From the moment of our birth, we are sentenced to die. There is nothing we can do in the in-between period to change it. Though some people will spend their entire lives believing they can do just that. That perhaps if they become rich enough or pillage enough resources they can avoid the reaper. Alas, no one is immune. No one can evade it, regardless of how much “clout” they have accrued in their lifetime. It’s like that scene (well, pretty much every scene) in The Seventh Seal: no matter how hard you try to outwit Death at a proverbial game of chess, he will always triumph. For he has the patience and strategy that you cannot. Particularly if you’re already aged. As Andrew was. At sixty-seven, he had tried just about every “rejuvenation” method under the sun. And, save for a decidedly plastic look, he had largely succeeded.
Even so, he could not ignore that he was rotting on the inside. Neither, it seemed, could his mistress of the moment, Marlena, a 25-year-old aspiring YouTube influencer (they were all aspiring something or others, so long as it involved baring most of their skin). She had grown worse at playing the part of the titillated tart, as though the role was too wearying for her to bother with any longer. As though she had gotten all the mileage out of it she really could at this point, and would be no worse for the wear if Andrew suddenly decided to cut her off, decided she was more quickly replaceable than originally thought. This terrified him, made him want to keep hold of her all the more. Like most, he had a bit of a hard-on for unattainability. The more out of reach something–or someone–became, the more he needed to assert his dominance over it, which is precisely why he abruptly started pulling out all the stops again as he used to when was first reeling Marlena in, not that she needed much reeling when taking into account that she was all too primed and ready to open her fish lips to any man who flashed enough of his wealth to her.
That’s why, in the beginning, it was all helicopter rides and chartered planes, dinners at five-star restaurants and beach getaways where Marlena could parade the only redeeming thing about herself: her body. The sole asset she had that wasn’t his, and yet, even that was partially Andrew’s, for he had paid for her latest round of various injections and fillers–“you’re never too young to stay fresh,” her plastic surgeon insisted. Andrew often had to wonder, indeed, if she wasn’t fucking him during some of those “appointments” and just pocketing the money for herself. No matter though, he was willing to let go of his investment if it meant he could at least let it go while he was still the one with the higher value, the one who would be able to walk away “shruggingly.” So he commenced with recalibrating his charm, a feat involving the perfect balance between treating her like shit and treating her like a queen. She seemed to much prefer the former, overtly getting off on it when he would nitpick at her appearance before taking her out to a lavish dinner somewhere in Santa Monica or Beverly Hills.
He could sense an immediate change in her responsiveness in the bedroom, with her suddenly performing some of her greatest hits from the early days, including his personal shameful favorite, the rim job. He started to grow so accustomed to her generosity again that he almost let his guard down once more. Allowed himself to believe she might genuinely be in love with him this time around. The show of money made her that good of an actress.
Somewhere deep down, however, he must have held onto his lingering doubts about her legitimacy in l’amour. Which is why he couldn’t help but employ one final method. As usual, it was one that would cost him a fair amount of money, as most elaborate schemes are wont to do. But this one was sure to be worth it if it ended up proving Marlena’s love was, at last, true and real. It was the one thing–the one reason–that might give him leverage against Death. At least for a bit longer. Because what was the point of life without love, Andrew had started to find himself asking each morning when he awakened, turned over and found that Marlena had already stepped out in the small hours of the morning for “the gym.” Even though he suspected there was something more sinister at play with regard to why she might be so eager to get out that early.
This is precisely why Andrew put his millions to use by paying an aspiring actor (what was L.A. good for, after all, if not to employ aspiring actors?) to start working out alongside Marlena at the same time at the overpriced Equinox (Andrew had even gone so far as to buy her the highest tier membership–the coveted all-access pass that permitted her to use any location, which, one would think, ought merely to be part and parcel of the baseline fee). She favored the one located on North Camden near Wilshire. Beverly Hills was a place to see and be seen by legitimate agents. Unlike Hollywood, where all the dregs and skeevies congregated. For there was nothing skeevier than the odor of broken dreams emanating from someone. It was something that made Marlena particularly uncomfortable as her greatest fear in life was that she would become just another such person. Or worse, that she already was and that Andrew was merely the cushion preventing her from recognizing her fate. Perhaps this was the real reason she had been so receptive to his renewed vigor of late. For though she wanted nothing more than to dispense with him, she was all too aware that he was not dispensable. The exact reason she knew she ought not be so reckless in the near constant display of her lust for others. Because, of course, she was cognizant of the fact that Andrew could have spies anywhere, and everywhere–that was the power of money. Yet something about Brent–his jock-like animal magnetism–proved arcanely irresistible to Marlena as she watched his mirror’s reflection lift weights with the ease of a Greek discus thrower. Yes, that was the quality he had–though Marlena, poor pea-brained being that she was, would not know to describe it that way. Yet that could be the only explanation for the fire within her she was feeling as he approached her like a panther on the prowl to purr, “You have a great body. I’d love to take it to the next level.”
Marlena arched her brow. Brent continued, “Do you already have a personal trainer?”
She rolled her eyes. “How often have you used that line?” Marlena might not have known what a discus thrower was, but she could still vaguely smell a con. Even so, an overly inflated opinion of oneself will always win out over a con. So it was that she indulged him, allowing Brent to give her the “complimentary” session he wanted to offer her the next day. One that ended up in his bedroom not too far from the gym. How could Marlena be expected to resist those demonstrative thrusts of his, after all? Ones she wanted to see in more practical everyday use, as it were, in order to be inspired to attempt the maneuver herself.
Regrettably, it was when she felt emboldened enough to put the thrust in practice that she found herself being bludgeoned over the head not a moment later. It was a prime example of one second being there, and the next not. For Andrew had emerged from the closet in a rage, sprung from an unstoppable visceral reaction to what he had already known, but merely confirmed. And though, as far as Brent knew, murder was never part of the plan, he found the price was right enough for him to help Andrew dispose of the body. That is, after Andrew extracted her heart from it. One that, at least in her death, he could mold. Could truly make his own. It wasn’t all that novel. L.A. was comprised entirely of pieces of people that had been taken from their original form.
One thought on “The Moldable Heart”
Wow how I love this compelling, strong, & insightful piece, & its sharp, knowing voice. Quite a shocking surprise the ending is, yet it perfectly serves to complete the theme. I also love how you used the brilliant Seventh Seal analogy. Great work, Genna!