“Your speech was phenomenal, Mr. President.”
Lincoln hunches over as he walks to better hear his companion, Mr. Seward, a small man with a large head.
“What would have taken me two hours, you said in two minutes.”
Mary Lincoln is on the other side of the President, leaning heavily on his arm. She appears distressed, but it’s hard to tell because of the lavender handkerchief she’s holding over her nose. As the men talk she glances down occasionally at the hem of her brocaded dress dragging through the mud. There is a lot of mud in the field.
“The men went wild, oh, how the men went wild,” Mr. Seward continues as they make their way through the crowd.
The men grazing around them, however, do not appear to be going wild. They all look like they’re chewing cud. A few widows are clustered together, scratching themselves under their black shawls. As one of them squints at the passing entourage, her shawl slips to her shoulders, revealing the face of a child of twelve.
“The smell of death,” Mary Lincoln says, waving the handkerchief in front of her face, “is very penetrating. It’s hard to believe that it’s worth it, all this death. Don’t you think, Mr. Seward?”
Mr. Seward smiles at her but not with his eyes. With his eyes he’s saying: “Maybe you shouldn't undermine your husband by saying things like that. Did you not listen to his speech?” But Mary doesn’t seem to notice, and as he helps her step into the carriage, she’s talking about how the dress she’s wearing will have to be burnt when she gets home to get the smell out.
Mr. Lincoln has fallen a few steps behind them. His stovepipe hat is in his hands, and his eyes are focused on the sky. Mr. Seward gets in beside the First Lady and the President goes around the carriage to the other side, pausing to pet the horse. The brown mare stares at him with her large eyes, nuzzles his chest. Lincoln is concentrating so hard on petting her that for a moment it looks like he has forgotten about the war. His shoulders loosen, the corners of his mouth stretch upwards.
A handsome man appears beside Lincoln. He has glossy hair and a mustache, and is too well dressed to be a stable boy. He too begins to pet the horse. The President and the man both keep one hand on the horse as they talk, but it’s too windy to hear what they’re saying. Then the man reaches forward and fingers the lapel of Lincoln’s vest. The president straightens up and glances back towards the carriage.
As the director’s assistant, Mel was privy to all of the important decisions being made in the production. For example, she knew that for the part of Lincoln, Richard had wanted an older gentleman he’d seen performing as all three sisters in an experimental Chekhov play but that the Producer had insisted on Miles Patrick because he was a big enough name to attract investors. “No name, no money; no money, no movie,” the Producer had repeated like a mantra. Miles was on a hit cable TV show and he was a favorite with the tabloids—and even if the latter wasn’t for his acting, but for a sex tape that had been leaked on the internet, the spotlight was still keeping him warm.
Kristin, who was playing Mary Lincoln, made Mel watch the tape with her during a lunch break. The night vision setting of the camera had made Miles’ eyes glow green, and Mel thought it made him attractive in a radioactive sort of way, but Kristin said he very much reminded her of a raccoon sifting through garbage. “Look at how he’s using his ass to back the other two participants out of the frame,” Kristin said, chewing on her hair extensions. Mel, anxious that Miles or someone else would catch them, shut the laptop.
Mel had been working as a clerk in City Hall when the film crew blew into town. The Producer came in for permits and left with Mel. Missouri gave the production company tax breaks if they hired locals, and she had a car and was willing, even excited, to work long hours. As she filled out the 1099 tax forms, the Producer kept showing her pictures of his dog on his iPhone. “Isn’t he great?” he’d say, holding the phone in front of her face, but not letting her touch it. As she was leaving he casually mentioned that she’d have to pick Miles Patrick up at the airport, and when he saw the way her face aligned itself into one big exclamation mark, he printed out a handout for her on film set etiquette.
Other people in the crew did not share Mel’s enthusiasm for Miles. What elicited consistent irritation from everyone was his height. He was on the shorter end of average, and this created a lot of work for all of the departments. As if finding suitable extras in Bramford, Missouri wasn’t hard enough, the casting director had to make sure that all of them were short, and for scenes with crowds they’d had to make a deal with the township Middle School to use well-disguised children. The camera department could only shoot Miles from low angles, using special lenses, and the art department had to build the rooms and furniture to a three quarter scale. When Wardrobe cropped the suits to expose Miles’ inappropriately tan wrists and ankles, Mel wondered out loud about the validity of this, since Lincoln was not still growing, and he would’ve had his clothes tailored to fit. Richard, maybe overwhelmed from being over-budget and behind schedule, had dismissed Mel as being “too literal” with such vehemence and disgust that all she could do was blink at him as if he were a very bright light. It was best, she realized, to keep her doubts to herself.
On Miles’ first day of shooting it started to pour right as he began delivering the Gettysburg address. They had to stop everything, hastily pack up the equipment and move indoors to the old mansion, which they were using for the White House interiors. Hair and Makeup set up shop in the playroom, the only space without mice or recent evidence of mice. The actors paged through their damp scripts trying to memorize their lines, as the makeup girl frenetically re-glued Miles’ beard. Richard paced around them picking toys off the shelves and setting them back down. He was trying to prepare them for the unscheduled scene and Mel took copious notes:
“Lincoln has a lot on his plate here. There’s the war, obviously. His son just died, his wife is a compulsive shopper with deep ties to the South—I mean that doesn’t look good for him—and to boot, he’s found himself unable to get his mind off this man. Amid all this chaos and horseshit, there’s a pony. And that pony is love.”
Pony=Love, Mel scribbled.
“And, you know, your postures should change more when you’re together, should melt a little.” He stopped and looked at Miles. “Think about how your body responds when you’re with the people you love.”
Miles shifted uncomfortably in his chair, probably wondering if Richard had seen the sex tape. Mel knew for a fact that he had. She had walked in on the director that morning watching it with his reading glasses on and one hand in his pocket tentatively jiggling his balls.
Lincoln’s eyelashes cast long shadows in the firelight. They jump along the man’s rib cage, tangle in his armpit hair. A folded suit jacket is being used as a pillow. A stovepipe hat rolls slowly from side to side on the rug at their feet. The man’s even breathing indicates sleep. Lincoln closes his eyes for a second, the shadow from his eyelashes jumping back down to his own face. He sits up.
“John,” he whispers, gently shaking the man awake.
John opens his eyes and kisses Lincoln’s wrist. He looks like he is about to speak, but Lincoln nervously clamps a hand over his mouth. A faint sound of footsteps in the hallway. A crackle of a log in the fire. Lincoln gets dressed. John’s eyes are cast in shadow. He gets up and stretches, still naked. A knock on the door. Lincoln gathers John’s clothing from the floor and throws it in the wardrobe.
“Abraham.” A woman’s voice.
John, looking grim, climbs into the wardrobe. Lincoln locks it with a small gold key.
Mary enters. She kisses him on the cheek. “I came home early to surprise you!” She pulls back the drapes. Outside it is light out. The sky is a toxic looking blue. “Does that please you, husband?” She is coy. Her dress is the same color as the sky. Lincoln is perspiring heavily.
“Of course.” He tries to move towards the door.
“You look well. You’ve got a healthy glow. Do you like my dress? Is it not divine? The fabric just arrived from Paris.” She looks at her reflection in the window.
“It’s lovely, but when the soldiers cannot afford blankets—“
“Oh, don’t be cross. This fabric wouldn’t do for blankets anyway.”
Her eyes catch on a sock, peeking out from beneath an armchair.
Because of the change in schedule they wrapped four hours later than anticipated; a sixteen hour day. The Producer, to his credit, looked pretty sheepish when he came to set and told the crew that they couldn’t afford to pay them overtime. This seemed moot to Mel, since she had yet to be paid anything, not that she wouldn’t have done it for free. The rest of the crew, however, was growing progressively surlier, spending more time at the craft service table, stuffing food into their pockets and faces.
Most of the actors were staying at the motel on the edge of town, but it was in Miles’s contract that he got to stay in the bed and breakfast, and it was Mel’s job to drive him there. As Miles changed out of his costume, Richard dictated the final notes for the day to Mel. Her primordial handwriting began to emerge when she got tired, bubble letters and abbreviations that she’d learned to suppress by the time she went to college: “Ppl need 2 stop comparing this 2 Brokeback Mountain. Helen of Troy. Also, need 2 talk 2 Sound Dept. tomoro. Worried re: mice scurrying in walls. Why no soymilk at craft service? When u stare @ me like that it makes me want 2 hit u in the face w/ a slipper.”
Mel had trouble keeping her eyes open as she drove even though Miles was in her back seat, wired and making small talk. Seeing him framed in the rearview mirror felt the same as watching him on television, and the idea that he could simultaneously be in her car, in the flesh, seemed entirely absurd. She was so tired that she decided it very well might not be real. She might casually mention it to Rob the next day over breakfast and he would look at her strangely and then she’d realize that it was not, in fact, what’d actually happened, or it did, but not to her. Miles’ reflection said that it would like to get a drink, so she took it to Alamo’s, the nicer of the town’s two dive bars.
“I still have glue on my face from that beard.” Miles took her fingers and rubbed them along his cheek. They were sitting in the booth by the window. “Can you feel that?” She could. She sucked at the ice in her drink through a straw and tried hard not to smile too much.
When he came back from the bathroom he was even more awake than before. He was talking about his father who had Alzheimer’s but used to be a carpenter. Also about how this movie, and by extension him, were destined for critical acclaim. His father would not have liked the movie, but that wasn’t something he needed to take into consideration anymore. “My father was a narrow man,” he said and wiped his nose with the back of his hand.
She started telling him about how her uncle trained Russell Terriers by burying her old pantyhose covered in truffle oil around his property. Miles seemed to take this as a coded admission of something that she had not at all intended, and pityingly he stroked her arm. This bodily contact thrilled her enough that she did not clear up the misunderstanding. After dropping him off at the Bed and Breakfast, she was disgusted with herself and could not remember why she had told that story in the first place, only that it had seemed appropriate to match one confession with another.
Rob woke up when Mel got home. “I haven’t seen you in days,” he mumbled, burying himself in her chest. As she drifted off to sleep she pictured the salty taste of mustache glue on her tongue.
“Abraham,” Mary calls from the parlor, “there’s someone I want you to meet.”
Lincoln enters, hat in hand, remnants of snow still sticking to its brim. His boots track an icy sludge across the parquet floor and onto the rug.
Mary Lincoln remains seated, but her friend stands up: “John Wilkes Booth. It’s an honor to meet you, Mr. President.”
“He’s an actor. We saw him in The Marble Heart.”
“Ah, yes. Your face looked familiar. A stunning performance.”
The men shake hands. Lincoln appears distracted, tired. Mary pours her husband a cup of tea and he hesitates before joining them at the table.
“Isn’t it frightful out?” Mary says to Lincoln, but she looks instead at the handsome man sitting across from her. He, in turn, keeps his eyes glued on the President.
“I’m afraid I can’t join you for very long. There is a lot of work to be done,” Lincoln says, before accepting the teacup.
“I had only seen snow once as a girl, but here it’s really endless. And the sleet.”
Lincoln drains his teacup with one swallow then sets it down.
“On the streets rumors are spreading about a war,” John says to the President.
“I don’t think it will have to come to that,” Lincoln says, standing up.
“I’m sure everyone will come to their senses,” Mary says. Then she’s screaming. A mouse has scurried over her foot. She climbs up onto her chair. The tea tray clatters to the ground.
“Kill it,” she says to her husband breathlessly. The mouse has frozen on the edge of the rug, confused.
“Kill it,” she says more shrilly.
Swiftly and deliberately John crushes the mouse with the heel of his boot. The mouse’s skull cracks instantly, its insides leak onto the floor. Lincoln looks stricken. A servant comes running in with a washcloth. John uses it to wipe the sole of his boot.
The roof had leaked overnight in the “base camp,” the production office in Bramford’s former library. All the books had been moved to a newer building and the empty shelves glistened like wet skeletons. The Producer was cursing and emptying buckets when Mel got there that morning. She made the coffee and helped him blot water off the papers on his desk. When Richard came in, he was cursing too. The script supervisor had quit, flown out that morning to take another job, a bigger job that would get her into the union.
“I’ll bury her,” the Producer sputtered, spilling coffee down his arm. “Fuck me.”
“Who can we fly out?” Richard forced a deep breath out of his nose.
“We can’t fly anyone out. If we had the money to fly someone out, we would have had the money to pay her, and she would still be here.”
Mel mopped up a puddle on the floor with the coffee filter. She could feel the Producer’s eyes on her.
“What about you, Mel? How do you feel about a promotion?”
She felt good about it.
“That’s not funny.” Richard crossed his arms and looked out the window.
“It’s this or nothing. Do you understand that?” the Producer said to the back of Richard’s head.
“This is nothing. You’re setting up a false dichotomy.”
“What does a script supervisor do exactly?” Mel hoped her tone would make it clear that she was up for the challenge.
It must have, because Richard muttered: “What a team player,” and pressed his face into the window.
“Basically, Mel,” the Producer began to explain, “if Mary’s hair is tucked behind her ear when we shoot an over-the-shoulder, it should be behind the same ear when we shoot the close up. Cigarettes, sandwiches, all that stuff, should look the same, so that when the film gets cut together there are no breaks in continuity. Then you time each shot and make notes on which takes Richard likes. It’ll be fine, Richard, she’s detail oriented. I’d tell you to fax all your notes to the editor at the end of the day, but until some checks clear we don’t have one.” He handed her a stopwatch and the ex-script supervisor’s binder, full of neatly penciled-in grids and script pages covered in squiggly lines. Then he put her on the phone with a friend of his who could explain the process in a little more detail but the phone reception kept going in and out.
“She’s gonna ruin everything,” Richard said, looking at the Producer in the window’s reflection.
“You’re doing a great job, Mel. I’m glad we hired you,” the Producer told her as he walked her towards the door. He would have made a very good hostage negotiator, the way he always made a point of making eye contact and saying her name. If she’d had any hostages she would have gladly given them all to him.
That day they were shooting at The Tivoli, a second run movie theater. The last time Mel had been there she’d gone alone to see Vertigo for the fifth time. She’d fallen asleep and woken up to a man on the other end of their empty row masturbating. Later, she recognized him as a bank teller, though she hadn’t been sure, and so never said anything. The art department had built an ornate balcony to the right of the stage. Seeing the theater seats from above like this made her feel like a patient looking down at himself on the operating table. Richard wasn’t talking to her. She dragged a chair over to sit next to him behind the barricade of cameras and lenses and sound equipment so she could see the monitor he was cradling in his lap. He didn’t move the monitor, and so basically she had to lean forward and look into his crotch. Details were flooding the little screen, and she was not exactly sure how she was supposed to be keeping track of them all. The part with the stopwatch she could handle, but everything else felt like trying to hold twenty different places in a book using only her fingers and toes. “This is such bullshit,” Richard kept repeating. Anytime he looked over at her she would busy herself drawing the same kinds of squiggly lines she had seen on the other pages.
During a break, while the grips were readjusting the lights for the close up, Mel tried not to listen as Richard stood in the corner arguing with the Producer on his cell phone about Mel’s lack of qualifications. She focused on the monitor. On it, she could see Kristin giving Miles a backrub. His eyes were closed and his head was resting against her knee. Kristin’s eyes were bulging with effort, and for a moment she looked like the photos of the real Mary Lincoln that Mel had seen in history books: ugly. Miles’ mike was still on and through the earpiece, Mel could hear him breathing heavily and confiding in Kristin. “My father was a narrow man,” she heard him say.
When they resumed shooting Miles called out asking for his “eye-line” and Mel pointed vaguely down and to the left instead of up and to the right and so they started filming with Lincoln looking in the wrong direction. Richard caught her mistake by the time they were halfway through the scene and stormed off set. The actors and crew milled around uncertainly for a few minutes before it was decided that they should break for lunch early. Mel tried to catch up to Miles and apologize to him, but he was on the phone with his agent and waved her away. While the rest of the crew ate pizza in the lobby she called Rob tearfully from the bathroom, but when he answered she hung up. He would just tell her that she was being exploited and that she should quit. Being exploited was one of Rob’s biggest fears. God forbid he did any more than the minimum required from him.
The lights are beginning to dim in the gilded theater. Mary Lincoln is laughing merrily, arm in arm with her friend. Their husbands follow them up the stairs to the balcony. John Wilkes Booth lurks in the shadow of the stairwell, dressed in a sailor costume. He grabs Lincoln’s sleeve as he passes. Lincoln starts. The others don’t notice above the din of the theater; they keep walking.
“What are you doing here?” Lincoln whispers coldly but panic comes off of him like static electricity.
“I’m an actor. Or have you forgotten?” John’s face is so heavily caked in makeup that as he talks it cracks, fault lines radiating out from the corners of his mouth.
“My wife is waiting for me.” Lincoln’s hat has disappeared off his head.
“Celebrating your victory together?” John says menacingly and lets go of Lincoln’s wrist.
“This is a conversation for another time.” Lincoln turns on his heels and finds his seat beside his wife just as the curtain is coming up.
Mary and the rest laugh as a fat man with long whiskers stumbles onto the stage. Lincoln’s laughter is delayed. He rubs his wrist, distracted. Mary puts her hand on his shoulder and begins to stroke it. Then she slides her hand down along the length of his arm and entwines her fingers with his. He smiles at her and looks back at the stage. She leans in to him and nuzzles his beard, then puts her other hand on his knee.
“What will Miss Harris think of me holding on to you so?” she whispers coquettishly to her husband. He smiles as she says this, but he is looking away from her, tilting his ear towards her as though he were suddenly blind.
"She won't think anything about it," Lincoln says to the empty space on his other side.
On stage a man and a woman face each other, arms akimbo. "Don't know the manners of good society, eh?” the man shouts. “Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, old gal—you sockdologizing old man-trap..."
Laughter. Lincoln slumps forward, his head banging on the edge of the balcony, his arms falling limply to his sides. His beard droops unevenly from his face. John is standing behind him holding the gun as though it were a water pitcher. Mary screams.
Kristin was screaming. Miles’ head was resting on the railing of the balcony at a funny angle. Mel’s first reaction was that he was brilliant. Then she also started to scream. Richard shoved her out of the way and crouched next to Miles to take his pulse. One of the grips called the paramedics and they arrived fairly quickly. They stabilized Miles’ neck and belted him into a gurney. Mel saw a little bit of blood trickling out of his ear, but she wasn’t sure if it was his or Lincoln’s. Everyone flooded out of the theater and crowded under the awning to watch Miles get loaded into the back of the ambulance. Richard grabbed onto Mel’s elbow to stabilize himself.
“Fuck,” he said, squeezing her arm emphatically, hard enough to leave red marks. They were getting rained on. She looked down at the stopwatch around her neck and realized she hadn’t stopped it at the end of that take. Twenty minutes had passed since the accident. She let it keep running, and helped Richard bring some of the equipment back to the office.
“You’re home early,” Rob said from the couch. He was in his gym shorts stuffing what was left of his sandwich into his mouth.
“Miles Patrick is in a coma.”
“The guy playing Lincoln?”
She ignored him and went into the kitchen. Rob followed her there and watched her looking blankly into the pantry.
“You want me to make you a sandwich?” He was holding a plate with his sandwich on it with only one bite missing. “You want it?”
“I want my own,” she said, pouring herself a bowl of cereal.
“So what happens now? Is he going to be ok?” Rob sat down across from her at the kitchen table. She started to cry. He reached across the couch and handed her a tissue. She finished her sandwich. Her cereal bowl was empty.
“I don’t know. He just hit his head. We did twenty-seven takes of the assassination scene and then on the twenty-eighth, bam. He slipped. Fell badly. I don’t even know what happened. His head slammed on the railing.”
“Well, you’ll have a day off. Maybe we can go somewhere,” Rob said, looking slightly to the left of her. She started to cry again, her tears landing in her bowl of cereal. She cried for seventeen seconds, then she turned in profile and cried again.
By the time they were in bed she had calmed down.
“Is that legal?” he asked her as he massaged her back.
“Just making up stuff about a president.”
“I don’t know Rob, you tell me. You’re the one who went to law school for three months.”
“Okay,” he said evenly, “I think technically it isn’t. It’s slander. Unless it’s historically accurate, I don’t think you can go around accusing people of things, even if they’re public figures.”
“You’re being too literal,” she said shrilly and went into the bathroom.
On set the next morning Mel helped the Producer hand out the revised shooting schedule printed on yellow paper. “He’s going to be ok, he just needs time to recuperate,” the Producer kept repeating to each person he gave the new schedule to. The plan, for now, was to just shoot around Miles until he got better. That day they would do all the Mary scenes, her reaction shots, and so on.
Mary opens the door and smiles. She is wearing a silk yellow dress, and is holding a caged parakeet.
Mary stands in a field of mud. Her hair is wet. Rain is falling on her shoulders. First she looks to the left, then to the right. Then she begins to run.
Mary is on her knees, banging her hands against the stone floor. “No!” she screams, “No!” The black veil slips from her face.
“You were marvelous,” Mary says as the street blurs past her carriage window.
Mary closes the door. The parakeet cage on the stand behind her is empty. She is wearing a green dress and looks pensive.
“This Sunday,” Mary says, and takes a sip of her tea. Her hand is shaking. The teacup clatters on the saucer.
Mary ascends a marble staircase.
“God save us.” Mary’s eyes widen as she says this. Her dress is turquoise, and she is holding her gloves in her hand.
Richard had rushed off after the last take, giving Kristin a distracted pat on the shoulder.
“I’m a middle child, this isn’t new to me,” Kristin said as Mel helped her untie her corsets. The Wardrobe women were gone, probably at the craft services table. Mel picked the turquoise dress up off the floor and hung it on the rack next to the yellow one. These dresses were surprisingly heavy.
Kristen had changed into sweatpants and was putting cold cream on her face in the mirror.
“Oh, when you go to the production office will you see if FedEx came? I’m waiting for some scripts from my agent.”
On her way out Mel nearly tripped on the turquoise dress. It was in a heap on the floor. It must have fallen off the hanger.
Mel stood in the hallway outside the production office, her hand resting on the doorknob. Richard and the Producer were shouting. Outside she could see a man with a camera pacing and talking on his cell phone.
“He’s in a coma, for fuckssake.” She heard Richard’s voice through the door.
“He is not in a coma. They never used the word coma. Why are you using that word? He’s just unconscious.”
“Well, even if he comes out of it tomorrow, they’ll probably make him go to rehab with the amount of—” Richard stopped mid-sentence when he heard the door open.
“There’s a paparazzi outside,” Mel whispered, leaning back against the door after she closed it.
“Best news I’ve heard all day.” The Producer went outside to talk to the man with the camera.
“How’s Miles?” she asked Richard.
“Stable. They’re moving him to a better hospital tonight. I’m going to try to get in touch with the Chekhov festival to see if I can get someone else.”
“That’s not happening,” the Producer said, coming back into the room and closing the door. “We don’t have money to reshoot anything with a new actor. I think it’s pretty clear that we just need to break this off indefinitely until Miles is feeling better and the next season of The Picnickers is done filming.”
Richard picked up a stapler off the Producer’s desk and hurled it at an empty bookshelf. It clanged like a bell.
He took a deep breath. “I’m sorry about that. Let’s just get the Mary scenes for now.”
“You just got all the Mary scenes.” The Producer looked over at the stapler, annoyed. It appeared intact.
“Well, I’ll write more of them. I was thinking about that as soon as we started shooting. Kristin is great, but there isn’t enough of her. It makes us look like misogynists. Mary was a very interesting figure.” Mel picked up the stapler and put it back on the Producer’s desk.
“Just because you made a couple movies a couple years ago that won a couple awards at a couple festivals—”
“Several. A couple is two.” Richard was looking at the stapler, lying on the ground by the bookshelf. “We’re already here. It’ll be cheaper to just film for a few extra days than come back. Anything with Miles we’ll cheat, I’ll just get someone to stand in. The 2nd AC is about the right size.”
“Give me my stapler, Mel,” the Producer said, his usually unwavering eye contact skewing left. Mel again reached down for the stapler, but it was already on the desk. “And that wasn’t a paparazzi, by the way, it was someone from the Harrison County Cardinal doing a story on the library.” The Producer pressed down on the stapler for emphasis.
“Didn’t the investors like the dailies? Are you really going to tell them they’ve sunk money into this for nothing, that we aren’t even going to try?”
Two faces appeared in the window. It was the grip and the Best Boy knocking on the glass. “We quit,” they shouted, “You’ll be hearing from our Union rep.” They gave the Producer the finger and got back into their truck full of lighting equipment.
Mary is holding a candle looking down intensely at something. Wax drips down her hand, pooling and solidifying on the sleeve of her black dress. Her other arm appears to be inside of a box, moving minutely and deliberately. Her hand emerges holding a straight razor. Piled in her lap is short coarse black hair.
There, on the stone floor, she threads a needle and begins to sew. The edge of her husband’s coffin jumps in the candlelight. The candle is longer, the wick only beginning to darken. Mary bites the thread with her teeth. She has sewn a mitten, weaving together strands of her husband’s beard. She puts it on and brings it up to her tear stained face. She rubs it back and forth across her cheek until it is raw. Small black hairs stick to her moist skin. Her mittened hand moves down her neck, across her clavicle.
Their lunch break is shorter than usual that day, and no matter what Mel eats her mouth tastes like candle wax. Richard is dictating notes to her while he eats his soup. Mel tries to jot them all down but all she has is her napkin. It keeps tearing and mending itself, getting wet and drying up. Her handwriting on it does not look like her own. Maybe it’s the art department’s napkin. The Producer interrupts to ask Mel to make sure that everyone has a ride to The Tivoli. This time the art directors disguised the inside of the movie theater to look like a train station. Outside the sun is just beginning to rise.
Mary is standing in the hall of a train station. All of her dresses are laid out on the tables. An enormous garage sale to help get Mary out of debt. An elderly woman is trying on the yellow dress, struggling with the zipper. A man is holding a ring up to the light, examining the stone. A squat woman is squeezing into a bonnet and her children are trying on mink stoles and top hats. Mary is wearing a simple black dress and a mitten.
Two ladies promenade between the tables. One points to how the fabric in one dress has stiffened in the armpits from perspiration, the blue turned purple.
“It’s like cardboard,” the woman says, not touching it.
“She’s bringing shame to her distended family.”
One of the Wardrobe women gets Mel to try on the turquoise dress.
Mary scrunches up her face. “It’s too bright for her. It washes her out.”
“I don’t know, I kind of like it,” the Wardrobe woman says. Then she makes a face too. “Maybe she’s right. It’s a hard color.”
Mary hands Mel a red dress and sticks out her mittened hand. “For you, half price.” They shake, but it is the Wardrobe woman who handles the money.
Miles Patrick has woken up. On the monitor mounted in the corner of his hospital room he is watching Kristin sell his suits. He is getting a backrub from a nurse who is wearing scrubs with ponies on them. He sees Mel showing off her new red dress to Rob. He turns 2 face the wall. 14 seconds.
“There’s probably only a week of this left,” she says to Rob, “then we can go on a vacation.” She peels off her panty house and drops them in a heap on the floor. 6 seconds. “I’m sorry about your father,” she says. Under everything is the sound of mice.