The newspaper was lying openly on the coffee table. My father in law had left it open in order to ask if I knew the man in the photo. I did. He had made for me a couple signs. The detail is cut by a computer and they can be applied to a smooth surface. The article explained how he had bought the old movie theater. It had been storage building for an appliance store for many years and he hopes to renovate it back to a theater. It was known that I had an interest in saving old buildings of all sorts but movie houses were especially intriguing to me. I made a mental note to drive by and look at the progress myself.
The rumble of the diesel pickup engine died away and the Sunday morning was deathly quiet. I had a perfect parking spot; within twenty feet of the ticket booth. I sat in my truck listening to the clicking of the hot engine cooling. I got out of the truck and walked under the awning. An earnest smile stretched across my face. The last time I had been to this movie house was still fresh on my mind. I can’t remember the title but it was an English movie. It had a police chase scene that lasted most of the movie and I was forever confused about the siren noise. Years later I realized all European police cars made the same sound. I was a small boy, about ten or eleven years old. I was in the fourth grade. This was the same night the junior high building burned to the ground.
The front entrance was locked and the ticket window was boarded up. The side of the building had a large door used for the emergency exit. The construction men were using this door because of its location to the main theater. I turned the knob. It was unlocked and the door opened easily. A broken brick propped against the bottom held it open allowing a large shaft of sunlight through its opening. Stepping inside, it only took a few minutes for my eyes to adjust. There was no resemblance to its earlier years. Plaster had almost completely fallen away from the red brick structure wall. About a half dozen metal folding chairs haphazardly arranged themselves around an ancient wood burning heater. This must be what a dungeon must smell like. Dampness and mold mingled with wild animal excrement. What a mess.
Being careful of where I placed my steps, I made my way toward the concession stand area. Without warning the exit door slammed shut. The noise cracked off the brick wall and echoed back from when the stage one stood. Eternal blackness was complete. A person’s first instinct is to put their hand in front of their face. My hand was not there, or at least it was not visible. A touch to the forehead confirmed the darkness. Logic is an unarmed alley in the battle of panic. A mental retracing of my steps around broken glass, rusty nails and other debris hampered my ability to find the exit. Not even a sliver of light seeped its way around the rickety door frame. If I waited a few minutes, hopefully my eyesight would further adjust to the blackness. They did not adjust.
I have heard that when you lose one sense, another will compensate to make up for that loss. Surely that was happening. The atmospheric interpretation changed. The cool air felt filtered and refined. Pungent mold odors morphed toward a hint of corn oil. Visions of molten yellow butter laced around the distinct memory of popcorn. They obviously were cleaning the snack bar area and had yet to clear away the years of spilled ingredients. No? The sharp report of filth was lacking. Sliding my feet instead of taking steps, a stationary object obstructed my movement; I bumped my knee. Reaching forward, searching for identification, I recognized the feel of an upholstered seat back. The cloth was cool and dry to the touch. A brocade patter was consistent across the entire back. Moving my hand downward I could recognize the shape as being a seat familiar to most move houses I had visited. I stood until my balance was steadied. If I sat for a few minutes surely my vision would adapt. The seat was soft and comfortable. I rested my elbows on the arm rests.
Stone quietness has a way of screeching. This was not that. Electronic scratching erupted from the darkness straight ahead. I relaxed my grip on the arm rests. My hands were going numb. Instantly the white reflection was blinding…..
The screen faded to black. A soft blueish glow through frosted diffusing panels scatted along both wall casts a hazy hue throughout the theater. Small white lights at the end of each row of seats illuminated the carpeted isles toward the rear entrance. On the left east wall a white box with glowing red letters marked the side EXIT. My initial though; I will sit awhile and enjoy the event but the door opened and a bright shaft of sunlight eased its way into the chamber. The house lights dimmed. I knew it was time to go.
As I looked at the peeling paint from the stately marquee, I sat in my truck listening to the clicking of the hot engine cooling.