November is all about favourites, and so here are a few of our very own favourite things. The following piece is from Jack.
I attempted writing a lengthy explanation of how this might fit into this month’s category but in truth I don’t feel that I need to explain to anyone bare fact that fan-fiction is fucking tremendous, and misguided, problematic fan-fiction is perhaps the most terrific thing ever wrought by humans.
This is my attempt, and it is my first attempt, at fan fiction. Please note that I have not seen, beyond its furthest periphery, the film Salt (2010) upon which this story is based but, from what I know of most fan-fiction, this is a minor inconvenience at worst. – Jack
Agent Salt Makes Mistakes
Agent Salt (Angelina Jolie) first realised she was drunk as she was talking to a man at her table whose entire natural jaw had been removed, many years earlier, by Korean scientists.
“It was a routine procedure to see whether I was an American spy,” droned the man’s computerised voice. It came out of a device inside his wheelchair, not out of the powdery-looking prosthetic jaw that hung slightly slack from his real face. “Which I was. So it was very prudent of them. Ha. Ha.”
Salt watched his face and nodded and then grinned when she realised he’d made what he apparently assumed was a joke.
“Totally different culture,” she said. “I imagine.”
She smiled at the man’s wife, a Vietnamese national whose name Salt hadn’t caught. It was a nice thought that his Eastern adventures had ended with at least some degree of happiness.
“Aren’t you drinking tonight?” Salt asked her.
The man’s wife swung her eyes around on Salt slowly but didn’t answer and for a while there was silence between them and they were all sitting quietly in the middle of the ball-room hubbub, together. The thought occurred to her that the woman’s jaw might also be false and that it was simply her husband’s turn to use the chair. She realised for the second time that she was feeling drunk.
Before the man could finish typing in a new sentence to break the silence, a commotion started on stage as the Chief of Operations (David Huddleston) went to make his speech. Salt stood up to get another drink.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, “I haven’t really had any dinner.”
“Good evening,” said the Chief. “Good evening.
Salt had only been devastatingly drunk once in her entire life, on the night she graduated college and her father took her and Luke out to dinner and bought them champagne and afterwards cocktails. She had drunk enough to lose her father and go to bed that night with Luke, whom she had been seeing for only two weeks.
Now, at the annual Agency charity ball, the first of her employment, Luke was nowhere to be found, but she was dimly aware that she was again passing though the same windows of neglect that had lead her to his bed.
“Good evening,” the Chief said again. He was grinning shyly with his hands clasped behind his back. He had the hands of a child, Salt knew, though she had only met him once, and he was self conscious of them. The hands of a baby, tiny and wrinkled.
“Well, wow. This has just – hasn’t this just been a great year? And how about this spread?”
Salt quietly ordered another campari and went to text her housemate, Sandra, who had convinced her to come tonight, that she wouldn’t be home late, but her phone was close to dying and she didn’t want to risk the battery.
She leaned back against the bar and drank. It was unseasonably warm – there was little air conditioning and the French doors of the hall were open to the evening. The night felt like it was full of possibilities. On stage, the Chief sweated.
“Are they always like this?” said a man (Early 90s Ray Liotta) standing next to her. He was tall and wore a pale blue suit. Salt shrugged.
“I don’t know. This is my first.”
“You’re new to this?”
She looked at him and nodded slowly so he would understand. She realised he was wearing a cowboy hat and one of those Texan bolo ties where his normal tie should be.
“I’m sorry,” he said, “I’m not very quick tonight.”
She sipped her campari and went back to watching the Chief, who was talking about how proud he was of the Agency’s contribution to world stability year after year and that everyone should enjoy themselves as much as possible tonight.
“Wait,” she said to the man. “Were you trying to flirt with me?”
“Were you – just now were you about to flirt with me?”
The man smiled and looked towards the stage.
“OK,” she said. “Sorry. I didn’t realise. Wow.”
There was pause as they both listened.
“What do you do?” said Salt.
“I’m here to give a speech.” said the man.
Salt looked at the man’s hat. “Well I find that very hard to believe.”
“I am,” he said. “It’s true.”
She shook her head.
The Chief sounded like he was getting ready to introduce someone and the man said,
“And it’s my very great honour to introduce our key-note speaker for tonight,” the Chief said gesturing towards the bar, “The President of Hungary, Mr János Martonyi.”
After the speeches Salt stood out on the balcony, leaning on the railing with a glass of champagne. Close by the man with no jaw was speaking to a group with his Vietnamese wife standing next to him, arms crossed, gazing around the party.
“So it was very prudent of them,” his computer voice was saying. “Ha. Ha.”
With the champagne Salt felt giddy. The brush with the President of Hungary had, as she watched him give his address, given her a retroactive thrill. She felt very young and full of attractiveness, like someone might actually want to look at her vagina tonight, not just tolerate it but really look at it, which she hadn’t felt for a long time, since long before she and Luke broke up the previous year. The thought made her laugh into her hand, and she realised that the jawless man had wheeled over to her, his wife gone.
“Listen,” his voice droned. “I need to tell you how lovely I think you look tonight.”
“Oh,” said Salt. “Thank you. You too.”
“Really, just a bang up job. Good for you.”
He pushed the corners of his mouth up to make what would legally, Salt allowed, constitute as a smile. To make him stop, she said, “Hey, so what’s the deal with your Vietnamese wife?”
She waited a second for him to type in his response.
“Who,” he said. “Her? We came together but we are not like. Together.”
“Isn’t she your wife?”
“I’m afraid this system doesn’t infer emphasis very well. Do you understand what I mean.”
“I’m not even sure I would want to know if I did or didn’t.”
“Wait,” the voice said, “Wait.”
He got out of his pocket a folded note on which was scribbled what looked like lines of verse. He spent a few minutes peering at it and translating it into the machine. Finally he sat back.
“Lo in thine honour I will build a place,” it began. “Where thou and I may dwell with love apart. Hand clasped in-”
“Gonna have to stop you there, guy.”
“-hand and beating heart to heart. And find from life’s dull tumult a sweet space, Of rest and quiet: on its walls I trace Shapes of religious and devoted art.”
When the man realised that his wife had returned he tried stopping the voice mid-sentence but it continued. He grabbed module and shook it but all it served was to repeat the sonnet over again. He rattled the armrest where the machine was located, shaking backwards and forwards, looking over his shoulder at his Vietnamese wife, whose gaze was passing over his and Salt’s faces like the red beam of a lighthouse.
Salt woke up to a man gently shaking her knee.
“Wake up,” said the man. “Wake up, little thing.”
She looked at him. She was leaning back in a nice, deep chair in the foyer of the ballroom. She realised she had meant to go to the bathroom, and also that the man was the President of Hungary, János Martonyi.”
Her phone was in her hands.
“I was just going to text my father,” she said. “But my phone died. It’s his birthday.”
“It’s his birthday?”
“I think so. Your speech was lovely. That speech, man.”
She raised her hands, palms up.
“You believe who I am now?” he said, smiling. He got out a phone. “What’s your father’s number?”
“It’s too late to call him.”
“No, it’s not even nine pm.”
She sighed and let her head fall back against the chair. The thought came to her that she didn’t know where she had left her bag or coat, and then the thought that there was so much cleaning to do at her apartment. Then the president was shaking her knee again and she realised she’d dozed off.
“Listen,” he said. “I have a room here, at this hotel. Why don’t you rest up there?”
She raised a finger at him.
“That, Mr. President, would be too forward of you.”
As she was being carried up to the President’s room, she wondered whether there was any way that she could call Josh tonight without it seeming strange.
“I drank too much, didn’t I?” she said, nuzzling into the President’s neck.
“You drank just the right amount,” he said, several feet away. Salt realised that the man holding her was one of his men.
“Oh,” she said. The man smelled sweet and fierce.
“I,” she said, “Guess I drank too much.”
This time the president didn’t answer. He was lying next to her on the bed with his coat and shoes off, running his hand up her side and kissing her neck. It was ok with her, but she couldn’t keep her eyes open. She thought about the jawless man’s poor, mute wife. She thought about Luke and her father, getting drunk, and before that, to when she was a child, back when she had such a terrific sense of duty. Was that why she joined the Agency? Was that why?
“Why don’t you look at me?”” The President of Hungary said into her ear.
“Hmm?” she said, not hearing him. It felt like he was trying to talk to her in a time that she’d already departed. She was dreaming about the time when, one Spring a very long time ago, when she was nine or ten years old, a sparrow had hit the kitchen window while she was home alone. Her parents wouldn’t be back for a long time, so she wrapped it in a tea towel and laid it in a shoe box for her father to bury later. Then, tying a bandana around her forehead, she road her bike to the library three blocks away and on one of the computers had composed a letter to the local newspaper.
“Friends,” it began. “The worst has happened.”