“Sometimes the beauty of a boy makes me want to cry.”
He saw me on the street corner on Venice Beach, applying my pink lipstick.
It was a cheap, dollar store tube of lip stuff, but I guess I looked rather pretty.
I get a role in his student film. He’s the director: thirty years old, married and still taking grad classes at the University of California.
Mackenzie Kapalous has a goatee, sideburns, and a lot of hair on the top of his Greek chest. Gold chains.
He’s a real psychopath, everyone warns me, but I have never listened to the good girls.
He doesn’t say much, but he has an intense, sexual energy I find appealing and I would make love to him in an instant.
His movie is called What Esther Forgot. He explains that it is a retelling of the Bible, with the style of Sidney Lumet.
I am his Queen Esther.
He has spied that exotic look, that look of the pretty Biblical queen, of the one who broke hearts, on the street corner.
This, he says reaching out to touch my black hair, is “destiny”.
From what I can discern, he is ambitious in scope. And, I want to be part of genius.
I do not think of myself as genius. I do not think of my art or writing at all.
I think with the male mind. They are the true artists. I merely nurture my role as muse.
A girl’s disillusionment happens quite quickly these days.
The concept of the film is barebones, like a bad ’70s flick.
He even greases the lens for that soft focus look.
“Think of your boyfriend” he says.
We are standing before the Hollywood Hills and it is raining purple mist.
An Ennio Morricone song plays. I am aware of being watched and that inhibits me.
I know what he wants, but I can’t deliver. I freeze. He’s unhappy.
“I’ll be frank, Babydoll,” he mutters. “You are closed off.”
He makes a fist.
“You’re tight. I just wish you’d just take that top off. You’ve got the best breasts I’ve ever seen.”
He ponders, “Maybe I should hire a real actress. I could have got Juliette Lewis. My friend knows her.”
“But, you said you liked innocence” I say, touching up the kohl makeup. “I thought it was a feminist work.”
I try not to take it seriously. You hear what you want to hear.
“Get real,” he snaps. “This is the city and there are a hundred of you and only so many of me.”
I remember the first time I held Byron’s hand.
This was after my teacher Max and I were on one of our breaks, our sabbatical.
Byron had cornered me in the hallway of the Thomashauer Building. He put his arm against the wall.
The California sun streamed through the window. I had nowhere to look but into his brown eyes.
“Liv? Laura? Lydia?” he asked jokingly.
He was a very funny kid. Humor was in his blood. Humor was how he survived that perfect face.
“I know I must know your name somehow. You have such an exotic look.”
“I’m Layla,” I said simply.
And that was all it took.
Our first and only date took place in the afternoon, as the sun was descending on Venice Beach.
He reached over to hold my hand. Only twenty minutes before, he had not known my name.
He had beautiful hands. They were very white, and long; the hands of an artist.
When he coughed, he brought his hand to his mouth and I thought, God of mine, he must never be sick; the boy must never die.
We walked to a deli and he bought me orange soda.
Easy as can be, he leaned over to kiss me.
He was a city boy, of city private schools; those boys grow up faster than country hicks.
It was funny: he looked like a rock star, but he liked the most preppie ordinary girls.
And, I had that well-bred style. The Perfect American Girl.
Feeling so close to him, I knew it was time to expose myself.
I confessed my time with MacKenzie and all the things I did for his movie.
Not so perfect girl anymore.
I saw the transformation on Byron’s face. He became, before my very eyes, an old man. His posture changed. I could see the winter pallor in his face grow paler, like fine marble in the sun.
With a dull thud of recognition in my stomach, I saw what was coming.
“That’s sick, in case it slipped your mind.” he screamed. “He’s married. Jesus, Layla. That filthy dirty man with you alone, at night, grunting in his penthouse.”
He was given to theatrics.
“I think I could have loved you. I just wanted to protect you, like a little girl.”
And then he stormed away, into the sudden night, which had come upon us as secretly as a thief.
I never talked to him again. He ignored me the rest of the semester.
I could feel him in me like a pathology, a physical craving.
Sometimes I caught him staring at me, but when I returned his gaze, he frowned.
It doesn’t matter, I suppose. I was his fling, his doomed high-school babe.
Many years later I was reading Interview and he was mentioned as a prominent singer.
Of course, with that husky voice of melted sandpaper, how could he not sing?
Then, further down the line, he was dead. AIDS.
I couldn’t cry for him. I couldn’t feel anything.
He had slipped out of my heart, like a stone from your pocket.
He had left me, my young love, and all I had done was hold his hand.
Max takes me to movies too. Max is my older, teacher lover.
We go the Swanmore Theatre, most of the time.
His favorites are the classics: Dr. Strangelove, 8 ½, Some Like it Hot.
He’s a huge Fellini fan.
I love sitting next to him in the theater, feeling his hand around my shoulder, possessively.
Sometimes people stare at us. He is so much older than me, with his grey hair.
He quizes me about the plot after we leave the theater. This part I hate.
“How can you forget?” he demands. “You don’t know who Tony Curtis is? I’ve explained it a million times.”
“I just don’t know, Max. I’m eighteen. I don’t need the third degree.”
I swallow a lump in my throat. He is my teacher, I think. He is trying to help me, he wants the best for me.
But, I still hate his questions.
That Irish thing. Max and his Black Irish beauty.
I think of the picture of playwright Eugene O’Neill and his daughter Oona, with their beautiful black eyes.
Eugene loved his drink and his women. Oona, I discover, was a debutante celebrity, the good girl. So ravishing with inky, ebony waves and red lips. A mere nineteen, she married Charlie Chaplin, a good paternal substitute, almost twice her age.
I realize something, on those nights at the theater: I am afraid of him.
I wonder how much pain Oona was in because of her father, because of his distance and his disinterest.
I know how much she must have wanted to please him.
I sense it because it is exactly how much I want to impress Max – but never can.
Story by Elizabeth Dunphey.