Why We Go to the Movies (from “The Day of No Dead, and other Disturbances”)

She ventured to the movie theater for a special triple feature of Rossellini films. She especially looked forward to her favorite of the three, Germany Year Zero, the story of a young boy who believes his father deserves to die because he is weak. Jean chose the third row from the screen, in a seat where she could put up her feet.

She propped up her boots twenty minutes before the start of the first movie. At ten minutes till, the theater’s low lights came on and the seats in her row remained free because the third row is considered far too close to the movie screen. Jean saved the seat to her left with a handbag filled with treats, and the seat on her right with an overcoat.

The curtains parted and the lights dimmed to movie-friendly dark. First came commercials, then previews, whispers, giggles and coughs, crunching of popcorn and candy and sipping of soda through straws. Jean brought her feet down and straightened up her back. Her boots made a squishy sound when she lifted them from the sticky floor. Her head itched under her cap and she scratched. Voices within her vicinity clamored until one rose above the others and dominated in pitch as it predicted the opening scene of Rome Open City. Though she had already seen it, Jean wasn’t sure she could agree. It didn’t matter, for she thought better to keep her speculations to herself.

Still, in the revelry of this movie theater experience, Jean would be somebody, instantly. She got up to adjust her skirt, and as she did, she glimpsed behind her a trio of friends. They looked nothing like the voices that claimed to have already seen all three Rossellini films as she had, and to understand and speak Italian. When she sat back down the voice immediately behind her grumbled about stiff legs, and about how she would be unable to stretch them or to rest her feet for the entire time.

“Is this seat taken?” asked a figure in the dark mapped by the flickering lights from the screen. Yes, yes it is, she whispered back, knowing perfectly well the seat would continue to be filled by nothing but her oversized bag. She thought about this rather than the scene on the screen. Someone would notice somewhere that the seat was really free. He’d tell the usher who would then ask her to give up the unclaimed seat, thereby embarrassing her and ruining the movie for her and everyone else for the rest of the evening. And so, before the transition of the opening scene to the next, Jean gathered her belongings and carefully made her way to the left aisle, where she chose the most inconspicuous seat, the one right next to the wall where she could rest her head now and then.

This was a Friday night special feature, and so it came as no surprise when the four remaining seats in her row eventually filled. Just thirty minutes in to the first of the war trilogy, Rome Open City, Jean needed to pee, so she excused herself, saying sorry for each body she had to climb over. She left behind her overcoat, box of mini-pretzels, and half candy bar. She didn’t return to her seat until nearly the closing credits of the first film, all the while loitering by the women’s restroom, emptying her bladder every ten minutes or so until the 32 oz. of soda she had purchased before the film were completely depleted. As she did so, her thoughts returned to the first scene of Rome Open City. She sat helpless on the toilet, unable to confirm or deny absolutely the musings of the audience member who had vocalized his prediction of the opening scene. When she returned to her seat, she found the seat next to hers unoccupied. This struck her as a good thing. She could now place her bag on the seat rather than underneath. Much time passed and no one returned. Jean found it difficult to concentrate on the first episode of Paisan, the second of Rossellini’s war trilogy. Too bad, as there were still five more episodes to go. She found it difficult to sense whether she still smelled shower-fresh and so instead, peered at the figures beyond the empty seat, hands planted in popcorn bags, faces transfixed to the screen. She sensed her own mouth hung open and that she was breathing heavily. She decided to rest her bag on the now unoccupied seat.

During the brief intermission before the final film, Jean had no need to use the bathroom or to get up and adjust her skirt. With the buzzing of others to others around her, she decided to observe the embossing on the wall. The color was of a deep red. The design resembled the tail of a dragon, and she traced it with her finger, imagining.

At the end of the final film, Germany Year Zero, it was now close to one in the morning. With her eyes closed, Jean concentrated on the residue of young Edmund on the ground, and how it looked like he was only sleeping. The sleeping looked exactly like the dead up there on that looming large movie screen, shared with strangers she would more than likely never, ever meet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: