From listening, I’ve gathered a few things about this client who keeps my friend all bruised up and strung out. I’ve learned he is a moviemaker. He makes movies, but there are other things. He’s only 5’6. He keeps a gun in his car just for fun. Before film, he was a sous chef and his favorite part of the job was firing people. One time, his left lung collapsed during a scream match with a miserable employee. Now, after the incident, he’s much better at keeping calm.
“What he really is,” Marla says, “is the opposite of an architect.”
He unbuilds everything, including her. Thick waves of black hair fall around her guileless mouth. She brushes them away.
When she tells it that way, I feel like I have enough space inside of me for anyone.
Marla says he still has this old girl from “before.” Before what, I assume she means before she came into the picture. As if she were an event. This old girlfriend whom he won’t let go of all the way. He’s thinking of having the old girl move back into his house.
Marla tells me, “I know I can’t compete with two years. So will you please help me figure out how to compete with two years?”
I don’t know how to answer something she already knows the answer to, but I tell her the truth. Which is one: she isn’t competing. Not with him paying her for her services. And two: that maybe she is starting her own history with him, and that counts. It really does.
Then she tells me that at the same time, he has this new girl. Someone who excites him in ways that she doesn’t. So because he has the two, he’s decidedly portioned less room for Marla.
“Looks like your girl Marley’s been cut,” is how she puts it.
I think it’s time she pulls out.
Monday morning Marla comes in with a new scenario for me to talk her down about. We meet in a concrete locker room. She’s telling me the scenario goes like this:
“I’ll pay you to wait for me,” she says to him. “Even though you owe me money, I’ll pay you. Do you want me to pay you?”
“Let’s do this together,” she says. “I just want to hold your hand.”
He lets her know he doesn’t want a Beatles song.
Though I dread it, I ask her for more.
He says, “You look new when you’re desperate.”
Then she runs out of ways to bargain. Like a sputtering engine, I think. At times like these I want to tell Marla that she keeps on bringing me down. I can’t take all of this overcast at once.
That’s when she’ll stand with her legs spread, points down at her savage.
“What about all that head while you were driving? When do I get mine?”
Then, because he agrees to pay her back by kissing or rubbing her savage in the form of bi-weekly car rides—which surprises her—she’ll make it clear to him as fast as she’s losing, “Baby, you’re changing.”
“Look,” she says. “What you need to know is I’ve been telling everyone that this is the last time I beg you for anything.”
She says, “Really, you’re different. I can’t even get off on the thought of you anymore. I don’t care if you know.”
While she tells everyone, and now him, these things—she means them—I know what follows. What follows is that this is the last time he decides to come back, which must mean that somewhere down there his savage is still moved by her. I thought I understood it, but I didn’t. Not one thing.
Marla with her breakaway heart and how she breathes small hiccups in her sleep.
Before the light even comes on in her bedroom she’ll already be crouched, half-mast, on the floor. Bruised, around those tender kneecaps.
He’ll come in all of his filmmaking glory, a camera strapped to his body with the red light on, and she’ll know what’s in store for her. When all of his new clothes come off and he shows her that actually, he’s been the same all along, she’ll let him undress her too. She’ll let him do it because they need to be showing each other how actually, they’ve both been the same all along.
Then he’ll say as he presses his sorry face into her legs, “Your knees, they taste like dirt, just the way they used to.”
I’ll wait for Marla. She’ll be back eventually.
Angela Huynh is a writer living in Brooklyn. She is from Annandale, Virginia. Follow her on