Before the Fall

A war torn countryside. Homes and buildings reduced to smoldering rubble. People sick, dying, and generally unamused. Wholly unqualified doctors and priests stand about, pretending to look busy.

NARRATOR: (voice-over) The year is… I’m not sure. The place… Moronika, a once miserable place to live, now marginally worse on account of a bloody, costly, yet rather profitable war started for reasons no one can quite remember.

Slightly less sick and dying people, line-up by a cliffside. A COUNCILMAN sits behind a little table at the cliff edge. HUGO, an armed guard stands nearby.

And as the doctors tend to the dying and the priests pray for the dead, the living wait in line…

COUNCILMAN: Now serving number eleventy-seven.

MORONIKAN approaches.

MORONIKAN: Thank god! I thought I’d be stuck in this line forever.

COUNCILMAN: On behalf of the newly consolidated and collated Moronikan Monarchy Incorporated family, I do sincerely apologize for any wait. How may I assist you today?

MORONIKAN: (puzzles this) I’m not sure.

COUNCILMAN: Do you often stand in lines without rhyme, reason, or rhyme?

MORONIKAN: No. But a large, angry man covered in blood told a bunch of us to stand in this line.

 COUNCILMAN: Oh! So, Herman recommended you to us, then?

MORONIKAN: That’s right. I was standing in the bloody, smoldering rubble of what used to be my house and family–

COUNCILMAN: And now you’re in need of a new house and family?

MORONIKAN: That’s right. Some food would be nice, too.

COUNCILMAN: Of course. You might be a bit surprised to hear, but we’ve had a bit of a run on new houses, family, and food today.

MORONIKAN: Is that right?

COUNCILMAN: Oh, yes. It was a bit of a shock, but you know how it goes with these sorts of regime changes. All this death and destruction always motivates people to finally trade-in, move-up, sell-out, back-stab, and whatever other hyphenations they’ve put-off forever.

MORONIKAN: (nods) Of course.

Councilman hands Moronikan a pen and clipboard with several forms attached to it.

COUNCILMAN: Just fill this out for me real quick, and we’ll have you on your way.

Moronikan fills out, returns the forms.

MORONIKAN: There you go. I think I got it all right.

Councilman takes, looks over the forms.

COUNCILMAN: It does indeed. Now, if you’ll be so kind as to follow Hugo here to the edge of the cliff just over there, he’ll be happy to expedite the rest of your execution.

MORONIKAN: I’m sorry?

COUNCILMAN: Would you prefer self-checkout?

MORONIKAN: I’d rather not be executed.

Councilman double-checks the forms.

COUNCILMAN: But it says right here you voted in the last election.

MORONIKAN: Yes, but I don’t see why I should be executed for such a thing.

COUNCILMAN: Look. I’m sorry the system isn’t perfect, but it’s the only one we have.

MORONIKAN: Oh, sure. That might be all fine and good for you, Hugo, and the Moronikan board of executives–

COUNCILMAN: It really is.

MORONIKAN: Right. Well. Isn’t there any recourse for your average Moron?

COUNCILMAN: (considers this) Would you like a big, heavy rock to speed things up?

MORONIKAN: Will it cushion my fall?

COUNCILMAN: Would it help if I lied?

MORONIKAN: No.

COUNCILMAN: Exactly. Hugo?

Hugo escorts, casually throws Moronikan off the cliff.

(to Hugo) Thank you so much, Hugo. (to line) Now serving number eleventy-eight!

Grand Ghoulish (II-VI)

II-VI. WHAT SHE SAID

A bustling super-secret, super-freaky art gallery with clocks on a wall, teenagers frozen in ice sculptures, and HAROLD’S BRAIN in a jar, floating and bubbling in some clear solution. This monstrosity is somehow wired to an old laptop, a cheap pair of speakers, and a projector. Noisy, pixelated sights and sounds plucked out from Harold’s Brain flash and flicker on a wall.

A confused, yet confused PORTLY COUPLE with literal “bear hands” watch this morbid show.

NARRATOR: (voice-over) There are precisely two types of people in this world.

The first are those eclectic few showcasing their gaudy wealth in a secret art gallery located beneath the surface of the sort of affluent California “community” where everyone is as artificial as the grass, trees, and even the lightly-scented air. For fear of being assimilated, the name of this particular town escapes me at the moment.

(a beat, then…)

Meanwhile, the other sort are the art. And as Harold – or, more precisely, Harold’s skillfully preserved brain and eyes – stared at a clock hung between a pair of terrified teenagers frozen in freshly-carved ice sculptures, he took solace in the fact that while his most embarrassing memories were currently being projected on the wall behind him, at least the portly couple with matching bear-hands in front of him couldn’t tell he was crying.

BRENNIPHIA: (off) Hey, you!

Harold’s Brain bubbles at the sound of her voice. The feed briefly scrambles, then continues.

Portly Couple turn ever so slightly to their left to…

Brenniphia, now a pink bob cut in a silk sundress and adorable shoes, joins Portly Couple.

PORTLY COUPLE: Sophia!

BRENNIPHIA: I go by “Brenniphia” these days, actually. New me, new…well, new everything!

PORTLY COUPLE: (to each other) How naughty!

BRENNIPHIA: I see the two of you are enjoying Oliver’s work.

Portly Couple hold up their literal “bear hands”.

PORTLY #1: (gushes) Our grandson absolutely loves it!

PORTLY #2: Soph… I mean, Brenniphia… you’re looking so daring these days!

Brenniphia teases her hair, fingers glide across faint, but thick lines on her scalp.

BRENNIPHIA: I wasn’t going to keep it, but it kinda grew on me.

A woman’s voice, Sophia’s, crackles again and again from the cheap pair of speakers.

SOPHIA: (recording) What does that make me?

Brenniphia and Portly Couple turned to Harold’s Brain.

What does that make me? What does that make me?

Harold’s Brain bubbles in its solution. The projector flickers vague images, flashing frames of bodies in pieces and blurred faces.

What does that make me? What does that make me? What does that make me?

PORTLY #2: What is that awful thing?

BRENNIPHIA: One of Oliver’s little toys.

PORTLY #1: Bit gratuitous, isn’t it?

Brenniphia nods, “Mmhm.”

BRENNIPHIA: But don’t let Oliver hear you say that.

SOPHIA: (recording) He’s a magnificent surgeon…

BRENNIPHIA: I’m sorry. I better get Oliver over here to fix this.

SOPHIA: (recording) …you can only roll back the clock so far…

Portly Couple say their goodbyes, waddle off, paw-in-paw.

SOPHIA: (recording) Do they bother you?

Brenniphia turns to Harold’s Brain.

Harold’s Brain bubbles.

An uncomfortable silence. Then…

She begins to speak, thinks better of it, and then disappears into the crowd.

THE END

Grand Ghoulish (II-V)

II-V. CLICK II

A very large and dark room. No windows, no doors. No sound but the electric humming of medical equipment. No light but the harsh, cutting white of several, well-placed surgical lamps reflecting on impressively polished steel tools with lots of little blades and teeth.

Harold is on an operating table, unable to move. Only his face is lit and in clear view. His body is obscured by shadow and sheets. Wires run from his head and body to one of the humming bits of medical equipment.

HAROLD: (silently screams)

OLIVER: (off) Sorry, sorry.

Oliver, eating a sandwich in his desk chair, casually rolls out of the darkness, over to Harold. He flips a switch on the humming bit of medical equipment.

You looked like you had something to say.

HAROLD: (yelps)

OLIVER: (scoffs) Was that it? Go on. Get it out. Nobody can hear you scream.

HAROLD: (considers this) Pot to Kettle, how much more of a cliche can you be?

OLIVER: Not to put too fine a point on this, but I am a surgeon holding his wife’s lover captive in a big, secret laboratory.

HAROLD: Fair enough. But, where the Hell did you come from? I thought I was alone.

Oliver gestures to sandwich and feet.

OLIVER: Bit of lunch and socks.

HAROLD: Where’s Sophia?

OLIVER: Why? Feeling lonely?

HAROLD: What did you do to her?

OLIVER: (gestures with sandwich) I scooped out her brain and put it into the relatively younger body of a pink-haired woman who tried to sell me cologne from the trunk of her car.

HAROLD: Did none of that sound crazy to you?

OLIVER: Look. If it helps, you weren’t the first.

HAROLD: What?

OLIVER: Yeah. Sorry. There was this old flame from high school, a few coworkers, this guy from the social security office…

HAROLD: Bullshit.

OLIVER: Hey. I’m not even Sophia’s first husband. Now, that guy? Real piece of work. I got some good practice out of him, though.

HAROLD: Why would she do all that?

Oliver finishes his sandwich.

OLIVER: (shrugs) It makes her happy.

HAROLD: You’re shitting me.

Oliver picks up a shiney steel tool with the scary little blades and teeth.

OLIVER: You slept with my wife. I don’t think you get to shame other people’s kinks.

Harold seizes on the scary little blades and teeth, ignores everything else.

HAROLD: Jesus. If you’re going to kill me, just do it already.

Oliver picks at his teeth with the tool.

OLIVER: Don’t be so dramatic. I’m not going to kill you.

HAROLD: (puzzles this) You’re not?

OLIVER: Of course not. Keeping you alive is the whole point.

HAROLD: Wait. What?

Oliver rolls over to another switch, flips it.

The lights come on and reveal what is, more or less, a chrome-finished Salvador Dali painting. But instead of melted, sagging clocks, twisted figures, or surreal landscapes, Harold’s insides stretch and sag and drip on the outside, all over Oliver’s otherwise spartan, make-shift surgery room. Lungs are draped over the back of a chair. Entrails wrap around one of the surgical lights, across the operating table, and inexplicably tied on the other end to an old Victrola. Harold’s head dangles above this from several cables, with a number of tubes and wires clipped or stuck into this or that hole.

OLIVER: See, Harold?

Oliver holds up Harold’s still-beating heart, jangles it like a set of keys.

I’m a bit of an artist myself.

Harold ignores this, screams.

Oliver shakes his head disapprovingly, then flips the switch.

OLIVER: Yeah. That’s enough of that.

HAROLD: (silently curses)

OLIVER: What? I meant nobody else can hear you scream.

Grand Ghoulish (II-IV)

II-IV. BROKEN CLOCK

That third-floor master suite of a “stately manor” located in the expensive corner of a somehow even more expensive strip of Southern California coastline. Only this time it’s all rather messy. Furniture is tossed, flipped. The walls smothered in blood, gore, more blood, and bits of sick. Also, Sophia is dead in her bed. Harold, not dead, looks upon all this.

NARRATOR: (voice-over) What remained of Sophia slumped awkwardly in her bed. Swashes of blood, splatterings of brains, and bits of skull clung to everything. And as Harold looked on at this from the doorway, he couldn’t help but feel like he made a huge mistake by stopping for gas.

Now. To be perfectly fair to Harold, his grandmother’s near-mint wood panel Ford station wagon was one Hell of a gas guzzler. And the trip from their home in Buena Park to that manor by the sea was already a good hour-long trip down the 5, give or take. Between the forty-year old fuel efficiency standards and some inexplicable bumper-to-bumper gridlock that began and ended for seemingly no reason whatsoever, Harold had zero chance of arriving in time for some heroic save. In fact, Harold realized this back in Irvine. But he also realized that he was a failed photographer in his thirties, living in his elderly grandmother’s garage, and having a summer fling with a married woman. So when the congestion blinked out of existence somewhere around Lake Forest, Harold steered the Ford off the freeway, put several dollars worth of gas in the tank, double-backed a bit, and eventually made his way up to Sophia’s bedroom doorway where he continued standing about like he wasn’t at some grisly scene worth reporting immediately to the local authorities.

OLIVER: (off) Good thing you dropped your phone.

Oliver enters, freshly made up.

Otherwise, this could have gone–

Harold ignores this, breaks Oliver’s nose with a wild and wholly lucky punch.

Oliver brushes this off, pinches at his bleeding, crooked nose.

OLIVER: I suppose I owed you that.

Harold growls, looks for something large and heavy to beat Oliver with, repeatedly.

HAROLD: I’m only getting started.

OLIVER: You know, I completely agree.

HAROLD: (blinks) What?

BRENNIPHIA: (off) Harold.

HAROLD: Brennifer?

Harold turns, sees…

BRENNIPHIA, a woman with a pink faux hawk in sweatpants and a tattered Bon Jovi tee. Fresh surgical incisions wrap around her head. She looks like Brennifer, but talks and moves like Sophia…

What the Hell did he do to you?

BRENNIPHIA: These?

She glides her fingers over the incisions.

Do they bother you?

HAROLD: Sophia.

She steps closer.

BRENNIPHIA: It’s like I told you, Harold. Oliver’s a magnificent surgeon.

She embraces Harold.

HAROLD: I don’t understand…

She sticks a syringe into Harold’s neck.

BRENNIPHIA: Turns out…

She empties, removes the syringe from Harold.

…when the clock stops rolling back, you can just get yourself a new clock.

Harold collapses to the floor, stays there.

OLIVER: Did you see his face? I think we broke his little mind.

BRENNIPHIA: (gushes) Right? (gestures) But did you have to do that to my body?

Oliver looks upon his work, shrugs.

OLIVER: You’re not the only one who loves a little theatrics, Sweetie.

Brenniphia shakes head, sighs.

BRENNIPHIA: Shut up and help me move him.

OLIVER: Yes, Ma’am.

Grand Ghoulish (II-III)

II-III. AN UNEARTHLY SOUND

Grandma’s. Grandma sits on her couch, stares blankly at nothing in particular.

Harold tantrums into the house.

HAROLD: I’m gonna fuckin’ kill him!

GRANDMA: (yawns) Are those MacGuffin boys teasing you again?

HAROLD: (puzzles this) What? No. Grandma, the MacGuffins haven’t lived around here for years.

GRANDMA: Are you sure?

HAROLD: Yes, I’m sure. Remember? Their house burned down when Mr. MacGuffin’s meth lab blew up during a police raid.

GRANDMA: Our water was off all day!

The unearthly sound of a landline telephone rings. Harold answers.

HAROLD: Who’s this?

SOPHIA: (phone) (sobs) Harold?

HAROLD: Sophia? How’d you get this number?

SOPHIA: (phone) I’ve been calling your cell, but it keeps going to voicemail.

Harold checks his pockets and finds only his wallet and keys.

HAROLD: Aw, shit.

SOPHIA: (phone) Harold… Oliver found my phone. He knows everything.

HAROLD: Yeah, I kinda picked that up after he sucker-punched me at the gallery.

SOPHIA: (phone) He already found you?

HAROLD: Not gonna lie. I think I got off kinda easy, all things considered.

SOPHIA: (phone) (screams in that way one tends to do when their muscle-bound spouse suddenly returns home during an in-progress, infidelity-fueled rampage)

HAROLD: Sophia?!

Silence. Then…

Sophia, are you okay? Sophia, are you okay? Are you okay, Sophia? Sophia, are you okay? Sophia, are you okay? Are you okay, Sophia?

Another silence. Then…

Harold inspects the phone.

Oh. Battery’s dead.

GRANDMA: Harold, does this mean you’re going to be late with the rent again?

Harold ignores this, storms out the door.

Harold?

She walks to the door, watches Harold speed off in the station wagon.

(sighs) I’m never getting my car back.

Grand Ghoulish (II-II)

II-II. ONE PUNCH

The alley behind the gallery. Brennifer speaks to an OFFICER. Officer slowly, yet un-assuredly takes notes on a handy little notepad with a little pencil.

Harold, meanwhile, stands by his grandmother’s station wagon, patiently waiting for his cue as if he isn’t actually there. He holds a large framed photograph under each arm.

OFFICER: Okay. So, would you mind going over this one more time for me?

BRENNIFER: What’s the point of writing all this down if you’re just going to have me repeat it?

Officer gestures to the audience.

BRENNIFER: Oh. Right. (to Harold) Go on, then.

HAROLD: You sure?

Brennifer gestures to the audience.

BRENNIFER: Wouldn’t want complaints about exposition.

HAROLD: (nods) Of course.

Harold drops, shatters the photographs. He pretends to care, but really can’t be assed.

HAROLD: Like that?

BRENNIFER: It’ll do.

OFFICER: That’s it?

BRENNIFER: Don’t make me have to do this again.

HAROLD: Yeah, what she said. Also, I didn’t bring any more of these to break.

OFFICER: Sorry.

Brennifer and Harold glare at Officer disapprovingly. Then…

BRENNIFER: (to Harold) Everything okay? I heard screaming.

HAROLD: Yeah, it’s cool. I always scream when things are okay.

She gestures to the broken pictures.

BRENNIFER: You need some help with that?

HAROLD: Nah. That was the last of it. Sorry it took me so long to come back for all this.

BRENNIFER: It’s cool. I’m sorry nobody bought anything.

HAROLD: Yeah. But at least I got some work out of it.

BRENNIFER: (puzzles this) (laughs) Oh, yeah. That weird couple. How’d that work out?”

HAROLD: (laughs) Sophia’s not weird…

BRENNIFER: (grimaces) Aw, shit…

HAROLD: (blinks) What?

BRENNIFER: You dumb bastard. How long have you been fucking her?

HAROLD: (considers this) What?

BRENNIFER: (to Officer) You getting this?

OFFICER: (reads) “You dumb bastard. How long have you been fucking her?” (to Brennifer) What next?

BRENNIFER: Right. Well. The dude came up and–

OFFICER: Dude?

BRENNIFER: Just watch.

Brennifer gestures for things to proceed.

Oliver appears, punches Harold, Harold kisses the pavement and stays there.

OLIVER: (to Brennifer) How was that?

BRENNIFER: Perfect. Thank you.

Oliver leaves.

OFFICER: Wait. You didn’t think to warn your friend–

Brennifer shakes her head, “Nuh-uh.”

BRENNIFER: Harold and I screwed a few times in the utility closet after hours. We weren’t friends.

Officer looks at the pink-haired woman in front of him, wonders if she sells minerals or weed, then continues.

OFFICER: Right. So, you didn’t think to warn Harold that a (reads notes) “very angry dude” was about to start a fight with him?

She shakes her head again.

BRENNIFER: Not a fight – an ass-kicking. The dude threw one punch, then left.

OFFICER:  Okay. But why didn’t you say anything to Harold?

Brennifer considers this, then shrugs.

BRENNIFER: Maybe I thought he had it coming.

Grand Ghoulish (II-I)

II-I. SEX, MOTELS, AND VOICEMAILS

The musty darkness of a roadside motel in some forgotten corner of Santa Ana. Harold and Sophia lose themselves in each other.

NARRATOR: (voice-over) Their first hotel room felt like a lifetime ago. This was the second room this week. Another stolen moment in a summer of stolen moments. They stole kisses at a mall like a couple of teenagers cutting class. Text messages became love notes. Love notes evolved into voicemails. Voicemails slipped into hushed late-night calls. Long drives and short make-out sessions in parking lots and malls quickly abandoned for more hotel rooms and lunch at her favorite places. And when Sophia paid with cash, Harold never asked why.

A phone rings and rings in the musty darkness.

Sophia rolls atop Harold, answers it.

SOPHIA: I’m busy. What do you want?

She listens and nods along, rolls her eyes, gestures with her hand, “Blah-blah-blah.”

(growls) Goodbye, Oliver…

She hangs up, tosses the phone aside, returns to pawing and nibbling Harold.

Where were we?

HAROLD: Everything cool?

She stops, looks at Harold as if he’s the stupidest man alive.

SOPHIA: What? Yeah, I’m fine. Everything’s fine. Why?

HAROLD: He just called.

SOPHIA: For fuck’s sake… You’re not going to start being a little bitch about this, are you?

HAROLD: (lies) No… It’s just… isn’t this even a little fuckin’ weird to you?

SOPHIA: That’s funny…

She rolls off Harold.

I didn’t know that was your conscience inside me a minute ago. My bad.

Sophia gathers her clothes, disappears into the shower. Harold sits, watches in his mess.

HAROLD: (sighs) Goddammit.

Grand Ghoulish (I-VI)

I-VI. CLOCK ON THE WALL

The sandy coastline of a slightly more affluent coastal California “community.” Harold and Sophia sit on a bench. He, ever a slobbish chimp, watches the boats. She, a fashionable mess, peruses a stack of photographs.

NARRATOR: (voice-over) It was a sweltering afternoon in a slightly more affluent coastal California “community” where nobody really likes each other, but are too medicated to care. The still air was thick and smelled of fish. And as Harold watched another yacht struggle to navigate the calm waters of the harbor, he concluded the world was wrong and life was meaningless.

SOPHIA: Would you do me?

NARRATOR: (voice-over) They sat on a bench beneath the thinning shade of a patch of trees, yacht clubs and hotels to their left, families splashing about on a narrow stretch of sandy beach to their right. She was a fashionable mess of hair blowing in the wind, making her way through a stack of photographs of herself. He was very confused.

Whatever “it” is finally registers with Harold.

HAROLD: I’m sorry. What?

Sophia ignores this, holds up a particularly flattering image in which she made creative use of a chair, a mirror, and the contents of a box she kept buried in the back of her closet.

SOPHIA: I’d do me.

HAROLD: (smiles) I’m glad you like them.

SOPHIA: (gushes) I love them! Don’t take this the wrong way, but how are you not getting more work?

HAROLD: (shrugs) What’s there to say? One minute, you’re young and full of shit and the world is yours. Next minute, you’re looking at a clock on the wall in an empty art gallery, wondering what the Hell you did wrong.

Sophia sees the man beside her, turns to the stack of photographs in her hands.

SOPHIA: I haven’t seen myself… (beat) I haven’t felt this beautiful in years. Thank you, Harold.

She kisses him.

Harold blinks, “Wow. Okay.”

SOPHIA: (soft) Your lips are soft…

And then…

She gathers her things, walks away.

Harold sits, watches like an idiot, then realizes he should probably say or do something.

HAROLD: (blathers) Wait. What? Shit… I’m sorry, Sophia. I didn’t–

Sophia stops, turns to Harold.

SOPHIA: I know you didn’t. I did.

HAROLD: Then, what’s the problem?

She smiles with her eyes.

SOPHIA: No problem.

They share a moment.

Then…

Sophia walks away, toward a nearby hotel.

Harold follows.

Grand Ghoulish (I-V)

I-V. CLICK

Harold, in his underwear, types and clicks away at a laptop while sitting in a dark kitchen.

NARRATOR: (voice-over) Harold edited erotic photos of a mostly naked married woman by the glow of his computer screen, and his mind wandered.

Harold metaphorically and/or literally drifts off to…

The third-floor master suite of a “stately manor.” Sophia poses on the bed. Harold, once again fully clothed, photographs her from somewhere between the bed and that balcony with the expensive view. Click-click-click.

SOPHIA: (coos) I don’t have cooties.

Harold looks up from his camera.

HAROLD: Huh?

SOPHIA: You’re so far away. Wouldn’t it help if you got a little closer?

HAROLD: (shrugs) Maybe.

SOPHIA: (pouts) Ya know. For someone who does this all the time, you sure are shy.

A beat. Then…

Click-click-click. Harold continues making with the clicking and the flashing, only a little closer.

HAROLD: To be fair, most of these girls I photograph are–

SOPHIA: Younger?

HAROLD: Not married.

SOPHIA: (scolds) Harold

Click.

HAROLD: I’m teasing.

Sophia relaxes, smiles.

Click-click-click.

HAROLD: Most of them are wannabe models who will never make it, settle on being whatever an “influencer” is, then turn to selling oils and pills and other people’s artwork.

SOPHIA: Sounds a bit harsh.

HAROLD: (shakes head) I’m not judging. Just sharing.

Sophia sits beneath that interpretation of her younger self, exposed, and considers this.

SOPHIA: So, what does that make me?

Click-click-click. Then…

Harold stops, considers this.

HAROLD: I’m not sure yet.

Harold continues with the click-click-click.

NARRATOR: (voice-over) Many hours later, as Harold sat in the mild discomfort of an otherwise dark kitchen, beneath the wobbly blades of a ceiling fan, looking at those dozens of photos of Sophia, he still wasn’t quite sure what to make of her.

Like the photos on his laptop, no two Sophias were the same. There was the refined woman in the silk sundress he met at the gallery, soft-spoken, curious, and resigned to the whims of a man who drags her by the wrist and parks in handicap spaces. A carefree mess in her vintage Bon Jovi tee smoking weed with Harold in his car. That confident young woman bound forever in canvas and oils. And every photograph was another Sophia looking back at him, her emotions and thoughts and urges scattered. One moment, she’s aware of how little she’s wearing and reaching for sheets, pretending she’s only being playful. The next, she’s ripping off her top and reaching for Harold with her eyes…

But it was the Sophia who caught his camera lingering too long on an old surgical scar that Harold kept coming back to.

Sophia glides her fingers over faint lines running beneath her arms and breasts.

SOPHIA: These…? Oliver’s work. He’s a magnificent surgeon, but you can only roll back the clock so far. And time still leaves its scars.

Harold says nothing…

…and the silence cuts at Sophia like her husband’s scalpel.

Do they bother you?

Harold lowers his camera, sees the mostly naked woman on the bed in front of him, and considers this. Then…

HAROLD: No.

SOPHIA:  (smiles) I tried to cover them up as best as I could.

HAROLD: They look fine. You look…

NARRATOR: (voice-over) Harold never finished his thought.

Harold metaphorically and/or literally drifts back to…

A dark kitchen. Harold, once again in his under, typing and clicking away at a laptop. Click-click-click.

Back then, Oliver had returned by bursting through the front door and announcing his arrival like Ricky Ricardo. Whatever Harold might have been thinking at the time was replaced by the conflicting desires of leaping from the balcony window with the expensive view and running to the toilet.

Grandma enters, isn’t surprised by what she finds.

But now, his Grandmother had walked in on her sweaty grandson in his underwear looking at erotic photographs of a mostly naked woman on his laptop.

GRANDMA: (sighs) Harold… I thought we talked about you doing this sort of thing in the kitchen.

Harold slams the laptop shut.

HAROLD: I’m working, and it’s hot in my garage!

Grand Ghoulish (I-IV)

I-IV. LAVENDER

The third-floor master suite of a “stately manor” located in an expensive corner of a somehow even more expensive strip of Southern California coastline.

Harold stands there holding roughly fifty pounds of photography and lighting equipment in both hands, seized upon an intimately detailed nude oil painting of Sophia.

NARRATOR: (voice-over) The house was little more than a modest four-bedroom home condensed into a cramped four-and-a-half thousand square feet. The Brazilian walnut flooring was several years old by now, and the wine cellar too small for even a moderate day-drinker. Sure, the view of the crystalline waters of the Pacific from the third-floor master suite was every bit as breathtaking as it was majestic. But, it could be better. In fact, Harold hardly noticed the view because he was preoccupied with the massive, intimately detailed nude oil painting of Sophia hanging over her bed.

Sophia enters wearing somehow less than the painting, joins Harold. Yet again, Harold somehow fails to notice…

SOPHIA: (smiles) My father-in-law used to be one hell of an artist

HAROLD: Your father-in-law painted this?

Harold turns to Sophia, drops both his jaw and the roughly fifty pounds of photography and lighting equipment.

SOPHIA: Yeah, but he’s dead now.

Sophia turns, cautiously navigates the broken photography and lighting equipment, and looks melodramatically out the window.

NARRATOR: (voice-over) Harold stood there in the bedroom of a mostly-naked married woman, among the several gym bags and rather expensive and broken light bulbs at his feet, a man at war with himself.

Harold gawks at Sophia, to the painting, to the broken photography and lighting equipment all around him, and then back…

On the one hand, he was an artist being paid to do his job. It hardly mattered that Sophia was a mature woman wearing only bits of tissue paper, floss, and a smile. The sort of haunting beauty many years removed from that painting, yet preserved by the carefree lifestyle of comically obscene wealth and the skilled hands of a well-compensated surgeon.

Sophia crosses back over the broken photography and lighting equipment, seats herself at the foot of the bed. Harold continues to gawk.

But on the other less-skilled hand, Sophia hardly seemed to mind that Harold was gawking at her thighs and pondering aloud as to how soft they must feel, perhaps like very expensive toilet paper lightly scented in lavender.

SOPHIA: I thought you were a professional, Mr. Photographer?

HAROLD: Yeah. Me, too.

SOPHIA: Harold, I’m teasing.

HAROLD: I’m sorry. I think maybe this was a mistake.

SOPHIA: What. Why?

HAROLD: Well. You’re married, for one.

SOPHIA: Are you still on that? Oliver’s paying you to do this. He gave you a deposit, didn’t he?

HAROLD: Yeah, but–

SOPHIA: (frustrated groan, rolls eyes) Harold… 

Harold snaps to attention.

The mostly-naked woman on her bed is paying you good money to take photos of her. So quit being such a chicken shit, and whip your camera out.

HAROLD: (nods) Yes, Ma’am.