Voice Over – Hannah Skerritt
“My life is a lesson about the things people refuse to accept. And about what they choose to accept. And maybe you’re thinking that sounds like a lovely life. Or maybe you’re thinking it’s a horrible life. And while you’re thinking it’s a horrible life, the person next to you is thinking it sounds pretty great. That’s the problem with everything, you never know what the other person is thinking. So, ok, you take a drug to try and connect. Or you sing a song or paint a picture. And suddenly you get it, you can tap into the perception of the person next to you. That’s the point of creation, right? I never intended to hurt anyone.”
Illuminate: A History and a Future
This is the only shot I’m going to be in. It’s me against the wide blue sky of Idaho, standing along a strip of highway outside Boise. I spent two days waiting for the right weather and the right light. The road bends behind me, the yellow stripes recently painted and bright on the asphalt. Every few feet a stubby pine tree pokes up out of the long grass.
I’ve got a microphone, mostly for looks. I wear a pants suit and kitten heels. My hair is dyed a honey blonde because I think the highlights will look good in the sun. I’ve come to Idaho to visit the Pocatello Women’s Correctional Center and finish my documentary. It has been four years since I started and the stretching road seems like a bad metaphor. I hope it doesn’t come across that way on screen. I snort, thinking of the thing ever making it to a screen, small or otherwise.
Lucus pans his camera across the backdrop. I met him two weeks ago at a local bar. He told me his name was Dermot but everyone called him Lucus. I replied that my name was Alexa and that’s what people called me, whether I wanted them to or not. He asked if it was all right if he called me Alexa too. After a few drinks, he took me to his apartment and showed me pictures he’d taken of his niece after she’d broken her arm. Even in black and white I could tell the girl was shaken. Her eyes round as melons and her bottom lip curled in like little kids do when they are dead afraid, as opposed to pouted out when they are merely frightened. I couldn’t tell how the photograph made me feel or if it made me feel anything at all.
“Did you take Illuminate to get that photo?” I asked him.
He stuck a cigarette in his mouth, saying, “I don’t do drugs.”
I laughed and hired him on the spot.
It’s important to have good, creative people working alongside me and they must have a sense of humor. He frames me in the shot. He waits for my cue and I give it. Start rolling.
“This stretch of road is a main conduit for transporting phenoluxamine. Or Illuminate, as it is commonly referred. Developed at a small medical lab in a Boise research park, Illuminate has been steadily making its way across the country. The path dips down into the southwest and along the northern states and, lately, crosses up Canada. Following the drug is an undeniable surge of creativity. Here in Boise, five wooden statutes were carved, overnight, out of trees in the downtown park. The statues, which we’ll visit later, were seemingly created with no hesitation. There is no suggestion that the artist or artists ever paused to make changes. The result is a flawless and strange depiction of a Bacchanalian orgy.
Down south, a farmer in Nebraska reported finding a Mandelbrot set etched into his field. In Wyoming, a full novel was dropped off at a bar, reportedly by a long standing patron who was, as far as anyone knew, illiterate. The incidents may be unrelated. After all, there are plenty of people who ingest Illuminate and do not manage to produce Van Gogh levels of art. However, as the addiction rate rises so does the creative impulse of the users.
I’m going to Pocatello to meet the woman who claims to have created the drug. Her name is Hannah Skerritt. She’s twenty eight years old. She’s white. Upper middle class. And one of the biggest dealers the Idaho Highway Patrol have ever arrested.”
I put the mike down and give the camera one last look.
A truck speeds past. The sunlight reflects off the side mirrors and blinds me momentarily. Lucus tucks the camera into the case. I turn and watch the truck drive into the distance, my director’s mind wondering where the car is going, who’s driving and what it is they want. I watch the day’s footage, standing on the side of the road. It isn’t right. It’s not quite the way I envision it.
“What do you think?” I ask Lucus.
“No, really, I value your opinion,” I tell him. I’m sincere.
“It’s good,” he says.
“Let’s do one more take.”
He nods and pulls out the camera again. “One more take might be wise.”
I fight the familiar urge to be insulted and we do another take.
Pocatello Women’s Correctional Center
“So, I met Rory when we were working in a call center at Bellflower Mall. Have you been there?”
Hannah Skerritt sits in a plain wooden chair. Her hands are free but her feet are shackled. The table is polished wood and the setting sun causes a terrible glare that I can’t seem to work around. I try several angles and Lucus shrugs. He’s doing the best he can. It’s not good enough. I try to angle my shadow to cover the glare.
This is the time she insisted we meet. And she purposefully scooted the chair to let the obnoxious ray in. Two inches to the right and she could block it but, she won’t. I set the shot as a close up and I’m doubting that choice now, watching her pores and her vicious mouth. She runs her hands through her hair and the sides stick out.
“I was in college. I was poor, right? Why not? Why not answer customer complaints for a drug company who, it turns out, has a very decent research department and very poor public relations. They hired me and across the cubicle with his spiky hair and his nose-to-ear ring was Rory. I told you he was lovely, didn’t I? Because he was. For the first week, I just sat there and drank him in, like had these crazy fantasies where I would stride over there and rip off his phone and bury my nails in his spikes and he would kiss like a boxer. Even though I have no idea how a boxer kisses, that’s just the kind of stupid shit I was thinking at the time.
“Two weeks later, I said hello.
“Three weeks after that, I switched my major to chemistry.
A year later, there was a chance to go deep in Rory Wellington and an opportunity to be a research assistant. I took them both and maybe you’re thinking that sounds like a lovely life,” she notices my expression, “Or, whatever, maybe you’re thinking it’s a horrible life and while you’re thinking it’s a horrible life, the person next to you is thinking it sounds pretty great.”
She winks at Lucus, biting her pinky nail, tugging at it with her stained teeth and raising her eyebrows. He asks her questions about her youth. I’m much more worried about how I’m going to wrap this into my narrative than any kind of philosophical discussion to be had with a drug dealer.
Hannah asks for a bathroom break and Lucus turns the camera on me.
“What do you think about Hannah Skerrit, director?” he asks, grinning and turning his cap backward.
“I think she’s a complete waste of air,” I say.
He laughs. “So angry.”
“This is supposed to be fun,” he says.
“Are you fucking serious?”
Old Mom’s Diner, Boise
Greta Luntz shows me her driver’s license. I hold it up for the camera. In the picture, Greta is a cherubic twenty something with a spattering of freckles and a ring of kohl eyeliner. She is smiling, looking both amused and tired and it is the expression of a hundred girls, on their own for the first time, standing in line at the DMV. It is the face of new responsibility and freedom. I lay the photo down and Greta herself fills the screen. Or half of it.
Her face has collapsed. Cheekbones and the ridge of her eyebrow jut out at sharp angles and cast a shadow over the rest of her features. Her eyelashes have been plucked out. She grinds the palm of her hand into her eyes.
“Haven’t slept in days,” she tells us. “My eyes hurt. Didn’t ever know your eyes could hurt like this.”
She smiles weakly and drops her hand in her lap. Along the edge of her thigh, the entire time she’s talking to us, she plays an invisible keyboard. She’s composing a song that will never be played, may not even be remembered by its composer, but there is no doubt it is beautiful. Unlike Greta, the silent music is robust and full of life.
“What kinds of things do you like to write about? What do you try and convey in your music?” I ask her.
She twitches involuntarily and I think she might slide off the chair. I reach out to steady her, trying to keep out of the shot.
“Sorry. Been taking Lily so long that I’m one of those lucky people. I get a jolt every now and then, a free shot,” she’s grinning like a child at the ice cream truck. The thigh music speeds up, her fingers moving so fast they begin to blur. The fabled creative rush is happening. I sit up straighter and realize my own heart is racing. I need to get her a keyboard, something so we can hear what’s being made.
“What are you composing?” I ask.
A fleck of spit gathers at the corners of her mouth. Her right eye rolls inward.
“My eyes hurt,” she says again.
I can’t use that. It doesn’t make any sense.
“Do you want to sing something for us?”
Her head lays back. She presses her legs together and the skin piano is wider. The silent song gets more involved. She moans, a guttural sound. Her collarbone pokes through the top of her t-shirt. I reach out and touch her wrist. She’s colder than I expected. Her skin is waxy.
“She smells like the dark room,” Lucus says. I put my finger to my lips, telling him to hush. Lucus and his photography.
Greta slips off the chair, cracking her head on the edge of the seat. She lands on the floor in a pile of bones and exhaustion.
“Shit,” Lucus says, setting the camera down. Sighing, I pick it up and adjust the lens. Lucus gathers her in his arms, stroking back her hair, slicked with sweat. He shakes her and she opens her eyes. I’m trembling, wishing he would move out of the shot and, at the same time, wondering if perhaps him being there is a good connection point for the audience.
“Thought I was sleeping,” she mumbles.
“Sorry, sweetheart. You all right?” he asks.
“They should just stick all of us in a building and blow the fucking thing up,” she says.
She shoves Lucus off and looks at the camera. I pull back to capture her wild appearance.
“That’s what they should do. Kill us all. Burn the Lily factories to the ground. Yes, yes, yes,” she lays down on the ground.
She doesn’t fall asleep. Her open eyes stare at the ceiling but I know she’s done talking. She is still. Almost peaceful. Then her arm floats above her, as if by its own motivations, and begins playing a new song on the chair.
Pocatello Women’s Correctional Center
After her break, Hannah shuffles to her seat and collapses. She doesn’t appear to like using her hands, preferring to let them hang by her sides or rest on the table. I reach over and pick a stray hair away from her uniform. I tell Lucus to focus in tight. Her looks have faded drastically. She’s aged twenty years and a day. I find myself wondering what her mother makes of things and maybe I should ask, except Hannah has made it clear she will pull her cooperation if I approach her family.
“How did you first create Illuminate?”
She rolls her head on her twig neck and when she’s facing us again, her mouth is a hard line. “I had this theory, right, not really a theory, just a hunch. About serotonin. You know what serotonin is?”
I don’t answer.
“Serotonin is basically happiness,” she speaks slowly, as if addressing a child. Her attitude is grating. “You get flooded with serotonin and you’re going to feel pretty damn good for a decent amount of time. Serotonin can be found in two places, the central nervous system, in other words, the brain, or the cells of your gut. You’ve got your garden variety drugs that releases serotonin in your brain, right? It’s nothing new. However, there’s this limited supply there and it gets worn out fast. You build up a tolerance and you can’t access the same level of your first high unless you do more drugs. I wanted something long lasting and something that could be accessed, even after the drugs main affects wore off. Like a jolt or an extra hit.
So, I’m thinking, where are all the great untapped serotonin wells? Like I’m looking for oil. And it comes to me one night, while I’m watching Rory on stage. Did you ever see him? There would be a point in a song when he would lean back and his body would stretch out and I was watching and I thought, there it is, in his belly, untapped happiness potential. I just had to figure out how to get it out of those cells and into the brain. It wasn’t as hard as it sounds.
There has been endless research about keeping seratonin sitting on the brain. MAOI inhibitors block seratonin absorption. I used that and added a transport component. The transporters take the seratonin to the brain. Not all of it, or even half. I think only like 40% actually makes it but man, that’s enough.”
Her face softens and her mouth eases up into a slight smile, “And I was so fucking happy in that moment. You know what it’s like when you realize that you can solve everyone’s problems. Like, not just your own but the person you care most for in the world? I could make Rory Wellington so goddamn happy. I thought, maybe, if he was high enough for long enough he could tap into some musical talent he was resisting but, mainly, I just wanted to impress him. I wanted him to see himself the way I saw him and, yeah, ok, see me the way I wanted him to see me too. That’s the problem with everything, you never know what the other person is thinking. I was after making Rory happy because the poor guy was so damn sad all the time. And the only thing that made him happy was drugs. And music,” she pauses, her eyes running down the length of the table and back, her thumb picking at a nail, “and me.”
I can tell she doesn’t believe the last part.
“It never occurred to me that I could make him a rockstar.”
Hannah gets quiet. She chews her bottom lip. Lucus glances over to me and I twirl my finger, keep rolling. He shakes his head.
“She looks sick,” he mouths.
I wave him off.
Come on, give me what I need, I lean forward, hoping to coax it out of her.
“In hindsight,” she says, “I should have seen it coming.”
Dr. Jack Chapman
Boise Medical Examiner’s Office
“Uh, huh. I autopsied Rory Wellington on July 7, 2012. His body was, hm, extremely emaciated. He was discovered by his, well, I guess she was his girlfriend. Though I never spoke to her. I just spoke to his parents.”
The medical examiner stops there. He’s a terrible interview subject. He keeps glancing down and, on screen, that’s going to look like he’s fallen asleep. I ask him to describe the body. He blushes and taps his fingers together. That’s going to make him look maniacal. I motion for the Lucus to center on the report. I try my best to keep the man talking. I’m fumbling. I want this segment to be powerful, to be a big reveal.
“Ok, well, he technically died of heart failure,” Dr. Chapman says, “Though starvation and sleep deprivation were contributing factors.”
I flash a picture of Rory Wellington four weeks before his death. He’s a healthy, handsome young musician.
Dr. Chapman nods, “I know. It’s amazing how quickly phenoluxamine addicts deteriorate.”
“You believe Rory Wellington was an addict?’
He nods again.
I open and shut my fingers like a duck beak, to indicate he needs to speak.
Pocatello Women’s Correctional Center
Hannah swings her head back and forth in an arc, her hair dragging across the table. When the camera is turned on and I say her name, she stops, lifts her head, and stares into the lens, slack jawed.
I’m not amused. I will play Hannah Skerritt any way I want. I fight the urge to lean across the table and whisper, “Editing, bitch.”
Instead I wait. Lucus shifts. I put my hand on his hip to steady the camera. He’s so jumpy, lately. The night before, in the hotel, I caught him snapping pictures of a family pulling luggage out of their car.
“What are you doing?” I asked him.
“Trying to find some warmth,” he said, turning his camera on me.
The resulting picture is a woman frowning.
“You’re very beautiful,” he said, snapping another shot.
The next picture is a woman, smiling in spite of herself.
“Look, I’m not giving you the recipe for Illuminate,” Hannah says, “That’s just fucking nuts. I cooked it. It took a while to get it right.”
She opens her mouth to say something else but I stop her. I consult with Lucus about the shot. I want something different, something softer, a way to shoot Hannah so she’s not the seen as the hopeless, strung out prison junkie she is. He has no opinion and I’m annoyed.
Hannah groans, “You’re just like fucking Rory. You want to express something and you think to yourself, hey, I know how to do this. Only you don’t know, do you? You can only dream about the day you wake up and suddenly, you get it, you can tap into the perception of the person next to you. ”
Lucus sets the camera down. He touches my arm and I pull away.
“Pick the camera back up,” I tell him.
“I’m sorry,” Hannah says, “I’m sure your documentary is piece of shit but I’m also sure people will want to see it.”
I shove my chair back and walk out of the room. I lean against the wall, closing my eyes.
“She’s a whore,” Lucus says.
I hadn’t realized he followed me. I’m touched, I guess. I can’t open my eyes to look at him or he’ll see I’m about to cry. Over a stupid girl in prison who’s never done one worthwhile pursuit in her whole life.
“I just want this to be good, you know?” I say, “It doesn’t feel right. Do you ever get that? When you’re taking a picture? Like you’re missing the point?”
“Totally,” he says. “I take it anyway. Come on, let’s go back inside.”
Gunster Medical Research
“Is that what she told you? She was a research assistant?”
Genevieve won’t stand still. Lucus scampers behind her and I try to keep up along side. We hurry down a bare beige hallway that smells of antiseptic. It reminds me of a hospital. Wide gray doors line the hallway and room numbers on black plaques fly by. We aren’t filming. We should be but we’re not because Genevieve won’t be seen on camera. She told me last minute and I heard her trepidation over phone. She was willing to talk but not on camera, she’s sorry, no she won’t do a behind a screen.
Instead, I record her voice on a phone in my pocket. I’ll add her picture, drop her vocal range an octave, and ask for her permission after she sees how well her story plays. That’s the plan anyway.
Genevieve has been at Gunster for ten years. She started when she was twenty but she looks older than thirty. She’s a wunkerkind of sorts. Gunster is known for hiring young kids straight out of or in college. I ask her about this. She rounds a corner and the carpet turns to faded lime-speckled linoleum.
“Yeah, right, it’s true they do hire young people. But, I’m telling you, they didn’t hire Hannah Skerritt I would have been here, what, two years at that point. So I was down the totem pole and I would have remembered someone like her. I heard people mention her name, that she was trying to get a job here. And maybe she got even lower level grunt work than research assistant, I’m not saying she’s lying about getting a job. I’m saying she’s lying about which one.”
“What about the creativity?” I ask.
Her coat swings around her legs as she walks, billowing out when she picks up the pace. “What about it? It’s a side effect, a relatively common one,” she pauses, “What I mean to say is, it can’t be predicted, at least, not that any of us can tell.”
“Why would you try and tell? Are you interested in selling a creative enhancement drug?”
Her heels stop clacking and she stops at a door labeled Lab. She sighs, her hand resting on the handle. She chews the inside of her cheek, glancing down the hall. I resist the urge to tell her it’s still empty, just like it was the last fifty times she checked.
She pushes into the room. I catch my breath. It’s not like I expected. The lab is empty, devoid of the mad scramble I always see in movies. It’s quiet and the tables are slightly dusty. Genevieve crosses to a bank of tall cabinets and opens one. Pill bottles line each shelf. She selects a bottle and hands it to me. I don’t recognize the label.
“It’s an inhibitor. For depression. Basically you’re always releasing seratonin and then reabsorbing it. The inhibitor blocks part of the absorption. Phenoluxamine is made up of some of that inhibitor’s compounds except what Hannah managed to do was discover the holy grail of inhibitors. She figured out a way to pull the seratonin out of the blood cells in the gut, get them to the brain and then keep them there. For a long time.” Genevieve’s shakes her head, “I mean, yes, it’s impressive. But, clearly dangerous. And irresponsible.”
“Why’s it dangerous?” I ask.
“Because we don’t know what effects seratonin has when it sits on your brain like that. Obviously, I’m simplifying things for you here,” she lowers her voice and I strain to hear her, “I mean, it doesn’t literally flood your brain but the transport component works differently in some users. It takes the seratonin to the part of the brain responsible for creativity and leaves it there. Forever. You’ve seen the affects.”
“Incredible bursts of creative impulse and execution,” I say.
“Massive amounts of brain damage,” she replies.
“What if you could get the seratonin off of the area in time?” I probe.
“I don’t know. This lab has been trying to figure it out for months,” Genevieve takes the pill bottle and goes to put it back on the shelf. She stops, turns and tosses it to Lucus. “Take it. You look like you could use them.”
He grins and pockets the bottle. I won’t be getting any steady camera work out of him tomorrow. I glare at him but he doesn’t notice. The shots have been off lately. They can’t have been set the way I set them. He must be tweaking the light exposure or something.
Pocatello Women’s Correctional Center
“I wasn’t the one who found him,” Hannah coughs and stretches. I scoot back in time to avoid getting hit with her spit. The last few weeks have been rough. She’s up for appeal and a whole room full of dead teens were found in a basement, the first confirmed cases of overdosing on the new batch of Illuminate. The new batch is stronger, longer lasting, and lethal in relatively small doses. I wonder if Hannah is taking anything inside. Her eyes are dull and she’s lethargic.
I interrupt her rambling memory to ask about Illuminate’s potency. She leans back in the chair, back far enough the two front legs lift off the ground.
“Fuck, yeah, the potency. Well, I mean, that’s what drug cooks do isn’t it? Make bigger, better, badder stuff? Isn’t that the general idea of drugs in the first place? Drugs and movies, right?” she slams the chair down, her body coming forward and I think she might hit her face on the table when she catches herself. She lifts her head and gives the camera a glare. “This documentary, it’s so pat. It’s made up of everything I would think it would be. Interviews. A running theme maybe. Am I the theme? Am I the thing you keep coming back to? How original, Jesus Christ. Aren’t you supposed to reach for something when you do this?” she dismisses the camera with a flick of her wrist.
I’m tempted to break my enforced silence. To defend my work.
Alfie Wanson, P.I.O. Boise Police
The body is covered with a tarp. I hurry over, covering my nose. The smell is disgusting. Lucus keeps gagging and I hope the noise isn’t picked up. The section of street is blocked off with police tape, even though no one in their right mind would be down by this part of town. On the wall behind the body, I can see the mural.
The Boise Police Department public information officer frames himself over the wall and in the center line. He’s a man named Douglas Wanson who goes by Alfie. His title card will say Alfie Wanson. Alfie is a trim man with a trim mustache and light eyelashes. He looks awful on camera, like part of him will blend into the background. I motion for him to take a step to the right so he won’t block the mural.
A set of men sit in a canoe on a calm river. At the bank, tall trees arch over the water and the artist has managed to paint wind without a single brush stroke. By that I mean, the trees are swaying and leaves are twisting. The men in the boat are terrified. There is something lurking on the edges of the forest. I can sense it. Lucus can feel it, I can tell by the way he zooms the camera in and out, trying to find something in the underbrush.
“What you’re looking at is a symptom of an Illuminate addiction,” Alfie says, “This mural is over ten feet tall and was painted by the deceased in about four hours,” he clears his throat, “We found five more like it along the highway. I assume they are from the same artist – ‘scuse me.”
He blushes and waves at the camera, “Can I start over, I screwed up. I meant to say addict.”
I nod. Lucus pans over the mural. I hope he gets a decent shot. He’s been sullen and slow the last day or so, saying I’m taking him away form his real passion. Perhaps, I have been harsh. Yelling at him every time he steps away from the documentary to take a picture. I’m tempted to tell him what his photography lacks but I need him to finish. It’s almost done, I tell him, over and over, almost done. Hang in there. You’re doing a good job.
“We assume they are from the same addict. Eventually he dropped dead from exhaustion. I have to wait for the final coroner’s report, of course, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find out this young man hadn’t slept or eaten for days,” Artie waves a hand dismissively at the tarp on the ground.
“What will you do with the mural?” I ask.
He blinks. He looks over his shoulder at the men in the boat and back to the camera.
“Paint over it, I guess.”
Pocatello Women’s Correctional Center
“Right, so, the basic way it works is you ingest the Illuminate. I know down south there’s some discussion of shooting it but I’m telling you, ingesting is the most effective way. Either by snorting or taking a pill. When I made the first batch it was a dusty, yellow powder that tasted like complete shit and worked pretty much the same way meth does, except with a slightly longer effect and that right there would have been good enough. Except, I don’t know, I just had this feeling I could do better. You know?”
I do know.
Hannah’s leg jiggles and her knee occasionally bumps the table. When it does, she emits a small mew, like a kitten and resumes her bouncing.
“I went back to the drawing board, with this idea of serotonin in the gut. Rory wanted to be the first to try it,” Hannah says. “I knew he would be.”
I want to press her on the issue of Rory and why she would take such a risk with the man she claimed to love. Instead, she reaches into her orange jumpsuit pocket and pulls out a piece of notebook paper,
“I made this list one time, of all the reasons I thought I loved him.”
She flattens the paper on the table and Lucus places the camera directly over it. I didn’t direct him to do that. I hesitate, not sure if I should interrupt the flow of the interview to correct him or if I should let it go, maybe the shot is effective. I’m stunned to find I don’t know the answer.
Hannah pushes the list towards me.
1. You are so thin that when you stand with your head back against the brick wall of the call center, you look painted on. Like you could just blend into Bellflower and be a part of it until the end of time, mistaken for a street taggers art.
2. You hardly say anything at all.
3. You are good at doing drugs.
4. You have so much passion and zero ambition which makes you all dreams and no failure.
This is the reason I know I love you and can’t make sense of:
When we play Jenga and there’s no other moves to make and our whole tower is swaying and your hand reaches out to take the block that will inevitably send it crashing to the table, it takes all of my concentration not to stop you. But you let it fall fearlessly and that’s how I feel when I’m around you – like a shaky stack of blocks ready for one last touch.
“Loving him was wonderful,” Hannah says.
She pulls a picture of Rory out of her other pocket and lays it beside the list. It was taken sometime before he hit big with his first single. He reminds me a little bit of Sid Vicious in that way all punk singers do. His hair is spiked, his body is graceful and thin but he hasn’t quite reached the last stage of Illuminate addiction. He looks relatively healthy even though his hip bones push at his jeans.
“He read that list and didn’t get it,” I say and her falling face is satisfying to me, like torching a wasp’s nest. “You wrote every sweet word you could and he still didn’t get it. So you gave him your drug instead and he took it and left and not once did he understand how you felt.”
I glance at Rory’s image. Even through the glossy paper, I can sense his magnetism. I wonder if it will come through on camera. I wonder if I’ll ever see the shots in my head the exact way they show up on the film or if it will always be this constant guessing game.
Hannah runs a hand down her face, stretching her features into some kind of macabre, melting girl. “My life is a lesson in the all things people refuse to accept. Limitations. Mediocrity. Rejection. So, ok, you take a drug. Or you sing a song or paint a picture. Make a movie, whatever. I wrote the list because I refused to accept – because, I knew, I knew he loved me. I knew it.”
Hannah is framed in the view finder like a portrait. A parting shot of a demon, a woman, a biological mess of cells and psychology. At home, viewers will feel something. They will feel whatever part they identify with – her devotion, her regret, her pessimism at how it’s all going to turn out. She sighs and looks directly into the lens.
“I’m not sure, you know, I couldn’t have imagined it would go this far. I thought it would just…I never intended to hurt anyone.”
She trails off.
I’m praying for a tear at this point. Or actually, lots of them.
She tilts her head, looking at me, “You’re a filmmaker. Would you ever try it?”
I resist answering. I’m not a part of the story.
“I mean, this – “ she waves at the camera and her voice takes on a harder edge, “this thing that you’re making. It’s crap, right? I mean, you know it is. It will play like every other goddamn documentary or interview I’ve ever done. Are you calling it Chemist Zero? Because that’s already taken by some film student from Nevada. So, would you? If you knew, and you do know, it will make you better, make this better. Would you take it?”
She’s glaring at me now. Lucus shifts next to me.
I think of a final shot, me in my bathroom, sitting on my old floormat and shooting Lily.
“Of course not,” I turn to Lucus. “ Would you?”
“Lucus’s a photographer,” I explain. “He takes these halfway decent pictures of kids with injuries. But he’s never sold a single one.”
“I would maybe try it,” Lucus says, and through the microphone his voice takes on a strange, alien quality, “But not for my art. Just, because.”
I think of another shot, Lucus in the old Motel Six, on the same faded comforter we’ve been sleeping on, sharing a bed and a few awkward leg brushes before rolling over to our own edges. Lucus fiddling with his lenses, snorting row after yellow row.
Across from us, Hannah lays her head on the table, peeking out at me from under her elbow. We understand each other. I will leave. I will find Lucus some Illuminate and I will film him as he tries it. As he descends into his addiction, as his photography takes flight, and his pictures of shocked children turn into something worthwhile. That is the documentary I was supposed to make. That’s what the four years of struggle was for. It will be more than I could ever imagine. Thanking Hannah for her time and, silently, her drug, I reach over and turn the camera off.
Sadie Mattox is a librarian living in the heartland with two little boys. She has had previous publications with Daily Science Fiction. Sadie is a recent graduate of the Clarion Workshop.