Annie Rhiannon

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Please stop confusing love
with praise and attention

Rita's turning 80 this week and I want to know what she'd do differently with her life if she was starting all over again. I find myself doing this a lot lately: pressing people for more stories and wisdom than they were expecting to have to share.

“Body lotion,” says Rita, lighting a Silk Cut like a full stop. This conversation is over, my friend.

Body lotion! I don't believe her. She just doesn't want to spend another afternoon discussing love and ambition and personal failure.

“Okay, fine,” I say, leaving it alone.

Rita calls me Annie Get Your Gun, and so does the caretaker at work. I tell her that now – how I turned up for my first day too early, and the caretaker had to let me in and he said what's your name and I said Annie and he said oh yeah, Annie get your gun, is it?

“Yeah,” I said. "You got it.”

I like it when older people reference Annie Oakley when I meet them. It makes me feel like a cowboy. Then they wink at me and I wink back and nobody knows what just happened – but it has something to do with riding a horse through a canyon when really it's my first day at work and I'm here too early, nervously looking for the bathroom.

“Down the hall and to the left,” said the caretaker, and I'd walked off down the corridor where he was pointing.

The building was quiet and dank and felt more like an old cigarette factory than a film studio. But that's because that's what it is. I walked past the empty costume hall with all the empty costume racks and into the bathroom; then I went and found the empty art department and claimed a desk and a pile of scripts and started reading. People assume that being a graphic artist on a TV show means you work on the opening titles or something – but that's a whole other department. My job is to make the graphics that the actors actually use in the set: old treasure maps and period newspapers and boxes of vintage cigarettes. Isn't that a great job? To be put in charge of making old love letters for the actors to pass between them on set?

I am making all this sound way more romantic than it is.

Rita is falling asleep. I remember her once telling me I should stop confusing love with praise and attention. My scalp is itching. Sometimes I wonder if I have skin cancer — is an itching scalp a symptom? Also, when people say “I've nearly finished my book” are they talking about reading a book or writing one? It's hard to tell sometimes and it makes me feel anxious. I tried to read/write something last night but I got distracted and ended up drawing a picture of an owl instead.

I tear the owl out of my notebook now and leave it on Rita's dresser. Stop confusing love with praise and attention, she said. I think I'm trying to impress her.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

What Happened in Arizona

Before I left the desert I took the worst side of my personality — the side with my temper, each of my insecurities, and my propensity for over-sharing and for being swallowed whole by emotion — and I locked her in the trunk of the car and drove her over the State border into Arizona, where a tall man in a stetson named Emmett Marking shot her in the head and left her for dead.

I'd arranged to meet Emmett in a diner in Nevada, in a small town called Boulder City near the border. I like the way Americans name all their towns 'cities', even when all they have in them is a junk shop and a hardware store. This means I must be from a city of 300 people in rural north Wales, I thought, nervously sitting up at the counter with a strawberry milkshake and trying not to stand out.

When Emmett arrived he walked right up to me and said "Where's the client?" just like that, like he really didn't care who heard him.

"In the trunk of my car," I said, handing him the case of money which he opened right there and then, counting out the dollars like he didn't care who saw him.

We drove in silence, across the Hoover Dam and into Arizona, and when we pulled over I popped open the trunk and Emmett seemed caught off guard all of a sudden. He was shocked, I think, to see that the 'client' — lying knocked out — looked exactly like me. Same hair, same clothing, same face, same frame… same thin white skin made for small Northern islands and the constant threat of rain.

"This is her?" he asked, dumbfounded, and both his posture and the pitch of his voice changed, making him seem a little frightened. I was relieved that he was showing a pathetic human side because, as I'd written his character in the silence of the car, I'd briefly considered having to fall in love with him. Be careful, ladies, of being a woman who is attracted to confidence. One day you may end up falling for an imaginary hit man.

Emmett composed himself, threw the body over his shoulder, and walked off with her behind the boulders. I waited at the car. I was curious, of course, but really — who wants to see something that looks exactly like you get shot in the head, even if it is only the very worst parts of your personality?

The car was too hot to sit in, so I stood in the sun and kicked the sand around for a while. The road was empty and stretched from one horizon to the other and I wondered what was taking so long. I spotted a lizard sitting on a rock and I lay down on the ground and got close to it, really close, right up to its face with my camera. I was just about to reach out my hand and catch it when a gunshot sounded out behind me. The lizard darted off and I knew it was all over. I got up, dusted off my shirt and jeans, and felt better.

On the drive back to Nevada, Emmett twisted and fidgeted in the passenger seat and started to irritate me.

"So, she was your twin sister or something?" he said, eventually.

I was quiet for a moment, just staring straight out at the road in front of me, then I said: "Yes, something like that," and I turned up the radio so he wouldn't keep on talking to me.