Movieland - Chapter 23
Hollywood sits on a fault line. That fault line runs through reality.
Now Tom did believe her.
Now it all made sense — if that was the right word, for nothing about it was rational.
The day was behind him. A day Tom would not forget. The day of the second class when his eyes were opened. When reality shifted along a fault line, cracked open behind a whirling gold sun.
There had been a hell of a time with the Black woman, who had seen nothing, yet was hysterical, loud, threatening — lawsuits being the default grievance-solver in slippery Los Angeles. Just getting her out the doors of the theater was an exhausting chore, but it kept him occupied.
Then the empty rows, aisles, lobby.
Then Eden looking peculiar, looking guilty.
Tom spent the rest of the day in a stupor, and whenever they spoke, they stayed safely in the lane of small talk: yes, it always clouded over at the beach like this; no, of course, he could drive. They concentrated on manageable commonplaces, spoke in small, inconsequential sentences.
But behind the words, the shock was slowly uncoiling. How could she be so calm about what they had both seen? On the contrary, it seemed to steady her: he knew now what she knew. She could depend on him to carry the shock for both of them, sort the strangeness out. And so it was Eden’s turn to be consoling. She must see that he, in his way, had lost his balance too.
He took her that night to the marina for dinner. He wanted to be around pleasant, familiar things. They sat at a table with a checkerboard tablecloth under paper lanterns stirring in the breeze; white yachts bobbed in the harbor; the wicker basket of warm breads sent up comforting whiffs redolent of home and things maternal. But Eden barely picked at her leafy salad before she put the fork down and glanced up at him apologetically. The glance said everything. How heavy the food, the air, this alien three-dimensional world was for her. And as if to trouble him more, she looked, under these soft paper-lantern lights, supernaturally herself, overwhelmingly the white-on-white Eden Windess of Fog.
They had made a pretty picture when they entered. She clung to him for support, clung so completely that the couples who looked up as they passed smiled to themselves and must have thought they were very much in love. One woman even nodded in a sort of wistful recognition.
The same woman noticed them again on the way out and with a benign smile caught Tom’s eye, then looked down, indicating the linen napkin where she traced a heart with a butter knife.
It was a beautiful night, and Eden agreed when Tom wondered if she wouldn’t enjoy a quiet walk along the promenade. She wrapped both arms around his arm, and together they walked slowly along the mica-sparkling pavement. It had been too big of a day, and Tom welcomed the soothing ocean air, the gentle lapping of the harbor waters against the boat hulls. Faint radio music came from one of the yachts, behind a curtained window. It was an old song, and Tom was surprised that Eden stopped to listen to it. “I used to know that song, Tom,” she said pensively. “What is it?”
“What does it remind me of, Tom?” Her voice had dropped to a silky huskiness, her smokey movie voice. “You know so much about me. Tell me what I’m remembering.”
Tom smiled. “I’m not clairvoyant, Eden. Honest, I don’t know.”
“What do you think of,” she asked, searchingly.
Tom paused. The clarinet was leading the saxophones through a glossy reverie. “I guess I’d say this song is the soul of the 1940s, before my time and yours. When I hear it I think of World War II dances … girls pining for their boyfriends … the sadness of being young at the wrong time.”
“Yes, that’s it, Tom.” Her voice became sultry, dreamy. “The feeling of being out of place in time… it’s as if I lost my place … I don’t know what to say anymore or where to stand. I’m … so wrong here.”
“You’ll get used to us. I hope.”
“But I’m just making it up as I go along.”
Tom straightened his black-framed glasses. “We all are, Eden.”
She got a far-away stare as she thought this through. “You saw the cave, didn’t you?”
Tom looked down at her steadily — how serenely beautiful she looked just then, so troubled, clinging to his arm, her own subtle lights playing over her face like reflections cast up from the water. “What I saw was a whirling tunnel of smoke and a bright gold light that was pulling me and the young lady in. Only that.“
“That terrible ball of light!” she shuttered. “It always frightened me. It always appeared right before the cave turned into smoke and whirled open, and I …I … Oh, what happened to me, Tom?”
“I think you broke through the movie screen,“ he said uneasily. “The screen seems to be — and I have so much difficulty with this — a portal of some kind.”
“A portal? Between here and …?”
“You came from the movie Fog, Eden.”
“No,” she said with a small nervous laugh. “I come from San Francisco.”
“A dream San Francisco,” he told her gently. “Not the real one. A San Francisco that was created on sound stages and augmented with location shots, where it’s all wandering mists and muted foghorns. A city floating in a cloud, tailored to fit you, Eden …as a metaphor for your personality. Drifting, dreaming, forever in fog. All to tell your story.”
“My…? story?” She frowned, and as she did the lights that surrounded her dimmed, artfully, shadowing the contours of her face so that her eyes appeared more lit than the rest. She looked up at him. “Are we in a movie now?”
Tom laughed and hugged her to him. “No, Eden, this is reality.”
It took her a moment, then the unexpected. Under the sway of this world, pressured to think for herself, Eden came up with a strikingly original thought.
“Are you sure?” she asked, holding his gaze.
As he lay that night exhausted on the futon, Eden glamorously asleep in the bedroom, the question came back to nag him.
Are you sure?
He had started the day by being hoisted in the air and nearly sucked into an abyss. An abyss that wasn’t black, wasn’t gloomy— it was gold, it was glowing! On fire with whirling smoke and a roiling sun.
No, he wasn’t sure.
Reality was layered. It had strata. It had fault lines, and one ran right through the screen of the Palatine Theater.
His pillow was hot. He turned it over, shifted onto his side, searching for comfort.
The question kept going off like an alarm clock: Are we in a movie now?
How could he tell? Really, how could anyone tell? In Eden’s two-dimensional world, the ground felt solid, the air light. Everything arrived at the right moment, gathered momentum, and moved you along in a straight line at 24 frames per second.
But then, say, you were ripped away into a higher dimension, like Eden was. Now the ground had a gravitational pull that made you dizzy, the air was lead, and you were left with no compelling forces nudging you from behind, steering you to a resolution.
Are we in a movie now?
No, this is reality, Eden.
But what if…
What if there were a dimension one up from his own… where he was the story? He, the protagonist in a fiction for some higher beings’ indifferent amusement.
Sleep was coming in heavy, falling waves now. In a moment, the waves would pull him under their tow.
What if, he thought, drifting … in this upper dimension with more angles than his own, he was the movie. He was the book. He was the small struggling creature under the microscope. Maybe someone even now was reading the sentence “Maybe someone even now was reading the sentence …”
Preview: Hurricane Pauline!