Any Given Snowflake
by Louise Beech
My grandfather once told me that no two snowflakes are the same. Like fingerprints, he said. Or experiences. I remember asking what experiences were. His smile curled either side of frothy grey moustache and he said, “Most kids would ask about snowflakes." I hadn’t cared about them until grandad thought I should. Didn’t believe each was unique. Fingerprints aren’t. Identical twins share the same patterns and markings. There must be two flakes alike, I thought, and I would find them. Grandad laughed when I searched through piles of snow in our garden, studying the white until it melted into my mittens. “It’ll dissolve before you know it!” he cried. “Come and have hot chocolate." I didn’t want hot chocolate. But I knew if I went inside he’d pat my head, say I was a good girl and I’d charm experiences out of him. “Experiences,” he said, “are a lot like snow; they only last as long as the cold weather. When it warms you’ve only your memory of them. And each is nothing like any other you’ll have, and certainly not like anyone else’s." I longed for these experiences and had no idea I’d already been part of more than any child should. While he was talkative I asked about my parents again. Grandad didn’t pat my head. He washed my chocolate-stained mug and looked out of the window.
It snowed most of that winter.
Experiences shouldn’t start with the word action but for me most of them do. They begin at the command of another, usually a man though not always, and end with cut! “Quiet on the set,” the director will say and a hush settles over the crew. Sometimes slowly, sometimes fast. “Roll sound,” he’ll say. “Roll camera. Mark it. And... action." In my head I think, and experience. Then I recall the one that works.
When I first studied acting at the Northern Theatre Group my favourite teacher, Mrs Ryan, shared with me her quest for ‘theatrical truth.’ “What good,” she said, “is there in training the body and formalising the voice, in teaching an actor how to speak verse and enunciate clearly, if they cannot find that pure raw passion?" And using this, she insisted, was the focus of the Method. Method acting is where an actor uses emotions or sensations from their own life to identify with the character being portrayed. I remember my only big role - Ophelia in Hamlet. There was a scene where I had to sing while handing out flowers, both of which I messed up. “Draw on your experiences,” Mrs Ryan reminded me as I rehearsed. “Ophelia’s purpose is to show Hamlet's warped view of women as callous sexual predators; she herself is not as important as her representation of women’s dual nature." I didn’t know how. What experiences had I had at fifteen? What did I know of women’s apparent worthlessness? So I thought about the boy in my Lit class, the only kid with long hair and a pierced ear, who always ignored me.
“Okay, cut! Cut! Shit, Melody, you look like you’re fucking a piece of skirting board. I think that new hair dye messed with your head – blondes are supposed to have more fun, not drain all fun out of bloody life. And the line is, ‘I could get this space-craft fixed anywhere you know,’ not, ‘I could do it myself.’ Of course there’s a difference!" That’s what Melvyn said to me yesterday. He’s not able to merely yell cut. There has to be an insult or criticism, even when he uses the take anyway. And he’s the only one who calls me Melody. All the other directors use my real name. Yesterday was supposed to be my last day. I’d planned it for weeks. Film the final scene of Three Men, Two Girls, One Space, and find a different one. But Melvyn changed the whole thing at the last minute. My favourite lead—Luke Longhorn—didn’t turn up so we had to re-film with a newbie. I always felt confident Luke wouldn’t hurt me. He could act like he was without actually doing so, better than any guy I’d ever performed with. And if you want to survive untouched in this industry you have to be able to do that.
When I was a kid I loved reading trashy love stories. I’d hide magazines under my pillow and devour tales of swooning women rescued by gallant heroes. Love was my teenage porn. I remember a story where the narrator described how her hands lost all sensation when her soldier lover went away to war. She’d warm them on the radiator or shake them like I did years later when trying to lose my inhibitions before a scene. My grandfather said never to heat cold hands on a hot surface. Warm them slowly, he said. I still did it though, especially after hunting for two snowflakes exactly the same.
Aiden, however, never made my hands numb.
Aiden was the rebellious kid who grew his hair long when everyone else wore it cut into the nape and ignored me for a while. Both his parents drank so never noticed that he pierced his ear with a safety pin and hung a tiny cross from the hole. If I close my eyes in the taxi going to work I still see glints of gold highlighting soft lobe, taste cold metal on my tongue, feel it tickle my inner thigh. Aiden stopped ignoring me after I performed my first soliloquy in Lit class. We’d been told to find inspiration in the O, she doth teach torches to burn bright speech from Romeo and Juliet. I grew so aroused when practising my words at home that I rubbed the smooth side of a brush against myself, over the silk undies my friend Melanie and I had dared to buy together, palm against the bedroom door in case Grandad knocked with hot chocolate. I wrote about unrequited love, not well but honestly, and imagined my grandfather telling me about my parents. The experience left me with a fondness for sex while standing. I thought of those sweet, tight vibrations as I read my piece aloud and opened my eyes to a Lit class now rows and rows of O mouths, and Aiden flushed red, and I climaxed again.
Yesterday I couldn’t. Melvyn screamed that I was about as limp as a used sanitary towel and the newbie—Clint, an ex-soap star sacked for drug use—circled his middle fingers about my clit with keen frenzy to warm me up. His hands were cold. But that wasn’t why I couldn’t climax. Any skin arouses me. Any touch. Any temperature. I wondered if my body had switched off, knowing my head had decided to walk away from the set. I did something the actor never should and yelled cut after ten minutes. Melvyn stormed off in the throes of middle-aged tantrum. I made a cup of hot chocolate. Clint watched. His erection never faltered. But it was his eyes, his watching, that mattered to me.
The acting world is competitive, and this is an understatement. Thousands apply for the same position; I tried for Lady Macbeth in the theatre, for the lead in Guy Ritchie’s new film, the latest barmaid in Coronation Street. Thanks, but no thanks. I went to RADA. I mastered my craft. Then I advertised toothpaste and had bit parts in hospital shows and cop dramas. I had the brightest smile, died ten times on a fake ward, and was arrested for running a paedophile ring. Never got the big one though. Never played Ophelia how Shakespeare intended. “Give it a few years,” said my grandfather, “and then maybe learn to type." I didn’t want to type; I wanted to put my hands on the radiator.
Aiden waited for me after that first Lit class soliloquy. He said I could really write proper good and I laughed. Said he was lying, I was a lousy writer. I used too many adverbs and adjectives because I could make them fly off the page when I spoke them. Big words, small words. They didn’t have to mean anything or be great. I felt I made them sound that way. Aiden invited me back to his house - to his bedroom. I should have been nervous. I’d not even kissed a boy then. This boy drank cider with his mates at the far corner of the school field and stayed out until after midnight. But just smelling unwashed bedding and feeling scratchy stubble as he licked my cheek fired me. Aiden insisted I look at him as I tugged aside my silk undies and straddled him but I couldn’t take my eyes from the photo of his mother and father on the bureau. Said he’d put it face down and I begged him not to. He only stopped talking when I bit his lower lip and said we should pretend the whole class was watching us. For them we performed the sweetest duet until spring.
I left him. I left him while he still wanted me. I knew if I stayed he’d go back to ignoring me, eventually.
Melvyn returned from his hissy fit after fifteen minutes yesterday. He glared at my newly blonde hair and I fluffed it cockily but didn’t tell him I’d gone back to my curls’ colour at thirteen. Pointing at my pussy he asked if I’d got permission to grow it out. The shaving of the vagina isn’t so much because men prefer it (though many do) but so the camera can see everything. The camera is the king in porn, not the sound or the lighting or the lines. My once favourite director Hank said, “Hair on pussy is like fake tan on a beautiful thigh—it just hides the truth." He also told me erotica is truth and that I got plenty of work because I shared it with the camera. For me, being bald is sadly mature rather than childish. Hair I associate with youth and dreams and hopes. I loved when it grew over my pussy just after my thirteenth birthday. I’d pull on the stubby strands and pretend I had an audience. A pink mound I associate with age, removal, being stripped. I found out months after my last film with Hank that he’d gone into ‘child’ porn. Not stuff made with real kids but with girls barely eighteen, dressed to look younger. So much for truth.
Grandad found out he had a tumour the day I auditioned for my first adult movie, holding a negative STD test instead of a CV. A girl called Mona who’d tried out for the same condom advert as me said I should go for it. That the pornography industry has larger revenues than Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo, Apple and Netflix combined. I told her money didn’t interest me, I just wanted to be seen. “More people will see you in these movies than any other,” she said. I got the part and struggled with how to tell grandad. I’d always told him everything; he’d always told me nothing. But we traded. I let him make hot chocolate and pat my head and said I’d got a role in a film I knew he’d not approve. He left his fingers in my hair and said he had maybe three months left and that my mother and father both died soon after I was born. I didn’t ask for more. I didn’t tell grandad the director described my face as having potential, my body as average, but my pussy perfect. I didn’t tell him that I’d not needed any of the supplements offered to engorge for the hungry mouths of two women, as long as I could stand while they fed. I didn’t tell him that I searched the camera lens for rows and rows of O mouths. I said snowflakes are essentially alone—even if there are two identical flakes the likelihood of them ever knowing about one another, falling together, landing side by side, is unlikely.
When friends learn what I do for a living they ask what I’m comfortable with. Like, do you mind licking some man’s arsehole? Like, how can you when you don’t know him? Are you comfortable with that? How can you have a relationship? Doesn’t your boyfriend mind? I ask if they’re comfortable being paid to metaphorically lick a corporate guy’s arse to climb some career ladder. Which is worse? Really, isn’t my truth more honest? Yesterday Melvyn wanted the truth when I said I’d not be going back after filming the final scene of Three Men, Two Girls, One Space. I was done. I gave him a sort of truth. He only needed to know that I wished to let my hair grow wild again.
My grandad died. I scattered his ashes on the first spring snow. I got signed a week later by a major adult movie company and worked hard. I made film after film. I learned how to close my fingers about the thickest shaft while opening my eyes wide. I learned how to connect to a world beyond the set while being pounded by two men. I learned that with anal it’s best to curve your back—it hurts less if you’re not fully ready and looks better on camera. I learned to tilt my head while kneeling to fellate a guy so I could deep throat him. I learned that it was all about showing. I even got to play Ophelia in Ophelia’s Orgasm. I rarely had to fake stuff when I thought of those watching me but real orgasms do not translate so well as exaggerated ones. Word spread that I was for real. That what I lacked in grace or volume I made up for in apparent experience. I sent my old theatre teacher Mrs Ryan a note full of adjectives and adverbs, but she never replied. I saw Aiden in the shopping centre with a double pushchair and hid behind a marble column. So much for truth.
Today I filmed my last scene. The storylines in adult movies are very much like my own attempts at writing. No amount of clever words can hide that really it’s just about sex. I’m proud of my final filmed moments. Clint’s hands had warmed, but that wasn’t why. Shayna, the other of the Two Girls in the title, I knew well and liked, but that wasn’t why. Melvyn, in a rare good mood, had invited his son to the studio. No one minded. Paul was writing a thesis on the industry for his Social Science degree and wanted to see what really happened on set, which we all thought was cool. He looked a bit like Aiden. Blushed when I shook his hand and said hi. “How does a girl get into this?” he asked me. “She finds that it’s the only way to be seen,” I said. Paul sat on a chair by the camera and watched me and I felt naked. I wasn’t. I had on a translucent thong and silvery boots, in keeping with the space age theme. Clint and I were trapped in a capsule with an explosive device that could detonate at any moment. Only Shayna had the power to diffuse it. I thought about the first love story I read where Mary let Joseph be father to her illegitimate child and God purified the union. I made this my experience. I cried as Clint forced me onto the spacecraft’s flashing dashboard and had me anally before the world ended. Paul’s mouth hung open, one last big O.
In the dressing room afterwards Shayna asked why I was really leaving and I told her about my mother and father. I didn’t need to focus to find the passion when I told her the story of Anita and Alex. I didn’t need extra adjectives to describe a woman’s death during childbirth or the grief of a young man left with his newborn daughter or the torment of a grandfather who finds that child swaddled safely in her cot and a son nearby, cold, gone. I didn’t need to enunciate, to project, to shake my hands to release inhibitions. Adverbs find their way in anyway though. “How long have you known?” asked Shayna. “Two years,” I said. She asked, why now, why leave today? And I told her I’m pregnant. Hugging me, Shayna said, “There’s a huge call for pregnant women, you know. They look after you. It would set you up for a long time." I didn’t care. It was never about the money.
When I left the studio it began to snow. My heels made holes in it like freckles. I bought a hot chocolate at the stand on the corner. Tinsel hung from the price list. The Christmas after grandad died I got a card from one of his cousins. On the front a pink rose tried to survive a wintry world. Inside it said that while no two snowflakes are exactly identical it is possible for a pair to look the same. Something to do with water molecules and electrons and the abundance of hydrogen and oxygen. That any given snowflake probably had a perfect match at some point in their history. I kept the card with my trashy love magazines and the petals I’d thrown as Ophelia. I kept my baby. If I’d told anyone that I didn’t know which star of a handful of adult movies was the father I’m sure they’d have suggested otherwise. The father might have tickled my chilly thigh with his gold earring while kissing me there and it would be just the same.
When the snow melts and dissolves into brown slush I don’t know where I’ll be living. I don’t know how things will have changed. But I know absolutely that my child’s life will begin pure. She will never be cold. Never be alone. She’ll be the any given snowflake that perfectly matches mine.
Louise Beech has tried to not write. It makes her swear at the computer, frown heavily, cry, and mess up her hair. But it also makes her clap her hands, tidy up her hair, laugh aloud when alone, and walk about the house smiling. Her fiction has previously won the Glass Woman Prize, as well as the Eric Hoffer Award for Prose, the Aesthetica Creative Works competition and twice shortlisting for the Bridport Prize. Carol Macarthur at United Agents represents her novels. http://unitedagents.co.uk/carol-macarthur