“Do bend that lambent, alien, flame-like attention in this direction, would you?” he asks her aloud.
She complies, with the faintest flash of irony.
“OK babes, now before we let you loose in L.A., we’re going to test you,” he says. “You are, after all, the richest communication I could have with the world, from this position of peculiar isolation within it. We therefore need to equip you as best we can. So let’s give you a little back-story, in the form of memories of another city, as depicted on that postcard you’re holding”—and rather to her surprise, there in the photo on the postcard, is herself. She’s leaning at a metal balcony railing above the lower tip of Manhattan, looking down on it from two or three miles’ height, with the calm of a winking satellite on a cool summer evening, but welling up with enormous love for the familiar form of this unique and electrically powerful little island. It’s long and thin, yet hard as nails and concrete, its Lower West Side and furthest Lower East Side bristling with piers—which tells her she’s looking at its past, not at its present. The East Village spreads out sunlit, beneath her left elbow. The Fifty-Ninth Street Bridge soars over the slim line of Roosevelt Island, as if the latter is a ship gliding down the East River beneath the bridge’s span. Hunts Point is at the top of the image, dim and flat, with Rikers Island and the Brother Islands just beneath it. Her dark dress billows behind her, perhaps in a slight breeze on the balcony, in echo of the flow of her hair down the back of her white T-shirt (this being a monochrome image, she cannot tell what colours her actual dress and hair were). She flips the postcard over: “Copyright David Lombard / Girl at railing / Reproduction prohibited”, says the caption of her image, which she has to uncover by peeling off a black self-adhesive sticker she’d affixed to the card in some intervening year.
“Remember?” Jaymi asks her. “’Cos I sure remember! I had that on the wall beside my desk, throughout the time I lived in New York.”
Pink noise whirrs through his laptop speakers.
The three or four most iconic structures are all where they should be, as if her framing them like this were easy, and there’s a subtle perfection of lighting: above the myriad illuminated windows (in buildings whose shapes will remain discernible for only another half-minute in this sinking dusk) there’s a soft-edged band of orange, merging flawlessly into yellow right above it, merging further through nameless subtleties into pink, at last hitting the upper frame as a cool dim lilac, all these being darker and tinged with russet at the left end of the image.
Here, thirty floors above Fifty-Third and Lexington, she turns to the left where the east grows dimmer, taking in the expanse of Queens and Brooklyn in the dusk. Above the soft flicker of the very furthest beds of lights, an aeroplane hangs still, sinks through a brown glow down into purple, and disappears behind the dark horizon.
“And then you went to Hollywood, remember?” he tells her. “You drove to this city from the east, all alone; and on the edges of this city, all alone, you parked the car upon a bridge at night and stared down onto the freeway beneath, and you held up your camera and snapped the shot you’re holding, which was printed in reverse a year later. Remember? ’Cos I sure do!”
She gazes at the print in her hands, and remembers: in the lanes on the right half, headlights have made electric streams while a slow camera-shutter opened wide, being fused into white-molten strings since frozen into dry ink; while on the left, a lonely pair of red-molten rear-light strings might suggest that this image of a moment in her past had been snapped in a country that drives on the left, had the image not been printed in reverse a year later…
“And boom! You are ready for your incarnation,” he tells her, “in all your luscious platinum transcendence. What d’you say to that?”
His laptop’s speakers purr pink noise, louder than before.
He turns the screen around to face L.A. for a moment, to show this Beast a flash of where she’ll soon be released.
As if on cue, fiery puffballs burst in the sky—a firework display, somewhere down in Laurel Canyon. The embers of the puffballs twinkle in the silence as they fall across the hills: chemical sunset, dancing city, darkness in the canyons.
For more about "The Beasts of Electra Drive" by Rohan Quine, see
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