Jason appeared in the doorway of the living room with a long velvet sash loosely wrapped around his jeans and t-shirt. He cocked a hip, and the red fabric shivered in the glow of my reading lamp. Ridiculously fake diamond earrings flashed below the trendy fringe of his haircut. He held a small bolt from which the fabric hung slack.
“Wow, you’re dressed to kill,” I said, jabbing a finger in my book. My chair creaked with the sudden movement. “Which production is it for?”
“Hello, stranger.” His voice came out breathy and deep. “That isn’t by chance a Raymond Chandler novel you’re reading, is it?”
“No, it’s a different kind of pent-up love story. A Room With a View. Which Chandler is it for?”
“The Big Sleep. I’m thinking this will be for the femme fatale’s first scene.” He re-draped the fabric tighter around his torso so it fit more like a bodice. He brought a wrist to his forehead, which emphasized the bulge of his bicep. “I was up for that part, you know, but they decided to cast someone more manly.”
He sauntered across the room, rolling his hips and unspooling fabric across the floor. A stick of incense burned on top of my desk. He picked it up and held it like a cigarette. The transformation was complete.
“Miss Vivian Sternwood,” she said. Her emphasis on the last syllable made me laugh, which made her drop character long enough to explain that Sternwood was actually the femme fatale’s name. Then she continued. “Charmed, I’m sure. And you are?”
These metamorphoses fascinated and unsettled me, as did everything else about Jason. Since he’d answered my Craigslist ad three years ago, he’d never mentioned friends or family. He never dated, as far as I knew. If it weren’t for the constant humming of his sewing machine, I’d think he disappeared as soon as he stepped into his small bedroom. An actor waiting in the wings for his next entrance. His only weekly routine: a hushed phone call every Sunday night in his room. I made sure to be around for it in case he ever came out and wanted to talk; he never did.
I took Vivian’s hand and kissed it. “Philip Marhomo, my dear. You look ravishing this evening.”
She smirked and scanned the room.
“My, it’s dark in here, Mr. Marhomo. A girl might think she lives with a vampire.”
She was right; the sun had abandoned me. Incense smoke casted a haze across my IKEA furniture, across Jason’s second-hand television, across the red carpet at my feet. I’d been reading a long time.
Vivian floated around the room turning on anything with a switch. Lamps blazed. Jazz from the stereo and a Bogart movie clamored for attention. When she finished, she pointedly faced me and dropped the velvet. She wasn’t naked underneath, but the effect was still shocking. I felt my ears turn crimson. She closed the book on my lap, put both hands on the arms of my chair, and leaned in.
“So tell me, Philip, do you want to bite my neck?”
With her chin so close, I saw how her five o’clock shadow encircled her full lips. Each atom between us spun counter-clockwise. I’d never had the spotlight of his… her attention so fully. She lingered, awaiting my answer.
I swallowed hard. “Only if no bullet- or dust-biting follows.”
She slid into my lap, curving her arm around my shoulders. “And if I let you, could you forgive my rent again this month, detective?”
The room refilled with light and noise. Vivian became Jason again.
“You know you don’t have to do that,” I said. “If you’re running behind, I can cover. It’s no big deal.”
It was Jason’s time to feel uncomfortable. He thanked me as he stood. His door clicking shut felt like a rebuke somehow.
Velvet still pooled on the floor. I felt compelled to pick it up. As I did, the city hummed behind the Venetian blinds, the neon streets reached out, the rain fell.
I made a ritual of turning things off—the ceiling fan, radio, television, all the lights except for the one I read by. I tried to re-enter Forster’s tale, but I couldn’t focus. I wanted to be ready for the next show.
Early draft. Constructive criticism welcome.
PS: Reposted to fix funky formatting.