When I was twenty-two and predisposed to the kind of despair I should have been too young for, I lived above a once-grand movie theater called The Darlington. My rental contract stipulated that as long as I kept it quiet up there, and didn’t light scented candles, I could see movies whenever I wanted. Sometimes I spent whole weekends in the dark theater in the too narrow seats, eyes glued to the screen. Hardly anyone came to the theater anymore as there was a much fancier multiplex in the center of town that brought in movies made after 1982. My landlord and the proprietor of the theater, Mr. Baumann, was always trying to fix something in the theater, to restore it to its former glory, but every time he’d fix one thing, another would break. He was missing key letters for the marquee (a, e, t) and so, stopped updating it. It had read “H Hird Mn” ever since I’d moved in. It seemed there was a cigarette burn on one frame of every film he showed and it got so I knew when it was coming up, could predict the moment it would appear and spread over the screen.

I didn’t go out much then or have many friends and I was living off of an inheritance from a great Aunt I’d barely known. I was too sad to read and overslept each day and the only exercise I really got was walking up and down the flight of stairs into the lobby of the theater. When I couldn’t get out of bed, I’d listen to the movies play through. My favorites to listen to were the old black and white ones with sweeping orchestral music.

Chauncey, the lone employee, who might have been sixty or forty, gave me free popcorn though it was also stipulated in my rental contract that popcorn was not a part of the deal. When he spoke to me it felt as though there was a tongue depressor in my mouth, a man leaning over me, asking me questions I couldn’t possibly answer. Why was I so glum? Why was I here? If reincarnation was real, and he believed very much that it was, what was I in a previous life? I hoped I had been one of those glamorous actresses from the old movies where everyone knew how to dance and no one had sex, where things were either very bad or very good and there was always a reason for crying.

9 Comments

  1. Cheryl Pappas

    Taylor, I love the unabashedly melancholic nature of this piece. The premise, too, is amazing: I can’t think of a better place for a depressed person to live, really, than above a movie theater that you could go to whenever you wanted. That the landlord was always trying to restore it to its former glory makes total sense here, as this is what the woman is hoping (maybe?) to do to herself.

    I have to say, I misread the question from the employee about former lives. I thought: “Why was I here? If reincarnation was real, and he believed very much that it was, what was I in a previous life?” was:
    “Why was I here? If reincarnation was real, and he believed very much that it was, *why* was I in a previous life?”

    I don’t know why but that feels right and the exact question that is being asked. This woman is stuck in a previous life, one we can’t see but is off-screen/off the page. Which makes me wonder what it is that this woman is missing to make her connect with the black and white movies.

    So, my only suggestion here is to point us toward her former life in some way so her fascination with old movies will resonate more.

    I hope you keep going with this one!

  2. Lisa Moore

    Taylor, I can smell the popcorn. I love the vibe here and the details are dead on.

    I loved this: “My rental contract stipulated that as long as I kept it quiet up there, and didn’t light scented candles, I could see movies whenever I wanted. Sometimes I spent whole weekends in the dark theater in the too narrow seats, eyes glued to the screen.” This sets the scene, establishes the weird rental arrangement and makes me laugh.

    Chauncy is one of those characters that could almost be a ghost haunting the theatre, if that makes sense. Odd and antiquated. I love it.

    I also thought the final sentence was killer.

    Great work. I’m obsessed with this theatre!

  3. K Chiucarello

    Echoing Cheryl’s sentiments. There’s such lonesomeness and longing strung all throughout this piece. It was almost calming in its nature. I love the subtle metaphors of restoring something to its former glory — it grapples with a universal feeling of romanticizing our past when perhaps it may not have even been that great to begin with. I do wish that popcorn *had been a stipulation of the deal. That would really push this over the top, if all of the comforts of a movie there –– the exact pitch of darkness, very specific orchestral music, buckets of popcorn with overflowing butter supply –– were demanded of the landlord. I love the specific things you were *not supposed to do in your apartment and think if you want to contrast it, it could be a good comic route to take. Similarly, I absolutely loved reading your work this weekend and am happy we are now connected the social media. Looking forward to reading these pieces in publications!

  4. David O'Connor

    I’d love to live above a cinema, what a great location, and described with just the right amount of detail doled out at the right speed. Other thoughts: 1) bring Chauncey in earlier? Or expand and give their interactions more? 2) Go deeper into the movie details–perhaps link to the Aunt? 3) expand expand expand… there is so much here, like the iceberg tip, you’ve built such a world, I want to live in it for a while. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Bud Smith

    Hello Taylor,
    this is so cool and I feel like you could keep going with this story in two more acts. We’ve met the narrator, know her so well and know the theater (her own little weird castle that she is kind of the Count Dracula of) and we know the vague rental stipulation thing that continues to be a repetitive element of the story and one I could see get further complicated as we move along. And we have met this strange popcorn man who seems to be asking a lot of questions so I am worried about him a little. I could see so many ways that this story could keep chugging along, namely that the theatre would have to stay in business for the narrator to be able to keep living there (but does she want to?) (Losing her theatre home and distraction would probably save her and break her from her spell/curse of loneliness and pain) I could also see this story taking on a kind of odd fantastical element such as something like she begins to watch her old home movies on the screen and the movies of the popcorn maker and the landlord comes and they watch his home movies to. They all just cry and feel so bad. Then at the end she gets a job with the demolition crew or something and works to tear down The Darlington. Of course, we don’t have to be WEIRD. We could just continue on in the same tone we have there and stick to reality but I do wonder what is the rest of the story. I hope you’ll write it down. A lot of old movie theaters around here are being turned into gyms. It would be funny if she just kept living there and the place turned into a gym and she became a female bodybuilder just because that was what was close by in proximity and she’s ‘lazy’

  6. Martha Jackson Kaplan

    Taylor, There’s plenty here for any reader to muse about. I feel the depression, the slow motion of it, repetition day after day. And what a great setting, the movie theater. I feel like this is the beginning of a much longer piece. There are several directions you could go if you choose to develop more. What drives the landlord to keep the theater? More about Chauncey, how long has he been there, what keeps him there? Do the two of them, landlord and Chauncey have no where else to go? The narrator tells the tale as it happened “when I was twenty-two” — what happened to move him out of the movie theater? I love the writing of this. It is so compelling, and that is the reason, like children with candy, I want more.

  7. Janelle Greco

    The last line is so perfect, Taylor. It really hit me right in the heart. Such a beautiful premise—lonely, depressed person trapped above old, run-down movie theater. How will she ever escape? Does she have more interactions with Chauncey? I love that you hit the nail on the head with depression—sometimes there isn’t any real reason for crying or any situation that’s brought us to that point but oh how nice it would be to possibly have a reason. I also was wondering what kinds of movies the narrator watched that had the cigarette burns in them? Maybe a place for expansion. That and the exchanges with Chauncey. Then again, I totally love this as is and think it’s submittable in its present form. Thank you so much for sharing your stories this weekend and for your feedback on mine. It’s been really helpful, and I wish you luck on all these pieces moving forward! Please continue to work on them—they are gems! 🙂

  8. Amy Barnes

    Love your use of unconventional and memorable settings this weekend — could see your flashes as being linked based strictly on that sense of place. Here, there are so many things that make the story about more than just the setting too — the time and age markers (ages of the characters, 1982, weekend, the aging theater.) While it would be easy to just use a setting as the point of the story, you skillfully make this about so much more. This story couldn’t be told in another place — the characters and the pacing of time/space make the way you tell it unique and memorable.

    I won’t forget these stories you’ve shared!

  9. Neil Clark

    Taylor, I was right there in that theatre the whole time. The setting is such a great way to explore the malaise of the narrator. Who hasn’t been sat alone and depressed in a dark theatre, right? Then the symbolism of the landlord being unbale to restore the place despite the best intentions works perfectly.

    And that ending – the deep, unanswerable philosophical questions that we find ourselves pondering in such states, combined with the lasting image of being an old film star in a previous life during more innocent times where everything was black and white in more than one sense – stunning.

    I would only echo others in saying in terms of critique. More of it, please.

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