a story in the perspective of the love interest

By: Julie Pham


the director says ​start​, and you come to life like an automaton. a blink, and

SCENE ONE. focus on you, a consumable catastrophe. you're sitting all pretty in a coffee shop; hear the background noises of "it's way too early for this," the cacophony of students stumbling in, eyes dead, brain dead. god rumbles -- the sound thunders through your eardrums. he’s hungry, you think. you don’t know what for.


camera cuts to a shot of your arm, resting atop your notebook. it’s partially covering something. The lenses focus, enough to make out words underneath.


love​, the handwriting sings, over and over again,​ love, ​in messily romantic loops, ​love, ​in naive twirls, love, love, love,​ and so on. what a princess you are; you’re perfect for this role, you’ve always been.


stop, get in position. the soundtrack begins to play; a clapperboard is placed in front of the camera; the music rises to a crescendo, and ​he​ comes in.

the first thing his eyes catch on is you. ACTION

this is how the story starts.


WES (17) is facing the typical sad-boy protagonist shit. has a dead parent, (you can’t be bothered to remember which one), wears his life out like a pair of weathered shoes, doesn’t know his purpose. he’s ready for a story. he’s ready for you.

what he doesn’t know is that you’re not doing this for him, all the charades, the fantasy. there’s a prize, of course there is. the director strategically places it ​just​ within reach: it glows pink in your peripheral, melts like taffy in your vision. you’re a girl whose stomach was born growling, and this is the first delicious thing you’ve seen in your entire life.

play the game, the director says, and you’ll get your reward.

so you do it. you give wes the world: spontaneous road trips, night sky lights, symphonies of colored laughter, even the tinkering of a grocery store sounding like the word ​risk​.  you inspire enough butterflies dancing in wes’s stomach that the velocity kickstarts his ribcage, forcing him to finally breathe again.

in return, he hands out small portions of the prize, one at a time. crumbs of love, bits of digestible sweetness: glances, kisses, ​ily​s. you savor every single bite. each one is your last, each one a new strip of flushed sun that you catalogue with your pink tongue, your pink tastebuds. you let the flavor sink down and listen to it plummet, you let it bloom, you let yourself become carnation incarnate.

and, maybe, sometimes it spoils in you, but that’s okay. maybe, sometimes, you feel the damage crowding against your ribcage, think ​a bone is going to break somewhere, and the black liquid that leaks out is going to be poison, ​but that’s okay. roses have thorns, you’d be an idiot not to know that, and besides, that’s not the important thing.

here’s the important thing: there’s this thing your stomach does when you’re hungry. it tugs at you at every tick of every second, pulls and grabs at you for something you have no name for. when you fill your palate with fumes of pink, it’s like it calms. who cares if the pink is poison; who cares if bones break; the important thing is that something in you settles, if only for a bit, and that’s better than nothing.


the camera focuses onto a blank line, rigid, the sharp spine of it cutting the paper. preceding it is a neat, typed out word: “NAME:” you’re supposed to fill it in.

the pen holds itself in your palm with a bruising grip. write, you think. it’s easy, it’s just your name.

just your name. the pen’s tip touches the paper, drags itself along the pearled parchment, stutters,

and stops. all that comes out is a half-baked scribble.

you stare at the ink. the poison of it pools in your bones. you can feel it find its place neatly in the pores, can feel it digging in, rotting. maybe something breaks, maybe all of it breaks, maybe—

it doesn’t matter. you still don’t know your name.

camera zooms in, in, in: a black tear delicately falls onto the paper, splashing itself atop the line, mixing with the ink.


close up on black. black covers the screen, with fringes of magenta on the side, muted and muffled.


off camera, a voice says, “holy shit.”

slowly, the frame backs away. see the black tears, bleeding down your nose, smearing the rose petal sockets of your eyes. the voice turns out to be wesley, whose reddened face is ink-smudged, pink lip stainted with black gloss.

well that’s a first kiss, ruined.

“what’s happening,” wes says, and you don’t know. you don’t know anything, except that somehow, the decay inside of you has found a way out, except that the way wes is looking at you right now makes you want to suck in your stomach, pinch your cheeks in until your gums bleed.

horrored silence steams off of wes. you start to make up words before your mind can catch up, just to say ​something, ​but when you open your mouth, out spills a polluted sunset.

not on camera, ​you pray.  ​god, ​you pray, ​please, ​​not on camera. not on camera, please

there’s a


and, miraculously, (you let your stomach loosen, blink in sighs of relief), the camera stops recording. the assistants and makeup artists pace around, trying to fix everything, and for a split second, when  you and wes are both frozen still, and some intern comes up to you and wipes away the ink from your face—

you get to exhale

.but then the suspension is wiped away and you prepare yourself because it’s inevitable. it’s inevitable, that eventually, someone you can’t see says


and everything starts again.

“sorry,” you finally say to wes. you’re looking down at your shoes; you never realized how dirty they were. “not sure what that was.”

wes smiles kindly. “it’s okay. made you look kind of badass, anyway.”

INT. LOVE INTEREST BEDROOM.  blush; linger on the color, look at how warm your cheeks are. how delectable. eyelids, linger on the cotton candy shadow-- it makes your eyes pop, doesn’t it? hair, linger on the nervous taste of it.

cut to an establishing shot. the camera watches you watch yourself in a full length mirror, underwear and new lacy bra. you’re smiling at yourself, the left side of your lips tilted down too much, making your face too wonky. you tweak it, lifting it a bit— no, not too much. okay, a bit more. yes. Right there.

your smile shakes; it’s on the edge of a precipice. so is the pink in your lips, so are the rosy fumes bubbling in you like champagne. satiation is a dependent variable; it shifts with the light.

the camera pans down, and there it is. this pink, this glittering, addictive pink that wes has rewarded you, that you’ve been soaking in— when it sees something ugly, it ricochets. case in point: your skin, disintegrating into ghoulish puddles, melting off your body like tar. look at it. there is no pink here.

there’s only you, studying how your body is a wrinkled mess. there’s you, eyes burning, craving to slice your body into little pieces, to poke holes into it so that all the ​you ​inside seeps out. there’s you,

8wanting to find a new body, one with movie-star skin, one that doesn’t liquefy itself into repulsive ripples. there’s you, it’s you, all of this is ​you.​ look at yourself.

but it’s not like you can do anything about it, not like you can steal a supermodel’s body and wear it like a crisp suit, so you do everything else. you use a shitload of foundation and you never, never, let wes see it. you wear clothes to cover yourself, clothes that make you look good. twirling around in your tight ensemble, you are ravenous. show off to the camera, the director says. dance to loud music and critique yourself in third person, make sure that you look heavenly from every single angle. the camera doesn’t have time for ugliness, and, frankly, neither do you.

you text wes, ​tell me you’ll love me forever .

you wait all night for him to respond: ​of course. ​❤


here’s the shot: you, wes, as it always tends to be, on his blushing bed. the cinematography envelops you in rose-colored hues, pink filters. close up on wes. your pulse is a delicate petal, and wes is admiring you like an unnamed painting.

cut to b roll. look at the couple from afar. a girl shovels popcorn in her mouth, wide eyes focused on the screen with a childlike fascination. ​lovely​, the audience will say. ​i want something like that.​ what they think they want is a bite of the salmon-pink, a pinch of the pretty scene illuminated in appetizing

9strawberry pastels. what they don’t see, though, is the black, the blood dripping down your eyes, the smudged ink where your fingers dance along wes’s skin.

“i’m scared,” you say. you know things have an expiration date. you know that this blackened rot isn’t helping anything, only making the minutes faster.

“don’t be,” wes whispers, tucks a strand of hair behind your ear. “it makes you more real.”

okay, but, when has anybody ever loved someone because they were ​real​?


you’re in a supermarket and wes is screaming at you, and SCENE FIVE:  it’s your fault, it’s always been your fault.

exhibit a, you weren’t careful enough. exhibit b, your body is continuing to rebel no matter what you do, and exhibit c, an ink-jet trail is now tracing after you in a murky, thick path.

“where the fuck is all this black coming from?” wes says. he comes closer, shoves up your long sweater sleeves. displays your arm in all its melted, rotting glory. face contorted in a mix of shock and nausea, he doesn’t stop. shoves up your pant legs, sees the same thing. “what’s wrong with you?”

you flinch.

“what is this?” wes’s voice shakes, his consonants scattering in the air, “look at you. you’re fucking melting.”

“no.” you can’t think. everything is gray except for the angry red hue of apples to the left, the murderous shade of lipsticks to the right. “no,” you say, bristling. “you don’t get to say that.”

“why didn’t you tell me sooner--”

you don’t let him finish, can’t even hear him. your corroded bones are exploding against your ribs, and the only thing you can hear is the impact of the shrapnel. “ i’ve had to deal with this for who knows how long, and ​now’s​ when you decide you can’t cope?”

“you’re making a mess,” wes is saying. nothing that comes out of his mouth registers, only ​what’s wrong with you what’s wrong with you

“what’s wrong with ​you?”  ​in the back of your head, the director is screaming at you, giving you negative stars. you don’t care. you keep moving-- a story is always moving.​​“do you even know my name?”

wes stares at you. “okay,” he says, “calm down.”  he doesn’t look at you like you’re poetry anymore. he looks at you like you’re something he bought online that got damaged during shipping. “ let’s get this cleaned up and we can go home and talk about it.”

“no,” you say, voice scratchy and ruined. “i’ve never even told you my name, have i?” -- you’re shaking -- “have i, wes?”

“come on,” wes insists, uncomfortable and hesitant, “let’s go.”

you don’t budge. you snap around to face the camera, stab your eyes into the lenses, address the audience. “you’ve been watching me this ​entire time​, do you know my name?” you’re loud, now. “have any of you ever wondered why wes’s name gets displayed so fucking big? bold letters: WES,17, right on page fucking two of the script. what do i get? where’s my name?”

wes looks trapped, the audience is silent, the entire story is going to trash, but you don’t care. you’renot going to let yourself decompose without doing something about it.

“since ​nobody​ here bothered to learn,” you’re hysterical, “let me ​go ahead and introduce myself.”


“hi there,” you yell, bitterly, to no-one and everyone, “nice to fucking meet you—”

everything goes sideways, you clutch your head, ringing sounds in your ear—

“listen, no, listen—”

revision, revision, revision—

“just wait, let me tell you my ​goddamn name—“

“make sure to cut that! every moment of that was unusable garba—“


you are in the middle of a supermarket. this is the first time you’ve been here tonight, or rather, the only time that matters. everything that doesn’t end up in the final product never tends to exist long at all.

this time, you go to the bathroom. clean up the blood before it spills onto the floor, clean up your words before they spill onto the script. this time, the apples are candy pink, the lipsticks are light. you make a joke to wes, “hey, what’s your name, again?” and wes laughs, looks at you like poetry. this time, when wes jokes, ​“seriously, what’s wrong with you?”​ you smile, and the decay spreads.

here’s the thing: you can’t hide it forever.

here’s the thing: the beginning of the end is a series of coal-colored frames. inked fingers. contaminated neck. cursed knees. your skin is evaporating, and you are molten lava.

the story takes you here,  where the stench of acid and crooked floors sting your nostrils, where your exhales skate out in shivers.  it’s almost done.


INT - night street - FLASHBACK. camera is shaky. "my parents think i have a condition or something," wes's voice breaks through. "i know i’ve made some promises, but look.” splotches of black cover his body, where you've stained. he jabs at his skin, at the wreckage. at yours, how it’s dissolving. “this can’t happen anymore."


watching the needle slice your skin, your eyes make out the pricked patterns and shapes, catch on the curved lines.

you find that, in a musty shop located in some sketchy back alley, you don’t think anything could possibly feel worse than right now: eyes stinging, sitting in a metallic chair and ruminating in hunger .you’re staring at the tattoo forming on your skin because you can’t stand to do anything else.

oil drags down your cheek, taking bits of skin with it. you knew this was going to happen. inevitable.

BACK TO SCENE, and the tattoo is taking shape, carving itself into something that makes your  heart pound faster. you want to eat the ink off your skin.

wes looks at you, but no, that’s wrong, because he doesn’t look at ​you​. he’s looking at the way your cheek is melting off your face, at the way your skin is caking off to reveal the splintering bones underneath, at how your bones splinter to reveal acres of rotting tissue. you imagine him trying to fit roses in between the spaces, but it’s impossible. you think of red blood, of palates and tongues and lips. you think of how, for you, it’s all black, horrible black, and you think about how everyone is pink on the inside except for you.

“i’m going to die if you leave me,” you say, slowly, enunciating all the vowels. something inside you twitches. “you know that, right? i’m going to die.”

you’re itching in the chair and your bones jump around like frantic grasshoppers. just hold on, tattoo lady says, a couple more minutes. she doesn’t understand that it’s not because of the tattoo, that everything feels jagged. she doesn’t understand that this — whatever you’re feeling right now— is what ​nothing​ feels like.

when wes leaves, you yell out a profanity after him. when he leaves, your tongue weighs a thousand pounds, and words taste a different way on your tongue, and all the roses shudder and turn gray.

the tattoo artist says something, and you blink. "sorry?"

with a forgiving smile, she gestures to the tattoo that’s now blistering on your wrist. "the name. is it your mom, a girlfriend, or....."

you glance at it, the curves of the tattooed name clear against the inside of your wrist. “oh, um, no. that's me, actually.” you trace the letters intently, over and over again, with a steady determination. “that's my name."

and here’s the important thing: your name, this inked stain on your wrist that screams ​ME, THIS IS ME--​ well. you’ve been so caught up in the disappearance of roses, you didn’t even notice that there were no more thorns. didn’t even notice how the sharpness against your ribcage has stilled, how your bones have mended, how there are no more leaks to clean up.

here’s the important thing: you’re still achingly, darkly empty, and you can’t decide whether it’s a fair trade-off.


the director says, calmly, ​what the fuck is that​, and you don't say anything.

the director says ​you are not allowed to have that​, and you don't say anything.

the director says that he will reel back the footage from the very first scene, before ACTION, before it all started, when life was just a series of hopeful what-ifs, and the director says he will reveal to the audience how stupid you really are.

let's go back to SCENE ONE, he says, where i’ll snatch the notebook from under your arm, shove the other props out of the way. where i’ll shoot the camera right onto the lined pages.

zoom in, the director says, look.

LOVE is what's written on the lines in the notebook, and the audience boos. they already knew that.but, the director says, wait.

LOVE, over and over again, the only word that appears to cover the page, until the camera pans alittle bit to the right. ME.


love me love me love me love me love me

the director says, ​how fucking pathetic​, and you don't say anything. it’s not like you didn’t know this about yourself. more that you did, more that every second of your life has been hyper aware of it: the way you chew before the food even gets into your mouth, how you spin anything you can get your hands on into edible rose-gold, how the soundtrack of your life has never been bubblegum-pop, but instead a chorus of increasingly desperate rumbles and growls.

i gave you this​, the director says. ​i gave you this, so you better do what i say and take it.

you’ve always been hungry, but you never wanted to look at it in the face.

the problem is that now, you no longer have a choice.

LOVE INTEREST (16) has no name. she has platinum blonde hair, swimming down her back in waves of pastels and contained eccentricity.

she has blue eyes — wes doesn’t like brown eyes, they’re too similar to his, and plus, they remind him of his dead dad.

she has a pale complexion — of course.

when you notice that LOVE INTEREST (16) has a stretch mark on her belly, you subtly erase it. you imagine wes kissing the perfect spot left behind, and you don’t regret it. you’d skin yourself alive if it meant wes would give you that crumb of a kiss.

and so you keep writing, write yourself a heart shaped beauty mark on your thigh, write yourself with pink tipped hair and perfectly sculpted eyebrows. that’s what you’re doing, really. sculpting.

in the end, LOVE INTEREST (16), blonde, blue eyed, pale, lets herself become nothing but a malleable barbie, watches and shoves down the heartburn as she molds the plastic into the perfect shape, burning away everything left over.

you watch yourself melt, and it’s worth it. it’s worth it.

knock one, two, three times on the door. get him to love you back.

no answer. text him, again. get him to ​please, wes, love me back.

knock a fourth time, with your skinny fingers, your bare wrist. no tattoo in sight. love you back.

when you knock for a fifth time, his godly car finally revs up to the house, and out comes wes, glorious. when he sees you, though, with your shining eyes, he stumbles. his face is wary and his eyes are already planning five different ways to tell you ​no.

you won’t let him. you won’t. you wildly wave at him, with your beautiful bare wrist, and your aching no-name, and you say “love me back,” but he won’t budge. he is standing there, frozen, staring at you, and everyone’s silent, nobody knows what to do. what do you do when the love interest stops being loveable?

you’re wondering when he’s going to do something when someone decides for him, slamming into his car with their bike. “oh my god,” a girl says, “i’m so sorry.” wes looks at her. beautiful in an understated way. An amalgamation of a million quirks. nothing without the boy she’s in love with. she looks, a little bit, like you.


the director is confused, the writers are confused, but you’re starting to see things in a cruel clarity. your bones are steel anvils.


wes is walking around the car, onto the sidewalk, where the girl manages to pick herself up. “shit,” she says, laughing. she’s adorned in a princess-pink dress, a hello-kitty bag slung over her shoulder, her tights the color of peach around her dainty figure. she’s so petite, she must have been starving or decades


the camera moves closer to her, gravitating. with the way the audience clamors at her, the way the little girl is already tugging on her mom’s sleeves to ask “please, i ​need ​to know where she got that bag”-- it’s like she was born for this. (she probably was).


when wes looks at her, it’s like he’s seeing a star for the very first time. no other constellations have existed before her. you want to wack wes in the face-- ​come on, don’t you know that all stars have names, at least? ​-- but instead, you just close your eyes. your wrist falls down, defeated.  ​inevitable​, you think, bitterly.

you try to stop yourself from sinking, try to count your blessings, ​at least you were fed for a bit, a bit is more than nothing, ​but it’s hard when you can feel the hollowness of your stomach expanding, when the director is granting you one final glance, mouth stern and apologetic:​ you had your chance.


you’re getting erased from the story, dissolving, but the director’s eyes are on the girl, everyone’s is. you can feel the script getting rewritten, can feel the language of it shift to accommodate this new fucking star.

you thought you knew what nothing felt like before, but you were wrong. this is what nothing feels like, this hostile transparency. you wish that you’d kept the tattoo.


the girl smiles at wes, (you can see a bit of ink on her teeth), and this is how the story starts.