Reverse Documentary

Dino is a documentary filmmaker, haunted by the ghost of his ex-girlfriend who was killed in a car crash while with another man. As Dino shoots his latest documentary on the vandalism occurring in the woods of his hometown, he tries to move on from her unexpected death. But when his life starts to look up, the ghost encroaches on his property. The focus of the film begins to blur as the lens of the camera shifts onto Dino, the director succumbing to his ghostly obsession.

 

The ghost was easy to see but hard to describe. An anonymous color, like the shine of a coin found in sunlight. Dino used this color to brighten the eye of a deer on the poster for his documentary. He didn’t speak to the ghost or talk about her to anyone. He assumed the ghost was Jennifer because he’d lived in the house alone for several years without any issues and because no one else he loved had died. His space was indoors, away from her. He didn’t acknowledge her existence (when he walked to his car in the driveway, when he checked the mail) though he knew she was there.

Inside the house, Dino spent his time studying an animated film. The film was about a tired chef who travels with her oven to another galaxy looking for companionship and purpose. The oven talks and bakes without gas or electricity. The film was mostly silent and animated in dark colors—browns, burgundy, and yellowed whites. There was a scene where an extraterrestrial places an object inside the oven while it sleeps. The morning—when the oven wakes and discovers he has charred the object—is Dino’s favorite scene. The expression of shame on the oven’s face is rendered perfectly. The window of the oven door collapses slightly. The black numbers on the knobs, his eyes, suddenly appear messy and amateurish, as though the animator had drawn them with a bleeding magic marker. He invariably thought of Jennifer when the oven’s moment came. The police had delivered the news of her death. She’d been in a car accident with another man. The news was confusing, as though it had happened many decades ago, to a stranger. Red sedan, the officers said, as though it was the most boring detail of the story, not the surprise twist.

The ghost showed up six months after Jennifer’s death, seven months before the film festival. She spent her time outside in Dino’s front yard. Trees bordered the property. There, in front of the fire pit, she built mud sculptures—Earth and Jupiter, a sleeping bear covered in grass, a baby elephant, a book with raised words, a naked woman with patches of lichen. Beyond that was the road where the neighbor’s dog sometimes loitered. The dog came by during daylight when the ghost didn’t shine as strong.

 

Dino filmed part of his documentary in an abandoned building, five stories tall with an iron spiral staircase that led to the roof. The film did not feature an ashamed oven; it was about vandalism in the woods. He shone an LED light on Wade for the interview. Wade had a good face for film: calm blue eyes, a satiny forehead. A rugged beard and blond hair like trampled reed grass. He wore jeans and a T-shirt and drank from a water bottle.

 

 

Video

FADE UP Forest

 

MEDIUM SHOT Trunk and vasculature of branches painted white with repeating pattern of black antennas. Trunk with letters “RBER” looped thickly in orange.

CLOSE-UP Soil.

 

 

MS Wade sitting in armchair on roof, touching beard. Black sky behind him.

Audio

MUSIC UP Solo violin

 

VOICE OVER

The graffiti on the trees is escalating. The excess is being deposited in the soil: fine, bright purple and yellow grains as if someone has coughed up rare sugar.

 

“There’s a girl I want you to meet,” Wade said. His thumb twitched in the shot. Dino kept the film rolling. “My cousin Alexis. She moved here a few weeks ago. I think you’d like the things she says.”

“Her new hobby is pertinent to this film, though it’s not exactly a hobby,” Wade continued. “She’s been washing the paint off the tree trunks.”

“What did she come here for?”

“Why does anyone go anywhere? To have a place to go back to.” Wade took a long sip of water and stared directly into the camera. “Tell me how Jennifer left you.”

This was a reverse documentary. Sometimes Dino answered the questions.

“She didn’t leave me,” Dino said. “She cheated on me. The police told me. They said she was dead and explained the circumstances. I never met the man she was with in the car.”

“Do you ever think about approaching him?”

“I’ve thought about it. I’ve pictured myself sitting at a table across from him.”

“What would you say to him?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think I’d say anything. I’d just look at him and see.”

“See what?”

Dino stopped rolling and stepped to the side of the camera. “I’d like to ask Alexis how she washes the trees. I’d like to film her doing it.”

“Good. She’s a nice girl,” Wade said.

Wade was a historian. He was an expert in whatever Dino needed and accompanied Dino on set. He’d been working on an anthology of old photographs from several forest conservation societies and encouraged Dino to take on the task of filming the documentary when the vandalism began more than a year ago. Dino applied for a grant from a fund that supported social and environmental films. He’d produced independent documentaries in the past, mostly biographies on local celebrities (the mayor; the owner of a two-hundred-year-old house). After Jennifer’s death, he’d needed a distraction; something contemporary, uncomplicated.

But then Wade started asking Dino personal questions on camera. At first Dino felt uncomfortable. He was used to prying questions, it was part of his job, but he’d never been on the receiving end of them. There was something fitting about Wade’s deflections, though—that point on how the artist can never be completely removed from the frame. Dino was unsure of how his life was affecting the film. He felt a pull to respond, as though speaking would help to clarify things. He could always cut the audio later.

 

Video

MS Tree warden standing in front of tree.

 

SUBTITLE: Autumn 2015

 

 

 

 

CU Branches painted as plaited rope.

 

 

 

 

MS Workers felling tree. Branches tumbling down.

 

 

 

 

 

Camera shakes. CU Dino’s feet in sneakers, standing in red soil.

Audio

VOICE OVER

Tree warden Hoyt Sherman has ordered the removal of a diseased oak, known by locals as the Roper.

 

FX: Worker’s chainsaw

 

HOYT SHERMAN

Trees have tiny openings called lenticels, kind of like human nostrils. When they’re clogged with paint, they can’t breathe.

 

WADE

Why did you avoid Jennifer’s mother at the funeral?

 

FX: Chainsaw fades out.

 

DINO

I didn’t know what to say to her. I didn’t want to deal with seeing my girlfriend’s mother survive. I didn’t want to be a visitor at her house or be her ally. I didn’t want her to remember to call me.

 

 

Dino took Alexis on a walk through the woods. She wore brown shorts and hiking boots with socks pulled up mid-calf. A yellow braid curled inside the hood of her sweatshirt. Her forehead was like Wade’s, abruptly sloped and satiny. Dino offered her gum, but she said she didn’t like peppermint.

“So what flavor toothpaste do you use?” he said.

“Strawberry,” she said.

They didn’t say much else for a while. In a bucket she mixed a soil plaster, then she covered the painted trees with it. She scrubbed the old trees with a wire brush, soap, and water. He asked her how she knew which tree needed what and she said it wasn’t scientific; when her hand got tired, she switched to a different method. He filmed her washing the bright peach face of a baby wearing sunglasses off the bark. It took her twenty minutes.

“How long have you been fighting vandalism?” he said.

“Four days. Wade has been talking about the film. I haven’t been able to find a job yet, so I decided to make myself useful.”

They took a break against an unpainted tree. Dino pulled out sandwiches and two bottles of beer from his backpack. Alexis was a messy eater (mustard everywhere) but he liked it.

She didn’t care about impressions, didn’t wipe the mustard from her mouth or hands while eating her sandwich. She held her beer with slippery fingers, and with yellow lips told Dino this bizarre story: When she was seventeen, a man with pale blue skin walked into the movie theater where she worked. It was just before Halloween, but the man was alone and dressed in regular clothes. The blue resembled real skin, not makeup, and he had a decent haircut. He handed Alexis a ten-dollar bill with words scribbled in black ink along the margins. She couldn’t read the language, although there was one English word, “catalysis,” mixed into one of the sentences. She stole the bill and studied it, tried to decipher the language. Over the years she sent photos of it to professional linguists, but everyone told her the words were gibberish. She didn’t believe them. Sometimes, she read the words like a chant or a spell and waited for bad things to happen.

“Do you believe in coincidences?” she said.

“I believe they’re random, if that’s what you mean,” he said. “Do you mean to ask if I believe in fate?” He pulled her hand away from her sandwich and wiped it with a napkin.

“What I mean is, do you think absolutely anything can happen?”

“Yes,” he said. “There’s something happening right now.”

“What’s that?” She leaned close to him and smiled, her eyes wide blue boats.

“I live with a ghost.”

“Your place is haunted?”

“No, it’s not haunted. The ghost just hangs out in the yard. Like a landscaper. I think it’s my ex-girlfriend.”

She straightened herself and seemed to be processing the information. She took a sip of her beer, then pointed her finger at him. “How do you know the ghost is female?”

“I don’t know.”

“Does she get jealous?”

“I don’t know. I don’t talk to her. She’s a sculptor. My ex was an artist, not a sculptor, but she painted realistic scenes of animals and people in nature.”

Alexis set down her beer. “Take me to your house,” she said.

 

Video

LONG SHOT Two criminals climbing a tree with backpacks.

 

 

 

LS Criminals painting tree at night. Unable to see tree in darkness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FADE TO BLACK

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FADE UP LS Sunrise. Tree appears in colors.

Audio

MUSIC UP: Accelerated xylophone duet

 

WADE

Did you ever suspect her secrets?

 

DINO

We were vacationing in Fajardo Bay. The mutts run in packs there, most of them with a crippled limb or missing half an ear. I told her not to touch them; they’re dirty. She said, “They’re island dogs,” as if that made it okay. She stroked their fur and told them she’d come roam with them in another life, trade her ponytail in for a dog stump.

 

WADE

And this made you suspicious?

AMBIENT SOUND

 

DINO

She hadn’t touched me in weeks. I’d never seen her like this with an animal. There’s nothing special about petting a dog, but it seemed like I didn’t know her. Maybe not that, but there was something off about how gentle and happy she was. I wasn’t happy. Maybe I was finally noticing the gap.

 

 

Dino visited the cemetery on a weekday. He unfolded a lawn chair on the grass in front of Jennifer’s gravestone and stripped down to his swimming trunks. A single brown strand of hair clung to the embossed J, floating like a post-party streamer. He raised his beer in a toast. The toast was silent and appeared to be in honor of Jennifer but it wasn’t. It was a starting gun for his afternoon. He reclined and pointed his face up at the sun and that was it for a long while.

The sun shone forcefully. A sharp line formed along the edge of his trunks. Five green beer bottles were clumped in a pile at his feet. He rolled his bare foot over an empty one. He imagined Jennifer inside it. She was swaying into the rolls, her hips in perfect balance. He rolled until the bottle clinked against her stone. Here lies Jennifer. Who believed everyone has the capability to do a perfect split. Who stole things so deftly, you never knew the item was once yours.

He was about to open a sixth bottle when he noticed a woman standing a few feet to his right, observing him. He looked at her and tilted his head down slowly, then left it there as if stuck. She began to stuff dead bouquets into a trash bag. She had gray hair pulled into a loose bun that wobbled on her head as she worked. The grass shook around his ankles and he thought he caught Jennifer’s scent in the breeze—a mixture of chicken soup and fresh-cut stems. He closed his eyes and inhaled. When he opened them, the woman stood in front of him.

“You’re the guy from the woods,” the woman said. “I’ve seen you. You painted the Blaze Tree.”

“That wasn’t me.”

She stared at him. “I hiked there yesterday. You were wearing goggles and that hat.” She pointed to the gray baseball cap with the red stitched S on Dino’s head.

“You shouldn’t hike alone.” He took off his sunglasses.

The woman turned toward the gravestone. “Was this your wife?” she said.

“No. A girl I loved, but not my wife.”

“My father’s over there.” She pointed to the hillside stones, the ones slanting at awkward angles like vestigial teeth. She turned back to Jennifer’s stone. “She was young. Do you always drink at your lover’s grave?”

“I have a new lover,” he said. He scanned the cemetery horizon as though Alexis might appear. He wanted to find her, go to her, or have her come to him, but he couldn’t leave.

The woman studied his pink chest for a moment as if trying to mind-change its color. “Doesn’t look like it. You need some sunscreen? I have some back in my car.”

Dino refused her offer.

“Your tree doesn’t look like the others. It’s less professional, but I like it.”

“It wasn’t me.”

“Okay,” the woman said. She started for the hill.

 

Dino was no longer able to watch his animated film at home. The TV turned itself off and on whenever he tried to watch anything. At times, the living room resembled a lightning storm, the air turning humid as the channels flipped through themselves.

When he washed the dishes, his chest expanded and he felt like a kite was being flown inside him. Something moved about with a violent whipping, then it went smooth. After it stopped, he stayed at the sink for a long while, hoping it would happen again.

 

Video

LS Woods bordering the property of Dino’s house at dusk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ZOOM OUT Silhouettes of the ghost’s mud sculptures visible.

Audio

FX: Light wind. A dog barks.

DINO

People think I’m one of the ones vandalizing.

 

WADE

Are you?

 

DINO

I want to be.

 

VOICE OVER

Mud sculptures can be mixed with rocks and plants to create living pieces of art. To promote moss growth on the sculpture, moss can be blended with yogurt and water to make a “moss milkshake” and spread on the surface. The living sculpture transforms with the seasons. Spring can be the most breathtaking, the time for fresh blooms, restoration.

 

 

Dino leaned into Alexis, naked against the Flag Tree. Her hair was snarled in the strips of bark like moss. Her glasses bumped his nose. She had specks of dirt on her cheeks, large pores and a pointy chin. He loved her big teeth. He pulled down her bottom lip to view them.

The tree was freshly painted. A young girl had done it, maybe fifteen, less than five feet tall, dressed in spring camouflage. They had watched her scale the branches and sweep bands of colors across them. She painted a yellow ring around the roots, blue arrows pointing in conflicting directions. They didn’t try to speak to her. When she finished, she waved to the camera and ran off.

And then Alexis had led him to the tree. She took off her clothes and Dino’s.

“Leave the camera on,” she said. She pulled him close against her.

“I don’t think documentaries have sex scenes,” Dino said.

“This isn’t a sex scene. These are things that happen in the woods. The life of the woods. Isn’t that what you’re filming?”

 

Video

MS Alexis standing away from tree. Her hair and back is covered in paint, imprints of blue and yellow alarms. Permanent shadow on tree.

 

MS Alexis walking toward camera. She dismounts camera from tripod.

TRACKING SHOT Alexis walking toward Dino.

CU Dino’s face.

Audio

AMBIENT SOUND

 

 

 

 

FX: Crunching of leaves

 

 

 

ALEXIS

Let’s go back to your house. I want to make your ghost jealous.

 

DINO

I don’t like it when you’re there.

 

ALEXIS

You mean she doesn’t like it when I’m there. How does she make you feel when I’m there?

 

DINO

When you’re there, it feels like the world is ending. When you’re gone, it feels like the world is beginning.

 

ALEXIS

I don’t like that. We need to change that. Take me to your house.

 

This was a reverse documentary. It didn’t always stick to the cause. Dino couldn’t tell who it was he didn’t want seen, Alexis or the ghost. He didn’t know what he was hiding, if he was hiding anything. He didn’t want his house to feel like Jennifer was still in it.

 

Wade helped Dino edit the footage. Together, they sequenced the clips and made notes. Wade contended that the goal of the film was becoming unclear. Initially, it was about the survival of the woods. The history of the forest, its slow destruction, the efforts to preserve it. But now the damage in the woods was beginning to look less like vandalism, more like architecture or a theme park. Dino and Alexis had favorites.

“This film is getting to me,” Wade said. “Those kids aren’t hiding anymore. I see them at all hours of the day, ruining our woods. The police don’t do anything. We need someone on this side to take action.” He pulled his hands toward his chest as though gesturing for someone to come over.

Dino made no attempt to hide the clip of them having sex. He wasn’t indifferent to Wade’s reaction; he was just too caught up in studying his own expression. Like the oven in the animated film, there was something perfect about his eyes and his mouth, but he didn’t know what it was. He wasn’t in love with Alexis. Something nostalgic about his face, and now that he saw it on screen, he remembered having felt it as he pushed against her, as he kissed her. Nostalgia.

“You can’t put this in the film,” Wade said as he watched them.

“It was her idea,” Dino said. “You introduced me to her. Nice girl, like you said. You don’t have to watch.” He fast-forwarded through the scene.

“She’s been acting a little strange lately,” Wade said.

Dino sensed Wade was waiting for him to ask about it, so he did. He didn’t like the tension that was creeping in between them. Wade said he’d met Alexis for lunch at Thai Villa. They were talking, the waiter came over to ask them if they needed anything else, and then out of nowhere she chucked a handful of noodles at the waiter’s face. They got kicked out of the restaurant.

Dino laughed and stopped on a frame of Alexis scrubbing the face of a deer painted art deco style. Its soapy eye gleamed like a punctured light bulb.

“She was upset,” Wade continued. “She said something moved her arm, that it wasn’t her. It was, but it wasn’t.”

“Do you believe her?” Anxiety rose from Dino’s voice. The ghost had stayed in the yard for the most part. Only recently had the shine moved indoors. He didn’t think the ghost was dangerous, but he still didn’t want her going near Alexis.

“Let me show you something,” he continued. He fast-forwarded to a clip set inside his kitchen. The camera was focused on the sink. The water was running, steam rising from the basin. The screen had a strange layer of light, like the room had its own visible ozone.

“Why did you film your kitchen sink?” Wade said.

“You don’t see the shine?”

“Yes, it looks a little shiny. What is that?” Wade sat back in his chair and folded his arms.

“It’s Jennifer. Ask Alexis about it.”

 

Video

MS Wade loading split wood from a pile into the bed of his truck.

Audio

FX: Thump of wood on contact

 

DINO

How many trees have you saved from destruction?

 

WADE

It’s too soon to tell. It takes years for trees to die from this kind of damage.

 

DINO

What you’re saying is, some might survive, despite the graffiti?

 

WADE

Yes, that’s true. The vandals are interested in results. The naturalists are interested in effort.

 

DINO

There are many who would disagree with you, including me.

 

WADE

That’s because of the way you lost Jennifer. You’ll always care about the aftermath.

 

 

Alexis was locked out of the house. Dino tried to let her in, but the lock wouldn’t turn. The windows wouldn’t open. The rain began to fall horizontally, like an alternate sky existed to the left. They had to wait it out.

Ingredients for soup were arranged on the kitchen counter. Extra-virgin olive oil, cilantro, lemons. Chopped tomatoes, carrots, a whole chicken defeathered and sheared. Dino cooked into the afternoon, following the crinkled recipe taped to the cabinet by the stove. The shine changed directions and spun near the ceiling like a mobile. The house felt warm and moist like spring.

Alexis withstood the rain. Dino watched her through the front window. She hauled soaked logs into the fire pit to pass the time. He tried the door again, but it wouldn’t budge. Not knowing what else to do, he cleaned up the kitchen. He rinsed the cutting board and wiped down the counter. As he washed the dishes, he felt his chest expand. Not the sensation of a flying kite, but something warm and windy and light by itself. Dino grabbed the camera and filmed himself.

He filmed Alexis, too, through the window as she threw her wet shirt on the ground. Her hair spilled down in ropes. She added mud to the softened bear and elephant, keeping herself busy until, after three hours, the lock finally turned. Dino guided her inside and dried her clothes. He fed her soup, then sat her down and replayed the video of himself. He pointed to the screen and tried to explain what was happening, like a lesson.

“I don’t see anything,” she said. “You’re just standing there.”

He made her look more closely. She insisted there was nothing. But he could see his organs were being lit up. He was warm and windy and lit inside.

“Alexis, go home,” he said.

She protested, saying this was just what the ghost wanted, that she hadn’t spent hours in the rain for the fun of it, it wasn’t even about him anymore, she didn’t even want to stay in the creepy house or be in his film, she was just trying to win the game. She wasn’t born on this earth to have some supernatural girl take over everything.

She stayed that night, slept curled up on the couch. In his bedroom alone, Dino hoped the shine would light up. But he slept in darkness all night. He dreamt of a white dim glow, like bulb-light, but when he woke it was morning. The dream was just the sun.

 

Video

MS Wade sitting in armchair on rooftop. Purple bruise over right eye.

CAMERA STAYS ON WADE

Audio

DINO

Did the vandals give you that?

 

WADE

Alexis told me you’re scared of her. She said you try not to show it, but whenever she visits your house you become nervous and constantly look out the window. You shut yourself in your room and won’t come out until she leaves. When she leaves you call her and immediately ask her to return.

 

DINO

What happened to your eye?

 

WADE

It’s none of your business.

 

DINO

It’s everyone’s business. That’s the point of this.

 

WADE

I don’t trust you. I don’t trust this film. I don’t want you seeing Alexis anymore.

 

 

Alexis told Dino she was pregnant. She said, “I don’t feel ready to be a mother. Are you ready to be a father?” Dino found himself wanting the baby more than anything he’d ever wanted in his whole life. He thought that when she was born (he was sure it was a girl), he would do all sorts of things that had never been done with babies before. He wanted to synchronize his breathing with her for all time, take her sailing around the world, learn French together. He wanted to grow all her favorites in little ceramic pots—her favorite color, fruit, song, book—they’d all be grown from scratch in the soil, alive in the house. He would choose the baby’s name from the paintings on the trees. He would film the baby’s second everything—her first word or first step would not be momentous; he’d commemorate her seconds instead. She’d grow up knowing first times are not the most special, so she would always look toward the future.

“You want to keep the baby, don’t you?” Dino said.

“That’s not up for debate. I’m keeping it.”

Dino ran his hand down the side of Alexis’s head. “That’s not what I meant. We’re keeping the baby. I want her too.”

 

In eight months Alexis will move to Denver alone. The three of them are at Dino’s house the day she leaves. Alexis is rocking the baby in her arms. She hears a knock on the front door. Dino is in the shower, unable to answer. She walks to the door, stepping around boxes piled on the floor. She looks through the peephole and sees nothing. She returns to the couch and talks to the baby. She feels moisture on her lips as she kisses the baby’s forehead. Dino walks out of the hallway dressed in jeans and a ragged T-shirt. His hair is wet and he begins to seal a cardboard box with tape. He asks why the front door is open. Alexis looks back at the door and says she doesn’t know. She gets up intending to close it, but something else happens. She hands the baby to Dino. She walks to the door. She feels the warmth of sunlight on her skin. Something urges her to walk outside. Her fingers are on the doorframe. She steps into the shining sun. The lock will turn. Dino will be unable to prevent it. Alexis will be unable to stop herself from doing things she does not want to do.

 

Alexis, seven months pregnant, was on her hands and knees scrubbing Dino’s kitchen floor, the tip of her braid dangling and brushing against some telekinetic tomato splatter. The walls of the kitchen were spotted with small circles of heat. They could press their palms in particular areas and feel warmth coiled and dense like studs. The appliances were slick with humidity. New water stains appeared on the ceiling overnight.

Dino was pacing the living room.

“The ghost has got to go,” Alexis said. She threw the rag in the sink and joined Dino. She paced alongside him, then picked up speed.

“How do we get rid of her?” he said.

“Maybe you’ve got to go. Move out of this house. Move in with us.” She stopped and placed her hands on the crest of her stomach. He knelt down and placed his ear against it.

“What’s she saying?” she said.

“She says she has blue hair and brown eyes. She likes it when you eat apples. And she thinks we’re both ugly.”

“She can’t even see us.”

“She hears our voices and we sound ugly to her.”

Alexis touched Dino’s chin. “Don’t avoid my question. Will you live with us?”

Dino stood up. “Yes. I’ll leave this house when the baby’s born.”

 

Dino opened the cooler by the gravestone. The sandwich was nestled between bottles at the bottom. Dino rummaged through the melting ice to retrieve it. When he finished eating, he pulled out a folding toothbrush from his pants pocket. He wet the bristles in ice water and reached for Jennifer’s limestone name, then vigorously brushed the vowels and consonants. When the J was clean, he fell back in his chair and watched the field of graves till he fell asleep.

 

The documentary won a nomination at the film festival. Wade and Dino sat together at the award ceremony. The host was announcing the nominees for Best Short Nonfiction Film. He wore a tux with a bowtie and stressed the middle words of sentences. He clasped his hands together onstage. Wade leaned over and said, “You’ll never be a part of the family,” and patted Dino on the back as the applause detonated and their names were called. The clip shown to the audience was one of Alexis washing red letters off an oak with her brush. She was kneeling beside a soapy bucket. As she washed she explained the damage the paint could do to the layers of bark. When people recommended the documentary to their friends they said the film made them feel like “I’d crawled inside myself and filled all the crevices. Like I was weighing myself down to the ground and becoming a new and heavier adaptation.”

 

Vegetation covered the surfaces of the mud sculptures on the front lawn. Earth and Jupiter evolved into green unidentifiable worlds. The bear and elephant and naked woman appeared animate. The book with raised words disappeared. The neighbor’s dog stopped loitering near the edge of the property. The trees in the woods popped brighter than flowers. The vandals exposed themselves completely, now celebrities, and no one stopped them from coloring the thick trunks.

 

Alexis trimmed the grass on the mud animals. She gathered broken twigs from the front lawn and recycled them in the woods. She ignored the shine on the ground, how it anticipated each of her steps. She removed the water stains from Dino’s walls and ceiling with a mixture of baking soda and vinegar. The house locked and unlocked itself. The fetus grew.

 

Dino introduced Alexis to Jennifer’s mother. He was unsure why. Perhaps to show her how well he was moving on. She had hugged Alexis and congratulated the couple. The three of them sat in a café beaming at each other, pretending the meeting wasn’t awkward. As Dino watched Jennifer’s mother, her lips pressed together in complicated cheerfulness, her weight slightly slumped in the steel-colored chair, he was reminded of the man Jennifer had been with and the vehicle he survived in. He saw the man sitting across from him in place of the mother, smiling at Dino and Alexis and pretending to understand.

 

Dino had wanted Wade to ask him this on film: When you are infatuated with someone, do you know what you’re doing? Are you in autonomic love? Are you in repeat-mode indefinitely? Why are you doing things for nothing, like sitting in your house thinking of her? You do that for nothing. Doesn’t absence make it worse? How do you get rid of something that is already gone, when the ignorance it needs is the very thing that wastes you?

 

In one year, Dino will receive mail addressed to the baby. Tucked inside the envelope is Alexis’s ten-dollar bill, the writing undecipherable. There is a letter telling the baby to never believe what people say is the truth; to always find out for herself. The letter says how much her mother loves her. Her mother hopes the baby will one day want to find her. Dino gives the baby the letter as soon as she learns to read.

 

Video

FADE IN EXT HOUSE Bright green lawn. Mud sculptures in full bloom. Fire pit converted into flower garden. Iron knocker (bull’s-eye missing its concentric circles).

 

FADE UP INT HOUSE Jars on shelves filled with spices. Ceramic pots on windowsill containing children’s books and yellow objects.

 

CU Warmth hanging from walls in soggy, bestial shapes.

 

TRACKING SHOT Kitchen to living room to bedroom.

 

LS EXT HOUSE Yellow, white, orange light flickering through windows.

Audio

VOICE OVER

The baby will be named Iris. She’ll have brown hair and blue eyes. Dino will adore her. She never knows her mother.

 

VOICE OVER

Iris and Dino will talk to the ghost. They’ll tell it jokes and fluff the curtains when they think the ghost is hiding behind them. Occasionally after a nap, they’ll wake to find a treat by their heads—a juice box, a cold beer. The air in the house stays wet like spring.

 

 

 

VOICE OVER

The ceiling fans will spin the breeze whenever they want to. The shine will change colors.

 

“Reverse Documentary” copyright © 2016 by Marisela Navarro

Art copyright © 2016 by Cornelia Li

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