A Life like Old Movies

(A Tryst)

Old movies are always red. Sort of like a filter set over the camera that makes the edges curl up a little bit and black dots shoot across the screen and red. Red happens in old movies.

And red happens in August. And red happens straight through to October.

And red happens here, on a stage, with an audience and a background and a story that should be told.

That's what happens in old movies. Life. I had life in October.

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In a way the popcorn dots on ceilings are more entertaining then television. If you stare at them hard enough they move around and make names for themselves. They form like clouds do, pictures. My popcorn ceiling was a sky when I didn't have one.

I don't remember dates very well, I don't remember birthdays or holidays and I've never been to a New Years Eve party. But I have a calendar that I write on all the time, things like seeing my best friend at the grocery store and finding a dollar on the side of the road. That makes me feel better, not Christmas cards.

"Did you know that the average woman is 10 degrees colder than the average male?" I'm standing in front of a crowd of my finest, or at least the finest volunteer actors this side of nowhere.

I hate being a director. The good thing about this is that the pay keeps me living in my apartment. And eating.

And when it's cold outside it keeps the heater on all night, when blankets don't work anymore. I need a warm body.

I cough and get on with my speech because no one was in the mood.

"Now does everyone know that we're putting on Hamlet in two weeks?" I'm watching the stage crew slink around in their black outfits, hiding against the dark walls so that only the whites of their eyes could be seen. My actors sit in strict rows of five at the edge of the stage, legs crossed, and they're all kindergarteners again. Children store (in their heads) books like He Winks – But Why? and How To Smile When You Don't Mean It.

A boy raises his hand, waves it like a fish in the air. "I d-didn't k-k-k-know." Some people chuckle.

"What's your name, kid?"

"S-s-s-Samuel."

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When a stage doesn't like you, when it knows you're not into the theater, it creaks like crickets after you say something. It makes noises that you didn't want to happen. It rolls you around so you can't remember if what you were saying was what you were saying.

The stage greets me with silence.

Back in the studio after setting up the auditions, who to ask me for what and when, I can feel the weight of another production set itself on my spine, like it was woven in there already from the womb and before. I lean back in my foldable seat.

The whole place is full of paper, leaking out of every book and down every shelf, like I've soaked the whole place in sheets. I've lost my pencil.

"So you're a wr-r-r-riter?" Samuel's leaded speech makes the floorboards creak.

"How'd you get in here?"

"Walked."

"Yeah, I write. What's it to you?"

"I don't know w-w-why you're so rude. Are you any g-g-good?" He has a wide chest and wears shirts close to his skin, it was sort of like showing off, and kind of not.

I need him out of here. "You'll never be an actor with a stutter like that."

The day of the rehearsals Samuel didn't show up.

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Robert became Hamlet like he melted into the role, Ophelia had flowers in her eyes the moment she came on stage, Claudius had it written across his forehead, and The Ghost gargled words through the theater, made you cringe.

Samuel ended up as a young Player who is apart of an acting studio in the play. It was the only part that I couldn't work through. He hated it; I'm sure, knocking around the stage like he could raise hell on me, like he was two years old again. His stuttering got worse.

Today I met a young homeless woman. I gave her three dollars and a dime. She bought a cookie. I wrote this under my October date – I wrote this as another holiday, another celebration.

"I don't u-u-understand my motivation!"

"You're a fu- you're just an actor in the play. You don't have a motivation."

"Then why am I on st-st-st…"

"Stage?"

"Shutup."

Today I found a stray dog and pet his head.

"'D-d-d-doubt thou the st-stars are fire…'"

"That isn't your line."

"I-it should have been."

Today I kicked a brick in the street and it caused an accident.

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Lying on the floor onstage is Samuel, his eyes closed and his mouth open like a fish, a hand at his stomach and one behind his head. He has a curled up script in his hand and his eyes are closed. It's two in the morning.

"What the hell are you doing here?" I hear myself yelling, because I'm tired and I haven't written anything in days now, and the air in here smells like a Laundromat. And I can see the red around the edges.

He woke up without a jump, just a fluttering of eyelids and a bit of a smile. He didn't even open his eyes. "I'm working o-o-on my script."

"You have barely ten lines. How hard can it be?"

He doesn't answer me but I can feel that sense lower in my stomach like someone is digging, taking shovel full after shovel full of my insides and mixing them around. I'm loosing control.

"Do you live with your mother, in her basement or something?" I ask.

"No."

"So she never loved you huh? So much for that saying, a face only a mother could love." It's not true really, he has a nice face. He has fast breathing too.

Then he speaks, "If your sc-c-c-cared about something, you need to s-suck it up."

"If I wanted your damn opinion I'd ask."

"Someone dying?"

"No. Just this theater, just my lung made of curtain falls, have you ever felt like this? Like you can't handle yourself anymore, like you just want someone to take you out of your body so you can laugh at yourself running in circles and not have to feel it?" I look down at his flat state, his thick hair.

"No."

"Never mind."

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Today I didn't cause anything. Today is my Saturday, is my day to stay at my typewriter, to finish a piece I never really started in my head, in earlier years I might have gone straight to a publisher, but you really can't trust much of the system there, you can't let them have work you don't know what they'll do with.

I live in an apartment with a room a chair a television, one dish washer, one toilet, three curtains. There's a fireplace outside where I can drop myself into the culture of the streets though I never really tried it. There's a fear of being on the ground alone, like birds in rainforests stay in the canopy. This is my safe spot.

Today (rather a tonight – 9) I can hear clamoring outside my iron escape route, finding it ironic that the thing was built for me to get out of danger when in reality someone could just climb up it and break in. Finally I find myself dragging away from the typewriter, going towards the window, lifting up the blinds.

Lights nearly cause me to blink, and that would have been a shame.

The fire escape was lit up with lights, a kaleidoscope of iridescent fireflies. Wrapped around the whole thing was an intricate web of Christmas lights, the ones that would go around a tree on a catalogue for Saint Nick. I want to wonder why but I don't have time.

"H-h-happy Christmas."

"It's October," I say through the window that now has opened.

"Everyday is a holiday, I g-g-guess."

Samuel has a Santa hat on, he's got his arms wide open and he's smiling, I don't remember him ever smiling. He's breathing deep. "I'm sorry! I didn't know you were an orphan," he yells. I wonder where he learned that, or if it's pasted on my forehead like the rest of my life's anatomy.

"What has gotten into you?"

"The theory of numbers, the remainders after division. Arithmetic theories, revolution! My Brutus, you do look glum!"

"How did you get here, Julius?" I humor because he's not making sense.

"All roads lead to Rome, baby!"

"You're crazy."

"Et tu, Brute?" And his stutter was gone, his words forming each other, rolling around. I decided the only time he could speak right was when he was making nonsense.

"What happened? I hate you. I hated you. I don't understand."

"Let me upstairs. Promise you won't stab me."

"Not until the end of the play."

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"I could be your holiday." Samuel touches my calendar, his broad chest shakes. He's scared, but so close to a home, he says he won't stutter anymore. Reading my holidays, reading what happened the days before he even knew my name, I wonder if that's what makes him afraid.

"I couldn't celebrate you." I'm watching the ceiling, I'm watching how the birds made of the popcorn dots line up in rows and then their tails go out to spell out Questions and then Answers.

Samuel is scared. He's told me this before; he's scared of not making an impact, of fading away, of not being in front of everyone, even though the theater makes him shake. "As long as you acknowledge me."

In South Africa, a woman must be tucking her son into bed, must be singing a lullaby about how the world will always be spinning and there will always be more songs to sing. I imagine her voice carries over oceans, that it makes dogs bark in New York, that it vibrates off my walls.

"Don't you believe in living in the moment? I want to focus on everything."

"Live in this moment." He circles the date of today with his finger, smiles a little.

I pat the side of my bed, let him sit down, but I can't remember if he told me he was scared then.

We must have caused an accident with all the vibrations, all the talking that went on, why he bothered me the way he did, why I couldn't get over the way the lights outside reminded me of jewelry.

I think I let him roll over me, I think I let him kiss me but it was all red then, like a movie tape that gets caught up in the rotators, like a blank thesaurus, I don't remember what I was thinking. Except that he was warm – 10 degrees warmer than the average female and I need a warm body.

Maybe my skin was red, my cheeks especially the way he kissed them, the way I realized why he bothered me the way he did, before.

I'm a skinny man, against a broad chest and yet, if he ever said my name I don't know, and if he liked the way I kissed him I don't know. He let himself run away with what he couldn't do onstage, he couldn't take control, he couldn't speak.

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I pretend to be asleep when he looks around my room, when he tugs at his boxers and smiles a little. It's a mess in here, dark, dusky little hole in a wall and yet he is kind of an angel, kind of fallen, kind of sweet.

He's looking at my typewriter, an antique; it's the only thing I type with. He's reading my latest page, the latest script that won't get printed. The one I wrote a day before. And part of me is suddenly guilty because of what's on it…

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SAM: (aside) I know that maybe breathing keeps the plants living,

And that if I glance away then he might just run,

And yet I still believe that

If I keep him with my stutter,

If I soldier the world away onstage,

Maybe when I turn away he'll still be breathing at my neck.

I: (to the audience) The world is full of lovers,

There's no reason for anymore.

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And Samuel exited just the way he came, between stars and the ropes that hold them up. Because in theater nothing is ever real. Nothing begins and keeps going after the end because no one has written it yet.

I expected him to tell me anything, or throw a tantrum, say "You only said that because right now you're feeling very small inside!" But he only extended the story, wrote me a note. He just began again, probably wanted to right his own calendar.

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SAM: (aside) I know that maybe breathing keeps the plants living,

And that if I glance away then he might just run,

And yet I still believe that

If I keep him with my stutter,

If I soldier the world away onstage,

Maybe when I turn away he'll still be breathing at my neck.

I: (to the audience) The world is full of lovers,

There's no reason for anymore.

SAM: (to I) The world is full of theaters, directors,

There's no reason for anymore.

But here you are.

Life isn't just a movie.

Life isn't always red.

I: (to SAM) I hope I loved you.

SAM: (to I) I did.

Author's Note: Hey guys so I was advised to give you a little summary of the story to make sure that you didn't get lost or anything.  So here goes:

The main character (the guy who never stops talking - narrator) he was frustrated with the lack of talent in Samuel who in turn was angry at "I" for killing his dreams and being rude.  Anyway Samuel has a turn around when he realizes that "I" has a lot of stress - past whatnot - and that fear is really what drives their anger for each other.  He kind of has a crazy little rant about math - the only thing that really has rules and regulations and a reality meaning that everything else is up to anyone's guess (like the sudden twist at the end of Julius Caesar when Brutus - his friend - stabs him along with the rest of the Senate).  They have a little affair, then Samuel reads part of "I"s play based of off them and is suddenly forced to realize that "I" is never going to be committed to a serious relationship with him.  He adds his own part at the end (in bold) on "I"s draft to teach him something about himself. 

I hope that wasn't too crazy of a story.  Please review.