Fandom: Six Feet Under
Written for: Littleloonlost in Jennyo's Female Gen Ficathon. Prompt: Brenda, "Change".
Description: Brenda and Billy on their parents' bed. (Yes, it's still gen!) Pre-series; uses canon through season 1 only.
Word count: 1,393
Disclaimers: Characters from Six Feet Under belong to HBO, Alan Ball, etc. The Uncertainty Principle belongs to Werner Heisenberg. I was probably also thinking of Michael Frayn's play "Copenhagen," and the movie "Blow-Up" as I went along
Thanks to Rob, Smash, and Samantha for beta reading.
It is a fucking law of physics that the very act of observation changes that which is being observed. -- Brenda Chenowith in Ep 1.05, "An Open Book"
Billy once told Brenda that there was no such thing as a candid photograph. He sat cross-legged in the center of their parents' bed, accentuating every few words by slapping one pajama-clad thigh. "Every human being, Bren – you and I and Mom and Dad and even Dr. M.-D.-P.-H.-D. Gareth fucking Feinberg is always being observed, and any attempt to construct a narrative in which any individual can divorce himself from the gaze of the other in some arbitrary fashion long enough to be considered candid, is an imposition of false consciousness and belongs on the scrap heap of outmoded art forms."
He glared, daring her to disagree.
She wasn't going to, because it was four in the morning, and if Billy dragged her into another argument, they would never get through this pile of photographs, and Brenda would never get any sleep, and she wouldn't get home by dawn, and Connor would leave her, if he hadn't already. "I get it," she said. "The very act of observation changes that which is being observed. Heisenberg's uncertainty principle." She snapped her fingers. "That could be the name for your show!"
"Heisenberg's uncertainty principle?" He gave her a withering look. "Doesn't that seem, I don't know, needlessly arcane?"
Brenda looked down from her brother's shirtless form at the disorder of black and white prints scattered all over the bed. Margaret and Bern were in Bora Bora, and Billy needed to install his first big gallery show the next morning, and he hadn't chosen the pictures yet, and the only way he could do it was here, on his parents' bed, while Brenda sorted them into the proper piles. For that reason, he had called her at two AM, pulling her out of Connor's bed. And when she put the phone down and Connor reached out for her, expecting a fuck in exchange for being roused in the dead of the night, Brenda instead slipped out of his grasp and said, "I have to help my brother." And Connor had known her long enough to groan at these words, for Brenda to suspect he would be gone in the morning. Long enough for her not to care too much, to drive up the canyon anyway.
Or maybe it wasn't Connor. Trying to remember it a decade later, she couldn't be sure. If she had to sit down and sort out who she was fucking during Billy's junior year at LAC-Arts, her memory would never take her anywhere useful. But she remembered Billy, tapping his hand on his leg, sorting that mess of prints into an outward spiraling pattern, a sort of mandala with a shape visible only to him.
"Uncertainty. That could be the name. And it's not arcane," she said defensively. "It's a law of physics."
He shrugged, and went back to work on another group of pictures, arranging them in a fan from lightest to darkest. "A law of physics that you're trying to transform into a facile analogy to human psychology, an area in which it would only apply if human beings were unthinking subatomic particles."
"Or if subatomic particles could think." She swatted at him with one of the prints he had already rejected, trying to coax him into a playful mood.
"Yeah, go with that one, Bren." Billy rolled his eyes. "That'll get you the Nobel Prize they've been predicting since you were three."
And there he went, reminding her that she wasn't a photographer, she wasn't a psychologist, and on top of that, she wasn't a physicist either. She had taken a few physics courses at UCLA because it was supposed to be the hardest subject, and she was supposed to be the smartest at everything, and it seemed like a perfect match. But the beautiful order of the universe that looked so intriguing from a distance, when you got up close turned out just to be lots of math. Brenda could do math; she just couldn't care about it. Besides, the professors were chauvinistic assholes, clearly threatened when the comprehensiveness of their knowledge was called into question by anyone, particularly a young female someone. And so her physics studies had fallen by the wayside, just as her adolescent flirtation with photography had ended when she turned out to lack patience for the dark room. Billy, of course, had picked up the camera. Now he had a big important show, and was on the short list for an Emerging Artists' grant. Meanwhile, Brenda hadn't shown an inclination to finish anything beyond a night-school course in shiatsu massage.
"Fine," she sighed, determined not to let him derail her. She picked up one of the prints, a homeless man with a poorly stitched gash on his throat, licking the glue off a can of dog food. "You wouldn't call this one candid?"
"No-o-o-o!" Billy raised his hands and buried them in this thick curly hair, rocking back and forth as he spoke. "He knew I was there. He probably even realized that if anybody actually comes to this goddamn artificial fraud of a show, if anybody bothers to review it, they'll have their bullshit generators running full time about how this junkie and his goddamn dog food can are symptomatic of the scourge of urban poverty. Rather than asking the rational question that any compassionate human being would pose."
"You mean," Brenda reached over to smack Billy's shoulder. "Why didn't the idiot bourgeois photographer offer him a sandwich?"
"I tried!" he protested, crumbling in laughter. "He only wanted weed, which I didn't have."
"You without weed?" Brenda laughed. "You just didn't want to share."
"Mom and Dad worked hard for the money that bought that weed."
Brenda snorted. "What, they stopped being self-indulgent celebrity-whoring parasites and started working hard? Just so you could buy weed?" She groaned and lay back on the bed. "I knew I should have been the favorite child."
"What?" Brenda started to sit up.
"No!" Billy scrambled on his knees, over the bed, upsetting his careful and cryptic arrangement of pictures. He sent them flying onto the floor, undoing the last two hours' work, as he pulled his camera from the nightstand.
By the time Brenda understood, he stood over her, pointing the long lens at her face. "No," she groaned.
"Yes!" said Billy. "This shall be the centerpiece of my show. Charlotte Light and Dark – Ten years later!"
"Oh, no you don't!" She threw her arms out at Billy's knees, throwing him off balance.
"Bren!" he gasped, skipping aside. The shutter clicked.
"Oh, no you don't!" She sat up, but now he jumped back and kept clicking. "Billy!" She raised a hand to her face and spread her fingers, then leaned down so that her hair, much longer than it would be in later years, covered her eyes and fell over her chest.
"This is it!" he crowed. "Portrait of my sister, when she doesn't want to be photographed."
"Billy. . ." She flopped back on the bed, and now Billy came to loom over her.
"A question. . ." She stuck out her tongue. He clicked. "A question –" Click. "For Mr. Heisenberg." Click. "What would Brenda look like –" Click. "If she wasn't pissed off at me?"
"We'll never know," said Brenda. "Because when you're pointing that thing at me, I'm always pissed off."
"Just pretend for a second," he said. "We'll call it performance art."
So Brenda lay down on her mother's bed, crossed her hands behind her head, looked up at her brother and, for the first time in a very long time, she gave him a clear, pure smile.