Beautiful People

Lisa Taddeo

Summer 2018

When she heard that the Bosnian model with the tangled hair and the blue eyes had died—heroin, Miami—Jane smiled. The model, Petra, had had a thigh gap through which you could see the whole world, Lago di Garda to Prokoško. One less beautiful girl, thought Jane. It was her day off. She’d walked over three miles north, from Orchard Street on the Lower East Side through the sixties. The sun was out and also the homeless, who made Jane feel lucky.

On Second Avenue she walked into a cheerless shoe store, and then she headed west, stopping at several small food shops. She bought things that weighed little and could survive her return trip downtown—anchovies wound around puckered capers; a package of white sesame candy. She drank a small bottle of Sanbitter, its color bright red, like fresh blood.

The good news came in a Le Pain Quotidien on Lexington. It was early fall, the temperature of ham sandwiches. She sat outside and ordered a pot of Brussels breakfast tea. On her phone she entered the HGTV Dream Home contest. It was the latest iPhone and she thought of all the things she didn’t deserve and all the things she did.

She checked M.B.’s Twitter. My thoughts and prayers are with Petra’s family and friends. Many hearts have been broken.

She checked her Craigslist listing. iPhone 6 Plus 128 GB, gold. $375. There was one hit.

How much if your willing to ship it overnight to Jamaica, NY 11434

She put the phone down. The tea came. Some had leaked out of the pot onto the saucer on its way to her table. The waitress didn’t apologize.

Jane needed money, and thought about the Fischl. The painting had come to her the way those things occasionally do. From rich men with bathwater scrotums. It wasn’t one of the wild Fischls, the great Fischls. Not the famous Fischl with its splayed lady on the bed and her clockwork of meat and the boy staring at her while he filches money from her purse. Pieces like that sold for close to a million. No, Jane’s was called The Welcome. In the foreground, on a beach, propped on one elbow, is a middle-aged woman, sunbathing nude, her bare backside facing the viewer, her G-string tan lines bright against her sunburn, her brown hair in two loose, sensual, slightly age-inappropriate pigtails. She is greeting a mostly bald middle-aged man walking toward her along the water’s edge. He is broad shouldered, with powerful arms; he has nice pecs but a slight gut; he wears stylish black shorts. Everyone in the background is also middle-aged, with medium-rare bellies. One man wears goggles; another has a towel draped around his neck, as if he’s cold. The woman’s back is flabby, but tan and inviting; there is something unabashed about her. The sand is hard. The ocean looks rich. Everybody in the picture drinks good wine in the early evenings, Jane thought. Good white wine.

She could easily sell it for forty grand, but had never given it serious thought. If she sold it, that would be the end.

She thumbed through the dead model’s Instagram again.

Petra in a wet white dress on a Caribbean beach, holding a teddy bear holding a heart that says Shit bitch you is fine.

In Fryes and panties and a leather jacket, sitting on the hood of a Jeep Wrangler, smoking a cigarette. Tiny, tanned legs parted. Four hundred twenty-two comments.

In the desert, wearing a flannel shirt, scrunched-up face, matted hair, holding a Pabst and flipping the horizon the bird.

In cornrows, thumbs-upping a plate of Mexican food.

At Halloween, as Martha Kelly from Baskets. Jane marveled at the club of beautiful women who wore granny dresses or horrific makeup on Halloween as though to say, I am beautiful every day of the year, but tonight I will hide, so you may shine.

Next a selfie. In a hotel bed, smiling sideways. Hotel stationery on the other pillow, folded and positioned so you could only read the salutation. Dear Petra. There was a daisy beside the note. Caption: My secret friend . . .

Jane saw that one last week. She’d been triangulating Petra’s feed for months. It wasn’t serious; the model was too dumb for him, too much of a druggie. And yet there was more to their relationship than just fucking. She was a night crawler. Seedy and beautiful. She wasn’t classy enough for a place like San Sebastian, but wherever that hotel was, with the daisy, he took her there. Maybe London. London was seedy and beautiful, too.

When Jane switched to his Instagram feed, she gasped.

It was a photograph of The Welcome. Before it belonged to the man who gave it to Jane, it was in a SoHo gallery, and the dead model had snapped a picture of herself—younger but not necessarily hotter—in front of it. Or he had.

#TBT, said the caption, to when life was simpler . . . I wanna be this chic, you said. She has the Secret.

Jane had never gasped a day in her life, not even on the one when she received the phone call—father, pistol, end. She made the image bigger with her fingers. She studied the corners. Absently she felt for a pimple that had been growing on her shoulder blade.

The next day, Jane walked west, wearing new flats and a pale-yellow sundress. It was juicy hot, but the bodega men were still selling buttered rolls and the butter melted into liquid that filled every nook and cranny of the bread.

The movie set was on Bedford Street, a brownstone with a quaint patio, a shale and ivy little prison. The West Village was standing in for Prospect Heights. The other day they’d shot a garden party scene, on the patio, wherein the husband and the wife entertained the parents of their young daughter’s friend. Pinot Grigio and fingerlings. The two child actresses, ten and eleven, tongue-kissed for a selfie as it started to rain.

This morning was a breakfast scene, and it was just him. Him and Jane and seventeen other people who could have died, who should have died. If they died, then it would just be him and her and taxis and homeless men and he would have no choice.

On Bedford she approached the prop truck, a Mercedes Sprinter van. She gave Ricky the driver the go-ahead to start unloading. He’d been sitting on the curb, vaping. A carabiner around the belt loop of his saggy jeans held all the keys. His eyes looked raw and she hated to be alone with him, even on a city street.

I need just, uh, the Section C stuff, Jane said. She was better at telling men what to do than women.

Ricky nodded and winked a yellow eye. Jane knew some of the men only wanted to fuck her when she was in their faces, while others thought about it multiple times a day. On this set, she also understood she was the only thing going. The female crew members were old and Patagonia, or older and chemical-peeled. There were two hot actresses on the film—one blonde, one redhead—who raised everyone’s temperature, but guys like Ricky—guys like the dolly grip and the DP and all the other freaks and losers— knew they had no chance. They smelled like beer and ate enchiladas and talked about old arcade games and fetish porn. They didn’t even fantasize about the actresses. During breakdown, as the sun cooled and Manhattan twinkled with possibility—rape and cocktails and OpenTable—the men swiped on Tinder and looked at Jane and texted things like What u up to after. She could see them across the living room of the brownstone, their phones in thick Otterbox cases, held keenly below their guts.

Jane walked past craft service—pineapples in white plastic bowls, triangles of cheddar, too many plum tomatoes. Up the plasma steps, into the slim, brick Greek Revival townhome. Jane hated the owners, an artist couple with fantastic taste whom she had not met. The wife’s parents had bought them a seven-million-dollar place on a great block. The husband used triple-crème cheeses in the kids’ omelettes and the wife intimated it was all thanks to his lithographs. Both wrote plays.

The interior was appropriately condomed, with black mats on the wood-plank floor and corrugated cardboard against the walls. The Japanese tea-ceremony table, nearly the length of the room, was covered with a blue sound blanket. All the other furniture was bubble-wrapped and clustered in the corners. Jane always thought a film crew would make sensible murderers.

The only indoor shot they were filming today was of the slate breakfast nook, where M.B., playing Ben Coates, would make himself a super-greens smoothie and carry it outside. As prop master, Jane was in charge of swapping out the owners’ Vitamix for the one she’d bought last week.

Noticed you have a Vitamix, Jane had emailed the wife a week before filming began¾would be great if we could use it, just one shot, for greens and maybe some blueberries.

Yikes, the wife wrote back thirty-six hours later, Seb & Noodle are allergic to most vine fruits. Even when something is washed out, it can leave a residue. Cant risk it . . . Sorry!!

Jane was also responsible for M.B.’s clothes for the day, a pair of rust-colored khakis and a white T-shirt. The costume designer, Nicole, had tried to relieve her of the task.

I can handle the clothes, since they’re mine, said Nicole on the first day of filming. In fact, she’d added, winking, it would be my pleasure.

Yeah, said Jane, thanks. But they’re my responsibility to bring and to maintain, and I can’t risk it. Sorry.

Jane slept in the white T-shirt last night. She showered and put it on over her damp skin. No panties. Got into bed and rubbed her breasts over the material and touched herself. It was a large, so she could just tuck it, like a diaper, between her thighs.

By ten the more important people had arrived. Trib, the director—headphones, muttonchops—was in the video village sipping a matcha latte. He rode a CitiBike to work from the Greenwich Hotel, where M.B. was also staying and where even the rain was more beautiful.

Jane was at the outdoor table. The AD, a crabby divorcée, handed her a plastic tub of Organicgirl super greens and told her to remove the leaves that had gone bad. They could have had an intern get a new container for $3.99, but movie sets were parsimonious with certain things. So Jane sat there, peeling dark-green wet leaves of tatsoi from dry ones. Chlorophyll collected under her nails.

Lyle Lovett’s “Private Conversation” was playing from the speaker. She had twenty minutes to fix herself in the bathroom before he arrived. When she was nervous her pores released more oil, so she took a break from the leaves and pulled blotting papers from her jeans pocket. She tapped her foot to the beat, pressed the paper to the side of her nose, and looked at it: transparent with grease. She heard a sound and turned.

This was God. This was life. Fucking and unfucking you with the chanciness of cancer.

He was early.

There are wolves and there are foxes and there are ptarmigans and there are agents and there are women you can pay to kick you in the balls with the sharp patent toe of a shoe you bought them for that express purpose. There are politicians who are famous. There are famous actors and then there are men who are not only beautiful and charming but are born with something extra. The close-togetherness of pashmina; green eyes that can actually finger you.

Jane, he said, like he knew she would be happy to hear him say her name.

She shot up, folded the blotting paper in two and snapped it into her fist.

Hey!

He smiled and sat down at the teak table with a venti cup. The sun was what the sun can be when the sun is only for you.

He leaned back in the chair and thrust his knees forward. He clasped his hands. He was elite and she was a Budget truck. She was a shitty painting a housewife does over Chablis in suburban New Jersey. Fuzzy trees and a cartoon moon. Hang it in the second kid’s nursery and fucking kill yourself.

Do you want some coffee? he asked. I’ll go get us mugs.

She figured he would never come back. But he did, with two camp mugs the color of a planetarium sky. He poured black coffee into both and passed one to Jane.

I’m sorry about Petra, I heard you guys were friends. Jane was good at saying things others were too Anglican to say.

Hey, thanks. Yeah. We were close. I’m still in shock.

He looked down. She thought of the dead model kneeling between his legs. She wondered if, when two people with interstellar looks fucked, it was blander somehow. Like Barbie and Ken, smooth plastic bumping, minimal juices, clean hair.

Do you like this song? he asked.

I love Lyle Lovett, she said.

He’s a good guy. We were at a mutual buddy’s bachelor party, in Los Cabos. M.B. began nodding his head to the beat and biting his bottom lip. She could smell him. Nothing overpowering. If anything, canvas and clean dogs. She said to herself, Do you want to fuck? She laughed at that.

What are you laughing at? he asked, laughing a little himself.

Jane shook her head. Nothing, just. Nothing.

He was all about sex. The kind who fucks in grief, or whatever middling grief you can feel over a girl who was a frayed hem. God, but Jane was not someone who fucked someone like him. Moreover, she loved him. She liked herself enough to love him, but she wasn’t delusional. She was five foot three. She had nails that grew boyishly. Her hair was Indiana blond, not California blond. In cigarette pants her legs looked like cigars.

How’s the coffee? he asked, because she hadn’t drunk any.

I take milk, she said, feeling like she was riding Motocross.

I’ll raid the artists’ icebox, he said. Hope you’re okay with cream of woodchips.

While he was gone Jane gave herself the time to quiver. In her life she had fucked seventeen men and had been attracted to just one of them, who, she realized later, reminded her of her father. She’d been in love with multiple celebrities since she was thirteen years old. One of them had hung himself poorly and snapped his neck in his parents’ garage. I would have loved you, she’d said to his picture in a magazine. His restless face, his sad, gray eyes. She marveled at how her life had only gotten exponentially worse.

When M.B. came back with hemp milk in a little white cup, she hadn’t stopped shaking. He asked if she was cold. It was seventy-seven degrees outside. He told her California was always like this, perfect, yellow, but he liked New York better. He had the luxury of being the most beautiful man in both places and she didn’t even want to be a girl that got him. She wanted to be him.

Jane?

It was Nicole. Who had no business being here today.

Oh, hey, she said to M.B., great, great scene yesterday. I watched it on playback.

What did you need, Nicole? Jane said.

I need the pants. To fix a pleat.

Uh. Okay.

Nicole, who was waiting for Jane, didn’t move. She wore a muslin dress, heavy and short, and gladiator sandals. She was thick and boring and in that moment Jane felt the best she’d felt in a long time, even though she knew it was artificial. The women walked inside the house together. Jane unzipped her duffel bag and brought out the khaki pants. Nicole pointed to the T-shirt inside the bag.

Just give them both to me, she said, and I’ll hand them off to him later.

Jane shook her head.

Why not? said Nicole. What is the deal? Then she smirked. Her cold coral hand was on Jane’s duffel bag.

Jane didn’t know where the next thing came from. Maybe from her father’s Cadillac, where as a girl she woke from a nap on her mother’s lap just in time to hear her aunt, sitting beside them, say, She has such a big nose for a girl. Maybe it came from there, or an accumulation of theres.

I’m going to sleep with him, she said.

What? Shut up. Everybody wants to sleep with him.

Yes, but I actually will.

She zipped up the duffel and brought it back outside with her. She was tired of people touching her things, of looking over her shoulder at her cell phone. She was tired of needing money. She’d not had enough for a nice casket. She got one from overnightcaskets.com, with a pink crepe interior. The shipping was free and the customer service representative messaged her that funeral homes had to accept caskets from outside sources, no matter what they told her. It was a federal law.

M.B. cupped his camp mug in his hands, like he was sitting around a fire. What am I wearing today?

A Nehru shirt, said Jane. And, like, these bell-bottom things. Nicole is adding a few more sashes.

What.

Jane smiled. She sipped her milky coffee. Her eyes were wide open. She was so awake.

It was the best fifteen minutes of her life. They talked about riding horses on the beach and he was reading Paris Spleen and they talked about that. He was smart the way movie stars are smart. They had access to everything and nerds tweeted books at them and they ate minimalist sushi and knew how to play the piano and ride motorcycles and they had been on location in damp parts of New Zealand and they knew about earthquake safety and they listened to very good, very new music. About herself, Jane said little: that she loved TRX, even though she hadn’t done it in over a year. Her stomach was soft from too many bagels, but at least she walked all over the city, and she told him about her favorite block, in Chinatown. He’d never been there. She kept trying to find something stupid about him, something boring. Any gaps in his knowledge were filled by his sexuality, which he radiated like a space heater. It was unbelievable.

The sun had moved right over their Bedford garden. Jane noticed for the first time the petunias in flower pots. They looked like little girls.

Jane!

It was the AD, the twat. I hope, thought Jane, your husband is fucking someone two decades younger than you right now. I hope he is so happy.

Yeah?

Where’s Matt’s cardigan?

The blue one? We don’t need it till tomorrow, I thought?

Trib wants to do a pickup later.

Matt had greens in his teeth, Jane realized.

Where the fuck is it.

Jane’s whole life was about continuity. If the dress an actress wore in a previous scene was at the prop warehouse, Jane could send a PA to go get it no problem, but the AD would scream, We have to be out of here by eight, that dumb shit won’t get back until six because she doesn’t know how to hail a fucking cab, that leaves us only one hour to shoot because it takes an hour to break down. And Jane would want to say, It wouldn’t take an hour to break down if every one of us worked. If fucking Ricky and fucking Dante weren’t checking Venmo to see if some douchebag who’d bought their Xbox sent the deposit.

Jane took a deep breath and said to the AD, It’s at the dry cleaner. Just on Bleecker. I can go get it.

The AD sighed. She’d been coddled, assuaged, but she wanted heads. That was the problem with unhappy women. They didn’t just want the problem solved. They wanted everyone to die, including themselves.

I’ll go with you, M.B. said. I could use a walk. To the AD he said, Can you let Trib know? We’ll be back before showtime.

They left like bandits. He put on a baseball cap and sunglasses. They walked close, shoulders skimming like sixth graders.

At Abingdon Market he bought two coconut waters—a special brand, they were less than four ounces each—and handed her the opened one. Crossing Perry he thrust an arm ahead of her chest, to protect against a speeding car. He was recognized four times. Celebrity had a way of oozing via neutral, expensive clothes: Ray-Bans, Yankees caps.

The dry cleaner was on the fine side of Bleecker, with the awnings and dachshunds. They passed Diptyque and Magnolia and Lulu Guinness. He pointed to Marc Jacobs and said, I applied for a job there. I heard the manager hired good-looking guys. For a while I just went around to all these places where they hired good-looking guys.

So you didn’t get the job? Jane said.

No, I got the job.

She said that the randomness of Hollywood was gutting to her. How could he handle it?

It’s not fair, he said, until it’s still not fair but then you’re the one benefitting from the unfairness.

So maybe in the end, she said, it all gets fair.

Exactly, he said.

As they neared their destination a terrific nausea brought up the saliva from behind her molars. She couldn’t go on living regular, having tasted this. She remembered pictures of him in Capri at a restaurant named Aurora, with an actress who she’d thought then was too plain for him, for whom she now wanted to cry.

I have Fischl’s The Welcome, she said. I saw the picture of Petra in front of it on your Instagram today.

He stopped and moved under a scalloped awning, out of pedestrian traffic. Jane followed.

I don’t know. I thought. That maybe. If I’d been close with her, if I could afford to, I’d give it to her mother or something.

You have that painting?

Yes.

He wanted to know how, of course. How could a prop master have a precious work of art. How could a Fischl live on the Lower East Side. Last week Jane sat on the floor eating corn kernels from a can and stared up at it. She’d been thinking, I need a little payoff. Something to stop me from something. She’d looked at the Fischl for guidance. A piece so valuable was better than her. She figured it knew more.

And you’re looking to sell it?

I hadn’t thought that far. I don’t know what to do with it. It was a gift.

Just recently somebody gave it to you?

No, a year. Two years. A year and a half.

And it’s—

In my house. My apartment. On Orchard.

He nodded. His neck. Even if you cut off his head, his neck had tongues and eyes of its own.

You could maybe come and see it. To my apartment.

He said he was free that evening. He took down her address and her phone number. An ambulance awayoed. Everyone died, Jane knew, but especially when you were too close to what nobody had promised you. Especially then.

Five p.m. Pre-dusk late summer Manhattan. Pink like San Diego, blue and swan-cream like Paris. Holy if you’re happy.

Jane showered as close to his arrival as possible. She put on white lace panties and a bra, a set she’d bought at Journelle months ago. The tags were still on; she pulled the plastic free with her teeth.

She opened a bottle of Riesling. She wished she could drink vodka. She had a special-edition holiday bottle of Belvedere, another gift. It was in the freezer with the end-of-days peas and chopped spinach. She poured the wine into a glass with ice and it made a cracking sound. Outside her window she could see men working on the building across the street. Their dark pants were stained with paint. But they weren’t working. They’d stopped to look at her. She was in a pair of jeans and just the bra. She thought it wouldn’t be so bad to be looked at like this, she wouldn’t mind, if she got paid a nominal fee. A quarter or something, like a lemonade stand. She would walk down the street all day, frowning, so they all could remind her to smile.

M.B. texted, saying he was making a quick stop and would be ten minutes late. Did she have a large sauté pan?

She plugged his full name into her phone.

She opened her broken pantry door. Not only did she have a sauté pan, she had a ten-piece All-Clad set. Brand-new, shining. She was a saver. The beauty was, she’d been saving the pots and pans for precisely a night like this. Delicately, she placed a stockpot and a saucepan on the stove. The lids tingled. The stove looked suddenly aspirational. God, she was delirious. She was trembling. She went to look at the Fischl. She understood what the dead model meant, wanting to be that woman. But you could only see the woman from the back. From the back she looked peaceful, but that’s easy, from the back.

She wrote, Yes. On the screen it looked like, Oh, fuck yes.

She switched on her little old iPod, connected to a battered little player, and toggled to her Brazilian mix, which she’d often played, dreaming of this very thing happening. Since she’d started working on the movie, before he was even definitely cast for the role, she’d been imagining this. The impossibility!

Moving to the beats of the atabaque, Jane felt the most sensual she’d ever felt. She brought out the San Daniele prosciutto she’d purchased on the way home with her last twenty dollars for the week. And the baguette that she’d buttered with Delitia. She hadn’t had enough for cheese.

She was always thinking of a time, five to ten years in the future. A sum of money not exorbitant but comfortable—the price of a used Bentley—that would be enough to hire someone to go through her father’s things, to organize all the boxes in the storage facility she could barely afford, to go through the field hockey trophies and lipstick samples and tell her it was time to toss the World History notebook, the tax returns from 2003.

It was easier to tell people that something was for money rather than love. You could move across the country for a low-paying internship. You could not do the same for a man who didn’t expressly send for you.

The buzzer rang. He was downstairs, at the base of her shitty walk-up. Next door there was a hipster pickle place. Every morning it smelled like piss, and, by afternoon, like vinegar.

This is delicious, he said.

Fuck you, she thought, because she hated him already.

He held a corner of baguette with the lemony butter from Parma. He chewed and walked around the apartment. He’d come with a brown bag of food. Osso buco, carrots, celery, tomato paste, broth. When he stayed in hotels, he said, he missed cooking too much. He hadn’t asked if she was a vegetarian but now he did. She wasn’t, but would have eaten the veal regardless.

The Fischl was in her bedroom. Her bedroom’s walls were salmon-colored and lumpy. Her father’s crucifix hung above her bed. Otherwise, only a black chest of drawers. Somehow it was timeless in there, a Mexican brothel. He could fuck anyone, though. He could go outside and tap a lady on the shoulder, any age, married, whatever. Women would find the nearest car hood.

I really appreciate this, he said, slinging a dish towel over his shoulder and prepping the ingredients. He’d swapped out her iPod for his phone, playing music of a kind she’d never heard before. Jazz-rap-blues-soul-folk. The artist sang of revolution, incarceration and mass betrayal. She imagined stark Caribbean landscapes and felt like expired vanilla ice cream.

For what? said Jane.

For letting me cook for us. Are these brand-new?

Yeah, um, I just got them a few weeks ago.

And you haven’t used them yet? You go out to eat a lot?

Well, it’s New York, Jane said, and felt instantly stupid.

He was securing the veal with cooking twine. His hands were elegant but manly. He moved gracefully. He told her he had an Ashtanga practice, and they talked about that for a while. In order to take her eyes off him she concentrated on the raw veal. Two pieces, the size and shape of human hearts, that smelled menstrual.

How old are you? he asked. The question was shocking. She was younger than him, but too old. When she looked back at her history, it seemed like one year she was forbidden to light matches, playing with Barbie dolls and bouncing rubber pink balls over jacks, and the next year she was fucking.

Twenty-nine, she said. She was thirty-one.

He nodded. He inserted some sprigs of thyme into the marbled flesh.

How old are you?

Thirty-six. Shit. I’m gonna be thirty-seven in like a week.

Thirty-six is a great age for a man, she said. But thirty-seven is old.

Her stomach growled. She hadn’t realized how hungry she was. M.B. pretended not to hear. She wished she could film him moving around her kitchen, because she was unable to enjoy it in the moment. It was surreal. He wore the softest-looking pants she had ever seen. Her desire lived on multiple levels. She wanted to play Candy Land with him. She wanted to be eaten. Self-mutilatingly, she thought of the dead model. Spider legs, lonely mascara.

She said, Do you want to see the Fischl?

After dinner, he said, as though she lived in a multiroom estate.

The osso buco took forty-five minutes. He said it usually took an hour and a half, but he’d sped it up. High heat, tight lids. He’d worked as a sous-chef in his hometown in New Mexico. The line about speeding up the cooking probably cored her more than both hours of her father’s wake.

They ate at her weak little table. There was a folded piece of paper towel jammed under the shortest leg. He said he could show her something better for that. That he would bring it “next time.”  She traveled through the course of that phrase, up the swollen canopy of the Amazon, into the clouds, then back down into the snake-broth river.

They drank the bottle she’d opened. He hadn’t brought one. She wondered if he hadn’t because he’d expected her to have, at the least, three bottles above a microwave. Or because he hadn’t planned on making it a long evening.

He washed all the pans, every single one, and dried them. The dish towel on his shoulder was the most erotic thing she had ever seen.

Sorry I scratched up one of the pans, he said. It’s because I didn’t have a rubber spatula.

It’s my fault for not having a rubber spatula.

He glanced over her shoulder.

The Fischl is through here, Jane said, without turning around.

She led him into her bedroom. They stood side by side and regarded it. Their shoulders were not touching, but both shoulders wanted to. Jane felt a unity she had never known. It wasn’t love but it was close enough.

It’s beautiful, he said at last, and then he turned to look at her. His eyes were hazy with desire. She parted her lips on purpose. She thought of the costume designer, more than anything else. While she was with a man she thought of women. It wasn’t until after the man left that she thought of him. She wondered if it was only her who was like this. M.B. leaned in and kissed her. It was the kind of tongue-dicking you only saw in pornography. But this was burnished. He was a movie star. He kissed like one. And smelled like one—divine nothing.

Jane had forgotten how, when sex was right, it deployed itself, like a windup dog. It skittered and found its own path. They moved onto the bed. They made out like kids for what felt like a very long time but was actually only five minutes. Her jeans felt tight. She unbuttoned them and wriggled out, saying, My pants are too tight. He laughed and said so were his, and he did the same. He undressed completely, like a god. Around his neck he wore a string of wooden beads, and he took these off and set them gently on the floor. She took off her shirt, and there she was in the white set she’d bought with just this fantasy in mind. He brought his mouth down between her legs and it was the most movie star thing about him. She bucked and he said, Ow, careful, you almost took out a tooth.

That hurt her feelings more than she could have imagined. She thought of the last woman he had fucked¾had it been the dead model?¾and the next woman he would fuck, who would be more beautiful than her.

He came up and aligned himself with her. It was huge. A male friend of hers had once told her, Never tell a guy he has a big dick. Ever.

Oh my god, she said. Jesus.

He laughed. Are you clean? he asked.

Her eyes widened. Are you?

Yeah, he said. But if you’re nervous.

She pointed to the black chest of drawers. Top one, she said. He went and retrieved a condom. He unfurled it but it only went down halfway.

Wow, she said. He shrugged, smiled, and kissed her while he put it in, one tree ring at a time. What went on for the next half hour she would remember only in rosy bursts. It was like a movie, the soft-core handsome kind that is less sexual than legendary. The first five hundred times it went in, it felt like the first time. There was no drug on earth, Jane knew, no man on earth, like this. The model knew it. Maybe that was half the reason she was dead.

After, he stood up and looked out the window. The full length of him naked was too much. He put his beads back on, and stretched out his long, bronze arms. The workers across the airway were nowhere to be found. It was just beyond sunset. Jane was under the covers.

That was amazing, he said. You know how when you meet someone, sometimes you just feel it right away, that it will be amazing?

She nodded and swallowed air.

Fuck! he said, for emphasis. Then he picked up his watch. I’ve gotta run. I’m supposed to meet Trib back at the hotel.

He picked up her jeans, folded them, laid them on top of her chest of drawers. It was her father, and not her mother, who had done all the laundry in her childhood home. She wanted to tell him.

After he’d dressed he came back to the bed and kissed her deeply. Don’t get up, he said. Stay. He said this as though it were her dream, to lie there in a down grave while he went out into the world.

I’ll come back tomorrow? If that’s okay? I’d like to buy the painting. My manager needs to make out a check.

Jane looked terrified.

Is that okay? You do want to sell it, right?

She imagined rolls of fifties and twenties. Stocking up on pasta, hundreds of tubes of bucatini and tins of pomodori pelati in case she didn’t make any money for a year. She could eat spaghetti every night, drink wine, bundle up.

Yes, she said finally. Yes, I want to sell it.

Great, he said. Jim Harris is looking into the price for me. I want to give you a good price. He winked. She nodded. He was out the door moments later.

In the morning, the men at work were back at work. She was naked, but did not feel stretched or gross. Only completely empty, in love. It was worse this way. Still, she was changed for the better. She looked at the men squeegeeing the windows, painting cornices. Not only were they poor like her, but their wives had never fucked a movie star. There was room for hope.

It was a Saturday and her neighborhood was pimply with boys in black backpacks. Jane knew she’d spend the whole day in preparation: shaving, waxing, brow-tinting. But for the first hour of the morning she stayed in bed. On her phone, for which a payment was now five days delinquent, she read an article called “Thirty Times A Celebrity Didn’t End Up With Another Celebrity.” She called up scenes of M.B. kissing women on film and masturbated to them. She had to keep rewinding and playing, because the movies were all PG-13 and none of the scenes lasted long enough. She didn’t shower, and wished he hadn’t used a condom. Now she only had the parched trail of rubber inside of her, instead of him.

Later, on the sunny street, she bought an iced coffee with coffee ice cubes. She paid in all quarters and dimes. Flashes of their sex flitted through her brain like subliminal advertisements. One scene, in particular. M.B. suspended above her, saying, Open your mouth. Then spitting in her mouth. A hot, round, clear drop of him dropping into the back of her throat. Their molecules fusing, his spit becoming one with her spit. It hadn’t felt like a trick last night. It felt good then, and it still felt good now. She closed her eyes and imagined a bone-colored church in New Mexico. The whole way she had lived up until last night seemed like the life of someone who didn’t realize she would one day grow old and die.

She passed a pop-up kiosk with a man selling plastic toys, matted dogs that flipped in the air, butterfly nets with dusty green handles. At the entrance to her building a homeless man coughed into his armpit. Upstairs, Jane counted the pills they’d given her at the hospital. She did it once a week. It was something like the superstition of not stepping on a crack or walking under a ladder.

By three he hadn’t written or called. Jane ate two slices of old turkey breast sandwiched between stale saltines. She drank green tea and set the phone to vibrate, face down, on the kitchen table, then went into her bedroom and made the bed and went out again to check the phone, and then tucked the phone under one of the pillows and went to take a shower. She opened a jar of grapefruit scrub she’d bought six months back. She cleaned between her toes. She went back to check the phone, and there was a missed call and she cursed herself, but then she saw the missed call was from Verizon and she began to cry. Finally, there was a text from the AD saying yesterday was the last New York film day. Trib wanted to shoot the rest in the Malibu beach house. Jane would no longer be needed, but would be paid through the next week. She thought of the movie star she’d loved when she was thirteen. She thought of his neck snapping like the fine bone of a bird. She thought of her father, and missed him more than ever, and hated herself because she had not missed him at all the day before.

The door buzzer rang. She ran, naked, to the ramen-colored intercom.

Hey, said M.B., through fuzz and air. I was in the area, so I thought I’d just stop in. Hope it’s okay.

Oh, yeah, okay. She buzzed him up and ran into the bathroom and applied mascara. Her eyelids were fat and blue. She threw on a soft sweatshirt and a pair of shorts.

He knocked on the door and she opened it, breathless. He wore running gear.

I just got out of the shower, she said.

He walked past her. I hope I’m not interrupting.

No.

The stateside funeral is tomorrow. Petra’s mom is going back to Mostar on Monday.

Oh.

It’s a beautiful medieval town. Mostar. There’s an old bridge that takes your breath away.

You’ve been there?

Yeah, I visited when I was filming in Italy. It’s just across the Adriatic.

Oh, so you met her mom?

I met her mom a lot.

Oh, that’s nice. I didn’t know. How close you guys were.

Why else would you think I’d want to buy the painting?

Um. I didn’t know. Like I said, I hadn’t thought that far. I just. It was a coincidence, your Instagram.

M.B. brought his thumb and index finger to the bridge of his nose. I’m sorry, he said. I’m just a little overwhelmed today. With the reality of it.

Jane thought of yesterday, when he hadn’t seemed overwhelmed at all. She wished she could change coats like that. Then she realized, she had. She touched his arm with her hand, and he clamped it down with his other hand. Her heart bowled itself into her belly. He turned his face to hers. She moved her tongue into his mouth, but he gently broke away. The lobes of her intestines dropped.

He walked to the window and looked out. The workers were eating sandwiches on the rooftop. Jane wondered if their wives had packed them. The cellophane glinted like glass in the afternoon sun.

Some days, he said, I wish I had a job like those guys. Just hanging out on some rooftop with a bunch of dudes. Clocking out at five or whatever.

It’s the weekend, Jane said. They work on the weekend.

Yeah, so do I. And I never clock out.

Jane wanted to hurt him, kill him. It was a clearer urge than her desire.

I love your place, he said, coming towards her. It’s so cozy. He wrapped her in his arms. Hmm and this sweatshirt is so soft, he said into her shoulder.

She wanted to tell him she loved him. She wanted to beg him. If only he knew how he could save her. There could be one less dead girl. He wouldn’t have to do so much. He would have to pretend he loved her, yes, but he could fly off everywhere he wanted. He could film in Sarajevo. He could go to bachelor parties in Indonesia. She would care for his dogs. She would have a new toothbrush waiting every time.

He curled his arm around her waist and brought her pelvis into his. He moved from side to side. He inhaled the unrinsed shampoo behind her ear. She would forgive him for everything. He separated himself and held her at arm’s length.

Yesterday was our last film day.

I heard, she said.

I’m leaving in a few for JFK.

It was funny, Jane thought, she had already died a few times. It was funny to keep dying.

Do you have the papers for the painting, he said. I need to give them to Jim, and then he’ll have a messenger pick it up later tonight.

Her mouth dried up, all the spit, gone. Yeah, she said, somewhere.

No big deal, whenever, I mean, by tonight would be great. Jim said $30,000 is above fair. Is that what you heard? Is that okay?

Jane had heard $40,000. That’s what the man who gave it to her had told her. She hadn’t considered this happening, and hadn’t called anyone. Online it said anywhere from $37,000 to $42,000. But Jane had a history of overvaluing.

She nodded. Her lips parted. She kept nodding.

Okay, great. That’s great. I guess it’ll be nice to for you to unload that piece. It’s kind of a sad piece.

Jane’s head became swimmy. She felt like she needed to lie down. She told him so, and he left like a gentleman.

The next day she walked west again with the check in her hand. It would cover seventy percent of her credit card debt. Seventy percent that she would not pay, gone, like that.

The bank was far away, on Prince, but the beauty of the block had been important to her when she’d opened the account.

Beautiful people came out into the sunshine. It highlighted the tone of their legs. A beautiful black woman with a shaved head stood on the pale of her arches in a pair of clogs to kiss a beautiful black man who leaned against the entrance to the subway. A model in shorts and ankle socks and Keds talked on the phone at an outdoor café table. Outside the old grasshopper-green façade of Vesuvio Bakery, a skinny girl in a leather skirt talked to a girl in a beautiful backless sundress. They might have woken up in filthy apartments. Perhaps their mothers didn’t believe in them. Perhaps their fathers had just died. Perhaps there had been a quiet abortion down on Maiden Lane.

She passed Williams-Sonoma and thought of all the new pots and pans she could buy. Le Creuset and Staub, some nice copper-bottomed ones. Any kind of pot she wanted in the whole world.

On the silver grate between a handbag store and the bank sat a homeless woman with a navy blanket across her lap. She was half in the sun, half in the stony shadow of the doorway. It was hot even in the shade, so the blanket was strange, and you didn’t usually see homeless women on Prince. The woman had long hair and bangs. The color was a nutty red-brown, the kind one might hope to achieve with double process, plus highlights. She was bony, her jaw jutted, and the skin around her lips was used, like paper crumpled and unfolded and crumpled and unfolded again. Meth, Jane bet. A venti cup sat on an overturned United States Postal Service bin. A dollar bill periscoped out. She held a little white sign. It said she was a new widow, no insurance, lost everything, can u help, even 5 helps, God Bless. She was rocking back and forth to some tune in her head. Each time she came forward her long face entered a bewitching bar of sunlight. The light changed her, at once, into something uglier and more beautiful.

Please help, she said. Anything you can spare.

Jane walked into the bank.

Lisa Taddeo is a recipient of a 2017 Pushcart Prize. Her fiction has appeared in "Granta," "New England Review," "Esquire," and other publications. She is currently at work on her debut nonfiction for Simon & Schuster, and her first novel.

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