The Dark Of The Matinee

By Jamie, 7 November 2017 #


“Aeroplanes”, she’d said with a grin. “You can’t forget it.”

I press the numbers carefully. A few deep breaths as it connects, then the ring at the other end.

“Seven-six-seven seven-three-seven?”

The mother. Could have been worse, I suppose. Wouldn’t have wanted to get the nth degree from her older brother — not that he’d have any idea who this squit was wanting to talk to her, but asking Danny North if I could have a word with his sister wasn’t really part of my grand plan.

“Er, hello Mrs N. It’s Jamie. From school. Could I speak to Lucy please?”

“Lucy love! Jimmy someone for you. Sounds a bit over-familiar…”

Picturing the scene at the other end. The phone in the middle of the hall — either on a special table with a comfy seat next to it and drawers for the address book and the Yellow Pages, or on the wall to enforce standing and discourage anyone from getting comfortable and spending too long on the blower. Probably the latter given what I know about the parents. Makes me glad I’m the one making the call, I can hole myself up in the study and know I won’t be interrupted by a little sister bouncing past, or a smirking parent listening in on everything from the lounge. Instead, I can sit staring around this room I know so well as I wait for her to come to the phone, spinning on the chair with gaffer tape trying in vain to stem the flow of foam from the worn arms, the stuffing crumbling and disappearing at the same rate as our father’s professional hopes and dreams; the yellowing motorway map of the UK on the wall, now hopelessly out of date with the last section of the M25 coloured in in blue biro; the dented metal filing cabinet with years of bank statements, tax returns and a section marked “wills / life insurance” that has been pointed out gravely to me “in case anything happens to us…” (and which I snuck a look in when the parents were out one time — so I have to go and live with Auntie Helen if they both cark it? No fear…); this phone which used to feel so new and hi-tech but now just looks grubby and worn, with the seven and the one rubbed down to near-invisibility, and the earpiece waxily suffering from extensive proximity to intimate chats between the older sis and her first few boyfriends. How she’d hide away in here for hours, a low murmur the best I could ever discern hovering outside the door, the content of the conversations a complete mystery until the time she emerged red-eyed and snotty and didn’t speak to anyone for three days…

“You don’t waste any time, do you?”

The voice snaps me back into the moment.

“Ha, erm, no, not if I can help it. I mean — I thought I’d try and get hold of you, I mean catch you — look, I was wondering if you were around tomorrow afternoon? You said you might be up for catching a film, if you didn’t have plans?”

Thank god for the phone. Blushing and sweating would not have been a good look. Though she can probably hear how dry my mouth is already; it’s like my voice is unbreaking with each intake of breath.

“I haven’t got anything on, no.” Jesus, is she taking the mick? “What did you have in mind? I’ve not been to the flicks in a while. Is that Tom Cruise one still on?”

Good god. Maybe this was a mistake. Cruise and Kidman pretending to be Oirish, all begorrah this and blarney that? As if Days of Thunder wasn’t bad enough. “Um, Far And Away? You know, I’ve heard some pretty bad things about that one. And Empire only gave it three stars, so… I thought maybe Batman Returns? Just out yesterday, the last one was fun?”

“Didn’t realise we had a critic on our hands. Alright, film boy, where & when?”

I get there early. Stupidly early. This isn’t going to help me relax. I try to look cool and casual, leaning up against the posters for Coming Attractions, fortunately catching a glimpse of myself in one of the shop windows opposite and realising just in time I’ve positioned myself under a massive artwork for The Lover. Would probably not have lived that one down in a hurry.

Nervously check my watch and fiddle with the tickets in my pocket. Then I think better of it, would be embarrassing to hand over a handful of sweaty pulp to the usher. Ah, here she comes, thank god.

“I’ve got the tickets already,” I blurt out. “I mean, my treat. Babysitting money. If I’m going to get paid for sitting watching telly I might as well share the proceeds.”

“Babysitting? You have got hidden depths.” Way to come across sophisticated, you fool. “Where are we sitting?”

So, when I come to the cinema by myself I like to sit bang in the front, staring up at a screen that obliterates everything else from my perception. When I’m with friends (OK, a friend) we go bang in the middle, automatically deploying the staunchly heterosexual leaving of a seat’s gap between us. Finally, I know the cool kids sit right at the back. So I’ve compromised, middle of the theatre but quite a way over to the side so hopefully no one I know sees us. After a quick stop to grab some Butterkist we’re in place just as the lights go down.

THANK YOU Christopher Walken. As a Bond lover I thought Max Zorin was as good as it gets, but you just outdid yourself.

We’d sat through the ads and a few trailers. I’d managed to resist any snooty comments about Death Becomes Her and expressed suitable enthusiasm for Single White Female, and then we were into the main event. To be honest, I was starting to regret my choice — lots of fun, but the sight of a slobbering deformed DeVito wasn’t exactly going to get things moving on a romantic footing. Then again, maybe this was a more sophisticated approach to dating, maybe I was avoiding the obvious tricks, maybe Lucy would see me as a more mature option, a catch, an upgrade on the adolescent pawing of the troglogytes that made up the majority of our schoolmates. Or, more likely, I was just painting myself into the terminal role of the geeky, unthreatening “friend”. One or the other.

Then it happens. I clumsily brush her hand reaching for the popcorn, and when she doesn’t jerk it away in revulsion I leave it on the armrest next to hers, not sure whether we’re actually touching or I’m just feeling the transfer of warmth between us. But when creepy Walken looks like he’s going to kill Pfeiffer (“What did curiosity do to the cat?”), then does the “Ha? Ha?” fake-out, and then pushes poor Ms Kyle through the window to her snowy doom — well, at that point she grabs my hand so tight she nearly cracks my knuckles, I turn to her with what I think is a reassuring / don’t-worry-about-it smile and I think I’m just going to whisper something to her when she leans in as well and, and, and…

It’s fair to say this is me pretty damned far out of my comfort zone. I’ve only had one, late-night park-based kiss before, and I’m not even sure that one really counts, as my memories are pretty vague and the overwhelming sensation was of awkwardly clashing specs and tasting Woodpecker cider and B&H — not to mention a lingering suspicion that the poor unfortunate was fighting the onset of nausea throughout (optimistically, booze-related rather than deep-seated misgivings about my technique). But this — this is the stuff you see in the movies and write songs about, this is Bacharach and Baudelaire and the Beatles and Bogart & Bergman, a rushing of blood and the taste of electricity and oxygen, a warmth and light-headedness as I’m at once completely focused on the here and now and yet at the same time my head is swimming with random thoughts and mental leaps and the flow of images and lyrics and lines that won’t stop fighting with my need to just stay here in the moment and breathe her in and feel like it’s just us, here, alone in the room and no one is watching.

And almost as quickly, it’s gone. Her hand rests on mine, comfortingly yet slightly dismissively. She still turns and smiles from time to time, and I try to turn my attention back to the screen, a gothic jumble of pictures and events making less and less sense as the minutes pass and my mind refuses to accept this return to normality. So I sit in a strange limbo for the rest of the movie until the lights come up and we pass through the foyer, emerging blinking into the daylight. Funny how you always expect it to be dark when you’re leaving the cinema.

We walk together as far as the corner of her road.

“So, this is me,” she smiles as she turns up the hill. “You did well, Jimmy. Good choice of film. Maybe if there’s anything good coming out we could do that again? As long as it’s pre-approved by Empire, of course… Anyway, give me a call. You know the number, right?” A quick peck on the cheek and she’s off, leaving me gazing up the road as she goes, and it’s a good few cars speeding past before I snap myself out of it and drag myself away, back to the reality of home, and my life where the events of the last few hours could never really happen. Lucy bloody North!

As I let myself in, I can hear a bustle in the kitchen and the angry spit of the fryer. Crispy pancakes it is, then. I flop down on the sofa, flick the telly on just in time to catch the end of Final Score, and impatiently jump to 302 on Teletext. Mum walks in and ruffles my hair.

“Tea’s nearly ready, love. Good film, was it?”

“Yeah,” I mutter, glancing at her quickly before turning back to the screen so she can’t see me smiling.

“Five stars…”



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