Last Night at the Circle Cinema (4 page)

BOOK: Last Night at the Circle Cinema
8.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

It would give me something to look forward to. And if they didn't know every last detail about the night beforehand, even better for them.



Just for the record, Codman and I did kiss. Once. Upstairs, at Bertucci's house, there was a door we'd never opened.

“Hey, it's a metaphor,” Codman had said, and while this could have been annoyingly pretentious, I actually fell a little in love with him when he said it.

Bertucci was downstairs attempting to make gluten-free pigs in a blanket from prepackaged dough and microwave mini hot dogs. He'd bought not one but six packages and was prepping enough for the entire neighborhood, or he would have been if he'd lived in a neighborhood without meth-addict neighbors on one side and an elderly deaf guy on the other. It wasn't a place you wandered around door-to-door asking for help or offering pigs in a blanket. It was a place you closed yourself inside, locked the door, and hoped no one found you.

“What he doesn't know,” I had said, “is that I don't eat processed foods, and you're a vegetarian.”

“He does know those facts,” Codman corrected. “He's just choosing to ignore them.”

Bertucci did that when he was in one of his moods. He'd forget or choose to take no notice of me saying I wasn't hungry or didn't want to see some stupid scary movie. Actually, he did the same thing when he was in a bad mood, only then it was more difficult for me to say no to him. So while Bertucci baked disgusting crap downstairs, the smell of which was enough to unsettle my stomach, Codman and I investigated his room. On one side was a bookshelf filled with black notebooks—at least a dozen of them. All of the notebooks were filled with equations, formulas that stretched on for pages, none of which we understood. “Damn, this guy makes me feel dumb,” Codman had said as he flipped one lined page after the next. “Linear partial differential equations. What the hell?”

I nodded. “Obviously, we have a genius among us.”

“Oh, but look at this,” Codman said, his cat eyes narrowed. “Papa done found another journal. And it ain't full of math.”

I reached for it, yanking the leather-bound book from Codman's grasp. Right away I knew we shouldn't be looking at it. While it started with some long theorem, the next page was in clear English.

Love, or the very thought of it, slipping downstream, her hands smooth as worn glass. A pair is the strongest suit, two together hold more than one less or one more. The triangle resists weight. The square collapses.

“Put this back,” I told Codman. “This isn't right.”

Codman considered it. I could tell he wanted to read it, either because it was something to do or because he—like me—wondered what was really brewing in Bertucci's massive brain. Sure, there were problems and logic sequences, but there was lots of other stuff—love, even—and he was too private to tell us.

The leather was supple in my hands (and also cheesy—made me wonder if Bertucci had planted the journal, hoping we'd find it). The pages were thick and filled with Bertucci's all-caps scrawl. I closed the journal and stuck it quickly back on the shelf between
Death of a Salesman
—a play for which Bertucci had done the lighting—and
Le Morte D'Arthur
. I hoped Bertucci wouldn't notice if the journal was in the wrong place—I had the feeling each item in his room had an exact spot that made sense only to him.

To distract Codman from snooping around or reading more, I had to act. Words weren't enough with Codman; he responded better to action, understood exploits more than expressions. I could hear Bertucci clanking around in the kitchen. My instinct was to drag Codman down the stairs to check on the state of things, but on the way out of the room, I paused in the hallway.

On the walls were two pieces of art: a charcoal landscape Bertucci's mother had done that quite frankly was depressing, all dark and heavy, and the flipside, a gloppy, fluorescent splotchy painted mess that Bertucci had done in preschool and that his parents had framed. Between those were two photographs. One was of Bertucci back when he was short enough not to be able to reach the front doorknob, his grin lopsided and his fingers pudgy. The other was from maybe the beginning of middle school. He wasn't looking at the camera, like there was something more interesting elsewhere. I didn't know him then.

I could feel Codman standing behind me as I studied the pictures. The little kid one was framed in red plastic, and the middle one was in a fake-wood frame. When I looked closely I realized that whoever had done it hadn't taken out the insert that came with the frame. Poking out from behind an awkward Bertucci was another person, an anonymous being living alongside him in the frame.

I could smell Codman without facing him. This both bugged me and excited me because Codman's scent—not his soap or detergent—his actual person smell just got to me. Like biologically we were meant to be together. So for no reason other than to surprise him, I whipped around.

Codman darted away from me like it physically pained him to be near me. I just stood there.

Behind Codman was a door with a glass knob that I suddenly felt like opening. Codman saw me staring at the door, contemplating what could be inside. “There's a metaphor for us,” he said.

And before I could doubt myself, I took the steps to close the few feet of distance between us. When we were both in front of the door, I slipped my arms around Codman's waist in a gesture that—if I had to save my heart—I could always say I meant as a joke.

But it wasn't. Codman leaned his face down to mine and the kissing just started with no pause. We kissed like we had no time, fiercely and sternly as though this was serious business. His lips found mine, and I held him so tight I might have hurt him, but we knew without saying it we couldn't do this, that we could be found out at any second.

Everything changed then—the three of us, the two of us, me—but we didn't take the time to contemplate it. It was too exciting, too real, too risky.

Bertucci shouted up the stairs before he actually arrived.

We broke apart in the nick of time, both of us breathless, Codman's lips wet, his eyes heavy.

“You weren't looking through my shit, were you?” Bertucci asked, checking us out as he stormed past us and back into his room. He slammed a book—
And Then We Came to the End
—shut on his desk. “You look guilty.”

Codman shook his head. He looked at me, but I couldn't tell what his reaction was, if he wanted nothing more than to be alone with me or if he wished we hadn't kissed at all.

“No,” I said. “Besides, we wouldn't get any of your symbols and equations anyway, Nutlove.”

Bertucci kept studying us for signs and codes. “You want to know about the Schrödinger equation?” he asked as he leafed through a bunch of loose papers.

We didn't answer. “Basically, it predicts future behavior. Schrödinger's Cat—this experiment I'll tell you about another time.” The tension between the three of us was thick, solid and sticky as dough. “It's a wave equation that predicts analytically and precisely the probability of events or outcome.”

“So we're seeing the future here?” Codman asked, still short of breath. Was he saying that I was his future?

Bertucci went on. “The detailed outcome is not strictly determined, but given a large number of events, the Schrödinger equation will predict the distribution of results.”

Bertucci turned to face me in the grim light of his bedroom, pictures of his past selves peeking out behind him in the hall. He didn't speak, just looked at me.

“Schrödinger's Equation,” I said forcing a grin. “Early eighties band with girl lead singer and exploding drummer.”

Bertucci nodded, the tension easing. “Excellent band name. And of course they paint the formula on the front of the drum and are remembered into eternity.”

“German influences with a touch of Italian pop for levity,” Codman said, and order between the three of us was restored.


So we'd kissed that one time and never—not once—talked about it. We were, it turned out, really good at not talking about stuff.

I wanted to, and with the last night of everything, I knew I had to bring it up. But not in front of Bertucci.

“You realize of course, that he probably wanted us to split up,” Codman said, nodding to the space where Bertucci had been.

“Maybe this whole thing was a mistake,” I said. Through the double-height gallery window, the streetlights faded from green to red and back again, wobbly in the rain, while we stood there. “Obviously, there's a strategy or reason for being here that we're not figuring out.”

“Schrower's equation?” Codman asked. He pushed his hands through his hair.

“Schrödinger,” I corrected him. I hated that he couldn't remember that, like he was losing the language of us already. “So what should we do?” I looked around.

“Relax,” Codman said. “He's not going to jump out at you.”

When we'd seen
The Rashomon Effect
, Bertucci was so into it he leaned forward, arms resting on the seatback in front of him. But right when I thought he'd forgotten we were with him, he leaned back and whispered to me, warning me about what was coming next. He didn't want me to scream. “I know. I know that. I'm just thinking about his fondness for hide-and-seek and sardines and flashlight tag and maybe—”

“Maybe,” Codman interrupted, coming closer to me, “you should go down that hallway—to the left. And I should take the right. The hallways meet on the other side of Theater 6, right? We can see what's here.”

My heart beat way too fast.

“Come on,” Codman said to me. “You only live once, right?”



I watched Olivia head off to one of the myriad snaking hallways on her side of the theater and realized she wasn't coming back to the gallery. This was either because she wasn't scared like I was or because she was but didn't want to tell me or—and this was worst of all—because she couldn't stand to be around me anymore. She probably regretted going through with the night. My parents—both psychiatrists who had met through my mom's first husband, also a shrink—would say I was transferring, and that any regret was probably my own. I put my head down and focused on the stunningly ugly paisley carpet as I walked away from bad art toward a worse fate.

The hallway, like tunnels in the dreams my father picked apart for clues, seemed to lead nowhere. I tried to remember the last time I'd been here, what movie we'd seen, what season, anything to get my mind off the sure feeling that terror was lurking behind each corner, waiting to find me if I stopped or if I kept going. I couldn't go back to where Olivia and I had been, and I couldn't go forward.

“What do you want from me?” I asked aloud to no one or maybe to Bertucci if he could hear me. “What's the plan, Nut Nozzle?”

I half-expected someone to respond, but when they didn't, and a door up and to the right creaked partway open and then shut, I felt my pulse quicken to the point where I thought I might pass out. It doesn't take much for my inner wuss to break free. I had all the courage of a maxi pad.

But I knew if I passed out, no one would find me, and I'd be left to rot in the Circle Cinema which is just about as pathetic a way to go as any, so I began to recite Freud, explaining to the walls and carpet what I believed to be true.

“Freud thought everyone has these two desires, right?” I stuck out one hand in the darkness as I padded slowly along, using my other hand to feel the wall. “There's the libido—not just sex as we think of it, but the life force, like hunger and surviving and ... sex.” I paused as my fingers hit something cold. A handle. I gripped the metal and heard my breath coming in shaky gasps. “But then there's also the death drive. Um, Thanatos, who is, like, the Greek personification of death.”

I opened the door and found a room in semilight. Relief flooded through me as I could see again and make sense of where I was. Not that I knew where I was, but at least I could identify that I was in a bathroom.

“Not that Freud used Thanatos exactly. See, Freud's hypothesis was sort of about libido being a form of energy, right, Nutjam?” Bertucci had spent hours combing my parent's bookshelves, reading my mother's thesis, “On Death and Sexism.”

I stopped to look at myself in the mirror, aware that in horror movies, looking in the mirror never turned out well—exactly at that moment, someone or something would appear in the reflection.

But no one did. I noticed though that there was a urinal in the corner, crying out to be used, so I went over to it and closed my eyes. Closed my eyes? Yes. Always have. Call Freud! Maybe my dad sighs and closes his eyes when he takes a leak, I don't really know. Never stopped to consider why, really, until Bertucci commented on it a couple of years back when we were next to each other in the school bathroom.

“Are you about to critique my style of urinating?” I had asked him once the other guy near us left without washing his hands.

“Did I say anything?” Bertucci had said as he flushed and went to lather his hands. He washed his hands many, many times a day but I never commented on that.

“Well, don't,” I'd warned him. “How a guy pisses is his own business.”

“And other misheard rap lyrics,” Bertucci said and left.

In the deserted bathroom, I unzipped and had let loose only a few drops when the scream came. From nowhere, the human voice wailed out and I jumped, splattering urine on my hands, my jeans, the wall. My heart and stomach lurched toward my throat, fear crackled the hairs on my arms. “What the hell!”

At that point my eyes were open and, with my fly still down, I followed the scream as it pitched and yelled, a disembodied soul crying into the echoing bathroom stall.

BOOK: Last Night at the Circle Cinema
8.11Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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