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Lionel Carver had the rigid routine of a genius. Up at 5, black coffee, crisp paper and brisk walk to work. Without it, he could not fathom how he would ever have room to think. His first thought on that fateful day was of The Distrust, his film currently languishing in the editing room. It was going to be impeccable, he could just feel it. The Times and the Post and Wall Street Journal always called his direction impeccable. Impeccable. He loved the way the word danced on his tongue. A small part of him glowed with pride every time the word was used to describe his hard work. As long as those airheads don’t bungle Jenna’s big scene...he thought as he walked past the sleeping form of his wife, Suzanne.
As he reached the silent kitchen, he found the instruments of coffee preparation right where he had laid them out the night before. He measured out the precise amount of coffee, mind still on the film. All these new editors-the new girls especially-they don’t know a damn thing about this!. His mind was full of meticulous, bullet-pointed notes of cuts and changes to be made. His head was always clear when he was thinking of his movies.
He looked at the oil-painting calendar above the microwave. July 23, his father’s birthday. He nearly winced, his orderly thoughts interrupted by the sneering face that haunted his childhood. Constant belittling, humiliation, nastiness, and that one fateful day when he was 13. He had been asking for money to go out to the movies (something he wouldn't have asked his father, but Psycho had just come out and he was flat broke). They argued, as they always did, until in a spittle-flecked rage his father yelled it. You’re not my son. The words had struck him hard, wedging themselves under his skin like shrapnel.
It was all his mother’s fault, really, he had rationalized. She’d been the one to have the affair with the bellhop. Without that, his father wouldn’t have been driven to cruelty, wouldn’t have later stopped Lionel from going to school for film. He almost started crying at the kitchen counter, face reddening with embarrassment even though he was alone. Often he was successful in suppressing his memories, but sometimes they came upon him with a vengeance. He regained composure quickly, but the feeling remained. For many years, he had felt nothing but shame and despair, dangling at a cliff’s edge. He remembered how surprised Suzanne had been when he finally quit that accounting job to move to Hollywood.
The newspaper hadn’t arrived yet, making him feel miffed, but he was able to occupy himself. His mind drifted from editing to his leading lady, Jenna Summerston. She was so innocent, so naive to how the movie business worked. Yet she was actress of great skill and pathos. Breakfast was passed replaying one of her scenes (the one that bumped the movie’s rating up to NC-17) over and over in his head. What grace, what energy!
Lionel dressed silently, mind on his work. He had to get down to the editing office in an hour, something that shouldn’t be a challenge, as the office is just a few blocks from his home. As he was busy getting ready, he heard Suzanne’s sleep-coated voice from across the bedroom.
“Leaving already? It’s so early, dear.”
Lionel shrugged, irritated. She was always saying things like this. Suzanne, he thought, was nothing if not dependable. She had her paths, her routines she stuck to no matter what. Hers were not a defined as Lionel’s, though. Nevertheless, Suzanne would always be herself, quiet and mousy and supportive of her husband. Always supportive. God bless Suzanne, he thought.
“You’re at work so much, darling. When will this new picture be finished?” There she went again. He figured she just couldn’t understand the importance of his work. He had to be there, directing his crew and his actors. There were so many gifts his work gave him that Suzanne and the quiet home just couldn’t. Even as a child he knew with single-minded determination that he wanted to direct. When he finally broke into the industry, he discovered even more wonders in it than he could have dreamed of.
Suzanne gave a barely audible sigh. He could nimbly guess her subtext, but he didn’t like having to. He liked a structured world, where yes and no were defined and left him no guessing games. People liked to say such things were obvious after the fact. Lionel thought they barely ever were. Suzanne sighed again, and Lionel continued to ignore her.
Women. He did not understand them. Some were good enough, like Suzanne. Some were fiery, like his college girlfriend Cass. Cass was probably off leading some boneheaded protest now; she had a hankering for that sort of thing. And some were like his mother, foolish and reckless and dirty. They were always in his way, their intricacies messing up the fragile order of his mind. Sometimes he couldn’t stand their stupidity, sometimes he loved them for what they could do. The confusion was not a welcome aspect of his life.
He tied the laces on his shoes, walking out while Suzanne’s question still hung in the air. The movie was set to come out in a few months, right in the middle of awards season. He already had space on his shelf for the awards it would surely acquire. He knew that the accolades would come fast and furious, not because he was conceited, but that it was a fact-no one in Hollywood had spoken an ill word of his work. Ultimately, Lionel was not used to refusal. He was tenacious enough to always get what he wanted. The landline rang, the din snapping him out of his head. He was surprised to see Cass’s name on the caller ID, but warily picked it up.
“You dirty, scumbag, you piece of–”
“Hello to you too, Cass. What in God’s name is making you call?”
“Have you seen the Times today? I-I can’t believe...and poor Jenna, poor all of them, all twenty! Jesus, how could you?” Her voice raised exponentially with each syllable, and Lionel frantically slammed the phone down and raced to to his laptop. His mind was unraveling, the dense stones of memory dislodging and ricocheting. Thoughts flashed to his mother, the impetus of his father’s rage. The way that slaps would echo through the night as Lionel hid under the covers. The way he’d followed Cass around campus for days, desperate to have her. How he had watched his mentors leer at actresses when he first came to Hollywood. And the small part of him that further enabled his behavior, the part that could not be explained away by childhood trauma.
The Times headline was expected. “Beloved Director Accused of Harassment by Twenty Women”. With shaking hands, he disconnected the phone and internet before walking out the door. He tried to calm his head, prune his thoughts back into orderly lines. It was sure to blow over soon...right?