Title: Long exposure
Summary: He's been in Idaho, painting, since the start of fall, when the tamarack trees went golden.
Notes: Contains mentions of RL spouses and children.
By the beginning of winter Viggo can't put it off anymore. He's been in Idaho, painting, since the start of fall, when the tamarack trees went golden. Now they've dropped their needles, and the snow has begun to creep in patches into the foothills across the lake. He does need to see his agent about the script she sent the first week he was here. He'll be lucky if they haven't cast it already. It's about a man who has a kind of imaginary friend who is a rhinoceros. Done the wrong way it will be War Horse crossed with Night at the Museum, but there's something about it that he doesn't want to say no to. They'll have to fight it out between them, and then she'll have to go back to the director with his conditions, and so on.
So he gets on a plane, wearing heavy boots and a down jacket against the cold. Two hours later, the plane spirals down beneath a lemon-bright sun, over bone-dry, whitewashed Los Angeles suburbs. Even with his jacket draped over his arm, he's stifling hot in the terminal. It's a relief to take his boots off for the TSA. He decides not to put them back on again. When he gets on the Blue Bus out to Venice Beach, the driver looks him up and down and warns, "No fare, no ride!"
His place in Venice Beach has been shut up. He finds a three-month-old note from his housecleaner on the kitchen table, gone matte with dust. A spider has spun a web across half the kitchen window. He fills his tea-kettle gently from the faucet, taking care not to disturb it.
His agent, Jenny, takes him to dinner in Brentwood. They've been to the restaurant before: a place with fairy lights strung along a green-and-white awning, in a street cast into deep dark, even on a clear night, by massive redwoods. They ate outside last time, in summer, and they could easily do it again today; a jean jacket is keeping him warm enough.
He spots Jenny smoking under the awning out front. He's just about to cross the street to join her when he sees someone else.
It's Orlando. He's older: a masculine, adult weight to his thighs, a certain heft to his shoulders. Shaggy-haired, greying at the temples.
"Mate!" Orlando says. "'Allo-allo!" The deep creases at the corners of his eyes when he smiles are also new.
Viggo thinks of how when he looks in the mirror these days, his face looks like cedar bark no matter if he's smiling or not.
"Mate!" Viggo parrots, helpless.
They shake hands. Back in the day Orlando might have launched himself at him bodily.
It's been years. Viggo wouldn't have thought it would be like this to see him – like an electric shock.
They swap numbers. Viggo couldn't have told you what else they say to each other.
They drink take-out coffee on the cliff-top at Santa Monica. There's no fog this time of year; the horizon out over the sea is clean and blue.
Orlando's old army surplus jacket still makes him look slight, doe-eyed and the very opposite of warlike, and Viggo is still not sure if it's deliberate.
"I know you're a nutter and all," Orlando says, "but a CGI rhino film, for real?"
"We don't know it's a CGI rhino. They might have a little money. They might hire a real one."
"And that would be so much better, would it?" Orlando laughs. "Then you'd have to deal with the real one!"
Young Flynn is crouched on the grass behind them, investigating everything in sight, and then trying to put it in his mouth before Orlando can stop him. When Orlando pries a cigarette butt out of his little hand and hurls it six feet away, Flynn stands himself up wobblingly to protest. "Dada!" he says imperiously, then falls back down on his behind.
"You don't want that. It's disgusting," Orlando coaxes.
"Dada!" Flynn says, unimpressed.
"Don't worry too much," Viggo says. "Henry ate a cigarette butt once."
"You are not serious."
"Exene saw it happening, and she was all screaming and running. But she couldn't get there in time. He just swallowed it on down. He was fine!"
"I'm not so sure a baby that swallows a cigarette butt is fine," Orlando says, schoolmarmish.
"It came out in his nappy!" Viggo remembers it vividly – it had looked like nothing so much as a fossilised silkworm, with a band of gold foil around its neck. "It was kind of amazing. We had people over, and they all came in and checked it out."
"That's revolting!" Orlando goes cockney with indignation.
This is like the conversations they used to have ten years ago. Viggo once took Orlando out the back of a house he rented in New Zealand, late at night, to convince him that yes, he really was sculpting with chicken shit and straw in the disused chicken coop in the backyard. Orlando had wedged himself beside Viggo into the narrow doorway of the coop, and kissed him instead of looking. Then he complained he was going to get splinters, or tetanus, so Viggo took him inside and rolled around with him on the bed instead. That was the first time Orlando let him touch his cock. Afterwards the sheets had twisted bunches in them from Orlando clutching them in his fists, and Viggo photographed the bunches in black and white, close up.
Now Flynn has hold of a leaf, of which Orlando gently relieves him. "I have no idea how I'm going to cope when he starts walking," Orlando sighs. "He's going to toddle straight off a cliff and Miranda's going to divorce me."
"You'll get there," Viggo says. "Just in time for him to have moved on to the next thing."
"Thanks." Orlando aims a lazy kick towards his shins, which Viggo deflects.
"Better get a lawyer now."
Orlando's mouth is a perfect "O" of outrage.
From the corner of his eye, Viggo sees a hobo creeping over to pick up the cigarette butt Orlando threw away before. The guy catches Viggo's eye and flinches, but Viggo gives him a nod, and he carries on.
"Still the king of the hobos, then." Orlando laughs.
Orlando brushes his hands off. "You know, the more I think about what you told me about that script, the worse I think it is. You are not seriously going to take it. I mean, I would do a CGI rhino film for Peter Jackson or Ridley Scott. That's it."
"Somebody had to do rhino films with those guys when they were starting out. The more I think about it, the more I like it. I think I will."
"You're a lunatic," Orlando says fondly. "Anyway, I have to get this little chap off to daycare."
"All right," Viggo says.
Viggo would like to ask to see him again, but everything he would like to do while seeing him is impossible. So he doesn't ask.
Sometimes with Orlando, in New Zealand, Viggo worried that he might be exploiting him. Orlando was very young, and he would come around and deliberately interrupt Viggo, deliberately annoy him, to get his attention. Viggo was never fully sure whether the kind of attention he had given him had been what Orlando had in mind.
Women, and some men, had used to follow Orlando in the street long before anyone had seen him in movies. Viggo had never wanted to be one of those people, but he couldn't help understanding why they did it. When Orlando sucked his cock, Viggo made him do it slowly, so he could cup his jaw and stroke his soft throat as the muscles worked, so he could watch his raven's-wing eyelashes flutter on the curve of his cheekbones.
Sometimes with Orlando, because he was afraid he might be exploiting him, Viggo had to act like someone he wasn't. He had to be the person who told Orlando to maybe dial it down with all the hugging on set. He had to be the person who wouldn't have sex in the bathroom at the house party.
Orlando had ditched him at that house party, after the bathroom, and Viggo had thought he'd gone home. But at the end of the night, as Viggo was leaving, Orlando was standing across the street under a streetlight, a deep line of tension on his brow. When he saw Viggo, he turned and stalked away. Viggo jogged after him. Eventually it turned out that Viggo was a person who would suck Orlando till he sobbed on a swing set in a public playground at night.
Walking home, they were stopped by some cops in a patrol car and asked where they were going. They were New Zealand cops, so it came to nothing. But Orlando was still so upset, he did not even crack a smile when they shone a flashlight at Viggo's dirty knees.
Late that night, Viggo has all the lights off to photograph the spider on the kitchen window with a long exposure, when the doorbell rings.
It's Orlando, in a scruffy shirt, half-unbuttoned – no jacket. "How did I know?" he says. "With you the lights are off but somebody's home."
Viggo shows him in to the kitchen, offers him a beer. "Sorry about the dark. I'm shooting. There's a spider."
There is a silence. Orlando is standing close to him, his head tilted, almost trembling. His silhouette is a little strange – bulkier than it used to be, and the hair curlier. But it is unmistakeably his old posture of wanting Viggo to kiss him. It is like an electromagnet has been switched on – Viggo wants very badly to comply. A panic comes over him: has Orlando come over here to ask Viggo to help him cheat on his wife, fuck up his family?
"So, er," Orlando says. "I went to be see my boyfriend tonight, and so I was in the area and I thought I'd drop by."
"You have a boyfriend?" Viggo says, trying to keep his voice light. "I thought you were married."
"I'm not that kind of married."
"Oh," Viggo says, stupidly. "So the boyfriend?"
"He's not that kind of boyfriend, either. I mean, I could have another one." There is a quaver in his voice.
"I thought you brought Flynn today to warn me off."
"No. I wanted you to meet him."
"Oh," Viggo says.
The space between them has almost closed. He can smell Orlando's neck; it makes his own skin prickle.
This is not twelve years ago: Orlando does not stand there and tremble and wait for Viggo to decide. He pushes his fingers into Viggo's hair, holds him still and kisses him hard. Then he presses Viggo up against the bench, the better to get his hands under his shirt and onto his belly. He sighs into Viggo's collarbone.
Viggo lets himself luxuriate a little while: he licks Orlando's ear, cups his ass, snugs his thigh up between his legs . Orlando feeds him his tongue again.
Eventually he needs to pull away, and say, "I don't know if I can be your boyfriend. I have to go home in three days."
"Okay," Orlando says. "That's okay."
It turns out he still loves to be fucked really slow on his back, and kissed on the mouth the whole time, until he gets so worked up that the back of a finger trailed up the underside of his cock makes his eyes roll back in his head.
In Idaho, there's now snow on the ground at his place.
For a long time he did not look at the long exposure photo from the kitchen in Venice. He knew what would be in it.
The moment Orlando left that night, he wanted to go after him. Climbing the gangway onto the plane, he wanted to turn and come back down again. And most every day since he has had to talk to himself gently about how he has no reason to go back to LA this season. Clearly, not looking at it is doing him no good, so today he prints it, as large as his desktop printer will go.
In the picture, the spider moves in its web, delicately lit by starlight, just as he had hoped. But below it, fuzzy human figures flit through the frame. The camera has laid down many tissue-thin, transparent impressions of them as they move around the room. Two occasions of relative stillness stand out. The first is Orlando leaning against the centre island, his beer trailing from his hand. His features are a blur, but the peculiar beauty of the shape of his cocked hip is unmistakeable. The second is two figures in a clinch against the bench, merged into the shape of an artist's French curve.
He paints these shapes, but he paints them in ochre yellow and carnelian red, and probably not so that you could understand what you were seeing if you had not seen the photo.
On the third day of this project, he is sure his studio window has sprung a new draft, and he heads back toward the house to find some newspaper to pack it with.
At first, he doesn't recognise the figure in the yard, hopping from foot to foot. Orlando is so rugged up under his army jacket, he's almost round. "Do you want to run lines, then?" he calls. "I'll be the rhino."
"Maybe I want to be the rhino," Viggo says.
He does not finish that painting, in the end, till summer.