Two teenage girls sit in the back row of a movie theater watching a blockbuster they didn’t buy tickets for. The city’s all humidity and this film’s something new. Snuck-in with thirty minutes until finale. Action or crime, a thriller in the chill of corporate air conditioning. Two million dollars spent on stunt doubles alone. Famous actors and a new unknown whose been crossing her legs back and forth on the talk show circuit, suffocating in a latex dress while she tells an already drunk Jimmy how she got found.
I was walking down the street with my two best friends when a man in a little hat pounced out of an alleyway and asked to take my photograph.
She laughs at how random she believed she was, and sips warm vodka from the promotional mug, pretending it’s water.
Next thing you know I’m shaking hands with an executive named Trish Cardonino, you know Trish, firm grip, and she’s telling me I’ve gotta learn to like airplanes because I’m going to spend the rest of my life doing lots of jet-setting.
The new unknown pulls up at the straps of her bra, threatening a spill that never comes, giggling her way through the rest of her own mythology.
And you know what, just like that: I was the place to be.
The movie’s plot is the same as all the others: A bald father’s beautiful teenaged daughter disappears in the middle of the night and he sets out on an international quest to find the men who’ve stolen her, and her virginity. He worries he’s being blackmailed, but he’s not sure what for. His ex-wife won’t call him back. His girlfriend is unsympathetic and horny. He’s getting scared of her desire, even though it felt like love. His daughter was so important to him, and he’s only just realizing it at this exact moment. He’s upset and has no friends to talk to about how upset he is, so he boards a plane to Europe and decides to take matters into his own hands. He’s going to become a killer and he’s going to rescue the only girl who still loves him. He’s going after his daughter, whether she likes it or not.
The two teenaged girls, one small and one tall, lounge with their feet on the back of the seats in front of them. They sip from the same enormous cup of diet soda, guessing at the film’s conclusion, talking out loud like they’re the only ones here.
They’ll find her dead, says the small one to the tall one, and she’s not gonna be in good shape. Butchered, says the tall one, into bite-sized flesh cubes, or worse: blended into girl-smoothie. Or maybe she’s really in love.
With her captor?
She hired them, whispers the small one, to free her from the boring life she’d been living in America with her divorced parents who were more interested in maintaining their individual sex lives than raising her.
I wanna go to Europe, sighs the tall one, knitting the small one’s fingers into her own. Maybe she’ll take us next time she goes, the small one says, crossing leg over leg.
It’s broad daylight and the father’s in Rome eating a cream-filled pastry talking to a beautiful Italian woman with silky shoulder-length hair about how to locate dangerous men without getting murdered yourself. They have guns and he has none. The silky woman slides an embellished pistol across the café table and touches her pinky to his. She moans at the father and tells him she’ll try to help, but she doesn’t know how. He tells her this pistol’s enough and then he’s riding a Vespa at dusk through the winding streets of Italy, staying in a hotel room with a King-sized bed, eating room service oysters off of thousand-thread count sheets, wiping mignonette from his beard while a foreign radio announces the temperature in Celsius. It’s hot. Days keep passing without his consent, and his daughter is still nowhere to be found. He’s running out of money. He’s running out of time. He doesn’t know what he’s supposed to live for anymore, which he tells to the beautiful woman when he finds her again, this time at a swanky bar in the next country over. She invites him upstairs to her bedroom and he leaves in the morning without saying goodbye. It’s broad daylight and he’s sobbing on the side of an indeterminate cliff while his new sports car lingers at the side of a scenic route. The music swells. The climax is coming.
If he fucks that woman again before he finds her, the small one whispers, I’m going to lose my fucking shit. Did they spy on her life, or what? Why does it have to be so realistic?
He doesn’t find his daughter, but he’s been sent an ominous lock of her hair in the mail, zipped into a plastic bag like evidence. A small note included promises that she is alive and in one piece. She has not been cubed or blended. She can still speak, which her father will hear proof of if he’s patient. There is a recent photograph of her attached to the note which is, according to the talk show tales of the new unknown, the same picture that was taken on the day of her discovery. Realism, she says, was what they were going for all along.
As the father paws through the rest of the mail, he realizes the letter isn’t signed, but it smells like the beautiful silk woman’s perfume, the one Italian women are always spritzing onto their necks before a big day wandering once ancient cities. That woman who gave him the pistol. That woman who fucked him while he was in such distress. The father brings the paper to his nose, and he looks directly into the camera and before he opens his mouth to scream, the movie is over and the credits start scrolling into oblivion.
The small one was right. He fucked that woman again and again before he didn’t find his daughter, who was likely in another hotel room over, bound and gagged and losing her beauty by the hand of a dangerous woman. That woman he fucked is evil, because she claimed not to be. Or did she? Did he even fuck her? No. She fucked him. That woman wasn’t his wife or his girlfriend. That woman was the man who stole her daughter and her daughter’s virginity.
I promise when you go missing, says the tall one when the credits start rolling, I won’t humiliate you by coming to your rescue.
What if I want you to, the small one winks, and the tall one rolls her eyes.
I mean, what if something bad’s happening to me, says the small one, what if I’m getting taken advantage of by a group of Italian men in a haphazard sex dungeon and no one is around to hear my screams? The tall one slaps the small one across the face with an open palm, sending some of their popcorn flying into my lap, which I start brushing to the floor.
I didn’t raise you to be a whining baby, says the tall one, did I? No, I didn’t think so. Besides, you’re a movie star now, you don’t have to answer to anyone, except for me, I’m your manager, I’m your agent, I’m gonna get you outta here, I’m gonna save you, me, not anyone else, me.
I was also here, all along.
I wasn’t even in the photograph, the small one bemoans, throwing herself against the cushioned seats.
I was also watching the movie.
You were there, you were walking with us, the tall one assures her.
I was trying to enjoy myself on this humid day.
I’m always just off to the side, says the small.
I wanted to be cold in the air conditioning.
You’re acting like I pushed you or something, says the tall.
I wanted something new in my life.
No. She did, when she saw the man in the little hat.
I wanted to go see a new star make her debut.
You should’ve pushed back, the tall one demands and the small one turns away from her. But the movie wasn’t really about her.
What did you just say?
I look over my shoulder.
You, lady in the weird suit, what did you just say?
I realize we’re the only three people left in the movie theater. Me, and the two teenaged girls. The small one is staring at me from down the aisle. She and her friend have their arms crossed and their hair is a mess. Their legs are covered in small popcorn particles, and the tall one is sloshing melting ice around in the gigantic cup, like it’s a weapon.
I tell them I didn’t say anything.
Yes you did, says the small one, you just said something out loud. You were talking to us, weren’t you?
How many other people were watching the movie with us?
She said something about how the movie wasn’t really about her, the tall one says, and takes a step toward me, and then they are both standing a foot away from where I am, and I realize I’m backed up against the movie theater’s gigantic scrim, the collar of my shirt strangling me and so I undo the top button.
How could you say that, they ask me, the movie was based on finding her.
I am terrified of teenaged girls, because once, I was one. I tell them I have to go.
But you clearly have opinions, says the small one, about the movie and its many meanings.
You clearly have critical and thought-through opinions you want to share with us, says the tall one, and I can see they’re holding hands again, which is the most terrifying configuration for teenage girls.
I tell them what I’d said was that I wanted to come see this movie with this new movie star, and I was disappointed to learn that she spent most of the movie being in a state of not-there, hidden by that beautiful woman whose name we never even learned.
She is our best friend, they tell me, imagine how we feel.
They tell me the story of how they were on a walk with their best friend two years ago. That afternoon, the small one and the tall one were explaining to their best friend that they had recently started having sex with one another in the bedroom of the tall one’s parent’s apartment on fifth avenue. The bedroom with the full-sized mattress and the window which looked out over the backs of all the other buildings on the next block over. That they loved the way it felt to kiss your friend on the mouth, on the dent of her stomach, across your best friend’s bare ass while she splayed across your bedroom pillows waiting for your mouth to find hers. That their best friend could join them, if she wanted. They could teach her what they’d learned. They explained how, without jealousy, their best friend leaned in during broad daylight, letting their hands grope up the frilly bottom of her shirt, deft fingers un-doing her Lucite hair barrettes, the top strap of her thong snagged and snapped in rowdy flirtation. That not two minutes later, a man hopped out from a building and asked to take their picture. How the small and the tall one refused immediately, turning away from the camera. How their best friend struck a pose they’d never her conjure, and disappeared for months before letting them know that their picture would be used in an upcoming blockbuster action film, would they consent to sign the release form or else?
We signed the forms.
We felt like it was unfair.
What was unfair?
If we had each other, she should at least have the rest of the world.
We are standing in the cold of the movie theater when a young man in a baseball cap enters to start sweeping up before the next movie, acne-scarred and eager to do his job.
Can you wait one minute, I tell him, and he turns around and leaves, shrugging as he flings himself through the saloon style doors, dragging his frazzled broom behind his back like he doesn’t care whether or not it gets more ruined than it needs to be to do its job well. I approach the girls and I tell them I am going to kidnap them.
I am going to take you far away from here to a place you’ve always wanted to visit, somewhere you might vacation, somewhere expensive. I am going to tie your hands behind your backs with my belt and I am going to use the heavy-duty duct tape I’ve been keeping in my purse to render your legs mermaid, immobile, and I am going to push you over so you can’t get back up. I’m going to braid your hair together and I am going to make you hold each other’s hands until the sweat starts rubbing a raw rash and I’m not going to ask you if you’re okay, because I don’t care. I am going to drag you to my car, which I’ve parked on the curb outside, and once you’re inside I’m going to release you from my haphazard bindings, but I’m going to ask you to stay still, at least until we arrive at my hotel room, which I’ve rented in the city where I live, the nice hotel with the bar where the lights are dim and the drinks are strong and I’m going to order each of you a hamburger and a martini from the room service menu, and when the bell boy comes to deliver you your dinner, I’m going to let you approach him at the door and thank him and tip him. I’m going to give you a lot of money to tip the bell boy, and then I’m going to leave you alone for that evening, because I’m going to have a lot of work to do, to organize the things I forgot to organize because this was a crime of passion you’re involved in.
They tell me to tell them more about this crime of passion, and how they’re involved in it. You are involved in one of the most famous crimes of passion in modern history.
Will they make a movie about it one day?
And a mini-series. And a documentary about the making of the mini-series. And a television show which will star your best friend as the Italian woman, and she will perform with the worst Italian accent you’ve heard in your entire life and she will get horrible reviews but her career won’t be ruined because she’ll have already won an accidental award for a role she didn’t know she was supposed to be playing comedically and she will be humiliated but you will, finally, get the pleasure you’ve been seeking since the photograph.
And a hundred years from now, after all the biographies of us are written, outlining our particular proclivities, after my grave is desecrated by an angry mob of mothers who couldn’t understand how another one of their own could kidnap a daughter, some middle-aged woman with a streak of gray down the middle of her hair and a propensity for wearing ill-fitting suits is going to go to the movie theater alone on a Thursday afternoon after her own daughter has gone off to college, and she is going to watch the movie about the making of this movie, and she is going to spy two girls in love in the back row, two girls who snuck inside, two girls with their hands halfway down one another’s pants, halfway down the bag of buttered popcorn, whispering to each other, their secrets hidden to the world, and she is going to understand the motive, finally, and she is going to go home and touch herself until she, finally, commits a crime of passion of her own