erasing clouds

Forget About Love: A novella in twenty-four parts

By Jeffrey S. Carter

Part One: The Nephew (I)

At the age of twelve, I was dropped off at my uncle's house in California for the summer. When Fall returned, my parents did not. Winter and Spring passed without so much as a postcard. The following summer I marked the one-year anniversary of my arrival by losing my precious virginity to Jeanine Winderkund, my cousin, who is three years older than me. Somewhere in there I turned twenty-three.

Jeanine you probably know … but you know her father, believe me. And my name, you may know, if you're one of those freaks who knows everything there is to know about my uncle's work, like who the gaffer was on Lost Bucolic and who nailed who on the set of Enemies of Men. In fact, I'd really rather you don't know my name, because people who do know it tend to make me uncomfortable when they approach me somewhere and won't leave me the hell alone. I'll play it off and act like I don't know what you're talking about, so you're better off not knowing.

Jeanine you may know because maybe you're one of the six people in the world who've seen her two films, December Wasn't and The Missing Line. If not, you'd recognize her when you saw her, since she was in four of daddy's movies. Then again, she's all black lines and hats now, so maybe not. You'd be expecting some little girl you fell in love with, and passes by this shade with a face so full of the world you wouldn't know what to do. She'd say, "yes, yes, thank you, thank you," and blow smoke in your face. She's very good at that stuff. But behind your back she's saying, "baaa, baaa, baaa," just so you know. She's drinking coffee and wearing makeup and having sex and getting high and smoking cigarettes as fast as they can make them - she's not at all that girl you remember, so you know. You’re saying “auteur” and feeling pretty good about it and she’s making movies because she slept in editing suites when she was a kid while her coked-up father screamed at the screen for hours, as if he didn’t recognize anything he’d filmed.

Speaking of cocaine, last night I did four lines with a girl I didn’t know while "Who Wants to Live Forever" played in the background. There's Freddy singing it like a real son of a bitch and there's me, saying, "Not me, Freddy, not me," which is bullshit, and isn't at the same time, which is the point of the song, I guess. I woke up this morning to find a small, narrow book lodged squarely beneath my face. It was open to the first page, which was badly wrinkled. It revealed a single line, scrawled in an alien hand:

There was a dog, once.

It was dated June 6th, the anniversary of my parent's departure. Further inspection revealed the book to be a journal, completely blank except for that one line.

I do not remember having a dog.

* * * *

My uncle bought Jeanine her own house when she turned eighteen. It's a seven-bedroom monstrosity built in the Fifties, renovated in the Seventies, and it stretches on for miles, or so it seems. I live here now. I moved in when I was twenty.

This morning, I walked out into the living room to the sound of gunshots and sirens. Some guy was sitting on the floor front of our widescreen, playing video games with no shirt on. Jeanine was lying on the black leather couch next to him in her usual morning attire - underwear and a Clash t-shirt. The reek of pot was thick. There were a million people here last night, including a guy who wouldn’t tell me who he reminded me of. He thought my uncle was the bees-knees. I almost kicked him out of the house.

“Coffee,” said Jeanine in a semi-pleading voice.

I walked over and watched the action unfolding on the television for a second before nudging the "reset" button on the console with my toe. The screen flickered for a second, and then went completely black before the logo popped back up.

"Why?" said Jeanine.

"He's going to mess up my stats," I said, yanking the memory card out of its slot. "Now you can play," I said to no-shirt guy, and turned away towards the kitchen.

"Hey, I know you!" the guy said. "You were in that movie."

"No, I wasn't," I said, still walking.

"He wasn’t,” said Jeanine. “He’s not an actor.”

I made coffee and went back out to watch. The living room was foggy with smoke, so I opened the sliding glass doors and sat by the pool for a few minutes. Jeanine came out and ruffled my hair, then stood by the pool and made lazy circles in the water with her toes. Her nails were painted blue.

"Did you see the book?"
"That was you?"
"Yes. Who else would it be?"
"I don't know. I thought it was me."
"What's it for?"
"It's a journal."
"What for?"
"For you."
"Because everybody needs somebody to talk to."

* * * *

It was no secret around the Winderkund household that Jeanine had deflowered me. As I watched her blue toe go round and round, I remembered the Christmas of my first year with my new family. Back then, the Winderkunds held a huge party rivaled by spectacles only seen in Broadway musicals. In their great cathedral of a house, Uncle Franklin and his wife at the time, Lysteria (a.k.a. Lysteria Hinde), entertained Hollywood's hottest up-and-coming, the once-hot, the now-not-so-hot, and the old battle horses that weren't below signing up for scripts far below their standards anymore to get their name in the credits. Plus, all the musicians, artists, porn stars, journalists, talk show hosts, new age gurus and agents they could stuff in any one of their twenty-plus rooms. More food, more alcohol and more drugs than a thousand people could consume, more too-white teeth than a dentist's convention, more boob jobs and tattoos than a strip club, more bullshit than a rodeo.

As the new arrival at the Winderkund household, I was one of the darlings of the evening. A monkey with invisible cymbals that couldn't help but clap, clap, clap. Uncle Franklin kept me by his side, and I shook hand after hand, receiving shock after shock with each familiar face I would encounter. I only received respite when Jeanine grabbed me in the midst of a Franklin/Lysteria meltdown that threatened to level at least the Library Wing, as well as all of its patrons, and kissed me passionately in a dark corner.

She was high. She was sixteen. She smelled like sandalwood and alcohol and she squeezed me so hard that it hurt.

Hand in my hand; she flew from room to room, introducing me to those she felt were worthy.

"Don't pay attention to any of those people Daddy made you meet," she said. "These are the real people."

Personally, I felt rather unreal. Somewhere between Joan Cusack and one of the guys from Pearl Jam, I lost my sense of time and space when Jeanine put something in my mouth and insisted I "suck, suck, suck - do NOT swallow!" Following these instructions led me to a place where colors had smells and I imagined the fingers on my hands were stuck together.

Somewhere in there I was standing on table while Jeanine screamed, "I LOVE MY LITTLE COUSIN! DON'T YOU?" at the top of her capacity, standing next to me. We had been having sex multiple times, daily, for more than four months by then.

I was thirteen years old.

* * * *

When I arrived at the Winderkund household, Franklin was in something of a creative slump. He'd been hailed as one of the leading directors of his generation less than a decade before, but he was already on the tail end of a critical shitstorm for his latest movie. Critics claim that his 'vision' had deteriorated, and that he no longer had relevance, no connection with audiences. They claimed his once masterful cuts had become severe and alienating, and it was well documented on the gossip circuit that his camera work left actors and actresses appalled with their own faces and bodies. His choice of subject matter had become brooding and painful. His mainstream appeal was sluicing away they said. He was headed for career suicide, they said.

Some contend that this was exactly Franklin's goal.

In tracing the pattern of the director's downfall, most critics drew attention to the death of his first wife, Lucy, Jeanine's mother, three years earlier. Car accident, which led to an excruciating recovery period, which led to her pulling out the monitoring equipment and committing suicide by a lethal injection of morphine - supposedly provided by someone outside the scope of those who wished for her to go on living.

It was called a homicide for a short time in the papers, but that all washed away. Some suspected Franklin. He was never officially charged. An investigation was launched at the hospital. A few people were fired. Jeanine was checked into therapy. She was ten at the time.

Three years later, Franklin released The Bluebird, his most personal, challenging and complex work to date, and got the royal Hollywood hammering for it. Three years after that, I arrived. Franklin had gone underground. He was in desperate need of a story to bring him back to life. Something box office. He'd been through exactly 1,789 scripts, and all had failed to meet his criteria. I don't blame him. I've read most of them, and they're mostly terrible. He'd fired his longtime cinematographer and his editor. When I showed up at the Winderkund door, my uncle was adrift. He was a raging alcoholic, and a paranoid schizophrenic. He talked to himself a lot, and forgot to eat most of the time.

He’s better now. I haven’t spoken to him in four years.

I am completely sober right now and I am remembering why I am not like this very often.

* * * *

This morning, me and Jeanine sat out by the pool, staring at the cloudless sky. Her long, wispy black hair was unfurled, wrapped around her head and shoulders, streaks of a three-month-old dye slowing fading into the background. She's twenty-six now, and an heiress to a billionaire. She's got a tidy sum herself. Her eyes are like pools of rainwater.

She lit up a smoke, and I did the same. We smoked together a lot. One always sparked the other.

"Who's that guy?" I said.
"That tells me a lot about who he is."
She smirked, flicking an ash.

"He's in The Speakers, you know," she said, starting to half-sing, "Give a little to get some, it's like that is it..."
"Oh yeah."

Jeanine has a bad habit of picking up strays. There are two Mormons living in the house currently. One of them is named James. They ride those bikes around, you know. It’s too hot for that, with the ties and all.

"It's always 'The the" now."
"They're good."

"No, it’s just…the, you know. The Postal Service, The Strokes, The Hives, The Killers, The Arcade Fire. You can just pick some words now and put ‘the’ in front of it. There’s your band.”
"The Smiths."
"Don't you say The Smiths."
"They're 'the the'."
"I don't give a shit. You don’t say that."
"The Beatles."
"Shut up."

We didn't light another one, like they do in all those books and movies and plays where people smoke twelve cigarettes a scene. We didn't need to do something with our hands.

"Yesterday makes eleven," she said, finally, closing her eyes and stretching out on the lounge chair and dangling her feet into the water. Her legs were long and pale. She had a single bluish green vein that ran down the inside of the right one.

"Eleven," I repeated. Jeanine and I entertained a fantasy that if my parents ever showed up, they'd do so on the exact same day they left. We were confined by the poetry of it.
"You think they'll ever come?"
I shrugged.
"I don't care," I said.

"Yes, you do," she said. "And, you need to write about it. Or something. You should write about something. You're so good at it."

I shrugged again.

And that was us.

"Are you going to use the journal?" she asked, rising.

“I think you need it more than I do,” I answered. “And what’s up with the dog?”

“It’s a starting line.”

"Dear cousin, boys don't use diaries," I said, smiling.

She walked towards the living room, trailing wet footprints behind her. “Oh,” she said, pausing in the doorway, her back to me, her head angled, the sun reflecting off her calves like they were made of glass.

“Daddy called. He wants to see you,” she said. Then, she turned to face me. “Actually, it was kind of weird. What he said was, ‘I need’. He said he needs to see you.”

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