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By Brady Golden
Screening the movies night after night had dwindled what interest Emily had once had in them. These days, she liked to sit in her projection booth and read. She had a table by a window that looked out onto the theater. She could tune out the constant growl of the projector, and she barely saw the silver-blue flicker of the screen's reflection on the booth's window. er job's sole benefit was the isolation it provided. For four hours of her shift she simply had to be present on the off chance that something might go wrong with the equipment.
Tonight, the theater manager had joined her, and she couldn't concentrate on her fashion magazine.
Wayne Junior slouched in the seat beside her, picking at his fingernails and watching the film. He was in his early twenties, about ten years younger than her. His head was enormous, the shape of a hockey goalie's mask.
He had the booth's speakers turned on so they could hear the movie, and that bothered Emily. More than that, his presence made her uncomfortable. For an hour he'd sat just a foot away without acknowledging her. He just watched the screen, looking as bored and cynical as ever.
She couldn't explain why, but he set her on edge. Eventually, she spoke.
"Have you seen this before?" she aside. "This movie?"
"Is it good?"
He smirked. "Mm-hm."
"What is it?"
"Decline and Fall of Western Civilization," he said. "The first one."
He'd taken over managing the Mark Theater a month before, when a chronic lung infection had forced his father, the owner, into retirement. The Mark was a small theater on the outskirts of the city that had, until tonight, specialized in movies from the forties and fifties. A consistent and consistently small audience of film buffs and people from the neighborhood kept it alive without turning much of a profit. For thirty years, Wayne Senior had run the place by himself. He'd sold tickets and concessions and operated the projector on his own. Hiring Emily had been his last business action before handing the theater over to his son.
A shower curtain in the corner hid a toilet and a sink. Emily used the latter to fill the hot pot she'd brought from home. When the water boiled, she filled her stainless steel travel mug.
Her last job had been at a downtown skyscraper that housed a Starbucks in its lobby. She'd started every day with a café mocha. Now all she could afford was instant coffee mixed with hot cocoa powder. The tastes didn't differ all that much.
She screwed on the mug's lid and went back to the table. Wayne Junior's eyes--large, with pupils that pushed the whites to the most cramped corners--moved from the mug to Emily and back again.
"What is it?" she said.
"What are you doing?"
"What do you mean?"
"You spill that up here, you ruin all kinds of equipment."
She stabbed the mug with her finger. It toppled, clanked down flat and rolled to the table's edge. Inside, liquid splashed around with a hollow gurgle.
"Spill proof," she said. Then, worried that he might think her snide, forced an all-in-good-fun laugh.
"No food or drink in the booth," he said, and turned back to the screen.
Wayne Junior had been making small changes at the theater for the past month, most of them cosmetic. He'd switched the posters on display in the lobby (out went Citizen Kane and Bringing Up Baby, in came Reservoir Dogs and Repo Man), and replaced all the bulbs by the concession with novelty red lights that reminded Emily of a strip club.
Tonight, the real changes had begun. He wanted to make a spectacle of the fact that The Mark was not the same theater that it had been for so many years, to show off its new youth and hipness, so he was holding a week-long festival of punk rock movies, Dig!, Sid and Nancy, Rock and Roll High School, and others whose names she couldn't remember. He'd organized the whole thing on his own, and she had to give him credit for that. He'd obtained the prints and promoted the hell out of the event, with posters on lamp posts all over town, and ads in the city's free weekly papers.
To Emily, his efforts had seemed futile. His understanding of "young" and "hip" meshed a little too closely with his own interests to be accurate, she'd thought. And even if there were people out there who wanted to watch these movies, they lived too far from this remote immigrant neighborhood for the commute to be worthwhile.
She'd been wrong. Before bringing the lights down, she'd taken measure of the crowd. They filled about half the seats, making The Mark twice as crowded as she'd ever seen it. They were almost all teenagers, almost all wearing ragged black jeans and patched sweatshirts. Spiked, dyed hair dotted the theater. They sat in clumps of for, six, and more, equally split between the sexes. The girls cheered and laughed while the boys roughhoused over the seat backs and in the aisles.
Emily tried not to care how the festival fared. She ran the projector and the audio. She controlled the lights. Her position at The Mark was perfunctory, the machine that flipped the switch that ran the machine. The theater's successes and failures were not hers.
Still, she found herself irritated with the audience, and she could only blame their behavior for half of that. Their existence, their size, made her resent them, because now Wayne Junior had clout. Before tonight, if he'd come up with his "no food or drinks" rule, she wouldn't have felt as obligated to listen. His success made him her boss in more than title.
She took her coffee, already warming the insulated metal of her mug, back behind the curtain, and quietly and carefully poured it into the sink.
"Projectionist" had never been the goal.
In school, Emily had taken a job at her college theater, but not because she'd needed the money. She'd thought it would impress the sexy film major who lived on her floor in the dormitory. After that romance came and went, she'd stuck with it because it gave her something to do, because she liked the esoteric knowledge and skills that running the projector taught her, and because free movies from a private booth still provided enticing dating opportunities, even for non-film students.
After graduation, she assumed that she'd ended her professional stint in the movie theater business. She found work at a marketing firm, not because of any interest in the field, but because they had a position available. Since she couldn't think of a reason to stop, she kept at it for ten years. Without a family or many living expenses, she made more than she needed. Her savings meant little to her when she had no goals, financial or otherwise. It wasn't until she met Lyle and he moved into her apartment that she found a use for the money she earned, for the work she did. The photomat where he worked paid next to nothing, and until his own photographs began to sell, she would get to take care of him, to help him with rent and groceries and bills, to take him out to dinner on a regular basis. As a birthday present, she built him a dark room in the spare bedroom. She never thought of him as a leach because she liked doing it; she liked feeling useful.
Then the economy dropped out. She and a third of her coworkers, along with a sizeable chunk of the city's population, found themselves unemployed. Lyle's minimum wage suddenly seemed much less trivial. For months, they lived on her savings and her unemployment, hoping that the recession wouldn't last too long, that her next job waited for her with Alan Greenspan's next interest rate adjustment.
When things didn't get any better, when the end of her unemployment benefits appeared on the horizon, she let her eyes wander more and more freely around the classifieds. She got turned down for retail, for waitress, for coffee jerk. The city's job market continued to sink. Former internet millionaires sold DVD players at Best Buy, and she found nothing.
She later learned that nearly a hundred people responded to Wayne Senior's ad for a projectionist. Only a handful had any experience, and of those, only she and two others could run the outdated, barely-functional dinosaur at the Mark. He chose Emily, she assumed, because she was pretty.
At her job interview, he showed the signs of infatuation. Throughout it, he fidgeted and blushed and stared at her chest with dilated eyes. She ignored her discomfort because she needed the job.
For the two weeks before his official retirement, he flirted with her daily. The jokes he told were small and heartbreaking. She didn't let herself be threatened by him. When she noticed him standing too close, when she caught him leering, she forced herself to remember his age, his appearance, his palpable loneliness. She convinced herself to feel sad about Wayne Senior, to feel endeared.
***Halfway through the evening's second screening, someone in the audience lit a cigarette. She could smell it from the booth. At the campus theater, they'd had a problem with people smoking cigarettes and more, and it had driven her boss insane. He'd instructed her to call campus security if she ever noticed. She'd noticed it plenty of times, but she'd never called anyone.
Wayne Junior came up the stairs, holding a pad of paper and a pen. Crescents of dark sweat darkened the armpits of his T-shirt.
"If I take off now, can you lock up when you go?" he said.
"Of course," she said.
"Remember to get the lights."
He pulled a black gas station attendant's jacket off of a hook by the stairs. While he slid into it, he set the pad of paper down on Emily's table. A list of hand-written numbers and equations ran down it.
"Our take," he said. "Sales tonight."
"How'd we do?"
"Second highest in ten years." He didn't look at her as he said it.
"That's great. Congratulations."
"If I keep it up," he said. "I think I'll be able to upgrade. Maybe get some better seats. A sound system. A new projector."
She didn't know if he meant this last as a pointed comment. Her worth to the theater was measured only in her knowledge and skill with its archaic equipment. Modern projectors practically ran themselves.
He picked up the pad and started down the stairs.
"Hang on," she said. "Do you smell that?"
He tilted his head back and inhaled. Red, scabby acne covered the inside of his neck and the underside of his chin. When he looked back at her, he wore a puzzled expression.
"It's a cigarette," she said.
"I don't get it."
"Someone's smoking a cigarette. In the theater."
"Should I go tell them to put it out?"
"It's up to you. I don't know. Probably." She shrugged.
He nodded, pursing his lips. On his way down the stairs, he stopped and looked back at her a few times. He wanted her to volunteer to do this. The kids down there were practically his age.
She ignored him.
On screen, a band played. Emily looked for a column of smoke and found it, faint and liquid-like up high, then condensing into a more solid curl as she followed it to its source. A red cherry, a dot like a penlight hovered just above someone's shoulder, moving in and out of view as the smoker took drags.
A rectangle of light appeared in the back of the theater when Wayne Junior entered. He shined a flashlight around as he made his way up and down the aisles. Twice he passed within feet of his prey, and each time the culprit evaded notice by cupping the cigarette into the palm of his hand.
At the end of his last sweet, Wayne Junior looked up at Emily with raised hands, palms upward. She was about to point to the smoker, but when she looked, she couldn't find him. His cigarette tip had vanished into the darkness.
Emily's late shifts at the Mark and Lyle's daytime schedule at the photomat kept them apart a lot of the time. Sometimes he'd wake up when she crawled into bed at two or three, and the noise he made getting dressed in the morning occasionally brought her close enough to the surface that she could at least say goodbye before he disappeared. On most days, though, for all intents and purposes, Emily didn't have a boyfriend.
She thought she was alone the next day when she woke up, so at twelve o'clock, when Lyle emerged from the dark room, glassy-eyed and messy-haired, she yelped.
He blinked at her without recognition. She always found him a bit creepy and a bit sexy after his longest sessions of developing. He came out of the red light each time as though for the first time, as though he had just been born, to find the world confusing and slightly distasteful.
"Oh," he said. "Hello there."
"Jesus, you scared me."
He scratched his scalp and pushed a nappy curl of orange hair away from his face. Rust-colored chemical stains dotted his apron.
"Yeah. Yeah. Sorry about that." He spoke softly and slowly. He hadn't shaved.
"Don't you work today?"
"I called in sick."
"Are you feeling okay?"
"Have you eaten anything?"
His blank look told her he hadn't, so she led him into the kitchen where she fixed a couple of sandwiches and some coffee. They ate in silence. She watched him come around, watched the light return to his eyes, his face lose its slack, his posture straighten. In twenty minutes, he was a normal, functioning person again, smiling and aware.
"God, I stink," he said. "I'd better shower."
They'd been together for almost four years. In that time, she'd stopped minding the citrus smell of developer that clung to him all the time, but it still bothered him.
"So you're sick?"
"Oh, no," he said. "I just took the day off. Wanted to get some work done. May came into the shop the other day. Do you remember May? She said she was thinking about putting together another show. Which would be great, obviously, except I haven't done anything in weeks. I didn't tell her that, but, you know, I figured I should probably get something done."
When he came out of the bedroom a few minutes later, he wore a pair of faded jeans and a baby blue T-shirt. He sat Indian-style beside her on the living room sofa. His freshly washed feet were puffy and white.
"Are you going back into the dark room now?" she asked. "I don't think so. I've done enough for one day. I thought maybe we could just hang out today. I'll make dinner before you go to work."
He curled into her and leaned his head back onto her chest. With her fingers, she ordered his moss-like eyebrows, smoothed them over so that they aimed away from his nose. Each hair in each brow pointed the same direction, slicked down, two straight orange lines across his pink face.
"How did work go last night?" he said. "It was the first night of that thing, right?"
Emily sighed. She told him about the crowd.
"Really? No kidding. Good for the little guy."
"Don't say that," Emily said. "It's no good at all. He was talking about buying a new projector last night. Just what I need."
"So? Why's that bad?"
"The only reason I'm even there is because the projector is such a piece of junk. No one knows how to use it but me."
She mussed his eyebrows again, spiked them up like sea urchin spines, and then set about taming them again.
"So," she said. "If they get a new projector, they won't need to waste money on me anymore."
Lyle sat up. "Are you serious?"
"Do you really think he'd fire you?"
"Who knows? I don't think Wayne Junior likes me very much."
He watched her for a minute, and then stood.
"I should probably get to work," he said.
"I can just tell them I feel better."
"I don't understand," she said.
"If you really think there's some risk of losing your job--"
"Don't worry about it. You said we'd hang out today."
"I don't want money problems," he said.
He disappeared into the bedroom and returned holding his jacket and a pair of shoes.
"This isn't for you to worry about," Emily said.
"If we need the money--"
"I worry about the money," she said. "That's my job."
"What does that mean?"
"I just don't want you to have to think about that stuff. Just . . ." She trailed off.
It didn't matter that her own job meant nothing, that she wasn't challenged or interested, that she herself did nothing she could be proud of. As long as Lyle was fulfilled, as long as he could do what she didn't, and that she enabled, she could be satisfied. She'd believed it before The Mark, and she still did. Even with her measly wage, there was money.
"Just what?" he said.
"Please don't worry about this."
"I tell you what. I won't worry when we're rich."
***Lyle hadn't mentioned May Ling's name in a year and half. Emily still didn't know for sure whether he'd ever slept with her, whether he'd slept with her more than once, whether he'd slept with her regularly. He'd met the middle-aged gallery owner at an Ansel Adams retrospective at the Photography Institute one night while Emily was working late, and the two of them became quick friends. Two months later, she gave him his first real show at her gallery.
May became a regular dinner guest at their apartment. She was married to an orthopedic surgeon, but she always came alone. She wore form-fitting, baroque dresses, dangling, bulky jewelry, and colorful makeup applied to highlight her Asian features. She was chatty and friendly and overly-intimate with Emily, which only made her that much more suspicious. `When she talked about art and her gallery, Emily noticed Lyle become uncomfortable and embarrassed, because everything May had to say was more than a little inane. The woman was an obvious simpleton.
Emily had no real reason to believe he'd cheated on her beyond the feeling that the friendship between the young, nobody photographer and the older, tacky gallery owner was just simply wrong. Jealousy was a new emotion for her, and she didn't know how to behave. She repressed her fears and her resentment while she fantasized detailed, choreographed scenarios of catching the two of them in her bed. In her mind, May's fifty-five year old naked body wore none of its age; she was sleek and sinewy, muscular and flawless.
Emily had no real friends at her firm, but she invited her coworkers to Lyle's opening anyway. A few came, still in their office clothes, wrinkled and sad-looking after a day's wearing. They huddled together by the catering table.
The gallery was a large, industrial room where everything was painted a glossy white. May led Lyle around the room, from conversation to conversation. Emily followed them and got introduced to people as his "partner."
A couple of hours into the evening, when her knees and ankles ached with a dull, full pain, she slipped away from Lyle and took a seat in the corner. Nearby, two men from her office drank free wine and talked.
"I guess. I guess it's good. It's just, I mean, concert photos?"
"Right. Santana. Bruce Springsteen. So what?"
"I guess. I mean, yeah, I get it, he likes going to concerts."
"Right. He loves celebrities. So what?"
"Maybe he should be shooting for Rolling Stone, or something. I guess. I mean, the pictures are good, I think."
"Right. But should they be in a gallery? Is this art? Celebrities? So what?"
Absently, she picked at the rubbery paint on an exposed support beam. It came off in gummy, milk-colored sheets.
***She worried that she might not remember which house the Waynes lived in--she'd only been there once before, several months ago--but when she got to their block, it stuck out. It was the only one-story in the neighborhood, and it had a built-by-hand look. Unpainted posts and beams and strips of wall checkered the structure, organic-looking beside the pond-green paint of the rest of the house. Chunks of dirt and splatters of mold crawled up from the ground. She walked past the house three times before she worked up the nerve to ring the doorbell. It sang a few bars of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" in muted, off-key chimes.
Wayne Senior answered the door. He was in his mid-sixties, but he looked older. His face drooped off his skull in sagging folds, like collapsing clay. The whites of his eyes were splotchy and yellow. He smiled after a few seconds of confusion, displaying a depleted set of discolored teeth.
"Hello, Emily," he said. "This isn't expected. This is unexpected."
"I just thought I'd stop in to say hello before work. I haven't seen you in a while."
"I have missed you," he said.
A wave of vertigo broke over her, a moment of unbalance where the placement of objects seemed wrong. She realized that Wayne Senior was leaning in towards her. Before she could react, he'd rolled a kiss across her cheek. His chapped lips felt like crumpled paper. When he withdrew, she smiled and looked at the ground.
"Do you want coffee? Tea? What can I get for you?"
"Coffee would be great."
He led her into the house. Framed movie posters lined the hallway: Touch of Evil, Casablanca, Rear Window. Imprecise reflections appeared on the glass as they moved past them. He took her into the living room, where matching plaid sofas faced each other. A cello, stained sunset-red, rested on a stand in the corner. It surprised her. A piano, a violin, or even an accordion would have made sense in the Waynes' house. There was a certain sophistication to the cello, a classic quality of tone and appearance, something tragic and elegant and European, a specificity of mournfulness that didn't quite gel with the unhappiness of this family.
"Sit. Sit. I'll start coffee. Sit."
Wayne Senior was a widower. All of his friends, he had once told her, had been his wife's, and not long after her death, they'd faded out of his life.
The coffee that he brought had the texture of silt and tasted like pond water. Emily sipped it. Her host sat on the sofa opposite her. He fixed his eyes on her and did not look away.
"Is Wayne Junior home?" she said.
"He's out. Maybe with friends. I never know."
"Oh." When she lifted her cup to her lips, he mirrored the motion. "How's retirement working?"
He coughed wetly and set down his cup down on the coffee table that separated them.
"Well," he said. "Retirement is . . . well. How is the theater?"
"The theater's fine."
"I keep meaning to stop by. To visit. I keep meaning to check on you, you and Junior. I'm very tired these days. I'm tired all the time."
"Not working makes you tired. It's funny. Isn't that funny? I'm more tired now that I don't work." He barked a laugh. Chunks of something rattled in his chest. "I wasn't tired all the time when I worked, you know?"
She suspected that his fatigue had less to do with inactivity than it did with whatever was in his lungs, and that he knew it, too. He didn't look any sicker than when she'd last seen him, but she was beginning to realize that he'd always looked sick. Features that she'd always noticed but never analyzed--the banana-color of his eyes, his sallow complexion, the gummy film that coated his lips--were symptoms. Wayne Senior was sick. He looked,
sounded, and smelled sick.
"Tell me," she said. "What do you think about all these changes that Wayne Junior's making?"
Wayne Senior frowned. "I don't understand."
"Oh, you know. The new audience. The new movies."
She'd thought as much, and having her suspicions confirmed was a exhilarating. If Wayne Junior hadn't mentioned his new vision of the theater, it was because he feared his father wouldn't approve, perhaps would even forbid it. Which would mean she would keep her job.
Careful to sound disinterested, not to embellish or mention her own stake in the matter, she described the situation to him. As she spoke, his posture slid. His chin fell to his chest. He began to fidget, to pick at his fingernails. The clicking keratin sounded like insects on linoleum.
When she finished, he sighed.
"What is it?" she said.
"It's complicated. It's just--it's complicated."
He closed his eyes and sighed again, heavier and angrier this time.
She glanced at her wrist, though she wore no watching, hoping that Wayne Senior might notice. He did not.
"Me and Junior, we're not so close," he said.
"Hm." She didn't know what else to say.
"Him and his mom, they were close. They were both, you know, artistic."
"Not me, though. We're not close. Never have been." He pressed the butts of his palms against his eyes. "I'd thought maybe, a job, maybe--I don't know what I thought. I don't know."
He half-rose, stepped around the coffee table, and sat on her sofa. Suddenly, he was beside her. Suddenly, he was crying. She tried to slide away, to put half a foot of distance between them. He seemed to expand, to fill the space that she provided. The keys and coins in his pocket pressed into her leg. His salty smell bore down on her.
"If you ever want to know what rejection is," he said. "Have children. All the time he rejects me."
"My wife, too. She used to. She treated me just like him. They think the theater's a mistake, a waste. I should work in an office, maybe. Or sell the theater."
He took hold of her hand. She didn't know how to pull away.
"And now he's ruining it," he went on. "What about good movies? He doesn't care. He wants what's popular. But the theater was mine. He can have his music. She had her music."
"Wayne Junior's a musician?"
"I'm sorry," he said. "I apologize. I'm being awful. I just wanted him to understand. A place for me. For people like me. It shows the movies I like to see. He doesn't know me. You understand?"
"Yes," Emily said. She understood that she'd made a mistake coming here. More than overstepping her bounds, she'd stepped into a household that had more problems than she could have guessed at, more than she was prepared to figure out. If the Waynes had achieved some sort of balance here, even if dishonesty maintained it, then that was more than enough.
She'd tipped scales. The longer she stayed, the more damage she would do. She needed a way out. She needed to leave, even if it meant abandoning a sick, crying, old man.
Then he kissed her. Gently and fearfully, he touched his lips to her temple. She tensed up.
"I'm sorry," he whimpered. He'd finished crying, but the outburst had broken loose something in his lungs, and he sounded like he was talking underwater.
"That's okay." She spoke as to a dinner guest who'd just broken a dish.
The front door slammed. Emily thought that Wayne Senior would pull away from her, would go back across the room, or at least move to the other side of the sofa. He didn't move.
Emily fixed her eyes on the table when Wayne Junior entered the room. His T-shirt bore a picture of a grinning skull.
"Junior," Wayne Senior said.
"Aren't you supposed to be at work?" Wayne Junior said.
"Am I late?" Emily stood up. "I had no idea. I'm sorry. I'll get over there right now."
"I guess you better."
Wayne Senior said nothing as she extracted herself from the sofa and slinked around his son.
***Two teenagers sat on the sidewalk in front of The Mark. At first, Emily thought they were both boys, but when she got closer, she realized that the smaller one was a girl who had hidden her femininity with a dark blue Mohawk and dirty, oversized, camouflaged fatigues. Emily tried not to look at them as she made her way to the front door, but the boy called to her.
"You got any change?"
"I'm trying to get enough money that I can get drunk enough to punch a cop."
His friend laughed.
"Are you here for the movie?" Emily said.
"You got money?" he said.
"Yeah, we're here for the movie. Sid and Nancy. Sid Vicious is God," said the girl.
She knew the kids weren't homeless--they dressed the part a little too precisely--but Emily found herself reaching into her purse and pulling out a dollar, anyway. The boy grabbed it from her hand pushed his hands into his pockets.
"You work here?" he asked.
"Can you get us in for free?"
"Don't be sorry," the girl said. She had a tattoo on her cheek just under her left eye, a blue-black smudge. It looked homemade, done by a friend or a lover. Emily couldn't tell what it was meant to be.
***From the booth, she heard Wayne Junior come in half an hour before the show started. She sat still in her chair, waiting for him to come upstairs. She wanted to say something to him, but she didn't know what. She wanted to know what his father had said after she'd left. Minutes passed. The audience moved into the theater. There were more than there'd been the night before. At seven thirty, she brought the house lights down and flipped on the projector.
Eventually, Wayne Junior did come up. He stopped at the top of the stairs.
"Why don't you take the rest of the night off?"
Below, on the screen, there was a shot of a cramped room with graffiti-covered walls. Dozens of people slept without blankets on the floor. Someone in the audience shouted something. Everyone laughed.
"What?" Emily said. "Why?'
"I don't want you here. That's why."
"But there's still another screening. And I have to break down the reel.
"I think I can handle it."
He sat beside her and looked out the window, down at the audience.
"Are you sure? It's kind of technical."
"I've done it at least a million times. I think I can handle it."
"It's a movie projector," he said. "Rocket science it ain't."
He looked back at the screen. She picked up her bag and started for the stairs, but paused by the projector. It stood as tall as a person, all cranks and gears. A coat of orange paint had flaked off in several places, leaving jigsaw-shaped spots of exposed black-grey metal. It looked like it belonged at a construction site, surrounded by men in reflective vests and hardhats. The black print spat through at thirty six frames per second with a sharp whirring sound, twenty four frames gone too fast to see.
"What the hell did you think you were doing?" he said. "Narcing me out? Were you actually narcing me out, Emily?"
"What? No. No, I just went to visit your dad." She didn't realize how obvious a lie it was until it was out of her mouth.
"I didn't know you and Dad were such good friends," he said. "I was under the impression that Dad fell firmly in the creepy old man category."
"No. No. I just--"
"Why? What were you thinking?"
She'd never heard him raise his voice before, never heard him break his bored, monotonous murmur. He sounded like a different person.
"Was he mad?"
"Yeah, he was mad. He's talking about coming back to theater. Out of retirement." He shook his head. "Like he can handle that. Like he isn't sick as hell. Like he could ever handle that."
"He doesn't have to do that," Emily said. "Just change things back."
"Back to the money pit? Back to losing more money each year? I'm sick of his failure."
The light from the screen reflected off his skin. He looked radioactive.
"Am I going to lose my job?" she said.
"Are you kidding? You own my dad and you know it."
"If he doesn't come back," she said. "Will you fire me?"
He didn't say anything.
"I'm broke. I'm totally broke," she said. "There's no work. I can't lose my job."
"Come on, Emily."
"My boyfriend--he's a photographer. He counts on me. I support us both. And
there's this woman. She owns a gallery. She's rich, and--"
Wayne Junior recoiled in his chair and held up his hands, as though he'd just noticed that he'd wandered into traffic.
"Hang on," he said. "Just hang on. You and Dad can play the over-sharing heart-to-heart game all you want, but it's not about to happen with me. Until I fire you or until you quit, we just work together. We're not friends. I don't need to know what's going on in your life. Got it?"
She tightened her grip on her bag.
"Go home, Emily. Please go home."
***A little after nine, she returned to an empty apartment. She flipped on all the lights and checked each room, but Lyle was not there. His absence only half surprised her. She paced for a while, not knowing what to do with herself.
In the hallway, she stopped in front of a frame eight by ten black and white of Lyle's. It was of Bob Dylan, taken at a music festival in Sacramento that they'd attended earlier that year. She'd just lost her job, and they'd bought nosebleed tickets to save money. He'd used his telephoto lens, so no one would know from the picture just how far they'd been from the singer.
A few feet away was the door to his dark room. She cracked it open and peeked inside. The vats of chemicals smelled like Pine-Sol and acid. A beam of light slipped in through the crack, casting a rectangle of color in the otherwise murky room. For a minute, she played with it, widening and shrinking it by manipulating the door. Shapes took form in the dark. Finally, she pulled the door open completely. Tubs of chemicals, prints hanging from a string, camera parts strewn about, she could see everything.
© Copyright 1997, 2019, The Fairfield Review Inc., All Rights Reserved.
Document last modified on: 12/03/2006