Kanye was prattling about film of all things, and Kim hated him more for it. He kept itching at the edges of his phantom mask like he wanted to take the thing off. He still wore the cowboy hat that he’d picked up in Texas. A starstruck teenage boy with an orange beanie sat in the passenger seat. Kanye’s sequencer was plugged into the Cadillac’s tape deck, and his new track was playing. Kim sprawled out alone in the back. They were in the parking lot of the Oklahoma City strip mall where they’d stopped for dinner. It was night, and Kim kept looking longingly at the bright 24-hour laundromat.
“See, but people talk about Rashomon like it deals with the subjective nature of personal experience when it’s about the untrustworthiness of reported experience. It’s not saying you can’t trust your own memory. It’s saying you can’t trust people. ‘Cause the characters aren’t mistaken—they’re lying.”
“Yeah,” said the boy.
“Ye, hand me a roll of quarters,” said Kim.
“You understand what I’m saying?” asked Kanye, ignoring her. They had not been getting along.
The boy said, “This song is amazing.”
Kim noted that the new track was good. It had been hard to tell during the torture of its recording. She wished the boy would hand over the pills and leave, so Kanye would go back to his sullen silence. She reached over the front seat to grab a roll of quarters from the ashtray, then sat back down and passed it from hand to hand, enjoying its solidity.
The boy was a film buff and the kind of video-store clerk that pretends he’s Tarantino. (Kim had asked if the video store did any business, and the boy had said, “No.”) They’d overheard him talking about his mom’s Vicodin at the stripmall diner. Kanye was almost out of the Percocet that Kim had picked up in Phoenix, which meant he was taking a jaw-dropping amount to deal with the pain of his burnt-off face. She guessed that if he wasn’t taking his mask off it was because he still hoped to rob banks—he was trying to keep his face a secret.
“Okay, but,” said the boy. “But say probably that comes from the story it was based on. And it wasn’t what Kurosawa cared about. I mean, you shoot scenes to match the story each character tells and you’re not just illustrating their narratives, you’re suggesting their realities. I mean he had to make each reality to shoot it in the first place.”
“You’re overthinking,” said Kanye, and that was what made Kim grab the laundry bag.
“You two have fun,” she said and climbed out.
When she turned around for her laptop and legal pads, the boy was saying, “So how would you make a movie about subjective realities?”
Kanye said, “There’ve been some already,” but Kim shut the door and didn’t hear his examples.
The laundromat was brighter inside than she’d thought. She started the wash and set her laptop on a low table between two orange plastic seats. She propped up the first legal pad with the second and started typing up what she’d written. She had to twist to the side to reach the keyboard, but she fell into a groove for the first time since starting the novel, and the clothes sat in the washer for an hour before she remembered to transfer them to the dryer. By the time she shoved the dry clothes back in the bag, she had typed up the first of the legal pads. She had only let herself make obvious edits.
She packed everything up and lugged it outside, thinking that Kanye must experience his own behavior differently than she experienced it. No one would choose to behave the way she saw him behave, so he lived in a different universe.
When she got to the car, the boy was gone, and Kanye was asleep in the passenger seat with a needle in his arm. For a second, she thought he was dead and felt no horror.
In Oklahoma City, the world’s greatest detective got rough with the boy. He wasn’t proud of the black eye he left, but the bloodbath he’d found in Amarillo demanded at least that much. The bank robbery there had gone bad. No one was left alive. It was a pile of corpses, faces full of bullet holes. One of the bodies had no face at all. The floor was sticky and red.
He was well out of his jurisdiction and playing vigilante because he had to. The boy talked, but he didn’t know much. Kanye had made sure of that. He was driving a nondescript Cadillac and wearing a mask. Phantom of the Opera.
“Clever,” said the detective, but he had expected no less.