They’re in the dark, and one of them thinks about the study that concludes monkeys understand how money works. While they use their coins at first to buy grapes and marshmallows, some monkeys begin paying each other for sex, and even seem to budget for it. The other one thinks about how all movies are about loss, and not just because of what’s outside the frame or left on the cutting room floor, but because the best stories leave out far too much.
Perfumed by popcorn mixed with sad-basement-corner (you can’t avoid compounds when describing smells), they talk about how it’s musty here because of the rain today and because they’re actually underground right now, but it’s hard to know for sure in a room without windows. Or maybe too many sodas have marinated the spongy flip-flopping chairs, their navy and fluorescent upholstery only ever used on seats in theatres and Greyhound buses. A stranger, an aisle over, laughs and one of them thinks it’s at their conversation, and is happy to be thought of as funny. It’s not, it’s only a gif of Bob Ross on his phone, halo of hair puffed in its usual way like one of his happy clouds, sun coming through the edges, but they don’t know this.
Marissa hates that her husband walks between the row of seats head on like it’s a garden path instead of shuffling sideways like everyone else. She also hates that he hordes napkins, yanking out stacks from every restaurant they go to, and because she’s the one with the purse, they get stuffed in there. Now she’s his accomplice, and not even in an edgy way where she could invoke spousal privilege. He’s done it today, while she was getting bottled water, and as far as she has it figured, nothing is gratis. Not the condoms raining from the hands of RAs in her university days, not mini shampoos, and not these napkins.
Steve doesn’t hate too much about Marissa, except that he recently began to notice that when he shares a revelation, she interrupts before he gets to the good part with “Tell me about it.” He suspects that she says this not because she agrees or has even thought about it before but as a way of turning the channel. She could walk out of the room, and say “Need anything from the kitchen?”. She could ignore him in even crueller ways that he can’t fathom yet, but instead she dismisses him by feigning complete accordance. Two minds think alike, pinch, poke, you owe me a coke, etc. It’s not so bad, really.
They couldn’t agree on a movie to see. She wanted a bromance, he wanted something cerebral. They let one of their perpetually single friends pick for them, their arbiter they call him, and joke that all parts of marriage are a trial run for divorce including today’s mediation. And so they find themselves at the downtown cinema showing the digitally restored version of It Happened One Night. They had seen it before, a pirated version online, and one of them suspected it was a precursor of When Harry Met Sally because both movies are madcap love stories with road trips where the audience feels self-congratulatory for seeing so quickly the star-crossed lovers are perfectly matched. The other began looking for facts about the movie, to stave off discomfort with the unrealistic but happy ending. Gable’s Oscar sold for over half a million dollars, while no one bid on Colbert’s. Isn’t that the way. They also learned that Stalin and Hitler were fans, and maybe this mutual appreciation had a hand in laying the foundation for their infamous Stalin-Hitler, correction: Molotov-Ribbentrop, non-aggression pact.
During the movie tonight, she files away Gable’s response to his boss when he gets fired. You gashouse palooka! She often fantasizes about quitting her job, so this is research. For him, he begins feeling really nostalgic for a time that seems so distant, or one that maybe was only ever there in cellulose.
They both love the movie’s most famous scene when Gable and Colbert, still practically strangers, have no choice but to share a hotel room, and with chivalry he hangs a sheet like a curtain between them for decency. Decency. With the makeshift divider, Gable alludes to the walls of Jericho to comfort Colbert, even though in the Bible anyway, the walls fall and everyone but a prostitute is slaughtered. Marissa and Steve both love the end of the movie when Gable and Colbert finally get married and go on their honeymoon. Offscreen, they hang a sheet between them again, only this time, Gable plays a toy trumpet as foreplay. Marissa and Steve imagine that sheet cascading to the floor like melting ice cream and silk and shadow.
The credits roll, she sidesteps between the seats, and he marches behind. When she rummages in her purse for her keys, a napkin wings its way to the floor, and he sings, almost privately, ‘and the walls came tumblin’ down.’ She falls for him, a little anyway. Their eyes adjust back to the light.
Charmaine Cadeau, a Canadian writer, originally from Toronto, currently co-directs a community writing center, and teaches English at High Point University in North Carolina. Her books of poetry include What You Used to Wear and Placeholder, which won the ReLit Award and the Brockton Campbell Award.