Pippa hadn’t touched her jellybeans all night.
When Tony switched on the floodlight, Pippa didn’t blink. She stared right into the beam with a frozen smile, as if to say Here, is this what you want? Toby had done the opposite. He’d closed his eyes and turned his head. The shadow in profile behind him looked like JFK. Toby didn’t look like JFK, but his shadow did. Toby and Tony were brothers.
Pippa had done her hair for this. Had worn her triple string of faux pearls. What was wrong with these brothers? They served jellybeans as a main dish and played with stage lighting as if they were detectives. Something about them, at least at first, had seemed charming. She’d seen them giggling together on the quadrangle before class. She didn’t know they were brothers. Twin brothers, but not the kind that look alike. They were the other kind, and then one had approached her as she came down the stairs.
“Do you think you’d ever like to be in the movies?”
“Oh. Um. What?”
“The movies. Would you like to be in them.”
“Well, um. I’m not an actor.”
“You don’t have to be. Would you like to be in them?”
“I guess. I mean, I don’t act.”
This was the gesture that became an invitation. The second brother walked up the steps, and the three of them had whipped up a conversation out of nowhere. The brothers, Tony and Toby, were filmmakers. They hadn’t made a film, but they were in college to do so, and the film they were about to make was going to be avant garde. It would consist of a woman, a bowl of jellybeans, and extemporized recitations on the cruelty of human nature. There would also be shadows.
That evening Pippa found herself at the brothers’ home. Technically it was a converted garage, but a home is a home, and Pippa wasn’t one to judge. The garage contained a sofa that, the brothers explained, doubled as sleeping quarters. One brother slept on the sofa while the other slept on the floor. Then, after a week, they switched — the one on the floor graduated to the sofa. It was easier than switching every other day.
Pippa had heard avant garde music, but had never seen avant garde film. The idea intrigued her. The brothers were a curiosity. They possessed a light-hearted naiveté that appealed to Pippa. They weren’t tortured artistes, they were abstract expressionists. They were trying things out.
“Are the jellybeans supposed to mean something? What should I — ”
“Eat as many as you like. We can go to the store if we run out.”
“Oh, thanks. But I mean, is there a reason that —”
“Yes! The colors — you get it! They’re red, white, and blue.”
“Oh, okay, that makes sense. But you said the film was black-and-white?”
What the film was? It was commentary. Or — it induced commentary. It was supposed to induce commentary. That was the objective. Like a pregnant woman at full-term whose body resists labor. She has to be induced. She has to be persuaded into it. And who does the inducing? Who really does it? The State. The sugar-coated emblem of the republic, indoctrinating more laborers, one by one, into the identity-crushing ranks of the workforce. But really — just go ahead, there isn’t an objective, there’s only a camera and the light it captures, and say anything, place your fingers in the bowl, swirl them around a little, say anything that comes to mind.
Laton Carter’s Leaving (University of Chicago) received the Oregon Book Award. Previous short fiction appears in Atticus Review, Necessary Fiction, New Flash Fiction Review, and The Wigleaf Top 50 Very Short Fictions of 2018.