Interior Bedroom Night
g c cunningham
Chris: Thought you were asleep.
Lisa: I heard you come in. I’m trying to finish this chapter. How was your shower?
Chris: What do you mean, how was it? It was a shower. I had to wash off that movie.
Lisa: You saw it?
Chris: Yeah. What are you reading?
Lisa: “The Sisters Brothers.” You have to read it.
Chris: I got a stack. Can you slide over.
Lisa: But this is really moving, like “True Grit.” Remember how we didn’t expect “True Grit” to go to that level, but it did?
Chris: I’m finishing a “Best of.”
Lisa: “Best American?”
Chris: Yeah. But this lady never wrote short stories, which is flabbergasting because there’re so many famous story writers, and they pick a guest editor who writes novels.
Lisa: Are you sure she never wrote stories?
Chris: No, but I’ve never come across any, which is suspicious.
Lisa: Maybe the short story writers are too busy.
Chris: To edit a “Best American?” Are you kidding? It’s like being above the best, to edit a “Best of.” You get to select stories using your own definition of art. Although it’s true, a lot of famous story writers haven’t edited a “Best.” Could you imagine Alice Munro?
Chris: It would be one of the few “Best ofs” she wouldn’t be in.
Lisa: Why? Oh, duh. She couldn’t put herself in a book she’s editing.
Chris: Although Updike put himself in “Best American Stories of the Century.”
Lisa: Women don’t have that kind of ego. What did you watch tonight?
Chris: I told you, Josh collects the most extreme film and video ever made and puts it on DVD. He used to put it on tape, which shows how long he’s been doing it.
Lisa: How long he’s been cuckoo.
Chris: He calls it “video horrible.”
Lisa: And shows it to his parents.
Chris: His dad’s gone. I don’t know about his mom. He says he plays it at Thanksgiving and holidays. He’s Jewish, so I guess that doesn’t mean Christmas.
Lisa: What an odd thing to show your family.
Chris: They tolerate it, he says. But you know his dad was a famous, old school screenwriter, so they probably are more open to artistic expression.
Lisa: What’s artistic about grossing people out?
Chris: It’s Dadaist, I’ll admit. And was a lot more original before the Internet, pushing the envelope, asking if this is document, or art, or both.
Lisa: Or neither.
Chris: There is a tradition of extreme compilation films, “mondo films,” pre-video, a search for bizarre human behavior. It asks—what is taboo. Josh was impressed with my endurance. I got through the whole tape.
Chris: Clearly, the other side of the coin is it’s juvenile. Him delighting in disturbing people. And for his family, I would say a desire to “act out” during the holidays, or High Holidays rather.
Lisa: Could you imagine showing a sex and death tape at my parents’ Christmas?
Chris: It wouldn’t go with the Brandy Alexanders, but I understand resisting the authority of traditional, you know, the straightjacket of family ritual when you’re growing up.
Lisa: How old is Josh? About forty?
Chris: About. I remember, shockingly, bringing a bottle of Wild Turkey to one of our last, big Thanksgivings, the year I turned nineteen, still living at home.
Lisa: And you invited a girlfriend twice your age.
Chris: She was a divorced neighbor from down the street, but a far cry from sex and death videos.
Lisa: Maybe not to your parents.
Chris: But you get what I’m saying. It’s the age when you feel smothered. You want to breakout, but don’t have the means. You want to go to that opposite place.
Lisa: I escaped to my boyfriend’s on Christmas. I was at UCSB and told Mom it was too crowded to take the Surfliner. So what was on that video?
Chris: Oh brother. Here we go.
Lisa: I just mean in general. Definitely don’t tell me specifics—just what categories.
Chris: You know what categories, extreme sex and death.
Lisa: Subheadings. What exactly is extreme sex?
Chris: I’m getting tired. Are you tired?
Lisa: I’m very tired, but what is extreme sex?
Chris: You don’t want to know. You’re suggestible and compulsive; we know this.
Lisa: I know, but I’m curious how sex can be so extreme. It’s shocking.
Chris: Come on. Think. Stuff that’s not really sex.
Lisa: Like S&M?
Lisa: Like what?
Chris: Things you don’t associate with sex. Hello, it’s bedtime.
Lisa: Oh God. Pooping?
Chris: Stop it. Don’t think about it.
Lisa: Oh God. I’m picturing it.
Chris: Let’s go to sleep or at least read.
Lisa: God, Josh is a weirdo. What a weird friend you have. He doesn’t have a girlfriend, I bet.
Chris: He used to live with someone.
Lisa: I bet she was a piece of work.
Chris: I didn’t know her. I’m turning out my light. You can read.
Lisa: No, I’m sleeping. I’m turning out my light.
Chris: Okay, goodnight.
Lisa: Goodnight. What disgusting stuff did you see over there?
Chris: What has no reason to be seen—total waste of time.
Lisa: I’m picturing some pretty sick stuff.
Chris: That’s in your head. I didn’t say a word.
Lisa: Do you ever want to do those things?
Chris: I have no interest.
Lisa: Then why did you watch it?
Chris: Because it was there. I thought—what the hell, let’s see what his family has to watch on Hanukkah.
Lisa: You’re happy with our sex, aren’t you?
Chris: Yes, damn it. Our sex is perfect. I don’t want to involve going to the bathroom. Do you?
Chris: I’m happy to stay within genres, but if other people want that, that’s their business.
Lisa: Where does he find this trash?
Chris: He used to get it in Chinatown at video stores because the L.A. Vice couldn’t read Chinese. Now, he probably goes online, but he better watch out for the FBI. They disguise themselves as children these days.
Lisa: Are you saying it’s kiddie porn?
Chris: Not at all, but some of the women looked pretty dang young. Some of the Asian women dress like little girls on those videos.
Lisa: Good God. What the hell were you watching over there?
Chris: It wasn’t sex. And “what was sex” was not erotic. Like I said, I wouldn’t define it as sex. Can we go to sleep?
Lisa: Yes, but tell me one death thing. What category of deaths? Just the category.
Chris: No way, nutjob. No death-talk in bed. That’s the rule.
Lisa: You’re right. You’re right. Okay. It’s just so weird. My mind keeps thinking of extreme activities, imagining in the dark what probably never happens.
Chris: That’s how it works, the mind. But there are things on that DVD you’re not capable of imagining.
Lisa: Oh shit—like what?
Chris: Like I’m not going to tell you and then get blamed the rest of the night when you can’t sleep. That’s very unfair, Lisa. I won’t go there. We need wholesome thoughts for sleep.
Lisa: How can I blame you, if I’m asking? Then it’s my fault.
Chris: No, it would be my fault because I’m the adult in the room. This is something we can discuss in the morning, but not bedtime.
Lisa: Will you tell me at breakfast?
Chris: Yes. And you can skip coffee ‘cause you won’t need it.
Lisa: Oh thanks. I have a million extreme images in my head now.
Chris: Take Ambien.
Lisa: You keep making me laugh. You know, I’m thinking, if you just told me one death thing, I’d be over it and could then process it and go to sleep.
Chris: That’s the most counterintuitive nonsense I’ve ever heard.
Lisa: I take full responsibility. Tell me one death thing, but tell it slowly, in little pieces, so I can stop you if it’s too much.
Chris: Are you sure, nutball?
Chris: Let’s just read.
Lisa: No, I really want to know.
Chris: You realize what you’re asking?
Chris: Okay, nut.
Lisa: Go ahead.
Chris: One death thing involved a horse.
Lisa: Oh God! Oh my God, a horse? Oh! Ohhh! Was it killed?
Chris: You remember the horse in “The Godfather”?
Lisa: Oh God! Why a horse? Why would someone kill a horse? That’s sick.
Chris: It’s a sick video and Josh is a sick, lonely, trust-fund person. Are we finished?
Lisa: Tell me why some creep killed a horse.
Chris: It wasn’t for pleasure. It was old, black-and-white industrial footage. Before they had rules and procedures for rendering animals, I’m guessing.
Lisa: What a sick thing to watch on Hanukkah. Was it killed quick?
Chris: Are you saying you want me to continue?
Lisa: Hell, yes, I want you to continue. How was it killed?
Chris: You know, this is now getting stuck in my mind, and I’m the one who actually watched the damn thing.
Lisa: I’m sorry to make you relive it. I just want to work that horse death out of my consciousness.
Chris: By me further describing it?
Lisa: Yes. So was it killed with a stun gun or blowgun?
Chris: In the days of black-and-white?
Lisa: Oh God, how?
Chris: It was …
Lisa: … what?
Chris: I’m not taking blame.
Lisa: No worries!
Chris: It was strung up in the air by its hind legs …
Lisa: Ahh! I can’t breathe! Why was it strung up?
Chris: No blame.
Lisa: No blame! Why!
Chris: Its throat was cut so blood would drain out. It was gushing, and the horse was twitching.
Lisa: Ahh! Ahh! I’m done! I’m done! That’s all! That’s all! I’m finished! I’m done! Goodnight. Goodnight. Goodnight.
Chris: Now you know.
Lisa: Oh, Jesus! Why the fuck was that filmed in the days of black-and-white?
Chris: A mystery.
Lisa: Oh God. Ahh!
Chris: Hey, you’re squeezing your throat. Stop it.
Lisa: Ahh! My throat.
Chris: Hey. Hey. Everything’s fine, babe. You’re safe. We’re safe here.
Lisa: Ahh! That poor horse.
Chris: I know. It’s awful, but it was long ago.
Lisa: Hold me.
Chris: Before color was invented.
Lisa: Just hold me.
Chris: I’m holding.
Lisa: Boy, your friend is a sicko and a half.
Chris: He’s got a lot of time on his hands.
Lisa: Let’s sleep. Let’s sleep. Oh God. Ahh. Ahh.
Chris: Yes. Sleep.
Chris: Are you okay?
Lisa: Ahh. Better. Yes. Getting better. Ahh. I think I’m okay.
Lisa: Yes. Better. I’m just wondering what else was on that tape.
g c cunningham parents scottish/irish birthplace alabama ucla film production married another writer/editor lives california “pandemic” nominee, best american short stories 2014, editor jennifer egan online stories eclectica, fringe, potomac review, mcsweeney’s