by Nelly Reifler
Black Screen. Title in gray: NUÉE ARDENTE ~ THE SISTER
Fade in: extreme close up, orange fibers, twisted. Dust clings to the synthetic threads. Particles of dried mud, too, and a purple globule of what may be grape jelly.
Peeling laminate coffee table top. Empty Dr. Pepper bottle. Soduku puzzle book (paperback, newsprint). Ashtray: the ends of seven Bronco 100’s Menthols, lightly stained with the gummy oil of lip gloss. Also in the ashtray: clippings from the head of a blonde doll and the pink-white center of a spat-out jawbreaker. The camera, handheld, shakes ever so slightly.
Slow pan up and left: Posters—Alice in Chains (Dirt), Jane’s Addiction (Ritual de lo Habitual), a gray kitten in a field of daisies.
And into the kitchen. The back of an arm, shoulder to elbow, in gray thermal, moves in and out of the frame. Plastic paneled wall. (Elbow moves in.) Wooden shelves screwed into the plastic. Mason jars on the shelves. (Elbow moves in.) Jars on the counter. (Elbow moves out). Jars on the windowsill (striped beige and brown curtain). In the jars…what is in those jars? (Elbow moves in and out). Ochre stuff, purple stuff, pink stuff, brown stuff, pale yellow stuff, dark orange stuff, more brown and green stuff. Sound: water running, uneven clinks of glass and metal.
Close up: small framed poster on kitchen wall. If you feel like taking something to feel better, take one of the Steps.
The sister’s face, tinted by the dull light coming through the kitchen curtain. First the eyebrows, dark, unevenly grown in. Her skin, ruddy and without makeup, large pores and a looseness around the jaw. Indentation on her right nostril. Deep crease between the brows. Still, it is possible to see that she was beautiful before it all went to shit. And it is clear that she has done a lot of thinking during these years that she has been pulling herself up. Her lips are soft and glossy, surrounded by vertical lines that look as though they were drawn lovingly with a tiny straight razor. Her eyes are what always towed people in and made them trust her: sky blue with gold spangles. She has sworn not to use her eyes as tools for activities such as luring, obtaining, abusing, stealing.
Pan out. She is washing dishes, stacking them in a white plastic dish drainer.
Flashback. a living room in the low-ceilinged, boxlike kind of apartment you find in exurban complexes. Sunlight presses through the long vertical blinds that cover sliding glass doors. Beyond the doors: a glimpse of a concrete balcony. Marilyn Manson sings Unkillable Monster. Pan to: futon couch where a man sits in his boxer shorts. In his lap, a head of bleached hair–and from there a thin female figure stretches, her back to the camera. More about him: goatee; long, blonde, lank ponytail; an anchor tattoo on his smooth chest. From a distance he might be handsome, but his eyes are the small dark eyes of a bull terrier, and his nose, though delicate, is skewed. He is skinny, but has an odd little belly blubbing over his waistband. His eyeballs dart. It’s clear that he’s watching TV.
And now she rolls over to face us. The sister. Yes, she’s a little younger and bonier, her hair is a different color, and there’s a steel ring in her right nostril, but it is definitely the same woman. She reaches down and picks up her black patent purse from the floor. Still reclining, she glances up at the man’s face, then sweeps a few tiny plastic packets off his coffee table and into the bag.
A different room in the same apartment. An infant car seat on the wooden floor. A baby in a striped onesie is asleep there, holding tight to a scrap of white flannel.
The present. In her kitchen, the sister washes a final dish, then rinses and dries her red, raw hands.
The camera follows her into the living room, where she kicks her clogs off onto the orange carpet, drops into her brown sofa and lights a Bronco 100 Menthol. She waves the smoke away from her face and leans back, closing her eyes. She smokes.
Finally, she speaks, calling out with a more refined voice and clearer annunciation than anyone ever expects from her: All right, kiddo. Get yourself together. We have to go pick up your uncle in a few minutes.
Child’s voice, off screen, outside: Mom! Hey, Mom, it’s snowing.
Sound: door opening and closing, a jingle of chimes, footsteps.
The sister drags on her cigarette.
Child’s voice, a near whisper: Mom, it’s snowing gray snow.
NELLY REIFLER is the author of a collection, See Through, and a short novel, Elect H. Mouse State Judge. Her work has most recently been published in the Atlas Review, Tweed’s and Story, and she is an editor at Post Road. She lives in Saugerties, New York.