Morgan scratches out his verses and starts afresh.
"My, aren't we chipper this morning." Gillian is leaning over Morgan's shoulder at the Cafe Metro where Morgan usually writes—well-infused with a dose of French-roast coffee. She has startled him. He turns his pad face down. She sits uninvited. "I thought I might find you here."
"Kind of early for you, isn't it?"
Gillian looks for signs of accusation.
"Actually, it's rather late. I haven't been to bed yet."
"You didn't notice?"
"You could have called."
"I didn't want to wake you." Gillian has not come for a confrontation; it is counsel she is seeking. Somehow she must sidestep Morgan's pique. "Don't jump to conclusions; I simply lost track of the time. Instead of going to 'Speare's last night, we opted for a game of charades... at Ben's apartment. Ended up doing both; Paul, of course, insisted on 'lubrication.'"
"I thought 'Speare's closed at 1."
"It does. It did. We got to Ben's about 1:15."
Morgan casts a glance at the coffee shop's clock.
"And you played charades until 8 a.m.?"
He takes another swallow of coffee-turned-cold.
"Should I have sent you an itinerary? Come off it, Morgan. Since when must I report my every-move to you?" She is floundering. The more she needs support, the less she earns it; she has alienated friends and colleagues, too. For what; a passing fling with a well-tailored pair of pants? Michael, nevertheless, is not the issue. "I'm unhappy, Morgan. Nothing I do seems to have the right effect. When I'm up, other people are down. My downs are other people's highs. Help me, for God's sake, please! I'm not in very good shape, at the moment, and you're the only soul who understands mine."
Gillian weeps. It appears her wheel is likewise out of alignment.
A hotel room, blue with smoke, refracts light in a manner rendering flesh tones pale as cadavers—plenty of them: spilling from over-stuffed armchairs, lounging on love seats and sofas of imitation leather, sprawling on pillows, bolsters, and Oriental rugs... juxtaposed to bodies in three-piece suits, loosened ties, opened shirtfronts. A potpourri of aftershave mingles with cheap cologne, humidifying the air with scents adhesive...
Gillian stems her tears, determined to confide.
"There's something I have to tell you, Morgan. It happened a long time ago, before we knew each other... before I knew myself. Will you, at least, listen? Hear me out?"
... as ice, in each glass, clinks, and mouths suck double-barreled cocktail straws, manicured fingers fondle naked extremities—prod and squeeze, a cone of white light rifles through the noxious haze. All faces turn. The light goes flat, defines a square on a portable pull-down screen. Its incandescent blankness blinds bleary eyes (Michelle's among them) that squint at grainy numerals flickering through a countdown...
"I was in a movie, once."
... four, three, two, one. A teenage girl appears, dressed like a cheerleader. She sits on a locker-room bench. Her cheeks are tritely rosy, her hair done up in pigtails. In her lap, she holds a megaphone (suggestive of a penis), while other girls, in the background, pull off letter-sweaters, knee socks, skirts, then prance au naturel toward a bank of steam-filled showers...
"I was seventeen, and not at all gullible—or so I believed. I'd seen this ad: 'Actresses wanted—some nudity involved,' so I figured it was just some come-on for a local pornographer. Still, I was curious—and waitressing—so, 'what the hell,' I thought, 'I'd check it out.'"
... faces, blanched, observe the hackneyed scene, as a split-screen shows both locker rooms, girls' juxtaposed to boys'. The guys put away their football gear, then, like their co-ed counterparts, strip en route to the showers, mid towel snaps and rough housing...
"I 'auditioned,' meaning I read a few phrases before they asked if I'd be willing to shed my clothes. I knew, if I agreed, I'd get the part. I also knew I'd come, one day, to regret it. But, Morgan, you have no idea how badly I wanted to perform—even in a skin-flick. Anything was better than waiting on tables. And, up to that point, things were handled above board. I was given an address, told to report at a specific time next day. No script, of course; my lines would be 'adlibbed.'"
... meanwhile, fully-dressed, the straggler rests her chin on the megaphone, crosses her legs at the ankles, swings her feet beneath the bench; either side of the locker rooms having cleared...
"The shoot was on location at an old abandoned school. I kept telling myself not to go through with it; felt like trouble. But when I got there, all the trappings of a legitimate production were in place: set, crew, lights, cameras, a sizeable cast of actors. The director asked my name, said they'd be shooting my scene first, and proceeded to walk me through it, shot by shot."
... though one girl tiptoes back, evidently to spy. Spotting the solo cheerleader, who continues to stroke the megaphone, the spy makes sure there is no one else in sight...
"Well, it was a porn film; that much was obvious, with a plot no more complex than 'initiating' a cheerleader—namely me. I was apprehensive, but the director reassured me, saying all I had to do was put up a fight while I got stripped, and, once my clothes were off, my part was finished. A stand-in would be used for the coup-de-grace."
... then, giving a signal—five knocks on the wall, followed by two in reply—the spy departs as three tall jocks file in (clad only in towels) and sneak up on their unsuspecting quarry...
"Well, I didn't refuse. I was introduced to the cast. Everyone was friendly and polite, even shy. I got into my costume. It was too big, but that was on purpose—the better to yank it off. We had a quick run-through. Then the cameramen set up, and, suddenly, we were rolling."
... aware, at last, the
straggler clutches her megaphone like a life buoy, while, one by one, the boys whip off their towels...
"Part of me was warning myself to bow out then and there; another part was insisting I act professionally."
... leaping into action, all three teammates strike at once, tear the straggler's clothes off, stretch her lengthwise on the bench; one boy pins her flailing wrists, one boy clasps her ankles, one boy looms above her, penis stiff as an unsheathed sword...
"The young men were rougher than I had expected. They hurt my arms a bit, during the staged undressing. The bench hurt, too. I remember saying to myself, 'Stay calm; above all else, an actress keeps control.'"
... which searches for, then stabs, to its hilt, the traumatized vagina—Gillian's outrage captured with merciless authenticity...
(Michelle, unlike the others, averts her face.)
Morgan solemnly reaches for Gillian's hands... holds them... tries to allay their dreadful trembling.
"Which resulted in a child?"
"Which you aborted?"
She nods again.
Morgan squeezes tightly; Gillian softly weeps.