Saturday, May 12, 2007


Thumbing from your friends, you
Nothing-legs child of bums and guns, you
Never knew when you were wanted.
Peach-bullets settled in your lungs,
Dapper chestnuts in your cheeks,
Renal cortex scar-pitted, you were
An ovelty for autopsists.
Sleeves too wide.
You marched before shadows and
Stared cockeyed at Communists.
You led the Kennel Club and
Pissed in Eddie's boot; your
Pockets were navels and your brain stem was nervous.
Lined up in wince-rows.
You never read those papers. You
Never jawed those letters.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Machine of Death: Angelina Jolie

Brad called. "Have you seen the paper?"

"No," she said, yawning. The baby had been crying all night and she was tired out. Brad was off shooting a movie in Monterey, and the nanny had gone to a wedding and Angelina had decided to stay (counteracting the Babel their lives might have turned into). "Is there something about us?"

"Front-page news. Go look."

"Tell me what it is, babe." It was cold out.

"I have to go," he said, too quickly. "Love you."

That intrigued her, though it made her stomach drop sharply too. What had the papers found this time? Pictures from Hugh's party last weekend? Oh, God. She put on a pair of slippers, shuffled down the stairs and out the door.

She saw it immediately and it gave her the kind of chills you only got when the news was completely unexpected. Plastered across the front page (of the Times, for Pete's sake) in huge block letters: MINNESOTA MAN'S FATE: DEATH BY ANGELINA JOLIE.

"Holy shit," she whispered, shook out the paper, stood there in the mud and crisp cold and read the whole article, back-page and all. A picture of her covered half the page, of course, looking less than her best in black and white. They never printed the pictures Angie really liked. And the article was about a thirty-six-year-old man named Jonas Singh who had taken that new blood test and gotten his result, and that result was "ANGELINA JOLIE." The mugshot of him showed a brown-skinned, white-toothed, handsome man, and he was quoted as saying, "At first I was shocked, then I was confused, and then I accepted it and got kind of excited. Death by Angelina Jolie is definitely an interesting way to die, and I admire her. I'm looking forward to finding out what it really means." He was married with a baby, worked as a photojournalist for his local paper, and had served a year in Iraq.

She had to go inside and sit down. The baby was sleeping, thank God, and so were the other kids. Good kids, really, they made her days. The paper was burning a hole in her hand. She had to call Brad right now. (God, next thing they were going to get quotes from Jennifer Aniston, Jesus, and Billy Bob and Jenny and Jonny and everyone, and they were going to be calling her and Brad all the time.) She pressed her fingers to her temples, inhaled and exhaled. She needed a smoke badly.

She speed-dialed his number. "Brad?"

"You read it," he stated. He was perceptive like that, one of his more charming traits.

"They didn't call, did they? Before they published it."

"Didn't call me," he said. "He's a photojournalist, so it probably got to the paper first. You know how some states are starting to pass laws that for certain jobs you have to have it done and make it available to your employer?" The rationality behind this was that your death might involve your work and then your employer was technically responsible-- if Jonas Singh had been fated to die in a plane crash, say, his boss might prohibit his flying anywhere for work. Angelina herself refused to take the test, not wanting to know. Brad had been dared by George Clooney (HEART FAILURE) to take it, had taken it drunk a month ago, and had triumphantly gotten NATURAL CAUSES. "That could mean anything," Angelina had warned him, more than a little jealous, but he had shrugged that off with the shit-eating grin of a man who knew he was lucky.

"Christ," she said in a small voice, "how am I going to kill this guy? I don't understand. What does that even mean?"

"I have no idea, Angie." He sounded impatient. Well, fuck that; he was the one who had brought it up; who cared about his movie, she was his wife.


"Look, hon, can I call you back?"

What a bastard. Just because he had nothing to worry about, NATURAL CAUSES, he couldn't care less that the woman he called "love of my life" was practically accused of murder? She wanted to slam the phone down, but it was cordless and she had to satisfy herself with pushing a button instead-- poor substitute.

By the next morning, when the nanny came back, Angelina was a wreck. The kids had been darling as usual, but they were little and high-maintenance. The baby, croupy, had wailed all night, and just to top it all off, the phone had rung all night long. When Angelina had turned her cell on, she had 42 new messages: all family, friends, and lawyers. She ended up unplugging the landline and vomiting at quarter to two in the morning. Of course this had to happen when Brad was upstate. When else? She had not slept a wink that night. She kept seeing the young Indian man's face, imagining him with his wife and baby. And then she kept seeing the headlines spin out like in a movie, all about her. God, if she had to get the spotlight in the real, non-tabloid news, couldn't it have been about all her work in third-world countries?

Brad called again. "Good news. They're gonna let me come down here for a couple days, 'til Monday."

"Thank you," she said, close to tears. "Oh God. Thank you, Brad."

"I'll see you in a couple hours, 'kay?" She heard him snap his phone shut and called up his wonderful face, those soulful eyes. She wondered if he had shaved since last week. She wanted to suck his cock on the kitchen tiles.

One of the kids wandered into the room, barefoot, sucking his thumb, the crux of angeli. Angelina picked him up and kissed his cheek, then let him down again to wander off, thinking about Jonas Singh picking up his baby and kissing its cheek. If this was a ploy to get her attention, like that guy who had shot a president to get Jodie Foster to notice him... well, it sure was fucking working. At least the nanny, red-cheeked and blessed with a thick Spanish accent, was restoring order beautifully quickly. Angelina had to hand it to Rosa, she knew what she was doing. Woman deserved every penny she got. The kids loved her.

She realized she was hungry; for some reason that had slipped her mind. She got up from the too-comfortable couch and got a carton of Ben & Jerry's out of the freezer (mint chip). Married women didn't have to watch their weight; on the other hand, she knew if she gained half a pound the world would start wondering out loud if it was a "baby bump." She'd seen that humiliation happen to better women. Sighing, she returned the ice cream to its rightful place.

Surely Jonas Singh was telling the truth. Things like this could be verified. They had to be verified if the Times had printed it. They could have held the guy down, tried his blood again. The machine always gave the same prediction. What if he'd used someone else's blood? (But did it really matter? After all, that meant someone was going to be killed by ANGELINA JOLIE, anyway.)

She found herself wanting to contact him-- "but wait," she said aloud, "that would just raise the chances of my killing him." But then after all, wasn't that unavoidable? The machine had never yet been wrong.

"Fuck it," she said, not wanting to think through this puzzle, this maze of red tape. She wished Brad was home right now so they could go lie in bed like people in a movie and talk it out, his hands behind his head, downy armpit hair tickly, and she would probably cry on him, like a movie, and in the end there would be a cut to the next scene, and Jonas Singh would probably be biking down a street in the early-morning-shooting sunlight.

How am I going to kill him? Jesus, how is it going to happen? She sank into the too-comfortable couch and closed her eyes. Is this some kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, or would it have happened even if I'd never heard of him? She was reminded of Kirsten Dunst's apparent fate: OEDIPAL. That was all the machine had told her, and when Angelina had first heard that it had made her laugh. Apparently it had driven Kirsten crazy.

She wondered what her own fate was. Maybe now she would have to have the test done. Maybe it would say JONAS SINGH and that would shut everyone up. She doubted that, though; the machine seemed to be kind of a smartass to Angelina. "NATURAL CAUSES," yeah right. She hadn't wanted Brad to do it, hadn't wanted to be reminded of their mortality, even if the cause of death seemed innocuous enough. The whole idea of the machine was really kind of annoying, made her feel worried and queasy. She didn't like to think about death.

She thought about checking her e-mail and knew immediately that there would be over two hundred messages, and those only from her friends. Nevertheless, she turned on her Mac and logged in.

She checked her old e-mail address, the one she hadn't used in five years, first, because of a vague half-baked idea that her father would have written something. He hadn't, of course, and though she was over that she felt a distinct anger. She knew he had pored over the article, probably carefully with his reading glasses on, and she knew he wanted to say something to her about it but he wouldn't because of the stupid feud. Damn it. It just pissed her off was all. She wished Brad was back already. She wanted to call him, but probably he was on the plane. She hoped he was on the plane. She had suspected, lately, that he was screwing around on her, but she didn't want to think about it. Probably that was unfounded anyway, probably she was just being paranoid like always. Jesus, she couldn't think straight. She pushed herself up and got up, intending to take a long hot shower. She didn't want to see anyone or talk to anyone, but, at the same time, she kind of did.

Mostly she just wanted to talk to Brad. Or maybe her brother. Doubtless her brother had called, but she had unplugged the phone, and Angelina was not planning to return any calls.

She felt eyes boring at her through the thick curtains and knew it was the paparazzi, stationed out there waiting for any sign of movement. Jesus Christ, like she needed this in her life right now. She needed a bodyguard. She needed Brad, really, but she knew if she thought about him too much he would smell the desperation on her when he kissed her hello, and he would think she was a needy whiner. He had practically said as much about one of his exes once, and she had never forgotten it.

She walked up the stairs. The house was oddly quiet (but then it was very well insulated). She trusted Rosa with the kids; probably they were all in the playroom. Her nerves felt scraped and raw. She wondered if she had killed Jonas Singh already, somehow, without knowing it. Sometime last night, guilt had snuck onto her shoulders and was now wrapped around her snugly like a shawl. It was not going to go away soon. Maybe not ever. Oh, God.

Passing through their luxurious bedroom on the way to the shower (how much time had been spent in that bed? hours upon hours, but somehow not nearly enough), she paused and turned on the TV (high-def). She had been almost expecting it, but the shock slammed into her like a brick wall anyway when she saw her own face on the screen, an announcer glibly yammering behind it. "Minnesota photojournalist and war vet Jonas Singh got a shocker last week when he took the obligated death test and his paper said he was fated to die by ANGELINA JOLIE. After getting the same result four times, Singh, though utterly bewildered, seems to be dealing well with this news.

"The same cannot necessarily be said for Ms. Jolie, however. She has returned no calls and has not left the house since last night." The picture switched to a shot from outside Angelina's house, and with another jolt she realized it was live, it was being filmed right now. Her heart twitched. Jesus! She felt more trapped than she had felt in years, she wanted to flee, she wanted to die. Instead, she punched the TV off and stepped under the shower, shedding her clothes only after they were already sodden, turning the knob to the scalding side. She closed her eyes and felt the water pound her. She wanted to forget everything, to turn back the clock and live in blissful ignorance, to move to, maybe, Mongolia, where no one knew who she was. A nice place to raise kids, she'd thought when she saw the movie about the cute little children, and there was so much grass, a sea of prairie. She had taken her fame well, she thought, but this was too much. This wasn't happening to anybody else. It really wasn't fair, damn it. Why her? Why this, why now? Why hadn't the machine given Jonas Singh something vaguer? She wondered again what her own fate was, if she should take the test. Maybe it would clear this up somehow. She imagined talking to Brad about it, and she knew he would want her to: ever since he'd done it he had been trying to convince her to do it too. Well hell, maybe she would, maybe she would.

She stood there with her eyes closed, feeling her skin wrinkle, for a long time. She was roused from the trance only when she heard a door bang. There was only one person with a key to this house that banged doors. She slammed the water off, peeked out past the curtain, feeling the sudden cold on her skin.


He didn't answer, but she heard the TV on. That was typical of Brad too. Whenever he walked into a room he had to flip on the TV, just in case. When he was gone the house was a thousand times quieter, in spite of all the kids. She wrapped herself in her wilted robe and ventured out into the bedroom, feet soaking into the plush wine-colored carpeting. "Brad?"

He looked up fast like he had been caught doing something he shouldn't have been doing. Then, just as quickly, his face softened. "Angie, baby." He went up to her, slim-waisted and looking delicious, and kissed her searchingly. "You're all wet, hon," he said when they broke apart.

She looked up at him, getting that dreamy movie-feeling she often got being with Brad, because she had first seen him on a screen, and she felt her eyes starting to water. "Brad, what am I going to do? What am I going to do about this?" She was so glad he was here; she felt the core of her melting with that gladness. "Did you see the paparazzi outside?"

He rolled his eyes and sighed. "Had to fight my way through em. It was terrible."

"Our house was on the TV, for Christ's sake. I saw it live. This is a fucking nightmare, Brad--" And now she really was crying, sobbing onto the hard muscles of his shoulder, like she was going to hack out a lung onto his plane-wrinkled button-up shirt, like she was going to spit up the way the baby did. He held her like a good husband, and he smelled wonderful, and that in itself made her feel a hundred times better.

"Shh. Hey, hey, Angie, listen, we're gonna work this out, okay? We can work this out. We can talk to this Indian guy--"

Angelina wailed something unintelligible.

"Hang on, Angie. Come on. Let's go make you something to drink."

Over blended margaritas, they discussed it.

Brad told her there was nothing they could do really, that there was no way of figuring out how she would be the cause of his death, how she would probably not be at fault, and how she should refuse to be interviewed. He thought Jonas Singh was telling the truth, and he thought maybe Angelina should meet him. He thought Jonas Singh was a pretty weird name, and he thought Angelina should take the blood test.

"Do you think it'll make a difference to the public?"

"Yes," he said with his honest face on, and that had her mostly convinced.

"Okay, fuck it, let's get it over with. Call up Dr. Faulkner."

"You want it done right now?"

She shrugged. She rubbed her eye and black came off on her finger: her mascara had run. "Whatever."

"This is really bugging you, isn't it?"

"Has anything like this ever happened to anyone before?" She was doing her best to keep control over herself, but it wasn't easy. Her hands were shaking.

"I... I don't--"

"Well, not to anyone as famous as I am, that's for sure," she snapped. "And I can tell you this, Brad, it blows. It fucking blows."

He poured her another drink.

"I'm afraid," she confessed, "that when I try and meet him he'll just die, I'll kill him somehow by accident. I don't want to ever meet him, really. But then, I guess I do."

Brad cleared his throat. "I'll call Dr. Faulkner."

Dr. Faulkner was a wiry man with a long bulbous nose and scrappy gray facial hair. He was the kind of man who looked like he knew what he was doing. He took Angelina's blood without comment, although his lips were pressed tightly together as though he was holding something back. Well, no surprise there.

The test was much quicker than she had thought it would be. Dr. Faulkner put the vial of blood into a slot in the machine, it made some clicky rattly machine noises, and within three minutes a slip of paper had slid out. Dr. Faulkner handed it to her face down, not looking, clearly a practiced hand.

Brad was there, his arm around her shoulder. "Do you want to look?" he asked her softly. She nodded, feeling like she couldn't breathe, flashing back to the pregnancy tests she'd taken several times, getting the same sort of tense important feeling.

She turned the paper, though her hands were shaking, and what she read was disappointingly anticlimactic. This was what her life was leading to?


Dr. Faulkner was standing there trying his best not to look curious. Feeling pity, Angelina read it to him. "What do you think?"

"That's one of the more specific ones," he said after a moment, raising his tufty eyebrows. "And you know it could be years in between the rupture and the flu. Really, not such a bad prognosis."

She thought of Brad's again, NATURAL CAUSES, and that shit-eating smile he'd worn. Ruptured spleen, and flu. That didn't sound great, but it didn't sound so awful.

(Did it have anything to do with Jonas Singh? She had no idea. His name was already growing infamous in her mind.)

She looked at Brad and he kissed her neck. "I'm proud of you," he said, and her heart filled up. She loved that she had married the kind of man who knew she needed to hear that. She loved him wholly, right then, despite everything.

Right then, despite everything, it seemed that things would turn out okay.

After a few weeks, the news died down. Several actresses had babies and several couples broke up, and Patrick Dempsey, it turned out, was fated to die of AIDS, and everyone just forgot about Angelina and Jonas Singh.

Everyone but Angelina and Jonas Singh.

But she lived her life as best she could. She thought of him almost every day, but after a few months she could sometimes forget about him for a whole weekend. The kids were growing, and they were planning to adopt another one, and Brad finished his Monterey movie and was home for a while, and that was nice.

In August they decided to go to Disneyland, not so far from their home, after all. (Disney World was another story. Neither of them really wanted to fly to Florida with all the kids in tow, not yet.) They packed everybody into the van, Rosa too, and Angelina took the wheel, sunglasses on. It was a nice day for August, very hot.

She stopped at a red light almost halfway there. Brad punched at the radio, changing the station to some kind of reggaeton. One of the boys started crying, and Rosa hushed him. They had thought to bring Popsicles for the drive, and Brad had remembered a cooler, and so that had been lucky.

The light turned green and Angelina tapped the gas. At the same time, someone in front of her, facing the other direction, in the other lane, revved out, and lost his control somehow-- later Rosa said she had seen a duck in the road, but another witness reported the man had been on his cell phone-- and he weaved into the lane she was driving into. Before Angelina could even think, his little white Volvo had smashed straight into the front of the van. The glass smashed, the car made a sickly crunch, and the airbags puffed out. The children started screaming. Angelina felt a sharp terrible pain in her side, but not for long, because it wasn't long until she blacked out.

She came to knowing everything. When the doctor approached her, she said calmly, despite the whistling pain in the side of her chest, "The other man was Jonas Singh, wasn't he? Is he dead?"

"No," said the doctor, looking a little taken aback. "Not yet, at least. He's badly injured, in critical condition. It wasn't your fault, everyone corroborates that."

"My family, Rosa? How are they?"

"They're fine. Your husband's legs were broken, but he's in stable condition. Everyone who was sitting in the back doesn't have anything worse than cuts and bruises. You're a very lucky family."

"And me, how am I hurt?" But she knew the answer to that one already.

"You have whiplash and your arm's fractured, and your spleen's been ruptured. But you came out pretty well. You've been getting a lot of phone calls, Mrs. Jolie."

Angelina waved them off. "Thank you, doctor," she said. She felt, oddly, less upset than she'd thought she would; she felt like a crucial puzzle piece had just clicked into place. She wanted to go and talk to poor Jonas Singh before he died; hopefully he would hang on a few more days. Right now she was beginning to be really aware of her pain: a stinging in her neck, a sharp throbbing ache in her arm, and of course that odd leaky whistle in her side. That had to be the spleen, of course.

Now all she had to do was wait for the flu and live out her life.