the audience – part 5
April 21, 2009
Laura had a headache. She sat sunk into her seat in the middle of the first row of the home theater having a headache and thinking about how bad it feels to have a headache and wishing she didn’t have a headache. Even though she couldn’t see them, she knew that the audience was watching her, still, always, that they were sitting circled around her, two of them in the chairs on either side of her and one in the second row, right behind her, she knew that, but she had pushed herself deep into the leather cushions of the recliner and was holding two big pillows up against the sides of her head so that she couldn’t see them watching and hopefully they couldn’t see much of her, either, except like the top of her head or her hands or maybe her feet. She tried to remember when she had last gotten a mani-pedi, it had been a while, she had always gone with the girls and she didn’t want to go by herself because what if she ran into them or somebody else and was embarrassed. She wondered if pushing the pillows into her head was making her headache worse or better but she knew she couldn’t put them down so she just hoped better. The big TV was on in front of her, some show or movie about gangs and shooting and police and graffiti and she was looking at it but not watching it. It wasn’t technically a TV really but a screen, a projector, more expensive and impressive, like at a movie theater, but she called it a TV because she watched TV on it mostly and a TV is a thing you watch TV on. She couldn’t really watch the TV right then, though, all she could do was look at it like from a distance, it was like having the TV on when you’re really sick, when you can’t focus on it at all and it’s just light and color and sound that are floating in front of you like in a fog. That’s how she was watching it because she was sick, really sick, she had a headache and also the other thing, that thing.
Buyer’s remorse, that was the thing, that was what the way she was feeling was officially called, that was the scientific name for her sickness. Laura had been feeling so bad that afternoon, after the tour and lunch and everything, that she had googled “name for how it feels when you feel bad about buying things” and it had been the first result, “buyer’s remorse.” This was not how you were supposed to feel when you spent a lot of money on something, not at all, you were supposed to feel the opposite of how she felt: better, stronger, faster, like in the song. You were not supposed to get a headache. Not that you didn’t ever regret buying something, of course, or decide you didn’t like the thing you bought, that happened, that was bound to happen sometimes with the speed of trends and fads coming and going so fast, the movement of technology and everything, not to mention personal changes like weight loss and/or gain or how haircuts could disqualify certain clothing options or accessories. That was all normal, though, that was different than this because usually if you bought something that you didn’t like, you could just throw it away or stick it in the back of your closet and forget about it or give it to someone as a present, get rid of it somehow, it wasn’t always following you around and staring at you and making you feel ugly and fat and that you had made a mistake. That was different, this was different, they were different.
The tour, god, she had tried, she had really tried. She had really tried to make it fun for them, showing them the house and the grounds and all, all that stuff, the rooms and features, she had put a lot of thought and effort into it, seriously, homework and everything. The night before they came, she had watched like four episodes of Cribs to try to get some ideas for how she was going to present everything to them and after that she had gone around and mapped out the route she was going to take through the property, trying to think of interesting and funny things she could say about the features of the house and the grounds, like on Cribs when people pointed to their beds and said, “That’s where the magic happens,” and you laughed or were supposed to at least. Laura didn’t watch Cribs often, it used to be popular when she was younger and now they were trying to bring it back again which wouldn’t work, obv., it was too old to be new cool but not old enough to be vintage cool, it was just stupid and uncool, it was just middle. In the old episodes of Cribs, a lot of the houses were really uggo and the design was dated and 90s but sometimes celebrities had good taste or creative ideas or one of a kind items or features. That was sometimes interesting, at least, Laura liked to see how people who had more money than her would choose to spend that money, she liked to judge their taste and artistic sense, which usually was ugly and not as good as hers or her family’s but sometimes was inspiring and/or inspirational. Overall, though, Cribs was stupid, especially the new Cribs, but still, it was important to educate yourself about things you were doing in order to do them with excellence and grace and beauty and Cribs was the guide she needed to make her tour the best it could be so she had watched it.
They had the gone all through the house, starting in the entryway (the audience took off their sneakers standing up, like boys), then through the grand hallway by the big staircase (she hadn’t shown them the panic room – it was private), quickly into the formal sitting room (Laura showed them the music box her mother had bought her on a trip to London when she was 9. It didn’t make music anymore but still the ballerina and the box itself were both beautiful, she thought), out of there and back through the grand hallway into the big open plan kitchen with the island, the tile and the marble and the chrome (the chrome was standard and regular but the tile and the marble were from some famous and exclusive place in Italy or Spain – “It’s amazing that something could so dark but also shine,” she had said, pointing at the marble, “don’t you think?”), through the dining room with the china cabinet and the place settings (boring, never used) and into the living room, with the comfortable couches and the big TV, door open, socks off, out onto the first deck, with the outside dining room set and the sauna (Laura hated the sauna, she had almost died in there on a dare during a sleepover in middle school or at least that’s how it had felt, like death – she acted out the story for them, playing both herself and Emma), down the stairs onto the second deck, with the pool and the pool furniture and the pool house, off that deck to the top of the long stone staircase which cut down through the cliffs to the ocean (she was going to take them all the way to the beach and show them her secret place but they looked really hot, not in a sweaty or ugly way but the way they say pregnant women (especially thin, pretty pregnant women) glow, so she just turned around), back up the decks and stairs and into the house through the other entrance (she didn’t show them the garage or the cars because she never thought that was interesting on Cribs, even though all the rappers made it seem like such a big deal), past the gym and the laundry room and the bathroom and the theater and back into the grand hallway (she told them she didn’t really like the word “grand” – “It seems elegant, yes, but it’s so old and they should really come up with another word…” – Laura didn’t actually feel this way but was having trouble coming up with clever things to say about the room the second time through), up the stairs, one by one (she had tried to look up what artists painted the paintings on the wall but didn’t know how to search for that, with just pictures, there should be a way, online shopping would be so much easier), past her dad’s office (locked) and his bedroom (locked), into the first guest bedroom (she told them to drop off their stuff there, there was a big king size bed and also a couch and chair, she thought that would be enough for them), past the bathroom, past the second guest bedroom (boring, empty) and its bathroom, finally finishing up in her bedroom at the end of her hall, the fluffy white carpet and her pastel yellow walls and her open French windows with the white gauzy curtains blowing in like in an old movie and in the middle of it her big, beautiful bed, floating on the carpet, to the left her inspiration wall with the all the pictures she had cut out of magazines or printed off of the computer or drawn and the trophies and certificates and awards she had won and then her desk with her computer and accessories and design materials and art supplies, her framed posters of Audrey and Coco and her mirror in between them, the big full length with the gold edging, she had shown them all this, all these things, and finally they had ended up where she had planned to end up, in her walk-in-closet with her dresses and skirts and shirts and pants, blouses and cover-ups and sarongs and negligees, the drawers in the back neatly stacked with bathing suits and underwear and shorts, categorized by type, in other shelves belts and bangles and scarves and ties and all her other odd accessories, on the upper racks above the hanging clothes her funny hats and quirky costume looks and stored old things that didn’t fit or didn’t look right anymore but might at some point in the future or otherwise held memory value, back issues of the magazines stacked high in plastic containers, and in perfect lines on the floor the shoe racks with her sneakers and sandals and flats and heels, all of it, she had shown them all of it, she had shown them all these things.
She had shown them all these things, all the things that she had and owned and was, everything, and the whole time, the entire time, the audience had done nothing, had not reacted, had been silent, their faces blank like paper. They had just followed her around and looked at her and when she had pointed at a thing or place and described it occasionally they had looked at the thing or place, especially if it was a really impressive thing or place, but sometimes they just kept looking at her even when she was pointing at something and was telling them how important it was and how much she cared, they just kept looking at her, rudely. They didn’t smile, they didn’t wink, they didn’t raise or lower their eyebrows, they didn’t move their eyes to signal liking or not liking, approving or disapproving. It was like something was wrong with them, like a disability, like they had some kind of mental or physical disease that kept them from appreciating nice people and things and showing their appreciation in a normal human way.
They were pissing her off, seriously. She didn’t like how their faces were so expressionless all the time, it was creepy, or how they didn’t seem to care about anything or how they weren’t impressed by her house or her views or her stuff, but most of all, more than anything, she didn’t like how they were silent. That was the main problem, that was the really stupid thing about the whole deal that she did not sign up for, their silence, the fact that they wouldn’t say anything at all to her no matter what she did. Laura hated that, she hated silence, she hated quiet, she hated not talking and not listening and not hearing. Like sleep, sleep was important for beauty, that was why they called it that, beauty sleep, and Laura respected that of course, you couldn’t argue with science, but at the same time she hated sleep, she hated the darkness and the quietness and the aloneness of it, the fact that sometimes it seemed like it would last forever and never end. When she was really little her mom read stories to her sometimes before sleep and after that was over, for as long as she could remember, she had gone to sleep with the TV on-it didn’t matter what show it was, it could be an infomercial or some political debate or Conan or Jay, whatever, she just needed to hear voices talking out loud while she went to sleep.
But this audience, no matter what she said, no matter what she did, they didn’t talk, they didn’t say a word. How could you do that? How could you be a person who did that? How could you be a person who did that to someone who was trying very hard to be nice and likeable and friendly and pretty and how could you just completely blank that person out, especially when that person was paying a lot of money for you to be around them and it was like your job kind of? After the tour she had hid in her bathroom (they didn’t follow her in, thank god) and called the woman from SES on her iPhone and the woman, Amanda, she had been so bitchy and such a know-it-all, she had said that the audience was only required to look at Laura, not respond in any way, and why didn’t she know that, hadn’t she read the whole contract before she signed? Hadn’t she been listening when Amanda described sub-clauses A-3a and A-3b? If Laura wanted to cancel the contract, Amanda said, then she was of course allowed to do that, that was within her rights as a leasee, but they wouldn’t be able to pick up the audience until Wednesday morning at the earliest because of scheduling conflicts and Laura had hung up on her right after she said that, which was the one good thing about talking on the phone instead of texting or IMing someone, maybe the only good thing, that you could just hang up on a person and they couldn’t do anything about it but listen to the phone click off. After she hung up, she had splashed some water on her face and opened the bathroom door and there they were, sitting Indian style in the hallway and looking up at her.
Lunch. Laura didn’t really get as hungry at lunchtime as she used to after a month of not eating lunch because of the Freeze, not that she ate much lunch before the Freeze of course, you had to be careful, but she used to usually have something at least, a salad or a smoothie or whatever, carrots and apples, something food-like and filling. This was supposed to be a special lunch, though, so she had ordered a big platter of sushi from Naga-sake, everything, sashimi and miso soup and fried things and all different kinds of rolls and nigiri, really artistic and beautiful and expensive stuff, and she had gotten them to send over pretty black lacquer boxes and nice chopsticks, she had wanted to be such a good hostess. But when she had set out all the food on the kitchen island, the audience didn’t touch it, they didn’t go near it, although the redhead kept looking away from her every couple seconds and staring at it, which Laura thought was kind of weird. Maybe they didn’t like sushi or maybe they hadn’t had it before, that was a possibility, but then if they hadn’t had it then they should at least try it, if only to be polite, that was how the society worked, you had to be polite and follow rules. Laura tried to eat some in order to get them to eat, too, lead by example, but really they just looked at her and she had always been kind of awkward with chopsticks, it was hard for her, not natural, maybe Asian people had different kinds of hands because of evolution or something that made it easier for them. She was trying to eat and it was hard because of the chopsticks and the audience looking at her just made it worse, people are so unattractive when they eat, she knew that, that was why you never saw people eating in movies, and though she was focusing on holding the sliver of sashimi and not letting it drop, she knew that they were watching her still, always, and so after her third piece of yellowtail she had put the chopsticks down and they had gone to home theater and sat down in the dark with the TV on and stayed there for the last six or seven hours, except for a bathroom break.
On the screen, one guy was shooting another guy and the other guy was shooting back at him and they were jumping behind and in front of cars and stuff in the ghetto while they shot each other. Laura had a headache, it was awful, but she had to do something about it, she had to do something, action, movement, etc. Complaining or worrying about problems was not what winners did, winners solved problems, winners were part of the solution and not the problem, that was what her dad said and he knew about these things. Laura wasn’t worried about getting caught with the audience because her dad wasn’t home and hadn’t been for a while, for a few weeks. Not that he was one of those dads, the cold old business dads who didn’t care about their daughters or spend time with them and made the daughters be sad or depressed or slutty or wear ugly black clothes and lipstick or otherwise “act out.” Her dad was a good dad who cared and stuff, really, he was, he had just been away a lot lately because of all the problems with the economy, because he was a problem solver, part of the solution and not the problem. “There’s a situation out there, sweetheart, a pretty bad situation” he said, “and you’re dad’s going to go fix it. He’s going to make it all better.” He had told her this and handed her a couple of cards and kissed her on the forehead and then the limo was there to pick him up and take him away and that had been February.
Exercise. Exercise, she decided, that was it, exercise was going to make her headache go away. Physical therapy, that was what they used on sick or hurt people to make them less sick or hurt, the therapy of being physical, doing things and action and etc. Just thinking about exercising and being physical made her headache feel like it was almost going away, that’s how right she knew her choice was, a solution, not a problem, she was sure of it.
Laura took a deep breath, threw her pillows down on the floor, and jumped out of her chair, running through the dark room towards the open door of the home theater. As she cleared the doorway, she looked back and saw the audience all jumping up after her, confused expressions on their faces, shocked, ha, she had surprised them, they had not expected this, she had done something unexpected and surprised them. That made her feel good and so she kept running, it was the right choice, a solution not a problem. She ran down the hallway, past the laundry room, past the bathroom, acting, moving, doing, being. She passed the gym, where she had planned to go for her exercise, the treadmill and the spin bike, but it didn’t seem right, it wasn’t time to stop, she wanted to keep running, she wanted to keep moving. She looked over her shoulder and the audience were right behind her in the hallway, running after her in their sock feet with sleepy looking eyes.
She pushed through the door and hit the first deck outside and her feet scraped against the concrete but she kept running, past the furniture, down to the second deck, past the pool, jumping over the corner of a pool chair just for fun. It was sunset, the sun was setting, and she was running, she was exercising, she doing something, action, movement, being. The audience were behind her but they were kind of slow, ha, they weren’t as fast as her, they weren’t as good at running, obviously she was better. She came to the top of the cliff stairs and started going down them two at a time and the wind was blowing spray off the ocean up at her but she was just watching her feet on the cold stones, how they were landing in all the right places, in rhythm like music, and suddenly faster than she expected there was sand, she was in the sand, soft and cool. She looked up ahead of her towards the ocean and started running faster, tearing through the sand, kicking it up behind her towards the audience, who were still at the bottom of the stairs because they were slow and she was fast, it didn’t matter how pretty they were, she was fast and they weren’t. There was that saying you can run but you can’t hide but she was running and hiding at the same time, like a kid playing that game, running like this made her feel like a kid, she never ran anymore except on the treadmill and that didn’t feel like running because you were staying in the same place, there was no motion or travel, it was boring.
Then she was in the water, in her dress in the water, and she was still running and it was harder and her feet were kicking up explosions of water and she was getting deeper and her dress was getting wet and then she fell into it, into a wave, and it pushed her back and she pushed back against it, motion, travel, action, movement, back and forth. Physical therapy, the wave felt like it was beating the bad things out of her, the ugly things, all the things she didn’t like. That was totally cheesy, it was some kind of stupid hippie line like those girls who hung out smoking at the breaks listened to, but she didn’t want to think about that, she just wanted to push and be pushed by the water, back and forth. A wave turned her around and as she fell back into the wake she saw the audience standing at the edge of the water, staring at her, breathing hard from chasing after her and staring and looking. She smiled at them and they didn’t smile but looked at her smiling and stood there breathing, the same was as always but she didn’t care as much, it wasn’t so bad.
When the sun set and the water got dark and scary, Laura got out and squeezed out her dress and she and the audience walked up the steps back to the house. She was shivering as they went up the steps and she wished she had a sweatsuit like them, even if it wasn’t the most stylish outfit it looked soft and comfortable. They waited outside the poolhouse in the moonlight while Laura showered and changed into a robe, and then they all headed inside. She was really tired but tired in a good way, tired in a way which was excellent and graceful and beautiful, like all of her muscles and bones were filled with precious metals, liquid gold or silver, like she was a famous statue in some ancient place. She couldn’t remember the last time she had gone in the ocean, they almost always tanned by the pool because it was more convenient and easy and close. She hadn’t swum that much since she was in middle school probably, she didn’t have the time or attention span anymore to just swim without distraction like those muscle-y girls on the swim team in their bathing caps and one pieces, she hated those caps, they made them look like men and weird men at that, so ugly. But who even cared, what did it matter anyway, she had swum, she was tired, it was great. The feeling of being tired was really good, it was almost like being drunk, not like super drunk where you got sick and wanted to die and not like the perfect drunk that you could really be yourself and love everyone and feel like they loved you but at least the medium kind of drunk where your body feels just loose and warm and nice.
When she got upstairs, Laura knew she should do some kind of beauty regimen because of the horrible effects that salt water and all the contaminants in it can have on hair and skin if not properly handled, god, she really needed a rinse and a deep, leave-in conditioner and some moisturizer in targeted areas, but she was so tired that when she got to her room that she fell onto the bed immediately. This was kind of hard to do, the falling, because her bed was really high, like several feet (it was called a princess bed like in that fairy tale about the peas and mattresses) so when she fell only her upper half was on the bed and she had kind of had to pull herself up the rest of the way like an extreme sports mountain climber but eventually she was centered on the bed and under the covers and breathing slowly in and out and feeling like she was sinking into the bed she was so sleepy. The audience surrounded the bed, which had billowy white fabric like the curtains hanging over it so that when Laura looked up into it it was like looking into a cloud, a really pretty one.
“Okay, you all can leave now, I’m going to bed,” Laura said. She turned off the lights and drew the curtains with buttons in her bedside table. She reached around for her remote to turn on the TV but it wasn’t in the normal spot and she just couldn’t find the energy to sit up and look for it. It was dark and quiet and she almost fell asleep but she heard something, breathing, and she realized they were all still standing there. She waited a little bit for them to leave the room, maybe they were slow or something, like mentally, but the audience stayed in place, looking at her, still. She clicked the button that made the lights come back on and raised her head.
“I said you can go,” she said, swinging her hand towards the door like swatting a fly. She looked at the closest one to her, the brunette, who was standing on the right side of the bed. The brunette shook her head and stayed in place. Even in Laura’s tired state, she recognized that this was something, it was a reaction, an actual reaction, an audience member reacting to her, doing something in response to her doing something. She didn’t know what to do or how to handle it, it was a new thing to deal with.
“What? Why not?” Laura asked. The brunette looked over at the other ones, questioning them for a second with her eyes, and then approached the bed, leaning over the edge. She stuck her arm in front of Laura’s face and pulled back the sleeve of her sweatjacket and on her wrist there was a watch, an ugly black chunky thing like you would get at a gas station or drug store. The watch said “3:12:47” and was counting down, second by second, 3:12:46, 3:12:45, 3:12:44.
“Is that how much time I have left?” Laura asked. The brunette nodded and then quickly backed away from the bed, taking her earlier position and pulling her sleeve back down. Laura looked at her for a second, smiling as much as she had the energy to smile, and then closed her eyes, she just couldn’t keep them open. It was something, they were responding, she had made the audience respond, she had said a thing and they had done a thing in response and she had said another thing and they had responded again. It was something, she felt good, happy, if not a big happiness then a big little happiness at least, at least medium happiness. She felt like she should get up and do something, be interesting, act out, find herself, dance around the room, whatever. Be, like in that commercial about how verbs are what you do. There were so many possibilities she could think of, so many verbs and things and chances and situations, so many choices to make, to do, to be, they were all swirling around behind her eyelids, moving pictures. She was really, really tired, though, and so instead of making or doing or being she just sunk deeper into her pillow, listening to the sound of the waves and the soft, slow breathing of the audience.