If I were a better writer, or perhaps a better viewer, I could possibly make a livejournal post about the objectification of women, and how Antonioni does it, or how Antonioni doesn't do it, and how the red buildings are somehow important to the juxtaposition of fantasy-London-1960s--where I have never been--and real-London-1960s--where I have also never been.
"I don't even know if it was real anymore," he says while sprawled on the floor in Bill's studio one night a week later with the fog of Mary-Jane in his head and the Yardbirds on the stereo. There's paint getting on his shirt, because Bill is dripping patterns on a canvas next to him, taps of the brush in air and plip, plip, plip, like rain shaking off leaves.
Bill walks around the canvas to his side, reaching over him to keep the paint on the canvas, instead of the viewer. "It isn't the center of your life," he says, finally.
There isn't a good answer for that, so he leaves Bill to work and heads back to the studio. He does better shoots when the edge is off, anyway.
Blink and they're lovers.
Blink and they're fighting.
Blink and she set him up to be killed.
Blink and he watches her run away down the park.
Bill walks around the canvas to his side, reaching over him to keep the paint on the canvas, instead of the viewer. "It isn't the center of your life," he says.
"You think you have a claim to that, then, do you?"
Bill looks down at him, not quite angry, not letting him get away with it. He squirms. "Sometimes I don't think you have a center. Just bits hung around the edges." His wrist jerks, and paint spatters in a line.
He can't hang anything on Bill; that's the thing about Bill. He's an artist, and Thomas is an artist, and it's as though there's nothing connecting them through their art.
"Of course it was real," Thomas says after a minute's thought. "I had the photos to prove it."
"Photos aren't proof," Bill says. "Or if they are, they aren't art. You can't have it both ways."
Bill and Patricia have sex, when they have sex, on a king-sized mattress on the floor in their bedroom, which leaves very little room for anything else in there with them. Thomas and Patricia have sex, if they have sex, on the floor of his studio, under the lights, in the backseat of his Rolls.
Blink and they never had sex.
"Of course it was real," Thomas says after a minute's thought. "I was there, I saw the body."
"You didn't take any photos," Bill says.
"I've been sleeping with Patricia," Thomas says.
Bill looks down at him, condescending glare. "You think I don't know?"
The song on the stereo finishes, but the record skips. Thomas shakes his head and sits up, and Bill splashes him across the back of his shirt with red paint before he can get away.
He'd gone back to the park and the body had been gone. He was sure he'd seen a body. Photographed one.
Whenever he started to look too closely at reality, it fragmented, ran like paint on a wall.
The record skips. Bill lowers his paintbrush, goes to change it. There's a diagonal line of red dots across Thomas' shirt, now, plip plip plip like rain. "The light was wrong," he said. "I couldn't have shot it then, could I? Had to wait for daylight."
"You never stick around," Bill says. The song starts playing again.
Thomas starts unbuttoning his shirt. Bill watches him until he's got all the buttons undone and pulled the back out from his trousers before he steps over, leans down, and kisses him, smearing the paintbrush and the paint against his skin.
Thomas starts unbuttoning his shirt. Bill watches him. He's got it off by the time Patricia comes in.
"I can wash that," she says.
"It's all right," Thomas says. He holds it up over his head like a sail. "I can use it in a shoot."
She steps closer, leans over him to look at the canvas. "What's it about?"
Bill smiles, like it's an old joke. "Not sure yet."
She tilts her head to look at it from an angle. "It looks like that one photo Tom had."
Thomas tilts his head. Staring at the painting edge-on, it's an endless plane of splotches, every one out of focus until he looks at it.
"The photo showed something," he says. "You just couldn't see it anymore."
"There isn't anything in it," Bill says. "Not until you put it there."
He photographs living things. The birds are all living things, real, but he puts them in clothes and poses and rooms with sets of light and shadow until they aren't living things anymore. He has to get out before he can shoot real things, reality happening. He can't put that in a box in his flat.
Sometimes he wants to put Bill in a photo. Bill and Patricia, maybe. Framed by the doorway. The shutter snaps and they always will have been forever a happy couple. Blink and it's the truth. Blink and they're fighting. Blink and she runs away with the photographer.
"I don't put things in my photos," Thomas complains. "Not the real ones. I take things as they come."
"You know that's not true," Bill says. "There's always composition involved."
"But if you're looking at something true, that's what's there."
"No," Bill says. "There's truth, and the viewer, and the artist who put it together."
Sometimes he's just randy. Sometimes he just comes over, finds Bill staring at his paintings, without a brush, even, and loops his arms around Bill's waist and inhales turpentine and sweat from his neck. He and Bill have sex, when they have sex, amid paint-splatter and paint-thinner and paint-fumes and paint-haze and paint-dreams.
Sometimes he makes up stories.
"What if it wasn't real? What about the photos I took?"
"What photos?" Bill asks.
"I only saw the one," Patricia says.
The birds, the two birds, in stockings and dresses and then no stockings and no dresses and crinkling purple paper. "There were these two girls... they saw them."
"We're not accusing you, Tom," Patricia says, looking between her husband and her lover and the canvas and the floor like they tell a story. Husband to lover, canvas to floor. Blink and they're reversed. Blink and they never had sex.
He'd never taken the most important photographs.
Ron published the book, finishing on the still from the park, the blow-up. He was angry about the lack of negatives. They'd argued over the caption. They'd argued over the order of the other stills. He may have bought the junk shop, or at least the propeller. He used it as a prop in his next shoot, ultra-mod girls next to classic wooden lines, the paint-spattered shirt draped over it like a bloody flag.
"We're not accusing you, Tom," Patricia says, looking between him and Bill. Bill smirks and puts his paintbrush down, crosses to her, tilts her head back and kisses her. Thomas watches his paint-spattered fingers twine in her hair, smears of red and blue.
He looks away. They stop kissing. Bill looks down at him, he's sure, and says, "All it means is it doesn't matter if it happened or not. What you come away with is more important than what's there."
Thomas looks up. Patricia holds out her hand. He stands and drapes his ruined shirt around their shoulders, and they both grin, her first and then him, and pull him close.
Thomas and Bill and Patricia have sex, when they have sex, to remind each other about other people, to show each other the reason for art, to find a moment like a photograph when everything fits together. There are a million ways to reach each moment, and Thomas takes the pictures and doesn't know the meaning behind them, and Bill paints the pictures and doesn't know the images they make, and between them Patricia laughs and dances interpretation, from reality to art and back again.
Blink and it's the wrong interpretation.
Blink and it's the way you always remembered.