Theater Scene from Minerva Day
Minerva tore the ticket stub in half and put half of it through the slit in the ticket box. Usually the skinny high school boy took tickets but today he wasn’t there. She got in line behind two other people and read, for the umpteenth time, the menu overhead. The cost of popcorn and a Coke compared to a single ticket amused and annoyed her, but it was worth it. Minerva loved going to the movies.
She took one cautious step at a time through the darkened theater. It wasn’t very often they had the overhead lights turned on, so Minerva crawled along, hoping not to tumble again like she did that one time several months ago. It wouldn’t have been so bad if she hadn’t crashed into an old man, knocking him down and breaking his ankle in the process. The incident caused her to miss the whole movie and she insisted on her money back. It wasn’t she didn’t care about the old man getting hurt, but she had wanted to see that movie for a while before she could finally go. She mentioned a law suit to the manager if they didn’t light up the auditorium between movies, but it went nowhere. Most of the time, she still found herself clutching the side rail, steadying herself.
Minerva had to go to the movies, the only place she could really get her mind off things. She plunged into a seat in the front row so she wouldn’t be disturbed by people sitting in front of her with big hats or big heads. Plus, she loved the feeling of being alone, and sitting up front gave her that advantage. There was nothing like looking up the nostrils of all the pretty actors, watching their giant lips talk and kiss and die. Today she would watch Brad Pitt play an old man turning back into a baby, or something like that. She saw the previews once, but didn’t get what the movie was about. Oh well, Brad’s nose was worth looking up no matter what the storyline.
Minerva stuck her Coke in the big hole on the armchair, took off her gray sweater and laid it across her knees, which usually froze during the movie, and unfolded a napkin on her lap. She sat the popcorn on the napkin, tasted one kernel while settling her bottom, patted her hair, and looked around. She turned and surveyed the room behind her. A few people were sitting a couple rows back, but this didn’t bother Minerva. For some reason, she felt comforted knowing other people were there with her. Not like usual. Other times in the past she would turn and shush people if they laughed for too long, or heaven forbid, if they crunched their popcorn too loudly. There was nothing like the annoying sound of munching popcorn during a quiet scene. Anyway, Minerva was glad to be here, and glad people were coming in with her to watch the movie.
But her mind wondered. After a while, it became impossible to focus on the movie. Brad Pitt was fine, but her mind saw images on the screen that were, at first, unfamiliar to her, images that caused her to stare, unblinking, trying to figure out their purpose. The shapes didn’t make sense. They appeared like spots on the wall after staring at a bright light, or the sun, for too long. She squeezed her eyes shut once and a pretty blond woman’s face appeared, then disappeared , folding into itself and again replaced by multi-colored boxes, rectangles, circles of varying colors…violet, yellow, black….
The syrupy dialogue began interspersing with words she’d once said, or wish she’d said, to this loved one, or that loved one, the words, at times, melting together. She’d forgotten most of the movie she’d seen and didn’t know how long she’d been sitting there. Minerva coughed and checked to see how much popcorn she had left. The Coke cup was empty. She had slurped the last of it fifteen minutes ago. She refocused on the movie. He was now a grown, old baby, or something like that. It confused her. She knew she’d have to think about it when it was over, to see if she could make sense of it. At the same time, she saw another grown baby. Not sure who yet, she waited for the image to appear, right in the middle of a love scene between Brad and Charlize…she tried conjuring the name… Charlize somebody. She had missed the name on the opening credits.
The baby was Henry, or was it Piper, or both. Sometimes Brad’s blond locks morphed into Piper’s and vice versa. All she knew was that it was strange, yes, weird, seeing your family members’ faces on the movie screen. In the recesses of her mind, she knew she was beginning another hell mode. She lost complete track of the movie.
Minerva’s own movie began playing. Even the music changed. Strange notes like from a stoned bass player drummed in her ears. Brad’s face was no longer his, having been replaced by Piper, Henry, John, then back to Piper. The faces immersed, separated. John’s smile would turn into Piper’s frown, and Henry would…what was Henry doing? Minerva strained her eyes. What was Henry doing? She glanced about, making sure everyone was still there, watching the movie, trying from some distant place to center herself. She heard them laugh but didn’t know at what. She still saw Henry, his face pale and wrinkled. He was holding something, but before she could see what it was, the screen blurred.
Fellow’s face took Henry’s place on the screen. Minerva froze, her fingers clutched the popcorn box. Her eyes stared wide and she realized the hurt look on his face, the corner of his rosy lips turned downward. Minerva blinked and looked again. Her mind’s eye panned from Fellow’s face to see all of him. Then she understood. He was sitting on Henry’s lap. Henry had been holding Fellow on his lap before the screen blurred. His arms were wrapped around the boy, comforting him. Minerva stifled a scream. This particular image bothered her the most. She closed her eyes and waited for the image to disappear.
Minerva sat the empty box beside the seat. In all her mental commotion, she had scarfed its contents without thought to how fast she was eating, scattering a few crumbs on her lap. She was disappointed it was all gone, and wished she had more. She brushed off the crumbs and slurped the melted ice in her cup. This steadied her somewhat, until she looked back at the screen. Piper was looking down at her now. Minerva’s lips parted and she nervously glanced around again. Her eyes returned to her daughter, must have been about six years old, mouth opened wide, laughing at her, two front teeth missing, causing her gums to look rubbery and huge. Minerva stared into her mouth as if were a cave, the peals of laughter growing in intensity. She blinked hard and opened her eyes, Piper was still laughing at her.
Minerva realized something was wrong, maybe for the first time in she didn’t know how long. Maybe this was more than just a hell mode. She blinked hard again and again, until her eyes ached. She jiggled her finger in her ear, trying to erase the sound. But each time she opened her eyes, there was Piper, staring down at her.
She gathered her purse from the seat beside her, snatched up the empty popcorn box and Coke cup, yanked the sweater around her shoulders, and used the lit screen to find her way out.
Minerva squinted from the sun peeking through the clouds after she walked out the door. On her way to the car she noticed the skinny boy who usually took her tickets staring at her. “Hi,” he said. She smiled and moved on. Stay calm, the car is right there. Fumbling the key in the lock, she tried twice and the door opened. Minerva heard her own voice. Just get in and sit. She shut the door and pulled her sunglasses from the visor, almost smiling at the thought that since she wore them, no one would see her, like a baby playing peek-a-boo.
In a minute the voices quieted, Piper’s face gone. Gripping the steering wheel, Minerva stared over the top of it, breathing steady. She had counted one Mississippi two Mississippi three Mississippi, just as the doctor told her, and the images disappeared. She wiped her face on her arm and sat back. She glanced in the rearview mirror. Sweat drenched her forehead and ran down her face. Minerva wiped again. Someone walked by in front of her, peering in. Minerva waved them away and they continued on, glancing back.
She waited another minute and started the car. The engine whirred and she placed the gearshift in reverse. She braked to yawn, her mouth stretching wide, before backing out of the lot. Minerva regretted not seeing more of Brad Pitt. She’d have to come back and see the movie another time. She was going home to take a nap.