The Screen Within - A Tale of the Unexpected
By elsie katz
Woke up this morning, usual moves.
Cleaning the cinema before the doors open, my one surprise is what I find. That pair of black ladies knickers on the back row floor, I didn’t put those in the lost property box and enter the details in the book; straight in the binbag with them. The tenner in plain sight on the day Mandy the new manager started, bit coincidental, anyhow I handed it in, proper money that, someone might need it.
Fifty Shades opens tonight, don’t want to think about it…
Same old five-thirty rat-a-tat-ding of my mobile, a quick run to pee downstairs before my onesie gets it, then out in the yard to smoke my rollie end, back in, brush me teeth, coffee, check-email and Abc reads for overnight fame, 2 mins early Beeb news, boiled egg on toast, ‘Saffron get out you’ve had your brekkie and don’t stick yer bumhole in my face’. Ah yes the one part of the tawney-patched Felix Domesticus that isn’t covered in fur how well I know you and that’s me down the road.
Nice time of morning this, free and empty; lit by sodium orange and moving cars; only drivers, newsagents, cleaners and a few lost lambs about. I pass Iceland, Mark in his red tabard is still working his elbow grease on the chill cabinets. Avoid looking in his direction too often since our one night stand.
I cut through behind the shop backs and open the Yale and the mortice on the zig-zag graffitied backdoor beside the row of industrial bins, big grey and bottle-green Viridors and standard wheelies. I switch on my first light, give the tap two turns and lock the door behind me before working my way to the front of the building via the cleaning cupboard. The corridor feels long.
More switches, keys. The steel shutters crank slowly up letting in the street and the porch. Only a sweet paper and a stray tissue are out there and the white bin lorry snailing along the other side of the road.
It’s a job where I can’t second-guess everything but February’s quiet. School Christmas holidays are the worst with the long summer a close second. The tinies, spellbound by Paddington’s marmalade sandwiches spilling out of his squishy-bucket hat scatter their popcorn in the dark and their Slushies coalesce to puddles of glue which will need the rough end of my sponge but their cartons will be placed in or next to the bins by the exits. Teens and young adults are the real mucky mingers. They like watching The Hobbit and The Hunger Games. After Event Cinema; the more expensive shows where theatre, opera and ballet are broadcast live, the floors are near immaculate and lots of the drinks holders contain empty mini-cartons of Ben and Jerry’s; the cultured money-people consuming their tiny, tidy eco-treat. I might go if its drama, I get it cut-price.
The streetlight looks brighter, lurid, angry. I hurry back to my cupboard for my bin-bags, don’t feel quite right, maybe concentrate on litter-picking first but why is that standing cardboard silhouette for the Muppets so bright, it hurts my eyes? Kermit’s a blazing green traffic light, the other Muppet thing a sore jelly-baby red. Do screen three, the smallest one first, just get on with it start with the smallest first.
And don’t look again.
I stumble into the room, can’t find the light, it feels very small in here, I feel hemmed in, weighed down, I hear my heart-beat. I rummage my pocket for my keys, need the tiny ‘fish key’ to switch on the overhead lights.
This is horrible. Why did I leave my torch in my jacket pocket in the cleaning cupboard? I should have held the door open for light till I got my keys out.
I want out, it’s not Screen Three this, I put my hand out it hits the door and the door should be a long way down about ten rows down or is that the wall?
None of this is right. I freeze my fear into anger, try to calm my anger. Ignore the fact I’m in total darkness and I don’t know what’s happening. Think, Plan, organise, it must be Screen 4.
But there isn’t a Screen 4.
Wasn’t there a film coming soon, fantasy; The Frame Within? Were they making the set here? But why?
I hear my heart go faster, it’s hammering like piano keys when the tuner takes the blacks and whites off. Hammer Horror, haha but I’ve had enough. Bloody door I’ll kick you in the nuts.
I fall forward into the light in the corridor. I was in the projection box! My heart’s still hammering but if this was a heart attack I would have chest pains.
And now I know…And I know because…
On Guy Fawkes night Jess came in after the fireworks, babbling about a heart attack. It was blowy outside, and she was scantily dressed. I diagnosed a chill and teenage hypochondria. Using a commonsense voice I said ‘you’ve got a one day bug, you’re best in bed.’ A few weeks later she told me she was never smoking superskunk again.
Yes, that’s what I get for smoking again and picking up ends in the street! I kid myself its harm reduction because I don’t buy a whole packet of tobacco. I noticed that end I gleaned in the car-park yesterday and put in my matchbox was green and smelled of hash but I didn’t pay it much attention at the time.
It could take a few hours before it wears off but I’ve got plenty of time. All that panic only took ten minutes. Slow and steady, one task at a time, litter, hoover, mop, I’ll get there.
I go in the toilet, I want to see if the stuff makes my face look distorted in the mirror. It doesn’t. That’s good. If I avoid looking at the posters I’ll be OK. If I think it through stage by stage I can even navigate myself behind the counter, and get a cup from the shelf and milk from the fridge and press the button on the hot drinks machine and make myself a cup of tea.
Working steadily, and with the drug diminishing in effect I complete the job by 9.30am, lock up and go home. I’m half an hour ahead of schedule, the adrenalin made me go faster!