Faith Shaker

 

The tape operators drew lots to determine whose grim task it would be to give William Broom the dreadful news that Hipster Scenester had sabotaged the signal going into Film Transfer 6 and then skateboarded into the sunset.  The murder weapon would be a skateboard.  The motive was obvious.  They placed bets on how many bones Hipster Scenester would have left unbroken when Broom caught up to him.  First Person Witness rolled by at ninety feet per minute.  Bespectacled Driver and Winchester Pump sit in their black ’68 Dodge Charger and exchange nervous glances.  They speak through gritted teeth as the words of giddy girls pour from their mouths.

 

E robot guiyopda!

Nae robosi choigoya!

Roboturi maru anduro!

E robot kunnejunda!


Somebody suggested Liliana.  Broom liked her.  Everybody knew if they phoned Liliana Luz Leung for any reason she’d be paid two hundred percent of her wage for a full eight hours and nobody wanted to explain that to Ms. Patrick.  Ask Hey Zeus.  Broom listened to Cuauhtemoc.  They dialed 55 5255 5327 but hung up.  He’d left a movie phone number.  I offered to call Betty.  I’d seen them in the kitchen many times.  She worried because he drove his motorcycle too fast.  The guys looked at me like I’d lost my mind.

 

‘Who?’

 

‘Call the maid?  The cleaning lady?  The butler?’

 

‘What for?  To take out garbage?  To vacuum?  Do dishes?’

 

‘This is film.  This is serious.’

 

My work was done but I had a few hours before my shift was technically over so I decided to make the long walk and tell him to stop.

 

‘I wouldn’t if I were you.  It’s a hallway to hell.’

 

‘He’s mental.  We’ll call your next of kin right now.’

 

‘Sue PosteTotal.  If you survive.’

 

‘You won’t be the same if you make it out of there.’

 

Film Transfer Six grew further with each step.  The din from the equipment room died down and the hiss of the air conditioning fell away.  A hollow silence filled the air.  Broom’s room was shut tight.  I lifted my arm and rapped the hard wood of that black gate.  A knob turned.  The door creaked.  Its hinges squeaked.  The dark clad William Broom stood in front of me.

 

‘Man, I’m totally blanking on your name.’

 

‘Martin.  I’m a fan.  I have Rotor. I have Metal Fatigue. I love 666.’


‘That was ages ago.  You don’t seem the type.  What’s up, Martin?’

 

First Person Witness.  It’s no good.’

 

He tapped the space bar.  Bespectacled Driver and Winchester Pump froze in mid sentence.  He flicked a switch.  The two characters transformed into a million little pixels as the videotape sped backwards.  He pressed play.  Charger.  Driver.  Winchester.  Giggles from Computer, War, Tennis, Shoes.

 

Roboti maru anduro!

Nae robosi choigoya!


He pulled back the long black hair that hung over his chiseled face and asked me if I knew what the kids were saying.  I said I didn’t know a word of Japanese.  He knew many but it was Korean for the robots are out of control. He’d put it together in two seconds.  Hipster Scenester routed the audio from Film Transfer 4 into Film Transfer 6 and then skated.  The guys in the equipment room had been too afraid or too bored or too stupid to say anything and sent the new guy to break the news.  I’d put a couple of rolls from the film cleaner and asked if he needed me to stay, check things, help out.

 

‘Herr Direktor sure won’t dig his dailies the way they sound now.  666 you say?’

 

‘Yes!  Backwards guitar solo, double drums, funkadelic bass, sleazy footstomper -’

 

‘You could have read it for all I know.  Remind again me how great it was.  Sing it.’

 

‘Single or album version?’

 

William Broom smiled his rock star smile.  He went to the back of the suite, pulled his Martin twelve string from its case and began to play.  The riff he’d written was so simple I couldn’t believe I hadn’t come up with it myself.  I took my cue the moment he struck the E minor.

 

Ever the old pro
On with the show
Should have said no
All those years ago
It’s written on the page
All the world’s a stage
You’re all the rage
Try and act your age
Never read the script
Couldn’t get a grip
Take a little trip
Set sail on a ship
Sold you down the river
Diamonds gold and silver
Never did deliver
Ache and shake and shiver
You must remember this
Stricken from the list
You’ll cease to exist
Come on baby let’s do the twist

Memory grows dimmer
No more than a glimmer
Diminishing charisma
A day player in a parallel cinema

 

Don’t you know the meaning
Nightmares you’ve been dreaming
Who’s name are you screaming
At that private midnight screening

Your money’s been spent
Every last cent
Can’t pay the rent
Wonder where it went
Rain and hail and snow
Wind begins to blow
Darkness starts to grow
Cast no shadow

Can’t recall the scene
Do you know what I mean
Yesterday’s man has been
You ain’t never seen
Mon Amour Hiroshima
Or The Lady of Fatima
Southern California we have a dilemma

The faded superstar of the parallel cinema

 

I’m telling one and all
Writing on the wall
Hammer to fall
Who you gonna call?
Such a shame
Fortune and fame
Up in flames
That’s the name of the game

Large it looms
Coming soon
High noon
You’re doomed
Man, you’re hand picked
And you’ve been tricked
The end is coming quick
You’re sick, sick, sick.

 

He seemed amazed and flattered and troubled that I knew every word.  I told him I’d had the cassette in my car but I was too embarrassed to tell him about the times I’d played it on my tennis racquet alone in my living room.  He asked if I knew who he’d written the song about.  I didn’t get to answer.  An anonymous Samaritan knocked on the door and left the stack of First Person Witness that had gone through the cleaner.  Broom scooped up the entire pile and placed it next to his film scanner.  He watched as I threaded the negative through its wheels and pulleys and lock it into place.  He flicked between the shots Liliana had done the previous week and the current scene.  Broom’s fingertips moved swiftly.  He made the Charger’s driver and passenger match the earlier footage exactly and then he hit the record button.

 

Are you waiting for an invitation?  Shoot, man!

Get your head down.

What?  Wait!  Don’t shoot!  Where is he?

He’s out of control and headed our way.  Head down.  Now.


Driver and Shooter had been filmed by four cameras at every conceivable angle.  Broom said the scene was more interesting with the Korean dialogue.  I laughed.  He hated tinny digital audio and hoped to do more interesting work in the sound mixing department after First Person Witness wrapped.  Scores of people watched movies but few actually listened.  I asked how PosteTotal had landed First Person Witness when they were shooting on the other side of the world.  He replied that Liliana Luz Leung was here not there.  I felt a little braver and inquired why he’d walked away from Faith Shaker when he seemed on the brink of having a big career.  He must have been asked the same question a million times before but he didn’t mind answering.  He wanted to put out a record that someone may enjoy.  That was it.  The thought of being branded a one hit wonder didn’t pain him.  He mused that in some alternate universe 666 would not have been released on the same day as Enter Sandman but even in this reality Metal Fatigue had sold plenty and Faith Shaker turned into something complicated not long after.  Wolves knocked at his door, he let them in and bought everything they had; hook, line, sinker, kitchen sink.  He would have signed 666 over had it not been for a clear headed Mexican who had directed a video that Broom hadn’t wanted to make for a song he hadn’t wanted to release.  He claimed he’d fought tooth and nail to get out of it but the record company held firm.  Tooth and nail must have been a figure of speech because I could not imagine anybody forcing William Broom to do anything against his will.  The men sat side by side in the same small edit bay for three days.  Broom admitted that he scarcely recognized the gaunt caricature on the monitor in front of him.  Cuauhtemoc told him to walk away.  The record company people called the Mexican every name in the book and told him that he would never work in their town again.  They made good on their promise.  Broom thought Jesus Cuauhtemoc was crazy but he was glad he’d listened.

 

Give me that thing!  I’ll do him myself.

Keep your mouth shut.  Keep your hands on the wheel and your foot down.

Why is that?

You’ll live longer.


‘Want some advice for free?’

 

‘Yes.’

 

‘Do whatever Cuauhtemoc asks you.  He tells the truth.  Maybe not the literal truth.’

 

‘Will Cuauhtemoc or Liliana or you get to do the scenes with Chanimar?’

 

He laughed and said nobody.  The entire movie would turn out to be one big waste of time and money because Chanimar would abandon First Person Witness the same way he’d quit 007: Devil His Due, Gran Premio and Ziggurat.

 

‘You’re forgetting that Chanimar appears only on film.’

 

‘Not even video dailies?’

 

‘Film.  Alpha.  Omega.  Ever rented one of his movies or seen one on TV?’

 

‘No.’

 

‘You never will.  Chanimar can only be seen on a silver screen.’

 

Cool it, man.  I got a twelve gauge.

He’s got three hundred and ninety cubic inches.  And a death wish.


I expressed my amazement that a lad from some slum could have become the richest movie star who had ever lived.  Broom replied there was nothing mysterious about his rise whatsoever.  Chanimar could act.  Billions lined up to see him for that reason alone.  Performers of his calibre came along once every century.  There was Chanimar.  Every other actor was several rungs below.  Broom asked if I knew how films got made.  I mentioned Cuauhtemoc had drawn me a diagram; camera, laboratory, telecine, editing, inter positive, final color correction.  He asked again.  I answered no.

Money.  With few exceptions filmmakers had to go to several different sources to get it.  He used an example of a movie that had a budget of one hundred dollars.  He asked me to imagine that was an amount I could never possibly come up with myself.  In my case that sum had always proved true.  As a producer, I would try to set up meetings with broadcasters and government ministers.  I would fly all over the country to attend lakeside soirees and conferences high up in the mountains.  These galas were full of influential men and women whose hands had never come in contact with a page of a screenplay or a frame of film.  As a producer, I would introduce myself to these total strangers and comment how nice their hair looked.  I’d walk up to people whom I’d never met and notice how they’d lost weight and remark my back had also been acting up and compliment their pretty necklace.  As a producer, I’d ask if I may please have a few dollars to make my movie.  He asked me to keep in mind the few dollars I ever did see from multiplexes, airlines, home video, television, would go to the party goers with the fabulous hairstyles and sparkly necklaces and sore backs.  They’d own my film for the next fifteen to twenty-five years because they were good enough to sign a promissory note at a fancy dress up ball.  I understood why Hipster Scenester had skated away from the business.

 

‘I’d rather smash every tooth in a person’s head than utter one word I didn’t mean.’

 

‘Why?’

 

‘Violence is direct, honest, more respectful.  My fists have never failed me.’

 

‘I’m a fan.  I have Metal Fatigue. I love 666.’

 

He laughed.  He kept his focus on the Charger but saw that I was hopelessly lost.  I mumbled it sounded like a lot of hoops to jump through just to tell a story.

 

‘Positively Byzantine.  You’ve spent ten years chasing after one hundred dollars.’

 

‘What’s else?’

 

‘What?’

 

‘The second thing?  Money and -’

 

Loneliness.  Broom estimated more than half of every movie audience was composed of lonely souls who had nowhere else to go and nothing better to do.  Every production office, every set, every post facility was full of lonely people.  Loneliness was universal.  Loneliness did not discriminate.  Loneliness dug in deep and did not easily let go.  He was convinced that Chanimar had taken the time to listen to the three times divorced production accountant, the coordinator with the delinquent teenaged son, the old location manager who never had the chance to marry.  All the lonely people taught him everything they knew about the movie business.

He asked if I needed to get some air.  I replied I was happy to keep working.  He needed more coffee and had to give a pep talk to the gang in the equipment room.   He took off.  I took his collection of coffee cups to the kitchen and hauled some film down to Room 101.  I heard every word he had for the tape operators even though I was three floors below.  He returned.  We started up again.

 

I told you when we got into this deal there were lines I wouldn’t cross.

And I told you I wasn’t going back to prison.


‘Anything else?’

 

‘May I ask how Liliana negotiated such a favorable contract?’

 

‘Liliana?  Negotiated?  It isn’t her smile or her form-fitting clothes.’

 

‘Nobody has complained too loudly.’

 

Broom guessed Liliana’s immense salary had more to do with voluntary suspension of disbelief than her formidable technical skill.  Cinematographers, directors and producers needed to believe somebody could make their movie look better than the others just as PosteTotal needed to believe somebody could bring those people in.  Liliana understood people’s need to believe.  Every producer in the world knew Chanimar worked with a very small circle of people and she was part of that circle so hiring Liliana Luz Leung was like buying a ticket to Chanimar and she knew that, too.

 

‘She understands things technical and psychological like nobody.  She exploits both.’

 

‘Last roll.  Last take.’

 

‘Where were we?  Liliana?  Chanimar?’

 

‘Chanimar.’

 

He wasn’t certain how the mysterious recluse had scraped together his first crore of rupees but knew he provided producers with every resource they needed.  Chanimar made their lives easy and their dreams come true.  No bankers.  No bonders.  No brokers.  No need for empty compliments.  No fees.  No financing.  Plenty of interest because his audience was massive.  Chanimar was the only marketing his movies had ever needed.  Directors and distributors gambled everything to work with him because he wouldn’t take a single paise until his movie turned a profit.  Then he took everything.

 

This is the end of the line.

What do you mean?

I’m out of gas.  You’re out of ammo.  Gas chamber or chair?

Suit yourself.  I got one more cartridge left.


‘Better the devil you know.’

 

You can say that again.  Marty, hand me my bag, would you?’

 

‘Ritter bag?’

 

‘Lowepro bag.’

 

I feared William Broom had held back his rage at having to redo that scene and would exact his revenge on everyone and begin with me.  He pulled out a long, black cylinder and pointed to its displays and features.   He was amazed at how many shots he could get off without ever having to reload.  No film required.  The days were coming when they would use a similar camera to shoot movies.  Everyone would be able to do it.  Camera in one hand.  Computer in the other.  No more need to pay a king’s ransom to a man who walked around a film set with a light meter in his hand.  No need to pay extortion to a lady who color corrected and transferred motion picture film to digital videotape either.  Technology would hit the film industry like a tornado.

 

‘Roboti. Maru. Anduro.’

 

Do you want to know a secret?’

 

‘Yes, please.’

 

‘When, not if, Jesus Cuauhtemoc leaves this place it’ll be over.’

 

I meant to ask about the silver crucifix that hung around his neck and if he struggled with his faith and if he thought the Church, like Liliana, exploited a need to believe and if we were all voluntarily suspending our disbelief but then I thought it must have been part of his rock n’ roll get up like his muscles, shoulder length hair and tattoos so I ended up asking him about his V-Max.  He never got his chance to mix sound.  Funkraum’s Digital Robots Disco Dancing On The Autobahn was ruled to have borrowed with both hands from 666 and William Broom, composer, copyright holder and hard negotiator, was almost buried alive by the avalanche of royalties.  He purchased and restored a farmhouse in Majorca but didn’t feel the need to author a dozen books about his experience.  He was right about First Person Witness.  It was reported that Chanimar had flown to Queensland but was refused permission to land.  He never returned.  That snub spelled the end of productions shooting in Australia.  Nobody would risk offending Chanimar by going there.  Riots raged across the sub continent all summer long.  Australia’s ambassador to Delhi was sent packing.  Emboldened by the worldwide success of The Satisfaction, Chanimar demanded the producers of First Person Witness reconstruct San Francisco circa 1968 outside Pyongyang but then walked away from the film.  He spent the next two years filming Furor Circencis in Tripoli.

 

Star

 

Liliana Luz Leung appeared just as I had finished preparing Film Transfer 1.  Seeing her was like being struck by lightning.  I didn’t know how to act.  I may have introduced myself or maybe mentioned that Ms. Patrick had asked us not to begin until she brought the director in.  Liliana smiled.

 

‘Martin, I am here now.’

 

She studied the camera reports I’d photocopied for her and then she scanned through every roll of film until she’d found the shot she was looking for.  I noticed she took her black bag with her whenever left to change film rolls.  I noticed everything.  I was glad she was so thorough because it gave me the chance to study her every move.  She found the scene was looking for, gave it a magical glow, made every subsequent shot match and started recording without a word of warning.  The night’s work was finished in the quickest time imaginable.  She checked to make sure I’d typed every scene and take correctly. She studied the video tape to confirm the first edit had gone in at 01:00:00 and the last had come out at 01:59:50. She listened to make sure the sound was in sync with the picture.  She was about make her exit when Ms. Patrick entered with her guest.  She apologized for their late arrival.  The director tried hard to give the impression that he and Liliana were life long friends.  He promised he’d stay to help her establish a feel, a look, a mood.  She promised him that the feel, look and mood had been established hours earlier.

I pretended to do some business with my papers as Liliana walked out the door.  Ms. Patrick excused herself and ran to catch her.  I introduced myself to the director.  He nodded.  Liliana was a long way down the hall but the words she leveled at Ms. Patrick were loud enough for all the world to hear.  She explained that her film suite was not an amusement park and she did not conduct field trips or curate museums or do tours through zoos and nobody dictated how she did her job.  Ms. Patrick returned and apologized for the miscommunication.  The director was eager to see his dailies.  She asked if I’d stay and help.  I hit the play button.

 

Where will you go, Khajag?

I will go to America.  To Toronto.

Toronto is not America, Khajag.  Toronto is Canada.

Is Canada not America?

I do not know, Khajag?  Perhaps it is.


The director asked me to replay the scene.  He studied every frame of every scene.  The man and the woman acted like they were lobotomized zombies sleepwalking through a field of wheat.  I had to remind myself they were Canadian actors in a Canadian film.  After a few hours he exclaimed to nobody in particular how delighted he was with his actors and his pictures.  Ms. Patrick readily agreed.  He left Film Transfer 1 and promptly got lost in the hallway.  I escorted him to the elevator because Ms. Patrick looked like she’d had a trying day.  I replayed my whole evening as I walked home.  I wondered if I should have done more or said less.  Liliana Luz Leung was still very much on my mind as I climbed into bed.

 

Are you Canadian?

Yes, Khajag.

I was born and raised in Canada.  I am Canadian.

Am I Canadian?

You arrived in Canada an hour ago.  By boat.  Of course you are.


I rarely needed to leave the transfer suite because somebody inevitably brought Liliana’s film up from the lab and then somebody else took it down to Room 101.  I never made any comment about Happy Days or asked what she kept in her black bag because it wasn’t hard to figure out.  I offered her a slice of the margarita pizza that Betty had made for me.  I was surprised when she accepted.  One Thursday evening the flight carrying the film from Toronto was delayed and we found ourselves alone together for a couple of hours.  She asked why I’d wanted to work in the movies.  I replied that I’d grown up in a northern mining town called Phantom Lake and my Dad had taken me to the Rex Theatre every Saturday.  He and I used to watch cowboys shoot Indians, monsters terrorize the strange-sounding citizens of distant mega cities and American scientists escape the earth’s pull right before the meteor entered the atmosphere.  Liliana turned around in her chair and smiled at me after I’d told her how much I loved Saturday at the Rex with Dad.  Happy Days arrived soon after and we went to work.

 

What are you rebelling against?

What do you have?

Seriously, Khajag, what’s your problem?  Answer the question.

What do you mean?


Liliana asked me about my weekend so I told her how I’d helped Betty, Magia and Marisol move.  Betty had done the hard work.  My job was to lift the heavier things.  I invited them over for a familiar creation called Disco Stew which was basically spaghetti, tortilla chips and whatever else happened to be in my fridge.  Betty had brought over a chicken and some canned tomatoes so I threw those in the pot as well.  Tortugitas dragged my table and chairs to my little deck and guaranteed me it would be like having a fun picnic.  They weren’t wrong.

 

Canadian tax payers will not pay ten dollars for a kilo of blueberries.

As a Canadian tax payer I tell you we will.


One of the take-up arms in the film processor had to be replaced so Liliana and I found ourselves with more time on our hands.  She asked me to tell her another wild tale from my misspent youth in Phantom Lake.  I warned her my best stories involved my Dad or things that had happened a quarter century earlier.  She said she was happy to listen to anything I had to offer so I told her how my Dad found few things more distasteful than bragging.  As fate would have it the very next day we had a substitute teacher.  He looked at my sheet and asked me how much time I’d spent doing the assignment.  I stood atop my desk, pounded my chest and boasted to the whole class I’d done my homework in five minutes.  It wasn’t bragging.  It was the truth.  The substitute teacher marked my paper in front of everyone.  I had three correct answers out of twenty.  My classmates laughed like hyenas.  That was the last time I ever boasted about anything.  She laughed softly and suggested I may have gone into the wrong business.

 

Khajag.  No.

In my country we solve problems like men.

Here in Canadian, Khajag, we engage in meaningful dialogue.

My ways are not Canadian ways.


Happy Days rolled by.  Liliana said the movie was beautifully photographed which was the only thing she had said about it.  I asked if she’d figured out what the story was about.  She stood up and stretched.  I forgot whatever I’d said.

 

‘Have you ever seen 2001: A Space Odyssey?

 

‘Yes’

 

The Man Who Fell To Earth?’

 

‘I have.’

 

The Maltese FalconThe Passenger?’


‘I’ve seen those, too!’

 

‘Tell me what they were about.’

 

I hadn’t a clue.  I had no answer when she asked me what a wonderwall was.  She said sometimes it was best not to get so caught up with the meaning of things.

 

‘May I ask a question?’

 

‘Anything you like.’

 

‘Did you get to meet Colleen Alexis?’

 

‘Yes, I did.  Why?’

 

‘We were born on the same day.’

 

‘You should have come down and introduced yourself.  Colleen is nice.’

 

‘She sure is.  How did she feel about her Rising Action being destroyed in our stop bath?’

 

‘Contractual obligation.  Couldn’t have cared less.  She spoke to Betty the whole time.’


‘I’ll bet Piers wasn’t happy.  Insurance claim?  Re-shoot?’

 

‘I suggested they cut the scene.’

 

‘And?’

 

‘They cut the scene.

 

 

Operator, I would like to place a long distance telephone call.

Is this an international call, sir?

I beg your pardon?

Do you wish to make an overseas call, sir?

No.  I would like to place a call within the empty vastness that is Canada.


‘Worst childhood memory or greatest fear.  Take your pick.’

 

‘Worst childhood memory.  That’s easy.  Dad bought me a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey -’

 

‘Your friends had Canadiens sweaters.  I’ve heard that story before.  Greatest fear.’

 

‘Going to hell, math tests, quicksand, UFOs, that squid thing from Space 1999 -’


‘May I ask what frightens you today?’

 

‘I’ve narrowed the list down to going to hell.’

 

And losing my job.  And not having any money.  And being alone in a big city.  Because thinking about something happening to Dad or Betty or Magia or Marisol was too terrible to contemplate.  Liliana was curious as to how my Dad owned Soviet aircraft and an American fossil.  The planes were easy enough to explain.  Dad had cash.  Aeroflot did not.  He told them they could take his money or leave it.  They took it.  He got a couple of Tupolevs for next to nothing.  Some people in Phantom Lake called him a war profiteer but they changed their tune when forest fires surrounded the town the following summer.  I said his love for a blue, 1966 Ford Galaxie was more difficult to get my head around.  He’d bought it the day he’d met my mother.  It was hardly a muscle car but he claimed its two hundred horsepower was a three-fold increase from the Renault 8 he used to own.  Liliana knew every last detail about my car and asked me to consider that Dad may have exaggerated the power output.  There was a long silence after I asked about her Alfa Romeo.  She finally replied the car had come from a director she’d dealt with.  I didn’t press her for details.  She explained their working relationship had changed so she’d taken his Avenue Foch apartment, his Fairlady, his Miura as well as everything else.  The old Datsun and Lamborghini were in Paris and she’d brought the Alfa over for no other reason than science fiction orange was her favorite color.  She claimed to have no attachment to either car.  I didn’t ask why she’d insisted one be shipped across the Atlantic.

 

Khajag.  Where is your land?  Your heart?  Where are the people you love.

My land is here.  My heart is here.  My people are here.  In Canada.


Happy Days was more like a series of confusing, never ending, random vignettes than a movie.  I wondered who would ever watch it.

 

‘Do you have another story for me?’

 

‘Yes.’

 

‘Is it better than this one?’

 

‘I don’t know.  I hope so.’

 

My little mining town must have been unlike the tropical locale of Liliana’s childhood but she did not act the least bit surprised when I told her how cold Phantom Lake winter nights could get.  She encouraged me to keep going.  I remembered my job at local radio station and Living In Another World. The song was seven minutes long which gave me time to put on my parka, toque and gloves, run down the stairs, sprint down the street, start the Galaxie’s V8 and make it back in time to catch the end of the song.  I loved how it took me a different place every time I listened to it.  Bowie’s Wild Is The Wind was almost as good but not quite as long and definitely not suitable if the temperature fell below minus twenty.  Liliana laughed when I told her how I’d brought the Whenever You’re On My Mind forty-five home from the station one sunny afternoon.  I’d intended to put it on Dad’s turntable and record it to cassette but then I forgot about it and it melted to the dashboard.  Dad wasn’t happy with me.  Nobody at the radio station noticed the record was gone.  She admitted she wasn’t familiar with the songs but would like to hear them.

 

Liliana never offered any stories of her own but when I persisted she said she enjoyed nothing more than visiting parks and gardens.  She described Parisians as being more reserved than uptight.  Leblon was lovely.  Bogenhausen, Cronulla and Rechts Boomsloot were, too.  She had been offered parts in films many times and she’d been to the Cannes Film Festival.  She had not been the least bit interested in either.  The town itself was pretty but she had never encountered so many desperate people gathered in one place.  She had never seen the beggars of Calcutta but doubted the film festival attendees could be much different.  I had been to Calcutta but I kept that to myself.  Liliana didn’t feel any nostalgia for any place.  Travel was part of the job.  Only a few of her flights had ever been cancelled.  She’d never had enough luggage for any airline to lose.  She rarely spoke with the people seated next to her on flights.  The Concorde wasn’t worth the price of her ticket.  Somebody else paid for her ticket.  SoHoPost had found her a flat in Knightsbridge.  She said the battling brothers, the flamboyant vocalists and the moody guitarists had sat quietly and sipped cups of tea while she’d color corrected their promotional videos.  She’d quit London because she couldn’t listen to another line of syrupy dialogue uttered by yet another saccharine English actor.  I asked if the stories were true about her leaving Skywalker Ranch after five minutes of Episode 1.  She explained how everybody at that facility had been too blind to see and too afraid to say how terrible Episode 1 was going to be even though the evidence had been staring them in the face.

 

 

In ancient times man looked to Athens for enlightenment.

Yes, Khajag.  Once upon a time that was true.

Nowadays, Canadians turn to Toronto.

Khajag, truly you have showed Canadians what it means to be Canadian!


‘That’s a wrap.  May I ask you a question, Martin?’

 

‘Marty, please.  Anything you like.’

 

‘Betty mentioned that she remembered you from her church.’

 

‘Betty?  Did she?  I used to go to St. Paul’s shortly after I moved here.’

 

‘Do you still?’

 

‘Now and then.  To St. Mary’s.  During the week.  It’s quieter.  Less crowded.’

 

‘Marty, listen.  This business erodes souls.  Be careful.’

 

I wanted to tell Liliana everything but I do not think the whole world could contain the books that would be written with the things I never said.  Renault and Revlon had her for a month but there were rumors of a Jan Rotter film coming to town so I hoped I’d get to work with her again.  Khajag’s Diary was named best picture and audience favorite at the Toronto International Film Festival.  Its director called incessantly to invite Liliana as his guest.  Ms. Patrick attended instead and brought back contracts by the bushel.

 

1926

 

You’re convinced your plane is going to shake itself apart as you begin your descent and you seriously consider you’ve made one visit too many.  You land and half an hour later you’re bored out of your mind because you’re surrounded by a bunch of worried looking school administrator types as you wait at banda 14.  You can’t quite believe it when a twenty kilogram suitcase actually comes with all the others.  You show the guy your luggage claim thing and he points you to your customs official.  You hand over your passport.  She stamps it and gives you back that piece of paper you’ll need to present to somebody when you leave the country.  You put it in one of your pockets but forget which one two seconds later.  You and your twenty kilogram suitcase are stopped by another set of officials.  They point to the button.  You press it.  Green means go.  Red means you’ll never leave the country alive.  It flashes green like you knew it would and you’re on your way.  You buy your taxi voucher from the authorized people and you remark it’s gone up since your last visit.  You’re not surprised when they don’t respond.  Your taxi stand is at the far end of the hallway but before you get even half way there some guy rushes out.  He grabs your suitcase and tells you in his broken English that he wants a one hundred peso tip to take it the rest of the way.  You tell him you’re going to saw his hands off and then you slam his head more than once against the nearest windshield in case he doesn’t understand your fractured Spanish.  It’s late Friday evening and it starts to rain.  Your driver doesn’t say much.  You don’t either.  You half listen to whatever plays on the radio and you recall when you were younger you’d tell people you were a forensic accountant or an auto wrangler for the movies until you realized your back story didn’t mean anything.  You remember how you began sending stuff down for a little bit of extra money and then you discovered ways to send more things for a lot more money until you had so much money nobody or nothing mattered anymore.  You’re at your hotel before you know it.  Your driver knows better than to help you with your twenty kilogram suitcase.  You give him a generous tip.  You recognize the lady behind the counter but you’re not disappointed when your face doesn’t register.  You offer to pay for your room in cash.  She asks you if you’d like to see it first.  You explain you’ve stayed here four times before and everything has always been great.  She smiles as she takes your money.  You roll your twenty kilogram suitcase into the tiny elevator.  You open the door to room 614 and realize there’s something on the bed.  You’ve been up a long time and you have a lot on your mind and the room is dark but it looks like a dead body.  You roll your twenty kilogram suitcase into the elevator and go back to reception and explain as best you can that 614 appears to be occupied.  She phones someone and asks you to have a seat while she sorts it out.  Five minutes later you’re back at 614 and you laugh at the tricks your imagination can play on you.  You have a shower and lie down but you never sleep.

 

The next day you make your pilgrimage like you always do and find yourself staring at her like you always do.  You pray she’ll tell you to stop.  You know you have to but she just looks the same way she always does so you leave and wonder if any of it is true and if it isn’t then it probably doesn’t matter.  You leave and climb the steps to the top of the hill.  You’d be able to see the whole city if it wasn’t for so many black clouds.  You walk through stalls that sell every kind of junk imaginable before you reach your station.  You’re back in your hotel room soon enough.  You leave your twenty kilogram suitcase in your closet but then decide the safest thing is to take it with you.  You head to the bus station in the south of the city.  You know it’s quicker to fly but whatever.  You buy a drink and your bottle spews all over the place the moment you open it.  You wish you could buy a beverage that is what it says it is and it doesn’t come laced with icing sugar and carbon dioxide.  Your bus breaks down forty minutes outside of the city.  You wait two hours at the side of the autopista for its replacement.  You can’t recline your seat like you could on the other bus.  You look out whenever you stop at a check point and you see a lot of flashing lights but nobody comes aboard and you never stop for very long.

 

It’s mid morning by the time you finally arrive.  The humidity is enough to knock you flat on your back.  You take your twenty kilogram suitcase and grab a cab.  Your driver leaves your twenty kilogram suitcase alone.  It’s only a five minute ride but you’re drenched by the time you get to your hotel.  You ask where everybody is and wonder if they’re even open.  They tell you there’s nobody else at the hotel and even their restaurant is closed.  You pay cash for three nights and carry your twenty kilogram suitcase up the smooth steps to room 16.  You have a shower and try to rest but you can’t because your ceiling fan is basically a useless noisemaker.  You close your eyes and the next thing you know it’s pitch black.  You squint at the cheap watch you’ve brought with you and wonder if it’s evening or early morning.  You’re covered in sweat so you have another shower.  You almost slip on your bathroom floor.  The night guy recognizes you but can’t remember your name.  You ask him about his family.  They’re great.  You say you’re going out to get some dinner and offer to bring him something back.  You’re surprised when he says yes.  You ask if pizza is okay.  It sure is.  You walk the beach instead of going through town.  You and a ten year old girl are the only people in the whole restaurant.  She’s buying a pizza with the money her mother has given her.  You see her family waiting in their car.  The pizza maker is surprised that you remember his name and he apologizes that he can’t remember yours.  Your pizza is done first because the little girl asks for double pineapples and extra onions.  You pay for both pizzas and hope it comes as a nice surprise for the little girl and her family.  It begins to rain.  You almost slip on the stairs and your nearly drop your pizza in the middle of the adoquin.  You take a cab the rest of the way.  You and the night guy split the pizza and you converse with him as best you can.  The TV is on and you see something about some Teacher’s Federation.  You ask him what it’s all about.  He rolls his eyes and tells you about their strike.  He grumbles that they’re always causing problems while the teachers in other states never do.  You nod as you pick the strings of cheese from your chin.  He asks you if you want him to change the channel.  You shrug.  The rain comes down like you’ve never before.  He smiles when he sees the expression on your face.  He talks about his job at the hotel.  You’re too ashamed to admit that you’ve worked four days since the last time you visited and you’ve earned more money than he’ll see in a lifetime.  You offer the him the rest of your pizza and say goodnight.  You’re soaked and you’ve almost tripped going up the stairs.  You have another shower for all the difference it makes.  You can’t sleep so you might as well get it over with.  The overnight guy opens the gate for you and offers to call you a taxi.  You accept.  The place is always a little farther than you think it is.  It’s hard to see anything for all of the rain but you think you’re probably in the older part of town.  His place is easy enough to find.  You ask your driver to wait around the corner because you won’t even be five minutes.  You scale his fence and walk through his little courtyard as quickly as you can because this rain will just not let up.  Entering the place is easy.  It always is.  The old fellow looks surprised to see you but you both know he really shouldn’t be.  Dealing with him isn’t a problem because those stone floors are awfully slippery during a such a heavy rain storm.  You give your cab driver a hefty tip when he drops you back at your hotel.

 

You see the cleaning ladies the next morning.  They can’t remember your name but they do know you from before.  You smile and make chit chat as best you can.  That was some rain last night.  It sure was.  They giggle.  You continue on your way.  You check your email.  You go to the bank.  It’s all there.  You take it all out.  You return to your hotel and try to sleep but you can’t because this heat and heavy air is too much and that noisy fan does nothing.  You don’t do much over the next couple of days.  Your neck and forearms take the brunt of the sun.  You let the waves do whatever they want with you.  You’re kind of surprised when they take you back to shore.  You decide to check out early and head back to the city.  You leave your entire four hundred thousand peso fee on your dresser and pray the cleaning lady who finds it will share the money or at least put it to good use.  You grab your twenty kilogram suitcase and tell your taxi driver to the head to the airport.  You can’t handle another bus ride and you really don’t have time either.  The youngsters at security don’t bother checking anyone or anything.  There’s a kid outside with a uniform and a machine gun that looks bigger than he is.  You remember it wasn’t so long ago when he was you.  You nod at the child soldier but he looks right through you.  You and five others get on your plane.  Your flight isn’t nearly as long or eventful as your last one.  You land at the smaller terminal and haul your twenty kilogram suitcase all the way to the metro station.  You ask some studious looking young man for directions.  You’re surprised when he rides with you and guides you through the other metro stations.  You’re kind of glad when he gets off a couple of stops before you do.  You step out of the train when you reach your destination but you leave your twenty kilogram suitcase behind.  You can’t help but wonder whose idea it was to build a metro station so close to a Presidential palace as you hurriedly climb the stairs and go out onto the square.  You glance at your watch and against your better judgement you find yourself back at that cathedral.  You sit at the back pew like you always do.  Your legs and arms begin to shake.  You tell yourself it’s because of the heat and lack of liquid and sleep and nothing more.  You notice the poor young man and woman who have sat down next to you hold what looks like a baby.  The infant’s face looks as if it has been slashed with razor blades and then wrapped with barbed wire instead of bandages.  His eyes look off to infinity.  The rest of his face is otherwise frozen.  You pray for that baby and its parents while you try to convince yourself it’s just a doll that they use to make money from sympathetic fools like yourself.  You check your watch as your leave.  You see cops everywhere and notice they all carry guns.

 

You read Established 1911 on the empty chair in front of you.  Your waitress brings you your glass of water.  You watch as they take out their cell phones.  You can’t believe they’re actually at the table in front of you.  They’re the only guys in the whole place wearing turbans and the only ones to acknowledge their waitress so you know they aren’t from around here.  You order a beer and a club sandwich.  You ask her for another glass of water.  You can’t get it in you fast enough.  You ask her for another.  The place is packed.  You see a mariachi band at the back of the room.  You hear them tune up while the turbans chatter away on their cell phones.  You wonder how they can listen to whoever is at the other end with so many sirens blaring and if they know this is the last conversation they’ll ever have.  You overhear one of them ask for the bill.  You race out the door and take care not to get run over by the fleet of speeding ambulances as you cross the street.  You remove the machine gun from the young officer who stands guard at an ATM machine.  You rush back into the place.  You yell for the waitresses and patrons and even the mariachi band hit the ground.  You stand right in front the turbans and take aim.  They don’t move.  They’re more bewildered than panicked.  You worry your machine gun might jam or blow up in your hands but you pull the trigger.  Your bullets find your target easy enough because you’ve fired them from pointblank range.  You count to seven.  It’s over.   You quietly applaud your plan and figure the turbans will be blamed for everything because they almost always are.  You drop your machine gun and stroll out onto the street only to hear the biggest bang you’ve ever heard.  You’re knocked onto your stomach and you hope it’s just a shock wave from a blast or even a small tremor but you’re dizzy and have a hell of a time getting up.  You can’t really say for sure if it was as hot when you came into the cafe five minutes earlier.  You sweat and you’re all of a sudden thirsty like you’ve never been.  You think about going back for your glass of water but you’d better get to your hotel.  Your legs have pretty much betrayed you by the time you’re at 614.  You lie down on your bed.  You notice the fan above spin and spin and spin and you use all of your strength just to turn your head.  You wonder why somebody has left such a hideous mannequin on your bed.  Your door opens for half a second.  You were almost certain you recognized yourself standing there.