S. Craig Renfroe Jr., an Assistant Professor at Queens University of Charlotte, is the author of the short story
collection You Should Get That Looked At from Main Street Rag Publishing Company. Also, his work has appeared in decomP, Hobart, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Night Train, Knee-Jerk, 3:AM Magazine, and elsewhere. He blogs at I Don’t Know What I’m Talking About.
Velma had her back to me, her brown hair down to the dive of her spine. I was pretty sure when she turned around after affixing her bra, she would break my heart.
She’d been a stripper when we met—now she taught exotic dancing at the Y. I put her in my movie. A horror film that amounted to a guy in a raccoon costume killing everybody. It was a raccoon because that was the cheapest furry available at the costume shop. So scene: Raccoon kills pimp and then rips raccoon style into prostitute’s stomach. Only she changed her scene—probably knew I couldn’t afford the film stock to do more than one take. Right as Murderous Raccoon was to slash her belly, blood bags primed to let go, she kicked the knife from his hand. Stunned, our baddie Ned was wrestled to the ground by a screaming Velma. She took off his costume’s head and stared down the sweaty face of Ned. She kissed him. I finally ended the scene and from then on we had a Bonnie and Clyde. I wrote her into the rest of the movie. Raccoon and his deadly love.
And I started sleeping with her. She said she was a virgin only once removed. I told her I was going to be rich.
The little film did fine. I knew that horror was the way to go because no matter the U.S. sales, you could still profit overseas because wanting to see a raccoon and a prostitute behead a guy in a wheel chair was of universal appeal. No subtitles required.
She really wanted Ned, of course. Most women did. Though, he had no ambition other than to save Earth from digitized aliens and to keep winning WWII through expert button pushing. Aside from that, his pursuits were working out and drinking and screwing, which he could mostly do in the apartment we shared. I got him involved only with the promise of more women than he could ever dream. Women want actors, even actors covered in a thick raccoon suit. Poor Ned. That suit was no fancy furry like they have at Disney with air-conditioned heads, even lacking any ventilation holes in the body. And the shoot was in the summer. But I told him think of the weight loss. Plus I gave him a ten pack of Capri Suns per week to freeze—two a day, one in his crotch and one in the head. I would catch him sipping from them as the day went on.
I was taking coverage of the woods with a handheld when I ran up on them. They were using the costume like a bearskin rug. They didn’t notice me, so I shot them for a future project—waste not, want not—I wondered if Ned was the remove.
I was able to edit the kissing scene so you never see his face. In the credits, I left Rabid Raccoon played by Rabid Raccoon. At a screening, Ned wanted answers. I told him it was Velma’s idea. He nodded like he understood. I gave him another week’s wages to ease the pain. Unlike Velma, who’d asked for a stake, her cut, in the film and an actual contract, Ned played the Raccoon for hourly.
I was writing my next script: an oologist finds a rare bird egg in this series of caves threatened by a drag racing track. I knew it was slower, more of a character piece, but by the time I’m ready to film I’ll have earned it. Gained the deep pocket trust I won’t mind betraying for my personal project. Things had so been reversed these days. You don’t become an artist and then sell out—you sell out so that you can then be an artist.
She told me I was wasting my time. Her hands expertly guided the lacey latches of her bra to meet on her back. She was all lace and nylon. People want death, she said. Even a romantic comedy is about death—the death of freedom, of possibility.
No, I said, that’s not quite right. We like death in movies because it’s easy—it cleanly solves life’s dilemmas. We specifically like the ease and justice of the movie comeuppance. We’re tired of waiting for all the scales to balance in some afterlife most of us don’t believe in anymore—we want to see the bad guys, the sinners pay now. Problem is: who are the bad guys? Who among us, right?
Things weren’t going so well—I could just tell. She participated in bed, but not as ardently as before and not nearly as experimentally. Certainly not as passionately as her mad romp with Ned, which I watched late into the nights she would disappear, watch it the way I did Taxi Driver in film school, studying it. After the first few times, I quit watching her, and comparing myself to Ned lost its taboo. What I couldn’t stop watching was the raccoon head, set to the side, staring at the camera, breaking the fourth wall, making me aware of my voyeurism, accusing stare.
Maybe drugs would help. That was a mark of success, status by the white line, but the numbers for success weren’t there yet. We’d gotten a nice chunk of the investment back, but not yet in the black. Of course that’s not what I’d been telling her. And she had told me things with Ned were over.
I’d been wrong, maybe, to get between them. Love can’t be stopped. Even the sick, putrid kind. I was going to let her go. I would tell her she could be the oologist’s sexy love interest, the cave owner’s daughter. I was going to tell her she could have that role even if she didn’t sleep with me. But instead, I told her that we like movie death because it solves problems but in life it only causes more, so most movies are death-affirming, but my next one will be life-affirming, the last image the eggs as they hatch.
Finally, Velma faced me. She held a tiny pistol in one hand and a pair of stockings in the other. She said she was going to tie me to the bed. I told her I appreciated the effort, but not my thing. She said I was going to tell her all my account information. Ned walked in wearing the headless raccoon suit.