Last Night at the Circle Cinema (3 page)

BOOK: Last Night at the Circle Cinema
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“So where to first, Nutwit?” Codman asked, his voice billowing in the empty lobby. He and Bertucci had not yet exhausted their nut names despite years of calling each other every nut word known to man. “Wherefore art thou, Nut Mitten?”

Then, before anyone else could answer, Codman said, “Retract that question. I gotta whiz.” He walked away from the refreshment stand, considering the options. Men's room down the long, barren hallway alone, or women's room right here.

“I couldn't care less!” I yelled.

Codman was through the closer door in an instant.

“Bladder of a squirrel,” I said. My words echoed. Out of habit, I reached for my phone. I kind of already felt like ditching. How bad was that? Not even ten minutes and I was ready for the safety and comforts of my bedroom, away from the rain and dark and the confusion of being with the boys who haunted my brain.

I pulled the paper out from my back pocket and studied it.

[The Winter of Our Discontent/Spring Awakening/Whatever Date Cracks Your Nut]

Dear Friends,

Greetings and Salutations!

As you know, graduation is June 12th. We owe it to ourselves to pull one more all-nighter. Haven't we always talked about leaving our marks on the world?

Here's the plan: we meet at 10:00 p.m. at the Circle Cinema for one last hurrah. We manage to get inside and once we're there, we tough it out until daybreak. Relax, Livvy—it's closed but not condemned—not yet. No panicking, no wussing-out, no leaving just because things are tough (um, Codman, this means you). No calling for help. Because we won't need it. We have each other, right?

At some point during the night you will want to exit, but this is NOT an option. If you accept my invitation to this event, you are agreeing to my terms. No one says you have to show up, but if you do, you're in till dawn.

Hope to see you there!


“Well-written and to the point,” I said, wandering near the ticket-ripper's stand. The e-mail was dated a while back but sent today, in typical Bertucci planning fashion. “Clever.”

Bertucci leaned against the counter like he was considering paying for the Twizzlers or telling me a secret. Bertucci had that kind of intensity. A way of looking at you too hard or for too long, giving meaning to moments that might not be meaningful at all. A way of being with you and away from you at the same time.

“I miss you, Bertucci.” The words slipped out of my mouth before I could stop them. I folded the paper and slipped it back in my pocket.

“Me too,” Bertucci whispered right as the women's bathroom door squeaked open.

Codman wiped his hands on his jeans. “What'd I miss?”



I barely gripped the banister as I took the stairs two by two up to the Circle's gallery to check out the disastrously bad artwork. Olivia could hang out at the concession stand talking to herself all night if she wanted.

“They never sold any of it, right?” I asked. Bertucci nodded. “I mean, what if that's your life, painting shitty watercolors that hang in the Circle Cinema?”

I looked over my shoulder and saw Olivia bite her lip as she climbed the steps. Bertucci walked behind us both.

“Isn't showing pathetic art here better than never showing it at all?” she asked.

“Better to have loved and lost and all that?” I asked and felt the cold coming off of Bertucci as he went around us and skulked in between the paintings and the potted plants left withering. Spider ferns, I recognized them. The same kind Bertucci had on the windowsills in the kitchen. After his mother had died, he'd taken on the responsibility of caring for the plants, watering them, pruning them in a mechanical kind of way with miniature scissors. We'd be over at his house talking about which pizza place to order from and he'd be in there with these tiny shears, snipping away and reminding us it was his turn to choose and for the love of fuck could it please not be pizza for the obvious reason that he couldn't digest it. At the top of the stairs, I laughed at the image of such a big person snipping such little plants with tiny scissors. We'd go off to college and the plants would dry up, sitting there on the windowsill like a sign we'd all moved on.

Bertucci stopped by a watercolor of a sad clown. I pointed to it. “Hey, it's a picture of Bertucci!” I pulled my eyes down and made an exaggerated frown.

“Shut up,” Oliva said and her eyes looked wounded, as if I'd overstepped a boundary. But then she added, “You know I have a thing.”

I did know. Olivia hated clowns, parades, and just about anything circus-like. Regardless, I liked to give her a hard time. Possibly this said more about me than about her.

Bertucci kept his eyes on me as he walked closer to Olivia, whispering into her ear. She laughed aloud, conspiratorially. He'd e-mailed her? Why? I figured she'd have seen the yearbook, but possibly she'd put it away without looking at it, afraid of nostalgia.

So was I jealous of the e-mail? How could I be?

On the other hand, maybe. Bertucci lived on the other side of town, the wrong side, if you want to be honest, and he took many of his classes at Brookville College because our high school just wasn't challenging enough. As a result, Oliva and I hung out more just the two of us. Or else I was with Lissa Matthews until I'd put an end to that a few weeks before.

Olivia knew I'd broken up with Lissa but not exactly why, and I still hadn't told Olivia where I'd been the last couple of weeks, why I'd pushed her away. But I planned to tell her later, once the timing seemed right.

My wet shoes squeaked on the tiles, making Olivia shriek. I tripped over one of the ancient potted plants.

“Watch it,” she said, “or we'll ruin the skeletal ficus.”

“Band name!” the three of us overlapped and Bertucci took over.

“Live from London, Skeletal Ficus!”

I shook my head. “They sound Swedish.”

Livvy nodded, clearly wanting to keep this going. “Swedish New Wave with decidedly Beach Boys undertones cleverly masked by eyeliner and Chuck Taylors.”

“Impressive.” It wasn't just that Livvy was built like a girl from a video game and wore ratty eighties band T-shirts pilfered from her father. Her face was neat, no makeup; her hair, a defeated shade of blonde, was always back in a complicated tangle except for the lighter bits at the front that never stayed put. Her mother hated her style—or lack thereof—but it was this absence of caring that suited her so well. Everything soft and worn. Even bedraggled and rain-damp, I couldn't look away from her.

Bertucci never took his eyes off her either. But then he bolted.



I was always prone to extremes. Highs and lows, my mother used to say. I'd met Codman during a particularly high period, when I couldn't seem to turn in a bad paper, when an article I'd written and sent in on a whim to the
Journal of Engineering
wound up getting accepted for publication under a pseudonym, before my mom's diagnosis, when I'd only admired Livvy from afar.

Of the two of them, Livvy was more comfortable with the lows, when I'd pretty much want to sit nursing a latte that had gone cold by the time I remembered to drink it. Or stay in bed hardly moving as the sun shifted from new in the sky to old and near the ground. She was good with quiet, with backrubs that, had I been in less of an emotional swamp, probably would have turned me on. Okay, they did. But it was like one part of my brain—or my body—responded to her hands on my shoulders, the way she'd pinch my neck in a good way, but part of me couldn't access that feeling. Who else would drag me from bed to the Box Store and, when I literally couldn't move from the trash can section, sit there all day with me, testing out the recycling bins and swing cans, distracting employees with questions about foot pedals and storage solutions? We sat there in the fluorescent light, a rainbow of empty plastic containers around us, and Livvy let me be still. Cross-legged on the industrial carpet, she didn't ask me to explain, just gave me objects to examine as though I were an archaeologist, someone visiting from another planet or time. Not once did she rush me; she was nothing if not determined.

Eventually, something would give, and Livvy would know the mood had passed, and we'd do something banal, like tacos. “Fiesta time?” she'd mouth in class, and I'd nod. Codman would be relieved, snap his fingers like a short flamenco dancer, and we'd be off.

The Circle Cinema plan tugged me out of my last pit of despair. Ideas could do that. Sometimes it was a specific thing that snapped me out of it. Other times the vapor just dissipated.

And the Circle plan, as I'd come to think of it, came from riding the above-ground train past the cinema building like I always did, following the tracks as they went from my stop, past Beaconsfield and the Circle, winding up near Brookville Community.

I'd noticed the oversized white sign saying “Closed after forty-two years. Thanks for your patronage and memories!” But the truth is that I was so shrouded in my own brain that I didn't think much about it. The train rides were built into my life. Commuting to Brookville Community for classes that, while somewhat more challenging than high school, didn't really make me work. I was on automatic at that point.

And then, just like that, it had come to me. The plan.

What was Codman always saying I always said? The point of life is to leave a mark. To show you'd been somewhere. Science is sort of the same thing: Just observing doesn't do much. In the long run, you have to figure shit out, make a hypothesis, challenge it, make note of the outcome. In class, I was the hypothesis guy, and Codman was the outcome maker. Livvy wasn't in our section, preferring Advanced Calculus, which she thought had poetry in it. It also had the majority of the varsity soccer team in it, so who knows what her motivation really was.

“I have it!” I'd said that day to no one in particular and jumped off the train before I'd reached my destination. The beginning of a plan, the first numbers in an equation of some kind.

Did I case the joint, as they say? No. But right then I did a perimeter check, eyed the movie theater doors and alarm system, which was defunct and pathetic even before the theater had shut. I toyed with writing an e-mail, programming it to send later just so no one would forget or back out. At that point, though, the movie posters were still up. In a last-ditch attempt at keeping their revenues up, the Circle management had tried to woo viewers with various schemes: a ten-pack of tickets for the cost of six, matinees in the semilight for parents and toddlers, midnight showings of horror flicks. No one paid attention to these cries for help. Really, the cinema was past its prime, taken for granted, and just sort of crumbling into the background. And I couldn't pass up seeing one midnight showing. I dragged Livvy and Codman along.

“I can't believe you've never seen this.” I could feel my mood lifting, which always made me talk faster, walk more quickly. I bought them too much candy, including an enormous pouch of Twizzlers, which I managed to eat in what would have been record time had anyone been keeping track.

“Please tell me it's not gory,” Livvy said. I knew that while she needed reassurance that the movie wouldn't make her lose her shit, she despised needing the comfort. “I might have to pull a Lissa and hide in your neck.”

I laughed. Codman and Lissa had only recently gotten together then, and we teased him mercilessly about Lissa's inability to watch a movie, hear a song, observe a football game without burying herself in his neck.

“That's Bertucci's whole ploy, Olivia,” Codman had said. “Why else do you think he'd make us leave the house on a snowy night to see some black-and-white movie when exams are coming up?”

Livvy had shoved her hands deep into her turquoise parka. “I suspect Bertucci has no worries about studying. Do you?” I shook my head. “And I find it hard to believe I'm part of Bertucci's plan.” She had removed a warm hand and poked my belly. “Since when do you have a plan?”

And just like that, I had another piece of it, everything coming together.

We settled into our seats that snowy night, looking around to see if we knew anyone else brave enough to deal with the impending storm. Codman kept looking over his shoulder at the entrance, checking to see if Lissa would surprise him. That was part of her game, how she kept him interested: appearing, disappearing, saying she'd be somewhere and then not showing up. Always being late if she showed at all. Codman protested that she was a pain in the ass, but I could tell he liked her inconsistency. Olivia was the opposite: reliable, constant, solid.

“This is a miracle of modern filmmaking,” I told them. Livvy sat between us and kept sneaking peripheral looks, like Codman and I were rival tennis players and she didn't know whom to root for. “Diamatos directed this with no deal in place, no money, just a great idea and willing participants.” My voice was loud even as the lights dimmed. “And no, Livvy, it's not gory, just scary. In that way of knowing something terrible is going to happen but not knowing quite what.”

I could hear Livvy's breath in the darkness. She was already scared. Codman made a fist and relaxed his hand over and over again. Livvy switched seats, moving away from Codman so I was in the middle, our regular musical chairs.

It was there, in eerie glow of
The Rashomon Effect,
that everything came together. That's how math works, the poetry of formulae. I'd have to check out the art gallery; I'd have to determine a date. I'd have to gain access to the inside of the cinema and then exit without making it obvious. I'd need to rewire a bunch of shit, and I'd have to convince Codman to want in on the plan, which wouldn't be difficult, and Livvy, who would require convincing.

But I had time. It was winter, and that next stage of our lives was six months away. Codman always went to Indiana to see his relatives over break, and Livvy went somewhere exotic, returning after Christmas with a tan or carved masks or raw cinnamon I'd never use but kept anyway, letting it crumble, the fine dust coating my bedside table. So I could plot during vacation and tell them about it when we got back to school.

BOOK: Last Night at the Circle Cinema
5.44Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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