Kitty hated to admit it, but she loved the smell of movie theaters: popcorn, spilled drinks, stale cigarette smoke. There was nothing like it in the world. And she loved it.
But she would never tell anyone.
She loved walking into movie theatres—just being there. College Road Cinemas still had the gold lamé curtain in front of the screen they would raise during the first few frames of the film. It was so elegant—the last hold out for the bygone days when attending the cinema was an event people dressed up for.
Well, I’m dressed up tonight, Kitty thought. OK, you can do this, take a deep breath. OK maybe another one is a good idea.
She opened the door to her VW Bug and dropped her high heels on the ground so she could step into them. Across the parking lot, the rented klieg lights crossed and uncrossed in front of the theatre. She turned her head and looked longingly at Swenson’s Ice Cream Parlor across the parking lot.
I wish I could hide in there, she whispered to herself. Yeah, then you could spill ice cream all over yourself before even making it to the front door.
The doors to the right of the box office were propped open and a red carpet snaked out onto the sidewalk. A sign in the window noted the cinema was closed for the evening for a private function. Kitty’s hands were so sweaty she could barely hold her purse strap. She felt so faint the world started to spin.
Just make it in the door, she told herself.
The carpet veered to the right of the concession counter and off into the extended lobby area where a step-and-repeat was set up for people to pose in front of for a photographer.
“Name?” a young woman asked her.
“Excuse me?” Kitty looked stricken.
“What’s your name? For the photo captions? We have to get them right.”
“Oh, um, I’m not … Um, Kitty. Kitty Scott.”
Yes, you do have to get them right.
She thought about life with Mr. Dawes, editor of the newspaper. A miscaptioned photo was cause for great misery for all concerned and most people nearby. She advanced through the line and looked at the ground.
“Hey, Kitty!” A surprised voice greeted her. “What are you doing here?”
“I was invited. I was sent an invitation. I have it somewhere.” She started fishing in her purse.
“It’s OK. I’m not asking for your credentials.”
Paul held up a hand and chuckled. “It is good to see you. I’ve missed you.”
“Thank you, Paul, I’ve … I’ve missed you, too. How are things at the paper?”
“Oh, you know: same old, same old. Some things never change, but it’s good to see you. Here, let’s get you posed.”
He fussed with her a bit, moving a strand of hair to the front of her shoulder and asking her to turn her head first one way, then the other. He shot two pictures, then lowered the camera and smiled at her.
“Ah, bella! These will look lovely on the ‘out and about’ page. Thanks. Kitty, have fun at the movie!”
She smiled and mumbled her thanks,and moved down the line. Ahead was a gaggle of people who had perfected the seeing and being seen aspect of life: kissing each other’s cheeks and screaming “dahling,” like they were long lost friends, when in reality they had just seen each other last week.
A quick scan confirmed what Kitty had suspected: None of the actors or upper-level production showed up. It was just for the locals.
She edged her way around the cluster and down the hall toward the theater, with the doors propped open and stopped short when she came face-to-face with a life-sized cutout of Jeffrey Chen. His runny harlequin makeup and wet hair looked so realistic she almost reached out to touch it.
“Would you like something to eat?” A voice brought her back to reality—or as close to reality as the event could ever be. She turned to see a young man in the standard black slacks and white shirt of caterers everywhere. He was standing next to a buffet line he gestured to with one hand.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I don’t think I can—not right now. But, thank you.”
She shook her head and backed away. She turned and ducked inside the theater. At the front a microphone had been set up, and she was disappointed to see the lovely gold lamé curtain was raised. Instead projected on the screen was an image of Jeffrey Chen’s face as part of the title card for the film.
I don’t know how I am going to make it through this, she thought.
Picking out a seat in a movie theater was always a nightmare for Kitty.
How close is too close? How far back is too far back?
She opted for an aisle seat near the back so she could make a fast escape if it became necessary.
At least the seats don’t have numbers on them. That made it 10 times harder.
Slowly, people began filing into the theater, mostly standing around and talking rather than actually taking their sets. Then a deep male voice inquired, “May we join you?” The old gaffer arrived with Shelly, the craft service goddess, and a young man who looked really uncomfortable in a jacket.
“Yes, of course.” She tucked her legs in to make room for them to get by.
The gaffer settled his entourage and flopped down in the seat beside her.
“You remember Shelly?” he gestured.
“Of course,” Kitty nodded.
“And that is Kirby, my youngest and most eager electrician.” He pointed past Shelly to the young man on the other side of her.
“How do you do?” Kirby smiled and threw her a salute. “This is my first to-do like this.”
“Mine, too,” Kitty confessed.
“Acceptance of awards by non-participants,” the gaffer said emphatically.
“What?” Kitty asked.
“It’s the five stages of filmmaking. I have been teaching them to Kirby: Step one is inspiration; Two, panic; Three, identify the guilty; Four, punish the innocent; Five, acceptance of awards by non-participants. That’s the stage we are on.”
“Oh.” Kitty looked into her lap.
“Just ignore him, dear,” Shelly leaned across the gaffer.
“No, no—it’s OK. He’s probably right. I just … I hadn’t heard it expressed so…”
“Accurately?” the gaffer offered. “Usually it is a funnier joke. I’m afraid on this film it seems to have been taken to extremes.”
No one seemed to know what to say to that. Kitty stared at the diamond-shaped lights on the wall for a moment.
“Excuse me? Excuse me, everyone, could you, please, take your seats?” A man at the microphone directed. “Please.”
The crowd began shuffling toward seats, though no one seemed to want to commit too early and miss out on another face to greet.
“Please, people, we have a lot to do tonight, and I know you all want to see this film,” he continued.
“OK, thank you, thank you.” He glanced at the stack of note cards in his hands. “I think most of you know me; I am Bruce Thomas, the film commissioner here.”
He smiled at the smattering of applause. “Thank you, thank you.”
“And so it begins,” the gaffer chuckled self-consciously while the man at the microphone droned on congratulating himself and everyone in the room.
“He has to look at his notes to remember his own name.”
The gaffer pulled a flask from his jacket pocket and unscrewed the top.
“Anyone?” he offered it around.
“Yes, please.” Kitty took a gulp gratefully. It stung her throat worse than straight whiskey.
“Whoa, slow down! That can blind you if you have too much at once,” the gaffer whispered. “I make it myself. Old family recipe.”
“Yeah, old from a bottle of Aristocrat Vodka and a bottle of Everclear, like you can buy in Canada,” Shelly giggled.
Kitty felt the warm spread to her stomach and started to think for the first time that day this might just be survivable. “Can I have another?” she asked the gaffer.
Gwenyfar Rohler is encore’s fact-or-fiction writer for 2018. Her serial story, “Singing in the Dead of Night,” follows the death of a young movie star and the emotional aftermath that follows, as local media try to uncover the events leading up to the high-profile “murder,” which takes place while filming in Wilmington, NC. Catch up on previous chapters at encorepub.com