The following is from Sherrie Flick’s collection, Thank Your Lucky Stars. The stories in the collection span a variety of styles and include fake farmers, crickets, and a down-on-his-luck cowboy. Sherrie Flick’s writing has appeared in Ploughshares, Smokelong Quarterly, and W.W. Norton’s Flash Fiction Forward, among others. Her honors include the Foreword INDIES book prize, and grants and fellowships from Ucross, Sewanee Writers’ Conference, among others.
I’m sitting in the theater—dusty old seats, the smell of soggy popcorn, sticky soda, and cheap chocolate. The dust that has risen glitters and turns in the sputtering projector light. The projector hums patiently from up in the control booth. Box fans sit in the aisles. An air conditioner spits and rattles in the lobby. Only a few lonely patrons sit in the musty theater, but I’m sure others will show.
I’m here to watch me and you live our lives like movie stars.
Suddenly, there I am on the lime-green couch. We’re in Technicolor, and you’re coming down the stairs. Jack, the dog, runs scampering ahead of you. You have glasses on that make you look smart, and a white shirt that makes you look rich. Your pants are blue; your shoes black and shiny. You look at me and smile. I look at you and smile, and immediately we remind the audience of Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn in Adam’s Rib—except I don’t have the jawline, and you have the wrong build. Things are light, but serious. We’re happy; you can tell by the sparkle in our eyes. I tell you a story about the dead pigeon I saw my neighbor carrying around my yard by one fragile wing tip. I tell you what he was yelling, which was: “Andre! You son of a bitch, look! I think it’s dead. Andre!”
I tell you I don’t know if Andre is the man’s son or dog. You laugh and say, “God. It’s so great, these stories you tell.” You’re sitting on the edge of an oddly shaped orange chair, leaning in my direction with your forearms resting on your thighs. You’ve given me your complete attention.
My story is dramatic, and I’m waving my arms as I tell you about the glass of scotch my neighbor carries in his other hand. About the BB gun he picks up later and aims at a squirrel and instead hits my window. I wear a 1940s cream-colored suit fitted to reveal my ample bust with just a little cleavage, my slim waist. I wear thick black heels. And now the music begins, and we slide into a choreographed dance. I notice my skirt is slit to make my movements easier—your pants seem to be made of a stretchy material that hugs your thighs with each tight turn. We smile and take big steps that lead us through the living room into the brightly lit kitchen. We miraculously continue to sing and dance while we chop vegetables, brown onions, clean and sauté the shrimp.
We’re absolutely charming—and fit.
The music ends, and the few people in the theater shift in their seats. They shake their popcorn containers like awkward maracas to get at the bigger popped kernels. We’re all anxious to see what comes next.
“You look at me and smile. I look at you and smile, and immediately we remind the audience of Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn in Adam’s Rib—except I don’t have the jawline, and you have the wrong build.”
As the sun moves behind the clouds, weak shafts of light filter through the slats of the blinds, sweep across us, and glide into the kitchen as the movie fades to black and white. A heated dialogue begins almost immediately, and we aren’t even out of breath from the dancing.
My face is half-concealed in shadow.
I say, “So. This is what you call dinner?”
You turn quickly and say, “Dinner. Lunch. What do you want from me?”
I say, “I call them how I see them. You’re out of focus, as usual.”
I sharpen a knife. Soon you slam a drawer and are driving a meat cleaver hard into the cutting board to make a point.
We’re cool. I throw my shoulders back—you set your feet firmly apart. You’re pointing the knife in my direction. In the audience, I’m suspecting one of us might die. This is how cool we are.
I say, “Dinner is only as good as the person making it.” Then I tilt my head and swing my hair slowly over my shoulder. I say, “So. How good are you?”
You say, “I guess you’ll see when the time comes.”
I say, “I guess we’ll see,” and walk back into the living room holding a ticking timer in my hands, moving my hips. I look once over my shoulder and raise my eyebrows. Then as you stand alone in the kitchen looking after me, I twist the dial to make it ring.
This is the movie I’m watching. It’s us, and I know just before the words The End bleed onto the screen, we will have kissed. I’ll push you away slightly, then pull you back, then we’ll kiss again. And at this point it will be clear to everyone sitting around me, including the drunk guy who came in late—even to the stale popcorn shoved down into the seats and the swirling dust—that we’re in love and we will live happily ever after in this second-run theater.
But this is only the movie. In real life, we’ve missed all our cues. In real life, you come running down the stairs, too loud—you have on sweatpants with your white shirt. Jack barks upstairs at some stray leaves he sees through the window. It’s a foggy, rainy day, but you’re smiling. I’m wearing baggy jeans and a wrinkled shirt. My hair is a mess because I’m almost asleep on the faded green couch, and cranky because I’ve been waiting too long for you to get ready. I yawn and smile back. You rush me because we will be late for the movie we’re going to see. You pull me up from the couch, but we miss the dance sequence because we decide that instead of cooking we’ll get food from Thai Blossom on West Hickory Street on the way to the theater.
The vegetables sit untouched and rot quietly in your dark refrigerator. The sun shifts, and slanting light crosses an empty kitchen.
On the way to the car, I tell you about my neighbor and the dead pigeon, about the scotch, and the small flower of a crack in my window, but the sound guy can’t possibly pick this up. In this life that isn’t a movie, we are never able to reach a point of synchronicity. We never see the credits coming, so we never kiss. Love never begins.
And you would say, if I told you this, that the movie never shows what happens after the credits roll. The hot August night when I walk in on you and Emily. The sad awkward tangle of bodies struggling on the sagging couch. The sweat. My one short scream like a starter’s pistol. Jack running and whimpering under the table as the neighbors’ lights turn on, then off, like reluctant lightning bugs down the street. And no eloquent explanations, just both of us tired and sorry and so fed up.
We fade apart, never to see each other again except in the random grocery aisle where we wave by lifting a few fingers from the rail of the cart, or in the bookstore, shuffling our feet against the nubby carpet, reluctantly tipping covers to show each other titles.
We get to the movie barely on time. Pull carefully packaged Thai Blossom from where we’ve hidden it in our jackets as we run giggling to our seats—middle center. We’ve learned not to share. It’s too complicated. We’ve learned to leave our knees untouching, to watch the movie closely so we can talk about it for hours later, to whisper, “This is so damn good,” quietly in each other’s ears. We nod silently at the good lines and see where the acting is weak. Our seats creak as we shift our bodies, as we get more comfortable and the tension rises. We’ve learned to wipe our mouths as we carefully pucker our lips to napkins. We’ve learned to relax until the credits roll.
From Thank Your Lucky Stars. Used with permission of Autumn House Press. Copyright © 2018 by Sherrie Flick.