PrologueA Chapter by Stephen Geez
“This is the image you want?” Kristen asks, wrinkling her nose.
We gaze at the squalor that is Maywood Gardens mobile-home park: dilapidated trailers, littered weed-patch yards, broken-down cars, ratty brats . . . .
“M'Slovak’s out to prove it can save the world,” I tell her, “and this looks like a good place to start.”
Kristen waves down the production van. She’s my freelance producer on this job, a pretty but rather imposing woman with a sharp, creative eye and steel-trap mind for details. Cameraman Byron joins us while the sound man unpacks gear.
“This is the image you want?” Byron asks.
“Wait till we get in,” Kristen says, “―nobody’s home yet.” Sure, the secret entrance to Shangri-la is right inside that rusty double-wide over there.
He frowns and adjusts his glasses. Byron’s a rather droopy-drawered video-head whose trademark butt crack has a tendency to peek out and smile, but he’s one of Chicago’s best, a man who knows how to frame the perfect shot. “Isn’t this supposed to be a new-product testimonial?”
“Go ahead,” I urge Kristen, nudging her several times. “Give him the spiel.”
She rolls her eyes, then assumes the pose of some game-show prize-pointer holding up an invisible capsule. “It’s Parzilac!―the new wonder-drug from M'Slovak. Do you suffer from chronic fatigue? Obsessive compulsions? Anxiety attacks? If life’s getting you down, let Parzilac pick you up!”
“Been testing the products ourselves, have we?” Byron asks, backing up a step.
“The pitch isn’t ours,” I explain. “We’re just collecting success stories for a series of satellite programs training regional sales reps. Soon M'Slovak’s foot-soldiers will embark on a mission to ensure that everybody with prescription coverage gets a chance to live in Happyland.”
“Yeah, well, so who’s the subject?”
Kristen paints the picture: “She’s a nineteen-year-old drop-out with two terminated pregnancies, now on probation for shoplifting and bouncing checks―oh, and she’s prone to bouts of severe depression.”
“I wonder why,” he says, looking around again.
“Hey, just six weeks on Parzilac,” I admit, “and she’s holding down her first job, plus taking GED classes.”
“So you want me to shoot around all this?”
“No, capture it. We’ll let her mom tell us the bad stuff, projecting the image of a concerned parent trapped in a crummy home in a bad neighborhood, the odds weighing against her beloved child, a ray of hope shining from those little pink capsules. Then we’ll brighten the lighting and catch our girl maybe sitting at a computer or cracking the books, pausing to praise how Parzilac has changed her life.”
The mom’s battered old Chrysler barrels up, squeals to a stop, and coughs out an exhausted-looking tread-worn blonde, her waitress uniform wrinkled and soiled. She greets us like old friends, Kristen having won her trust when they met here a few days ago to plan the shoot. Mom’s concerned her daughter isn’t home yet, so she leads us inside where it’s surprisingly neat and clean, inviting us to look around while she calls the girl’s employer.
Byron powers up the Steadi-Cam, a counterweighted contrivance that keeps the mobile camera from jiggling, then wanders it down the hallway to test the ambient lighting and look for shots.
Mom hangs up the phone and lights a cigarette, smoke curling into the air as she looks distracted for a moment. Finally, she admits, “My daughter didn’t show up for work today.”
“Hey!” Byron shouts from somewhere in back. We all hurry to the bedroom.
The first image I see is the shattered mirror, then blood everywhere, our girl lying very still on the floor.
Mom cries out, dropping to her knees, shaking her daughter’s arm. Kristen bolts for the phone. Byron’s stunned, grabbing the shot, working from instinct, too damned many years shooting local news.
It’s that shard of mirror clutched in her hand that captures me, the way it’s framed by a smear of glassy crimson, a scene striped by sunlight filtering through window-blinds.
One of her hands moves! Her body shudders and squirms, but she’s bleeding from slashed wrists.
Mom is hysterical now, sobbing and trying to lift her daughter’s head.
I kneel beside the girl, my knees soaked in red, and I squeeze the open wounds on her wrists, trying to stem the flow. A faint hint of pulse offers her last glimmer of hope.
She’s a good-looking young woman―long brunette hair, a bit too much make-up on an otherwise nice face . . .
Oh man, she slashed her neck, too, but not deep.
Mom’s begging her to wake up, but the girl can’t open her eyes.
My heart is pounding so hard I can’t tell if hers has anything more to give.
She shudders again, her chest rising with another breath, then a pause, then another.
Hang on, I want to tell her. Don’t give up.
Kristen’s back now. Help’s on the way. She’ll be okay. Just hang on.
And Byron’s still shooting, steady as a rock, every second worth thirty more frames. I’ve seen even the best shooters break down and cry, sometimes staggering off to vomit―but not till after they get the shot.
Her other hand is bleeding, too. It looks like after slashing her neck, she tried one wrist before switching hands and hacking at the other, ripping right through tendons and―
She shudders again.
I’m holding the best I can, but a lifetime of unrealized dreams is seeping around my fingers.
A siren in the distance.
Another breath, a gurgle, lying still . . . then a spasm.
“Oh God,” the mother sobs, “she was doing so good.”
Kristen gathers her in, holding firmly, both crying together now. Byron’s face is screwed up tight.
The girl tries to squirm again, but there’s nothing left, no breath, no more time . . .
Just blood, too much blood.
And her death grip on that shard of broken mirror loosens, exposing but a fragment of the truth, one final reflection daring us all to look.
Byron’s watching over the top of his monitor now, zoomed in on the hand. It’s not the image I wanted, but it sure makes this story real.
Finally the camera drifts away, a demon’s eye surveying the scene, and it finds what we’ve all come to see.
Close-up: subject’s bedroom, top of the nightstand, pill bottle tipped and spilled . . .Like the stain of blood on my hands, an elegant spray
© 2012 Stephen Geez
Added on April 6, 2012
Last Updated on April 6, 2012