[I] may be crazy but I'm the closest thing I have to a voice of reason.

14 April 2010


Tonight we finish Chapter 4 of The Movie Lovers. Last night, as I read over the end of this chapter, I couldn’t help but remark on how it felt like the end of the book as well, and in a way I suppose it is. The closing chapter of the book is an elegy, a kind of lullaby farewell to my friend, but before the elegy and after Chapter 4, the story takes on a different tone. I won’t tell you more. I’m just thinking out loud here. And tomorrow comes extra early for me, so without further comment, here is...

AT THE MOVIES, part5/end

It's spring in Northwest, Portland’s only truly urban residential neighborhood, the trees are leafing out, it’s cool and sunny, and Jose and I have just been to Cinema 21. We didn’t sit in the balcony this time because Jose's legs can't manage the stairs, two flights. We don't discuss this, just as we never discussed sitting in the balcony our first time together at this theater; we just headed there. This time we head to the double swinging doors on the main level. I get Jose settled in our seats -- not too close for him, not too far away for me -- before I come back out to grab us some popcorn and cinnamon tea. I don't recall which movie we saw; a movie lover isn't necessarily someone who remembers the title of every movie. Oftentimes a movie lover can't even describe the plot. It’s the meaning that is important, the force of feeling conveyed that defines a movie. When Jose and I leave the theater through the twilight of the lobby, he is wearing his black and white hound’s-tooth checked scarf, the soft one I now wear as he did, tossed across the neck and back over each shoulder. The sunlight is blinding. It darkens our sight and we have to stop to let our eyes adjust. When we start up again, it is Jose's walk that I notice: measured, each footstep something I can both feel and not feel, just like Jose's feet, numb and cautious with neuropathy, guessing at where the sidewalk is.

We walk from Twenty-first Avenue to Kornblatt's on Twenty-third, and as we walk Jose is talking about his novel. I feel spring in his words and in the two of us strolling to lunch after a matinee. Jose might have been wearing that canvas field jacket, the one he wore constantly and had nearly worn out, the one that had me saying to Frank as we sorted through the clothing, "What jacket? I don't remember that jacket." I can't say for sure. All I remember is the walk, paced as I would later pace myself with my infirm grandmother, walking hand in hand through the Chicago neighborhood of her youth. At Kornblatt's we order cheaply. Surrounded by the corned beef smells and big city sounds of this New York style deli, we talk over the whole movie, the previews of the next movies, and the movies we want to see after those. We eat slowly -- Jose is the first friend since my best friend in second grade who eats as slowly as I do -- and we make the grumpy, tip-scrounging waiter bring us napkins and more napkins for our matzo ball soup and our half sandwiches of pastrami and our rice pudding dessert. When we're full, we thread our way through the crowded tables and I hold open the heavy glass door as we exit to the sidewalk.

As for what happens next, I can’t say for certain. Some scenes play over and over in your mind while others become blank tape. Suddenly, Jose isn't beside me. I turn: he's standing four steps back, stock still. Somehow I know this is because he will fall if he tries to move. I can see that he can't see me; he stares straight into my face, not registering a thing. I walk back and take him by the arm. I help him to sit in a plastic chair by a white metal table on the sidewalk. I command him -- Stay right there -- like I'm speaking to a small child -- Stay, don't move. Then I run. Past the new leaves and the spring smell and the sun on everything, I run to my car though I can't recall where I parked it. I don't recall driving back. I don't recall whether my car was big or small or whether it was easy or hard for Jose to get into it. I only remember the beauty of the white car parked at the curb, between me and Jose. No place to park, so I stop in the middle of the street, right next to this pristine Chevy Bel Air with picnic table fins carved into its flanks like horizontal wings. 1959. A very good year for cars. I have one eye on Jose; one eye is admiring the Bel Air; one eye is on the rearview mirror and the traffic, always thick and ornery on Twenty-third Avenue; and one eye, my internal eye, is clamped shut and I can't pry it open. Did Jose make his own way to the curb, slipping through the narrow passage between the Bel Air and the car parked behind it? Did I open the passenger door for him? I don't know. I know the Bel Air has smooth clean shiny white paint. Like new. I know the day is bright and suddenly hot, but I am cold. I know, as if it were my own body, the stillness of my friend, the quietness of his legs as he tries to rise and walk over to me. I know the distance, the long distance, of six feet.

We didn't talk about what happened. . . after hours of sitting side by side in the dark watching the same flashing figures, sighing the same sighs, sharing tissues, laughing; I think we laughed on the way home. I dropped Jose off, drove home, parked the car, and I don’t recall what I did after that. Cry? Smile at my husband and say, "Jose gave me a little scare today"? It doesn't matter because all I could see, what I still see, is my friend looking like any beautiful man at a sidewalk café on a fashionable city street: he is in white -- white shirt, white pants, black boots, no scarf or jacket; he sits in a white halo of light at a table in the sun -- and I am stuck in a too large and empty vehicle with an insistent line of traffic pressing in behind me while I sit with my foot on the brake; and my eyes on Jose.

Massive Attack - Teardrop
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