He watches the men undress his wife. They tear away her clothes, ripping stockings, breaking buttons, clawing through sheer fabric. Their naked bodies glisten with sweat, hairless and pale under the glower of the studio lights. Their hands squeeze at her waxen flesh, gathering handfuls, leaving red marks where their fingers dig in. Her head thrown back, offering the swan-curve of her white neck, painted black with bruises. He pauses the film and studies the frame. They are reduced to nothing in the glow of his computer screen, little creatures subhuman in their frantic congress. They mean nothing to him. He finds a close shot of her red lips opening and splices it in. Swollen lips smeared crimson. Lips you imagine parting with the tip of one finger, sliding into. The wet mouth, the wet redolence. He returns to the footage. One of the men is putting a leg up on the couch and arching his pelvis at her. She takes him in her mouth, squeezing herself tight around him. He clutches her hair and pushes himself deeper. A mouth you could lose yourself in.
He fights a yawn, fails to hold it back. Only dregs in his coffee cup. Swirl and pour. Grit in the back of the throat. He pushes back his glasses and pinches the bridge of his nose. Something went wrong in the world today. He turns the phrase over and over in his head. It is stuck there, revolving in his thoughts. He does not know what it means, from what truth it was born. He feels a sort of cosmic unease. The arithmetic of the universe slipped one digit and the whole equation gone quietly off. He does not like to see a good thing end. What are we going to do now?
The men are parting his wife’s legs and reaching two hands four five to clutch and worry at her vagina. He looks away from the video, his attention drifting. He is vaguely aware of his arousal, a faint and distant throb in his lap. It almost amuses him, seems somehow quaint. He hadn’t been aroused shooting the film. Too much worry over technical matters, too much the desire to get the thing done. Timing the pulse of human sex on a digital clock. And this is their last film. He wants to get it right.
He remembers meeting her. He was just a cameraman then, gravitated by some as-yet unexplained freak of chance away from juvenile Hollywood dreams into the glitz and filth of the porn world. And it is a world.
Just a cameraman, he told himself, and shot what they told him. He said to his mother that he was filming movies and when she asked which she wanted to see them he demurred said they wouldn’t be playing out there ma. He wasn’t exactly ashamed but it was his mom you know?
She was his sixth shoot. It was still exotic then, a kind of hideous magic. The stench of sex in the air, silicon lube and silicon bodies. The starlets smoked and read magazines or novels between scenes, their glasses back on and fluffy bathrobes draped on their absurd bodies. He’d been filming down at her, she kneeling and smiling up with her mouth wide while a pair of men jerked off in her face, sprayed strands of themselves across her cheek and she cooed her delight. He handed her a towel when the scene was done, he didn’t remember where he’d got it, somebody must have passed it to him. She’d thanked him after wiping off and with the words he had finally noticed her. You’re alive, he’d almost said, caught himself in time. Churning meat product looking up and talking at you, it was an unnerving thing. Something dead coming alive. He had been so young then.
He ran a sepia-tone effect through the editing software. An artistic touch, he thought, then decided against it. Too showy, too weird. Just let it play out. Her and the four men like a puzzle of twisted limbs. One standing above slapping her backside with his cock, another pumping from below, one at the mouth. The forth standing back a pace, holding his dick, doing nothing in particular. He was annoyed he’d not caught that during the shoot. Ruined the fucking shot. Dead space. He used another angle and cut out a bit, stitched his way past the offending image. Cut it out, slice it up. Here is time in my hands, string it out as you like. He cuts past a long sequence of her lubing her anus, stretching and flexing. He cut straight to the man kneeling behind and thrusting himself inside. Like none of the rest had ever happened. Nobody wanted to see that crap, the preparation, the tawdry reality. Her mouth was twisted into a tight snarl: Fuck me! You fuckers! Fuck me! Fuck that ass!
He sneezed, caught the mucus in his hand. Momentary disgust, regret. Wipe it off in the tissue. Nose twitching. He takes a squirt of hand sanitizer and rubs it into his skin.
She’d been his big break. He started dating her just before she went big. Kalinda Knox, the alliterative brand. He asked her once how she had come by the name, what made her pick that one. The hard rhyme nom de plume. Kalinda Knox loves cocks. It had been chosen for her, she said. Picked by the company. The brand, burned in on the thigh. It was just starting to become a real name when he first asked her out. She’d been surprised, he liked to think flattered. He wasn’t some cretin trying to fuck her. He didn’t want to screw her. Anybody could fuck, that was the first thing he’d learned in this business. He wanted to hold her, caress her cheek. Kiss her softly, put her to bed like putting a child to bed, tucked up under the warm covers and her eyes shut her soft snores her cold painted toes finding his leg in the middle of the night. They’d only had sex a few times. Not so much after the first few months. They’d become distant. Those things he had wanted turned gray and faint.
He shot every single one of her films, hers exclusively. Sometimes it made him faintly sick, the wet slapping of the flesh, the heaving the moaning the gritted teeth and pearls of sweat the machine of the body churning and groaning and writhing like a wind-up toy. He forgot sometimes who he was, lost in that din like a slaughterhouse. Pink pigskin flesh surrounding him and he strapped to his machine, his great glass eye.
Who are you really? You just do a job. You just show up and stand where they tell you, fuck who they tell you. Get down on your knees and shut your eyes.
She told him that sex was like music. You play it with your entire soul and everybody can feel it, vibrating way down the spine. Make something beautiful of it.
But not love.
Not love. But beautiful.
She started getting her name more and more places. At a certain point, he didn’t know when, she stopped attaching her name to projects and starting having projects attached to her name. Kalinda Knox’s Virtual Vixens. Kalinda Knox’s Threesome Extreme. So on, so on. It was a blur to him, an inverted mirror. Nothing quite the right way up. But it was a kind of fame. They went to a premiere together, a real movie premiere. He wore a suit and everything, tuxedo. Down the red carpet. Photographers shouting out her name, her brand name. Kalinda Kalinda! He hadn’t realized at first that they meant her. He’d felt like a child playing dress up. The director said they were all fans, got her autograph and made few nasty jokes that made Kalinda Knox howl with brassy full-throated laughter.
He’d chuckled along and tried not to look while the director grabbed her ass.
The studio door opens behind him and she comes in. She wraps her arms around his neck, loose like a pendant two hands clasped. She kisses the back of his neck. Her body hanging over him. She feels old, worn thin like a beautiful dress threadbare and fraying. Her cheek is against his and they watch together as the men plunge into her body over and over. It is soothing, he thinks, tidal. Cosmic. Squeeze life until the blood runs down your arm.
“Maggie asleep?” he asks.
“How’s it coming?”
“Huh.” She smiles.
He reaches up, touches her arm, strokes the skin.
It was three years ago that they decided to go on their own. She had all the connections, all the equipment, all the people and crew she needed. Porn wasn’t hard to get into. All it took was a camera and a body. He shot and edited and directed, though there was little for him to do but stay out of the way. He tried, in his own fashion, to make a mark on it. He’d dreamed of being a filmmaker. A child dreams: astronaut, marine biologist, an explorer of some wild darkness. He’d plunged himself into the closest mystery, and greatest. They got married last year, a little ceremony. All the men firm-bodied with fake tans, the women tattooed and long-nailed, grinning like a hive of drunken aunts. His parents hadn’t known what to do with themselves. Her five year old daughter was the flower girl; she was just becoming aware of what her mama did for a living and that, he suspected, was what had pushed Kalinda toward quitting. What kind of world do we make for our children? And now here they are, stitching together the last scenes of her career on his home computer.
She was crying in pain, an ecstatic pain, warped beyond natural emotion. Everything taken to its peak. The crescendo rising rising. That nude form doll-sized on the screen. They watch her in silence, fascinated, amazed. It is beautiful and repulsive. He takes off his glasses and cleans the lenses.
“This is good,” she says, “I like this shot, that’s cool.” She points to the screen.
His lip turns upward. He knows that she is looking for something for which she can praise him. Make him feel good about himself. He appreciates that about her. Simple kindness like spilling milk.
On the screen she is staring open-mouthed up into the fish-eye lens, yards of semen spooled out across her face and breasts. She licks her lips, raises one hand, waves two fingers. Goodbye.
The screen goes dark. Sudden plunge into lightless oblivion. There’s nothing there, no credits, no denouement. An absolute blank. He’ll have to put it in if he wants it. The blackness unnerves him. No eulogy for the lover. She hugs her arms tight around him. “She’s dead now,” she says. Kisses the top of his head. “Night, babe.” Padding softly out, leaving him sunken in the glow of her image.
She walks down the hall, trailing one knuckle against the wall.
She feels curiously buoyant, fulfilled. The world is open to her, and everything in it. She had worried that she might miss Kalinda Knox, would miss being that person. She is content. In the other room the television set is switched on, playing crude late night cartoons for adolescent boys. She watches idly, far away from what she is seeing.
Her daughter is sleeping in the next room. She goes there, watches the child doze. She wonders what her girl will think of her when she’s all grown up. Mommy did porn, sweetie. She wants to laugh. It is such an alien thought. She a mother, she not the child. She doesn’t feel old, doesn’t feel like an authority figure or whatever. She feels so alive, so full of energy. There are a thousand things she wants to do.
She brushes a curl of black hair off her daughter’s sleeping face. Everything is beautiful.