Brad Pitt’s Body in Thelma & Louise
She looks at his body. She hasn’t been near a body like this in a long time.
It’s close enough to 6am, and he’s been lying just so for at least two hours now, face down on the bed, sprawled and un-sheeted, so uncaring of any potential observation that she hasn’t been able to stop observing it, his body, since he fell asleep. Something else Melanie hasn’t experienced in a long time: The oddness of lying in a stranger’s bed, of sharing ultimate intimacy with a person you’ve just met.
It’s not light out yet, just the rectangular blackness she can see through the slit in the curtains becoming that little bit bluer gradually. So gradual she can’t really see it changing at all, the little levels of variation in colour so many and so miniscule, the degree of change so continually progressing, so regular, that even the eye, that apex of evolution, is unable to register it in real time.
A thought she has: He is exactly half her age.
Last night she went to a bar as a single woman for the first time in a good two decades. Not that she was expecting that things would end up ending up like this: this was not part of the plan.
It’s taken her a long time to get to the point of even considering doing something like going to a bar, let alone going home with somebody. Let alone a mere boy, which is how she’s begun to refer to him now in her mind as she watches him sleep, noting each of the moles on his back as he emits just the hint of a snore.
This is what she knows: the boy is twenty-four, plays bass guitar in a covers-band, is doing a master’s degree in socio-something-or-other, and also happens to possess a body that reminds her of Brad Pitt’s body in the movie Thelma & Louise, and a face not far off it. The kind of guy she would sometimes find herself waking up next to in her college days, when waking up with strangers was not so strange, was simply a thing that sometimes happened.
Before Barry, that is. Before Barry appeared in the smoking section of a club one night when she was twenty-four and borrowed, by way of introduction, a cigarette he had no intention of smoking. This is exactly the kind of memory her mind launches at her these days, as if from nowhere, and she can almost see the snapshots flitting across the boy’s room.
Memories like these, the mostly good kind, the nostalgic, sepia-toned type, are both welcome and not. There are times when it warms her to remember Barry — he is always there, always just beneath the surface — and times like right now, nude, with the room’s air still holding the vague scent of sex, when she would rather not.
But they are at least better than the other memories, the not-so-good ones, the ones from near the end. There is nothing nostalgic about these ones, about those final eight months. The colours of these memories are cold and metallic, and she tries not to dwell on this period, tries to remember the good times, but often fails.
The day of Barry’s diagnosis, and for weeks after, she found herself silently, obsessively mouthing the word, the syllables salting her tongue.
The words becoming meaningless; the reality behind them going nowhere. The reality becoming, in fact, exponential. The rate of decline (or was it growth?) one consultant told them, was ‘unusually rapid’.
‘So, basically, you’re telling me it’s the Usain Bolt of cancer?’ Barry had said then, which was just like him.
Eight months it took. Ten less than the initial prognosis. Eight months from: Hey, Honey, can you have a look at this thing on my shoulder?
To: Hey, Honey… I think it’s time I made a will.
Less time than it takes for the earth to orbit the sun.
Less time than there was for him to see another spring.
She went to the bar last night with a friend whose situation is at once similar to, and the opposite of, her own. Carrie’s husband isn’t dead, but since their divorce he ‘may as well be,’ she said to Melanie last night, before catching herself: ‘Sorry, Mel, I didn’t mean —’
‘That’s okay,’ Mel said, because she’s known Carrie for years, knows she always means well, knows all about her ex-husband, and also because she suspects that divorce — particularly the messy kind, the kind sprung from unfaithfulness and other bad things, the kind involving deep rifts and battles over children and possessions and money — is probably its own kind of grief.
They were drinking extravagant cocktails, and drinking them quickly, trying to forget or at least ignore their troubles for a few hours, but sitting there amongst the rest of the clientele — all younger, hipper, all seeming so at ease, so drunkenly vigorous — Melanie felt like they were both, the two of them, one big cliché. Cougars? Is that the word they use now for women of their age, she wondered, going to bars of that ilk? For doing things of this kind?
The boy’s apartment is less an apartment than just a large room with a sag in the ceiling and a bed in the corner and a grotty third-hand couch and one of those mini-fridges and not much else. When they stumbled in last night she asked where the kitchen was, and he said, deadpan, What kitchen?
Not long after this, in the middle of things, entangled with the boy, lost in the moment, in the movement, she suddenly found everything falling away, her mind emptied of its usual contents, and as she bit a little harder into the boy’s earlobe as it rested between her teeth, she tried to hold onto this vacant but intensely focused state and for a while, a short but wonderful while, she succeeded.
Another thought she has now: A man without cooking facilities is not yet a man.
She was willing, with the drunkenness and the anticipation and the sheer urge, to overlook the fact of their age difference last night, but there is no escaping it now in the morning, the clarity of an incipient hangover setting in.
The boy’s body is like one of those famous ancient sculptures. Proportionate, lean, perfect. The kind of statue that some tourists are brought to tears by. By simple proximity to its beauty.
She and Barry, once, years ago, went to see the statue of David in Florence. Barry made some joke, something along the lines of Why was David looking so proud of himself, and they’d both laughed loudly enough that a security guard had to ask them to move along.
Michelangelo’s David is an apt comparison, she thinks now. Sinew and Muscle and Youth. The boy doesn’t even know what he possesses, probably. He is only twenty-four, after all, and most likely won’t realise what he has until – suddenly, it will probably seem — he no longer has it. She could warn him about this, of course, about the transience of such things, of beauty and youth, but it wouldn’t change the fact of it.
She could tell him about light, too. About how it tarnishes and blemishes and defiles; that it defiles and damages and decays, and in the end it ends up ending us all — some sooner, some later.
Her gaze is stuck on one of the moles near his lower spine, one slightly bigger than the others, slightly darker, a chocolate brown island, and she finds herself reaching over and very gently running the ball of her thumb over the bump of it.
Isn’t it good though, she thinks at the same time, for him not to have to think about these things? Not now, not yet. Not for many more mornings like this. She feels a terrific nostalgia just then — a kind of jealousy and awe combined — watching the boy existing so soundly, so lightly.
She existed this way too, after all: this soundly, this lightly.
She can remember seeing that movie, Thelma & Louise, during her final year in college. In a friend’s room, on VHS. Blurry even then, the movie, but not half as blurred as the recollection itself. Twenty-five years will do that to a memory. A full quarter of a century. She had seen the film a few years before, when it came out, but it wasn’t until then that she thought she understood the point of it.
She was going through a fierce stage of feminism at the time, brought on by sudden (for her) revelations of gender inequality, of sexism, of rampant cultural misogyny — and also partly by the fact of this one guy in particular turning out to be a complete dick.
So men, generally, she had decided, were on her no-go list at the time. But that seemed to wilt when she saw those scenes with Brad Pitt. The ones with Geena Davis. The ones with Brad Pitt’s ridiculous abdomen and oddly-erotic cowboy-hat. His chiselled chest, his insanely symmetrical face. Other things suddenly seemed far more important. Sex, mainly — which was ironic, she would later think upon re-watching the movie for about the fourteenth time, seeing as his body being displayed in such a way, being objectified entirely, was basically a fuck-you to the objectification of women so prevalent everywhere else.
At least she thinks that was the point. That’s what she took from it anyway, back then, when she was still at an age where things were mostly conceptual — mostly ideas and theories and abstractions — and not yet facts or occurrences.
Not yet things like an actual life. Things like Barry, and falling in love, and — to her own surprise — getting married. Things like unstoppable age and its invisible progression; the things it can take from you, and the emptiness it can leave behind.
At a certain point last night it was suddenly the end of the night, the bar’s dim lights raised in the universal signal for people to leave… You don’t have to go home, one of the barmen actually yelled, but you can’t stay here.
Carrie had left by then. ‘Are you sure you want to stay?’ she’d asked, concerned and solicitous as always, maybe even a touch jealous. By this point, sitting on a tall stool by the bar, Mel had allowed the boy’s hand to come to rest on her upper thigh, and she had come to enjoy the sound of her name on his lips — Mel-ah-nee.
She told Carrie Yes, she was sure, she was fine, she’d just stay a little longer and get a taxi home, and Carrie left her then with a knowing and mischievous kind of smile: Have fun, she said.
And she enjoyed that moment, Mel did — the boy’s hand on her thigh, the drink in her system, that very particular smile from her friend.
When she was younger, smiling goodbyes like that, in pubs and nightclubs, had made her feel powerful and independent; it was — and still must be, she supposes — thrilling. To feel so desired, so wild and unburdened. And it’s a strange feeling now with those roles reversed, with him — the boy and not her—so devoid of worry, of diffidence. So sure of himself, even in slumber.
And then of course there’s the guilt she’s feeling — or is guilt the right word?
Emotions, over the last couple of years, have become such porous and intermingling things that it’s sometimes hard to pin down exactly how she’s feeling at any given moment. How she should be feeling.
This is Barry’s fault, she sometimes thinks, but even before she finishes thinking it she knows it’s not true, and not fair. But fairness, well––fairness is just another concept; fairness, or the lack of it, simply is or simply isn’t. Fairness, she thinks, can fuck right off.
She doesn’t regret it, exactly, going home with the boy. It’s not quite that. Though she feels she should regret it, be penitent, feel somehow foolish or remorseful or shamed. But she isn’t any of these things.
She’s not sure what she is or what she isn’t. Rejuvenated and bereft at once might be an accurate description. Something close to that, to that combination of emotion. But emotions, well… words simply can’t keep up.
She is conscious of the time.
She knows that she should leave now, before he wakes up. She knows this in the same way two people know when a conversation has come to its natural end, the way cows — or so they say — know when it’s about to rain. A peculiar trait of animal intuition.
The knowledge of a morning light, and all the things it reveals — so different than the dimness a drunken pub. The way a person can sometimes look, set against the way they really do — there can be a gap there, she knows, and the gap can be a wide one. Not unlike life’s gaps. Between what you think will happen — what’s supposed to, and what’s not — and what actually does.
And the boy was drunk, of course. They both were.
She can remember waking up herself at that age — probably uncaringly sprawled too, un-sheeted and impervious — beside men, boys, she was only really seeing for the first time in the morning light. The awkward morning goodbyes.
She doesn’t want for this to be that, reversed — for this to be that for the boy.
It’s a definite purple-come-blue out there now, a violescent rectangle of indigo splitting the curtain, dawn’s turn to win the daily battle.
She rolls softly off the bed and — as she stands for a moment getting her bearings — looks at his face-down body once again, the marvellous insectile sprawl of it, and she laughs.
She wonders what, just now, right this minute, Brad Pitt’s body is doing. Where is he? Is he face-down, sleeping soundly somewhere, untroubled by the universe? Does he still sleep un-sheeted, exposed, unworried, thirty years later?
How does any of this happen?
She laughs, but it’s a hybrid — a mournful thing containing tears just beneath. What would Barry think about this, is what she’s really thinking. About this situation, about what she’s just done. Would he be laughing too?
She hopes so. She likes to think he would.
She finds her things, collecting them from their discarded resting places—phone on the floor, dress on the bedpost, heels in her handbag.
Silently she dresses, though she can tell that the boy won’t be waking up any time soon, noise or none; but she creeps from the room anyway, a strange feeling that she’s sneaking, heels squeaking on the parquet floor, click-clacking down the steel stairwell she doesn’t remember going up.
A parting thought: she must go home and watch it again, Thelma & Louise, right now. Find it somewhere online, see how it strikes her a lifetime later.
She might take a Xanax or two.
And then out a heavy, scraping, exit-only push-door, out into the new brightness.
Out into the light, and all the good it does you.
Chris Connolly’s fiction and poetry has appeared in the Irish Times, the Irish Independent, Southword and the Hennessy Book of Irish Fiction 2005-15, among others, and has been broadcast on National Radio. His work has won numerous awards, including a Hennessy Literary Award, the RTÉ Francis McManus competition, and the British Society of Authors Short Story Award. He holds an MA in Creative Writing from University College Dublin, and an MFA from the University of Oregon. His website is chrisconnollywriter.com
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