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.