Rooney Mara’s Mysterious Ways

–Vogue, February 2013

Rooney Mara woke, as ever, precisely at dawn. She peeled herself from the metal sleeping surface; her thermal silhouette, lying invisibly where she had lain, began to fade in the morning cold.

“Eggs. Two. Fried. Toast. Coffee,” she said aloud, stepping into the dark kitchen. But there were no sophisticated appliances capable of voice recognition, and nothing happened.

Rooney Mara walked onto a balcony through a door left open during the night. She looked out at a glittering section of a town whose name she had never bothered to learn (it was Los Angeles) and began gently to sway, her bare heels sounding like tape peeled from its roll as they lifted away from sturdy redwood planks filmed with day-old grape jelly.

Later, stacking empty thread spools to make a spire, Rooney Mara pricked her finger on a sewing needle wedged secretly in one spool’s cleft and cursed.


She held the stung finger close to her face and waited, with an expiring frown, for a pinhead of blood that did not appear.

The tires on Rooney Mara’s car shuddered and moaned ghostily as, at 10 a.m. exactly, she careened into the drive-through of the In-N-Out Burger nearest to her home. To a sign displaying the menu and embedded with a microphone and speaker she said, “Hi, can I get a ha-haaaa? Can I get a haa-haa-haaaaa?” Her voice was flat and mirthless.

“Did you give me a ha-haaaaa?” She drew out the last syllable until eventually it grew quiet as she ran out of breath.

“Did you give me a haa…,” but she hadn’t paused long enough to breathe, and this time “ha” was whispered.

“Ma’am?” said a voice projected from the speaker.

“Can I know about your haaaaaaaa…” This time she’d gotten a good breath and the question carried on for nearly a minute before her diaphragm shuddered and quit.

Inside, a manager said, “That’s Rooney Mara.”

“The actor?” asked the teenager taking orders.

“Yeah. Just fill a bag with crumbled up tray sheets and scoop some fries on top. She barely looks,” said the manager.

“What do you mean?”

“You’ll see.”

So the younger man filled a large bag with balled tray covers, then carefully arranged two scoops of fries so they covered the paper. “That’s three eighteen at the window,” he said into his microphone.

Hearing this from the outdoor speaker, Rooney Mara drove forward and stopped parallel to the window. A boy she thought was about her age stood inside looking at her.

“Hi, uh, three eighteen,” he said.

She reached both hands through her car window and held them out in expectation.

“Three eighteen?” said the teenager.

Rooney Mara’s arms straightened painfully, and her fingers stretched at odd angles. She showed all of her teeth.

The teenager nervously reached the bagful of paper and fries toward Rooney Mara, and slowly her arms closed around it, no quicker but with no less intention than the pedals of a flower hinging inward at sundown.

The tires tut-tutted as Rooney Mara accelerated out into mid-morning traffic, fries and balled paper spilling from the bag left slumped among inky motor oil stains on the drive-through’s newspaper-gray pavement.

Once, in a Vermont ski lodge when Rooney Mara was 11, she watched flames lap thirstily at stones in a giant fireplace while her parents drank wine and talked about whether to brave the evening snowfall or order pizza. Mrs. Mara screamed and Mr. Mara shouted “God!” when they noticed, almost simultaneously, that Rooney Mara had immersed both of her arms up to the elbows in the roaring fire. A doctor’s dinner was interrupted by the hotel’s urgent call, and he chided the parents for exaggerating when he found nothing, absolutely nothing, wrong with the girl’s arms.

Once, when Rooney Mara was on a roller coaster, she became scared, her grip tightening on the leg of the boy next to her. The boy’s leg was beginning to hurt a great deal when all life suddenly drained from the cars, bringing them to a stop near the middle of a steep decline.

“Better,” Rooney Mara exhaled, and released her grip.

Once, Rooney Mara told her mother that she was finished riding the pony her parents had rented for her birthday party. Mrs. Mara told her to stay in the saddle while her father reloaded the camera. The pony’s legs wobbled and folded underneath him, and his belly slapped the grass, his pupils shrinking to dots. Rooney Mara slid off the carcass and walked across the lawn toward a group of her friends who were getting their faces painted to look like mice.