Gayle Brandeis

J ack's liver had finally caught up with him. Something like egg yolk seeped across the whites of his eyes. His skin carried the dull sheen of banana peels.
Five stories below, women lay by the pool, their eyes covered with circles of cucumber. They seemed to stare up at Jack with blank cartoon astonishment. I will never smell those women, Jack thought. Bile squirted into his mouth.
Someone pounded on the door. Jack toppled onto the stiff bedspread.
"Goddammit, Jack!" his agent, Sid, yelled from the hallway. "It was just one lousy flop. Jimmie Dean wants you to direct his next picture--honest to God!"
"Go away, Sid," Jack said in a low voice. Pain rang under his skin like a bell. He pulled a brown vial from the bedstand. "My body's fried, my career's fried--I'm on my death bed, here. Show some respect."
"Marilyn's involved--Monroe, babe! Open the goddamn door!"
There were no pills inside the container, Jack found, startled--just scraps of film. He tipped the bottle in order to slide a thin piece of celluloid onto his palm. He could barely detect the curve of Liz Taylor's shoulder there, a scene from his last movie.
Jack placed the film on his tongue like a communion wafer. It was bitter, but somehow it tasted right. While Sid continued to shout, Jack closed his eyes. The light of a projector clicked on inside his skull. The reel of his life slowly started to unspool.

First published: October 31, 1998