E hovers next to me as I build the camera in silence. She watches as I spin an allen key to mount the base plate. I move in slow methodical arcs, next the long rods and the follow focus. Knobs turn once, just tight enough to hold as the shoulder mount slides on, as the front grips find their place. And then things are tightened all the way. The monitor swivels onto the threads.
"Can I help?" She asks.
I ask her for two batteries and she crawls under the desk to the chargers.
"If they are green?" She asks.
"Green means done." I tell her quietly.
She lines them up on the edge of the table, hands on hips as I begin to turn things on, adjusting angles, loosening the tripod head and making test movements.
"It looks good, Pop." She tells me.
I break my concentration for a moment, staring at her. She looks older today, her nose, her eyes, her features suddenly less round, all coming together, a closer preview of what she will look like as a teenager, as a young woman.
"Time for a coffee." I announce, turning things off.
"I'll make it!" She says, skipping to the kitchen.
I spread some empty papers on the kitchen table and begin making a shot list. The coffee is the color of a camel and tastes perfect. E sits next to me, making notes on her own paper after I make mine.
"So, you'll help me." I explain. "I can forget some things when I have so many shots to do."
She nods, all business.
Next we line up the props, the old phone, the transistor radio, the ashtray, the Soviet comics.
"There is one thing that will be tricky -." I begin. "How to get one shot of her on a trolley bus."
E's eyes grow wide.
"How are we gonna do that?" She asks me.
"Really fast." I answer.
"Ok." She says, sighing once and looking at the things on the table.
The shoot goes well. The actress has a face that transforms, that shines and twists, curves and disappears each time I move the camera. I shoot her reflection, as she looks at herself in the mirror slowly putting on makeup.
I smile once to myself, proud of the shot on the monitor and that it is lit by nothing but two cheap lights from Ikea.
E cranes her neck, sees the image and gives me a look of quiet approval. She likes to hold the reflector for me, a giant disc that is white on one side and silver on the other. I know she does not really understand the finer points of it, but she likes to hold it. I cannot tell her it is doing very little to change the shot.
The actress is cold, the trolley buses are full of people. N told me this would happen, and that getting a half-empty one would be a challenge. I look at them all sitting in the car as I lean into the street, watching for the next bus to arrive, predicting how full it will be as it approaches. I step outside of myself, see a man standing and the air of his breath making little clouds, his hands shoved in his pockets, the camera with nothing attached to it now, waiting with the power on in the bag, the little lights on top glowing in the darkness.
And then a half-empty bus comes and I wave my hands. The actress gets on first. I have to buy a ticket and lose a good minute trying to press the little piece of paper into the turnstile the right way. She glides back to help me, in her heels and trench coat. I slide into a seat across the aisle from her, nodding and saying nothing just pointing at the red light to show that I am shooting already. She acts with perfect instincts, glancing behind her, adjusting the wig, looking out at the street whipping past her, the lights lurid and distant. I breathe out through my nose trying not to bounce around on the rough street. I move, get one more take, and then we are off the bus and E and N are pulling up in the car behind us. The heat is blasting and I am already yanking a pot onto the stove for pasta, cracking open a forgotten bottle of wine, looking at their faces, looking at myself with dirt on my knees and sauce on the edge of my shirt, knowing that shooting is like breathing out when done well.