Sunday Stories: “Kitchen with an Island”

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Kitchen with an Island
by Lauren Van Schaik

The Rescue: she flounders, she gasps—only you can save this damsel from maw of our sand (sourced from Santa Monica State Beach)

For the connoisseur: vine rope, full submersion, schoolgirl

 

Today, Lois Daggett is Carmen DeSole. And Carmen DeSole is a dream.

She realizes this the fifth time Gilligan hoists her from the quicksand, the fifth time they topple to the soundstage floor—more Marx brothers, less From Here to Eternity because this is 8:30pm on network TV. 

Carmen (Lois) has no lines—just instructions to scream—so they didn’t give her a script. But she’s seen enough episodes of this show, slumped on the futon at her parents’ in Milwaukee, to know that Gilligan, the Skipper and Mary Ann are never getting off this island, and that CBS is not casting anyone new, especially not Bikini 2, no matter how convincingly she can shriek and thrash in quicksand. She’s either going to be eaten by cannibals before the final commercial break or this is a mid-season dream sequence.

And maybe it’s flattering, Lois thinks, as she sinks up to her nose in the ooze again and lets the crew pour in a fresh bag of playground sand. She’s not sure who else’s fantasy she’s ever been. Maybe her aunt’s second husband. When she was fifteen, he’d cornered her by their pool and pulled a dick like the undercooked inside of a corndog out of his swim trunks. And occasionally Grip Jim, the time he asked her to wear a plaid skirt and coo into his ear. Her agent says she needs to be sexier, in general. Shorter skirts, popsicle commercials, more cigarettes so she can talk like Lauren Bacall. He’s the one who named her Carmen—DeSole she got herself—but really Lois had always been her, at some level: in lipstick, in first day of school outfits, in all the drama club plays.

Cut, reset, and the director calls to her through a megaphone: “This time more frantic, Bikini 2. More distressed. Prettier, c’mon.”

Lois wonders how you drown in a pretty way. A fuckable way. Think Ophelia. Think Narcissus. Think Percy Bysshe Shelley. But mostly she thinks her cunt is going to be sandpaper when she sees Grip Jim tonight and then he’ll really never get her on I Dream of Jeannie.

The sand is milkshake-thick, but coarse and insidious. It has a suck to it, a downward pull that makes it hard to clamber out. Her legs are already crabbing from the effort. She takes a lungful of air and begins to scream.

“Make ‘em kiss.” A man lurking stage right. White suit, smug belly in a turtleneck, sideburns more Gilded Age than Rubber Soul. “Smooch her, man,” he says, but the director and the producers scuffle feet and throw each other harangued looks. The Professor could smooch, but Gilligan, never. He sleeps in a hammock. Even at the suggestion, Bob Denver is quaking and pale.

A makeup artist crouches beside Carmen, with a bucket of fine-grained sand to impasto to her face. “That’s Gene Rockwell, big at the network,” she whispers. “Came from film.”

Gene Rockwell’s eyes are as bead-black and wide-set as a lobster’s. Lois feels them on her, and again tastes the panic she gulped in the dressing room, when she first saw herself in costume—a palm leaf and fishnet bikini and gallons of skin. 

“We could use a love a scene about now,” Gene Rockwell calls.

Carmen looks up at Gilligan. He’s as sexy as a Golden Retriever and he’s wearing the same jeans he’s worn since shipwreck, but really, most of the time Lois has been kissed, it’s been this slapstick. Guy quaking, like a bed in a seedy hotel; car gear box in her spine; contretemps with the French lingerie set she bought aspirationally.

Carmen DeSole has been romanced more; first, in fact, years before anyone ever looked at Lois with agendas and bedroom eyes. In Oklahoma, with the slapping of sweaty velour curtains and mothers fanning themselves with programs; in the mirror; in a TV spot for laundry powder, by a man with shoeblack hair; in that UCLA thesis film where she had to say “métaphysique” and run weeping after a camera mounted on a bicycle. 

Dane, the director, always wore sunglasses—as he pedaled that bicycle, as he capsized Lois onto his bare mattress and said he wasn’t sure if she was right for the part, actually he wasn’t sure if the film was right at all… 

But that was Carmen, surely: Carmen who knew how to nudge him onto his back and take his dick in her mouth and lie.

The next time Gilligan yanks her from the quicksand, Carmen tangles her legs with his and gives him a big, gritty kiss. Gene Rockwell beams at her with commercial teeth. 

“Cut, print.”

The Play: these bathing beauties dip in to get even dirtier. Watch them roll and splash for you.

For the connoisseur: Nude, mud (straight from tidal mudflats), twins

 

The Pacific Coast Highway is stitched along the coast to Malibu like a skirt hem, and Gene Rockwell drives it one-handed, the other in Carmen’s hair, the sand glittering on her scalp.

He told her not to shower so her grainy legs stick to the seat leather and she keeps wanting to apologize. He’ll have to get his Buick cleaned; that’s what Lois’ dad always said, when he made her and Mom (Carol) shiver under the showers at Lake Michigan, letting the streams finger beneath their one-pieces. 

But Gene grins sideways at her as he drives. “I always tell girls to trust their instincts—that’s acting. That’s what you did back there.”

Earlier she’d made her excuses to Grip Jim from the payphone on the lot. “Night shoot. Let’s do Tuesday instead.”

“You know, the quicksand scene was my idea,” Gene is saying. “I told CBS, they need more peril in primetime. Quicksand, it’s cheap to do, and the audience likes it. We’re going to have some on The Beverly Hillbillies next week. And you know what? It’s sexy too. Girls thrashing, screaming, getting dragged under, all you can see is the hands and mouth. Makes you think of other things.”

She can barely hear him, she’s so full of sand. When she nods—which she does repeatedly, instinctively as they thread along the highway—she feels like an Etch A Sketch. But she likes Gene Rockwell, she resolves: the Gunsmoke stance, the texture of his suit in closeup. Or rather she likes the way Carmen is around him, when she catches glimpses of her, rippled in his sunglasses and on the windshield of his car: bare thighs glistering, hair whipped in the wind. 

 “That’s so smart,” she says. “It’s so Tarzan.” 

But most acting is physical. At least the parts she’s had. So she settles her hand on Gene’s forearm and lets her head roll back. Lets the future reel, click. He’s driving her to their beachside Mission Revival house, with a frothing, sea-shell Jacuzzi and a blonde wood dining table. He’s fucking her on a California King bed, acrobatically, vigorously, recording it all on a camera and stashing the tapes in a safe. He’s introducing her to directors, over silver dishes of deviled crab and cocaine, and—second reel—unzipping her dress after the premiere of her difficult, French fourth film. She’s thanking him as she grips her Oscar about his narrow man-hips—only as “Rocky” which is what his friends call him, she decides, and if they don’t, she’ll start.

When he pulls off on a viewpoint and unrolls her across the sand on a public beach, she makes sure she jerks and pants.

The Submersion: submerge yourself in our gooey lagoons—what you do below the surface is your business.

For the connoisseur: whirlpool, female companion

 

Gene picks up Carmen from the set of The Beverly Hillbillies. Her front teeth are blacked out, her hair matted with mud, her legs stiff from the flailing. He wants to “show her something,” and she already knows it isn’t his house. Where he lives with his wife, a coltish Kansan he found on the MGM rolls and is trying to launch at Godard. Or so Lois read in the old Variety she pirated from the library. She’d even picked up one of Grip Jim’s calls, to ask him what he knew about her, but his voice was so crestfallen, she could almost see him in split screen—surrounded by beer cans and his rejiggered Brownie cameras—and she couldn’t bear it. “Sure Thursday,” she lied. She also ignored the bouquet of California poppies Bob Denver sent.

But it is a house Gene has in mind, for once not a deserted beach. A ranch limpeted to a cliff along the coast: lounging rooves, ivy-bearded stucco, tightly shuttered windows. Thronged with black Cadillacs and so many tiki torches they’re like toothpicks in canapes. 

“What’s this?” A moot of Hollywood kingmakers, princess-makers, she answers in her head. Swishing cocktails with doe-eyed, Stanislavski-trained actresses, each thirsty for eldest daughter/other woman roles.

“It’s a part,” Gene grins.

Through the cedarwood door, and there’s no Otto Preminger, no Roman Polanski; no slinky-hipped, darting waiters; no school of girls who have grown out their hair like Jane Fonda. There’s just a smack of humidity, with a chlorine tang like a pool. A frontage of glass, burbled and yellowed, and a flat-faced girl behind it, feet bare on the desk, phone in the crook of her neck. 

“Yes, sir, you can simply immerse yourself and you don’t even need a girl there, if that’s to your taste.” She waggles her fingers at Gene.

Lois has no reference for this place: it’s part doctor’s office, part YMCA, and the well-thumbed pamphlets in the plastic case on are very Chinese take-out. A clipboard rocks from a nail, with a ballpoint on a chain, as knotted up as the signatures. “Gene’s Sand Bar” is mimeographed at the top. 

“It is seedy,” he agrees. “We’re going to redo this—chaises, curtains—but it’s tricky with the sand. Can’t exactly do shag rugs. And we’ve been putting most of the money into the installations. C’mon.”

She follows: through a doorway clinking with wooden beads. Down a tiled hallway, acrid with Lysol but flocked with sandy footprints, crusted with sandy fingerprints, a grit that winds up Lois’ nostrils and down the back of her throat.

“It gets everywhere,” Gene says. “That’s kinda the point.” He stops at one of the doors, cartwheeling a keyring in his hand.

“Viv? Can we pay you a visit?” 

Behind the door, it’s a snow-globe Gilligan’s Island: rubber fronds; palm tree in a discreet pot; studio-blue background, sky and surf. Canned tropical music: parrots, bongos, slap of the surf. Past the vines, there’s a sunken pool of blonde sand, and neck-deep in it, a brunette and a balding man. They’re doggy-paddling, tossing up wet sand, but he’s only using one arm and he’s groaning urgently—

“It’s a Submersion,” Gene says. “Some men like to feel enveloped, sucked in. Viv’s just there for atmosphere. It’s really the mud he likes. Hi, Marty, don’t let me disrupt you.”

Marty is cheek-deep, burbling like a seal, barely aware when they slip out. 

In the hallway, under the greenish light, Lois suddenly feels she needs to shower. “What is this, Gene?”

He puts his hands on his hips, flapping the vents of his suit. “For some men, tits and ass aren’t enough, ok? I mean, yours are great.” Tweaks the nipple just under the polyester surface of her blouse, and she’s too stunned to switch his hand away.

“But some us want the full scene and the tits,” he goes on. “The plot. The dirt. The quicksand. After a couple years in Hollywood, I started suspecting there were more like me. It sneaks into the work. Ever wonder why there are so many raincoats in noir? Sea monster films?

 “I met some like-minded fellows and I filled the inground pool at mine with sand and we’d have parties, but my wife isn’t like this. Staring into each other’s eyes—that’s her deal. So, me and the fellows relocated here, made it a business. But discreet. Can’t have the vice squad sniffing around.”

Lois tries to catch her breath, get a hold on what he’s saying. “Do people … do it here?”

“That’s one item on the menu.” He knocks her shoulder with a fake-punch. “I know you’re all right with that.”

At least her performances have been convincing. But she just doesn’t get what’s sexy about this.

 “Different things for different people,” Gene says. “Women in danger. Mud. Getting pulled under.”

She can’t scrub the bewilderment from her face.

“Look,” he says. “It’s probably from childhood. Check out Freud. When I was a kid in Louisiana, I fell in a swamp. Nearly drowned. That’s why I’m this way, I think. I’m just lucky I didn’t get the sea monster thing.”

Lois fidgets in her filmy blouse. She’s not sure she can get it. Her own sexuality—when she’s not performing, faking it—is an unplumbed cave. She can’t look too closely at the things she likes. The smell of Grip Jim’s underarms, if he’s just fucked her or returned from a jog. The time an “agent” told her she was gorgeous and took Polaroids of her sprawled on a hotel bedspread—the showing off and the threat that he could bash in her head. 

Maybe especially when it’s a performance, when someone is looking at her with wet lips and awe and she can believe, in that bottled moment, she’s sexy.

Gene is unlocking another door, another desert island. He’s shrugging out of his jacket, shucking his trousers. Lois hangs back against the rubber leaves, looks at the Beverly Hillbillies muck under her fingernails. 

“What do you say? Want a job?” Gene’s tighty-whities are already pup-tented by his dick. “It pays better than CBS, I guarantee you. And you do well, there’s more where that came from. I’m working on someone at Hammer Films, trying to get quicksand in their new caveman flick. It’s filming this summer in the Canary Islands. And I know how great you are in a pool of the stuff.” 

He presses a button behind a plastic parrot and the sand pit begins to pulse and spin like a whirlpool bath. He dips his hairy palm-trunk legs into the churn and groans, like a hotel ice machine, open-mouthed. 

Think Chesterfield cigarette girl, think Goldwyn girl, think casual girl who doesn’t expect anything. No public dates, no rings, no phone calls your wife might pick up, just a role, sir.

Before Lois realizes it, Carmen is unbuttoning her blouse, dropping her skirt into a puddle.

The Clinch: consummate any of our scenes, from Damsel to Submersion, with one of our dirty beauties 

 

Her first is a man with tortoiseshell glasses that he places solemnly beside the sandpit. “Don’t step on these,” he instructs. Fat has melted from his stomach and clings like candlewax above his belt, and Lois can’t find one thing attractive about him, which is the trick Viv told her. He cannonballs into the sand, goes under, and surfaces, knocking grit from his ears. 

She wishes he kept those glasses on so she could see herself reflected in them at least: as she jiggles for him in her palm leaf bikini to the bongos, as she buys time. He wants “the Clinch.” Jeanette’s face had screwed as she led him to the room. Just Lois’ luck.

She wonders if she’s supposed to make small talk first, but she’s never been great at improv. She never even knows what to say to Grip Jim in bed, and certainly not after. She doesn’t know what to say to him now, which is why she tells herself she’s ignoring his calls.

She doesn’t know how long she dithers on the faux beach, but the john swipes a spray of sand at her.

“Hey, lady, they said 90 minutes.” The run-time of a movie, Gene explained. 

She gets in: the grit of sand between her toes, the scratch of it on her calves and thighs. Her feet hit the sludgy bottom of the pool, but the guy is shorter and can only bob. He snakes his arms around her, pants into her hair. 

“Just like that,” he says.

The sand has a hug like an iron lung and for a dizzy moment, Lois can’t breathe, and then she can but the only air she finds is his doggy breath. She nearly climbs out and runs—her hands are already at the wall—but the sand is so heavy, it’s like swimming through glue, like waking from sleep, and the john’s full weight is on her, and maybe it’s easier to sink in. Let his groin scrape against hers, feel the quicksand’s vacuum suck.

Think Fay Wray. Think Natalie Wood in The Searchers. Think Scarlett O’Hara carried up the stairs.

 

She’s always been a quick study: learned to tower a soft serve cone on her second try, got most of Laura’s dialogue from The Glass Menagerie down in two days flat. 

She learns the tricks at Gene’s Sand Bar quickly too: how to help a pencil-limbed film editor yank her from quicksand without spoiling his hero fantasy; how to rewet the sand with the vine-wrapped hose snaked from the wall; how to give a handjob to crustacean genitals in four feet of mud; how to scrub the putty of sand and semen from her hair—but never how to keep the stuff out of the pink, conch-shelled parts of herself.

She works eight hour shifts and there’s an unbroken stream of men: suits jet-lagged from long-haul flights from Australia and Japan, car dealers who never lost their Okie drawl (there’s something about the Dust Bowl), beefed up guys with Tarzan delusions, surfers with blinds of hair. Jeanette at reception passes them all menus—The Rescue, The Play, The Submersion, The Clinch—and has them sign in, pseudonyms encouraged. Mickey Mouse and maybe that really was John Wayne? 

Gene has girls to slake all their appetites, to cast in all their lizard-brain, sleepless scenes. Bottle-red; dark-skinned; off-brand Audrey Hepburn. With her curly honey hair and long legs, Carmen sees where she fits in, like the missing suit from a deck of cards. What Gene must have seen in her.

There’s no climax: no disgruntled john who bloodies her nose, no recurrent yeast infection like Viv gets. It’s not the film executive who goes off script and bites her toes. It’s not the time that Oscar-winner comes in and slumps, rum-soaked, on the sand and watches her feint a hula, his genitals stubbornly like a Jell-O dish against his leg. “Don’t think this is going to do it, sweetheart,” he says. “The sea monsters were useless too.”

It’s the grind: the drain at her apartment so clogged with sand she showers in water up to her calves. The chafing, of parts she didn’t know could chafe. The exhaustion of her limbs from wading through wet sand in scene after scene, and the hoarseness of her voice from all the shrieking on cue. “Honey, we can’t sell bologna this way,” a casting director says, when she finally gets a day off to audition. “Have you tried the Robitussin people?”

It’s how Gene has another girl coming around, small and nubile as a quart of milk. Chattering about Lassie and so good at screaming—for her life, for pleasure—that when Lois gets off work, her ears ring in her empty apartment.

When she runs into Gene in the corridor at the Sand Bar, he’s so sorry, Car. He’s been preoccupied, he’s working the Disney people to get quicksand into The Jungle Book. Seems he doesn’t need actual girls and their hormones and the vending machine they want in the breakroom. And the wife is up the spout… 

Lois doesn’t even pretend to listen now. 

She’s paid in cash, rubber-banded rolls of twenties slipped by Jeanette under the glass, and when she’s filled three shoeboxes, and a closet with new dresses, and not worked on anything else in six months, she quits. Or rather just stops showing up. 

Jim agrees to meet her at a diner on Sunset. She has to take three showers to scrub off all the sand and nearly floods her bathroom, but it is a good exfoliant— Jeanette was right. 

Jim is shredding paper napkins, mounding a pile of confetti beside his plate. His eyebrows meet gently over his nose and he scrapes all the fixings from his burger, but was he always this funny? She catches sight of them—in the plate glass window and warped on the silver sugar pourer—and decides they look nice together.

In the coming years, he’ll want anal. He’ll want a baby. He’ll want her to get that haircut he liked on Farrah Fawcett, at least. But for now, when they fuck, he brushes her hair out of her eyes and when he comes, he whispers her name.

Think ranch in San Diego. Think waterbed. Think kitchen with an island.

 

Lauren Van Schaik‘s short fiction has appeared in The Cincinnati Review and The White Review and her novel-in-progress was shortlisted for the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize. She has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia, where she received the David Higham Award, and is completing a PhD there. Originally from Ohio, she lives in London.

Image original: Samuel Ramos/Unsplash

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