In the Dark

It had been meant to fade out after exposure to daylight, the security sticker he had attached to the cardboard cover of his first reporter’s notebook as a souvenir. Although his name – printed in that trick ink by the security guard at the gate of the studio lot – had disappeared from the removable badge long ago, the former film critic had only now deciphered the meaning of those lost letters. It had been meant to be temporary, his stay in Hollywood.

Before burning all his reporter’s notebooks, he had decided to flip through them one last time. Scribbled in the dark, all those frantic notes about forgettable films had only made sense to him then – right after the screening room lights turned on. Between them, though, he had discovered scenes from his real life – carefully recorded in perfect penmanship in the spare moments before the lights went out – that only made sense to him now. Ripping pages with these scenes on them out of the spiral-bound notebooks, he attempted to piece together his story.

FADE IN: The first time we met there, I was so worried what people would say if they saw my car in that part of town, I parked a couple blocks away.  

Embarrassed by that battered Taurus, I strolled onto the studio lot, instead….

BEGIN FLASHBACK: The first time I was assigned to write a movie review by the arts-and-entertainment editor of my college newspaper, I didn’t even own that battered Taurus. Following her handwritten directions, I rode a bus to an anonymous stop in front of an abandoned motion-picture palace in downtown Minneapolis. Even though the curtain in the main auditorium of the theater had fallen for the final time, the screening room upstairs was still rented out by out-of-town distributors from time to time. I remember being buzzed in when, with the intercom next to the side door, I identified myself as a film critic for the first time. I felt like it impressed the people at the bus stop.

Outside, it was cold. Inside, there was at least a little warmth….

NARRATOR (V.O.): “They say that everyone is a critic. But that’s not true. Not everyone is a critic. That’s part of the appeal….”

END FLASHBACK: The first time we met, like our cars, our clothes were used. Amanda dressed in the thrift-shop semblance of old Hollywood style: shabby boas, evening gowns missing some sequins. My reporter’s notebooks – props, accessories meant to conjure the image of a journalist – protruded from the pockets of secondhand corduroy coats. I had hand-sewn suede patches onto the elbows myself; they were uneven.  

In the daylight, my beard was still patchy and her complexion was still blotchy.

In the dark, though, illuminated only by the light reflecting off the silver screen, the illusion was suddenly complete. There we were, a couple kids playing dress up, fumbling around in the dark….

BEGIN FLASHBACK: The first time I looked to the side instead of straight ahead at the screen was while we were watching Le Grande Illusion in an introductory film studies class in college. I remember everyone’s rapturous looks in the light reflecting off the silver screen – their necks craned upward, toward the illumination. I felt like we were sharing a communal experience, like we were worshipping at a church.

Outside, it was dark. Inside, there was at least a little light….

END FLASHBACK: The first time our eyes met, mine and Amanda’s, was my first time looking to the side during a press screening and seeing someone else also looking around at the faces instead of the film.

Soon, we were whispering witticisms like we were desperately auditioning for writing gigs on Mystery Science Theater 3000….            

CUT TO: ….Just because we shared a real love of MST3K, though, didn’t mean that we shared a real love.

She stood me up at the Razzies. I was pretty pretentious then, though, so I suppose I used the formal name – the “Golden Raspberry Awards” – when I invited her, for the first and last time, to spend time together outside a screening room. I remember the paper tickets – after all, I stared at them for a long time while waiting outside the theater for her – that appeared to have been simply printed on goldenrod paper, and probably cut apart with a couple pairs of complimentary scissors provided for customers, at a Kinko’s somewhere along Sunset Boulevard.

Outside, it was cold and dark. Inside, I had hoped to find at least a little warmth and a little light.

NARRATOR (V.O.): They say that Los Angeles only looks beautiful at night. Why else would Hollywood christen its most glamorous street “Sunset Boulevard”? In the daylight, its streetlights stand next to mismatched imitations of actual architectural styles – empty extensions of the set-building on the studio lots. In the dark, though, viewed from the height of the Hollywood Sign, all the lines of lights along its streets suddenly look meaningful….

After first cutting these scenes out of his stacks of reporter’s notebooks, then taping them together, he had realized that it was somewhat telling – how few of them there were, how little real life there had been between the illegible lines about forgotten films. Yet those scenes, he had realized, were all that were worth keeping.

Those, and the cardboard cover with the security sticker meant to fade out after exposure to daylight. “FADE OUT,” after all, are the last two words at the end of any screenplay. Typed at the end of the last scene, they indicate that the story is over.

He had decided to burn all the rest. There would be at least a little warmth and a little light from the fire, but it wouldn’t last long.

“In the Dark” was originally published by the Journal of Microliterature in 2014.

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