furrows her brow, and examines him.

“Everything’s taking longer than I planned,” Paul pleads. “But I’ll make it. I promise. I have to make it.”

Maggie sighs with a mix of pity and regret. “I used to feel that way.”

Paul remembers -- before they’d met, Maggie struggled to make it as an art director for films until starvation made her take a desk job.

Maggie grabs her coffee cup and heads for the bedroom. Paul gets off the couch to follow her, but Maggie put her hand up.

“No way. I’m not giving you any show today,” she says.

Paul lays his head back against the couch cushion and feels his wound throb straight through his body all the way through to his feet. The phone rings. Paul imagines the creditor on the other end, intent on harassing him. The machine finally picks up, and Paul closes his eyes and falls asleep.

When he wakes up, Maggie is gone.

Paul staggers to the shower. He takes off all his clothes except for the knit cap, then stands in front of the mirror and gently rolls it off his head. Gauze, hair and blood has hardened into a red and white helmet. He tries lifting it off, but clotted blood has it glued into place.

Usually he considers himself passably handsome, but this morning he looks ridiculous. He is too skinny – he can see too many ribs on his chest and too many bones on his face, like gaunt angles on pasty white skin. His lips are white, his teeth grey, his brown hair is greasy, all topped off with a dorky red and white helmet. He looks like a vampire geek.

And his head still throbs, shooting pain straight down to his heels on the tile floor. He shivers. Time to get his withered nuts into a shower before he freezes them off too. He tests the hot water over his hands then eases his shoulders under the stream. The hot steam loosens everything and his bandage helmet falls off except for one strip of gauze that’s still stuck to his head, and it swings like a pendulum for a moment before the weight tugs the scab off. Paul touches the gash. Should he risk it? He eases his head under the warm water. It stings, then feels wonderful.

He steps out of the shower, wipes the steam off the mirror, then twists himself into a pretzel trying to find his wound both in the reflection of Maggie’s hand mirror and in the bathroom cabinet mirror, but the cut is too high on his head to see. Instead, he wraps his head with a turban of toilet paper, puts on a baseball cap, and takes another two aspirin.

It comes down to luck, Paul thinks. All I need is to get lucky. Meet people. Quit being so independent. Collaborate. It’s who you know, just like an old boy’s club.

I’m making a movie alone in a town full of people who work together all the time and

I can’t do it by myself anymore.

He checks his pupils in the mirror and both are the same size. If he were in serious trouble he’d know by now. But he needs help getting to sleep. He thinks about masturbating, but too much of his body is throbbing already. He settles for a slug of wine out of the open bottle in the refrigerator, unplugs the phone, closes the blinds, climbs into bed and passes out.

He dreams he is thirteen and back in the living room of his mom’s house in Andover, Massachusetts, with his mom, sister, and all the neighborhood kids. Everyone is there to see Paul’s feature film -- the one he’s been working on for two years on a shoestring budget.

But there’s no VCR, only his grandfather’s 8mm film projector from the garage, and his film is Super 16mm, not 8mm -- and it’ll never fit on the projector. He opens the can and looks at his film -- and magically it shrinks from 16mm down to 8mm, on a tiny inadequate spool. After all that work, the film is now nowhere near ninety is maybe ten minutes, tops.

The kids are getting restless, especially the means ones in the back who never liked him -- like Sam Ricci and Frank Jefferson. Kids in the front row are talking about how much they liked the action thriller Flash Flood and how this film better be as good.

Paul threads his film and hits “Run Forward.” His movie appears on a sheet stretched across the fake fireplace. It’s a clever romantic comedy about two thieves who fall in love, except he’s acting out all the parts by himself in bad costumes in his Mom’s backyard. Paul is too scared to look back at the audience, but he feels their anger. Somebody hits him in the neck with spit wad. He hears a hum -- the projector is vibrating. He can’t touch it because it’s now red hot and it’s shaking towards him, about to fall off the table --

-- it’s his pager, vibrating on the bed stand. He bolts awake and the sheet comes up with him, glued to his head by a patch of dried blood. Paul pulls the sheet off slowly -- his tissue turban and baseball cap are lost in the sheets somewhere. The pager shows a number with a 310-area code. He plugs the phone back in the wall and dials. A male receptionist answers.

“ABS Producer’s Lab, Mr. Joel Cuvney’s office.”

“This is Paul Franti, I’m returning a page?”

“Please hold.”

Paul listens to a loop of TV commercial music. I’m on hold and bleeding to death, Paul thinks.

He looks at the bed -- the blood stain is bad. Maggie will be pissed. She is upgrading her apartment and the bedroom is all she could afford to make nice far. She’d dropped a dime on a sleigh bed with oak side tables and Italian linen, a framed French Art Nouveau Poster, velvet throw pillows and little packets of potpourri next to scented candles, and Paul bled right in the middle of it.

Someone comes on. “Paul! It’s Joel Cuvney. I got your name from Big Andy.”

“Sure! He told me you might call.”

“Can you come in today to talk?”

“When were you thinking?”

“How about now? My office is in Century City, in the Towers.”

“Hang on, let me check.” Paul holds his hand over the phone for a few seconds, then comes back.

“I have one meeting this morning, but I think I can get out of it.”

“Great. Scott will come back on the line and give you the info.”

Paul hears the click and is back on hold.

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