Last Night at the Circle Cinema (8 page)

BOOK: Last Night at the Circle Cinema
13.79Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

When I dragged Codman and Livvy to see it at the Circle, Codman arrived directly from Lissa Matthew's house. He looked disheveled in the way that suggested not only that he'd been messing around with Lissa but also, more importantly, that he wanted us to know that he had. I'd demanded his presence, and it hadn't taken much work to get him to the midnight showing. This did not bode well for Lissa. And Livvy I had to drag almost literally.

“You know me,” she'd insisted. “I am freaked out in the previews of scary movies so why, why, why are you making me see this?” In fact, I did know her tendency to duck and curl in previews, and the truth was that I thought it was kind of cute.

I bought Twizzlers and handed Junior Mints to Codman who had bought the tickets, and Livvy handed out the gourmet sodas she'd brought in flagrant disregard for the “no outside food” policy. “I'll just tell them I'm allergic to additives,” she'd said when I asked her about it.

I turned to address my friends. “The reason you need to make it through this film is that it will change your life. Your entire perspective.”

“That sounds bad,” said Codman. His shirt was buttoned incorrectly, and he fiddled with the top button, drawing attention to that fact. “What if I like my perspective just the way it is?”

“Then I would say you are in the dark,” I told him, and the lights dimmed.



I hung up, wishing Codman had been clearer—in every sense. How hard could it possibly be to just be fucking sure of something?

I dropped the phone in my bag, not wanting to use the last gasps of power on the flashlight function. I rummaged in my bag, identifying objects by feel: apple with a significant bruise, wallet that doesn't close properly, change from that wallet, extra socks, a small but thoroughly absorbent towel, and my keys. I pulled the keys out, linking my finger through the heart-shaped key ring so I wouldn't lose them. I was keenly aware that the keys were my one guarantee that I could get away from the Circle if I needed to. I'd promised to do this, but I didn't promise to stay indefinitely. Just till dawn. After all, Codman seemed to take leaving—or hanging up—lightly. Is that what we had in store? A future of weird texts, Thanksgiving or summer meet-ups that felt more and more obscure?

On my key ring was a tiny light that Bertucci won at the third rate amusement park. The pathetic light only worked when I pressed it at just the right spot in the middle, and then only sporadically. I tried it and felt a thrill when it cast a thin but noticeable beam onto the patterned carpet. I could see walls ahead, and the edge of the corridor, and I made my way in my still-damp clogs.

The Circle Cinema was where I had seen
as a kid and where my friend Marta and I had gone to late afternoon shows after tennis matches, dreaming about boyfriends and sometimes making them up, having dialogues for the benefit of onlookers as though the whole world was listening in on us. “Oh, Giles said he'll be late tonight,” she'd say, or “I loved that bracelet Tom gave you last week.” “Yeah,” I'd reply, exaggerating my eyes. “Tom is great. He has incredible taste. That bracelet is from Oregon—he hiked there last summer.” “I didn't realize Tom was a hiker,” Marta would say. “Oh, there's so much about Tom you don't know,” I'd reply as we waited in line for snacks, and we'd crack up.

I wished Marta were here, though I knew she couldn't have dealt with it. I wished that anyone was with me. Bertucci to hold my hand, or Codman. I slipped my phone out of my back pocket and checked for messages. It was possible the reception sucked. It was also possible that no one had called or texted me back since I'd checked minutes ago. God, was I really one of those phone-as-security-blanket people? Pleasure center, my mother had warned. Like cocaine. Every ding, every notification lighting up the dopamine in my brain. I needed to quit. To be present. Hadn't we learned that by now? Not sucked into some imaginary world—phone or otherwise—but where I stood, right then.

As I edged my way from where I'd been to whatever was ahead of me, the fact that I had no plan began to gnaw at me. I was always a planner, organized, overly prepared—more practical than Bertucci, but a planner all the same. I was the kind of person who delighted in my assignment book, checking off items as I completed the tasks. Sometimes I even added items I'd already done just to get the satisfaction of crossing them off.

In all the times we'd been together, Bertucci hadn't explained much about what he envisioned the three of us doing at the Circle. I'd asked once, “But why? What's the point of breaking in?”

And both Codman and Bertucci had given me a look that suggested I'd missed a vital part of it. “Does there have to be a point?” Codman had asked.

Bertucci shook his head. “There's obviously a point. There's a point to everything even if it's not clear right away, Nut Mime.”

I wasn't sure, standing there with my tiny key light, if I had any idea what the point was.

Only that I was lonely. Hungry. Wet. Scared. As I followed the key beam, my heart began to speed up again as I recognized where I was.

When the cinema expanded, they hadn't done so all at once. Instead, they'd tacked on the smaller theaters like the modular classrooms at our school, shoved into whatever spaces they could find. I had come to the odd place where the disabled ramp came in from the back parking lot, the spot where the original cinema and the add-ons met. It was a grand space, more suited to a ball than the extra refreshment stand that stood off to the left. A chandelier that probably looked elegant in 1975 was dusty and precarious, likely to fall and injure me. I could see it: head laceration, bandages showing under my graduation cap the next day, more things Codman would have to explain in his speech.

“Fresh Snacks and More!” the sign over the stand advertised. “I'd like some ‘and More,'” Codman would always say when we walked past it.

Not that there was anyone manning the place. It was unused even during the last years the Circle was in business. How sad and disappointing I found it.

“This place that is supposed to inspire glee—candy! Popcorn! Slush in cups bigger than your Uggs!” I'd said one time, and Bertucci nodded, getting it.

Codman had rolled his eyes. “It's not a tragedy, Olivia,” he'd said then, or maybe another time since they melded together, an amalgum of movie nights I suspected was how I'd end up looking back when I was older. “It's just Raisinets.” But I hated that the whole white Formica and glass-fronted thing was unused, ghostly, like watching something already dead but not gone.

As I approached it now, I saw that as always, the stand was fully stocked with brightly colored boxes of chocolate-covered everythings and gummy animals. I looked around but of course couldn't see anything—or anyone—who might object to me eating really old candy. I carefully stepped closer, daring myself to go behind the vacant counter. I reached my hand into the shelving, worried a mouse or rat would bite me and I'd have to get shots as a precaution against some revolting disease and then I'd show up for graduation with bandages and not be able to play tennis if I accepted the spot I'd been offered on the college team in the fall. But nothing bit me.

“Codman!” I yelled in case he was anywhere within earshot. He didn't respond, and he'd never hear me if he was in another part of the cinema. “Codman?”

Finally, I grabbed a Sno-Caps box, semi-proud that I was gutsy enough to do it. I hated breaking rules. Perhaps that was the point of the evening—to show me that I could. But when I had the box in my hand, I knew something was wrong. I shook it. No rattle promising sweet crunch. Empty. I reached for another. Nothing.

Frantically I began taking all of the boxes—Dots, Cookie Bites, Gummy Bears. “Goddamn it!” I screamed and my voice came back to me. Every single box was perfectly intact but empty. “Bertucci!”

Angry and hungry, I stormed away, trying to get the key light to come on again but unable to find the right space to press. I fumbled, tripping on the disabled ramp, banging my shin against the bottom metal bar of the railing. I winced in pain, gripped my shin, and it felt wet. The key light blinked on just long enough to show me blood. My fingers sticky with it, I reached for the towel in my bag and pressed it to the cut. Was it deep? I couldn't tell. I was sucking in air through my nose, willing the pain to go away, when I noticed a muffled sound coming from the right. Voices.

I swallowed hard, hunched over with the towel soaking in the blood as I walk-stumbled toward the noise.

The first week of senior year at Brookville High, there was a shooting at a different high school all the way across the country in some town I'd never heard of in some state I'd never visited. My mother had called from her office. “I'm between patients,” she'd said. I could almost see her in the ER, blue scrubs, white coat crisp, hair tied back. “Whenever these stories come out—and they will keep happening—there's always someone who hears something odd. A noise. Loud bangs. Some such thing. If you ever hear something like that, get out. Drop your books, don't hide, don't text Codman, just get out of the building. Do you hear me?”

I had. I could hear the calm tones she used to tell people they were going to be okay, the confidence she had that with this advice, I'd escape. She went on, “And for God's sake, whatever you do, don't go toward the noise to investigate.”

But I did. I went with my sliced-up leg toward the noises—a scream?—a loud clunk. When I reached a door, I opened it at the same time as a woman's voice wrapped me in a shriek. I yelped in response and dropped my towel in the doorway, clutched my bag to my chest, and darted toward another exit, tripping again on a wide stair. Then, in front of me, a film crackled on. The shriek had been part of it, but the footage began to roll.

I was in one of the tiny back theaters, Theater 12 maybe, and the black and white movie playing was instantly recognizable.
The Rashomon Effect

I turned to see if I was alone in the theater, and I was. The light at least made it possible to get my bearings. The green seats. The same damaged one on the aisle that had pissed off Bertucci. We'd switched rows, moving forward, too close I'd thought, neck strain—and more than that, it felt too much like we were in the movie, not watching it. “No, that's the director doing that,” Bertucci had said.


The film opened on a butcher with a bloody apron, a cleaver in his hand, and a teacher with a leather satchel trying to wait out the rainstorm under the awning of a worn-down hotel. A woman with an empty baby carriage joins them and makes small talk until the butcher begins to tell a story, and the teacher joins in. Turns out they've both seen the same dead body in the dumpster out back but haven't told anyone. It gets creepier and worse from there, with the mother then saying she saw something odd a couple of days ago and, to complicate matters, she'd been in the butcher's store to pick up ribs and the butcher had seemed agitated. The teacher then recognizes the mother, saying he taught her son, and where had the boy been the past few days?

Had I wanted to see that movie? Hell no. As I sat rewatching the opening scenes, I remembered being there in the dead of winter with Bertucci and Codman. How I'd shown up with a cape and hat Marta and I had picked up in the dollar bins at the Thrifty Closet, the vintage store by the train tracks. Marta was tall and wore old sweaters over her T-shirts and got away with it, but I always felt costumed. My mother hated used clothing, saying we could afford new and that it was an invitation to bedbugs. “She thinks it's pathetic,” I'd said to Bertucci, “that I'd want to walk around in things no one else wanted. What can I say? I like the discards.” I'd sat between him and Codman, the dappled light playing on my cape, on Bertucci's pale face and red lips, on Codman's washed-out jeans. Codman's shirt was buttoned incorrectly, and I kept looking at it wondering why.

I found myself drawn in again, wondering why the movie was on, how Bertucci had rigged it up, and more importantly, why I hadn't noticed the scariest thing about the movie the first time around.

In the foreground, the three characters debate the murder, the rain continues, and the camera goes from face to face. “Shifting perspective,” Bertucci had said. He walked me through each shot, each scene.

Bertucci kept leaning over and whispering in my ear about the camera technique and what the director was trying to do, and then he'd lean over and whisper to Codman too. I didn't know if he was saying the same thing twice or telling him something totally different.

“Diamatos made the cast and crew live together in this closed-up hospital. Mainly to save money but also, I think, to challenge them to sort of live and breathe the story night and day,” he'd said. “People always talk about his use of light and shadows, this sort of dappled thing like right there. See it on her face?” I had tried, but I couldn't see all the stuff Bertucci wanted me to, and felt like a failure somehow even though I didn't want to see it.

My hands trembled as I stared at the screen. I remembered sitting there with Bertucci and Codman, the snow falling outside so hard that it tamped down street noise you sometimes heard in the tiny theaters. I had itched to leave, to stop seeing the camera shift from one close-up to another. “See, that's on purpose,” Bertucci had said, “so you don't know whose narrative is the one to follow, which one is telling the real truth.”

As I looked at the screen on my own, I kept focusing on the scary thing I'd overlooked before. In the far back of the screen was a face. Not clear, but a face. As I tried to focus on it, it would disappear and then come up somewhere else. Like fog, it had no features, but somehow it was a face. Behind the butcher, in the hotel window, or near the woman's baby carriage. I could feel bile building in my stomach and panic rising in my chest.

BOOK: Last Night at the Circle Cinema
13.79Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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