The past is not romantic. It is not an adventure. It is not a drama. It is neither a comedy nor tragedy. It is not a movie. It is not any of these things. But memory cheats.
Memory will take fragments of events, disjointed and vague and merge them with hints of forgotten emotion then cobble them together into a narrative. Artificially coherent. Like scenes in a movie.
In league with memory I have become a fine director. I am the writer and the star; leading man and tragic hero. I am greater than the story. The past is not romantic; but memory cheats
Open in a bar: Pan across a half crowded room, smoke-filled and dark. Most patrons are alone. It is quiet save for the jukebox playing Rolling Stones over muted and muffled conversation. There are two old men in a window booth playing Liar’s Dice. Periodically the sound of the leather covered cups slam the table to disturb the scene. Quiet. Slam. Then quiet again.
Close-up to a young man sitting at the center of the bar: Long hair pulled back in a tight pony tail, his red flannel shirt tattered and frayed around the collar and elbows. He smokes Marlboros one after another while absently doodling on napkins with a number 2 pencil. He drinks Budweiser by the pint.
The bar is old. A storefront galley-style long bar with brass railings and old wood runs along the north side; a row of pale-blonde wood tables along the south. There are no TVs. The only food served is peanuts and Goldfish crackers in clear plastic bowls. Behind the bar, dead center above the young man is a massive moose head. It wears a top hat made of plastic. Across the brim of the hat are cardboard balloon letters that read Happy New Year. Streamers and Marti Gras beads hang from the antlers. A pair of dark knock-off Ray Ban sunglasses perched on the snout. Whenever the door opens the beads sway gently from side to side.
Cut to the far end of the bar; the end farthest from the door. A young woman is drinking a martini from a pint glass, the edge heavily coated with salt. She wears heavy mascara around her eyes but no other makeup and a t-shirt that reads “Frankie Says Do It” in bold, block letters. She stares down at the chipped and faded bar and rarely looks up.
The young man waits for the right moment then points to the moose and in a loud voice says, “It’s a shame really,” The woman looks up at the moose and shrugs, “He was having such a good time when he died,” he says. She smiles, slowly, a creeping thing across her face. In a single motion she finishes her drink then moves down the bar to the empty seat beside the man. With one hand she pulls his pony tail – three quick tugs like ringing a bell – with the other she takes the cigarette from his fingers. She inhales deeply then blows a plume of smoke over their heads through tight lips. “Buy me a drink,” she says.
“Why should I do that,” he asks.
“If you have to ask,” she says, “then you are dumber than you look.”
Pan back now: We see the two from a distance. They are laughing. She puts a hand on his knee, he touches her back. Occasionally he leans in to whisper in her ear.
Jump cut: We are in a bedroom. It is dark, moonlight through an open window and white-yellow Christmas lights thumbtacked to the ceiling. Black and white framed posters line the walls – James Dean, Marylyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn – the room smells of baby powder, lavender and beer.
The young man sits on the edge of a twin bed. He is naked and smoking. He rubs his chin with the back of his hand, back and forth. Back and forth. The woman is curled into a ball wrapped in a stained sheet facing the wall. She is crying.
“I didn’t mean it,” she says, “It was my old boyfriend’s name, it just came out,” she pulls the sheet over her head.
“It’s okay,” he says, “Just threw me is all.” He finds himself scanning the authors on her bookshelf. O’Conner, Salinger, Poe, Ellison. All the required titles. He remembers what he is reading. Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, he is proud of this. He should leave, he knows this. He actually pictures himself standing, dressing, walking with quiet dignity out the door.
“We could try again,” she says, “If you want.”
“Okay,” he says, “Just give me a minute.”
Cut. Cut. Cut. Strike that last scene. And start again.
Fade in on the couple leaving the bar. They are laughing and close. She stumbles, falling forward slightly. He is there, catching her in outstretched arms. He pulls her close. “Careful now,” he tells her. Gently, he kisses the top of her head. Holding hands they walk slowly into the night.
Fade to black. Print.
originally published June 9th 2013