This was for a Creative Writing assignment.  The original prompt was to describe a scene in which a man waiting in line at a movie theater spots a married friend also in line but with a woman other than his wife.  We could take any POV and do anything, or pick a different topic to expand on.  I chose to expand on the theater setup.


by Agnes space_cadet9 at

My friend's name is Donald but he hates it, has always hated it, and no thanks to that horrible annoying duck, he says.  So friends call him Don and I call him Donnie, or at times like now, "crazy",  as he's getting up on tip-toe yet again, trying not to be too obvious while scouting over the heads of nearly a dozen people.

"You tell me," he says, "look at them and tell me what it looks like."

When he talks his head whips back and forth and I think it looks like it's a sprinkler clicking right and left to water the whole of the lawn.  But instead of saying so I shrug.  I have no interest in those two people twelve spaces ahead of us, just in Donnie.

"Maybe they're brother and sister.  Look at their noses.  You can sorta tell... The bridges, they're convex.  That shape of those mirrors that get hung up at blind intersections so people can see what's coming around the bend.  Are their eyes the same color?  Can't tell from here."

I can tell the people in front of us are smirking, covering their mouths.  Donnie doesn't notice.  Even when the line moves and the couple he is watching go past the ticket window and into the theater, he doesn't give up trying to unravel this mystery.

"If this is what it looks like, and I don't tell Carly...   I didn't think he was the type to cheat.  What movie do you think they went into?"

"Probably the same as us and everyone else."

He bites his lip.  It's not the type of biting anyone could swoon over, with his big front teeth poking out from underneath the awning of his upper lip.  It makes me think of a turtle's head.

"Is that a movie you would take a lady friend to?"

"That I would take a lady friend to?"


Anyone would think that would be that.  Anyone would assume the Donnie drama is over when we hit the ticket window.  But I'm not anyone.

"Hey," he asks the ticket girl, "you remember a couple about a dozen people back?  The guy had dark hair and a goatee, and the woman had long red hair and a fur jacket.  What tickets did they buy?"

The girl waits a moment, makes sure he is serious.  "I don't know."

"Was it a... was it..."

"I don't know."

I interrupt and make a decision for him.  He cranes his neck around when we go in, casting a glance between each row of seats.  The couple isn't here.  I gratefully pull him to a seat.  Ten minutes in, I realize he will not remember anything on the screen.

Donnie takes me home to his dad's next Tuesday.  It's a Donnie decision: sudden and inexplicable.

It's a desolate place because Donnie doesn't live there anymore, and neither does his mom, and traces of them are fading quicker than a good smell.  When I look around I search for a spot shaped like me, where I could fit myself and blend in.  Maybe put a hip against this vase, my back flush to the underside of a table.  I could skip the dinner which is too quiet, and the conversation lively as a monolith.

"Bel goes to school with me, Dad," Donnie says.

"Oh," his father responds.

When I come up I know they have trudged to the end of small talk.  I can feel something deep and wide there.

"Bel is going to be a photographer."

I nod, looking southeast of them.

His father points a drooping finger to a manila envelope on the kitchen counter.

"Mexican divorce," he says.  "Just got the papers.  Sign them, and back they go."

I don't know why he says this around me.  This is wrong: seeing Donnie's family naked, every frown line and every wrinkle, or maybe even deeper, like an x-ray, to where everything is hemorrhaging underneath but calm on the surface.  But his father looks so tired, too tired to care.  Donnie mirrors him in nose and cheekbone, and soon will in gray hairs and crow's feet.  He only nods and says, "Yeah."

When we leave toward the bus he puts his hand on my shoulder and leaves it there, as if to keep himself upright.

Donnie tries on a succession of shirts while I sit on his bed and twist a zoom lens in my hand.  The shirts are not much different but he yanks each on, takes a look in the mirror, then sheds it.  He's told me he wants just the right one, so that he feels somehow shiny or new before he goes out.  He's looking for just the right color to tint his day. 

The first time I used a darkroom in high school and put a magenta colored filter under the enlarger lens, I waited for the pink to leak down into my photos.  But the plastic only darkened the black and bleached the white.  I want to tell this story to Donnie, but the meaning would surely be lost.  Donnie's brain is a spinning top, the type I had as a kid with the spiral stripes on it which look like they are twisting into oblivion when in motion, and like that all of Donnie's thought is whirled tornado-ish out of his head when too much gets in it. 

He asks me again about Carly, about her husband.  He's wearing a pale yellow shirt, the color of a manila envelope.  I still cannot tell him anything.   "I'm not Carly or her husband," I say.

From there he mentions his parents.  He might see his mother soon.  She's in Pebble Beach, in a more joyful place than Donnie's dad because the smell of someone else is strong there.  And then the topic ends.

In two clicks, I have another shot of Donnie on film.  He finds his way onto nearly all of my rolls, still a little bashful each time.  I am cheating him, really, cheating every shy, delicate insect of a soul I capture and pin with my lens; I am always behind the camera, so that I may never be the one in front.

I don't like to see myself in print, arms too skinny and a flat nose and girlish face.  It makes me wonder what is keeping Donnie around, not because I doubt this phantom part of me exists, but because I cannot find it.  If I did, I would isolate and cultivate it, and then maybe it would be easier to keep him around.  If it were a long and graceful fingernail, or a smile, or the way my knees bend, I could photograph it and make print after print and plaster Donnie's haunts so he could remember it, so he could get his mind off things which magnetize his attention away from me.

"I saw Carly yesterday," he says.

I watch him through my Pentax.  He tries to balance on the edge of a lump of rock.  I brought him to the levy for a shoot, down in the dried-up creek where no one else gets to see him.

"Keep talking," I instruct him.

"She was happy -- giddy.  He took her out to a fancy restaurant for their anniversary.  He remembered without any reminders."

I snap another picture.

"And she said he finally relented.  They'll get a cat."  He sighs deeply and I get that moment when all of his breath runs out.  "What should I do?  I don't want to be the one to ruin everything for her."

"Don't ask me, I'm just the camera."  I keep it in front of my face, Donnie black and white through the window.

"Why don't you take pictures of anyone else, Bel?"

"I don't have anyone else to take pictures of."


When he gets up the edges blur, until I press my finger down and the lens twists into focus, but his hand covers the view.  I pull the camera down.

"Why do you need so many pictures of me?"

I huff and frown and berate him for leaving a smudge on the lens.  He shrugs and says it is time to go see his mother, it is time for me to go home.  I shrug too.  We're all indifferent here.  He walks off like that, with me standing there breathing on the glass and rubbing it with my sleeve, when our goodbyes are usually played out like the start of a race and we're both off in separate directions at the same time.  I feel dumb standing in the starting gate.  Donnie climbs out the levy.  When he is gone, all I have are those pictures on the roll, and when I go home all there will be are flat bits on a glossy sheet of paper.  That's all I have when he goes away, and someday maybe he won't come back.

But why would I tell him all this when I know it would only jerk his long legs and long arms into action, swinging and pumping to the horizon where I can no longer extend my camera's snout and focus on him?

It is late.  The other bedroom doors of the apartment are closed, illuminated from underneath by a stripe of light.  They emanate the march of a musical beat, and I imagine my roommates are inside, their hearts drumming with the rhythms I hear.  When the knock sounds I am the only one weaving to the door through the calm evening.  My room is quiet, stuck between two breeds of tempo, cushioned by them into privacy.  We sit at the foot of the bed and Donnie puts his head in my lap.

"I asked my dad about it," he says.  "I asked if he had really wanted to know about what my mom was doing behind his back."


"He said he doesn't know.  He has no idea how anything would be otherwise.  He didn't want to talk about it.  He was tired."

Donnie always says his dad is tired, and Donnie is following him right now.  I want to say "okay" and maybe touch his hair, be comforting.  But Donnie is busy, always busy thinking of the impending avalanche, staring at the rocks above him and seeing me there, stacking stone by stone, grain by grain.  With each graze of a fingertip, a hand on his temple, the stacks grow, and he might run any moment.  Any man will do by my side and he will flee without a question.  He cannot see further than his mother or Carly's husband, to see me like a cutout in their shape, my treason inevitable like the next breath he pulls in deep.

And I'm quiet, like always quiet, though I want to say I saw my own parents and told them about Donnie, about taking his hand and going to that movie theater.  And what could I have expected to hear, besides what they replied?  We love you son, we never charged nor held you guilty for no football games, no dirt bikes, no date to the prom.  You are our boy still.  You always will be.  That joy lasted until I found Donnie again, and for a selfish second, seeing him lying down on my knees, I curse my parents for not cursing me, for not giving me the reason to crawl to Donnie and put my head on his knees for once, to tell him, "look, I am hurting too."  We would be comrades-in-arms, never the enemy.  I would never be a double agent against Donnie, but he cannot believe it.

I ask him, "Why don't you just tell Carly what you saw and let her figure things out?"

"I could," he says.  "Yeah, I could.  It would be a relief."  He looks up at me, right into my face completely open-eyed, and I have no camera to hide behind.  "I wish you would tell me more often what you're thinking, Bel."

"Would you run?"

He pulls my arms over his shoulders and braids them with his.  "No."

I take his word for it and inhale, the moment quick as a shutter clicking, right before that avalanche of words comes down.