The Arc of Repentance
The Death of the Book
Line of Duty By Albert Haley
Friday Night in Kizmack By Carrie Sherman
On Another Road: Pilgrimage to Fátima
The Woodlands Have a Rank and Moldy Smell
FRIDAY NIGHT IN KIZMACK
By Carrie Sherman
She felt she was the only one who knew it was Friday night. Possibly, gazing around the kitchen, there was a chance they might know it was Friday night, although she couldn't imagine what difference it would make if they did. Thirteen, she thought, here I am. I'm thirteen years old and aging.
Lucy was an intense, skinny girl with glasses. She had inherited her father's mousy, fine hair, her mother's bad eyesight and small bones. When she modeled a face for the mirror, she could see that she appeared pretty. But when she really just looked at herself, she saw the righteousness of a fanatic who was plain but vital. Also, she was sour. Other than her father, no one was impressed by her unless she was funny. Her humor, unfortunately, was mostly accidental.
Her father, a tall, restless man was reading Foreign Affairs while creaking back and forth in an old wicker rocker. The kitchen was comfortably cluttered: a Franklin stove in the corner, a round oak table, and geraniums on the window sill. On a board over the radiator, magazines and books were stacked including What to Listen for in Music, Catch-22, Goldfinger, and her mother's copy of the I Hate to Cook Book. Her mother wasn't home yet. She worked for the chamber of commerce in a neighboring town and often came home late and drunk or "slightly stewed" as she liked to call it. It was almost 7:30. Lucy had offered to make some hamburgers, but her father had said no, Nancy (her mother) would be home any minute.
She watched him read. Everyone said he was handsome--kind of like Jimmy Stewart, tall, strong, with a Midwestern practicality. His jaw would clench and unclench. He'd take a sip of beer. The paper would rustle. In sixth grade, he'd given Lucy 1984 and Animal Farm. Also he'd suggested Brave New World and any novel by Ernest Hemingway. She'd read them all and some a couple of times over. It had been like peeking through a telescope that went in and out of focus. Sometimes she had seen and understood those people in the books and then sometimes the page would become just printed words. The books weren't happy. The guy never got the girl. In fact, the worst sorts of unexpected things always happened, but this convinced her that the books were really for grown-ups. But now that it was Friday night in Kizmack, what was the use of having read A Farewell to Arms by Hemingway? The thought made her sigh. She was hungry.
A car door slammed. What's-his-face, Gene Hurley, had given her mother a ride home. Lucy thought he was creepy even though he was Ivy League, perfectly groomed, and had hired her mother. Month's before at a New Year's Day party he had kissed Lucy sloppily on the cheek and told her, drunkenly, that she was just like her mother. "Nancy, she's just like you." And then he had kissed her mother. It was something beyond friendly.
Her mother was walking up the back walk and Lucy could tell from the way she carefully put one foot in front of the other, as if she were crunching egg shells, that she was "slightly stewed." It was strangely endearing. Lucy knew that in her own way, her mother was a very charming, graceful woman. But, looking at her objectively, Lucy could see that her red wool coat seemed a bit baggy and threadbare and that the fresh application of lipstick didn't disguise her pale, tired face.
"Hello everybody," Nancy said smiling. She wasn't going to stop or sit down. It was to be a nonstop, breathtakingly breezy performance. She walked right through the kitchen, and all the time her father just sat there and read Foreign Affairs. Lucy could hear the tinkle of ice in a glass, the low greedy gurgle of bourbon being poured, and the slap suck of the refrigerator door. Hamburgers, green peas that are round, and white rice; it was a predictable and inarguably balanced meal which they ate in silence.
"That's one thing about the Burkes, when they eat, they eat," her mother said sort of gaily. It was the only comment throughout dinner. It occurred to Lucy that actually her mother was only a Burke by marriage and not by blood, but that she, Lucy, was both a Burke and a Steiner like her mother, but this didn't make the meal any better and certainly didn't qualify as news or appropriate dinner conversation.
Always after dinner Lucy did the dishes while her mother straightened. It was almost 8:00. The movie started at 8:15. Her father was still reading. Would she continue to fill basins with soapy water and wash dishes over and over all her life? Her mother's methodical footsteps went to the refrigerator, back to the table. She found a dirty ashtray and leaned past Lucy to wash it and her hard foam-cupped breasts pressed briefly against Lucy's back. Her mother was flat and wore falsies. Often, Lucy, when she was younger, had fiddled around with those crumbly rubber cups applying them not only to her chest but also to her knees, chin, and head. Now her own breasts were budding and the imprint of those cups on her back made her indignant. They were "falsies" and her mother was as false as those cups.
When her mother put on her falsies, she just inserted them and made adjustments without a second thought. It was just part of creating the package. There was the girdle, the stockings, satin slip, dress, matching high-heeled shoes, hair spray, makeup, and snap-on earrings. She'd finish up with one final mirror check, pivoting around to check all the angles. Once Lucy had asked her mother how she could stand it. She answered, "Stand what?"
Suddenly, her father put down his paper and stood up. He clapped his hands, gave a yelp, and did a little Al Jolson shuffle with his head rocking back and forth like it was on a stick. His ears stuck out like small apricots and his eyes were closed in what one supposed to be ecstasy. Her mother held onto the edge of the counter. He was dramatic sometimes. A month ago, he had thrown a milk glass out the window. He stopped shuffling and snapped knowingly, "Well, it's another Friday night in Kizmack, what's up with you?" He meant Lucy and she was ready.
"I'm going to the movies," Lucy said.
"What's playing?" her mother asked with obvious relief.
"I don't know."
"You going with anyone?" asked her father. He seemed to be genuinely interested in an anthropological sort of way.
But Lucy knew it was acceptable in her family to go to the movies alone, not knowing what the movie was. There was understanding for such weaknesses. Usually when there was internal strife (like the time with the milk glass), the whole family went blindly to the movies. They would walk to the movies with great distances between them and then close together on the way out. As her mother put it, "The movies are better than church." And since they didn't go to church, Lucy reasoned the movies were better than nothing.
Walking though the garage, Lucy checked the family station wagon for butts. There were a couple of good ones. A couple of yards past the house, she lit one up. It was spring and she felt alone and free. She exhaled the smoke hard through her nostrils. Overhead the tall poplar trees were in bloom. Their yellow worm-like flowers were splattered on the pavement and their pollen was like snuff in the air. Just recently, after years of indifference, Lucy had felt it was necessary to identify the dry, musty smell of the poplar flowers.
Downtown Kizmack was a stretch of highway, densely dotted for a mile or two with gas stations, cheap clothing stores, a post office, a shoe factory, and a high school. Tourists found it quaint, a pleasant place to get gas. They spent their time outside the town, looking at the mountains, the rushing streams, the colored leaves. It was joked that you could walk down the main street of Kizmack at one o'clock in the morning stark naked with a ruby in your belly, and no one would know. It was perhaps the only thing in Kizmack no one would know.
Since January, Lucy had been going to the Kizmack movie on Friday night and to the North Carroll movie on Saturday night. After the movie, she'd go home and watch the late show on TV. Mostly she went alone. She had sat through Pillow Talk three times. She'd seen the Alamo with John Wayne bulling his way through the same battles he bulled through on the late show. And then there was Born Reckless and Babes in Toyland, and things she couldn't even remember. There were a few odd movies that filtered their way through the trees to Kizmack. One was about two homicidal maniacs who lived in New York, one of whom delivered a monologue on the mammoth, white crocodiles that live in the sewers of the city. The movie also had the most explicit sex scene that Lucy had ever witnessed. She knew she always felt safe inside a movie theater. In the dark, there was nothing to say--just sit and be carried through someone else's loves, hates, living room, and wardrobe. It didn't matter. And no matter how it ended, it would end, and she would be there intact.
The night was light lavender, and the bright, glowing spot between the army surplus store and Hildebrand's newsstand was the Majestic Theater. Already, there were kids waiting outside, milling back and forth, indistinguishable in their blue jeans and sneakers. If she squinted she could see who was there. There was no one she wanted to know and no one she didn't know. Out of all those people there was no one. Then she saw why. The movie was The Ten Commandments. No wonder no one she wanted to know was there. You'd have to be out of your mind or an idiot to go see The Ten Commandments. If that wasn't the end. She felt dazed. Why was she there? But she was there. So what if she seemed too old to just go to the movies. She couldn't feign an interest in Moses, but she was there and she needed to go to the movies.
From across the street, the people bathed in yellow light seemed holy and happy. Yet, as she watched she knew who they were and that they were not particularly holy or happy. Dick Cote, a red-faced nobody in his late twenties was flirting with the young, ten-year-old girls. Cheered on by his followers, he continued to poke and tease them. Lucy remembered a few years ago how after a movie, he had spit flaming lighter fluid out of his mouth. And how his bright, blue eyes matched the blue flame from his mouth. It hadn't been funny, and no one had cheered. Instead, they had stood in awe and watched in fear, wondering if the blue flame wouldn't crawl back into his mouth and burn his body right there on the only main street in Kizmack. That had been a long time ago. Before junior high, and before Gregg Jenkins had stood her up on their second date. Back then, everybody went to the movies, and they'd all walk home in groups of four, half-running, half-walking. And they'd yell "good-night" to each other over and over. But Dick Cote was still there. And the pale, yellow-toothed girls were still there, prancing and posing, occasionally emitting high, shrill shrieks.
Lucy walked across the main street, towards the light, her hands in her pockets. Her clear, brown eyes, glinting behind her glasses, were fixed on the straightest path to the ticket booth. It would be nice to get into the dark of the theater without having to talk to anyone. But she couldn't help seeing Ronnie LaPage. He was enormous, dark like a sultan, and he sweated all year round as though he lived in a hot, desert country. The smell of his sweat was like the spicy catsup and french fries of the cafe he worked in. "Hi Lucy, how're you doing?" His voice was high and breathy as if the dripping fat on his body constricted his lung capacity. "Going to see The Ten Commandments?"
"Yeah, see what Moses is up to." She went by him, surprised she was happy that someone had spoken to her. The crinkle of candy wrappers and the stagnant musty smell of the theater's old, red and green, floral-patterned carpet were images that were synonymous in her mind with all that she knew of vampires and live burials. Mrs. Cloutier's soft, white face blinked benignly from behind the scratched blue glass of the booth, and Lucy was handed a ticket.
As Lucy walked to her seat she realized again, that except for a few old people, she was the oldest kid there. Where were the people her age? What was playing over in North Carroll? If they were at a party what did it matter? She didn't want to worry about how her hair looked or if Jay Green would talk to her when he never did. He liked Gail Pujewski who looked like a young Kim Novak only with real blonde hair. And she didn't want to see Paul Robenhauer who kissed her once for a full five minutes last summer (they had timed it). She never turned out right at those parties. She always seemed to miss the point, and she could tell that everyone else went home happy in a way that she couldn't even come close to. Not only did she not want to go to those parties, but she knew she couldn't. She needed the dark of the theater and the stories on the screen like a mushroom needs the dark to grow.
She waited patiently for the lights to dim and the darkness to come. The trap door in the ceiling was open, and as always, it shattered the flimsy illusion that the ceiling was a golden-starred sky. Children in groups of three and four were restlessly prowling up and down the aisles. The eyes in their young faces would scan the theater furtively. Girls walked with quick, mincing steps with their elbows sharp and at high, right angles to their bodies. Darkness came and Lucy felt suddenly soothed.
The curtain cranked open, and perky, electronic music filled the theater. A bewildered pink cat with an English accent wandered along a flat, surreal landscape to the laughter and hoots of the audience. Lucy could smell their warm, chocolatey breath and sense their quivering, prepubescent excitement in the air. The spell of the darkness was already evaporating.
The movie violins played. The light from heaven shone through beautiful multicolored clouds. Then, under a very red sky, Hebrew slaves dragged stones for Pharaoh. Meanwhile, Pharaoh listened intently to his helmeted advisers. "Divine one, last night our astrologers saw an evil star enter the house of Egypt. . . ." Pharaoh thought for a moment, then declared, "Every newborn Hebrew man-child shall die." Waist deep in brownish water, Yochabed, Moses' mother, gazed with last minute tenderness on her babe before launching him and his laundry basket down the river. There was a high gasp from the front of the theater. A vicious, testy whispering followed.
"Bruce Tibbets, if you don't stop that. . . ." Mrs. Cloutier was walking down the aisles, her flashlight bobbing. Coke cans rolled down between the seats as Moses grew to righteous manhood amidst the lascivious, golden-haltered Pharaoh's wives. Popcorn flew in the air as Moses prayed and talked to the local wise men, leaning on their knotty staffs. Pharaoh and his army were cheered every time they appeared.
Lucy felt uncomfortable. Why were they screaming? The rough-hewn face of Moses was covered with makeup. Yet, she couldn't root for Pharaoh. She couldn't root for anything. And anyway, Pharaoh was only Yul Brynner.
Moses was praying in front of a bush on a mountaintop. The effort of prayer made the sinews in his neck stick out and glitter with sweat. There was more yelling. Lucy could feel her face growing hot with anger. Why should she protect Moses from the hecklers? The movie wasn't sacred. She wanted the spell of a movie. The youth of Kizmack didn't care. She hated them and their twitchy, little bodies. Moses seemed to embody serenity and as God's voice boomed over Mount Sinai, the youthful voices of Kizmack rose to a new peak of hysteria. Lucy clenched the arms of her chair and yelled in her clear, flat voice: "All of you creeps SHUT UP!"
The bush burst into flame. Moses was amazed. His handsome brows were raised in awe of God. One could hear the clattering of the projector and the film scratching through its metal teeth. There was the soft, swirling of violin music, and then there was some faint twittering. A piece of popcorn flew, and a loud laugh followed.
Lucy's face burned. She'd broken out of her darkness for Moses and the Ten Commandments. She was a fool. The movie was over for her, and she put on her jacket and walked up the aisle.
Inside her ticket booth, Mrs. Cloutier was drinking coffee. Her head turned and smiled at Lucy. Mrs. Cloutier's white hair seemed like scoops of vanilla ice cream. Her blue, myopic eyes swam behind her rhinestone glasses. She was a vision of oddly preserved innocence in a ticket booth, far away from The Ten Commandments, reading her ladies' magazine. Lucy nodded and gave a belated shrug. She could get by without saying anything.
The street was quiet and drab. The Gulf station was luminescent in the light of the street lamp. Ronnie LaPage was leaning against a storefront, staring into space. Lucy eyed him, mumbled hello, and kept walking. Halfway across the street, Ronnie called to her on the strength of one breath, "Hey, Lucy, c'mon over here and talk to me."
She stopped in the middle of the street. She saw him standing there fat, silly, and pathetic. His dark face was hopeful and expectant. She was puzzled and stood frozen on the yellow line. Then the words came like a flash, hard and cruel: "I wouldn't talk to you if you were King Tut."
With that she turned neatly, walked across the street and kept walking. She smiled, what would Ronnie LaPage look like as King Tut? His round dark face wrapped in a gold turban, sitting on some big throne. Would they miss him at the cafˇ? The thought made her chortle but the sound of her own laughter startled her, and suddenly she saw herself, skinny, alone, and ragged on that dark street and she felt small. I'll go home, she thought, I'll watch TV or something.
From the driveway she could tell what was going on. She could see the blue light of the television. There was no other light on in the house. They'd been having a swell time. Undoubtedly her mildly marinated mother was now in a deep sleep. Her father, not finding any superior comfort in reading Foreign Affairs, had settled down to watching the late show alone. For his sake, Lucy hoped it was a good one. One with Humphrey Bogart and some lovely, tender-hearted girl. But in a way, she wished he wasn't there. She didn't want to face him after what she'd done, and she couldn't fake it.
He was sitting in front of the television. The kitchen in that flickering light no longer seemed comfortably cluttered but looked washed out to so many shades of gray and frosty blue.
Without turning his head, he asked, "How was the movie?"
"Awful. It was The Ten Commandments."
"It's early though. . . ."
"So. . . ." His brow creased slightly, he squinted. When her father paused before speaking it meant he was thinking. That meant it was important. Lucy had noticed that not many people were like her father, but she wasn't at all sure she wanted to hear what he had to say, now, or ever.
"So, you left early."
"Who played Moses?"
"Oh, what's-his-name who's bald."
"Uh-uh, that about says it."
"Yeah. Everyone under twelve was there throwing popcorn and giggling. I couldn't stand it." Lucy sighed loudly as if a great weight was being lifted off her frail, martyred shoulders.
Her father turned and looked at her quizzically. Turning back to the television, he smiled. "Well, that'll be the day when there's silence in Kizmack for the Ten Commandments."
Lucy sat and stared dully at the television set. The weight seemed to settle down again. Tomorrow everyone would know and tomorrow was inevitable.
"Yeah, I don't know. . . . When I left Ronnie LaPage was outside, and he asked me to talk to him and I told him I wouldn't talk to him if he was King Tut."
Her father laughed, got up, and went to refrigerator to get a beer. He snapped the cap off. The beer hissed, and he looked directly at her. She was staring at the television, her head in her hand, slouched down, the other hand in her pocket. Her face was pale and stiff, her mouth drawn in a line. Behind the sheen of her wire-frame glasses, her eyes were dark slits.
Unbelievably, her father started to laugh again. A deep laugh, that started down in his diaphragm and shook its way out of his mouth. As soon as the laugh was released, he paused. Staring at her hard, he said, "Aw, c'mon kid, grow up." He leaned over, and with his free hand, rubbed her back so that she swayed precariously back and forth in her chair. He went up to the TV and, turning the channel knob, said, "Maybe there's a good movie on."
Carrie Sherman grew up in New Hampshire's north country and is an editor at the University of New Hampshire.