Joyland

New York |

Please Hold

by Peter Kispert

edited by Kyle Lucia Wu

The photo hangs crooked. Like this.

I can barely hear Sal call “Action!” over the wind, brown leaves turning up and scattering downhill. It is the final shot of the day and standing in this mountain field—my back hit with the last rays of sun, red flannel shirt itching my arms—I think: Why was I cast as Andy? What about my online CastCall profile says, Maybe a little out of his mind. Prefers being alone. Willing to risk his life for a snake.

It is dusk, a line of gold light tipped over the Vermont mountains. We have to stop filming for LETHAL INSTINCT every few minutes because Sal needs to check what he’s been referring to as “the big game.” The snake, which rests on a bed of dead oak leaves, from a certain angle—in silhouette, I’m told— looks real. Everything from the crew, who fight over a fast food lunch, to the cameraman’s broken chair suggests what I told myself I’d never do again: low-budget. But this afternoon, and tonight, I’m Andy Campbell, a man bitten by one of the exotic snakes he kept as a pet before meeting his untimely death in the Catskills, having inappropriately projected human emotion onto a wild-caught king cobra. Tonight I am Andy Campbell, and my eyes are glazing evocatively over with tears. My legs are the first to go paralyzed, then my hands, and I fall to my knees to avoid facing the lens. I am Andy Campbell, and I am alone in my field. I was cast out by society for my love of reptiles and made my home in a cabin flanked by old pines. I own several forgotten vials of antivenom and I don’t have time to call my brother before the pain seizes my arms, fills them with dead weight. I'm not clear on what motivates me to handle the snake improperly, and Sal says he can't tell me. No one really knows, he says. Tonight I am Andy Campbell. I am a dead mystery, and I did not have a history of bad decisions. I twitch just once before dying.

“We’re gonna run three takes, just in a row,” Sal yells.

“Sure,” I say. It sounds just how I want it to—so over-it, done-before. I’ve been trying to project confidence. Four years ago when I started doing these films I thought it was a way out of something, and now I realize it’s only a way in—to doing more of these films, which could more aptly be called stints, a term my mother has taken to using in place of my preferred jobs.

“Action!” Sal yells.

I walk a few steps down the hill, kneel to the snake, upstaging it so the camera can’t see. I try to move with the kind of nonchalant gait I'd expect from someone like Andy, a sort of whatever in every movement. I pause for a few beats, preparing for the imagined bite. When it strikes, I bring my thumb to my teeth and snip the skin hard—snap back my arm, shake my hand, and bring the bite wound to my lips, a small pool of dark red pooling near the base of my thumb. AndyCampbell would have learned to suck out the venom.

After that pause, I walk back up, trying to forget the actual sting of the bite. I regret having broken the skin. In the wind, my blood feels cool. It’s almost evening, the time Andy actually died, but Sal calls out to say I’ve done a good take, and that they don’t need any more. The crew briefly cheers, announcing that the filming for the series is over. This was it.

But as I shake the stinging numbness from my thumb, I consider that none of this is technically the problem. The problem, technically, I can't forget. Even as I let my neck grow slack, that thin orange glow on the horizon in my peripheral vision, I think about it. As I stand here in the sudden cold, the small lens shooting my small reflection back at me, my boyfriend Cole is laying on an operating table struck with sterile white light, and a man with a green mask over his nose and mouth is holding out his hand and saying “Scalpel.”

***

I did know what moving in with Cole would look like. Sort of.

And Cole had always been defensive about his work, something I felt I couldn’t, as another aspiring artist, ever invalidate. So I didn’t press the point. But I did not know, not at all when I opened the screen door with that faded duffel at my side, backpack like a lead weight on my shoulders, not at all before climbing those wood steps to the porch, what his life looked like—really. After three years spending nights in each other’s dorm rooms, it was all perfect—or as close to perfect as I could see the word: him with his paint-splattered overalls, his wide-lens camera and rolls of tan film, and me with my scripts, the rehearsals and auditions, replaying single scenes for hours, the whole house alive with color and possibility. That was the expectation.

So when he saw me trying to get the door that day, fumbling with the strap on my bag, he turned the handle. I bumped awkwardly in. He kissed me—that unchanged tongue-first kiss. I hit my head against the low doorframe as he pushed me and fell down. The tile floor was hot. We smiled into each other. And then there he was on top of me when I saw the first warning sign.

It was not hard to discern, at the time, what it was hanging on the wall, or why I didn’t ask about it. The photograph. But I didn’t get a good look at it. In fact, at first, I wondered if I saw it at all.

But that didn’t matter to me then. Because in an instant I was back again—to those years before I knew what it felt like to be adrift in the world, to intimately know the phrase cattle call, before those few months when I didn’t have Cole, trying to make it alone, so I could run back to him with proof of my worth. See! I wanted to say, months later. Before the backup plan was to move to New York, take up with some small theatre, and hope for someone to stop me, to beg me into a job. And that place was so warm, so what I wanted, even the room disappeared around us. He pushed off my backpack, and I closed my eyes. I felt ridiculous to be that romantic. The tile lifted beneath me like a cloud.

***

The hill seems steeper, at least the way I’m going down, stopping every few moments to pause at the reflective eyes of chipmunks. The dark settles in like a grey mist around me. I’m surprised I’m not being walked down by the crew, who decided to stay put to get some cold open footage of the sunset. LETHAL INSTINCT. I can almost see it already flash, tacky, across a screen.

My phone rings—I didn’t think I had service. I lose my footing on a slick boulder trying to fish it out of a loose pocket. For some reason I thought Andy Campbell would wear baggy clothes, clothes he could drown in—my own misprojection. As it turns out, Sal showed me a photo of Andy, young Andy, back when he was social and full of promise, and he was handsome, something the description of him hadn’t mentioned and something I hadn’t actually considered a possibility—wearing a jean jacket, his brown hair parted and slicked back. Sal let me wear what I had brought, and it felt like a betrayal of character, but I didn’t want to argue the point and risk seeming high maintenance.

“Hey, buddy.” I have to pause to hear Sal. “We were talking, me and the crew, we were talking," he says. I detect he needs something more from me. A drop of rain hits my nose, and I look up, move nearer to the trunk of a tree. "We were wondering if you wanna shoot that scene again. Right now, soon as you can. Joey looked over it and it just looks, well, you know.”

I can hear rain falling over trees. I consider what I did wrong. People tell you it’s the light or some bullshit about angles. No. If you have to redo a take, you did something wrong.

“It’s something about the light,” Sal says.

“It is pretty dark out,” I say, sure he’s seeing the same night I am. My mind runs back to the question: How I had messed up. I went through Andy’s thinking as best I could beforehand, scribbled in black ink in my notebook back at Cole’s: If I were Andy, I wrote, I'd have gone searching for that snake. I'd have overturned every leaf, looked behind every rock, and just when I thought it futile, called off my search, there it would be: coiling like a garden hose in dense weeds. I’d see it and then the snake would get me. Like that. No explanation. The notes weren’t helpful, but suggested I was serious about my roles, so I had cultivated the habit early in my career.

But then I realize: Was Andy being impatient? Maybe that's it, I think. That's the reason he couldn't save that snake from the Vermont forest, the winter, when it would surely die. Maybe he was so happy he finally found it he couldn't think clearly. It was, after all, the moment of rescue. And what else did Andy have?

I tell Sal I’m walking back up, to expect me. With every step, I consider that acting would be a gift, if I could do it either much better or much worse. If someone had told me in middle school, as I acted out Macbeth to an audience of ten that I wasn’t cut out for this, gotten me on another path, an office job that would have let me take care of myself. Or if I could have signed with an agent during school, fast-tracked past the shit gigs. Just before I see the outline of the dark clearing ahead, a calm wind slanting its tall grass, I notice a voicemail, delivered to my phone sometime these past few minutes when I wasn’t paying attention. The voice is low, and I have to pause again to make it out. I catch—“this does not look good. Please give us a call back when you can. I’m sorry to concern you, but this is truly urgent.”

The word truly feels hard and wrong, too formal.

“Hey!” Sal spots me from the field. He’s waving both his arms, like that’s the only way I’ll notice him, like I don’t get subtlety. I raise a hand as if to say Wait a minute, as if I’m on the phone with someone, but then there is the sharp beep against my ear and I am frozen in place. I move my foot forward but I feel sick. I am sick. I am on the ground, and my eyes are watering, my palms against the fallen wet leaves, a sick metal taste behind my molars. “You ready?” he yells down to me. My lungs seize. The air is so clean it hurts to breathe. The inky night pitches in and out of focus, and I feel a drop of rain strike the back of my neck, faster. “Just one more,” he adds. And then, louder, “We promise.”

***

Cole lived in an enormous cabin in the middle of New Hampshire. It was beautiful, a sort of vacation home, wrapped in porch, with more window than wall. It seemed to have been designed around how much sunlight would enter, and from which angles, and at what times. When I woke up the next morning, and Cole was still asleep, it felt as if I had been startled awake. It was the hard light shooting in through his blinds—more expensive blinds, I noticed, than I had expected. And the red sheets were so soft. I made a note to ask about thread count over breakfast, whenever he woke.

But a half hour later—like in college, when I came back from the dining hall to find him still asleep in my bed—he wasn’t awake. I stayed near him, watched him turn over, but even at noon he was asleep. So I got up and took a shower. I only used his soap; the shampoo was foreign and looked expensive. Cole always had this sort of taste, ever since I met him in Introduction to Acting: no dining hall food, packages of imported things from his parents, a cultivated fondness for something that looked like caviar but was in fact both rarer and more expensive. After the shower, I dressed and, noticing Cole still asleep, walked to the kitchen.

And there it was.

It was not a photo of just any man, but a beautiful man—blond with those darker highlights, those chiseled abs I could never get no matter how I starved myself, the sort of brooding face that suggested real thought. The worst part: Cole’s florid signature beneath it, like he had some claim to the man. The photo hung above Cole’s kitchen sink, and I immediately imagined him seeing it, enjoying it, every day, every time he saw it. I looked closer, and the whole thing came into sharp, revolting relief.

None of this would have been a problem, I reminded myself, my stomach burning with anxiety—not if it hadn’t been for the day senior year I walked in on Cole while I skipped a lecture on Lessac theory, my copy of his key turning in that lock, and those loud and hurried whispers, and the black sheets over his pale chest. I had heard Cole once discussing a photo he had taken of this same man as his best to date. Not because he’s attractive, Cole had said, but because the man had been on the verge of tears after his own breakup, which made for excellent photography, “real emotion.” The wind struck me as I walked back to my room, shaking. None of this would have been a problem. The photo would not have been a problem.

I heard footsteps and turned around. “Morning,” Cole said, rubbing his eye with a palm. I pointed at the photograph without looking at it again, that stupid body backlit with white light. I mustered in a quick rage some of the best acting advice I had ever received, years before during an audition: If you want to sound serious, speak a question as if it’s a fact.

“Oh,” he said, blinking the sleep out of his eyes.

Outside, a cicada held its shriek.

“What is this,” I said.

***

“You look awful.”

This, of course, is Sal, who has everything set up for another shot. But he’s taken the light away. The problem, he says, was it looked artificial. It looked made. I wanted to steal away, only for a minute, to call the doctor and learn what was happening with Cole, what they’d found—or worse, I consider, what they had not found. Cole had been sick for years, though we hadn’t known it, and I had always imagined since the months he learned this that not only had I not helped, but that I had some weird communication with the tumor, a psychic sense that made him eventually, horribly ill.

But Sal had asked Can it wait? And I had said Yes —something that, unlike projecting confidence, I’m trying not to do. To say yes to everything. I hold my thumb and make a point not to bite it again. I can feel it still, the glow and pulse of pain.

So everything gets reset. Sal stops telling the crew to “Find the wind” and to move the snake just so. I have no lines. I just redo the part where I die.

But after Sal calls “Action!” something clicks on like a lamp, and I start walking with a different step. It feels almost as if I’m possessed, like my body knows all the right things to do. My eyes are mad with fear. I make a false pass at a log, looking for the snake, which I’ve suddenly given a name—Emily—that name is just spinning in my mind, and I’ve lost her, why had I left the lid of her tank open last night, and where could she be, really, and then I see her. And I move my hand down, something I’ve never had to do before—her tank is on the top shelf, above the scorpions—and I don’t have time to kneel. I feel how Andy does: as if the world has dealt me an unfair hand, I think, but not in the way people reference it—like even the cards themselves are meant for another game. I’m on the ground, my forehead slick with sweat, but before I can keep on with the scene, Sal has jumped off his chair. “Holy shit, Shawn!” he says.

Behind him, one of the crew members tosses up his hands and says “Sal, come on. You just fucked up the shot.”

My shirt is weighed down in the humidity, the flannel choice seeming smarter every minute, my personal spin on a role so unlike me. I’m overcome by a sense of pride, the feeling I’ve reached some new height, adrenaline tripping up my heartbeat.

“Turn on the lights!” Sal says. He hops back on his chair, pleased with himself. “For fuck’s sake. Give him some light. That was”—he pauses, unaccustomed to thinking before speaking—“excellent.”

There is a cut-open quality to the moment, a vulnerability that feels violent. I sit up and brush the burrs from my knees. Above, the moon glows yellow, but it instantly disappears when a flash of stark, hot light floods my vision. I can see the rain fall, barely, against it the metal. I cover my eyes with my hand, the scabbed red dot on my thumb uglier than I expected. From this angle it actually looks like a snakebite. The crew flicks on another light behind me.

“Now that?” Sal adds. “That was acting.”

***

It didn’t take long to rehash the basics: Cole had been doing this since senior year, when he’d photograph models in an unused room in the Engineering building, which was never locked and near his studio, since he realized how well it paid; he was still trying to sell his nature photographs to major magazines; he preferred other art; this was temporary, probably; he loved me—he really did—so, what was the problem?

“The problem,” I said, “is, like, five problems.”

“Start with one.” Cole had the awful habit of getting me to talk by making the discussion seem doable, the problems solvable, even easy.

“Where do you even do this now?”

“Here,” he said, and tried to take my hand. “I’ll show you. But don’t freak out.”

He brought me to the top of the cellar staircase, his hand shaking. I wondered how he thought I’d react once I did find out he was still doing this, because I was going to find out—he had the photo above his sink, for God’s sake, and then it occurred to me maybe this was a sign of how desperate he perceived me to be, that he knew I would love him despite it.

“Shit,” he said. He held the silver door handle and looked at me, his eyes shot with red. The sunlight grew across the living room, reached us and faded. “You’re going to freak out.”

Another one of Cole’s habits: He tended to be right.

The view of basement registered in the same way as a scene I once played in college for an original horror-drama entitled “Please Hold.” All of my lines (and the play itself) were bad. I had taken the part, given out of some ridiculous pity from a professor who considered me a department underdog, which was embarrassing. In the film, I was a secretary entering middle-age, and every other scene had me answering the phone at my work, several times, and saying those words: “Please hold.” In the final scene, though, I realized my daughter had left her bedroom after curfew, taken off with a handsome, volatile football player with a drug problem and a collection of samurai swords on his bedroom wall. You have to seriously imagine the trouble, the director said. His words held weight and I imagine he could feel them reflected in his own life.

And so I did. I imagined, seriously, the scene’s “emotional turning,” a phrase used to describe the advancing of emotion through a split-second moment. It was one of our college’s things, a proud central lesson of the curriculum. The idea was there are moments inside of moments that we can never know but have to try and replicate. My emotional turning for the scene, my hand on my head, jaw gone slack, eyes scanning that room, registered like this: 1. Fear for my daughter2. Anger at her having broken her promise to me. 3Concern over how I would be perceived by those close to me4. Disbelief that it had ever happened, that I had ever lost her, at all5. The lockdown of definite loss.

So when I saw the photos, gold-framed and winking on the wall, I was furious. I turned to Cole, expecting my body to will forward a punch. But when I saw the bed in the center of the room, made cleanly with those same red sheets I had slept in the night before, I collapsed into disbelief. I sighed and sat down on the cold cement stairs.

“Cole,” I said.

“I can explain,” he said.

“Haven’t you already.” I felt myself press the period into that sentence.

At the end of that play, I returned to that bedroom, and my daughter was still gone, and that was when the lights for the act went down. Cole was in the audience, watching me, though I couldn’t see him. He later told me I had looked directly at him, but I don’t remember that. And before the hot light shut down, it grew intensely, furiously bright, so that when I was left standing near her bookcase, my hand on the small of my back, I appeared as a ghost in the sudden dark.

***

It is night now. I run through the scene again, one last time, and my heart is wild, like I released something I didn’t know was in me to begin with, something that kept the other parts of me lodged in their correct places. I’m on the ground, again, my hair coated with dew, the rain shower now a pervasive mist, like I’m filming in a dream. We just finished three more takes of the same scene, with variations on where I first thought I’d seen the snake: under a log, near my foot, and once—So exciting! Sal had said—behind the lens, from the snake’s point-of-view.

A flock of small birds trembles up from tall trees, like thrown ash across the deep blue sky. I wait for Sal to finish talking to his assistant, a sad man wearing an awful old earpiece whose main job is to strike the time code clapper.

“So we were thinking,” Sal says again. He walks toward me, a silhouette. “We were just talking and wow—something changed in you.” He stops just short of stepping into where he’d be in the shot, halfway illuminated. I can see his squinted eyes, sense good news.

“How’d you like to do one more scene?” he says. “Just, you know, to try it?”

I had nearly forgotten what had caused my change, so wrapped up in how I’d changed, how I was being recognized for my ability and not my crooked nose or whatever I’d written on my CastCall profile ( Leading man or supporting man: I do both!)—the headshot Cole had taken and generously edited: How many jobs had that got me?—that had attracted Sal in the first place. I need to call the doctor back. I’m vaguely disgusted I haven’t yet. In fact, I feel disgusting, covered in dirt, my shirt sleeve awkwardly rolled up, the rain giving me an undone, feral look.

“Can I have a minute?” I ask him.

“It’ll only take a minute,” he says.

“What’s the scene,” I say.

He turns around and gives his assistant the thumbs up; the man runs to turn off several lights, around which moths have begun to buzz. He shuts off all but one, as if I already agreed to doing the take. A current of wild air rattles the metal and knocks over a folding chair. It’s freezing, I realize, and the hair on my arm shivers up, my blood cold as a cobra’s, and I’m reminded of Cole, and how pale he was three weeks ago.

“Oh, it’s the same part,” Sal says. “Where you die. Sort of.” He pauses as he settles back into his chair and whispers something to his assistant. “We just want it zoomed in. We want it slowed down. Think you can do that for us?”

***

The way Cole and I decided to get over it—after I briefly cried out on the porch, a thunderstorm coming, and went back inside, after we ordered dinner and he told me between bites of pasta curled around his fork that he loved me, he was doing this for us—was to not talk about it, and to create a code for when a client was coming in. When he said “Looks like bad weather,” I’d know. He was sensitive to my idiot grief, and I both admired and hated him for it, because that meant nothing would change. I finally unpacked my things in his dresser that night, convinced I could do this, that I could stay.

That night, after Cole fell asleep, I stayed awake thinking about emotional turning. The window open; the air smelled like moss. It wasn’t just Cole. I had been so blindly trusting in my acting coaches. Once, years ago as a rehearsal warm-up exercise, the cast was asked to become ice cream cones on “a hot July boardwalk” (weirdly specific I recalled thinking), and I melted stupidly to the floor. Why had I done this? Why hadn’t I asked more questions? Had I grown from this moment? Softened further? And then the question I dreaded: Why did I act at all? I was soft serve vanilla melting from that moment, melting still.

Closing my eyes, I found instead of rest the image of Cole’s photo, hanging in the kitchen. Looking at me. The model reached one hand out of the glossy film and onto the wall; his other hand steadied itself on the photo base, and he lifted himself out—right there onto the tile floor, nude. His muscular shadow stood in the bedroom doorframe, watching Cole and me under the covers. I wondered if this would stir anything in Cole, and what that would be.

Before I fell asleep, I was thrown back into that scene in “Please Hold”: The director pleaded to me, red-faced, looking at the notes from our last dress rehearsal. “What have you won?” He seemed drunk at the time, and spat a bit with passion. It occurred to me I didn’t understand the question but that my admission of this would only rouse in him a storm. I said, “Nothing.”

“That’s right,” I remember him saying, pleased with himself and me. “ Nothing.”

***

Sal gave me only a minute to figure out my emotional turning. I decided Andy Campbell’s final moment would go something like this: 1. Shock at having mishandled the snake2. Shock that the snake I loved, that I had cared for, bit me3. A strong surge of purple venom through my neck, seizing all other thought4. The knowledge I will die.5. Both the lightness of fainting and that final sting of regret for ever having moved out to the mountains, for losing all the people of my life, for becoming so completely resigned to begin with.

We run the take, though I don’t move in it. I close my eyes and pace through the emotions as if they are a flipbook, touching each and just as swiftly moving to the next, wincing, letting every minute difference appear barely, even risking its loss on the viewer. Only for a second I consider whether I am trying out any of what Cole is feeling right now, those yellow plastic bands around his arm, a clear IV stuck in his elbow, his head shaved and reflective, almost greasy. Here, filming as Andy Campbell, the Vermont mountains like dark teeth jutting up around me, I wonder if I have already lost him.

“I don’t know what you’re doing these little jobs for,” Sal says. “Tell you what, I’ll be in touch.” He moves forward to shake my hand but sees my thumb.

“How’d that happen?” he asks.

“I fell coming up.” I try to make it sound convincing, and it does. “Wet leaves.”

“So that’s why you looked awful.” He laughs. It offends me and then it doesn’t. There is a distant clap of thunder. Wind races through the trees, trembling the leaves.

“Huh,” Sal’s assistant says. It’s the first I’ve heard his voice, which is mousy and thin, not at all what I had expected. He removes his earpiece and holds a palm up in the air. The lights click off behind him, and my eyesight doesn’t adjust right away. The man says, “Better head out. Looks like some pretty bad weather.”

***

“It’s called Lethal Instinct,” I yelled. It was a warm night, almost a month after I had arrived at Cole’s place. He was downstairs, uploading photos onto the computer. He’d stopped doing the prints at my urging; the profit was better online anyway, and most of his models didn’t mind—better exposure. Not that I ever saw them. I always made a point to hide away or drive to town whenever he had the men over. I avoided my occasional desire to go downstairs, to uncover anything, because I had nowhere else to go.

“This guy,” I said, scrolling down, reading the description of Andy Campbell. “This guy had over fifty snakes. Cole! In a trailer.”

“He did what?” Cole asked. His voice was deadened from the other room.

I briefly considered this, what Andy had done, but I was trying to get down to my point: a freak. This guy must have been a freak to do something like this—however he’d even managed it. Hauling tanks and snakes up a mountain, something I couldn’t even picture. And what kind of guy, the thought distracted, got cast in that role anyway? How does that mind work?

Through the kitchen window I saw a flock of crows settle on the branches of a tree. I sat down at the table again and squinted at Andy’s physical specs, the actor’s desired height and weight and features. It was me right there on the screen, down to the note about a particular kind of nose.

The sun dimmed quickly, like a lamp clicked off, and I felt myself stiffen in my chair as I read on, looking up occasionally to see the birds, to wonder about where they’d come from and why they hadn’t moved. When I went downstairs to check on Cole, he got the story wrong: He thought I’d said Andy bit the snake. He looked as he had when I’d first seen him, a blue button-up, attentive eyes, that messy brown hair styled in a perfect swoop, all that energy of love coming at me like a breeze from across the quad, too easy to be anything real. And I could see his computer screen in the reflection of a glass cabinet behind him: some man like me, maybe, or not—I could only make out the frame, the way he’d posed them, and it occurred to me for the first time that if it were me, with my eye behind the lens, I would not know how I would pose him, which angles might flatter, what it would mean to say stand like this, I want to see you like this.

*

LETHAL INSTINCT comes out two weeks after Cole closes his eyes for the last time. He leaves me with the whole house and his business, and each night I look up how to close it, but I haven’t brought myself to do anything yet. I don’t touch the photos. With Cole’s gorgeous signature in each, they’ve taken on a haunted quality, and I am superstitious of everything. The messages just add up in his inbox: Still on for next week? There is evidence of nothing I had felt, all those suspicions I had hissing away in my mind. A model showed up a few days ago at the door, his blonde hair cut for the occasion, and I just stared at him, feeling a fury grow in me, before saying Cole wasn’t around. A euphemism that felt sinful.

The show is somehow even less of a feature than I’d imagined, re-made to a short docu-series on exotic animals that kill their fawning owners. I turn up the volume and sit on the couch, a pillow Cole had bought on my chest. The house had been so much his creation that the pain of his absence feels often, in the past days, like something I invent myself.

Watching this is a form of masochism, I know, but this particular way of hurting feels also like a way of honoring Cole, a logic that I know doesn’t add up. My body tenses during the opening credits. Someone on the crew must have learned more about Andy, because the narrator starts confidently with facts about his childhood, stock footage of babies an embarrassing precursor to my scene with the snake. Andy’s mom had died of cancer when he was young. He loved snakes especially, though he also kept a pair of pigeons and tried to train them to carry messages—something a neighbor awkwardly divulged in anonymous silhouette during a cut scene. I find it unbelievable that there is a neighbor in Andy’s story at all, the man who found him slumped there against his trailer a few days later, a poisonous cobalt hue marbling Andy’s hand and wrist. That Andy had given up on people seemed to be the general point of his adolescence, and though I was waiting with some excitement for information that would surprise me, the obviousness of this felt right.

I don’t see at first that the crew had decided not to use me at all. They had gone with a different actor, someone who didn’t even type the part: a thick head of wild brown hair, muscular arms. Played up the handsome. They gave him another story, took liberties. I only see that it was another Andy at that shot from the snake’s point of view—so stupid, but I feel it in me, a betrayal that can be any size I want, another little pulse of venom in my veins that I know I’ll survive. When the credits roll, I don’t bother looking for my name. I stand and walk to the kitchen. The light from a candle catches on every mounted photo, that glass hiding those wild secrets I had put there myself, those little monsters, my reflection in every frame.