After Movie Night, my boyfriend and I do role-play.
The first Movie Night was about a year ago at our friend Bill’s house. Bill’s theme was 70s sci-fi: we watched THX 1138, a pre-Star Wars George Lucas movie, and the next was Zardoz, with Sean Connery (‘Zed’) in a red mankini, and Charlotte Rampling (‘Consuela’) in lemon-yellow hot pants. It was the end of the world, that night, on a spaceship crashed somewhere in Scotland.
At home, while Charlie was brushing his teeth, I put together a DIY Consuela. Really, it was only to see the look on his face. I found my tiny yellow shorts from high-school gym class and knotted a T-shirt between my boobs. I lay on the bed as a model might on the bonnet of a car in a showroom. I called out to Charlie: ‘Come to bed, Zed.’
Charlie beamed when he saw me.
‘You can call me Consuela,’ I said.
That night we made love among the meteorites.
The next Movie Night was at Jamie’s house. His theme was Martial Arts and we watched a Japanese masterpiece, Shogun Assassin, and a cheap Hong Kong gorefest, Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky. At home afterward I planted my face in a sack of self-raising flour and wore a kimono I’d bought in Chinatown. I used a bread knife for a samurai sword.
Charlie looked pretty surprised when I came into the room knife-first. I think he’d assumed Consuela was a one-off, but he also looked thrilled with this becoming a regular thing. The next day, he sent me a text: I love it when you dress up for me you dirty slut.
I told him to watch out in case the next theme was Zombies-from-Hell.
Actually the next week we skipped role-play because the theme was Blaxploitation. Italian New Wave followed (salami, gorgonzola, la dolce vita – all hard to get off the sheets) and then Northern Miserablism (he spoke in a Yorkshire accent, and called me Kes). Over the year there followed Freaks; Sharks; Aliens; Animals; Bollywood; Dolly Parton; Roman; Snuff; Underwater; Sorcery, Witchcraft and Robots.
Finally it was my turn to choose the theme. I had to impress Charlie’s friends: I’m American, and to them this meant I didn’t understand irony. The theme had to be hip and ironic, like Jamie’s Martial Arts night, but also authentic, in some way meaningful. I considered a Hemingway night – we could watch A Farewell to Arms and For Whom the Bell Tolls – and afterward he could be Papa and I’d be Martha Gellhorn. But it was too niche.
Like a good American, in the end I dispensed with irony and just chose something I’d actually genuinely enjoy. Romances. Chick flicks. Whatever you want to call them. Secretly, I thought Bill and Jamie and the rest of them would probably enjoy my theme. Charlie and I made a big bowl of chili and we watched Closer and Brief Encounter. I caught big Bill wipe a tear from his eye when Alec went off to Africa and left Laura at the station.
It took ages for the boys to leave that night. From the kitchen I heard them arguing: if you found yourself in Pompeii, just as the volcano was exploding, what would be your rigor mortis of choice? Jamie said you’d want to be doing your girlfriend from behind, but Bill said you’d want to be doing something really creative, like painting. Most of the other answers detailed just how you would be doing your girlfriend from behind, and at what angle. It seemed that fossilization and ejaculation were quite complementary.
‘Well that’s decided,’ Jamie said, as I came into the living room. ‘The next theme has to be Volcanoes.’
Charlie looked at me, rather flushed.
I thought about candle-wax, and Papier Mâché.
Finally, they left. By now, I was pretty excited about our own brief encounter. I was imagining a big lump of grit in my eye, and lots of Yorkshire smog, as Charlie parted my legs under an imaginary Milford Junction. ‘Say it to me,’ I said. ‘Say “Laura, you’ve been very, very far away.”’
But Charlie didn’t want to do any role-play. He didn’t even want to get into bed. Thinking about it, he’d been quiet even during the Pompeii debate.
‘Soph, I’ve got something to tell you,’ he said. Very slowly, he began. He said that a while ago he’d told the boys about our little games after Movie Night. That’s why things had gotten weird, with themes like ‘Zoo Escape!’ and Disability nights. (We’d watched My Left Foot and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Later on, I was only allowed to blink while we made love.) The next morning, Charlie would email Bill and Jamie and tell them what we got up to, and then they’d cook up a theme for the next week.
‘I’m so sorry,’ Charlie said. Now, it seemed, he couldn’t stop talking, and he went on about how Patrick Marber’s Closer had shown him what a selfish thing he’d done, and that the heart perhaps was a fist wrapped in blood. Then he put his hand on my left breast, above my fist wrapped in blood, and said ‘Forgive me, won’t you, please.’
I’d never felt so much like Natalie Portman in my life. Parroting her words, I said: ‘It’s over. I’m out of here. I’m going back to New York.’
Charlie’s face looked transfigured. I guess he thought this was all part of the role-play, though I was unsure if he was pretending to be Jude Law or Clive Owen. Whichever one he was, he did his best to look upset and anguished and torn apart. ‘I need you,’ he said. ‘I have to have you. You have to stay!’ He’d gotten the style down pat.
I bit my lip like Natalie and shook my head. ‘No,’ I said with emotion, ‘I’m going home.’ Not since Consuela had I played my role with such gusto.
That night we made love and it was passionate and real but also movie-like and perfect, as if I were a New York stripper and Charlie was a feckless English gent who wrote obits for The Times.
I think it must have only been the next evening – when Charlie found my suitcase missing, the drawers empty, my passport gone – that he realized last night’s role-play was, for the first time, entirely real. I’d only made it to my sister’s in Neasden, but soon enough, I promised myself, I’d be in New York. Just like Natalie.