BY AJ SORDI
Copyright is held by the author.
THE INDUSTRY Maxine worked in was dangerous. She knew that.
She hadn’t known it when she was just a little girl, watching the grey films as they danced soundlessly along the big screen. She hadn’t known it when she’d signed her life over to the Man, so enthusiastically that she broke her pencil and had to ask for a new one. She hadn’t known on her first day of filming, but boy, did she learn quickly.
You had to, when your money could be negotiated out of your purse in a split second. Or your agent could swindle you into a low-budget film for a fleeting high, or the mafiosos who ran Hollywood could recruit you for running and watch you take the fall for them without batting an eye.
Or your best friend was bleeding out in your arms.
When Max became an actress, she’d wanted glory, fame, and power. Instead she’d gotten tears, and bruises, and bloodstained hands.
She didn’t think it’d get this far. She just wanted a lead. A spotlight to bask in.
Max met Clara Jameson in a diner off of 33rd. She’d heard her name in passing, on the lips of important people. Max paid it no attention. Her name graced the same lips, and she didn’t mind sharing.
She’d seen her in movies, and in glimpses at awards shows and cocktail parties. Her charisma came off of her in waves.
Clara was drinking a pop through a straw. Her fingers made streaks on the condensation-beaded glass. Her knuckles were white with tension. Max thought that she was maybe the most beautiful girl she’d ever seen.
Something in Max shoved her forwards, onwards towards her, like jumping in front of a moving train. Clara looked up at her and gave her a saccharine smile that didn’t reach her golden eyes. Maybe she thought that she was a fan. Max felt blood stain her cheeks.
“We work for the same studio,” she finally said. A fumble for an explanation that she had a right to be there. A silent declaration that she was not her inferior.
Clara nodded, one firm bob of her head. “Sit,” she offered.
Max sat next to her and ordered some fries. They sat in silence for a moment before Clara said, without moving her eyes from her drink, “You’re Maxine.” It wasn’t a question. Clara was never wrong and she knew it.
This time Max was the one to nod. “I recognized you, and I thought I should introduce myself since we’re always working on sets next to each other. The studio — “
Now Clara turned, abruptly. Her suit coat shifted, revealing a snub-nosed revolver tucked into her waistband. It wasn’t an accident. “What studio is that exactly?”
Max let out a muffled gulp. “You’re one of them?”
Clara smiled, and her eyes twinkled with dark humour. “Does that scare you, Maxine?”
“A bit,” Max admitted.
That seemed to gratify Clara. She was the type who fed on dread, thriving off of worship like an old god. “Never fear. I don’t hurt those who don’t deserve it.”
“So my life depends on me being nice to you?”
Clara took a generous sip of her drink, laughing to herself, like a joke she wasn’t keen on sharing. “Funny how these things work out.”
Max knew then that Clara was dangerous. She knew it before, but now she knew it like she knew her family name or that there was blood running through her veins. Like she knew that the same blood could come splashing out onto the floor easier than she could take a breath.
But she wasn’t scared. She knew Clara wanted her to be. She had told her she was. But she wasn’t scared.
Maggie, her sister, her best friend, told her that night that she should be. That she’d seen the carnage Clara’s type had wreaked on Max’s industry. Max should have listened.
The blood on your hands always seems redder when it’s someone you know. Knew. Like technicolour. Like screaming.
And slowly Max started to notice Clara more and more. She didn’t know if it was because she was around more, or if it was because Max actually cared now. They ran into each other often, and Clara would give her that smile, sweet and treacherous, before darting off to do whatever business she was there to do.
They became friends, in a way. Shared experience will do that to people. You become friends with your coworkers against all odds, even if you’d never glance at them otherwise. Max and Clara glanced at each other often; across crowded rooms and crowded sets. Even when the two of them were alone together, they glanced: Max because she didn’t know what Clara wanted, and Clara because she knew exactly what Max wanted.
One day after work, a particularly long shoot for the both of them, it was bucketing down rain, and they were tired of everything and standing under the same overhang, ready to make the dash. They stepped out, and somehow it was only natural for Clara to catch Max by the arm and kiss her hard as they got soaked. Neither of them cared as much as they had before.
Max had never felt as real as she had with Clara. The things Clara talked about, like the universe and their place in it, were so beautiful and poignant that Max barely understood any of it. Just listening was fine by her, and sometimes Clara would pause in her waxing poetic to look over and give Max that smile, and Max would feel herself melt.
The industry was their life — Clara by choice, Max by contract — and they spent that life together. They had so many good, wonderful years together. Nothing about them was secret, but to Max it felt like a secret, something only she had, that no one else could ever understand.
She loved her sister Maggie, but she didn’t understand business, and life, and her, not like Clara did.
So Clara slowly became her best friend, and Max forgot that Clara was supposed to be dangerous.
The sky was bright and they were driving, a long drive for something or other, full of light and the hum of the radio, passing nothing but cacti and gas stations, and Clara had an errand to run so they pulled over. Before she left, Clara turned and said something to Max that made her laugh, but she couldn’t for the life of her remember what Clara said. It was that simple fact that sometimes kept Max awake at night.
Clara disappeared around the corner. Max sunk into her seat, feeling like nothing could ever be wrong.
A gunshot sounded.
Max all of the sudden remembered that Clara was supposed to be dangerous as she ran to her.
But the other person was gone, whoever they were, and it wasn’t their blood that soaked the ground.
Max sobbed into Clara’s chest, wishing she could have been just a little bit more dangerous.
Max wondered if Clara’s corpse would be riddled with ants instead of maggots from the sweetness of her smile. Or maybe the true tragedy was this; that she wouldn’t be, that maggots would come as they may and there would be nothing special in death about the most special person that Max had ever met — nothing to distinguish Clara from the faceless, marching, forgotten ranks of the dead, nothing but a silly, grieving girl who the world would soon forget as well.
Clara was thoughtful, sharp-tongued, eclectic. Bold, intuitive, kind when she wanted to be. Dangerous. Soft. Beautiful. But the foremost adjective they would use to describe her would be “dead”. An infinite number of words out there to tell of her smile, her laugh, her mind, but it didn’t matter, because the most accurate was and would always be “dead”.
Max wished she believed in heaven, because then she could delude herself that Clara went there.
AJ Sordi is a college student from Sacramento, studying English and creative writing. They write stories about love, loss, and zombies. This is their second time being published.