“It’s so nice to feel good,” she said, and touched herself while she sucked his cock. Strewn over the table were the implements of their game, which had been her game first, and was now his too. Nothing kinky. It was art.
She was Julia; he was Thomas. Her boyfriend was Elliott. It had been Elliott’s idea, the project. There were some things you could only do in New York.
He’d met them first after a private screening of a cut-in-progress of their work, and Elliott and Julia had seemed the perfect hipsters: hipsters from a time before it was a pejorative term, Village people from before it was a gay rock band, when it was just people in their Village and their art. Even though this was 2005.
In her black, and her pageboy school cut, she could have been at home at any art school in Europe, though her contribution to Elliott’s project was more quotidian: she was just the leading lady.
“Black-and-white tells the best stories,” Elliott had told him, high on weed and comfortably ensconced in his room on his favourite pillow. “It softens the edges; makes everything seem more real. But what I want to know, what I’m worried about, is the ending. That’s why I need you.”
“I’ll do what I can,” Thomas had said. Really he was out of his depth, but he couldn’t leave. Elliott’s apartment was its own black and white story.
Mirielle came in, in her characteristic sheer panties and ’80s T-shirt. She had a new haircut and looked depressed; she wandered slowly through the kitchen.
“I can’t seem to find the right salad,” Mirielle said.
“We’ll find you one later,” Elliott said. “Right now we need to shoot.”
She held the book in her hands and propped herself up against the pillows and Thomas began to understand where Elliott was taking the thing: of course, first and foremost to some minds, it was a piece of genius just to take control of these beautiful young women, but Elliott was smarter than that, because he didn’t make them do anything overtly sexual. They just lounged around. Like odalisques, with nothing to do, in a New York hour, on a daddy-funded New York year, and where was the money coming from, anyway? Thomas didn’t want to ask.
“It’s partly a documentary,” Miri had told him when she’d first ushered him upstairs to their apartment. “But also we’re acting. Elliott hasn’t decided yet where the story is going.” Thomas became part of the story. Like a key in a lock, or a beautiful piece of jewellery set into the shoulder of a Roman emperor before an orgy-of-state, he was important.
Thomas had found himself stuck with both women, Miri and Julia, with only one umbrella, and rather than be a gentleman and hand it to the ladies he clutched it himself out of fear, and the ladies huddled under it with him, and they were less mobile this way, they stumbled, not too drunk but not sober, on their way back to the apartment.
In 2005 New York had not yet completely died; there was still life in it. That is, even Manhattan could still be dangerous, for brief little windows of the night. But they made it without incident, and Julia held the key between her teeth while Miri clutched the umbrella, and Thomas kissed Julia’s neck dramatically, as an offering, before putting the key into the lock and they made their way up the bruised marble stairs to their apartment.
Inside, a tiny minibar featured the smallest sink Thomas had ever seen, and he splashed water on his face, while Miri slumped sleepily against him.
“We should film this,” said Julia, and she set up their single remaining C-stand and light that they’d “forgotten” to return from the rental, and she clutched their little 3-chip camera with her pale fingers and Thomas caught the mood immediately; he played Elliot for a minute, played the rich boy, and led Miri delicately to their decadent pillows where he lay his head against her breasts and stared forlornly out into space.
“What is it we’re doing, Miri?” he said.
“I haven’t figured it out yet,” she said. “Something to do with a storm. A storm is coming.”
Elliott did not mind that Julia had fellated Thomas; or had he noticed? Something in the flicker of Elliott’s eyes told Thomas he had, and that he was forgiven, or even more weirdly, that he was praised, and Elliott hovered close to Thomas around their 1980s-style cocaine table, black mirrors and silver filigree, and told his friend what they were doing:
“I know you’re important for the project, Thomas, you’ve made everything come together. Without you, we couldn’t have finished it.”
They squatted together and stared into the face of Elliott’s silver MacBook, at the cut of the film Elliott had now been editing for six months.
On the screen, their lithe young bodies pirouetted through the apartment, and it was amazing how cinema could turn your own home into a movie set, or maybe that was just Elliott, and whatever went on in his brain.
“It looks beautiful,” said Thomas.
“Thank you, Thomas. I’m so pleased.”
In the bygone era of 2005, many things were possible which no longer are. For instance, you could have a loft party and just invite everyone, and no assholes would show up. You could buy cheap liquor from Jersey, and haul it over in a cheap minivan, without getting pulled over by the cops, and yes, even as late as 2005, you could have a party and not everyone would be staring at their cell phones every moment.
Outside, the city lights were like distant funeral processions, but inside Thomas he felt a thaw as a great weight lift from his body – he wasn’t even drunk – the beauty of the women’s faces and the shapes their bodies made in their black and white on the screen filled him with a deep and profound sadness, the kind of sadness that makes careers, that ends movies, and that transforms youth into middle age.
“I love you,” he whispered into Julia’s ear, and she laughed.
Up on the screen, Thomas watched his own face achieve orgasm.
“It’s beautiful,” said one of Julia’s friends. Her name was Dylan.
“It’s kind of cheesy, I know,” said Thomas.
“No, it isn’t,” said Dylan. “It’s beautiful.”
“It’s like I don’t want to leave the film,” Thomas said. “Boy, that sounds weird.”
“I understand. The film is more beautiful than you are. More beautiful than all of us.”
“Do you have another joint?” Dylan asked.
“Yeah, I was saving it.”
“Save it for me,” she said, and she took his hand and led him out of the apartment, up to the roof, and Thomas realized then that his time in New York was coming to an end, that the beautiful film was now over, and his time with these beautiful people would soon be over too, and he took the young woman’s body in his hands and kissed her in the stairwell.
Up on the roof, through the yellow military haze of the city’s eternal glow, they could just make out three stars.