1. THE BED
The phone rings. It's a foreign phone, in a foreign country, so it sounds weird, unexpected, a buzz more than a ring, at once alien and official and full of alarm. It wakes her up. Not that she's sleeping--no, she's just lounging, getting comfortable . . . and the phone throws her eyes wide open, big, pale-blue eyes with pink threads tangled in the corners. She gasps, for she's a girl of very vivid breaths, and then sits up against the haphazardly piled pillows, her doll's face pulsing with mischief and the possibility of intrigue . . . hell, with all manner of pink thrills.
"The phone!" she cries as her eyes continue to open, to expand as impossibly as flowers blooming in slow motion for the camera. "You don't even know anybody in Australia! Nobody even knows you're here! Who do you think it is? Who do you think it could be?"
I swing my stockinged feet to the floor and stand up. I'm looking back at her--at her rapt little panting breaths, at her transfixed and transfixing blue stare--as I pick up the handset and hear a man's voice, indeed a sort of manly voice, clinging to a vestigial echo of New Jersey.
"Hiya, Tom," the voice says. "This is Tom Cruise. How ya doing?"
"Good, Tom," I say.
"You enjoying Australia?"
"Yeah, it's a great place."
"Listen, man . . . is my wife there?"
"Yeah, Tom," I say. "She's right here, in my hotel room. In my bed."
There is a pause--slightly affronted. "Yeah, in your dreams,buddy," Tom Cruise says, suddenly sounding an awful lot like Tom Cruise.
I turn back to the bed and smile at Tom Cruise's wife. The bed is unmade--ruffled, I would venture, with sprawled pillows and sloppy sheets. She--Tom Cruise's wife, Nicole Kidman--is moving swiftly across it.
She moves a lot, Nicole does. She's twisty. She scoots along until she is sitting at the foot of the bed, with her feet on the floor and her hands capping her knees. She's wearing gray slacks, black shoes with no socks, and an unbuttoned white man-tailored shirt over a T-shirt so short it reveals the stripe of her belly, which is so pale it's almost blue, the color of ice milk. Her black Prada handbag is on the floor, and her riot of orange hair is forcing its way out of an insufficient blue scrunchy.
"Tom, would you wait one second?" I say into the handset, then hold it at arm's length in the direction of Nicole's small, pink mouth. "Nicole, would you please tell your husband where you are right now--that you're in my hotel room and in my bed?"
"I'm afraid so, darling," Nicole calls to her husband. "I'm afraid I'm in his bed at this very moment."
2. THE BRIDGE
It began with the bridge. And the bridge, like the bed, was her idea. I'd asked her if we could do something really Australian, assuming that we would simply repair to a pub and drink beer until I could address her as a "chickie with a nice set of bims," which is the language poetically inclined Australian lads use when pitching woo. Instead, Nicole turned out to be a proud Australian, sensitive to slights and eager not only to show off the Sydney Harbor Bridge but to inform me of her grandfather's nominal role in the bridge's construction. Aussies are like that, so proud of their shared past that all their pasts wind up sounding exactly alike. Although the country started as a prison colony, no self-respecting Aussie claims rapists and murderers as forebears - "All the real bostids were sent to Tasmania" - but rather humble peasants exiled from England for the crime of stealing bread and then, in succeeding generations, soldiers who served valiantly at Gallipoli and roughnecks who built the Sydney Harbor Bridge. Nicole is somewhat aristocratic in her lineage, as Aussies go - "My family came as free settlers from Ireland in 1839." What makes her typically Australian, however, is that she wishes her ancestors had stolen some damned bread, and she calls herself a "real Aussie girl" - with a buzzed s to make Aussie sound like Ozzie and with the r in girl buried so deep in her throat that it comes out gull - despite the fact that she was born in Hawaii and grew up waving the žags of both Australia and the United States.
There was a muted kind of nationalistic fervor about her, then, when I met her for the first time, near the foot of the bridge. She wanted to show me something of her country and of herself and so she did. She was talking about the bridge, about her dear old grandpap, about the kids she knew who climbed the bridge before it was legal to do so - "on LSD," she whispered confidentially, scrunching up her finely whittled little nose, lifting her upper lip to reveal the pink gift of her gums. She was wearing a clingy, ribbed black turtleneck, tight blue jeans, black shoes with clodhoppery rubber soles. She was wearing black sunglasses that sealed up even the side entrances to her eyes, and her hair was pulled back brightly against her scalp. A black backpack was slung over her shoulder, and her shoulder was connected to her back, as it should have been, and her back was connected to her ass, and for one embarrassing moment, her ass was all I saw of Australia. I do not mean to objectify Nicole Kidman in any way nor imply that her appeal is strictly or even primarily sexual, but . . . Jesus. She had a great ass. It was narrow and yet shapely and unstarved and . . . complete. She must have known I was looking at her, because she has spent the better part of her life under scrutiny, and her response to it is curious, in that she really responds to it. She will say, "What are you looking at?" or, indeed, "What are you staring at?" but at the same time, she will behave in a way that rewards such intrusions: She will get all, like, twisty. She will clutch at herself self-consciously and twist her body in provocative fashion, or at least in a fashion that lifts the hem of her shirt and reveals the ice-milk border of her belly. Jesus. It's a predicament. I was staring at her ass the first time she said, "What are you looking at?" and then, chastened, wound up staring at her belly.
She was getting changed - or, rather, we were getting changed. We had gone inside the bowels of the Sydney Harbor Bridge, and now, in a communal dressing room, we had to shed ourselves of encumbrances - such as belts - and slide into the jumpsuits required for the climb to the top. For many years after the bridge was built by Nicole's proud Aussie grandfather, the apogee of its graceful steel arc was strictly the province of suicides and lysergically emboldened Aussie boys and gulls; since 1998, however, a private company has offered bridge tours, provided that prospective tourists are willing to don billowy gray jumpsuits, put on hygienic black beanies, and submit to a zealous search by a factotum armed with a handheld metal detector. Our factotum was named Matt, and he explained that such searches are necessary to ensure that no one ascends the bridge wearing anything that might attract lightning or pierce them if they fall. He waved the metal detector over the five-foot-ten-inch length of Nicole: no problem. Then he waved it over me.
"Mrrreeeyooo!" it yelped when it passed my crotch.
"Oh, no," Nicole said.
"Um, are you wearing a belt, mate?" Matt said.
"No, he took it off," Nicole said. "We took off our belts together."
Matt waved the metal detector over my crotch again. "Mmmrrreeeyoo!" it squealed with urgent alarm, with that zippery Dopplering sound designed for airports and punch lines.
"Hmm, wasn't there a movie with a scene like this?" Nicole said.
"Um, Spinal Tap," I said.
"Oh, yes, that's right," Nicole said delightedly. "Spinal Tap. And what was the character's name?"
"Um, Derek Smalls," I said. "But I swear I don't have anything wrapped in tinfoil - "
"Mmreeeyyoooo! Mrreeyooooooo!" went the metal detector. Matt was playing it for laughs now, and, sure enough, Nicole was laughing exquisitely, with a giddy show of her gums.
"Well, what could it be, then?" she said. "What do you think it is?"
I unzipped my jumpsuit, reached into the pockets of my jeans, and extracted a fistful of Australian coins, the gleaming scraps of their paltry dollar, worth about sixty-three cents U. S. "There," I said. "Hard currency."
"Hard currency," Nicole said. "Oh, listen to you."
And then it was my turn to listen to her. We followed our guide, Dom, through the dank corridors of the bridge, and then, as we climbed into the frangible Sydney sunlight, she began to sing. She is taking voice lessons for her upcoming part in Baz Luhrmann's century-ending musical, Moulin Rouge, as well as ballet lessons and samba lessons with an instructor named Mr. Cha-Cha, as well as, for another role, Russian lessons, though she calls Italian her language, because Italian is the language of love. The daughter of a university biochemist, she is rapacious in her learning - greedy - and now her pink lips parted in song: "O Mio Babbino Caro," delivered in a dutiful soprano, and then, with more feeling, "Blue Moon."
"You know, as it happens, I'm taking singing lessons, too," I said.
"Really?" Nicole said. "Well, then, you have to sing for me."
"I don't know about that."
"No. You must. You will. When we get to the top."
We kept climbing, tethered by guy wire to a cable that ran along the catwalk. Nicole walked in back of Dom, and I walked in back of Nicole. The view was spectacular, if dizzying, with the Sydney Opera House off the right žank, like a knot of imbricated mollusks, and then nothing but light-hammered water and cloud-tongued sky. "Are you okay?" Nicole called to me. "You're not afraid of heights, are you?" Nicole is not afraid of heights. Her mother is - "She has such bad vertigo that she actually feels pulled over the rail" - and so Nicole isn't, almost as a matter of policy. Indeed, she is so stridently unafraid of what others naturally fear that now, from the precipice of the bridge, she began speaking of going skydiving with her husband: "The only scary part is when the other person jumps first, because you're looking for them out the door of the plane and they just disappear. They're moving and the plane is moving and so they're just a dot, in an instant. They're just a pea, and so you have to jump. . . ."
"I'm afraid of heights."
We were very high. The Sydney Harbor Bridge is the largest steel arch bridge in the world. At the farthest extension of its arc, it is 134 meters from the surface of the water it crosses. It is way the @#%$ up there, and so, when we got up there, the light started doing tricks for us. First, it bent itself into a rainbow, and then the rainbow completed itself, so that it wasn't a rainbow at all - not an arc but rather a perfect circle, without end or anyplace to stash pots of gold, a wheel of colored light hovering above the water of the harbor. "Neveroyatno," Nicole said.
"It's Russian for 'I can't believe it.' " She began to wave into the distance, so that the wheel of light looked like a lariat she'd spun from her hand. "Wave," she commanded. We - Dom and I - did as told, waving toward some hazy promontory where Nicole is living with her husband and two children for the next year, or for as long as it takes for her husband to complete the sequel to Mission: Impossible and for her to make Moulin Rouge. "I told my children we'd wave at a certain time. They're supposed to be watching us through the telescope."
"The telescope?" I said. "Now, that's interesting."
Nicole turned to me. "You really have a slightly lurid imagination, do you know that?"
"You're telling me you never look through other people's windows?"
"No, nevah. Just the moon and the stahs. Well, once. But that was because I thought someone was looking at me. And do you know what? He was."
"So you looked at him, too." "Yes," Nicole said. "I always tell the truth." Behind her, another rainbow had settled into the harbor, the biggest I'd ever seen, bracketing the first one, that perfect spectral circle. I began to sing to her then, "Strangers in the Night," a personal song, as well as a relatively easy one. How did I do? Well, let's say that although I managed to hit most of the notes, I also inspired Nicole to break her record of truth telling, in the interest of kindness. She did, however, ask me to join her in a duet of "Somewhere," from West Side Story, and this led to disaster, for although we sang together competently enough, I declined to join her in the crescendos, and - almost in that instant - clouds trampled the sky and canceled the rainbows. This is true. The wind picked up, and rain began to fall, and we žed, following Dom over the gangway that crossed back over the eight lanes of traffic hundreds of feet below. We were halfway across when the storm hit us square on, when the rain began to rake our faces, when the wind puckered Nicole's pink cheeks and blew the black beanie off my head. It fell sickeningly, that beanie, wheeling toward the asphalt like a wounded crow, until at last it was run over by a truck. "Oh, my God, you lost your beanie," Nicole said. "What does this mean? What does this mean?"
"I don't think it means anything," I said.
"No, it must mean something."
"Nicole, please understand: I'm afraid of heights, and I'm standing, like, five hundred feet over rush-hour traffic in forty-mile-an-hour winds. I don't want it to mean anything." She was soaking wet and shivering. "I don't like this. All of a sudden, it's turned bad. What happened? What made it turn bad? Wait, I know: 'Somewhere.' We wouldn't hit the high notes on 'Somewhere.' Fear."
"Yes, fear," Nicole said. "It changes everything."
3. THEORETICAL INTERLUDE
For years, I had a pet theory about Nicole Kidman, one that sought to explain how she came by her mysterious sexiness-how she turned herself from what she was into what she is. Let's face it: In her early movies, she was both beautiful and accomplished, in her ivoried way, but not that sexy; whereas in her later movies-beginning, say, with To Die For, in 1995-she's sort of painfully sexy, forbiddenly sexy, sacrificially sexy, perilously sexy . . . sort of dirty-you know, "pure theatrical Viagra," as that British critic wrote after seeing her onstage in The Blue Room. It was a remarkable transformation and a seemingly willed one to boot, and my theory was that it did not happen until she stopped being a "real Ozzie gull" and turned herself into an American. In her early movies, she is very Australian-very feisty, proud, plucky, spirited, strong willed, et cetera-and so she is creatural, salt of the earth, but at the same time distant and not very carnal. In To Die For, how - ever, she transformed herself not just into an American but into America itself: America as pure psychopathology, as an incarnation of pure wanting, infinitely corrupting and infinitely corruptible. There was nothing Nicole Kidman wouldn't do in To Die For, and that, according to my theory, is not only what made her "Amer - ican" performances sexier than her "Australian" ones but also what makes America a much sexier country than Australia, despite the Australian advantage in marsupials. Then I traveled to Australia and saw my theory substantially modified by what I discovered there. Is easy an Australian word? Probably not-they probably have a more colorful term, the way they have the useful bloke whereas Americans have only the shapeless guy. Still, easy should be an Australian word, because that's what Australians are-they're easy. Indeed, it's their secret, in the same way that it's Nicole's. They like to present themselves as cheerfully antiauthoritarian-feisty, proud, plucky, spirited, et cetera-whereas in fact they're cheeky but compliant. They still žy a vestige of the Union Jack. They're the country that lacks the conviction to become a continent. They're obedient, happily so. This was confirmed for me on the top of the Sydney Harbor Bridge, before the rain. We-Dom and Nicole and I-were watching a replica of the HMS Bounty set sail into the shallows, and I remarked that in Australian parks the statues are not of Fletcher Christian, mutineer, but rather of Captain Bligh. "That's because of our respect for authority," remarked Dom. "Really?" Nicole said. "Do you really think that we respect authority? I always thought it was just the opposite." "That's what we're supposed to think," Dom said. "But we love authority figures. We're so laid - back, we let them get away with murder." This shook Nicole up a little bit. She thought about it for days, and even when she started talking about her new movie, Eyes Wide Shut-about how she argued with Stanley Kubrick, about how Stanley would always say, "You're so strong willed, Nicole"-she was haunted by the thought that she was just strong willed enough to risk doing what she was told and that her sexiness in Kubrick's new movie derived from the fact that there was nothing she wouldn't do, nowhere she wouldn't go, if she received the proper direction.
4. THE BAR
"Look at my pants," Nicole said. "They're soaked. What should we do?"
I looked at her pants. They were soaked. I didn't know precisely what we should do. We were both very wet. It was autumn in Australia. It was dark outside, and cold. Nicole was drying the twists and turns of her hair in a clean white towel, and, against the white of the towel, her hair had gone from orange to a brilliant red. She had taken off her sunglasses, and the blue of her eyes was nearly transparent. On the bridge, on the way down in the rain, she had remarked that as a child she had read that red hair and blue eyes were a sign of genetic inferiority, of weakness-"I've spent my entire life trying to prove them wrong." This was the first time she'd asked me, "What should we do?" but it wouldn't be the last, because even when she's seemingly asking for guidance, for direction, she's looking to top you-to show that whatever you decide, she'll agree to, and wherever you go, she'll not only follow, she'll pass you by. As such, there's a coyness, a žirtiness, an undercurrent of twisty eroticism to her questions, reminiscent of that tingly moment at the end of a date when the ante is either upped or it is not, when your date asks, "What do you want to do now?" and the rest is up to you.
"Well, my hotel is right near here," I said. "We can go there and change. You can wear my pants."
"But your pants are wet, too," Nicole said. "What are you going to wear?"
"I packed more than one extra pair," I said and squired her into the street. My hotel was just a few hundred yards away, but as we walked, the wind chilled our wet legs, and as we passed a pub, Nicole, with a skinny shiver, hugged herself with crossed arms. "Maybe we should stop for a beer," she said. Bee - yah. "Warm us up."
"You sure you don't want to change into dry pants?"
"I don't know," Nicole said. "What do you think we should do?"
"I think we should stop for a beer."
"Good," she said. "You wanted to get me drunk anyway."
The pub was called the Glenmore Hotel. It was a man's pub. It consisted of men drinking, men smoking, men muttering, men playing horses, men watching on wall - mounted TVs the fate of the horses they played, men bending over video - poker machines and gambling with incessant stabs of their blunt, crooked fingers. The men, in many cases, were cops from a nearby station and had red faces, bushy mustaches, brushy hair, and severely compacted brows. They didn't even turn around when Nicole walked through the door and stepped up to the counter.
"This is a real Aussie bar," she whispered. Ozzie bah. "Let's get some chips to go with the beer. Salt and vinegah. I'm an Ozzie gull. I need salt with my beer." She bought the first round, breaking a fifty, and found a table against the wall. The beer was black-Tooheys Old, it was called, to distinguish it from the Tooheys New-and it left a stain on her lips. She is painted in four colors, and four only-red, pink, blue, and ice - milk white-and now there was creamy brown froth on her lips, like something left by the tide. She licked it off with her tongue's dainty pink tip. The beer was very strong, and when we finished the first round I immediately stood to get a second. "You better watch it," Nicole said. "You get me drunk, you don't know what I'm capable of. I might dance on the table. We might be out all night."
I bought two schooners of Old and another bag of chips, and when I returned to the table, we had company. A room full of cops: Of course they'd known Nicole was there right from the start; they just hadn't said anything to her nor cast her more than a cursory glance, in deference either paid or unpaid-it's hard to tell with Aussies. Now at the table was the icebreaker: the first bloke of the night, tallish, youngish, with a golden pallor. "So do you think I've got a chance?" he was saying while squeezing his own cheeks. "I'm not a bad - looking bloke, am I, Nicole? Maybe not movies, but TV. Do you think you can get me in?" Nicole, smiling, with her cheeks burning brightly, looked suddenly very young and answered him like a saucy schoolgirl, already poised in the art of simultaneously attracting and dežecting attention. She was political without being condescending. She told him to answer the call for extras when Baz Luhrmann put it out, but by this time came a stocky man with no brow at all, asking her to pose for a picture, and then a small old man in a cap came up from a poker machine and watched her dab the foam from her lips. "Ah, you like the Old, do you?" he said. "You like the black. Good gull. Good gull. But you're gonna get drunk drinking schooners. You should be drinking minis. And he"-he looked at me suspiciously-"he should be drinking two for every one of yours."
I got up and bought two more schooners, for myself, and by the time I returned to the table, Nicole was gone-gone out front to pose for a picture with the browless man while half the pub for some reason yelled, "Don't do it, Nicole! Don't sell your soul!"; gone to make a call on a cell phone to the sister of the bloke who wanted to break into movies; gone to a circle of aging lads by the bar, who crowded her and stiffened into vaguely pelvic poses and asked her to sign their racing tickets and write mean messages to their girlfriends. This was her time to be a real Ozzie gull, and so she was: "I won't write anything mean," she said. "I don't like meanness."
"Okay," said one of the lads, "then tell her how handsome I am."
She took the piece of paper from him, and a pen, whereupon he did what drunken Aussies do instead of saying thank you: He belched, cracklingly, and Nicole was on him in an instant.
"That's disgusting!" she snapped in a voice fully Australian, almost wenchy. "Show some respect!" She was feisty, spirited, plucky, and proud, and the entire pub chortled and hummed in appreciation. I was standing ten feet away from her, by the poker machines, and the man next to me said, "She's a lovely bird, isn't she? But not a bad sort, for a lovely bird." He held out his knobby hand. "What's your name, mate?"
"Tom," I said.
"Bollocks," the man said.
"You're lying, mate."
"Why would I lie? My name is Tom."
The man looked at Nicole and then drew closer to me, speaking as though he held a toothpick between his teeth, in a sort of growling confidence: "Your name is Tom, my name is Rudolph @#%$ Valentino."
5. APRČS BAR
She has made a movie with Tom. It is famously called Eyes Wide Shut. It is famously about marriage, jealousy, and sexual obsession and was famously directed by Stanley Kubrick, who famously took two years to film it and famously expired upon its completion.
She told me a few things about it after we left the Glenmore and went to dinner, though she also kept saying that she was drunk and that I was drunk, that we were both drunk, and she didn't know how she was going to drive home, and I was inconsiderate and ungallant because I didn't seem to care. We were eating at a Japanese restaurant, on the top žoor of my hotel, and our pants had finally dried. I tried to interview her, and she was indeed very strong willed. When I asked questions about Eyes Wide Shut, she said that she was not allowed to answer most of them, out of respect for Stanley's final wishes. When I didn't bother asking questions about Eyes Wide Shut, however, she wound up telling me this: that Stanley wanted a couple married outside the movie to play the couple married inside the movie so that the reality of the onscreen marriage could be immediately established-"and it worked. The minute you see Tom and I, you totally believe that these two people are married, because in fact we ah." She did not, however, realize that the audience would think the movie was about their marriage, until the showing of the trailer, when she heard people calling the two onscreen characters "Tom and Nicole." Of course, Stanley had intended some of these complications-these minglings of fiction and reality-and that's one of the reasons she missed him so: because only he could sort them out. They had trusted him completely, Tom and Nicole. They had never even read the novel upon which the movie was based-Arthur Schnitzler's Traumnovelle. "Stanley didn't want us to. He wouldn't let us." The movie was his vision and his vision alone, and they'd had the incredible good fortune to live inside it for as long as it had taken to commit that vision to film. Why did it take so long? "Because that's what Stanley spent his money on-time. He didn't spend money on elaborate sets; he didn't spend it on special effects. He bought time." In fact, she had decorated the bedroom herself-the bedroom on the set, where she and Tom were supposed to sleep as fictional characters-and then, on many nights, she had slept in the fictive bed that Stanley had made for her. It was so intimate, so personal, because in helping Stanley realize his vision, she had come to feel that she was living inside his mind, and one does not get closer than that, even when one is married to someone else, physical with someone else, sexual with someone else.
We were still drunk. She was drunk telling this, and I was drunk listening. What was the movie about? It was about jealousy, sexual jealousy. It was about obsession. It was about desire inside and outside a marriage. It was about marriage and commitment, and we were still drunk, and she was clutching her right elbow with her left hand, rolling up the sleeve of her clingy black turtleneck. She was cold, and the faint blond hair was standing up on her arm, spikily, and her cheeks were very pink. "What are you looking at?" she said, at once opening her eyes wide in abashed demurral and getting, you know, twisty. "What are you smiling at? Oh, I know: You think I'm drunk. Well, I am. That's what you wanted, isn't it? You never even wanted to climb the bridge. You just wanted to get me drunk. Well, now I am, so you better take advantage of me while you can. You may never get anoth - er chance."
6. ANOTHER INTERLUDE
Two mornings later, I went running around Sydney Harbor. I ran past the Opera House and into the Royal Botanic Gardens, until I stopped at something called Mrs. Macquarie's Chair. Mrs. Macquarie was the wife of Mr. Macquarie, and Mr. Macquarie was, a long time ago, one of the first governors of Australia. Apparently, his wife liked the view from a certain promontory on the harbor-the better to watch the žoggings of those exiled bread stealers before they gave rise to the generations that served valiantly at Gallipoli and built the Sydney Harbor Bridge, I suppose-and so Mr. Macquarie carved a rather commodious notch in the native stone and called it Mrs. Macquarie's Chair. It is now a big tourist attraction, though at this particular moment it was occupied by three Aussie lads with piercings and dyed hair.
"Is this Mrs. Macquarie's Chair?" I asked them.
"I guess this is where she used to go for exercise, huh?" I said.
"Exercise, bollocks. She probably had about twenty blokes carrying her fat ass."
"It's a pretty big chair," I said.
"All right, then-thirty blokes."
It was at this moment that a woman came running past us on the jogging path, pushing a baby stroller. She was wearing a white jersey and red tights, at clamdigger length. She had reddish hair. She was about five foot ten inches tall, and she had a great ass. I apologize for this. I do not mean to imply that her appeal was strictly or even primarily sexual, nor to objectify her in any way, but Jesus, her ass was a miracle, skinny while still managing to be shapely and . . . complete.
"Is that . . . ?" one of the lads said.
"It is," I said, "and I'm going after her."
And so I did, huffing and puffing, until I was tailing her closely and planning what to say to her. I settled on the standard "Fancy meeting you here," but when I closed on her, I noticed that her hair was straight and streaked with gold, and when I ran next to her, I saw that she was painted out of more colors than Nicole's palette of pink and red and white and blue. She was tan, whereas Nicole is ice - milk white, and even as I opened my mouth to say, "Fancy meeting you . . ." I realized that-
"It was Elle!" Nicole said delightedly when I told her the story over the phone.
Yes, it was Elle. She was in Sydney, selling her line of lingerie.
I had gone running after Elle Macpherson, another real Ozzie gull.
7. BACK TO THE BED
I told Nicole this story over the phone on my last full day in Sydney. I had not seen her in two days. We had climbed to the top of the Sydney Harbor Bridge, gone to a pub, gotten drunk, eaten dinner until midnight. We had been hungover. We had gone to a coffee shop, and she had introduced me to Mr. Cha-Cha. Now I was leaving, and she wanted to say goodbye. "I want to say goodbye," she said, "but I'm going out with Tom and the kids to a Chinese restaurant. What should we do? What do you want to do?"
"Come to the hotel after dinner," I said. "We'll go upstairs for a drink."
A minute later, she called again. "How about I come over now?" she said. I told her I hadn't even showered. "All right, then, fifteen minutes," she said. "Go take your shower. I'll call you from the lobby." I was drying off, wearing a robe, when the phone rang. "This is the front desk. Miss Kidman is on her way up." On her way up? Jesus.
I looked at my room, at the unmade bed, at the chair full of dirty undershirts and the žoor full of dirty underwear, at the newspapers and candy wrappers and soda cans, at the scatterings and piles and the attempts at order either aborted or abandoned, at my hotel room and its sharp, solitary odor and its clingy, bachelory pathos. Jesus. I changed into pants and shirt and shoes, and I was running around with fistfuls of underwear and socks when the doorbell buzzed and there was the distorted rebuke of her pale-blue eyes in the peephole. I opened the door, and there she was, in my room, in the gray slacks, the open white shirt, the short, white belly tee, the insufficient scrunchy. "This is your room?" she said. "Nice." Then she began walking around, unabashedly snooping. There was a pile of slacks in an untended corner, and she said, "I suppose these are the pants you wanted me to wear?" Then she walked over to the desk and my computer and would have read from the screen-would have read my notes about her-had I not sat in front of it.
"Can you type real fast?" she asked. "I love when a man can type real fast."
I began to type, fast, really fast, and she started jumping around. This is what I wrote: Nicole Kidman is in my room right now.
Just so you know. She's right here, jumping around in my sad hotel room, while I type for her, really fast. . . .
And then she was in bed, the unmade bed. That's how it happened; that's how it worked: She just fell into bed. She was easy. Her hair, spilling out of the scrunchy, was very bright against the bone-white pillows. "Would you like something from the minibar?" I asked.
"Isn't the minibar expensive?" she said.
I fetched her a Diet Coke. She drank it and exhaled, under her breath, a tiny, tinny belch. Her stomach creaked, whirred. She was hungry. I climbed into bed next to her and took off my shoes. She kept hers on. I could smell traces of myself in the bed, and now her. We assumed various positions: head to head, head to feet, curled up, straight out, staring at the ceiling, staring at her, eye to eye, pillow to pillow, her ice-milk belly, her ice-milk ankles. "What are you looking at? What are you smiling at?"
We talked about a lot of things-the donations to charity she and her husband have made or are planning to make with proceeds from their various libel suits, most of which are related to slander against the sexual legit-imacy of their marriage; the difficulty of celebrity marriage; crushes; her crush on Tom. By this time, I had a new theory. "I think I have you figured out," I said. "You live to feel more alive than anyone else. That's why you can never say no; that's why you never turn down anything anyone wants to do."
She listened politely but almost poutingly and then asked: "Is that it? Is that your theory?"
"Yes. And now a question. You said that for the last two years you were living inside Stanley's mind. Did you feel alive there? Is that why you did it? Did you feel more alive than anyone else because you lived inside someone else's mind?"
"Yes," she said. "Very alive. More alive than evah." There was the precarious, almost daft dazzle in her weak blue eyes. There was the tintinnabulation of her laughter. There was the look of pliant expectancy in her face-the look that blesses a woman's face when it's upturned for a kiss. Of course, Nicole's an actress, so she wears that look all the time, or whenever she wants to-it's what makes her a star rather than just a beauty or a skilled performer-and so, of course, she wore it now, with her head up against the pillows and the wiggly mass of her hair spreading against the headboard. And then the phone rang, and she said, "Who do you think it is? Who do you think it could be?"
He was calling from a staticky, sizzling cell phone. He was at the Chinese restaurant with their children. He was telling her she was late. "Okay, sweetie," she said into the phone in my room. "Order me the fried rice, and I'll be there in a minute." She handed me the phone and said, "Do you want to speak to Tom?" She sat down at the foot of my bed as I talked to her husband about the weak Australian dollar, and when she heard me agree with him, that the Aussies are awful sensitive about the condition of their currency-when she heard me say, "Yeah, they're mighty touchy about their paltry little dollar"-she began stamping her feet and growling, through clenched teeth, "You Americans are so condescending! I can't stand it!"
"Is that Nicole?" Tom said into the static.
"Hey, man, do you think you could do me a favor?"
"Could you please tell her to hurry up?" Tom Cruise said. "It's already late, and we're getting kind of hungry."
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