Last Night at the Circle Cinema (7 page)

BOOK: Last Night at the Circle Cinema
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“I don't think they can hear you,” I told him. I kept thinking back to the beginning of things, back to freshman year, to papers I'd written that I thought were decent but sucked, baseball games I'd played wrong, to meeting Olivia, Bertucci. “Do you remember that day?” He said nothing. “When we first met?” It felt like I was describing a romance and it wasn't like that, but it sort of felt that way. Everything ending was like breaking up in the worst possible way.

“Of course I remember,” Bertucci said, and I hoped he was telling the truth.

The first words Bertucci ever said to me were “Nice flamingo.” He was walking by my house—I never asked him why—and despite the flamingo's perch between the rhododendron and the porch, Bertucci noticed. My mother hated the thing and had, on more than one occasion, put it in the green recycling bin. Only each time she did this, she'd leave the beak sticking out as though my plastic, tacky pink souvenir lawn ornament needed to breathe.

“I actually thanked you,” I told Bertucci, “when you complimented my flamingo.” Before I'd known what was happening, we were chucking a Frisbee across the yard, trading obscure movie lines, and ogling the bikini-clad bodies of the Benson twins, whose yard was easily visible from mine. “If I hadn't said anything back to you that day, would everything have been different? Would we still have been friends you think?”

Bertucci considered my questions.

“Who knows?” I asked, my hands wet on the fire escape. “And I'm still in semi-shock that you wound up hooking up with one of the Benson twins. You know, to be honest, I still can't tell them apart.”

Bertucci wouldn't tell me much about any of those encounters except to say they were “flamingo-worthy.”

The smokers finished and went into whatever bar was across Chestnut Avenue. I tried to dry my hands on my jeans while cradling the quiet plastic skull, wishing the weather were warmer, the way it had been in May. Then I thought about May and opened my mouth to tell Bertucci something, but he shook me off, staring out at the night like he was memorizing it, studying it.

“Are you cold?” I asked, which wasn't what I wanted to say, just what came out. He didn't answer. He just looked at me with this blank gaze he had sometimes, which truthfully wasn't blank, just sort of creepy. He reached for the door and I opened it for him. He slipped by me, back inside the theater, but I didn't follow him.

I thought about the night Olivia and I kissed. If he'd somehow known. What would have happened if we'd told him? If we'd talked about it then. The day after the night Olivia and I kissed in Bertucci's hallway, the flamingo disappeared. You'd think I wouldn't notice, but I take the same route in and out of my house, skipping the third porch stair, every day. Sometimes the flamingo would tilt over and look pathetic, beak-down in the bushes, and on those days I'd prop it back up. But there was no burst of pink plastic in the rhododendrons, no small black eyes fixing on me from the recycling bin.

“Where'd you put him?” I'd gone right back inside and asked my mother. She gave me a look that suggested I was being ridiculous, which of course I was, but I wouldn't stop looking. Olivia came over and used a moldy Wiffle ball bat to swat the brush, but we found nothing. At the mall that weekend, we had kung pao tofu in the food court while Bertucci was on break. I always ordered one side of fried rice and wound up wanting another.

“Get me a Fanta when you go back?” Bertucci asked and threw a balled up five dollar bill at me. At the counter, I ordered my second round of rice and started to say, “Small Fanta, please,” when I noticed the employee of the month photos. October was Linda Ruelle, she of pasty skin and hair net; November showed Brian Moreland and his perfect skin and wonky teeth; and in December was my flamingo with a paper cap on its head.

“What the fuck is that?” I demanded.

The server—Linda Ruelle from the look of her—recoiled.

“That's my flamingo.” Even as I said it, I was caught between laughter and annoyance. “No, really!” I waved Bertucci and Olivia over but they stayed rooted to the sticky orange table and chairs.

From then on, the flamingo showed up from time to time. As a sponsor in the school play program, for example. But the real fun began when I received a postcard—not an e-mail or text but a real, hold-in-your-hand piece of mail—from the Bahamas.

Having a great time here! Seeing old friends and some family who migrated to warmer waters. Hope you're doing well. —Bob

“Bob?” I'd asked Bertucci at the counter of Lady Foot Locker. He rang up a sale and addressed the customer even though he was talking to me.

“Don't you think it's just plain rude not to ask someone their name? I mean, sure, all this time you think you know someone—even if they aren't your species, say—but you don't!” The customer nodded and slid her receipt into her wallet, collected her shoebox, and left.

“So you're telling me my flamingo's name is Bob?” I asked, a grin playing at my mouth, especially when I realized other customers were listening.

“Yes,” Bertucci said, serious in his faux referee employee uniform.

I sighed with defeat and frustration. “Fine.”


Outside on the fire escape, my phone had better reception and I answered right when I saw Olivia's number come up. I wanted to tell her where I was, that I was freaked out, relieved by the rain, that I didn't like being away from her, but instead I said, “You know I have this total fear that Bob's going to get his diploma, right? Tomorrow?”

Olivia laughed, her voice muffled maybe by the lack of decent reception inside or by fear or by the weird feeling I had in the theater that we somehow needed to be quiet, reverent. “That would be awesome.” She coughed, considering something. “But—what's his last name? It's alphabetical so ...”

“Shit,” I said, and I meant it. How was I supposed to know Bob's last name? “I never asked the right things.” I paused. There was more to ask her, more to say, but I felt pressed for time—which was ridiculous—and worried I'd screw up with her—which I had and wasn't ridiculous at all.

I could hear Olivia's sweater—Bertucci's, actually—rustling against her phone. I wondered if she regretted coming to meet me at the Circle, if she thought about leaving, or if she wouldn't because she was too devoted for that.

“Bob wrote to me sometimes,” Olivia said. “Just so you know.”

I heard water running—maybe she'd found the restroom too, but I didn't ask about a skull or anything else she'd found. I didn't know if she'd had spotty reception the whole time like I did, or if she had been chatting with people or texting, and I felt left out. Like I'd missed out because I'd chosen to leave her.

It was like we were trapped in our own mazes. Olivia took a deep breath and said, “From crazy places—a resort in Thailand. Wearing snowboots in Minnesota, with his little skinny legs.” Her voice sounded far away and sad. “I just thought ... you should know. That sounds so weird but I—all this time I sort of felt like I was doing something illicit.”

“Betraying my exclusive relationship with Bob?” I stared out at the wet streets. The wavering lights looked like the moon on the ocean at Olivia's beach house where we'd been a few weeks before. “Bob was cheating on me?”

I could hear her as she licked her lips and breathed hard. She was scared too.

“No, more like I was cheating on you. Or, really, like I was being included in something that I wasn't supposed to be,” she said.

I felt my wet toes in my soggy shoes on the fire escape's metal slats and wished I could go hug her. She had that appeal—too strong to need you but you wanted to go to her anyway. “It's not like we had rules around Bob,” I told her. “I mean ... I don't even know how it got as big as it did.”

“I'm only getting every other word you're saying. Where are you?” Olivia's voice crackled. I went to answer but before I could she added, “Well, even if we have no idea where he is now, at least Bob's seen the world.”



It was just too easy to accept everything at face value, the songs someone put on a mix, say, or the fact that certain teachers always called on the same students, or that people used words without thinking. But I read lots of social theory, Erving Goffman, people like that who basically said that everything anyone does or says has a meaning, has a context. There's a reason why you do and say and wear what you do.

In fact, I'd told Livvy when she'd taken me to pick out my mother's casket, the choices we made said more than we even knew.

“If I pick a plain one, people interpret that, right? And if I choose the Millennium Gold, that connotes something else.”

“That your mother was a Disco Queen?” Livvy asked, knowing me well enough to know that humor was entirely acceptable to me at Parchman's Funeral Home but not enough to know that the Millennium Gold was actually what I'd end up choosing because it had interlocking handles and reminded me of the Millennium Falcon.

The point was that Goffman was onto something. “You're always the performer, but you're also always the audience, watching everything unfold in front of you,” I told her. By then the funeral director had come in, and my right leg was shaking and I knew I was talking too fast and sort of fondling the coffins, but I thought Livvy understood.

“I don't know how you're coping,” she whispered as I signed forms and wrote my dad's name on the check I'd taken from his desk.

“I'm not,” I told her, and I meant those words, but she wanted to see the me that she had created and that I guess I'd helped piece together: a guy who could call to have his mom's body collected, who could remove the wedding band from her left hand and tuck it away because he knew his mom wanted him to give it to someone one day.

Outside the funeral home, we sat in the car just like we were driving but we didn't go anywhere for a while. Livvy had to go to dinner at her parents' club and used the back seat as her changing room. It was my job to keep my eyes averted, and it was a position I found impossible to fulfill. My leg kept bouncing, my limbs moving like they had motors in them, springs and wires.

“I'm not sure Codman appreciates you,” I said, looking at her by way of the rearview mirror.

“And other non sequiturs,” she said, slipping her arms into a top of some kind, one of the ones she wore layered with others of its kind. She came over the gear to crumple herself into the front seat. “What does that even mean?”

I shook my head and started the engine. “What it means is that the person named Codman who we know to be Codman isn't capable of loving you.
being the you that you show him. Possibly he could love the you that you portray to me.”

Livvy tapped me on the shoulder, so I turned and we looked at each other face to face. “Is it possible that you need meds and that you're grieving and potentially reading too much complicated sociology texts? I mean, in addition to Codman's issues and whatever I divulge to you or to him. Isn't it also possible that Codman is more than he appears to be?”

I looked in the mirror at my eyes and also the traffic behind me. “All of those things are possible, yes.”


Leave it to Codman to overlook the obvious signs in the Circle's art gallery, never once noticing that two feet from where he was standing, there hung a painting of Bob. I ordered it online because I could not figure out how to portray Bob as I wanted him to appear, daring and in trouble, perhaps with a mustache or an ironic sweater vest. Bob in a protest march, bright pink against the bland crowd? Bob as a derelict, bottle in hand, collapsed on the street corner? I tried them all and the clothing in my hamper was proof, splattered Jackson Pollock–style, and produced nothing worthy of even the Circle Cinema's ode to miserable art. It seemed that part of life was figuring out all the things you sucked at, and I learned that painting was one of my weak spots. So I sent away for a custom paint-by-numbers that I completed in Codman's basement—years from now he'll probably find the mini-Bobs I painted hidden in various corners and on shelves.

But Codman, in true Codman style, didn't notice
Bob in Jail
, my custom work. Bob's coral-tipped wings poked out from the jail bars as though reaching out to Codman or Livvy. She might have noticed but, also true to herself, said nothing probably for fear it would be interpreted too deeply.

Little did Livvy understand that Codman did not interpret anything too deeply. I always admired this about him, his ability to live superficially in a way that would be impossible for me. And yet while I admired this about Codman, I also felt it was my duty as a human being to show him what he was missing. “There's a world of meaning out there lying under the surface,” I'd told him on the day I met him. He thought I was misquoting a movie line and turned to Bob—who hadn't yet been asked his name—and said, “Can you believe this guy? Can't get his lines right.” Bob didn't say anything, of course, but looked smug, perched on one leg in the new lawn.

So while I had agreed with her that perhaps Codman, like objects in the rearview mirror, might be closer than he appeared to getting in touch with the world around him and the deeper meaning of life, I counted on the fact that he wasn't quite there. At least not yet. He didn't notice the painting of Bob, nor did he notice that the art gallery had been just the slightest bit tweaked so that Codman, who always took the left side of the stairs despite the natural order of things telling us to take the right up and right down, would wind up just where he had and proceed—alone, of course—down the corridor he thought he'd chosen.

Some puzzles were like that. You completed them not the way you wanted but the way the puzzlemaster had decided for you. That's just what happens in
The Rashomon Effect
and one of the reasons I think that movie is a masterpiece.

BOOK: Last Night at the Circle Cinema
3.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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