ON THE CUTTING ROOM FLOOR by Tyler Sage
LARRY HAD A KID. He told himself that this was his defining feature. His great contribution to the world. He had poured his soul and himself into a woman and a boy had come out, connected to him, mystical, love and blood stretched like some arcing current the half mile across the city to where the boy lived. He told himself that this creation was freedom. After they got done showing the midnight movie he could drive the ancient Packard through the soft summer night to The King’s and know that he had done as much for the race as any living man. A vintage Alfa Romeo was stopped at a light and Larry gave it an open back-of-the-hand salute.
I salute you, he said. My heart is bigger than yours.
At The King’s he took his place on his stool. Marion brought him his drink and a question, Guy was in tonight talking about some old Lee Marvin movie where he gets shot-
Some revenge kind of thing?
Yeah, Point Blank. Lee Marvin. John Boorman.
I guess that must be it, said Marion, moving off, disappointed in something.
You want to see a fucking film, Larry told himself in the mirror, go watch them do Hell in the Pacific, tell the whole goddamn story, two men on an island, war and hell and the elements, and they sail to goddamn Palau or somewhere in the end and a shell drops and kills both of them, last scene. End with panache, man, doesn’t matter about original intent.
There was no one to talk to because it was extremely late and because in this little city stranded in the mountains there was no one who knew movies who he didn’t know and none of them were in the bar right now, and so he talked some more; to the peanuts, his glass, the TV hanging in the corner over the cash register which was showing Krull. He lost his keys. On the way home he walked the dotted line in the center, arms spread wide for balance. He was wearing dark clothes and a pickup coming from behind him smashed his knuckles with its rearview. He was untouchable but for that. Just that one little thing. The truck skidded to a halt, slantwise in the street. The driver was drunk too and they parleyed there, straddling the line.
I’m not much of a fighter, but you can hit me if it’ll make you feel better, Larry told him.
A car passing in the other direction swerved and honked its horn. In the distance there were mountains, not really seen so much but felt and there were strange animals up there that Larry had never seen either, and past those mountains there were probably some other things, innumerable things. The driver of the truck stood looking at him.
Give me one in the chops, Larry said. Let’s see it.
Why don’t you just get the hell out of the street?
C’mon, man, I’ll buy you a drink.
What makes you think I’d drink with you?
Alright then, said Larry. Fuck it. You want my loafer as restitution?
He bent over and hopped on one leg and tugged off his shoe and held it out.
It’s a goddamn expensive loafer. Italian. Or English.
He wasn’t lying, even if he couldn’t quite remember its country of origin. The loafer cost some truly ungodly amount. He didn’t believe in lying, really. The man took it and threw it into the bushes next to someone’s house. And Larry walked on down the line in his one bare foot, the low buildings of his downtown shining dully on the other side of the river as he approached, dawn somewhere off past the wilderness. Dawn of soldiers in their trenches and vampires sailing home on leathery wings and seen through picture windows of New York apartments where alcoholic newspapermen consider breaking the big story that would save the city and ruin their careers, dawn over green Kansas fields where the American vision hangs in Technicolor from the clotheslines along with the sheets and socks and Dad’s underwear.
And at the video store everybody got to dress how they want, talk how they want, watch whatever they want to on the TVs, because that was the deal. The story was that Larry’s grandfather came out from L.A. with a monocle and the Packard, a daughter and two house servants, one French, one Asian, both of indefinite sexuality. Indefinite personhood, in that day and age. He bought a mansion and a two screen movie theater in a large brick building downtown, tried to sell the ranchers and loggers on Fritz Lang, Orson Welles. I’m something of an anthropologist, he told them at the parties he gave, them in their polished boots and string ties, him spinning his cigarette holder between his lips, and something of a missionary. He affected a slight pause before the last word and his lips curled and eyes blazed with a strange hunger they knew only enough to be slightly frightened of. When they rounded up the Japanese for internment he hid his Asian in the basement, answered the door himself wearing nothing but a pair of silk pajama pants and the monocle, holding a glass of sherry, told them that Takeshi was dead.
You can come in and look, of course. To your hearts’ content. Search the house. Search me.
He opened his arms languorously.
That house was Larry’s youth, a place where there were no secrets and no truth and where everything was clothed in finely tailored layers of innuendo. A place where nothing that had not been seen could be believed, and even some of that had to be doubted, too. Larry spent his childhood in the projection room in the basement, drove the Packard to high school, came to think that he probably wasn’t related to his mother and grandfather. Came to believe that they were somehow not real people. The first belief, at least, faded as he aged. He was irrevocably related to them, he could feel it in his veins, an old man of nearly infinite and faintly sinister elegance for whom every event was an excuse to sound regret over lost delicacy, living out his days in this strange exile; a middle aged woman of no age at all, particularly from a distance, skin and hair and body constructed to the edge of beauty and the edge of repulsion. He looks up at them as he jogs onto the field for his last high school game, in which as usual he will try his best to shock them with the violence of it all. The brutal, bulky pads, the leering and the high-fives. But they won’t be shocked. I should know that by know. They’ll sit up there like proconsuls. One might say like McDowell in Caligula. Coming out from the locker room he looks up at them above him, at his grandfather who will be dead in six months sitting in the bleachers in a heavy green cape, a wool blanket over his legs, skeletal; at his mother in gold sunglasses in the darkness, lipstick and a cigarette, who will abscond at her father’s death and with a large portion of his money back to the dream of the Hollywood hills which she had never known except, perhaps, as a child. If even that story can be believed. Burdened at sixteen with Larry, at thirty three she will depart. He knows that already. Disappear into that wild land of dreams, to be remembered now only by an occasional gold gilt embossed card. They may be related to him but, no, they are not real. They are spirits, projections, figures on the screen. His grandfather nods his head and raises his hands in a tender, polite, quiet clap. Death is tugging at him. Larry tastes blood, wants to cause damage. His mother is looking at the sky.
And now where the lobby used to be was the video store and the bigger theater was long since remodeled into office space and Larry lived at the top of the building in a sprawling ornate apartment. Mausoleum, he thought in his darker moments. The fortune gone but for this. In the smaller theater Larry screened midnight films for any takers, distressed high school students, aging lesbians, mechanics with dreams of high art, the summer homeless who came through town when it was warm and went south with the snow; and anyone who worked for him got pretty much free reign. The world was a bitch, he told them, life was an event that must be treated with brio. They wore nose rings, tattoos. They wore despair in the reflection of their corneas. There is another, finer world, one which you can enter if you lose yourself enough, squint your eyes enough, forget this world. For you we recommend The Naked Kiss and anything by Cassevetes, for you, my friend, we would suggest Keaton and Winters, perhaps Lemmon if you’re feeling wistful; for you I’d suggest luxuriating in the familiar textures of Jaws, in the unashamed glory of The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. The hills in that movie are the color of dryness itself. Stick your face in a bag of gold coins, my friend. The store could be an unruly place, but in a town like this one there can’t be enough places for the dispossessed. Larry came down from his apartment in the afternoon and found his son Jacob wandering the aisles and exchanging awkward comments with Suzy, who ran the register on weekdays, and Terrence, a high school kid who didn’t work there but spent so much time in the place that Larry was thinking about putting him on the payroll, for karmic balance.
You’re early, Jake, said Larry.
Mom’s out on a date with her boyfriend.
Heyah. A little early in the day for a date, isn’t it?
I don’t know, Dad.
Well shit. Terrence, you need some help finding something? Jake’s pretty damn knowledgeable in many areas of cinema.
Naw, said Terrence. His hair was spiked up and he wore a trench coat, glasses. He had a perpetual look to him like the baseball bat was arcing towards his skull.
How about you, Suzy? You give him that vacuum and it’s like watching Freddy Astaire.
I’m alright, Larry.
You sure? Look at the muscles on the kid.
Jacob stood shyly in a teeshirt of a band that he might have liked or might have just been popular, his backpack hanging off his shoulder.
I can handle things, I’m pretty sure. Unless you’re going to help too, and then it might be too much to refuse.
Suzy’s hands were on the edge of the counter, fingers backwards, elbows in and framing her breasts, back arched a little bit. Her plan, at the moment, was to graduate and then go to law school and then get a job representing environmental terrorists. Within the first month she worked for him they’d made it on the little stage in the theater one Saturday night after he’d shown Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. She told him she wasn’t looking for anything, was just turned on by the film. I believe in liberation, she told him. I’m the only one here who doesn’t believe in dreams anymore, he did not tell her. But he reveled in her tautness, in her youth, in all of the lies it gave him about himself. He reveled and knew his grandfather, his mother, that much better. Sat in his leather couch afterwards and looked out at the lights of the little city and knew those lies were suspending him, the only things holding him up. Toasted himself in his faint reflection and told himself to lighten up. And now she flirted with him every chance she got and he flirted back. Fuck it. She’s of age and if I can put all the bullshit aside maybe I can remember that a lap around that old track’s good for anyone. Everyone. Maybe I’ll save her from someone else down the line. He smiled at her now.
I gave up working on Thursdays, he said.
It’s Wednesday, Dad.
Well, on Wednesday I only work in the mornings, and that seems to have passed us by. You hungry?
He took Jacob to The King’s. They were already in the garage before he remembered that he left the Packard behind last night, but then there it was in its regular spot. Luc or someone else must have picked it up for him. Magic. Coincidence. He didn’t know. The world like a well oiled machine. Them taking care of him like he took care of them. He had never been able to tell if Jacob liked riding in the old car or not, the huge seat, the leg room and antique fixtures, the way people looked at them as they passed. At The King’s they ate hamburgers and Sam, who worked days, only let Jacob in because she knew Larry. Larry drank a couple of whiskeys.
Is that Anthony Perkins? Jacob wanted to know, looking at the television above the bar.
Mom says she’s not sure about how many movies I watch.
I guess that she thinks I watch too many.
Instead of doing what?
I don’t know. School. She says that even a little bit of TV’s okay because it helps us relate to people. It gives us common ground.
She doesn’t like the movies because of me, right?
Yeah. That’s pretty obvious.
Is she going to let you play football?
Jeez, Dad, what’s with all the questions? I don’t know. She says you only played because you had to be better at everything than everyone else and because you wanted to piss people off. And she says you weren’t even really all that good, even if people say you were. But I think the big thing is that she just wants me to do well in school. The rest of it she doesn’t care about much.
You’re mom’s a jew, Jake. A lot of people think they have a predilection towards the intellectual.
Isn’t that a little racist, Dad?
Yes. Yes it is. Tell her I said that, she might get a laugh out of it.
They sat for a while and Larry thought about Rachel and let himself miss her. He ordered another whiskey. He tended to regress when he got drunk and he wanted to reach the place just before that happened, balanced on the edge with just his toes hanging over. It was a fine, fine line.
So what do you think about school?
What does anyone think about it?
Yeah. Good point.
Larry shifted in his seat and downed his drink, ready to be gone.
Let’s get some desert or something, huh? How’s that sound?
There’s, ah, what is there? Dairy Queen? That new ice cream place that has all that organic shit? Donuts? We could go to that coffee place that has the donuts.
I don’t care. Whatever. Can I show you something?
It’s in my pack. Back at the store.
They drove back downtown and got Jacob’s backpack from behind the counter, where Suzy bent to get it with her legs straight so her jeans pulled tight against her ass. She smiled at him and he smiled back. Then they rode the old elevator upstairs. Jacob took a digital video camera out of his backpack and plugged it into the TV.
You got a little filmmaker hidden away in you?
Dad, said Jacob very seriously, I want to be a director. Isn’t that what your grandpa did?
Well, maybe. We don’t really know, Jake.
He considered the afternoon sky out the tall windows and made himself a short one, just to keep up the flow.
How can we not know? Jacob asked.
Because things were different during the studio system. He may have worked under a different name. And because you couldn’t ever tell whether he was telling the goddamned truth about anything.
Oh, said Jacob. He squatted on the floor next to the camera. What about Takeshi hiding in the basement and all that?
Don’t know. I wasn’t there.
She was even worse. When your mom and I got married she sent a card saying she wanted to be there but was acting in a production of Toys in the Attic. I searched around in newspapers and shit but I couldn’t find anything about it, so I wrote her back. She sent another card, apologizing for the mistake. It was an overseas production, she said. Very significant, really important, but only playing in small theaters at the edge of the Eastern Block. Unadvertised.
Oh. That sucks, I guess.
Yeah. Well, she would have been a pain in the ass at a wedding, anyway.
They were quiet for a moment.
You ready? asked Jacob, raising the camera in his hands.
Give it to me.
Jacob did and there was a black screen, followed by a hand written sign on a sheet of paper. It’s All Anguish. The camera panned across the pale wood of a desk, right to left, to another sign. A Film by Jacob Schumacher-Gold.
The camera cut to a shot of Rachel sitting on the couch with a man Larry didn’t know. From off camera Jacob’s voice said,
So it’s a contest, and you each have to do things, and whoever does them best wins.
What do we win? said the man. He was stocky and wore a close cut beard over a genial oval face.
Who’s tons of fun? asked Larry. That the boyfriend?
You win the chance for me to do your chores for a week. And my undying allegiance to you. For that week.
Sounds good, said the boyfriend.
I’m not sure this is the best idea, said Rachel. Larry could tell from the way she sat that she was already growing impatient. And what chores do we do, anyway?
Just do it, mom, please?
She leaned back and crossed her legs and folded her hands on them and Larry saw that her life had begun to turn her bitter, close her down.
Your mother looks a bit piqued.
Welcome to the club, said Larry.
Okay, here’s your first challenge, said Jacob on the video. I made this cardboard box, and there’s five holes in it.
He lugged a box that might fit a large television into the living room. He set it on the floor in front of the couch and scooted back out of sight, zoomed the camera out.
You have to put your arm into one of the holes all the way up to the elbow. You get to pick which one.
Jake, what’s the point?
Well, three of the holes are empty, and the other two have baskets beneath them that are full of worms. I got them out of the garden, and it took me like three days.
Yeah, said the boyfriend, I get it.
What? said Rachel
It’s like that movie, said the boyfriend, I remember that movie.
Good catch, said Larry.
Rachel pushed herself up out of the couch. Jake, this is gross. There’s no way I’m going to stick my hand into a bunch of worms just so you can film it. She walked off screen.
The boyfriend leaned forward and peered down into one of the holes, glanced at Rachel’s retreat, and then looked at the camera and shrugged.
Well, that’s…. began Larry.
It’s not even done with the credits yet, Dad.
The camera cut back to the desk and slid over to another piece of paper with writing on it. The paper was upside down, and the camera rotated slowly until it was rightside up. Written by: The Universe. The camera slid over and there to another piece of paper; again it was upside down, and again the camera had to rotate. Produced by: Nobody (yet). The camera panned to the back of the desk, up the wall past a poster for Coming Apart to a final hand written sign. Directed by Jacob Schumacher-Gold.
She does not let you keep a poster of Coming Apart in your room.
She hasn’t really seen it.
The camera cut to a white wall and panned over to show the railing of a staircase. Beyond the railing was a corner of the same living room. The lights were very dim and there were voices coming from out of sight.
It’s his goddamn father, said Rachel. Living like some kind of goddamn libertine.
I’m ready for my close up, Mr. DeMille, said the boyfriend.
I’m serious, Lance.
C’mon, Rachel. The kid’s playing on reality shows and an old campy movie and using it to get out his frustration. He’s just hit his teens and he’s trying to put us on the spot. Would you rather he was raising a 4H cow and going to, I don’t know, Young Republican NRA meetings?
Of course not.
Then relax a little.
It’s just that kids like him in a town like this, even with the college and everything, you know how they end up. It’s all anguish. Suburban western city destruction. I don’t want that for him. If I can get a tenure track job on the East Coast, or at a UC school, anywhere, it’ll be better.
There was real sorrow in her voice, and the film continued from there, more confrontations with Rachel and Lance, more overheard conversations about Jacob, parental concern, a short monologue in which Jacob recited, monotone, standing in front of a garbage truck, his grievances with the world, even a long shot of Larry, taken through the reflection of the picture glass front of the store, leaning on the counter and flirting with one of the girls who worked for him, soundless, smiling, the noise of traffic, Larry with a strange leer on his face.
When the screen faded to black Jacob stood up and unplugged the camera and wound the cord around it, pushed it back down into his backpack without raising his eyes.
Jesus, said Larry, it’s magnificent.
He poured himself another drink.
I don’t know what to say, kid.
Across the street and down from him was the failing department store and Larry didn’t know what he was feeling.
It’s fucking tremendous. It’s the best thing I’ve ever seen.
Dad, be serious. Don’t say that if you don’t mean it.
He turned from the window. There was a part of himself that was like a handful of razors.
It’s amazing. Maybe someday you’ll get to direct a high school play or something.
And after Jacob was gone Larry sat in the teflon colored apartment, cavernous, endless. He had a couple of drinks. The dusk ate him up. He found a pair of jeans and a dark silk shirt and the Riley boots he paid a few thousand bucks for on the rumor they’d been worn by Mickey Rourke on the set of Barfly. He stood at the window again. Where others had magic in them he had none. And he knew the difference. And he’d just broken his son’s heart.
In the elevator he touched his hair in the strip of mirror, shot his cuffs beneath his jacket, touched his hair again. The door opened and he walked across the hall and in through the back door of the store.
Hey, hey, he said, coming through the aisles towards the counter, what do we got going on tonight?
His manager, Luc, was a balding ex-punk from Oklahoma City who’d once played bass in a band called Fart Hole. Business, he said.
Larry looked around. The only customer in the store was Terrence, who seemed to be trying to face up to the fact that it was probably time to go home. He was carrying a couple of movies and drifting slowly down the chronologically ordered aisles, just reading titles. He stopped, started again, bent down to touch one, shuffled to the side and then reached out and took one from the shelf. He looked at the glossy plastic for a while. Larry watched him savor the feeling of that box; he watched him replace it on the shelf and then stand aimlessly for a moment, lost, and then, as if he had one last odious task to fulfill, turn and move through the store to the room with the glowing neon sign over it that read Back Room. The room which once every three or four years someone started a letter writing campaign in the newspaper to get closed, visible as it was from the street.
Chayefsky, huh? Larry said, glancing at one of the televisions.
I’ve got such an intellectual crush on him, said Jill from behind the register. She was new, cheery and smart and clean cut.
Wait until Scott goes to see the shrink. That’s a piece of writing, said Larry, giving her a very direct look, to make one shiver.
You guys see Jacob come through here a while ago?
He must have gone out through the hall. Huh.
On the television George Scott was talking with his crazy eyes. They watched him for a while. Terrence came out of the room and stood with them. Larry glanced down to see what he was holding. The Big Knife, The Day of the Locust. Two oversized boxes showing pictures of well endowed men getting each other off.
Don’t let me get in your way, said Larry. I’m just running my mouth.
You on a knife in the back Hollywood kick? asked Luc as Terrence stepped to the counter. He grabbed the porn boxes and turned to match them with the DVDs which were kept back there while Jill rang up the other movies.
Yeah, said Terrence, I figure I should know what I’m getting into.
It is only when he spoke that his youth revealed itself. Bravado struggling to disguise insecurity.
Land of the pimps, said Luc.
You go out there, kid, it’ll eat you up, said Larry.
Did you live in L.A? asked Jill.
I’ve been enough times to know what I’m talking about, said Larry. He put a subtle knowingness in his voice and despised himself for it.
I guess it can’t be worse than here though, said Terrence.
They were all quiet for a moment.
Do you want to act? asked Jill.
Terrence paused at the door and wrapped the DVDs tightly in their bag, tucked them into the inside pocket of his jacket. He turned his collar up and hunched his shoulders, setting up his defenses. Produce, he said quietly. Make some motherfuckers eat my shit.
And he was gone, the glass door swinging shut.
Poor kid, observed Jill.
He’s on this military porn trip, said Luc. Everything he gets now is always soldiers and goddamn Navy SEALs, shit like that. You never realize until you see those boxes how gay the military really is. Always called stuff like Cock and Load.
Blown to Pieces, said Larry.
The Buns of Navarone.
Enslaving Private Ryan, said Jill.
Easy there, said Larry, I’m not sure we want to push him into S and M just yet.
Well, she said, smiling faintly, to each their own.
Larry looked at her. He knew that smile. He had one just like it. He hung around for a while looking at catalogues and trying to figure out if there were any new titles that he shouldn’t order while the customers straggled in, renting Jean Claude Van Damme vehicles and French New Wave, Hong Kong action and Mel Brooks and Dogme ’95 and Nicholas Ray and the rest of them.
Fuck it, he finally muttered, and went down to the parking garage to get the Packard and go to The Kings.
He drove slowly, forcing the traffic to pile up behind him. They never believed him about L.A. He’d been twice, once looking for his mother and once, when he was very young, with a screenplay that he was going to sell and direct, and those times had been enough. There is a chasm between the movies and the process that creates them. It is only away from there, that land of the preening and the mechanistic, that any magic still resides. It is only in the transmission from there to here that any reality is gained.
You’re full of shit, he told himself, driving even more slowly.
At the entrance to the parking lot he stopped to let a big shiny pickup go in ahead of him and he saw that it was driven by Rachel. Jacob sat in the seat next to her. They parked in front of the bar and Larry crept the Packard into the spot next to them. She was out of the truck and walking around to his door before he had even stopped moving, like a skinny dark haired crow defending its eggs from some horrible predator.
I’ll be suing to change the custody arrangement, she said.
Good to see you, Rachel. You have a nice time with Dom DeLuise tonight?
Don’t give me that shit. I’m also terminating your right to have him spend time at your apartment, starting now. I don’t give a shit what the court says.
He glanced over to the truck. The windows were rolled up and Jacob sat staring forward at the wall of the bar.
Maybe you could chain him in his room, too. Then he won’t be able to get into any trouble at all.
Did you put him up to making that goddamn video?
It’s All Anguish?
And then you made fun of him for it? He’s just a kid, Lawrence. I’ve never seen him so distraught.
Don’t call me that.
Lawrence Olivier Schumacher. Lawrence Olivier Schumacher. You’re a fucking fraud. Not even your name belongs to you. You run a fucking video store. Jacob told me you flirt with the girls behind the counter.
Oh, if only you could get him away from all of this, right? To Cambridge or Berkeley, where the tweed is properly aged and the cocktail parties are demure and there’s just the most fascinating debate going on about Professor Snotshaker’s new book on the Pacific Islanders’ penchant for club footed women.
You’re a terrible man. A failure as a father. A terrible man.
Say it again and click your heels and you can float away back to Ann Arbor.
Everyone sees who you are. At least your mother could act. She had that. You don’t even have that. You don’t have anything. And definitely not Jacob. Never again.
He looked up at the sky without seeing it and then down at the ground without seeing that either and then at Rachel. Her skin was pulled tight around her eyes and her mouth and her lips were compressed.
Let’s take the kid home and then hop in the sack, he said. You want to?
You’re too small a man for him to be concerned with anymore, Lawrence. He’s got bigger things ahead of him than you can offer.
Well. Fuck it then. It’s a hard world and he’s going to have to learn that sometime. Better sooner than later.
He looked over at the truck again and Jacob was watching him through the windows. Larry gave him an exaggerated bow, sweeping his hand in front of him. When he straightened again he felt his heart shutting its doors, one after the other.
I’m an asshole, Jake! he yelled. It’s a good film! Don’t let anyone tell you it’s not! It’s a great fucking film!
Jacob stared at him. Larry turned away. He reached out to pinch Rachel’s cheek but she swatted away his hand.
I’ll see you in the funny papers, he said.
Inside he evicted a drunk woman from his stool and Marion brought him a drink and on the television was a movie he’d never seen before. A pair of women rode in a car through a strange landscape. One put on makeup while the other told some kind of story, it was difficult to figure out what was happening with the sound off, and Larry wracked his brain for what it could be, could not remember how long it had been since he’d been blanked like this, smiled ruefully when he realized it was an ad for a dietary supplement.
What’s so funny? Marion asked.
I’m not sure I feel like staying alive much longer, said Larry, still smiling.
One of those days, huh?
Bring me another drink, Marion, and I’ll sing you the saddest song you’ve ever heard.
What about Don’t Cry for Me Argentina? That was a pretty sad one.
Yes, said Larry. There’s no disputing that, is there.
And on the way home he repented of nothing. He could not afford to begin that kind of thing. It was true that life was difficult. For us down here at least. And as if to prove the point he passed a shambling figure on the side of the road, head tucked down beneath his shoulders and long coat flapping each time a car passed. He stopped, put it in reverse, saw in the streetlight that Terrence had a black eye, a scraped up chin.
Heyah, Clark Gable, you looking for a ride?
I don’t know.
Hop in, I’ll take you downtown.
C’mon. We may be screening something tonight.
Yeah? What are you showing?
Hell, I don’t know. Something tremendous.
The kid got in, and they started off down the road again.
You want to stop and get some ice for that eye?
It’s too late for that. It’s probably already as bad as it’s going to look.
Yeah, but is it sore?
I don’t know anymore.
Larry thought about that and they finished the drive in silence. Luc was closing up the store when they arrived, and Jill was on her way over to the screening room to get the movie set up.
What are we showing tonight? Larry asked her. Are we showing something?
Terrence trailed behind him and a few people milled around in the hall, waiting. Every one of them looked like they came from some place with decades old green shag carpet adorning the floor, strange shadowed walls, someone nagging them, the flicker of a television set burning it all green and yellow into their memories forever. And Larry was their king.
Contempt? said Jill.
Oof, he said. Break my heart. Have you seen it?
No, but I love all of his others. The ones I’ve seen anyway.
Come sit next to me when you get it started. Let’s go through it together.
He turned to Terrence.
Fearsome film. About making a movie, too, so it’ll be good for you.
I just watched it the other day.
Come see it again.
Isn’t she a little young for you?
Is whoever did that to you a bit old for you?
Terrence looked away. It’s not real, he said. None of this is.
But Terrence came into the little theater with the rest of them and together they sat in the darkness, all of them side by side and alone in front of the light from the screen, Terrence hunched forward in absolute concentration, Luc with his elbows on the arm rest and his hands folded in front of his mouth, all the others lonely and sad under the images of the colossi, under Jack Palance and Fritz Lang, the coast of Italy, the sky, the ocean, the final car crash, Jill with her hand on Larry’s thigh. He is no ocean of self-hatred. No mountains hold him in this godforsaken outpost. He watches them up there on the screen with a knowing eye, in that place where laughter is laughter and is not horrible, where love has constancy, yes, a measure of constancy and permanence, where there is joy and sunlight and happiness and wistful tragedy, where we all might, if we are lucky, live someday. Jill is next to him but Larry is thinking of Jacob. Go away, he thinks, go and make some golden thing out there in the world. She rubs his thigh. For a moment he feels desperate. And then that, too, passes, as he has known it would. And soon the others will be gone and Larry will undress her, after the beauty has faded, beyond the end credits, those afterimages of color and sound lingering in the theater that must be matched, risen to, grasped tightly and never let go.
TYLER SAGE grew up in Colorado and is currently living and writing in Baltimore.