Tomorrow Belongs to Us
“I’m a princess, but she’s a goddess – ”
In the back of the van, the younger one said this in a slightly giggly voice as she smoothed her finger over one of the milkmaid braids encircling her head, widened her sky-blue eyes and tilted her uncomfortably beautiful-for-a-12 year-old face toward her plain-ish 14 year-old sister.
“That’s what she always used to tell me when we were fighting and she’d tell me Dad loved her more than me because I was only named after a
princess – ”
“Princess Thora Town-Hart, daughter of Herraour, the Earl of Gotaland, right?”
Thora’s smile and eyes widened, inordinately impressed, as if she didn’t know there was such a thing as Wikipedia. Although Jesus, in her case, maybe she actually didn’t.
“Right. But only Princess Thora Town-Heart, see? So my sister would say, ‘Daddy loves me more than you. He only named you after a princess, but he named me after a goddess.’”
“Freya was the Norse goddess of love, beauty and fertility and war –”
“And death,” Freya answered flatly without looking at him, staring instead at her father in the front seat who was on his cell phone. (Was her blonde hair dyed? It looked like it might be. Alex made a mental note to potentially broach this subject later somehow.)
He turned back to Thora, whose lightly flushed, slightly giddy expression depressed him. Though Alex was aware of being marginally maybe-helped-by-his Australian accent-attractive, tall and blonde and blue-eyed and all that and in-some-circles fashionably skinny and cadaverous-looking, he had no illusions he was Brad Pitt. And even if he were, at 38, he was probably around the same age as her father, whose cell conversation he hoped Dean was picking up. It could have just been because of the cameras, but he sensed it at least partly wasn’t. Christ, did that freak Dad of hers (whose conversation Dean better have been making sure he was picking up) ever give her an opportunity to be around boys her own age? Of course not. The guy didn’t even let her go to school for God’s sake.
“So you looked up the meanings of our names?” asked an impressed Thora.
“Why?” asked Freya blandly, this time turning to him.
“Well they were unusual names and I figured they might be from Norse mythology since you people often follow –”
“ ‘You people?’” With a quick snorting laugh, she turned away from him and slunk back down into her seat.
“Don’t you think it’s a bit ironic for you to take offense to that term?” he asked, immediately regretting it. But before he could assess how far over the line he had gone and what this might mean for the film, Thora cut in with, “Don’t listen to her – she’s just mistrustful, with like – outside people.”
“No, I’m not, Thora, ” Freya retorted in a high-pitched snap that actually relaxed Alex a bit. It was the first time since meeting her that she sounded like a kid. It then dawned on him, however, that the dad might have heard her and that might be a problem.
So his heart jumped just a fraction when he saw the dad put away his cell phone. “Who was that?” Alex asked, wondering if he sounded, if he even was, nervous.
“The record company.”
“Ragnarok Records, yes?”
“Interesting name for a record company . . .”
“Well, I mean, Ragnarok in your religion – you are an Odinist, right?”
“Isn’t it the apocalypse?”
“Yeah . . .”
“Well that seems, um, quite interesting, to me.”
Waiting just long enough to make Alex wonder if he had gone too far – if he’d blown his metaphorical load too early, as it were, in the filming process – he answered with a little laugh, “I think you’re reading too much into it.”
There was an awkward silence as he pulled into the festival’s parking lot, which Alex broke by asking, “So, are the girls selling well?”
“Yes, they are.”
“What do you mean?”
“Do you have to work any more? I mean, besides managing their career and writing some of their songs?”
“I work. I have a custom handmade furniture business. I don’t make my living off my daughters.” Parking, he turned back and looking just a little more at the camera than at Alex, flashed a polite smile.
Luckily, their timing was excellent and there would only be a small wait before the girls were scheduled to perform. The dad went backstage with them and Alex wondered if this was a good, bad, or neutral sign. Was he losing his confidence in Alex? And if so, how much did it matter? Didn’t he need Alex more than Alex needed him? And if he didn’t, was he aware of this? Desperate people, in Alex’s experience, rarely were aware of all the cards they held and Alex prided himself on having an acute understanding of the psyche of desperate people. He had had to rely far too much in his life on such people not to.
He and his sparse crew found a good vantage point from the stage from which to film. Quickly settling in, he allowed himself to enjoy the Montana sun coming out, its rays blanketing the smallish festival crowd with a light spring-y warmth. Glancing at his watch, Alex was actually appalled to notice that he was actually kind of (maybe even more than kind of) looking forward to hearing the girls perform. To his shame, he had actually found himself involuntarily enjoying some of (okay, more than some of) the Daughters of the Dawn songs he had heard. (In his personal thoughts, he had actually ascribed the phrase, un-ironically no less, “toe tappers,” to some.) And it wasn’t just the quality of the songs, but what he had come to think of as The Voice. Though he knew it was real, and not the result of studio engineering – he had seen video of the Daughters of the New Dawn perform live enough times where they clearly weren’t lipsyncing – he somehow felt he wouldn’t be able to quite believe it unless he heard it for himself.
This would be the first time he would be seeing the girls perform live. He also suspected that this performance would be another type of first for the girls. He could have converted this suspicion into knowledge, but something in him unconsciously – well maybe just a touch consciously – avoided doing this. Something in him unconsciously – well maybe more than just a touch consciously –wanted to see the answer to his question unfold before him. And it was probably this something, more than anything, more than even The Voice, that made him feel like he could actually feel his blood flowing through his veins, gliding up and down his limbs as the girls were introduced to lackluster applause and came onto the stage.
He was anxious to see how quickly The Voice would snare the audience. Or would The Face snare it first? It was perhaps a futile question, however. The girls’ genius (yes, genius – he had just mentally “said” it) was their complete synergy as performers. The steep differences in their gifts should have created a visual and aural cacophony, one of uncomfortable, even sadistic for lack of a better word, contrasts. When the girl’s weren’t performing, Thora’s unsettlingly extraordinary beauty always seemed to turn Freya’s mere plainness into ugliness. After he would hear Freya, with her unsettlingly stunning voice, sing a song’s verse, he would expect the next verse, often sung by Thora in her merely mildly pretty voice to sound hideous. Yet when would perform together, however, some strange alchemy would happen. The one with the stronger gift would somehow uplift the weaker one so that their audience could be tricked into barely seeing the difference. Thora’s beauty would somehow almost – just almost – become Freya’s as well and Freya’s talent would somehow almost – just almost – become Thora’s too. Your eyes might first gravitate toward Thora’s beautiful face and it would so capture you that by the time your eyes slid over to Freya’s, with its similar coloring and also-blonde long straight oft-braided hairstyle, your eyes would still be tripping off the residue of what you had just seen, and Freya would appear to be just a mere faded carbon of her sister. Or your ears might first draw you to Freya’s magnificent voice and it would so totally hypnotize you that Thora’s would turn into simply a weaker echo.
In other words, The Daughters of the Dawn, when they performed, were perhaps one of the purest, most perfect examples of symbiosis he had ever seen.
They sat on the stage on high stools, Thora with an acoustic guitar. Despite the fact that there was slight chill starting to prickle the air, they had removed the cardigans they were each wearing perhaps to show off the fact that, like their milkmaid braid hairstyles, their flowered dresses were identical save for Thora’s being pink and Freya’s being baby blue.
When Alex first heard Freya begin to sing Lynard Skynard’s “Simple Man,” he knew it would be The Voice that would get them first, that would quiet their listless chatter and would slow their milling around overfed flyover-state American bodies. By the time they began the next song, Waylon Jennings’ “The Devil’s Right Hand,” it clearly had. As they neared the end of the Scottish 70s folk song about World War I, “Green Fields of France,” the place had turned into opening night at the Met.
“So you like them?” he asked the twenty-something vaguely hippie-ish-looking couple sitting on a blanket beside him. Looking up at him, they simultaneously gave him almost dreamy-eyed smiles.
“Yeah,” the guy said.
“They’re like, totally amazing,” the girl replied.
They then turned away sheepishly and resumed their listening, not even asking anything about the camera. As Freya began singing “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” from Cabaret the girl turned back to him and said, “It’s amazing how they can sing so many different types of songs so well.”
“Yes the songs are very different, aren’t they?” Alex mused. “Almost – sort of oddly – random-seeming.”
“Yeah, well I guess they just picked songs that would best show off their voices,” the guy said with a half-turn toward him.
“So what you are filming them for?” the girl asked.
“Oh – that’s top secret,” he replied with a smirk.
“Is it for Australian television or something?”
This came from a teenage boy – a dull-eyed football player type sitting with a small group of kids his age – who was beside the hippie-ish couple.
“Actually it is for Australian television and something.”
“Are they some like, big up-and-coming group?” asked the spray-tanned pseudo-pretty bleached blonde whose love-handley midriff the boy had his arm around.
“They’re a – very special –” He gave a quick little smile. “ – a very unique – group.” He then turned back to the stage listening to the rest of the song in mostly silence, save for brief interludes with a few other nearby audience members who tried to engage him a bit.
Their voices gradually getting louder, the girls sung together, the song’s final lines, “Tomorrow belongs – tomorrow belongs –”
“ –to us, ” Thora said, her voice melting in stage whisper, her lips sliding up into gentle knowing smile, her eyes fixing into the audience as if it were one being with one set of eyes, and with a slight tilt of her head, winking.
The audience was silent for one, maybe two, seconds before it erupted into applause that went on long enough that when Thora first opened her mouth again to speak, her sister tapped her lightly on her shoulder to stop her. The girls sat and waited for the applause to end and only then did Thora say,
“This is an original song. It’s called ‘The Interlopers,’”
Just as the requisite who-hoos were beginning, Freya said, in the most sincerely loving voice Alex had ever heard in his life – a voice that made every kid he had very heard express parental love, including his former self, sound like a phony little shit,
“And it’s dedicated to our father.”
Thora studiously lowered her head to her guitar and began strumming the song’s intro. Freya soon followed singing,
A time will come where there can be a world
Where hills and valleys will be the green
Of the most brilliant emerald –
Thora then sang,
Warmed by a sun whose rays of gold
Heats all that was once ice cold
And then there will start to grow
In land that was once fallow
The tallest trees bearing the ripest fruits
And no one will ever go hungry, Freya sang.
And no one will every feel lonely, “ Thora followed.
And everyone will live in harmony, they sang together before Freya, with a dropped voice sang,
But in this paradise there might be –
An interloper – Thora sang - one, or maybe two or three, before Freya joined her in singing the chorus,
But they might come as friends and not as strangers
In the azure light of day
Not through the black curtain of night
And they will pose real dangers
And we must see beyond their masks
And we must see beyond their masks
Alex noticed a sudden quietness, a sudden stillness in the audience. He felt a little electric shock prick a spot behind his left ear. A thin quiet reed of chatter snaked its way slowly but sleekly through the crowd, before dissipating into the crisp air as Freya said, “This one’s another one of ours, it’s called, ‘The Valkyrie.’”
After Thora’s brief guitar introduction, Freya sang to the audience,
I know you look around and see a living hell
A place impure and rotting
Where the only sounds of our people’s future comes from those of
A death knell
The reed began slithering again, a snake of static-y energy whose head was expanding as it lengthened its way toward the stage while Thora sang,
And I know you live in fear
And think this is just our fate
But it you have the courage to look at evil directly in the eye
You might find to escape it you’d be willing to die
A needle pierced the left side of his jaw to his right as he heard indecipherable far-away yelling directed toward the stage.
The girls sang together,
And if you find that valor
You’ll find it just might be worth any price.
Alex heard some garbled far-off yelling in the direction of the stage.
“Booooo - ”
When you seem at your lowest, when things are so dark you cease to see
You might hear a strange rustling and a feeling of being lifted up and
"Get off the stage!”
And soon you’ll see Valhalla and know you’re being carried on my wings
“Your pure white pussies need some big black cock, cunts.” yelled the pseudo-pretty bleached blonde, “ Hahahaha . . . What? Dudes, I’m barely older than the ugly one – I’m allowed to yell shit like that at the stage.”
The strongest and the fastest of the Valkyries.
He thought, though technically only a large minority of the audience had turned against them, the crowd had an energy of a floor on the verge of collapsing and he was appalled to find that the girls were continuing to sing. Thora at least looked on the verge of stopping – she was just waiting for the word – but Freya performed not one iota differently than she had several songs ago. He wondered if the sight of her unruffled state hadn’t repulsed him so much whether he would have admired it. And where was the dad for Christ’s sake?
People started throwing detritus at the stage – cans and plastic bottles and rolled up food wrappers. As the girls were starting to make their exit, Thora flinched and shut her eyes as if something was being thrown at her, but Alex couldn’t see what.
He wouldn’t find out it was a lit cigarette, which actually missed her by a foot, until a bit later when she began hyperventilating at the outset of the ride back to their house.
Immediately cradling her in her arms, Freya called, “Dad?”
As the father dramatically swerved, Alex answered,
“She’s just having a panic attack. She just needs to put her head between her knees and breathe into a paper bag.”
“Well do you have one?!” Freya asked.
Alex looked back at his crew, but then realized they couldn’t help them without putting down their equipment. Though still driving, the dad absent-mindedly began to turn back to them.
“It’s fine – I have something,” he replied, though he didn’t. “Here . . .” He eventually found a crumpled up paper bag in his messenger bag and handed it to Freya, who handed it to her sister and guided her in using it.
“Yeah, that’s it . . .” she cooed, “Just breathe . . .”
“Has she ever had one of these before?” Alex asked generally into the air to the family as a unit.
“Shhhhhh . . .”
Freya looked back at Alex for a moment, to answer him he thought. But she said nothing and then turned back to her sister and began stroking her hair.
“It’s going to be okay . . . See? . . . It’s getting better, right?”
He wondered how long he had to wait now before he could broach the subject of what had just happened at the festival. Could he use the excuse (not that it was one really) of extenuating circumstances to the station so they would give him more money to extend filming a bit?
They rode the rest of the way back to their home in silence. Since no one asked him to turn it off or even acknowledged it, he and Clark and Dean had made a unified almost involuntary decision without even visually consulting each other to keep the camera and sound rolling. During the remainder of the ride, his thoughts were consumed with the whole extenuating circumstances/more money thing and the realization that the subtle stench of beer he kept smelling was emanating, he was pretty sure, from Freya’s dress and Thora’s hair.
After twenty minutes of this they pulled up to their house. Just as the father was putting the van in “park” Thora abruptly opened the door and jumped out before anyone had a chance to stop her.
“Thora!” the dad yelled leaping out of the car and chasing her as she ran into the house.
As Freya began exiting the car, she silently turned back and held up her palm to Alex, Clark and Dean.
Once again, they made the automatic unspoken-about group decision to keep filming as they sat in the van while Thora disappeared into the house.
“It’s been, like, five minutes.”
Alex remained silent, his eyes fixed on their windows, through which he could see nothing.
“It’s getting dark anyway,” said Dean.
Alex noticed they hadn’t pulled the shades down. Perhaps that was a good sign.
“Maybe we should just call it a day.”
“Should we, Dean?”
A minute passed, maybe two, and then Freya came out toward the van. She looked at them oddly, seeming surprised that they were still filming. Opening the door, she leaned inside the van and said, “You should go now.”
“Now? Or for good?”
“ . . . I don’t know. My father said he’ll call you in a couple of days.”
“ And what does he want us to do until then?”
“Um, anything you want – I guess. . . . Um, I have to lock up the van . . . ”
“And he couldn’t tell me this himself?”
“He could have, but I offered – since he was in the middle of trying to calm down Thora – who wanted me to tell you, actually, that’s she’s sorry she ruined everything.”
“And so that’s it?”
“No I just –”
“In a couple of days,” he replied, dulling the unintentional sharpness in his voice. “Right.”
“If you didn’t want . . .”
"Never mind.” She was looking down at the ground, searching for some invisible thing.
“What?” He asked gently. “It’s okay.” He smiled, then let out a little laugh. “I’m tough I can take i-”
“I know what you did,” she replied raising her eyes to meet his, where to his surprise, they remained, absolutely steady as he answered,
“What did I do?”
“I need to lock up the van, now. As I said, my father doesn’t want to continue filming right now.”
“Well, your father isn’t the one I’m filming right now –you are.”
“And my father wouldn’t want me to be out here letting you film me
“Do you have to do everything your father says?”
“No, I don’t have to do everything my father says. I want to do everything my father says.”
“That makes you the most unusual 14 year-old girl in the world.”
“Someone threw a lit cigarette at Thora. She could have been blinded.”
“And this is my fault because I – what?”
“You know what you did.”
“How can I know what I did? You won’t tell me.”
“I need to lock up the van, now.”
“Did you really think that they really weren’t going to figure it out? That you were going to sing those lyrics – talking about daaangerous interlopers – and the future of our people – and being willing to die -”
“Why are you yelling at me?”
“What if I were to tell you that I was Jewish?”
“Are you Jewish? Vanderhoff doesn’t sound like a Jewish name. It actually sounds like a very not-Jewish name. Just like your looks – which also seem like very not-Jewish.”
“How would you know? Do you know any Jewish people?”
Freya crossed her arms, looked down, then up at him.
“My father is waiting for me.” Her voice was gentle and soft, but her eyes still. “He’s going to wonder why I’ve been out here for so long. And if he sees you’ve been filming me all this time, he might get mad.”
“I don’t want to get him mad. I’m sorry I’ve upset you, Freya. That’s the last thing I’ve wanted to do. I just . . . I just think . . .”
Her arms still crossed, she looked down and then up at him again, forcing him to look directly into her strangely immobile eyes.
“I just think that . . . you’re an intelligent girl . . . You and your sister both are . . . And I wonder whether – you might – if you were exposed to other beliefs – other cultures –”
“How do you know whether or not I’ve been exposed to other beliefs and cultures?”
“I think if you could see different points of view other than just your father’s and realize that maybe he’s been b- that maybe –”
“He’s been brainwashing us?”
“I never said that.”
Jesus, he had, hadn’t he? What the fuck was wrong with him?
“You almost did.”
Now, what the fuck was he going to say? Jesus, how long had he been doing this?
“Tell me something, Alex; if I’m brainwashed, aren’t you also brainwashed? I mean, haven’t you learned your morals and values from your parents, your teachers, your community? From the television shows you’ve watched and the movies you’ve seen?”
He started to laugh but turned it into a cough as she waited for his reply. (Or was she?)
“You’re probably too young to realize this . . . particularly since they don’t have all those shows about cults that were on the telly when I was growing up – though you don’t get to watch the telly anyway – but . . . that’s exactly the kind of thing on those shows that people who were brainwashed would say.”
“Did I ever say I wasn’t brainwashed? If I were, I wouldn’t know it, would I? But if I were, why should I mind? I’m happy. I have a family I love. And I believe, deeply believe, in something. Something that gives me a sense of purpose –one that’s there when I wake up in the morning, when I go to bed at night, and when I sleep in between – and never leaves me for a second, even when I dream. How many 14 year-olds can say that? How many 40 year-olds can say that?”
One second passed, maybe two, where he just stared at her face, his mind blank, before snapping to and hoping Clark got a good tight shot of her face as she was saying all this crap, yet sensing that Clark was a bit of a dipshit and therefore, maybe did not. It was time to go, yes. They’d look like total scumbags and fuck up whatever chances they had of salvaging the project if they stayed. Now he just had to think of a pithy line to make his exit.
“Spoken like a true believer,” he said, knowing he sounded kind of lame. “And now, we’ll take our leave of you . . . until . . . perhaps, ‘a couple of days from now.’ Or perhaps . . . in another time . . . another life . . . Auf wiedersehen . . . ”
“Goodbye.” She said with a small polite smile and a nod.
It was when they were heading to their own van that he heard Freya yell, “Alex, wait.”
He turned around. Seeing her trotting, almost running, toward him, little pinpricks ran up his forearms as the muscles on the back of his neck unknotted.
“I just wanted to let you know – I just wanted you to – understand – certain things – certain things that I didn’t make clear before. My father didn’t trick us – I realized that you might have thought that. And I understand how it might have seemed that way. We knew – my sister and I knew – what kind of festival this one was – and that it was different than the usual shows we perform at. And I was only – I only seemed upset with you because it was Thora the cigarette had gotten thrown at.”
“And if it had been you?”
“It would have been different.”
“Because I’m ready.”
“Ready for what?”
“To be degraded for my beliefs.”
Once again, he responded to her with silent stare.
“I’d have 100 lit cigarettes thrown at me – a thousand beer cars poured on me – to stand up for what I believe in.”
What the fuck was he supposed to say to this?
“And I’d do it gladly – joyously.”
“Well . . .” His mouth twisting into a kind but sly smile, he cocked his head. “I can’t argue with that . . .” As he started backing away from her, she simply stood still, watching him.
“What, Freya? What do you want me to do? What do you want me to say? You and your father want us to go . . . So I guess . . .” He held up his hands haplessly. “This is it . . .”
“I know you think we’re funny.”
“Did I ever say that? Did I ever laugh at you?”
“Actually, just now, you almost did. Or at least that’s what it looked like.” She pointed to the right side of his face. “With that corner of your mouth turning up for just a second that way it did.”
Jesus, did it? It couldn’t have. It was one of the few goddamn times since he had begun filming these despicable freaks (okay, the despicable freak dad and his brainwashed children with despicable not-their-fault freak beliefs) that he hadn’t felt the urge to smirk.
“Freya, you’ve just been through something very stressful,” he said tenderly. “You’re project-you’re imagining – things.”
“But I wonder whether maybe when you’re home back in Australia a little while from now – and when you’re with your hip, glamorous friends at some hip, glamorous nightclub and you’re all laughing at us, whether there might be just one tiny moment where it’ll strike you that maybe, just maybe, tomorrow won’t belong to you. It’ll belong to us.”
She then began to turn to leave. But just before she turned her back to him, he noticed she was placing her hand toward her heart and he realized that the little bitch was finally about to do something he had been waiting for her to do, almost begging her to do, since the beginning of filming.
Just before her hand hit her chest, she lashed it out stick-straight and high.
And the camera wasn’t even fucking on.