>She started off in her pyjamas, as usual. Loose summer cotton that flapped open everywhere and probably squiffed noisily as she moved but who was she to care? In her world, in the confines of her dark-clad home, nothing mattered but the actions of a small part of the human anatomy.
She flipped on the television, and tried to guess whether it was to be an ad or a programme. It was an ad. Bright colours and flashes of furniture. She was annoyed by this. She wanted a challenge first up. Tonight she had to be on her game. Her fingers toyed with a closed packet of pretzels, swiping loosely at the heat-sealed pack. She wasn’t hungry, she just needed something to do with her fingers.
It was the end of the sitcom that came before her show, and she read the faces on the screen easily. They were hammy faces, acting up like this amounted to humour. Their mouths gurned shamelessly, presenting grotesquely simple visemes; reading them was like reading the fat sure strokes of a child’s painting. She knew when she could have laughed, if it had been at all funny.
But then the credits rolled, and her show began. She wriggled further down into her couch, an unashamed joy filling her deeply. The logo came up, a deep marine blue. Her show was a cop drama. The hero McGurk, was a detective with the uncanny ability to see four hours into the past, a quirk of psychology that allowed him great insight into human behaviour, but often caught the ire of his superiors. But that was not why she watched the show. She watched it for its lengthy expositions, its background scenes. For one particular part of the background.
When her uncle had come around to install the gorgeous flatscreen TV, he’d set up the supertext, so she could read what was being said on the screen. She thanked him, but as soon as he went, switched it off again. She never wanted to be insulted that much. She knew how much supertext missed, or cribbed, or got just plain wrong. She had trained to lipread, and she was not going to get better at it reading words.
She watched McGurk stride across a windblown wharf. She waited for the body to be hauled from the water, trailing seaweed and fishing nets and whatever else bodies were meant to get caught up in. She watched McGurk’s face convulse as he touched the body, as his mind sped back four hours. A flash of colour, perhaps some mis-stepped shapes, but never quite enough to tell the killer.
After the next ad break, McGurk interviewed his first suspect. The victim’s estranged boyfriend. They met in a bar, the same bar McGurk used nearly every four episodes. Normal people weren’t supposed to notice this, she thought. To confuse them, they might play a different song in the background, shoot it from a different angle. But she knew. It was the same bar, because the same extras were sitting in it. Because the same woman with the jet-black hair sat talking at the bar. This was the woman you only noticed if you just happened to suffer from acute bilateral sensorineural hearing loss, and just happened to watch a ratings-ailing police drama religiously just to catch a glimpse of one woman with the most perfect mouth in the world.
She ripped open the packet of pretzels, and focused her mind on the woman’s mouth. Every other person watching the show, she knew, would be focused on McGurk and the suspicious boyfriend, combing their speech for clues, but her eyes were fixed on one point in the background, where the action was much more exciting.
Extras in TV shows, she knew, didn’t even say anything to each other. They mouthed their words, so even the person they were talking to didn’t know what they were saying. And they said some wonderful, strange, shocking things. She had grown to like the black-haired woman, who told the world her pains and desires when she was sure no one was listening. But one person understood her silent, public confessional.
Tonight, the black-haired woman stared across the bar at a young man in a light green shirt. The man saw her, pretended they were talking, laughed along. Later, after the day’s shooting ends, the young man will ask the black-haired woman what she was mouthing, and she will say “Kombucha bitches unite!” like it’s nonsense, like she was having light fun on the job.
When in fact, it’s something else entirely. From the comfort of a couch, with a pretzel rolling salt into the cracks of her fingers, someone who reads lips says, inside her own head, “Come, take your pictures tonight.”