BY ABBY SHEAFFER
November 28th, 1981
The silence sliced through the air.
Their booth was dark, lit only by the undulating glow of mahogany votive candles in hurricane glass.
Lana felt her mouth go dry.
“I… fucked… your… wife…”
Timothy said it in his usual, measured tone, and in this particular light (beneath the garish décor of the restaurant) Lana felt disgusted at the salmon-like features of his face.
A cold hand crept up her thigh and she looked between each man to determine whose it was, but the weed had kicked in and the maritime sculptures seemed to drip their gold-leaf paint. The sculpture of a mermaid from the bow of a ship smiled mockingly.
Her eyes darted to Richie whose face was plastered with his perfect, Hollywood grin.
“Pardon?” he asked, between girded teeth.
“You heard me,” Timothy hissed.
She gripped the base of her wine glass.
Richie spoke in a whisper, “fuck you,” he hissed.
She felt overcome with a cold sweat, and quickly exited the booth. She forgot how she reached the sand of the pier, only mildly reawakening as she reached into her clutch to retrieve her cigarettes and lighter. Her scarlet nails, like talons, glistened under the streetlamps of the secluded island’s main road. The moon was just a sliver, just a hint of rock buried beneath the unremitting obsidian of the universe.
She caught her breath.
You could not see the mainland from here.
Three Weeks Earlier…
"No, I miss the feel of it, of taking a risk… you had no idea what it was like to work with him.”
“The late great…”
They said in drunken unison.
Lana had surprised herself by ordering a glass of her favorite white burgundy. She’d surprised herself by coming out, alone, after filming with Timothy when Richie was back home with the girls.
“So, now,” Timothy began in his usual tone, “what do you think of this film?”
Lana laughed, and unconsciously began tinkering with her diamond earring. The lights of the restaurant seemed to brighten.
“It’s good, it’s okay… certainly not the Hollywood I wantto keep being a part of…”
“Well, it’s uh… ‘Sci-Fi’, figure out the neuroses of your lover or what it’s like to fuck someone without fucking them…” he added for her.
“Are you doing it method style?” Lana asked.
“No, why?” he replied.
She bit her lip and cracked her neck. Clearing her throat, she spoke.
“You know… uh… I don’t know if you know this about Richie…”
And leaning in, she whispered in his ear.
Timothy shifted toward her in his seat, closing his arm around her. Lifting the blade of his fingertip to the silk of her wrap dress, he grazed her collarbone.
She closed her eyes, lifted her head back.
Saw the blackness.
Santa Barbara, CA
November 24th, 1981
Lana woke up to see Svetlana standing over her bed, sniffling back tears.
“Honey? Sweetie? What is it?”
The child wouldn’t respond, only shuddering. She was skinny, all knobby knees and long hair.
“Shh… honey, what is it?”
“Don’t go! Don’t leave me!”
“Svetlana, what’s the matter?”
Her request was so loud that Richie jumped into the room, his face covered in shaving cream.
“What’s the matter?”
Svetlana only shook her head, clinging to her mother.
August 28th, 1981
“What would you do if you knew how you were going to die?”
“Lana, what the hell?” Midge asked, lifting herself up from the hood of the yacht (her Bloody Mary sloshed recklessly over the salted rim of her glass).
“When I was a kid, my mom used to tell me stories that gypsies told her… when she first came to America…”
Midge felt a chill through her spine despite the oppressive glow of the sun.
“And what the hell did a couple gypsies have to say?”
Lana turned over on her side, sliding off her sunglasses.
“You have no idea, Midge, they could see everything. They used to read tarot cards with chilling accuracy and scryblack mirrors: shards of black glass that could see the future.”
“You don’t honestly believe that, do you?”
The tide picked up and the buoy of the yacht began to bang against the harbor.
Lana said nothing, only getting up on her knees to tighten the rope.
Midge noticed, chillingly, how her delicate little hands loosened and secured the fraying rope.
“You’re kind of reminding me of Kim Novak in Vertigoright now…” Midge murmured.
Lana stared into the blackness of the water.
“Imagine, no one being able to hear you… not even your own husband…”
“Honey,” Midge’s voice cracked, “honey, Richie loves you!”
Lana looked at her for a moment, but her face was drained of expression.
“How are you two bathing beauties doing?”
Midge looked up to see Richie standing and holding two champagne flutes, his All-American grin glinting in the California sun.
“Anyone up for some champagne?”
Midge looked between them.
“Of course!” she yelled, with some relief.
Lana moved away from the buoy and lukewarmly toward her husband.
November 29th, 1981
The muffled sound of arguing and lapping water filtered through the yacht. Timothy sat drunkenly in his bunker, while the skipper lit another joint. The tangy, furry scent of weed filled the cabin.
“Can I have a hit?” Timothy asked, “I don’t like to drink like that,” he said, and absent-mindedly waved his hands as if to imply the night’s raucousness.
The skipper extended his hand, offering the quickly burning joint.
“Hollywood man, it fucks you up.”
“Tell me about it,” Timothy brought the joint to his lips and looked up, “listen to the way he talks to her.”
As he was wont to do, the skipper watched as Timothy brought his right hand in front of himself and began to gesticulate, bobbing his head in his signature fashion.
“The man hates his own wife because of her success, hates her…” he placed the joint to his lips and sucked it in.
Exhaling he gave it back to the skipper.
“I think it’s the system,” Timothy continued, squatting down, “you know his secret, don’t you?”
The skipper hesitated and shook his head. Timothy pierced him with his gaze before responding:
“Then why is your cock so hard?”
November 29th, 1981
She was comfortable in her long, old fashioned nightgown and quilted parka, though she knew by the look on the men’s face it was not how they were used to seeing her, only the skipper seemed to see who she was beyond her conflated persona.
“They always expect Butterfield8 and get disappointed when I wear this,” she mumbled, lighting a cigarette.
“So you want me to take you back on the island?” he asked,his hands shoved in pockets.
Lana exhaled and breathed out into the brisk, indigo air.
“Please, I can’t stand being around him when he gets like this. I do one major motion picture without him and he turns into some… fucking…”
And she frowned, the two delicate wrinkles on her forehead suddenly aging her, like two parentheses they reflected what she couldn’t say out loud.
“You know, I read the same shit about Vivien Leigh and Sir Laurence Olivier…”
The skipper just nodded, “want me to bring you some more of your wine?”
“No,” she shook emphatically, “I’ve had more than enough. I just want to go sleep and forget tonight.”
“Your perfume smells nice,” he said.
“Thanks, Claire DuBois gave it to me when I was a littlegirl. I’ve worn it ever since.”
“Gardenia, is it?” the skipper asked.
“Yes, they’re my favorite flower,” she replied.
They got into the rubber dinghy and moved toward the island. He noted an erratic tension in her body whenever it slapped against the dark water. She gripped her parka.
“I don’t like water much,” she said, her voice tiny as a child’s.
San Bernardino, CA
“Well then, I’ll teach you how to swim!” Jimmy said, splashing the water.
“Jimmy, darling, I’m crazy about you, but I have a thing about water…” Lana sat at the edge of her swimming pool, a toe dangling at the edge, “I’m serious, this is about all I can do.”
She watched as Jimmy dove under and rose up again, his swim trunks blossoming up around him in a completely comical way.
“So your mom’s setting you up on one of those shitty Hollywood dates again?” he moved his lips to the side, as if tasting what he said, as if that could subdue the jealous nature of his tone.
Lana looked up at him and nodded.
“Of course, she doesn’t approve of me, but she approves of Blockhead Turner…”
“Brock Turner!” she stifled a laugh, but Jimmy didn’t take.
A rush of emotions constricted her throat and a second lens imbued her eyes.
“Oh, Jimmy, you know there’s only me for you.”
He swam toward her and she grazed the afternoon stubble on his face.
“Miss Movie Star… soon you’ll marry some Hollywood Big Shot and move into Bel Air and forget all about your little…your little farm boy…”
“Never,” she murmured and then she felt her thigh slide deeply beneath the cerulean and sun dappled waters of the pool. Standing on the balls of her feet, she let him swirl her around, always trusting his waist around hers.
The evening sun glowed and for a moment, she forgot everything; her omnipresent litany of fears seemed to dissolve away into the aquamarine depths, forgotten if just for a moment.
Beverly Hills, CA
She let the mink stole slide down her porcelain shoulder and suggestively asked for a martini.
“Dry, no olives, and an ashtray please,” the waiter gaped. Quickly, a busboy brought an ostentatious marble ashtray and set it on the white tablecloth between some equally ostentatious filigreed candlestick holders.
“Tonight, tonight, you meet Richard White!”
Her mother’s husky Russian drawl beat in her ears. As a child, she’d always had a crush on Richard White. He had a recurring war as an All-American war hero, with an All-American grin, and was an All-American heartbreaker. Her entire childhood had been spent with cutout pictures of him over her bed, celluloid fantasies of a perfect marriage.
But then there was Jimmy…
(Mama put a stop to that)
“You are IN Hollywood, you MARRY Hollywood. No exceptions! He is below you!”
Endless nights spent with her older sister Sofia, crying into her pillow, wringing it out in the morning.
Then a bargain was met, and the summer after the romance ended, she cultivated a new persona: a femme fatale. Racy photo shoots, coiffed pixie hair reminiscent of Lila Porter, bold and sumptuous lipstick, opera gloves, mink and sable, late nights with bachelors-about-town, and worst of all—compromises on casting couches with men old enough to be her father.
If the world had held a modicum of innocence, it was lost to her now. Sipping her martini (too much vermouth) she looked up. Extended a gloved hand, posed as if taking a studio still.
“Richard, how are you!”
(A smile so handsome it could stop your heart)
Was that what she’d recited as a little girl?
My, how times change…
November 28th, 1981
“You don’t carry that wine here?” Lana asked, dipping her head in disbelief.
“No, ma’am, I’m sorry, but we have a killer martini!” the waitress straightened her posture, as if a martini were a landmark feat.
Haphazardly, she agreed and dug into her pack of cigarettes.
“Same,” Richie said, bringing a hand to his wife’s shoulder.
“I’ll have an Old Fashioned,” Timothy said, “or a scotch.”
“Ok,” the waitress said, scanning her pad, “Be right with you!”
Lana inhaled her cigarette and moved herself away from Richie. Beneath the table, she felt Timothy’s hand began to seek the cap of her knee.
“So,” Timothy asked, “you two come here often?”
Richie lit a cigarette, “only since we were married!” Then he corrected himself, “oh, I mean our first marriage, right darling?” He fiddled with his ascot.
Lana smiled, “you’re correct!” she said (a maudlin grin pasted over her face). The waitress brought the drinks over and Lana spied a bottle of champagne on the tray.
“Oh,” the waitress said upon seeing Lana’s curious eyes, “from that family over there! They’re huge fans of Miss Winter.”
Richie gauged her oblivious gaze, “and, of course, you Mr. White!”
Timothy reveled in his relative anonymity.
“To Hollywood!” he said, raising his chilled flute.
The glasses clinked.
November 29th, 1981
So this is what it feels like. To feel suspended above some ominous, dark water. To never see the bottom, to float.
And she had screamed, but Richie’s jeering had been callous. And for a moment, she thought she heard another man and woman yell out, but then the water began to fill her lungs.
(Startlingly frigid, like pins and needles)
Her nightgown and quilted red parka ballooned around her initially, but then the water began to drag her down.
To be at gravity’s mercy, and to feel some force greater than you allow you to float before it consumes you.
She tried to remember the feeling of being with Jimmy in the little pool, but then wretched fear caressed her ankles tempting her to just give in.
"Richie!” she had cried, but the caverns swallowed her call and laughed at her with a menacing grin, their jagged stone columns formed centuries ago.
He thought it had been so funny.
(Throw your cheating wife from a boat, see if she’ll float!)
He’d done it by pitching her over the bow, and she’d clung on at first but began to slip. The chilly, November air had tickled her legs and her toes began to freeze. All the same, she began to sweat profusely and that was when the revelation hit.
San Bernardino, CA
December 5th, 1945
Svetlana Zakharenko screams from her bed. Under the winter moonlight, the undulating shadows from her billowing curtains look like monsters. Flanked by stuffed animals and paper dolls, Svetlana screams out again.
The hinges of her bedroom door open and in steps Mama.She is tiny and possesses a beady stare. All-knowing Mother.
"Was it the dream again?” she asks, in her husky, Russian growl.
"Yes! Yes! The water! The water! It was so dark and cold! Mama, please stop it!”
And then there was a loud clap, and Svetlana’s cheek burned, and she knew she’d been slapped.
Shock set in.
“Go back to bed! Rehearsal in the morning!” her eyes were wild and dark with anger, Svetlana flinched in terror.
Mama seemed to smile with pride.
“Remember, you are not longer Svetlana Zakharenko, you are Lana Winters.”
The bedroom door closed.
Tranquility and terror circled through her like a snake consuming its own tail. It got to the point where her arms and legs could tread no more and the unbearable weightlessness of it all became so heavy.
A cop fished her out and recoiled when he found the livid bruises on the side of her face. The frigid husk of skin and fabric clung to her lifeless form. Her dark brown eyes begged for answers.
Then they found the mountains of empty liquor bottles.
Later, the skipper would stay at Richie’s house for three and a half months, living off a steady diet of rum and painkillers.
Timothy would go on to become an actor with a cult following, adored for his candor and the measured and strange vocal delivery.
The predawn morning of November 29th was the last time Richie slept well.
Abby Sheaffer is the finger and founder and editor-in-chief of Chicago Literati and The Vignette Review. Her fiction has been published in Bird's Thumb, Bluestockings, Crab Fat, Danes Macabre, and Literary Orphans.