Who Will Survive and What Will Be Left of Them?

Who Will Survive and What Will Be Left of Them?
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Photo by Graham (copied from Flickr)
Photo by Graham (copied from Flickr)

A long and needlessly taxing week is nearing its end and Gathright emails his wife from work and asks if she’d like to go see a movie. Of course, she says. They bat around a couple of different titles before Gathright zeroes in on a pair. Both seem like good candidates to begin scouring the week off of him. This is his aim, above all else. To wash off the stains and smears of the past few days in the mindless river of a movie. His wife, who has intentions of her own, she has, after all, been witness to this week of his and has had a week of her own besides, tries to offer a few alternate suggestions, but Gathright gently swats these aside. They settle on the restored print of the admirable slasher flick. [private]She picks him up and they drive to the theatre in agreeable, windswept near-silence. The girl who sells them their tickets is young and pretty and Gathright flirts with her while she swipes his credit card. His wife teases him about it afterward, not because of the ridiculousness of it but the hopelessness. It’s almost as if he’s stood up and declared himself emperor of the universe, that’s how absurd it is. It’s not a mean thing to point out and Gathright doesn’t begrudge her for doing it, though she is perhaps being a bit insistent. No matter. They are together in the drowsy light of the lobby and there are the smells and expectations and sudden tiny mysteries that come with this place. It makes shrugging it off easier. He needs to use the men’s, she’ll go in and get seats. They unlace their hands and branch off. His bladder emptied, Gathright decides he wants M&Ms. When he reaches the counter, though, he hears himself asking for the M&Ms with peanuts. Why does he do that? The simplicity of M&Ms has always made him happy. To adulterate the basic structure with anything else – like blocky cysts of nut – is lunacy. But his wife likes them. She’d eat the plain kind but the peanuts make her happy. The spark of appreciation he’ll see when he hands her the box outshines whatever reasonable objections there may be. He takes the box and his change and while he’s reaching into his pocket for his ticket stub someone, he doesn’t see who, hands him a folded piece of paper. He opens it and recognizes the writing as his wife’s. I don’t think they’re going to let me leave, it says. He has no idea what that means. It’s strange and vaguely unsettling and he can’t sort it out but he’s on his way to where she is so it’ll be sorted out soon. Going down the long hall somebody taps him on his left shoulder and when he turns in that direction someone else puts another note into the palm his right hand. They’re gone by the time he’s figured out what happened. They’re saying the ceremony is going to start when the movie does, it says. If that’s true then you should probably go home. What is she doing? A night at the movies should be the simplest thing on earth. Why, on this night, after this week? He wants his unrepentant savagery, he wants his M&Ms, he wants his hand on his wife’s thigh in a black room. He wants to be assumed into other people’s action. Whatever she’s up to is taking the evening’s purpose out at the knees. He goes past dozens of screens and when he finds the right auditorium the doors won’t open. He can hear the familiar and indecipherable sounds of an unseen movie, the thuds and voices, a movie is clearly happening inside, but the doors are locked. He starts banging on them. A note slides out from underneath. GO. He’s not sure if that’s her writing. He calls her name. He punches the doors. He kicks, he tugs, he lunges shoulder-first. Nothing. Eventually one of the doors opens wide enough for a hand, a woman’s hand, not his wife’s, the fingers are too long, too pale, too fluently bent, to hand him another note. Once he’s taken it the doors snap back shut. Just go home, honey – we’ve only started, the Name has just been spoken, we’re starting with the offerings and there’s so much left to be done – I’ll be okay but it isn’t worth waiting around – just go on. He gives a final violent pull. He doesn’t know what to do. The lobby is empty now. The pretty girl at the box office is gone. There is nobody selling concessions, nobody waiting for his show to begin. Eventually a stooped and ancient janitor pushing a trash can appears at the end of the corridor. Gathright tells him about his wife and the notes and the locked doors. The janitor shakes his head. That isn’t supposed to happen anymore, he says. There is no accounting for these nights. He walks on with his trash. Gathright sits down against the wall outside his wife’s theatre and listens to the inscrutable sounds. On the floor a few feet away is his box of M&Ms. He eats one, then another. They’re stones in his mouth. He shuts his eyes. Inside the theatre there are screams. [/private]

Pete Segall

About Pete Segall

Pete Segall is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, where he was a Truman Capote Fellow. His fiction has appeared in Epoch and The Letters Page and he periodically writes about sports in The Classical. He lives in Chicago.

Pete Segall is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, where he was a Truman Capote Fellow. His fiction has appeared in Epoch and The Letters Page and he periodically writes about sports in The Classical. He lives in Chicago.

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