Last Night at the Circle Cinema (9 page)

BOOK: Last Night at the Circle Cinema
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I grabbed my bag, bolting from the seat. The seat squeaked, calling me back, but I took the wide steps fast, the pain in my shin nothing compared to my need to vacate the premises. I could hear my mother's voice in my head with each step. For God's sake, don't go toward the noise.



The truth is, I thought about leaving. Not bolting, but slinking out. I considered scaling the wet fire escape and dropping to the ground, probably injuring my ankle in the process, and either running home with the tiny skull in my pocket or waiting in the parking lot until dawn at which point the night would officially be over. I'd be free of the Circle, free to figure out what the hell I could possibly say at graduation. I wanted to leave.

But I couldn't. I'd promised Bertucci eight hours of my life for the eight hours of his I'd wasted. And more than that, I knew this time I couldn't leave Livvy.

When I went back inside, the heavy door clicked shut behind me, and I shivered, soaked through again with the kind of cold that took hours to get rid of. I could only imagine how shaky Olivia was, she of the permanently chilled. Even after I'd watch her play tennis, she'd only be hot for a few minutes, sweat dripping from the light hair above her ear to her chin. She'd sounded so freaked out on the phone, and I knew that I needed to find her, that splitting up had been a mistake.

The other truth I kept coming back to was how we had changed. From the beginning it was the three of us. Yeah, we had our pairings—Liv would be at tennis or off on some exotic vacation, and I'd loiter at Bertucci's work, or I'd tag along when he was with a hot Benson twin, or he'd overlap with me and Lissa Matthews at the park doing nothing except talking about what he might do next. But mainly it was the three of us.

What had our last big outing been? Probably the Night of 1,000 Escalators (real truth: the Night of 208 Escalators, but that sounded lame to Bertucci, so we ramped it up). That whole memory unfolded like a map, this part connecting to that one, one bit enlarged to show details, scale. By the time Livvy had picked me up, Bertucci had a list of every single escalator in the entire metropolitan area and had a spreadsheet so we could document the length of each ride, speed, calibrations that only his mind understood.

“Why, though?” I had asked as we worked our way through the steep ones at each red line train station and then moved on to the green, the blue, and the commuter rails that ringed the suburbs. In a semi-defunct, glass-roofed mall, with the setting sun, the escalators took on a glow, and it was possible at that moment that I thought we'd always be together. The three of us, going up and down, weaving around even when we became saggy-armed old people. The rays bounced off Livvy's hair, making it gleam silvery blonde, and Bertucci's normally furrowed brow was smooth as he laughed and crossed off another six escalators on the list.

“We have to keep going,” he'd insisted when Livvy started to flag. He enlisted my help to keep her awake, pushing us forward with sugary espresso drinks and music blaring in the car. “Okay—we have no choice,” Bertucci had said when it was almost two a.m., and our escapades had been going on for over twelve hours.

My thighs ached, my feet were swollen. All I wanted to do was go home, lie on my bed—or even on Bertucci's floor, which is saying a lot because his rug was all shaggy and filled with old buttons and crumbs. His desk was immaculate, though. The center drawer was filled with red, blue, and black pens Bertucci had organized like an army of ink, then pencils and protractors and erasers and sharpeners, all hyper-neat. But that was Bertucci, revolting floors and crazy-clean desk. He'd be hysterical, drawing crowds and gathering groups to do something fun on campus—decorate the gym to celebrate the debate team's second place finish at sectionals—or else he'd be manic about some essay or article he'd wanted published, disappearing for days to write and rewrite. Then without warning he'd be in his bed, tattered yellow blanket pulled halfway over his face so only his eyes would show. Olivia would bring him a plant. Or read to him. Or just sit there. But I couldn't. Frankly, it was exhausting. Even the fun crap, like riding the escalators, made me feel wired, and not always in a good way. The Night of 1,000 Escalators had sort of done me in. And what was the point? Just to keep going?
Fac fortia et patere?
Do brave deeds and endure? Maybe it was too fucking hard.

With my back against the fire escape door, I tried to picture the theater's floor plan in my head. The rabbit warren of mini movie rooms at the back, the large Theater 1 with the balcony over which the three of us had projectiled stale Jujubes. The fire escape was at the side with a view of the streets, so I was in the center, near the dead refreshment area and the large bathroom at the top of the disabled ramp. I knew those facilities well as it was in that bathroom that Lissa Matthews and I had hooked up for the first time—on a bathroom break from
Corpsepocolypse II
—and also where we'd gotten together again when she insisted on coming to see
The Rashomon Effect
even though Bertucci made it very clear that she wasn't invited.

“I don't care,” Lissa'd said. “I'm your ... girlfriend or whatever, and I should be allowed to see some stupid movie with you on a Saturday night.”

“We're supposed to get a blizzard,” I said as though snow could stop her. Lissa was wishy-washy about many things but inclusion in the bizarre love triangle that was Bertucci, Olivia, and I was not one of them. She didn't realize how impenetrable we were, I guess.

So I'd brought her as far as the disabled ramp, then into the bathroom. I'd tried half-heartedly to push her away but she'd been insistant, mumbling about her summer first-aid course, checking my pulse, her fingers on my neck, sliding her cold hand up my shirt to check my heart rate. Did I picture Livvy's face? Maybe. What had Robin Williams said? God gives men a dick and a brain but only enough blood for one to work at a time.

And then when Lissa and I were done, I told her I'd meet her afterward back at her house, climbing in the unlocked bathroom window as I'd done before. When I had exited the bathroom and gone to meet Bertucci and Olivia in the theater, I noticed my shirt was misbuttoned, but I didn't care. The bathroom was fun, the movie was bound to be too, and I needed fun. Deserved it.

Home was most definitely not fun, with my brother way out of the house; my father hardly speaking, just nodding his psychiatrist nod; and my mom taking up all the words he didn't use to pick at my grades, my college apps, the paint on the porch that needed redoing, anything but the fact that my dad was texting at inappropriate hours and was hardly home.

Bertucci was in good form that night, excited to show Olivia and me the movie he referenced all the time. He'd brought it up that first day I'd met him.

“You've never seen it?” he had asked that day in my front yard. When I shook my head, he slammed his palms on his thighs, leaving a mark in the summer heat. “That's it—we're making lime tonics and I'm walking you through it scene by scene.” That was the thing about Bertucci, he was always specific. Not something to drink, but lime tonics. He knew the proportions of lime to tonic and how to swizzle cocktails, and he'd execute it all perfectly.

And he'd conjured each scene and recited all the dialogue so clearly that I'd been hooked. So much so that when I met him and Olivia in the small theater at midnight I felt like I was seeing the movie for the second time. Olivia was in a weird getup for some reason that escapes me. She was so different from Lissa, unique. But work. Sometimes Olivia was work. And maybe that was why I'd bounce back to Lissa. Lissa required very little from me. I just had to show up. When I was with Bertucci, we were witty, wittier, wittiest. Ping-ponging ideas, plotting, scheming; Olivia the perfect balance for us, able to banter; the two of them somehow made me more than I was alone, brought out all the best bits of me. Parts of myself I might never have known without them.


At the Circle, I heard the shriek and didn't flinch. What had Bertucci said? It's not even a human one. They recorded a gull and an elephant seal, and the sound mixer had blended it. We think it's human because we've already been manipulated into the film. I stood outside of the small theater, knowing Bertucci intended for me to go inside and watch the movie—again—but I didn't want to. Bertucci could be very convincing, but it had dawned on me recently that letting him get his way all the time might not have been good—for any of us.

So I did not go in. I felt a little proud of that. As I turned to make my way down the disabled ramp in the hopes of finding Olivia, I stepped on something soft. My first instinct? A used condom. My next? A limb. Both were gross. And wrong, I realized when I bent down and found a towel that felt damp. I opened the door to the mini theater to make sure, and not only was it indeed a towel, but it was also newly wet. With blood.

“Olivia? Livvy!” I called for her, annoyed that I only heard my own voice coming back to me and not hers.

I swore in my head, feeling nauseated and unsure whether I needed to drop the towel or keep it as some sort of evidence.
Was it really murder?
God, that song. Why had I listened to that album so much? I kept the towel, and as I tried to make my way back to the main lobby, I remembered more about when we'd been here in the winter.

Fourteen to twenty inches. That's what everyone had kept repeating that night—not just a storm, a blizzard. But the Circle stayed open. Once Lissa had gone, I'd plopped myself right between Olivia and Bertucci like I'd been there all along. Bertucci chewed Twizzler after Twizzler and kept annoying me with all the film geek shit he knew, hilarious on-set mishaps or ridiculously off-the-mark reviews or whatever.

“My own film technique is just like the director's, you know, the silent narrator?” Bertucci kept talking even as I faced the characters telling their versions of the dumpster body. “See that shot?” he asked for the twelfth time. “The best footage was filmed when the actors weren't even looking, didn't know they were being filmed. The director insisted on no costumes for any of the actors so they'd always be filmable.”

It all sounded sneaky and stalkerish to me, but to Bertucci it was art. That night Livvy showed up in a thrift store outfit. Why? Who knows? Maybe she was trying to be someone else. Someone's quirky aunt or Lissa or a future Livvy none of us had met yet. She thought it bought her anonymity, but Bertucci told her that disguises weren't very effective.

“They work best if they inspire pity,” he said. “Like those old vaudeville hobo clowns.”

Olivia swatted his arm. “Don't bring up clowns. So it'd be better if my boa weren't so jaunty?” Olivia asked.

“Exactly,” I said, though I secretly thought she looked great in the aqua feathers. She had a cape and took it off to use as a blanket. I'd be lying if I said I didn't picture what could happen under that blanket in the dark. The night before had been Livvy's parents' annual Hanukkah party, and all three of us ended up sleeping over, burying our bodies under the heap of coats on Livvy's huge bed, the smell of onions and oil wafting in, the comforting sounds of adults in another room. Had I snaked my hand over to hers? Yes, but then pulled away. Maybe she'd have grabbed it. Maybe she'd wanted Bertucci's hand instead. Plus, Lissa. Lissa, who would never have shown up in a snowstorm in the aqua boa Livvy had on that made wish she'd tie me to her with it.

, Livvy fiddled with her boa, flinging it as though testing out personas—a showgirl, a Muppet. “The key with a disguise,” Bertucci clarified while cracking his back and stretching, revealing a tattoo on the underside of his arm I hadn't seen before, “is to have one standout item.”

“Like my boa.” Olivia flung it at him.

“Yes. Although if you were horribly disfigured, it would be better.”

I remembered something. “I was in California once, looking at elephant seals—you know, those giant ones with weird noses—”

“Proboscis,” Bertucci interjected. I ignored him.

“And this woman showed up. Really old, kind of hobbled. And she had a huge red floppy hat with sequins. Just totally out of place, you know? And I thought how lonely she looked—not just because she was looking at seals by herself—but, like, the hat was so sad all bedazzled and shit.”

Bertucci nodded. “So you get it,” he said. Olivia had taken off the boa and then changed her mind. As the credits rolled she draped it around all of us like some weird, blue, feathery serpent.

We watched the whole movie right up until the conclusion.

“Stand up,” Bertucci demanded.

“Hey,” said the guy a row behind. “Sit down.”

“We're leaving,” Bertucci said to us.

Why had I let him decide? Olivia stood up, glad to go since she had hidden her eyes for half of the movie anyway, but I'd paid money for the ticket and was into the story. “What the hell, Bertucci?”

He shrugged. “The end sucks. The final scene alone has been the subject of myriad critiques. Let's get you guys a double mushroom at the Slice.”

Maybe if he'd said just pizza or let's go, I'd have stayed on my own. But the specifics. Always with the details. And the vocab. Myriad. So we exited mid-show and padded through the parking lot where an easy six inches had fallen in the last couple of hours.

“I can't drive in this,” I'd said.

Olivia, more manly than I in matters of the road, answered, “No worries, I've got you. I've driven in bad weather myriad times.” I'd raised my eyebrows at her, and she'd smiled back.

We drove so slowly that eventually Bertucci got frustrated, exited the car, and walked right next to us, sometimes with his giant palm on the passenger side window, other times nearly blurred by the falling snow. A few times he lost his footing and careened back, but he never fell.

BOOK: Last Night at the Circle Cinema
5.97Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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