The first review Griffin read of his third film Negative described the film as turgid, obtuse, a depressing departure from the refreshing if tentative artistic optimism demonstrated in director Griffin’s first two films. It was an early summer morning and Griffin was sitting by the window in his apartment kitchen, the sky outside blue, the sun already bleaching the world, a neat effect that resembled the kind he’d used in the film. Helena, in the bedroom, sound asleep, spent from her morning of sickness, her new daily routine. The film’s lush cinematography of tropic then arctic landscapes, the review continued, is wasted in a whisper-thin wrapping of a story. Ignore these things, he remembered Helena saying even as his heart sank, they’re jealous when they say bad things. He loved her, deeply and significantly he told friends, but he had a moment when he couldn’t remember what her face looked like. His mind scrambled, piecing together image fragments in his head, producing unknown composite faces. A plane flew overhead, rattling the windows, shaking him from guilt. She’s two now, he thought. We’ll soon be three. He folded the newspaper, tossed it to the floor, then lifted himself from the chair, walked into the bedroom and stood by her side, watching her breathe.
The last day of edits, Griffin was in the studio, late at night, alone. An electric crackle, and there went the power. He looked outside and the entire neighborhood was in darkness. A new silence, punctured by dogs barking, the frustrated yelling one-word obscenities, the sliding of windows opening to let in fresh air. He imagined it being intentional, someone preventing him from finishing his film. Then he pondered it being more than that. An act of violence, terror. The soundless moments were waiting to be filled by anything: explosions, gunfire, screams of victims. At his desk his hands touched a pad of paper. The idea: he captured it with words, tore the sheet from the pad. It would be filed with others, undeveloped photos waiting for infusions of color. After ten minutes the power returned, life blasting back to comfortable hum. The scene he was working on, the two lovers stranded in tundra, left to exposure, numbing death. The schemes of whites fresh, blinding. He called Helena. After a handful of rings she answered. He stumbled, said, are you there. She laughed, the line crackling with static.
He talked to his actress, said, consider you’re freezing to death, this is the endgame of torrid forbidden love. Her hair frosted with fake snow, skin painted pale with hints of blue, her lips purplish-blue tones hinting at hypothermia. Your lover will stop you from paradoxical undressing, he said, and hold your hands together as if being bound. She was young, talented, never killed on film before. She had lived in Mexico, Louisiana, southern California. Remember, the affair starts in tropical conditions, he said, the pinks and sea foams of some island-like paradise. Everything declines from there. Warmness slips to cold. Colors drained from life. The film wore her down, a chisel re-sculpting her soul. Every day he watched her retreat to her trailer. More a ghost each time. How much of you had been erased? She stepped into his dreams during filming. Luminescent, frozen, lost.
About three weeks after filming began, he married Helena. They had planned it four months before, after being together less than one year. She organized the hurried details—the officiant, the church, the reception. He worked on his film—casting, funding, locations. An ice sculpture, he said, would be fitting. So they got two dolphins entwined, locked in embrace and shooting from water. He paid one of his cameramen to film everything in documentary style. Her dress was shimmering blue, a flowing gown that looked like cascading water, her feet obscured, looking as if she were floating on air. At one point, he lifted a glass, toasted her, this woman he’d finally found. Here the cameraman went for a close-up, as Griffin’s words filled the soundtrack. She bit her bottom lip, her face frozen waiting on each word. The woman writing my dreams, he said. My all, my reason. Her eyes blinked more with each phrase, an intensifying beat the cameraman caught in extreme close-up, the moment jarring as her eyes shifted to look straight into the lens.
The day before filming began, Griffin was sick in bed. A night of fever, vomiting, sweating. Horrible dreams. One where Helena was nonexistent—he searched for her, walked the streets showing people her photograph, met by shrugs and headshakes. She’s gone, he recalled feeling. At one point the photograph burned in his hand. Her features went black. Her skeleton showed. He dropped the photo. In the distance he thought he saw a flash of red, her turning a corner. He ran across a road of crunching glass and jagged brick. But there was no one. An alley stretched infinite, an effect like mirror on mirror. Later that morning, he was lying in bed, shivering, his vision grainy. Helena was standing by his bed, her figure in silhouette. Are you there, he said, and she grabbed his hand, held onto it, life slowly returning to the world.