The heavy rains of the night before had swollen the little brook behind the library.  Jeremy watched it, bright and eager, full of sound, pushing over rocks and gravel in a great hurry, until it became tangled in the marsh below the parking lot.  There it slowed, caught in the rushes, baffled by knots of thick grass, until it became stagnant, surrounded by cattails and the cries of red-winged blackbirds, a brackish breeding ground for mosquitoes.

The sun was low in the sky.  It cast an interesting light, creating a striking effect with the vertical patterns of the cattails and rushes.  Jeremy considered it as he walked to his car.  There was the Post-it note he had left on his steering wheel.  He needed to pick up milk on the way home.  Jeremy got into his car and held his breath as he turned the key.  It started.  He relaxed with a sigh of relief and put it into gear.  His thoughts shifted.

Scene: Darkened room, gauze filter to give hazy effect; Sybil is lying in bed, murmuring in restless sleep.  Lighting: as if a full moon is slanting across her face.  Shadows create triangular geometry with dormer and window frame.  Slow zoom in coupled with gradual fade into ballroom scene.

Slightly out-of-focus to emphasize reflections off polished surfaces and glare.  Sound collage of laughter, clinking glasses and dishes, eerily disharmonious music.  The air fairly crackles with the wild energy of revelry.  Camera tracks in an erratic circle, mimicking the motion of a dancer.  The walls and ceiling glitter with gilt and crystal, every surface is polished and illuminated.  Sailing by in gay clusters are people in gorgeous costumes, draped with extravagant jewelry, flirting with one another behind exotic masks.  Servants dressed formally, their faces so blankly sober they might as well be masks, walk among the crowds with trays heavily laden with goblets of wine and plates piled high with delicacies.

Camera finds Sybil in the crowd and follows her; low angle shot.  She is unmasked and wears a great, black shawl over her shoulders which drapes over her body down to her knees.  Her stomach is distended with advanced pregnancy, her breasts swollen.  The crowds part as she walks through the glittering chambers, the revelers hastily moving out of her way, gazing at her from behind their masks, resentful, made uneasy by her presence.  Alternate shots of Sybil and the crowd, various slightly Dutch angles.  Her feet are bare on the polished black marble floor.  Reflections of revelers can be seen as vague images contrasting the relatively clear image of her slowly walking feet.

Jeremy pulled into the driveway and parked the car, sitting for a moment as the million details of real life rushed in.  He reached for his shoulder bag and realized he had forgotten to pick up milk on the way home.  With a sigh, he got out of the car and slouched to the door.

“Daddy’s home!  Daddy!”

Jamie hugged his legs.  “Hi, kiddo.  Where’s your brother?”

“Reading,” Jamie said sourly, making a face.

Jeremy tried not to look too closely at the dishes in the sink and the landscape of culinary remnants on the stove as he went through the kitchen.  There was a plate on the table with two apple slices and a half-eaten peach on it, turned brown and dotted with fruit flies.

“Hello, Jack,” he said pointedly to the couch.

“Hi,” came the terse reply from behind the book.

“I’m delighted that you have such a love of books, but can you at least take a break long enough to say hello to your father?”

“Just a minute.”

“Daddy,” Jamie said eagerly, “See what I made?”  The boy pulled him over to show off a creation put together from the odd blocks, wooden track, bits and pieces of partial sets picked up from the swap shop at the dump.

“Wow, Jamie,” he said, bending down, “That’s great!  Can you show me how it works?”

“Sure!”  Jamie started to push a little wooden engine around the track, beginning a vivid narrative, only to be interrupted by the telephone.  He let the machine get it, but then realized who it was as they started to leave a message.

“I’m sorry, Jamie,” Jeremy apologized, “I need to answer this.”

He picked up the phone.

“Sorry to bug you at home,” Tracy said, “But where are the questions for the book discussion group?”

Jeremy tucked the phone between his ear and shoulder and began unloading the dishwasher, a necessary prelude to filling it again.  “They’re on the shelf behind my desk right under the reserve books.”

“Okay.  Here they are.”

“Great.  By the way, Tracy, did I put out the box for the van before I left?”

“Nope.  It’s here by the desk.  Want me to put it out?”

“Would you mind?  Oh, and if Rachel Sanborn comes in looking for her book, it’s on the table by the window.  Did I show you where the key was?”  The problem with volunteers was that they didn’t know where anything was or what to do out of the ordinary.  But he couldn’t fuss.  He was damn grateful that he could find people willing to come in and cover the desk for him in the evenings.

“Yes, here in the drawer.  I’ll put it in the book drop after I lock up, right?”

“Right.  Thanks again, Tracy.  I really appreciate it.”

“No problem, Jeremy.  I enjoy it.”

She’d read magazines and make cheerful small talk with the patrons, and he’d go in tomorrow morning to a pile of little notes and questions, cards that needed to be filed and books than needed to be shelved.  He hung up the phone.  What the hell was he going to make for dinner?

“Hi Dad,” Jack said, coming into the kitchen.  “I just wanted to finish the chapter.”

“That’s all right.  You finish your homework?”  They had just had mac and cheese the night before.  Not hot dogs again.  Jeremy looked into the refrigerator, but it was just as empty as it had been the last time he looked.  He had to go shopping.

“I don’t have that much,” Jack answered.  “Just study for a quiz.”

Jeremy looked in the freezer.  Fish sticks.  Jack hated fish sticks.  Jamie hated beans.  There was a can of corn.  They’d both eat corn.  Chicken nuggets.  There were about five left in the bag.  Processed food.  Terrible stuff.  Jeremy had to try to buy more whole foods, more fresh foods.  But when was there time to prepare it?  “Jack, would you go down and check the dryer?  I think I left a load of clothes in there this morning.”

“Daddy, can we get the computer fixed?  I really want to play Treasure Mountain again.”

“Sorry, Jamie, we can’t afford it,” he said.  “Maybe Uncle Phil will give us his old one next time he upgrades.”

Jack called up from the basement.  “Stuff’s still wet.”

“Turn the dryer on, then.  Jamie, would you please clear off the kitchen table so we can eat supper?”

“Okay,” Jamie said grudgingly.  “What’s an upgrade?”

“It’s getting something better than you had before.”

“Oh.  Can I upgrade my backpack?  It’s ripping on top.”

Jeremy nodded.  “Maybe.  We’ll see if they have something at Goodwill next time we go.”

Jack came thumping up the stairs.  He made a face when he saw dinner.  “Fish sticks.  Yuck.”

“Yum!” Jamie argued defiantly.



“I’ve got chicken nuggets for you,” Jeremy interrupted.  “Go study for your quiz.  I’ll call you when it’s ready.”

He made himself a drink and read a book to Jamie while dinner was cooking.  He let them watch a video afterwards, and sat with them on the couch.

“Notice how they use music to let you know the villain is coming?”

“He looks creepy!” Jamie breathed.

“It’s the make-up and lighting they’re using to make his eyes look sunken and his cheeks all hollow,” Jack said knowingly.  “Right, Dad?”

“That’s right,” Jeremy confirmed with a smile.

He refereed while they got ready for bed, keeping them on task and heading off the pillow fight.  Once they were tucked in Jeremy tried to clean up a little and make a shopping list.  He got distracted.

Scene: Camera frames Sybil as she pauses by a heavily curtained window.  She pulls back the drapes to look outside.  POV shot: Track without cutting to scene outside the window.  Zoom out to a landscape of devastation.  Fires burn in the distance, smoke obscuring the sky.  Fade ballroom sounds and bring up sounds from outside.  Below her hordes of ragged people swarm around the outside walls which are mirror smooth, diamond hard.  They shriek prayers and curses, weep and scream, clawing at the walls in vain attempts to climb them, or beat on them with their fists in equally vain attempts to shatter them.  Bodies of the dead and dying, emaciated and eviscerated, litter the bare, rocky ground.

Cut to Sybil letting the drapes fall back into place with a shudder of horror as she turns.  Abrupt fade of exterior sounds; return to ballroom.  Camera follows Sybil’s gaze to focus on a raised platform where the host of the festival reclines on his great throne.  Slow dolly in, following her approach.    The Imperial Lord is dressed in rich robes of gold cloth and he wears the mask of a laughing lion.

High angle shot of Sybil standing in the center of the room in front of the platform, facing the throne.  Her expression is cold, accusing, defiant.  The music falls silent.  A low mutter of angry resentment begins to run through the crowd.  The revelers growl and hiss like animals and began to approach Sybil with menace.  They circle her slowly.  The camera turns slowly with the movement of the revelers, whose snarls and stalking motion become rhythmic and hypnotic.

Abrupt cut to close up of the Imperial Lord’s hands simultaneous to a single sharp clap.  There is instant silence in the room.  Slow zoom out.  Another clap, and another, and it becomes slow, mocking applause from the Imperial Lord of the festival.  He descends from the platform leisurely.  Handheld camera pans to frame his approach to Sybil.  His golden robes shush against the floor.  Cut to close-up of Sybil’s face, uneasy but ready to meet his challenge.  Cut to close-up of the mask of the laughing lion radiating challenge and contempt.  Cut to side shot showing them both.  He stops and stands in front of her.  He raises his hand to remove the mask.

Cut to close-up of the fierce, predatory eyes of Shayne Sheridan, slight low angle shot to give Sybil’s point of view.  Cut to tight shot of both of them, zooming in as he grips her arm and pulls her against him, pressing his hand against her swollen belly.  “The Child is mine!”

The telephone rang.  Jeremy opened his eyes, disoriented. He looked at the clock.  It was late.  He should have gone to bed an hour ago.  But it was all coming so clear to him.  Just the way it ought to be.  The phone rang again.  God, it might wake up the boys.  He jumped to answer it.

“Hi, Jerm.”

“Brady!  Why are you calling at this hour?  It’s late.”

“Late?  Damn.  Sorry, I didn’t think of it.  Hope I didn’t get you out of bed.”

“No, I’m just thinking of the kids.  What’s up?”

“Just thought I’d try one last time.  We’re going over the rushes.  Sure you can’t tear yourself away and come up to Toronto?”

Jeremy felt sick.  “I can’t, Brady.  There’s just no way.”

“Haven’t you got any vacation time or personal leave or something?”

“I’ve already used up all my time.  If I don’t work, I don’t get paid.  Anyway, I can’t leave the boys.”

“Can’t you ship them off to their grandparents or something?”

“Their grandparents are in Florida.  They’ve got school.  Look, Brady, I would if I could, really, but there’s just no way.”

Brady hesitated.  “No chance Linda might come back, I guess.”

Jeremy closed his eyes.  Cut to Linda, angry, pacing back and forth in the living room.

“I’ve had it!  It’s always what somebody else wants, what somebody else needs, you, the kids, the school, never me!  I’ve sacrificed everything, gave up my acting, settled down in this nowhere town, even took that stupid job at the copy place just so you can take off and dick around up in Toronto with Brady and that two-bit film company of his!   The son of a bitch won’t even give me a part!”

“That’s not true, he did offer you–”

“A lame little walk-on!  He can’t even recognize real talent when he sees it!”

“You have trouble remembering lines–”

“Even the greatest actresses have prompters and cue cards!  All I ever needed was a real break!  I could have had a great career, but no, I got married!  And now I’m expected to do all the drudge work, cooking, cleaning, chasing after the kids and driving them all over town for their damn soccer practice and band lessons and play dates!  Screw it!  Not anymore!  Now it’s my turn!  I’m leaving!  See how you like it, having to do all the drudge work for a change!”

Montage: Linda packing, Linda taking the new car, Linda cleaning out the bank account, Linda on her way down the highway to the west coast, her hair blowing in the wind.

Jeremy shifted the phone to the other ear.  “Maybe when she runs out of money.  But I doubt it.”

“Damn.  All right, Jerm.  We’ll manage without you.”

Jeremy hung up the phone.  Well, that was that.

Scene: I am standing in the doorway of my sons’ bedroom.  I am backlit by the light in the hallway; my face is mostly shadowed. Camera slowly zooms inward, gradually, to extreme close-up of my eyes.  Voice-over, internal diegetic:  “I’ve lived and breathed film since I was a kid.  It’s who I am.  Brady and Toronto–it’s what I want, what I’ve worked for all my life.  They say if you want something badly enough, if it’s that important to you, you can achieve it.  Sure.”  (Cut to shot of my kids, their faces lit by a narrow band of warm orange light from the hallway.  Linger there a full three seconds.  Then, Jamie shifts in his sleep, sighs.  Cut back to close-up of my eyes.  A tear buds.)  Voice-over resumes:  “You can achieve it, sure, if that’s the only thing you want.”

Fade to black.

Jeremy pulled the door to his sons’ room gently closed, and went to bed.  They had school in the morning, and he had to go to work.

[back to Short Stories]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: