Photo by Larisa Birta

I don’t know what I’m supposed to be looking at, but I know that I’m supposed to look pretty while looking. Maybe it’s just the smoke I’m focused on, the smoke wafting through the air from off camera. Maybe this is a smoke plant. Maybe they make smoke here, the same way that factories in music videos once manufactured nothing but sparks. I’m not sure, but I’m not being paid to be sure; I’m being paid to hold one hand to my throat and the other atop my lap. I’m being paid to wear a white dress too pristine for these graffitied walls, to sit upon dirty steps and play the part of the only pure thing left. I’m being paid to clutch my thighs together beneath the skirt, but to splay my legs apart below the knees. The director saw this in a movie once and swears that it conveys a sense of demureness despite every evidence on the contrary, from the v-neck to the bare shoulders to the strappy heels.

I think he’s full of shit, but I’m also being paid, I suppose, to keep that opinion to myself. An unwritten rule, that one. But one that you learn if you want to work. At least if you want to work more than once.

So, I keep my lips sealed and I stare at the smoke, and all the words I want to say pile up in my mouth and arrange themselves in such a way that he is saying ‘Yes, that’s the look’ to me again and again. Is it a smirk? Is it a bitchy resting face? I don’t know. But he sounds pleased. And for now, for now that’s enough.

The car payment’s due tomorrow, rent the day after that, and I’ve got two voicemails and a text from Mama’s nursing home to return before the week is out. So, I take every sleazy little ‘Yes’ he gives me and I put it in the pocket I imagine for myself, the pocket this dress doesn’t have. Every grunt of assent is another check that I can cash.