Marilyn Monroe is transformed; Sydney can’t take her eyes off her. Monroe’s chin is up, and she looks slightly down her nose at the camera, one eyebrow raised. She is a haunting beauty, sure of her allure, but cold, so cold, made up for the femme fatale role in Vertigo. The sexual energy that was all Monroe is banked, gone.
She could have done it. She would have been a fabulous Madeleine Elster.
The camera takes Monroe in, pulls back to a full-body shot, Monroe’s curves push against the linen fabric.
Then in the next shot, she’s Judy Barton, hair down but closely sprayed to tame the wildness, in a sweater set and makeup a little thick, like a shop girl would. This is what would have done her in for Hitch and Alma.
Because Monroe could never look like a cheap shop girl, like Novak could in the movie. No matter how much garish makeup they used, they couldn’t bury that Monroe glow.
From up here the brush and rocks were a pastel painting, the hills rolled away into mists, and only the wind filled her ears. She hung underneath an escarpment of granite, fingers digging in, toes clasped to cracks. The rope slid through a carabiner she’d attached to a hook embedded in the rock, left months, years ago by a previous climber.
Willow loved the silence; her world was noise, the noise of her father singing, McCall’s music, the unending rumble of San Francisco traffic. Above her now, McCall belayed the rope, loose and nice, as Willow ascended free-style, following the internal map in her mind of the rock’s face.
One hundred feet below, climbers who’d just arrived roped up, sizing up the pinnacle’s vertical sides. Willow knew that once she swung over the escarpment, she would be yards from the summit, where McCall waited.
After the climb they would go for beers in Santa Cruz, then back to his house on the beach. She could talk him into putting the reel into the camera, and running it for her again in the private studio he had built for his film collection. A hot breeze from the valley wind curled around her, laving the sweat from her skin. She wanted to believe that they really had the film, that it was real, not a crazy dream.
She pushed with her feet, scrabbled at the cracks, her fingers rough and scraping. With an easy pull, she was up, over the edge of the escarpment, and onto a narrow shelf that easily took her weight on both feet, hands already seeking the next handhold. Don’t lose the momentum.
Glancing up she saw McCall’s dreadlocks waving in the breeze, those that had escaped his woolen cap. She thought she could see his grin, teeth rich-white, against the glare of the summer sky.
This was better. So much better than staying at Sydney’s place. Sydney could be such a pill. When McCall texted that he was going to climb, would Willow come down, they could hang out, she jumped at the chance. They had, after the theft of the film can, stayed away from each other for a few weeks, waiting for the pin to drop, the black helicopters, but nothing happened. No squeak or sound from Aunt Violet, or Tess or Sydney. Dad was in Europe, Mom in her own little universe. No one knew or cared about that damn piece of film anyway. No one thought it really existed.
But it did. When Willow and McCall ran the film they saw what they had. It was real, all right. As real as this rock and wind and sky.
Millions. Millions of dollars. Enough to shake the parents off forever and spiral into the stratosphere together.
Willow pushed higher, knees and feet bending, swarming up the rock like a spider. She loved this, the sense of space behind her, the vertical cliff of sheer stone and tufted grass, swallow nests, skirl of hawks and the fresh aroma of dried, summer grass.
And McCall at the end of it, waiting for her.
He’d pulled away from the edge, though, as Willow looked up again. The last few feet of this route was tricky, almost a leap to get a handhold and right foot up to a toehold, and then a push to the rim.
The rope was there, tied to McCall. Willow swung, happy, so happy to be done with the climb, and going higher and higher in life, above her crazy family and sisters who thought they were so much better than her.
Willow reached, foot clinging to the toehold, fingers gripped into hot granite, dust coating her face and hair but the wind, and the silence, on her skin.
She reached, and waited for McCall to be there, hand on the rope. She didn’t need the damn rope but she wanted Mac to be there, grinning at her, almost leering at her.
She reached, and the thought of the screen test was there in her mind, like a big film reel of sun with spokes, spinning.
A million dollars. Maybe more.
When her foot slipped she gripped the left handhold, swung, to get her foot back into the high toehold, swung again, missed.
A pang went through her, followed by a hot flush of fear. She swung, again, and again, and McCall by now had to have heard or seen her grunt, and she might have cursed. But he didn’t appear.
Where are you, douche bag? Pay attention you stoner …
Everything grew small and receded and spiraled, and McCall’s head popped over the cliff edge but too late, the rope flipped past her, him grabbing but she falling, falling,
The rush of wind and the long, long grip of gravity. Willow didn’t even have time to scream. She couldn’t open her mouth because she was flying.
Maybe I won’t die, she thought, as the ground rushed up to smash her.
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