Exquisite Corpse

by Justin Wolfe

“The so-called ‘tasteful’ Playboy pics will be… a classic tribute inspired by original Tom Kelly nude pictorials of Marilyn Monroe…. According to sources, Playboy began taking Lindsay Lohan photos last week, while she was juggling other duties like ordering cupcakes to the morgue.”
 — The Hollywood Gossip, 11/8/11, 10/25/11.

He told her that she was moving too much, that she had to stay stiller, the camera was finicky, the exposures depended on no motion, like just stop breathing, he said looking at the playback, just stop breathing, okay. Lindsay thought it was a joke and laughed but he said it was serious, this was going to be on the app, super HD so the viewer could fingerzoom into her 1,000% without the quality falling off at all. She said okay and tilted her head back to the left the way he told her, like in the second bed picture, number 18, and he leaned in to move the curl in front of her eye to match the reference, holding his phone up against the light to check. She didn’t like it when he touched her, the way his fingers hovered, but she didn’t know how to tell him to stop without making him angrier, he was in such a mood and it was just the two of them alone in the house, not even a make-up girl. The magazine had pitched it as an “intimate encounter” between photographer and model, like Marilyn and Bert, and he had seemed so okay when she’d met him with her people at Bastide and anyway how was she going to say no once they made her the offer. Now he was different, though, a different person, and he walked away and she couldn’t see him because of the lights but a few seconds later he told her that he was ready to shoot. He said to stop, to hold it, and he took a frame, the shutter clicked, and then he took another and then he stopped for a minute and she inhaled as the shutter clicked again, she hadn’t known there was going to be another right then, why. He raised his voice from behind the camera and said listen I told you to hold it, just for one second, I’ve heard you were difficult but this is a simple piece of direction, okay, now you have the pose fine so all you have to do is just hold it and stop breathing, and so she did, she stopped

like at the morgue the other morning when she’d seen the girl with the same scar as her. The first few days they’d just had her sweeping and washing windows and filing things in the office and it had been fine, she had signed autographs and a Mean Girls DVD for some secretary’s kid but then she had been dumb and accidentally tweeted from the bathroom. She had just wanted to thank her followers for their support in this tough time and tell them how much she loved them and it had been retweeted five thousand times and there was a story that night on TMZ about her getting special treatment and then she came back the next day, they’d sent her into the autopsy rooms with everybody else. So many rooms, so many bodies. They didn’t have to touch the bodies, her lawyer had made sure before she’d signed the papers, but they had to clean the tables after they had been used for the bodies. There were fluids that remained, dead cells, strands of hair; the woman doing the introduction used the word “ephemera.” There were all those things and sometimes, on other tables in the rooms near the empty ones they scrubbed with their paper towels and bleach, there were bodies, ones that had been examined and ones that were waiting to be seen before going away, boys and girls and men and women, all shapes and sizes, all of them so still

and he took a few more frames and said he got it and she inhaled and they were moving to the next setup. He told her to arch her back and stick her ass up in the air, to spread her knees some more, and she started to do it by reflex but then sunk back into the sheet and stopped, asked him what shot this was exactly. It was rhetorical, there was no shot with an arched back, that wasn’t Marilyn with Tom Kelley in 1949, that was Hustler, that was Penthouse, that was trashy girls with tramp stamps on YouTube, that was not what she had done the prep for, read the books and watched the movies and learned the positions and the expressions, how to find her light. She had done all that and now he was saying that the contract didn’t say anything about every shot having to be an exact copy, he wasn’t fucking Gus Van Sant; he was saying that Hef had a lot of nice ideas about what was classy and they were going to do those shots too but that this was 2011 and he was going to take a close-up of her ass and could she please stick it up in the air and for the love of God stop breathing so hard, which was not something even Tom Kelley would have had the nerve to ask Marilyn to do when he came to her at her lowest point and asked her to show all the private parts of herself to the world and him for fifty bucks. It was ridiculous but in the end what was she going to do, she needed the money more than she needed to feel good about herself and so she stuck her ass up in the air and buried her head in the sheet and stopped breathing and in the darkness she saw

the bodies on the tables, all of them so still, like at the wax museum downtown where she had gone to visit Marilyn the day she’d signed the papers, all these bodies frozen forever but especially the one, this girl with blonde hair she’d seen just before lunch the other day, the girl with her scar. Most of the time the bodies were covered in sheets or wrapped in bags but sometimes the sheets slipped and sometimes the nurses forgot to zip the bags and sometimes the PO’s wanted to mess with you and set up a scare for you before they sent you in the room. There was one of them who called her “Star” in the line-up and she knew he was fucking with her when he called her it but it still made some part of her feel good anyway and that was even worse, she knew, and if she could afford more therapy she would talk about it then. He had sent her into the room on the third floor before lunch and Lindsay had turned away from the stain she was scrubbing because the bleach was making her dizzy and as she turned she saw the scar on the inside of the girl’s right thigh, a little raised circle the size of a pencil eraser, almost invisible but she saw it

and when the posing was over and John offered her his pack of Parliaments and asked her, after all the yelling and the swearing and the telling her that she wasn’t allowed to breathe, asked what she was doing for Halloween, if she wanted to you know hang out. She took one out of the pack and lit it like Dietrich in high key, her eyes burning through him, and said she didn’t really go out anymore, that it wasn’t her thing, that she was a different person now. She exhaled and he smiled and said, oh sure, got you. A changed woman, he said, a miracle. He was such an asshole and when she was younger she might have told him, but instead she just smoked and looked out at the surf from the back of the house and then left, changed. She had been Marilyn for him and the camera and now she wasn’t, now she was just herself again, whatever that was. She had told him she was a different person and he had nodded like they all did and smiled that smile, looking at her but not seeing anything. It didn’t matter what he or anyone saw, though, she was different, she had changed, you had to keep changing because otherwise you were

the girl who drank half a bottle of tequila and danced on the table and did three lines in the bathroom of the Roxy and went back to her bungalow with a guy who put out a lit cigarette on the inside of her thigh because when he fucked her she said she couldn’t feel anything, otherwise you were in the front seat of a car and your nose was bleeding and the road was spinning and the lights were pointing up into the night but not pointing to any stars, otherwise you were a little girl in a ponytail and a t-shirt pretending to fight with her own identical twin for fourteen takes because they couldn’t get the camera right, or the light, otherwise you were Marilyn cast in wax and wrapped in a white dress and stuck in a dark room on Hollywood Boulevard with your hands between your knees as a vent blew cold air up your skirt forever,

otherwise you were laid out on a table showing your scars to the world, frozen in a pose you couldn’t control until the day when everyone had forgotten your name. Lindsay couldn’t let it be that way, it wasn’t right, it couldn’t be. She picked the sheet up off the ground and lifted it above the girl, as high as she could reach. It caught the air like a sail, hanging in slow motion, and then settled over her, the folds outlining her form.

Justin Wolfe is a writer and student living in Bloomington, Indiana. His most recent blog is firmuhment; before that, he wrote songs about buildings and food.