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"The Five Elements of Noir" excerpt

1. Ambivalence

There is A Girl. There is always A Girl. She is everything good and honest and right. She is running down the path, through the woods back toward town. She is running away from you. Jane, you want to call after her. Jane, wait. And her name is always Jane or Betty or Susan, or sometimes desperately Mary. Wait.
She turns her blond head to you; she looks back over her shoulder. Her face is frightened, worried, but sweet and always attractive. She wants to know what has happened to you. What has happened to the man she loves? Her face is perfect, so symmetrical and pretty that it is not really there at all. She is lovely, but when you close your eyes you cannot remember what she looks like. The wind blows a strand of hair loose from her ponytail and across her full cheek. She was hysterical and you slapped her. You brought a blush to that pale, damn near albino purity. She’s afraid of you now, but excited too. Her lips are parted, her breath comes faster and her breasts rise and fall under that buttoned up shirtwaist dress. Yes, one button has come undone. You can see her collarbone. Is it true she is covered in skin like the rest of us? Up until now it has been hard to tell.
You catch up with her easily. She wants to be caught. She stumbles on nothing and you grab her wrist. Her cardigan sweater annoys you and with the other hand you try to twist it off her. You try but only succeed in getting it half way down one shoulder, a cloth covered shoulder.
“Tommy, no,” she breathes.
Does she mean yes? It is out of her control now. Whatever you do to her will not be her fault. She looks up. The wind blows. The tall trees bend and bow, their bare black branches scraping across a November sky. Like your hairy male fingers on her skinny arm, the tossing twigs mark her face.
Her voice is high and scared. “What do you want?”
It is enough to stop you. You in your leather jacket and khaki pants pulled up high in the crotch. Your skinny belt. Your necktie and short-sleeved shirt over an undershirt. How do you get dressed every morning in so much clothing? Down to your shined hard shoes and dark socks.
“Tell me,” she says, “Tell me what you want.”
What you want she must not give you. If she does it will cost too much and the coins that jangle in your pocket are for elsewhere. They are pesos, they cannot appease her; it is too late for that.
“Let me explain,” you say.
It is something you often say to her, but then you never get a chance. Instead a car pulls up and her old boyfriend rolls down his window, or the owner of the diner hollers at you, or her mother comes to the door and you are left on the porch with your hat in your hand. There is never time to explain.
But there, in the woods, on the path, with her alabaster legs and her face begging for another slap to the other side, you know what you want. You want her to hate you and you want to show her who you really are and the slap isn’t enough. It just isn’t. You look up at the trees, and you feel bad. But you feel good too because this is a good moment and you look good and that slap will be talked about. And you are hot inside your jacket, because it may be November, but it is not cold, and California doesn’t have this kind of tree. The bare branches are props held up by a sweating young Production Assistant who really wants to direct.