Against Romanticism

by Bobbi Lurie

In Under the Sand, Charlotte Rampling, stiff and elegant 

in her aging body, imagines

her husband still alive after drowning in the sea.

And because the film is French, the camera pauses 

long moments at the curve of her neck, it watches

her finger vermilion tulips in a vase. Her new lover,

 a wisp of a man, looks good in leather.

The camera pans quickly across beige suede, 

rests long on papers piled high on the dead

husband's desk. A harsh diagonal of light intersects 

French sentences I cannot read.


You've got to let me rent a video to make up for this, 

my son says emerging from the dark theater,

the light in the lobby haloing his rumpled hair 

as he drags his denim jacket across the floor, across the debris

of popcorn and abandoned straws. This movie sucks. I

hate watching old people have sex.


I look back at him as I walk to the line 

for the bathroom, following a woman with a cane

through the door. I love this film, she turns and says

It's so romantic. I watch her look long into the mirror,

apply her fuchsia lipstick with a brush, watch her 

pucker, smack her lips, leave

crumpled paper towels lying along the edge of the sink.






That film was just a woman's perception 

of men. Her boyfriend was just a body 

to have

sex with. She was so boring. 

Who gave a crap about her? Even her denial was boring,

my son says as I pull out 

of the lot. Roger Ebert, I start to say 

when a car screeches, I crash into it,

the window glare blocks my view, 

I gasp. My heart pumps hard as I remember the way

 Charlotte Rampling ran to her car from the beach, 

screeching to a stop in front of the French police

station, frantic at first then strangely calm, 

the mask of her face filling the screen

believing her husband is dead, not believing

he is dead. I step out into the chill air, survey damage,

thankful it's just my headlight knocked out,

that the red-haired woman in the gray T-shirt is smiling, 

walking towards me, her massive, white SUV undamaged.

 My name is Ginger, she says, thrusting her hand towards me, 

her diamond bracelet shimmering in the cold light, her fat fingers

choked with rings. I think of Charlotte Rampling's ringless fingers,

how her hands floated briefly over the surface of her dead

 husband's desk. Ginger asks me questions I answer 

without thinking. I turn back to my car, to my son, feeling numb

and weak. I sink into the seat, clutch the wheel,

 force myself to focus on the road.





At home my son watches Fight Club for the sixteenth time.

He tells me how cool it is to watch the mind split in pieces

98% of the world wants to see violence, Mom.


I cook him pasta with red sauce the way Charlotte Rampling did, 

ask him if he noticed how she always 

made pasta when she cooked.

Yes, he says. And pasta makes me sick. I take out cold 

leftover chicken from the fridge, place it in the cracked 

yellow dish, watch him devour it in front 

of the green glow of the television set.





I stand behind the sofa where my son 

lies cracking ice between his teeth.

On the screen we see Edward Norton, an insomniac, 

living as a slave to the Ikea nesting instinct, 

at first searching through catalogues until sunrise

wondering what kind of dining set defines him as a person, 

then joining support groups for people with testicular cancer,

brain aneurysms, melanoma and parasites.

We see how the crying helps him sleep. He meets Helena 

Bonham Carter who also cannot sleep. Then he invents 

Brad Pitt who leads him with his tough gaze,

 jaw shrugged forward. Together they create Fight Club 

which escalates into Project Mayhem.





Phone rings. I leave the screen. Ginger calls 

to say she has whiplash after all and do I have a lawyer?






I remember Charlotte Rampling staring out at the sea 

from the window of her kitchen, the overcast blue of the sky 

almost identical to the blue of the sea, her white blouse, 

unimaginable thoughts as she lifts her hand to her face.






In the other room, Norton says he and Pitt are always 

sizing things up. They are building an army, trying to hit

bottom. Norton spits loose teeth out into a filthy 

sink in an abandoned building. Norton's apartment 

has been blown up, his prized Ikea collection demolished. 

He says self-improvement is masturbation.

He's through with catalogues. He's searing his own flesh 

with lye for amusement, living the anti-anti

 where nothing is solved but everything matters

sunk in a feast of self-mutilation, the saturated 

Techno blasts, magnifications of synapses to the brain, 

mitosis of cells and the microscopic details of hair 

on his head, ending with a gun barrel between his teeth,

speaking only in vowels. But the gun is in his own hand, 

so he shoots himself through the chin, 

realizing this is the only way to get rid of Brad Pitt 

who is part of him. Pitt dies before his eyes.

Norton is finally cured through this self-inflicted violence.

We are asked to believe that his schizophrenic split 

comes together from a gun 

for he holds Bonham Carter's hand 

by the window as they stand very close and calm, 

in the midst of Project Mayhem coming true, 

skyscraper after skyscraper 

crashing down in front of them.


This scene draws me back to the twin towers 

crumbling over and over, the searching for dead after.

I cannot watch the credits though I notice 

how the green glare rests on my son's face when he asks,

wasn't that fantastic?


I don't answer.


Instead I remember flying back to Manhattan

after the whole thing happened. I took a cab 

from LaGuardia, felt the usual blast of the city, 

only this time it was different. The echoes of the horns 

and sirens reached deeper as we drove past the

wounded western stretch of lower Manhattan. I told the cab driver 

how sad it made me feel seeing the towers' absence.

He started to cry. He said he almost died that day. 

He was on his way to Chase Manhattan Bank 

when the crash happened. His best friend died.

He cried and cried, tossing a coin at the toll booth slot, 

driving through the deep grime of Queens, 

drenched in a gathering drizzle and American flags 

strewn from the balconies and windows of the tenements.

By the time we got to Canal Street the driver had to stop 

the cab. He lowered his head in his hands. I stared through

his convulsing shoulders hunched over the wheel. I felt trapped

in the cab with the black night outside me, 

with the moldy smell of old leather from my seat filling my nostrils. 

Drops of rain dripped onto my face through the crack

in the window. The smell of deep grime and gasoline leaked through 

like a message of safety as the whoosh of traffic seeped into

the sounds of his weeping. The shops of lower Manhattan, 

 the bantering teenagers reeling on the corner drunk, 

while the driver, Ibrahim, ranted on and on about his brother 

and sister and mother in Egypt, all the words 

insistent as the increasingly persistent rain 

outside us, his tape player wailing songs in Arabic.

I think of Charlotte Rampling weeping and shrieking 

when she sees her dead husband's corpse, his bloated face

eaten away, so long under water, wearing the same watch, 

the same hands. Crying and screaming she starts to laugh,

then shout, It isn't him! It isn't him! Was the translation 

from the French. And the next shot 

is of her working out at the gym.






Wake up, Mom. Wake up, Mom, says my son. Why can't you answer?


I try to bring myself back to where we are, 

to say something to him about the film. 

But I get up instead, carry the dishes 

back to the kitchen. 

Saturday Night Live begins to blare

on the screen.


I lean against the cold of the sink, then feel moved

to turn and see 

the chicken thighs and wings

stripped of meat, planted beneath the hissing

 light, sinews glowing, gizzards decomposing, 

two bulbs missing.