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 wasnt. 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 shouldnt 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 theyd be showing a comedy up there.
Or he could drive to a multiscreen effort: thered been one in the last big town as he came round the coasthuge glass and metal tower, looked like a part of an airport: theyd have an audience, theyd 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 hed said nothing here as hed taken back his torn stub and walked through the doorway, hadnt apologised or shown uncertainty. Hed 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 wasnt 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 didnt choose a seat immediately, wandering a little, liking the solitude, a whole cinema of his ownthe 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 feetheavy 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 wearproduct of a careless home, an unsupportive environmentprobably hed padded in behind Frank again for some reason and then headed out to the foyerthats 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 rightalone in a muddle of people in a cinema, that was all rightjust yourself and one other, two others, strangers at your back as the lights dim and the soundtrack starts to drown out everythingthat 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 projectionists 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 couldnt 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, didnt merit heating. Even if it wasnt logical to assume hed 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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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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