Excerpt from What Becomes by A.L. Kennedy, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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What Becomes

Stories

By A.L. Kennedy

What Becomes
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  • Hardcover: Apr 2010,
    224 pages.
    Paperback: Apr 2011,
    224 pages.

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What Becomes

The cinema was tiny: twelve rows deep from the blacked-out wall and the shadowed doorway down to the empty screen, which had started to bother him now, a kind of hanging absence.

How did they make any money with a place this small? Even if it was packed?

Which it wasn’t. Quite the reverse. There was, in fact, no one else here. Boy at the door had to turn the lights on just for him, Frank feeling bad about this, thinking he shouldn’t insist on seeing a film all by himself and might as well go to the bigger space they kept upstairs which had a balcony and quite probably leg room and would be more in the way of a theatre and professional. In half an hour they’d be showing a comedy up there.

Or he could drive to a multiscreen effort: there’d been one in the last big town as he came round the coast—huge glass and metal tower, looked like a part of an airport: they’d have an audience, they’d have audiences to spare.

Although that was a guess and maybe the multiplex was empty, too. The bar, the stalls that sold reconstituted food, the toilets, the passageways, perhaps they were all deserted. Frank hoped so.

And he’d said nothing here as he’d taken back his torn stub and walked through the doorway, hadn’t apologised or shown uncertainty. He’d only stepped inside what seemed a quietly watchful space as the younger man drifted away and left him to it.

Four seats across and then the aisle and then another four and that was it. The room wasn’t much broader than his lounge and it put Frank in mind of a bus, some kind of wide, slow vehicle, sliding off towards destinations it left undisclosed.

He didn’t choose a seat immediately, wandering a little, liking the solitude, a whole cinema of his own—the kind of thing a child might imagine, might enjoy. He believed he would move around later if no one else appeared, run amok just a touch and leave his phone turned on so he could answer it if anybody called.

Then behind him there came a grumble of male conversation, a blurry complaint about the cold and then a burst of laughter and the noise of feet—heavy steps approaching and a softer type of scuffling that faded to silence. Frank was willing to be certain that Softer-foot was the kid from the door: lax posture and dirty Converse All Stars with uneven wear—product of a careless home, an unsupportive environment—probably he’d padded in behind Frank again for some reason and then headed out to the foyer—that’s how it sounded, but you never could tell.

At least one person was still there, still loitering, and for a moment this was almost unnerving. Frank being alone in a cinema, that was all right—alone in a muddle of people in a cinema, that was all right—just yourself and one other, two others, strangers at your back as the lights dim and the soundtrack starts to drown out everything—that might not be good. Silly to think that way, but he did.

For a moment.

Then he focused on being irritated, his nice privacy broken when it had extended so very far by now, right up to the black walls that melted when you studied them, disappeared down into the black carpet and left you adrift with nothing but the dull red shine of the seats and a sense of your skin, your movement, fidgets of life.

It was fine, though. Nobody joined him. The heavy steps withdrew, closed themselves up, Frank guessed, inside the projectionist’s box, accompanied by a ruminative laugh. After that a regular, clattering slap started up and he supposed this to be the sound of loose film at the end of a reel, but he couldn’t imagine why it was simply rattling round again and again.

He waited, the clatter persisting, his feet and fingers beginning to chill. One punter, apparently, didn’t merit heating. Even if it wasn’t logical to assume he’d be impervious.

Excerpted from What Becomes by A. L. Kennedy Copyright © 2010 by A. L. Kennedy. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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