A Very Beautiful Sort of Blue

Nick Roth

At the age of twelve Frances Amity Braun was diagnosed with synesthesia, a neurological condition in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. Which was to say she saw sounds as colors and melodies as patterns. Not only did this not preclude hearing the sounds and melodies themselves, it meant that she could find the proper pitch of a note by ranging her voice up and down until a particular color appeared in her mind. She had been given piano lessons at the age of nine but the instructor, who was named Mrs. Schneider, said Amy’s fingers were short even for a child her age and that she didn’t show any particular aptitude for the piano anyway. However, she added that Amy sang beautifully and that she ought to take lessons in the vocal arts. Amy was passed over to another woman with a very similar name, a Mrs. Scheider, no n — though the two names were vastly different in their coloring — from whom Amy took singing lessons. Mrs. Scheider announced that Amy had a rare thing called “perfect pitch,” which meant that she could find the right pitch for a given note without having to hear that note played on an instrument or a tuning fork. This, as it turned out, was because, for Amy, the notes themselves corresponded to very specific colors. For instance, middle-C appeared to her as a sort of blood orange hue. F-sharp corresponded to a pale turquoise. Stranger still, Amy’s synesthesia could be used to find sets of harmonies for given notes, solely by using her sense of complementary colors. Blood orange was complementary to sky blue, and alizarin crimson formed a complimentary triad, which meant that middle-C corresponded to F and D for a triad harmony. And when the harmonies blended correctly she would see an additional color, arising from the three in much the way a color arises when three separate colors are projected onto a screen and intersect.

Where had this come from?

Not from her mother. To Amy’s mother sounds did not appear as colors and melodies did not appear as patterns. In fact, even colors hardly appeared as colors to Amy’s mother, and she appreciated music roughly as much as her favorite writer, Vladimir Nabokov, did, which, if you will remember your Nabokov, was hardly at all.

Amy’s father was a failed part-time painter who worked in advertising in Manhattan until he quit to fail at painting on a full-time basis on Long Island. From him Amy had inherited a sense for color and composition. However, because of her synesthesia, her talent took the form of sounds, of melodies, and of songs. Because of the cross-wiring in her brain, what might have grown into ability as a painter—she might have fulfilled her father’s dreams, if those dreams had been fulfillable—became a talent for finding beautiful melodic compositions. But at the age of twelve, a year after her parents divorced, her talent mainly expressed itself in a constant humming that drove her mother, and sometimes even Mrs. Scheider, her voice coach, to despair. This humming Amy did nearly all day, saying it made her feel as if she were eating a sort of bright honey when she hummed.

“Well,” her mother said, “it makes me feel like shooting myself.”

Two years later, on the same afternoon that an astronaut named Cernan was driving what NASA called the “Lunar Rover” across the Taurus–Littrow Valley for the sole purpose, according to Amy’s father, of proving Americans could not only put men on the moon, but Chevys, Amy’s mother did, in fact, shoot herself.

On that day Amy stopped humming. In fact, for a very long time, no melodies emerged from her at all. This was despite the fact that her mother’s suicide note absolved Amy’s “constant humming” (to quote from the note) from having had anything to do with it. The mere mention of the humming in her mother’s note, and the phrasing she’d used, would have given pause to almost anyone; to Amy it gave horrible nightmares in which she was a gigantic, awkward bird sitting on a branch and screeching at her mother through a window as her mother grew smaller and smaller with every screech until she had finally disappeared.

After her mother’s death, Amy, now age fourteen, went to live with her father, who’d taken up residence in a tiny ramshackle house with broken windows rented for a hundred dollars a month to him by the Episcopal Church of Prince’s Park, Long Island (which tourists who came for the boating in summer often mispronounced “Princess Park,” after which they would receive a sort of derisive and mysterious snort from the locals). The agreement Amy’s father made with the Church was that he would fix the house up, but the only fixing he did, if it could be called that, consisted of painting abstract murals on the walls in the manner of Kandinsky or sometimes early Mondrian before that painter went entirely geometric, a lapse Amy’s father referred to as Mondrian’s “Wallpaper for Hotel Bathrooms Period.”

One day, a few months after Amy’s mother had killed herself and Amy had come to live with her father in the ramshackle house owned by the Episcopal Church, Amy looked at her father’s paintings on the walls and said, “They sound like Prokofiev.” The previous year Amy had studied Prokofiev’s The Fiery Angel with Mrs. Scheider.

“Very good,” said her father, “very good. Though I was listening to Hindemith when I painted that one over there.” And he pointed to a long wall where he’d painted something that looked like a cactus garden at sunset flipped upside down, as if seen in the reflection of an impossible oasis. None of which looked to Amy much like anything she’d ever heard of Hindemith. Which was, admittedly, very little.

Her father had an old record player and stereo system and once he’d convinced the Episcopal Church to pay for the electricity for the house he would play his records while he painted on the walls, sometimes throwing paint off the brush from five feet away and sometimes missing the wall. When he ran out of wall space, he would take photographs of the murals with a little Nikon and then paint over the wall with a new composition.

“Shouldn’t you be painting on canvas?” Amy asked him one day.

“Why?” he said and hurled some scarlet paint through space.

“Don’t you want to sell them?”

He stepped back and looked at the paint he’d just thrown and saw that it was good, that it had gone where God and not gravity had directed it. “I’m trying not to get hung up on money right now, Ame.”


For reasons having to do with the sorts of colors and patterns names called up in Amy’s cross-wired brain, “Fanny” was the name, she decided at the age of eleven, she wanted to be known by, rather than “Amy,” which was short for her middle name, Amity. “Amy” brought to mind only something that looked vaguely like an unreflective mirror, a washed out silver going to gray, whereas “Fanny” brought to mind a metallic azure, like the glittering paint on a fiberglass dune buggy, a very beautiful sort of blue.

“I’m trying not to get hung up on money, Fanny,” said her father.

“Don’t we need money?”

“Money is how people get into trouble, Sis,” he said and threw some more scarlet paint at the wall from a little farther away.

The broken windows he never repaired, only boarded them up with plywood against the cold, and every month or so a pastor named Thune would come around and stare at them in subtle disapproval. He was a very modern sort of pastor though, who neither wore the collar nor, according to Amy’s father, believed with overmuch zeal in God, and he dressed almost precisely as did Amy’s eighth grade math teacher, Mr. Freid: wine-colored or white turtlenecks under herringbone or denim sports jackets. Thune would now and then mention the windows and Amy’s father would agree they ought to be repaired but he would tell Amy afterwards that Thune was a bourgeois and that the Episcopal Church was fine without his help fixing up their property. He felt compelled to make a joke about Thune being a “thurn in my thide” but he had made this same joke a number of times without once succeeding in eliciting a laugh from Amy or any feeling in her that it would be nice to hear the joke again sometimes in the future. It did, however, make her father more lovable.


Three months after Amy came to live with her father in the little house with broken windows that stood under a tall maple tree whose leaves had to be scraped out of the gutter at the end of the winter, a woman named D'arcy Moret came to live with them. She was sitting at the dining room table smoking a cigarette and playing with a box of Virginia Slims, which she kept turning between her long fingers, one day when Amy came home from school. She wore a bright yellow turtleneck with a plaid scarf around her neck and a brown coat draped over her shoulders. Her hair was the color of a crow and her eyes were precisely the same blue Amy saw when she heard the name “Fanny.” She was, perhaps, the most beautiful woman Fanny had ever seen and for a moment it did not occur to her to ask what the woman was doing there. Nor did it occur to the woman to explain it. Amy came in and put her books down on the table and the two of them stared at each other for a moment. D’arcy took a long drag on her cigarette and blew smoke into the afternoon sunlight cutting in through the kitchen window and trained her eyes on Amy, who sat wondering if the woman were a ghost or someone come from the church or both.

“Your dad tell you I was coming?” the creature across the table finally asked.


“Figures. I don’t think he thinks like the rest of us.”

“Well, who are you?”

“D’arcy. Moret.” She pronounced the last name, Moray. “I’m your dad’s girlfriend.”

“What do you mean you’re his girlfriend? How old are you?”

“How old are you?”

“Fourteen,” said Amy.

“Shit, then I’m six years older than you. You know how old that makes me?”

“Makes you twenty.”

“You’re Amy?”

“I’m Fanny.”

“He didn’t say anything about a Fanny.”

“That’s because he never remembers to call me Fanny.”

“What do you want me to call you?”

“You don’t have to call me anything.”

“Have it your way. There any heat in this place? It’s freezing.”

Amy got up and brought in a little electric space heater and plugged it in, went to the ancient refrigerator and got out some bread and a jar of Fluff, spread it on the bread, and sat at the table eating. “Where’s my dad?”

“Gone back to get my records from my previous boyfriend. He wouldn’t let me take them and I didn’t want any part of that scene.”

“What scene?”

“Two men arguing over my shit.”

“Are you sure you have the right house?”

“81 Fort Salonga Road.”

“Do you know how old my dad is?” Amy asked.

“Yeah, I know how old he is, why?”

“How old is he then?”

“Thirty-nine. Forty in September. Why?”

“Kind of records?”


“What kind of records is he getting from your old boyfriend?”

“Cream, Neil Young, Janis, The Stones. Et cetera.”

“Oh,” said Amy.


“No classical.”

“I think there’s a Bach thing in there your dad gave me.”

Goldberg Variations?”

“I guess.”

“Glenn Gould?”

“I don’t know.”

“That’s one of his favorites. We already have that one here.”

“Leslie won’t care about that one anyway.”

“Who’s Leslie?”

“My old boyfriend.”

“I thought Leslie was a girl’s name.”

“Live and learn,” said the beautiful creature and took a long drag on her cigarette.

“How do you know my dad?”

“Did some modeling for his agency.”

“You live in New York?”

“Did until today. Jane Street in the Village.”

“You don’t like the city?”

“What makes you say that?”

“Well, you’re here.”

The creature shrugged. “It’s alright but after the ninth or tenth time you start getting tired of being mugged.”

“He’s driving all the way back there to get your records?”

“I guess chivalry ain’t completely dead, huh? Anyway, it’s only half an hour on the LIE.”

“How old is your old boyfriend?”


“I don’t know.”

“Twenty-three. A twenty-three year old idiot.”

“Why’s he an idiot?”

“I don’t know how he got that way. All I know is I’ve had it.” She looked around the room, her black hair sliding from her shoulders as her head gently turned from right to left in a slow sweep. “Not much of a place. He warned me. But I guess I wasn’t listening hard enough.”

“It’s temporary. We’re gonna move into a much nicer house when he starts selling his work.”

“Be hard to move into a shittier one. Tell you the truth though, I kinda dig it. It’s got charm. Love the stuff he paints on the walls.”

“You have beautiful eyes,” said Amy, then blushed as the creature’s beautiful eyes settled on her. Feeling the warmth of the blood rushing through her cheeks, Amy rose and tied up the bag of Wonder bread and put the cap back on the jar of Fluff and picked up her books from the table and disappeared down the hallway into her room.


Amy’s father would awake at dawn, get into his ’67 Impala, drive a quarter mile into “Colony Woods,” a nearby development of faux-Colonial Georgian homes on various floor-plans, and steal, from one of the plastic boxes curbside, a New York Times (orange box). Many of the residents took the Daily News (blue box) but Amy’s father would have nothing to do with the Daily News, which he said was a paper the kinds of mouth-breathers who voted for Nixon took.So far he’d largely succeeded in his career as a newspapers thief, though once he had been spotted and chased by a housewife in curlers and a housecoat who’d come after him with a candelabra. He had thereafter devised a system of keeping track of the houses from which he’d stolen papers so as to never visit the same house twice in the space of a month. This was easy, he said, as Colony Woods was a development of some 180 homes, a good number of which took the Times. As of the summer of 1973 he’d managed to elude the law.

The breakfast table at which he read his pilfered Times consisted of an old door, painted blue, on top of two wooden sawhorses. Over the table this morning D’arcy and Amy ate Cap’n Crunch and bacon while Amy’s father slowly turned the tall pages of his paper. He was not a folder of newspapers, but a man who held the entirety of its construction in front of him like a gigantic book, his eyes rolling over the columns and pictures until they rested on something of interest.

“Is D’arcy your real name?” Amy asked.

“Course D’arcy’s her real name,” said her father, looking at his daughter over the top of the paper. “Why wouldn’t it be?”

“My real name’s Deirdre Morgner,” said D’arcy.

“It is?” said Amy’s father, lowering the paper into his lap.

D’arcy nodded.

“You never told me that.”

“You never asked.”

“Why’d you change your name?” Amy asked.

“Roll the name Deirdre Morgner around in your head for a minute, Fanny.”

Amy did and discovered it to be a very heavy brown color, almost like mud, with a few pale tan jagged stones mixed in. “Yeah,” said Amy. “D’arcy Moret sounds made up though.”

“That’s ‘cause it is made up,” said D’arcy. “It’s French and it’s made up.”

“French for what?”

“Deirdre Morgner.”

“‘D’arcy Moret’ is green with bits of orange all through it. Like a squash.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“She’s got synesthesia,” said Amy’s father lifting his newspaper again. “Names are sounds, and sounds have colors and patterns associated with them.”

“Yeah?” D’arcy said, looking from the newspaper to Amy. “What’s ‘Watergate’ sound like?”

Amy’s father turned the page of his Times. “Sounds like he’s headed for impeachment.”

“Yellow close to orange with stripes of light red,” said Amy.

“How do we know she’s not putting us on with this stuff, George?”

“Because I never lie,” said Amy.

“She never lies,” said her father from behind his stolen newspaper.


“Where’d you get that thing?” Amy asked the creature on an almost warm late-March afternoon as rounded islands of snow still melted in the northern shoals of the house.

D’arcy sat in a lawn chair in a bikini and held a silver piece of cardboard under her chin.

“Your dad. Found it in the closet. Said he used to use it.”

“Yeah, like forever ago. No one uses those anymore.”

I’m using it.”

“Sun gives you skin cancer. Don’t you know that?”

“Smoking’s gonna give me cancer before the sun does, Fanny.”

“Well, why do you smoke then?”

“Why are you so worried about my health?”

“I can’t stand it when I see people do dumb things.”

D’arcy opened her eyes and squinted at Amy hovering over her. “Are you gonna stand there and stare at me again?”

“Don’t you get a weird line under your neck where the tan stops and starts.”

“I know what I’m doing, Fanny. I’m a professional.”

“Well, couldn’t you do it on the other side of the house?”



“Because why?”

“Because everyone can see you here. People driving by honk at you. Don’t you even notice that?”

“What the hell do I care if they honk? That’s their bag.”

The pupils of D’arcy’s bright blue eyes were wide and the whites were bloodshot.

“Are you high right now?” Amy asked.

“What if I am?”

“Do you sell pot?”

“No. I’m a consumer, baby, not a dealer. Why?”

“Someone at school said you sold her pot.”

“Someone at school is full of shit.”

“Why would they say that if it wasn’t true?”

“Because girls your age are malicious bitches is why, Fanny. I smoke it but I don’t sell it.”

“I see you high but I never see you smoking it.”

“That’s because your dad doesn’t want us to smoke it front of you. You know those walks we take in the woods in the afternoons sometimes?”


“You never noticed how we come back relaxed?”

Amy sighed.

“If you want some weed,” said D'arcy, “let me know.”

“So you do sell it?”

“I’d give it to you, Fanny.”

“Why would you be giving me pot if Dad doesn’t even want you smoking it in front of me?”

“Got me there,” said D’arcy. “Logic’s never been my thing.”

“No, I do not want any weed,” said Amy, walking away, “you fucking pothead.”


Her father kept a big portfolio in a leather case and inside it, among many other beautiful women in advertisements, were pictures of D'arcy in ads for deodorant, mouthwash, and pantyhose. In no two of the ads did D'arcy look like the same woman. She looked instead like three completely distinct individuals, and Amy looked at the three women over and over again trying to find any trace of D’arcy Moret and trying to compare each of them with the actual D’arcy Moret. Her efforts were inconclusive. The only thing the four women shared was beauty and crystalline blue eyes that made them look alien but, perhaps for that reason, even more beautiful.


His name was Mr. Frieben and he would tap a pen against a pad or against the knee of his corduroy pants and then push his glasses up on his nose with the knuckle of his index finger and seem to recede into the plush chair in which he sat. On some of the days the sweater he wore resembled the upholstery in the chair and Amy would have the impression it was the chair asking the questions while Frieben napped. In fact, his voice always seemed to be in a somnolent mode, so that all she wanted to do after they were finished was go home and sleep.

Because of the particular way her mother had chosen to exit the world, for a while Amy had to see a counselor at school, but all Frieben did was give her little pamphlets about dealing with grief and ask her how she was feeling.

“Fine,” she would say.

“Still not singing?”


“That’ll come back in time.”

“Will it?”

“Your mother suffered from what’s called manic depression, Amy. You understand you had nothing to do with that?”

“If you say so.”

“It’s not what I say that matters, it’s what you feel.”

“If you say so.”

He wanted her to call him “Peter,” and sometimes he would look at her chest though his eyes would jump back to the pad he kept on his knee as soon as she looked at him. Then she would look down at her chest and then at him and he would blush and say, “Let’s talk a little more about your schoolwork.”

When she told D’arcy about this D'arcy said, “Probably goes home and jerks off thinking about your tits, Fanny.”

“That’s disgusting,” said Amy, who only a year before had been completely flat-chested.

“That’s men,” said D'arcy.

“If that’s men, why are you with my dad?”

“Your dad’s an artist,” said D'arcy and then flicked her hair back with her hand to indicate it was a conclusive answer that settled the question and that there was nothing further to debate. And it had exactly this effect on Amy, who watched the hair whisk over the perfect little slope of D’arcy’s shoulder and fall across her beautifully curved back and against the tan skin of her neck and it would be as if beauty were an answer to which no further questions could be put.


Amy couldn’t help but hear her father making love to D'arcy at night because there were so few other sounds in the house. Except for the occasional car going by on Fort Salonga Road and crickets as spring turned to summer, there was a deep purple silence. Her father never made a sound but D'arcy made many different sorts of noises in the bedroom, as if she were imitating a number of furry woodland creatures, though they all sounded somehow ... muffled. Because of this, Amy had the impression someone was holding a pillow over D’arcy’s head. It was like watching Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom broadcast through a bag of feathers so that you couldn’t see the picture and even the sounds of the animals were enveloped in goose down. The only possibility that Amy could imagine though, outside of D'arcy holding the pillow herself, was her father holding it. Which gave Amy a strange, almost violent idea of how her father made love to D'arcy.

Sometimes that summer the sweet smell of grass would waft out of their room into Amy’s and now and then there would be giggling either before or after the chirping, moaning, and occasional barking that D’arcy did under her pillow. They made no effort anymore to hide their habit from Amy.

“If you can smoke pot, why can’t I?” she asked her father at the dinner table one night in June.

“Because you’re fourteen.”

“Well, when can I start?”

D'arcy poured some Lipton into a cracked mug, ripped open a saccharine packet, dropped the contents into the tea and stirred the glass with a long spoon. “Are you trying to tell me you’ve never smoked pot?”

“I’m not gonna tell you anything,” said Amy, “I just hate hypocrisy.”

“Oh, hypocrisy,” said her father. He held to the light some slides of his wall paintings he’d gotten back that afternoon. “You think hypocrisy is the worst thing in life?”

“I didn’t say I thought it was the worst thing, I just said I hate it.”

“You know who wasn’t a hypocrite, Sis? Hitler.”


“Yeah. He was a genocidal maniac. He killed six million Jews. But a hypocrite? No.”

“What’s Hitler got to do with me smoking pot?” Amy said and bit into a broccoli spear D’arcy had undercooked.

D’arcy asked, “Well, have you smoked pot or not?”

“I did once but it hurt my throat and I never have again.”

“Then what the hell are you...”

George put his hand on D’arcy’s knee and patted it a few times and gave her a look and she fell silent.

“I never hear you singing anymore, Ame,” he said. “Makes me sad. When are you gonna go back to Mrs. Schneider?”

Scheider. Mrs. Scheider. Never. Who’d pay for it, anyway?”

“I will. Soon as I sell a few paintings. Soon as I figure out how to sell a wall,” he said and dropped a slide onto the table and picked up another.

“Well, why don’t you paint on something you can sell?”

“Been done, Sis. Been done to death. Art’s moving in another direction. Anyway, art’s not about money, Ame. Think I’ve told you that.”

“Yeah, you’ve told me that,” she said. “You’ve told me that about a thousand times.”


It was in the middle of July when Pastor Thune came and sat down at the kitchen table with the strange little family. D'arcy had baked some bread in the old stove that morning and the four of them sat at the table and ate the fresh bread and Thune, whose personality seemed to expand modestly though noticeably in the presence of D’arcy Moret, said “The church is perfectly modern when it comes to living arrangements, George. D’arcy, you understand. We’re very liberal. I know you think I’m uptight about certain things...”

“No, Quent,” said Amy’s father.

“Well, anyway, this has nothing to do with D’arcy living here. I don’t want you to think that. Everyone from the bishop down knows about it and no one’s complained.”

“You want us out,” said D’arcy. “They want us out, George.”

“The thing of it is,” said Pastor Thune, “the thing of it is they’re going to pull down the house. They want to put up an A & P here and they’re offering the church nine-thousand for the lot. And believe me, with a shrinking congregation, the church needs the money.”

“You can’t fit an A & P on this little lot, Quent.”

“Yeah. But the woods to the east are owned by a farmer named Fitzman and he’s selling too.”

Amy’s father sighed. “Well, shit. When do we have to be out?”

“Oh, there’s no rush. The diocese says the end of August is fine. Let’s say first of September.”

Amy’s father gripped the edge of the makeshift table with both hands and shook it and said, “A fucking A & P.”

“It’s what people want,” said Thune.

“People want whatever the TV tells them to want,” said D'arcy and offered the young pastor another slice of bread.


Over the following two weeks Amy’s father moped a great deal and waited for the sun to be in precisely the right spot for the best lighting on the floor that would reflect onto the walls so that he could photograph his paintings. It had occurred to him to try and save the walls in their entirety and have them shipped somewhere but when he spoke to someone at the company the church said would be pulling down the house, they told him it would be expensive. Besides, where would he have stored the walls?

Then, one muggy evening in early August, he announced that they would be moving to California at the end of the month.

The next evening, while the crickets were chirping and fireflies moved through the woods outside Amy’s window, and the last traces of day were descending in the west, D’arcy came into Amy’s room and lay on the bed with her and said, “You’ve got to trust me on this, Fanny. I was there a couple of times with my old man on business trips when I was a kid. The sky is bigger in California. At least in LA.”

Amy’s father was in town buying groceries but he’d left the radio on in the next room and the voices of a Bach octet reached them lightly from the hallway.

“How can the sky be bigger?”

“I don’t know. Just is.”

“What’re we gonna do out there?”

“Same thing we do here. You’ll go to school. I’ll find some modeling work. Your dad’s looking for a job. He’ll find some work out there.”

“Why don’t we wait until he finds a job to move to California?”

“Church wants us out by the end of the month.”

“Why can’t we find a place near here until he finds a job out there?”

“Does that make sense to you?”

“I don’t know.”

“He has some idea about being an animator for Disney, but I don’t think there are too many of those jobs around. Maybe for kids’ cartoons but he doesn’t wanna do those.”

“Where will we live?”

“I don’t know exactly. I’d like to live near the ocean.”

“I’m not gonna have any friends there.”

“No one has friends anywhere,” said D'arcy. “Things don’t happen because you have friends. Things happen because everyone along the line gets their cut.”

“What does that mean?”

“I don’t know. Just something I heard once. Bullshit, probably. Anyway, you’ll make new friends in school. They’ll be better friends. Sun makes you smarter.”

“Sun makes you dumber. I feel dumber when I go to the beach.”

“What about the Greeks? They were pretty smart, weren’t they?”

“I don’t know,” said Amy. “Did they go to the beach?”

“Well, Plato was pretty smart. Socrates was pretty smart. And it’s pretty sunny in Greece. Sun makes you healthier and that makes you smarter.”

“Why do we have to go all the way to California? We’re a lot closer to New York.”

“Because your dad wants to move to California, Fanny. I want to move to California too. New York’s all washed up. City’s going broke. Anyway, your dad’s had it with New York. That’s why he quit Ogilvy. He’s had it. He’s an artist. Shit, they had him doing layouts for Listerine and Ex-lax. That stuff just kills your soul, you know? Out in California is where it’s at now.  Once you get to California you’ll think it’s better.”

“What if I don’t?”

“Then you’ll be shit out of luck because that’s where we’ll be.”


They moved into a two-bedroom apartment on a small street called Whatley near the bottom of Canyon Boulevard where it met Franklin Boulevard and where the freeway cut one half of Hollywood off from the other. The apartment had cottage cheese on the ceiling and vaguely green shag carpeting and the paint on the walls was what D'arcy called “Landlord White” and almost nothing in the apartment struck Amy as having any particular sound associated with it. This was the first time she’d encountered such a thing. The walls were silent and the slatted blinds were silent and the stucco on the outside of the building was silent. Not one of them called out to her or had anything to say. There were sounds, yes. There was the sound of traffic on the freeway and there were the sounds of people in other apartments, but nothing spoke to her. Certainly nothing sang.

They slept on blow-up mattresses that slowly lost air and had to be reinflated periodically for the first few months until her father found a job working for the American Box Corporation in Burbank and they could afford real beds and the inflatable mattresses were deflated and put back in their boxes in the closet. At American Box Corporation Amy’s father designed labels for boxes that would carry large shipments – of canned goods, textiles, electronics, magazines, and almost anything else that wasn’t animate—from one part of the planet to another via truck or train or ship. He said a chimpanzee with a limited assortment of Crayolas could design the boxes just as well as he could, there not being much demand for real design at the American Box Corporation, but that given enough time even a chimpanzee would grow bored and would have to replaced with another chimpanzee.

“Got hold of me again, Sis,” he told her.

“What did?”


“What’s Moloch?”

“It’s not a what, it’s a who. Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running money! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies! Moloch whose breast is a cannibal dynamo! Moloch whose ear is a smoking tomb!”

“Oh,” said Amy. “ Well, if you don’t like working there why are you working there?”

“It’s called paying the rent, Sis.”


When the summer vacation ended two weeks after they came to the canyon, Amy found that the school she was sent to, Cherimoya High, was designed like a minimum-security prison. Her junior high on Long Island had more closely resembled a reformatory but this was because it had, in fact, at one time been a reformatory. Cherimoya High had no such excuse. Her father sat down to try and explain California’s approach to high school education to her, as nearly as he could divine it. In New York, he said, schools were viewed as places to send children so that they would not be run over by a car, whereas in California schools were places to send children so that they didn’t run over others.

There were no windows at Cherimoya High, as there had always been, in great abundance, at Ralph J. Farnsworth Junior High in Long Island. At least there were none in the classrooms. The building that housed the teacher’s lounge, the principle’s and vice-principle’s offices, all these had windows; they were tinted windows so that you couldn’t see in and they could see out, but they were windows. The buildings that housed the classrooms, however, had only walls hung with pedagogic posters in great abundance, so that where you might have looked out, in Long Island, and seen a maple swaying gently in a light rain, here you saw a poster describing the human digestive system or the names for the myriad forms of fungi.

The buildings were one story high and laid out with big letters painted on them like cell blocks and were enclosed by an iron fence painted sky blue to make it look, Amy theorized, less like a cage. In school publications—flyers, charity drive notices, football schedules – the area where the school stopped and the world began was referred to as “The Perimeter.” For instance: “Buses for Wednesdays field trip to the Natural History Museum will line up at the Perimeter at 10 AM.” Always capitalized. No one mentioned the cage itself though. That is, no one mentioned the actual bars that kept them all prisoner, and so Amy assumed the other students were fooled by the blue paint. But Amy was not.

The only way you were allowed out of the cage was with a special “pass” printed on yellow paper and signed by a teacher or another school official. However, these could also be purchased, Amy discovered, from a boy named Jason Bergsvik who’d managed to steal a pad full of blank passes from a biology teacher named Mr. Pinter. The only way out of the gates before three o’clock, however, was by showing your counterfeit pass to someone in the administrative office. And, said Jason Bergsvik, “Woe betide you if you get caught and tell anyone where you got the fake pass because I will hunt you down and fuck. You. Up.”

Inside the cage, a week before Thanksgiving, a tenth-grader named Tom Bratcher, unable to help himself, came up from behind and grabbed Amy’s recently formed and magnificent breasts, both of them, at once, and she swung around so quickly with her elbow out that she caught his almost comically catchable jaw and sent him hurtling into a locker, which knocked him unconscious and he slumped to the ground and caromed forward and lay on the concrete like a discarded marionette. He was very beautiful lying there on the cement unconscious before he awoke. His shoulder-length blonde hair lay around him as if he were a Nordic goddess floating on water and he had a peaceful look on his tanned face. Then he moaned and shook his head like a character in a cartoon and his mouth made spastic movements and he sat up and spat blood and a single tooth bounced onto the concrete and he was less beautiful.


Because Tom Bratcher had done what he had done to Amy and she had done what she’d done to him – and it was certainly true that each of them had done something to the other—the only action the vice-principle of the school felt was appropriate was to suspend Frances Amity for three days. He had an odd scheme for this suspension, however, which slowly became more clear to Amy as he explained it.

“And let’s not quibble, shall we, about who did what to whom in what order,” said the vice-principle, his sentence taking the form, in Amy’s mind, of custard unmoored from an éclair.

“I didn’t do anything wrong,” she said.

“I’m told the boy you hit has a concussion and he lost a tooth.”

“He grabbed my tits.”

“Listen,” he said and pointed a trembling finger at her. “I don’t want to hear that kind of language in here.” He cleared his throat. “We’re looking into that. Anyway, you’ll serve your suspension over the Thanksgiving break.”

“Wait. Doesn’t being suspended mean not coming to school?”


“How am I going to do that over the Thanksgiving break?”

“For starters, I suggest you don’t come to school.”

“What do you mean?” said Amy. “No one comes to school over Thanksgiving break.”

“Well, young lady,” he said, “ever heard of life sentences being served concurrently?”


“Well, it’s like that.”

He wore a red polyester sport’s jacket and a gold tie—these were the school’s colors, Cherimoya High having appropriated them and its mascot from Arizona State—and told her that violence wasn’t the way to handle the kind of situation she’d found herself in and that she should instead have reported Bratcher to the school authorities and they would have dealt with the situation in the proper manner.

“What’s the proper manner?” Amy asked.

“Well, like I said before, we’re looking into it.”

“I looked into it,” she said. “And I think I handled it in the proper manner.”

“Are you advocating vigilante justice, Miss Braun?”

“I’m advocating defending myself.”

“We would have defended you,” said the vice-principle. “But our way wouldn’t’ve involved a concussion and a knocked-out tooth.”

“What’s his punishment gonna be?”

“Don’t you think a concussion and a knocked-out tooth are enough?” said the vice-principle. “Lucky if his parents don’t sue the school district.”


After this Amy’s father considered yanking Frances Amity out of Cherimoya High and sending her to another school, especially a girl’s school, which he imagined to be a hive of gentility and thoughtfulness when he conjured it up in his mind. Then he thought of moving the three of them to a better school district, possibly somewhere in Pasadena, a town that had struck him as dignified and as dull as all dignified places, but also as a place with money, which meant the schools would be better than any neighborhood where he could actually afford to live on his salary from American Box Corporation. When he brought these notions up with Amy she told him to forget it and that the same kind of thing was likely to crop up wherever she went because she was “well-developed” for her age.

“Who told you you were ‘well-developed’?”

I did,” said D’arcy, “because she is. Even for fifteen. Look at that chest.”

“Come on.”

“She knows she has tits, George.”

“Everyone knows I have tits, Dad. Anyway, I’m glad I knocked him out.”

“Hell, I’m glad you knocked him out too, Sis,” said her father. “I just think I’ll go and talk to that ass of a vice-principle.”

“Shit, George,” said D’arcy, “what’s that gonna accomplish? Son of a bitch let her off with a suspended sentence.”

“I think he just wants to be able to tell Bratcher’s parents I got suspended,” said Amy, “Even though I didn’t really.”

“This doesn’t strike either of you ladies as an injustice? That a boy grabs your boobs and you defend yourself and you’re the one who gets suspended?”

“I just don’t want you talking to him,” said Amy.

“Well, why not?”

“Because I’d rather serve my time not going to school when no one else is going to school than have you go in there and piss him off and then have to not go to school when everyone else is going to school. What do you want him to do, make me stay home from school on a school day?”


For a long time after they moved to the canyon Amy had dreams about trees. There were so few here, except the palms, and those hardly struck her as trees at all. The dreams, with a few smaller variations, always followed a similar scheme. She was walking through the summer-green woods that had covered the hillside behind her house on Long Island—not her father’s house, borrowed from the church, but the house she’d grown up in—where, though the sky was almost dark with clouds, a warm breeze was always blowing. The trees surrounding her felt like something she might lose herself in, something she might surrender to. There was a thunderstorm brewing but the gray clouds above the trees brought only comfort. She could hear the rumbling far off and could smell the ozone in the air and everything around her felt alive and she would become aware as she walked that she was following D’arcy through the woods, that D’arcy was as much part of the woods as the trees, and that she, Amy, was being led somewhere. A great calm would descend on her then and she would feel as if she were stepping into a warm bath. Then she would look down and find that she was naked as she walked and that D’arcy too was naked and they walked until they came to the Sound and there the two of them stood naked on a bluff and watched the sailboats cutting across the gray water and the thin line of Connecticut in the distance. She would feel the wind from the sea blowing up against her skin and through her hair and between her legs and D’arcy would look at her in her nakedness and at that moment Amy would awaken.

They were often afternoon reveries, the products of naps, and when Amy awoke she would feel clammy from the air-conditioning and if she turned it off and opened a window the faintly sweet but acrid smell of smog, like bread left too long baking in the oven, would waft in with the dry heat through the vertically slatted blinds and all she would see out the window would be the salmon-pink apartment building across Canyon Boulevard and one lone small jacaranda out front and a boy going by on a skateboard.


D’arcy had been trying to find work as a model since they’d moved to California and had gone out on dozens of calls but nothing had come of it. She wasn’t the right type for that year, she told Amy one afternoon that second summer.

“What’s the right type?”

“Farrah Fawcett,” said D’arcy. “Big blonde hair, little tits, tiny ass.”

“Well, I don’t know about the last two,” said Amy, “but you can go and buy yourself a blow dryer.”

Many days now D’arcy sat out on a terrace that looked like a cardboard box roughly six feet wide by eight feet long and smoked pot for part of the afternoon. During these periods she imagined herself having thoughts because it seemed to her that she was thinking as the sun slowly crossed the sky on its way toward Century City. But, when the afternoon was over, she couldn’t remember any of the supposed thoughts she’d had. She could only remember having been. She could only remember having existed. And so she decided to carve a small notch into the wooden railing of the terrace with a pocketknife every time a thought occurred to her and, so far, after sitting stoned on the terrace for three months, there were only six notches in the wood. This was an average of two thoughts per month. There were at least two possibilities concerning this: 1) that this represented a perfectly accurate count of the number of thoughts she’d had over those three months and she’d been mistaken in thinking much thinking had been going on while she was high; 2) she was forgetting to make notches in the terrace railing when she had thoughts. But then, since the notches were really the only way she would know if she had had a thought, there was no way to tell if #2 was the case. Worse, if anyone had asked D’arcy, when she was straight, what any of the notches represented in terms of specific thoughts, she couldn’t have said because she didn’t remember. The whole point of the notches was counting, not remembering. The content of the thoughts wasn’t important; it was the having of the thoughts that counted. It did occur to D’arcy to write down the specific content of the thoughts that came to her while she was high, but in the end she didn’t do it.

She had begun to despair a little about all this sitting out on the terrace high, and, after months had passed with so few thoughts to divide between them, she decided one day, instead of getting high, to write a screenplay. It would be based on her life as a model in New York. George had an old Royal typewriter, though the ribbon had dried out on it, but D’arcy went to a stationary store and bought a ribbon and began work on her screenplay, tentatively titled, “A Model Citizen,” which both Amy and George thought clever. Unfortunately, D’arcy had only been a model in New York for two years and hadn’t had all that many adventures, really, and, despite the promise of the title, she gave up on the screenplay somewhere around page 25.


At eight in the morning D'arcy would still be asleep and Amy would sit at the table and eat Cheerios and her father would stand at the kitchen table and grate a Granny Smith apple into a bowl, then add some granola and raisins and make himself muesli. He would drink a glass of water with it and one morning in late-October after her father had gone, Amy sniffed at the glass and smelled vodka.

She didn’t say anything to her father about this but every morning for a week after she’d found the vodka she would sit and stare at him at the breakfast table whenever he raised his glass.

“Why are you looking at me that way, Sis?”

“What way?”

“You’re staring at me.”

“You drink water at work too?”

“Sometimes. Why?”

“No reason.”

He drank a little in the evening too and maybe he was drunk, but he wasn’t a bad drunk. He would want to have what he called “a rap session” and would try and get D'arcy or Amy to talk to him about Rauschenberg or Rothko or Motherwell or Pollock. He’d given them both books about a half-dozen artists he loved and now and then Amy would try and read them, but she never got very far, and D’arcy hadn’t gotten any farther with them than Amy had. They were strewn around the apartment now with their pages open like fallen birds.


D'arcy moved out in late-July without saying anything to anyone beforehand. She left only a note that said she’d met a man named Rodrigo, an Argentinian actor, and had gone off to live with him.

Amy’s father cried when D’arcy left.

He went into his room and sobbed all night and Amy heard it through the wall, the sounds appearing as a kind of gray curtain, dragged slowly like a cape across a marble floor one way and then the other.


Two months later, just after Amy’s sophomore year at Cherimoya High had begun, D’arcy returned. She let herself in with her key and was sitting on the couch drinking Tropicana lemonade from the carton when Amy came home. She said that Rodrigo had tried to get her to work in stag films. “Stag films, Fanny,” she said. She’d been crying and her cheeks were red and her eyes bloodshot and there was a box of Kleenex next to her on one side of the couch and a great pile of bunched up tissues on the other. Despite the bloodshot eyes though, she’d managed to retain her beauty while she was away and if anything she’d grown more beautiful. She was tanned and her cheeks were freckled and she wore a loose denim shirt, open past the fourth button, so that Amy could see there were no tan lines on D’arcy’s dark chest and she pictured D’arcy topless on some beach with Rodrigo, her Argentinian actor.

Amy dropped her backpack to the carpet and collapsed into a chair at the dining room table. “What’s a stag film?” she asked.

“Are you kidding me, Fanny? How old are you?”

“You know how old I am.”

“And you don’t know what a stag film is?”

“Well, fuck you then.”

“It’s a porno, babe. Where you give some guy a blowjob or screw him. On film. I assume you know what a blowjob is.”

“Dad cried when you left.”

“I imagine.”

“All night.”


“Why didn’t you want to do it?” Amy asked.

“Do what?”

“The stag film.”

“Are you kidding?”


“Because I’m not a slut, is why. Jesus.”

“Well, you’re kind of a slut, D'arcy. You ran off with some guy named Rodrigo who wanted you to make a stag film.”

“I didn’t know he was that kind of guy when I ran off with him. And where do you get off judging me, you little bitch?”

“I don’t think Dad’s gonna be happy you’re here when he gets back.”

“You have no idea what he’ll think.”

“I think you’d better leave.”

D'arcy pushed herself back on the couch and threw a bunched up tissue weakly at Amy. “Why don’t we just wait’ll he gets here and see what he says.”

“Because I don’t want you here when he gets back. You’ll just leave again after a while. All you do when you’re here is sit around getting high anyway.”

“You don’t tell me what to do.”

“I am telling you.”

Amy got up and stood over her and D'arcy looked up, smirking. A hand flew down so quickly that D'arcy never saw it, and Amy’s palm came across her cheek. Then her hair was in Amy’s fist and she was being dragged off the couch and across the coffee table. When Amy let go D’arcy managed to pull Amy’s feet out from under her and they rolled around on the carpet throwing punches without either connecting to anything much until Amy landed something directly to D'arcy’s solar plexus and D'arcy reeled and rolled around trying to catch her breath and then flailed at Amy with her feet as Amy tried to get hold of her legs and D'arcy managed a good solid kick to the ribs and Amy fell away and screamed and recovered and scrambled to her feet and threw herself on top of D'arcy and D'arcy rolled and she was on top and then Amy rolled and she was on top and Amy slapped D'arcy’s face until it was red, “Stop, Amy! Stop!” and tears were running down the sides of D’arcy’s cheeks and she lay breathing heavily, her breasts rising and falling under Amy’s legs as Amy sat straddling her and out of breath herself and Amy rolled off and stood and threw herself onto the couch.

D'arcy lay on the floor for a while and cried, then crawled slowly on her hands and knees to the couch and climbed onto it next to Amy and lay her head on Amy’s shoulder and held her hand. “I’m sorry, Fanny,” she said. “I’m so sorry.”

“I didn’t mean to hurt you,” said Amy. “Or maybe I did. I don’t know.”

“You know I love you, Fanny, don’t you?”

“I guess,” said Amy. “But if you do anything to ever hurt Dad again. I’ll kill you.”


The night D'arcy came back Amy heard her father making love to her in the next room. She’d heard it before but now D’arcy’s moaning had a more desperate quality and there was a sadness to it somehow, as if she were crying her way through the whole thing. Amy lay in bed and put a pillow over her ears and tried not to hear but she could still, and so to drown out the sound she began to hum. She hummed the “Toreador Song” from Carmen and then found herself singing the words.

The words were the color of flames in the night and of silver buttons on uniforms and black lace and white linen...

Toréador, en garde! Toréador!


Et songe bien, oui,

songe en combattant

Qu'un œil noir te regarde,

Et que l'amour t'attend,

Toréador, l'amour, l'amour t'attend!

Then there was a banging on the wall and her father’s voice called, “Hey! Hey, Amy!”


A dark eye is watching you.

“Is that you singing in there?”




“Congratulations!” his voice called back.


At school a boy named Ed from her Spanish class hung around her, a boy named Philip from her Algebra class hung around her, and a boy named Kyle from her Biology class hung around her. They hung around in shifts in the way dolphins had surrounded the ferry Amy and her father had taken to Catalina the summer they’d arrived: the boys, like the dolphins, swam along, sometimes jumping through the waves sometimes looking at Amy out of the corners of their eyes. When Philip wanted to take over, Ed would hang back, and when Kyle wanted to take over, Ed would hang back. Ed was a boy who was constantly throwing his blonde hair out of his eyes with quick movement of his head and was probably not all that bright because he couldn’t remember the simplest phrases in Spanish class. Es difícil bailar, for instance. Amy had memorized whole operas in languages she did not speak. How hard can this be to remember, she wondered. It’s difficult to dance. Philip had a long nose and blue eyes and small patches of red on his cheeks. Kyle was a comedian who made jokes that he could not commit himself to, most of which weren’t, therefore, funny and when Amy didn’t laugh he would say, “They can’t all be gems, folks” or “I tell ya, I don’t get no respect,” and then would pretend to adjust an imaginary tie. Amy had no particular feelings for him or for Ed, but Philip had loosely ringleted hair and played bass in a band called “Peter Pumper,” whose name he laughed about, and she liked that he was quiet and didn’t try as hard as either Kyle or Ed, both of whom strained every muscle to appear laid-back.

Peter Pumper played in a boy named Richard Cudner’s house because the main house had a small guest apartment behind it where they could put their instruments and because both his parents worked and were gone during the day. Philip invited Amy to come and watch them play. It was not the slightest surprise to her that they were terrible. She’d known they would be terrible, via a kind of synesthesistic intuition, and had decided to smile and pretend to enjoy whatever ridiculous performance they gave, but she found even this difficult when they played a song about butchering a chicken with a machete. Possibly a chicken, in any event. Possibly something more actionable. It was hard to tell because the lead singer failed, with great consistency, to enunciate. Maybe because he, too, realized the song would be exponentially more ridiculous if he did. Another song Cudner introduced as their “Black Sabbath homage.” Amy had never listened to the music of Black Sabbath, however, and the only effect Peter Pumper’s homage had was to convince her to postpone doing so. Probably indefinitely. All of the boys but Phillip had grown wispy facial hair and all wore ripped jeans and t-shirts that said things on them like, “Blue Oyster Cult” or “ZZ Top” or “Led Zeppelin,” and Philip’s said, “Boston.” The boy whose parents owned the house played lead guitar and did a few not very good solos, bending halfway down and laying the guitar against the copper button of his 501’s as he played, so as to try and look like he knew what he was doing. But he didn’t and it only made him look slightly spastic and Amy nearly began to laugh when she watched his face straining as he played some basic barred chords as if he were outdoing Segovia fingering Invitation to the Dance. The lead singer was a boy named Eric Applegate and he tried to sound throaty and older than he was and to look dark and brooding, especially when he sang their Black Sabbath homage, “Children of the Devil.” But he had long wiry red hair that hung down the sides of his head like giant ears and sad eyes that he tried to squint to make look tough and the overall effect was of a sort of eager cocker spaniel waiting for dinner.


The day after she’d watched Peter Pumper practice she sat with Philip in the cafeteria at Cherimoya High.

“I know we stink,” he said. “Applegate can’t sing for shit. Cudner only plays lead guitar because it’s his parent’s house.”

“Do you see anything when you play, Philip?”

“What do you mean?”

“Colors, shapes. When you’re playing bass.”

“I feel it, here,” he said, and tapped his sternum.

“What’s it feel like?”

“I don’t know. Like someone kicking me. Why?”

She shrugged.

“You don’t play an instrument?”

“No,” she said. “But I sing sometimes.”

“Sing what?”

“I don’t know. Depends. I sang some Schubert leider in the shower this morning.”

“Schubert what?”

“Means ‘song’ in German.”

“You know German?”

“No, but I can remember the sounds. They’re like pictures to me.”

“Who’s Schubert?”

“Austrian composer.”

“Like, classical?”


“You like that stuff?”

“Well, I just don’t see much when I listen to rock. With classical music I see colors and shapes.”

“Kinds of colors and shapes?”

“Ever seen a lava lamp?”

“I guess.”

“Like that,” she said. “Only not really like that.”


Philip had a Ford Courier pick-up with a seat that went all the way across and Amy would sit up against him as they drove to the beach south of Malibu while it was still hot in October. They would cook hot dogs or hamburgers on a Hibachi until it got dark and then lie under a blanket and he would crawl down and put his head between her legs. This did very little for her. Possibly he wasn’t very good at it. She wasn’t sure. He didn’t seem to understand where the sensitive spots were and she was too embarrassed to tell him they were not the spots he was investigating. Still, she would let him do whatever he liked down there because he seemed to like it a great deal. Maybe he merely thought he was supposed to. She could never be sure which it was and wasn’t sure how to bring up the question, so she let him keep doing what he did and let his tongue keep wandering far and wide like a ship searching for land, but he never seemed to find terra firma.

What she would not do though was the thing he seemed her to want to do more even than pretending to enjoy his tongue flicking around her inner thigh, even more than giving herself to him, which she’d done maybe a dozen times now (she wasn’t counting, though he was). He could never bring himself to use the word for what he wanted though and this reticence struck her as odd because he’d contorted his body into pretzels over this desire and still the word for it dared not speak its name. At the beach, in the darkness of their blanket, he would raise himself up higher and higher until she was staring at his stomach, then he would turn over and lie on his back so that his head was well above hers, even off the blanket and into the sand, and she was supposed to try doing the thing he wanted even more than giving herself to him. But this other thing she couldn’t bring herself to do. She’d even gone to Planned Parenthood and gotten birth control pills because he didn’t like to wear a condom, but this other thing she couldn’t bring herself to do. She would play with him in her hands and could even bring him almost all the way with just three fingers but this other thing, no. No. She would kiss his stomach and play with him in her hands but she would never kiss farther down than the bellybutton though there was always his constantly moving himself up so that she was constantly finding herself lower down and having to climb a little with him. But all this accomplished was to carry both of them farther into the sand at the edge of the blanket and to make them appear, to anyone who might happen by, as a fairly slow moving eight-legged crab of monstrous proportions.

One night on the beach, after the crab had managed to crawl its way almost entirely free of the blanker, Philip finally said, “God, I give up.”

“I’m sorry,” she said.

“You’ll let me fuck you. You’ll give me a hand job. But you won’t do that.”

“Is it that important?”

“What have you got against it, exactly?”

“I don’t know. I ... I don’t want anything going down my throat. I sing with my throat, Philip.”

“You mean like if I came? I wouldn’t do that.”

“I don’t mean that but that’s disgusting.”

She laughed.

“What’s so funny?”

“I don’t know,” she lied. In truth, the idea of trying to argue someone into a sex act struck her suddenly as ridiculous.

“You don’t have to stick the whole thing down your throat, you know. You do it with your lips and your hands. And I wouldn’t finish in your mouth. I’d finish inside you.”

“How do you know so much about this if you’ve never been with another girl?” Because that was what he’d told her, that none of his experiments had been conducted in other laboratories.

“I’ve seen movies,” he said.

Stag movies?”

He laughed.

“What’s so funny?”

“Just the way you said it.”

“You’ve seen them?”

“Yeah,” he said.

“Where do you get them?”

“My older brother. The one who’s at Cal Poly.”

“Where does he get them?”

“I don’t know. Probably one of his douchebag friends.”

“Could you bring one to my house?”

“Why would you want to see it?”

She shrugged.

He asked, “You have a Super 8 projector?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Well, you need one to see ‘em.”

“You have one?”

“Yeah,” he said.

“Why can’t we watch at your house?”

“‘Cause my mom’s always around.”

“Could you bring it to my house?”

“What if someone sees me bringing it in and they ask what for?”

“No one’s gonna care. My dad’s girlfriend might be around but she’s not gonna bug you. Anyway, she works Tuesdays and Thursdays if you want to come then.”

“She’s pretty hot,” said Philip, “your dad’s girlfriend.”

“Yeah,” said Amy, “I guess she is.”

“How old is your dad?”

“What’s that got to do with anything? Forty-two.”

“Why’s she wanna be with someone that old?”

“Uh, maybe because he’s an artist.”

“Ah, shit. You’re always saying that. He works at some box place you told me.”

“That’s his regular job, Philip. Don’t you listen? I told you, he’s a painter. He just hasn’t had much time to paint lately.”

“Yeah and my dad builds model airplanes. Big deal.”

“Why don’t you do me a favor,” said Amy and got up and clapped the sand off her hands. “Give yourself a blow-job, Philip, and save me the trouble. You ought to be limber enough by now the way you’re always climbing up to stick your dick in my face.”


D'arcy had found a job working two days a week as an assistant to a man who took headshots for aspiring actors. His name was Ray Baugh and he worked out of his apartment on a small dead end street off of Canyon Drive where D'arcy said he would have actors and actresses strike stereotypical poses on the stairs that led to his door: smiling, smiling slightly less, laughing, pensive, thinking, not thinking. “You don’t really have to tell an actor not to think, Fanny, did you know that? It’s what they’re doing most of the time anyway. Just naturally,” D’Arcy had said. He would put up reflectors and flashes and make small talk with the actors while he took their photographs, speaking in a natural way that put them at ease and convinced them he was not a crook taking advantage of rubes. “He’s not a crook either,” said D’arcy, “He’s a professional taking advantage of rubes.” And, said D’arcy, he was very good at convincing actors that whatever came out of their mouths was an important contribution in the sphere of thought and not just something they’d heard from another actor somewhere. She told Amy that actors were, generally speaking, dull people when it came to making conversation but that Ray could fill an entire photo session with reassuring words that if you were going to translate them into the language spoken by cats would sound pretty much like purring and communicate about as much content. At the end of a few sessions D'arcy couldn’t have repeated two things that had been said the whole afternoon. “He’s a fucking genius,” she told Amy. “He gets seventy-five bucks for a set of pictures he took in an hour on the front stoop of his crappy apartment building.” She would hold up reflectors or hand him different cameras and change the rolls of film as he worked and take the film to the lab at the end of the day and pick up the contact sheets and once he’d picked the shots he wanted she would have the prints made at the lab and then once he’d checked those she would take them over to the actor’s agent’s, if they had what was known in the trade as “representation.”  That was apparently the secret of Ray Baugh’s success: he knew all the agents, all the little no-account ones anyway. He was giving the agents a cut, what he called a “finder’s fee,” for the headshot work. “That’s a kickback, Fanny,” D’arcy said. “Don’t you dare call it that, but it’s a kickback.” If the actor didn’t have what was known in the trade as representation she would tell them that, for a fee, Ray Baugh would send the headshot to his “list of prestigious agents.” “For this, Ray cuts me four dollars and twenty-five cents out of his seventy-five an hour. That’s practically twice minimum wage, baby,” said D’arcy. Crap. But the work was easy and she thought she might learn from Ray Baugh and take up the headshot business herself one day. “Think of all the heads that are gonna need shooting, Fanny,” she said. “I mean, think of all the idiots coming here every day thinking the only thing standing between them and stardom is a black and white eight by ten.”


Philip came over at a little after noon on Tuesday. He set up the projector in her bedroom, going through a fascinating and involved spooling process, and Amy sat with him on the bed and watched a film of two women, one of them blonde, the other brunette, both wearing what were clearly wigs, and both of them dressed in skimpy, easy-to-remove lingerie, give a blowjob that lasted nearly three solid minutes to a hairy man who pulled absurd faces whenever the camera cut to him. He bit his lower lip. He scrunched up his eyes. He made a shape with his mouth she’d seen gorillas make in the zoo, a sort of O with top and bottom lips curled. His front teeth were small and bunched together and his eyebrows met between his eyes. He had, under his nose and extending to well below his upper lip, a bushy mustache of a kind that had gone out of fashion about the time the miniskirt had come in, and he would occasionally make a very unpleasant face: it was a sort of bestial face, as if he were about to beat someone to death when, in fact, it merely accompanied some light spanking.

“What’s all that about?” Amy asked.

“What’s all what about?”

“The spanking.”

“I don’t know,” said Philip, “They all do that.”


“I don’t know.”

“You ever smack me like that and I’ll slap your face.”

“All right, all right. See how they’re doing most of it with their hands,” Philip said. “Not just their lips.”

“How come there’s no sound?”

“Just isn’t with these.”

After the two women, by some mutual but silent agreement, gave up on the man’s groin, he mounted the brunette from behind while the blonde lay down in front of her and the brunette put her head between the blonde’s legs while the blonde played apathetically with her own breasts, until she suddenly took greater interest in the one on the left, which she tortured into a position where her tongue might reach the nipple. Might have, but didn’t, since there was too little breast to accomplish it, and she settled on pinching the nipple tightly between her index and middle fingers and made a stern face as if punishing it.

“Why’s everything so bright?” Amy asked.

“They’re all like that,” said Philip.

“How many of these do you have?”

“Four. Had five, but I lent one to Ricky Lo and he lost it.”

“The mongoloid kid?”

“He’s not mongoloid. He’s Chinese.”

“No, I think he’s retarded, Philip. He’s in my social studies class and I think he’s retarded. He sits at the back and draws and Kirkley never calls on him.”

“They don’t put retarded kids in with regular kids.”

“Then maybe I’m retarded.”

After they’d watched the film he coached her in how to reproduce some of the effects she’d just seen. He felt slimy in her mouth and he had a strange taste, somewhere between artichoke and sweat, and he was constantly trying to push himself farther down her throat so that she felt like she couldn’t breathe. Sometimes he would put his hand on the back of her head and pull her down on him.

“God, you feel so good. God, you feel so good,” he kept repeating rhythmically.

The only warning he gave before finishing was a short guttural moan and then he held her head and she felt a sudden warmth at the back of her throat and she stood up and spit and felt the stuff running down from her lips onto her chin and saw that it was all over his leg and the sheets.

“You said you wouldn’t,” she said.

“I couldn’t help it.” He sat up on his elbows, flushed and smiling.

“It tastes disgusting.”

“Well, go spit the rest of it out in the sink.”

She went into the bathroom and rinsed her mouth and brushed her teeth for a long time with a great deal of toothpaste and then went back into the bedroom and picked up his backpack and handed it to him and said, “I want you to leave now, Philip.”

“Oh, come on. It was an accident.”

“You said you wouldn’t. You held my head.”

“I couldn’t help it.”

“You could help it. I want you to get out!” She found that she was shouting and hadn’t meant to and that her whole body was shaking slightly and that if he didn’t leave she was going to have to knock him down.


She gathered up the bed sheets and went down to the laundry room and threw them into the washing machine and sat and watched them go around and around in the little glass window. She sat through the rinse and spin cycles and then put the sheet into the dryer and waited and when the sheets were dry she took them back upstairs and spread them on the bed and lay down and fell asleep.

When she awoke the sun was setting and the room was bathed in a sleepy afternoon light and neither her father nor D’arcy had come home yet. She went into the kitchen and made toast and buttered it and as she was eating it D’arcy came through the door. She threw her bag onto one of the chairs at the dining table and went to the fridge. She rummaged around and finally took out a jar of pickled herring and some Saltines from the cabinet and stood eating at the kitchen counter, reading a magazine.

“Have you ever heard of a guy named Robert Hays?” D’arcy asked from the kitchen.


“Neither had I, but apparently he rates a location shoot.” She turned the pages of her magazine.


“Santa Monica. On the pier. Traffic was hell getting back.”

“I have a question,” said Amy.


“What does Ray look like?”

“Oh, about fifty-five. With a head of magnificent baldness and the most beautiful set of false teeth.”

“I bet you meet a lot of good looking actors on that job though.”

“I bet I do.”

“And actresses.”

“Especially the actresses.”

“You don’t love my dad, do you?”

“I don’t know.”

“Then why do you stay?”

“Maybe I stay for you.”

“What do you mean?”

“Just what I said.”

D'arcy closed her magazine and came to the table and sat in the chair next to Amy. She stretched her arms out and let herself slump over the table, then drew herself up and put her elbow on the table and let her chin rest in her palm. “Sing something for me, Fanny.”

“Sing something for you?”


“Like what?”

“Whatever you want. I’m sure it’ll be pretty. Maybe it’ll pick me up.”

Amy thought about it for a minute, then quietly cleared her throat and sang “Gute Nacht” from Schubert’s Wintereise. It was a song about a man who had won the love of a girl in May and had hoped to marry her but now she was gone and it was winter and he was wandering through the trackless snow at night — Love loves to wander, she sang, from one person to the next — and as she sang she could see a cerise snowfall drifting over vermillion hills and Tuscan red branching shapes that looked like maple trees or cracks in ice growing outward through a carmine aurora, and when the burgundy ice broke apart it revealed a sea whose icy waves were the color of D’arcy’s eyes, a very beautiful sort of blue. The colors and shapes floated in front of her but she could see D'arcy through them and saw her roll down one sleeve of her floral shirt and daub her eyes with the cuffs, and when Amy was finished singing D'arcy leaned forward and kissed her on the forehead and then on the nose and finally reached her mouth and kissed her lightly there and they kissed this way for a while with their lips pressed gently up against one another and then D'arcy leaned back and rolled the sleeve of her shirt up again and stood and said, “I’m gonna make pork chops for dinner.”

Author Bio: 

Nick Roth’s stories have appeared or are upcoming in Roanoke ReviewCrab Creek ReviewThe Forge Literary MagazineNoctua ReviewShooter Literary MagazineRivet JournalWord RiotPrick of the Spindle and a number of other magazines. He lives in Los Angeles.