The town I grew up in had a total of three attractions: the bar, church, and the movie theater.
When you’re twelve years old, you’re too young to drink and the last place you want to be is church on those wooden pews that make your butt ache. So every dime I found inbetween the couch cushions, every dollar I got for allowance, they went into the ‘movie theater fund’. The ‘fund’ was just a giant glass jar on my desk, but it was the best I had.
Unfortunately I had something my friends didn’t.
I don’t think my mom had a big issue with the theater. She told me a few times that was where she went on all her dates as a teen, a secret between mother and her son. However my dad was another story.
My dad was a big man with a scary voice who believed everything I did had to be justified and observed. So when I went to go to a movie?
He had to see it first. And he would too, and if there was one thing he didn’t like, whether it be an off color joke or a curse word, I was not allowed to go see it. I did try to sneak past him of course. During October our theater liked to show the best of the best horror movies. I told my dad I was spending the night at a friend’s house when in reality I was going with that friend and his dad to see a viewing of The Shining.
When I walked out of the theater my dad was waiting out there, stone faced. He knew. I don’t know how he figured it out but he knew.
He ended up taking all of my saved up theater money and I was grounded from TV for a month. Not like I was allowed to watch much anyway. Dad only approved of a few nature shows and maybe one or two cartoons.
I was left out of the loop a lot when it came to pop culture, having to rely on my friends to give me play by plays of some things and praying my dad would be out of town on business when the good movies came in. My mom would turn a blind eye to me sneaking out to see them.
Then Cassie Kralie came back from college with big news.
Cassie was one of the several kids that aged out of highschool and chose to go on to college. I didn’t really know Cassie, I just knew her sister, who babysat me when my parents went out on dates. Her sister was pretty cool at least, ordered pizza and let me eat all I wanted of it and turned on whatever movies I wanted to watch.
From what I knew, Cassie was a film major with a sight on the weird and the obscure. When she came back for her summer break, she came with exciting news. She’d made her own small movie while at school and was desperate to share it.
Of course everyone was excited about that. Thrilled, really. It was the most exciting thing to happen since Pastor Sweet confessed on his deathbed that he slept with the wives of all the deacons. The law office in the town over had fun handling those divorce papers.
Cassie worked with the movie theater and it was settled over the course of Friday through Sunday her movie would air at ten, three, and nine PM.
The movie was entitled ‘Inspiration’. And of course I wanted to go see it.
I begged my dad on bent knee to let me go see it Friday night, because of course that was when everyone was going. Including my friends.
My father didn’t budge an inch, of course.
“The rule in this house is that I approve every movie you see. I don’t want you coming home with a fowl mouth or foolish ideas. I’ll see it Friday, you can go see it Saturday night… if I allow it.”
I went to my room and yelled every cuss word I knew into my pillow so my dad wouldn’t hear.
My dad wasn’t being fair. Cassie had told everyone that really anyone could enjoy her movie, it was age appropriate and there wasn’t anything bad in it. Then again, my dad thought a single use of ‘damn it’ made a movie unwholesome for me to see.
I could only pray that when he returned from the theater Friday night he’d have a change of heart.
Saturday morning, I woke up and started calling my friends to ask them about the movie.
I basically got the same response all around.
‘It was so stupid.’
‘I walked out halfway through. Got ice cream instead. Wish we could get our money back.’
Really it shouldn’t have surprised me. It was made by a film student, someone who barely knew what they were doing still. I imagine that most people did walk out. Talk about dodging a bullet.
I went to go find my dad. Tell him that I had changed my mind, that going to see Cassie’s movie wasn’t that big of a deal.
I found him in his study, furiously typing at his computer.
Figuring I had barged in on him doing work, I headed back to the door.
“Curtis! You’re up!”
My dad spun around in his office chair and I balked at his expression. My father had a serious condition of resting bitch face. He didn’t so much as crack a grin whenever the pastor made a droll joke up at the pulpit.
Right now his face was almost split in two with how big he was smiling. I could see almost all of his teeth. For a second I thought he was high.
When he got up and gave me a big hug, I knew he had to be high.
“I should have brought you to the movie last night! You were right, it was astonishing!” He let go and went into his wallet. He pulled out five bills from his wallet and pressed them into my hand. “Here, you said your friends went last night? Take them tonight too. My treat. They have to see it again!”
I opened my hand to see each bill was a ten. My father, you understand, was a strict man. It was a hassle to get the five dollars every other week for keeping up with my chores and not letting my grades slip. So the fact he just handed me fifty dollars as a ‘treat’ was unheard of.
He gave me another hug before he went back to his computer. “You know, Curtis, I wanted to write a book when I was younger?” He didn’t wait for me to answer. “I gave it up, of course. My dad said being an author just wasn’t worth it. So I became an engineer instead. But after I saw Inspiration I just… It really hit a chord with me.” My father reached up and I swear he wiped a tear from his eye. This man was ice cold during his own father’s funeral, it was terrifying to see him cry. Then he turned back to me and grinned again. “So never let me get in the way of your dreams son! You want to be a cartoonist right? Go! Go buy some books to help you pursue that goal. I’ll help you, just… be what you want.”
After I fled the study, I went out to have lunch with my friends.
It was probably a dick move to use the money my dad gave me for lunch, but his creepy ass reaction was nightmare inducing.
I was out with my friends Eugene and Amos at the only diner in town, the Silver Swan. Amos was the illegitimate grandson of the previously mentioned Pastor Sweets while Eugene was the only Hispanic kid in this very white, lowkey racist town. They were my best friends.
Eugene nonstop snickered when I brought up how the movie got to my dad. “Your dad must be trying to pull one over you! Be glad you missed it. It was so boring. Not to mention the acting was just, eck!” Eugene stuck out his tongue before he bit back into his burger.
Amos nodded. “You know I can appreciate more ‘mature’ movies, the ones with a deeper meaning and stuff but seriously there wasn’t anything to this. It was as satisfying as cotton candy. On your tongue and,” He popped out his fingers, “Gone!” Amos wanted to be a movie critic some day and was almost two years older than both me and Eugene. So I definitely took what he said seriously.
I spun my straw around the glass of soda I’d splurged on, I only was allowed to get water when my dad was around. “Maybe something happens at the end of the movie? Something that hits a chord?”
“Nothing happens at the end of the movie,” Amos said, rolling his eyes. “I stuck around until the end, I wanted to give my money’s worth. Unless there was a scene after the credits, and I didn’t want to subject my brain to any more of that garbage.”
Maybe it was something that only an adult would get. We blew the rest of the money I got from my dad at the grocery store on candy and chips. Amos would keep it safe for me since my dad never liked me to be stuffed full of sugar.
When I got home, my mom had set out dinner. One plate was on the counter, on a tray. I frowned and looked at her. “Mom?”
“Your father wants to eat in the study today. He’s… really into working on this book.” My mom pressed her lips together in a firm line, a sure sign that she was not happy.
I frowned and looked down the hall where the study was. “Dad hates missing dinner though.” At least he always got on my case for it.
Mom shrugged. “He’s taken his vacation days to work on his book nonstop for the next two weeks. During that time he said he should not be interrupted. We could go visit your cousin in New York? Get a change of scenery?”
I had a feeling it was more than just dad ‘taking vacation days’ that had mom this upset. I shrugged. “I mean, sure? When can we go?”
“In a few days, if at all.” My mom looked down the hall now too. “Maybe your father will want to do something with us.”
I glanced at the calendar to see a date circled in red pen.
My parents’ anniversary. In three days.
And wouldn’t you like to know, in three days, we did head out. I’m not even sure if my dad went to bed, when I would wake up I’d hear the furious clacking of the keyboard in his study, and he’d only come out for bathroom breaks.
My mom, bless her heart, set aside several meals for him to eat while we were gone. Things to throw in the microwave or on the stove to heat up. When she left the study before we headed out, I saw that her eyes were red with held back tears.
But she just smiled and said, “Let’s be on our way! Be sure to call your father while we’re gone… don’t want him to think we’re not thinking of him.”
New York was a blast. My mom took me every place I wanted, we even went to go see some real movies. Even the PG-13 ones. I was allowed to stay up past ten. I was allowed to drink all the soda I wanted. I think it was my mom’s way of just letting me cut loose. She cut loose too, she laughed at raunchy jokes and flirted with the twenty some year old waiter that served us dinner. I hadn’t seen my mom ever that happy.
Of course I called my dad, every day, like she said. Told him we were having fun. Lied and said I wished he was here. All that stuff.
After the two weeks were up, we drove home.
When mom opened the front door, I could smell it.
The dishes were piled up on the counters, dishwasher, and sink. Food was starting to rot on the plates. There probably wasn’t a clean fork in the place. There were pizza boxes stacked up as tall as me next to the overflowing trashcan.
But the worst smell came from my dad. Who I found of course, in the study.
The remainder of the dishes next to him, flies buzzing around what was probably a casserole. But the smell of unwashed human? Disgusting. The overpowering stench of body odor made me gag and run back out of the study for a bit to get some clean gasps of air.
My mom looked from the trash, to the dishes, and then down to the hall. I swear she was about to cry… before she got angry.
“Curtis, go unpack in your room.”
My mom went into the study to have a ‘talk’ with my dad… which turned into an argument… which turned into a full blown yelling match. I sat in my room, legs pulled to my chest and hands clamped over my ears. It didn’t stop me from catching every third word. Mom was furious with dad. Furious that he quit his job with no warning, that he turned our house to a pigsty, and that he’d grown obsessed with his book.
My dad insisted that mom was out to crush his dream. That she didn’t care what he felt, that this is what he desired since he was a boy. I imagine having that beast yelling in your face was the most abhorrent thing you could experience, since I doubt he’d brushed his teeth since he’d started writing.
I tried, tried, to ignore the fight… then I heard the sound of a fist meeting another person’s flesh.
My mother cried out in pain and I heard a crash of someone falling on the floor. I’d only heard it in movies a few times, but I knew the sound of someone getting the hell beat out of them.
I ran screaming bloody murder from the house, right to Eugene’s place. I practically broke down the door before he answered it where I begged he called 911.
I heard by the time they got there, my mom’s head was stamped into paste on the floor. And my dad was back to writing like nothing had happened.
My dad plead guilty to murder. A murder which he felt no remorse about.
Eugene’s family took me in, adopted me. Helped me through the funeral. Drove me an hour to the best grief counselor and back once every two weeks to help me cope. I didn’t even have to go back to the house, Eugene and his dad packed up all my things to bring them over. Eugene and I shared a room, and we played video games until one AM and had each other’s backs.
Over the years, I began to recover from hearing my father beat my mother to death. I created my own comic series about a boy who lived with a family of monsters that weren’t so awful after all. I kept up my mom’s grave and never once went to go visit my father.
Well. That isn’t true.
I went to go see him last week. The first time since he’d murdered my mother.
He’d changed. Lost weight. His eyes were sunken and wide as half dollar coins. But he was still smiling.
“Curtis! You’ve grown up so much!”
I sat down in front of him, my fists balled up and I swear to god I was tempted to beat the shit out of him right then and there. “… You wanted to see me?” I asked.
My father dropped a stack of papers in front of me. “They started letting me work on my book again, last year! It’s all done!” He proclaimed proudly.
Hands shaking, I picked up the manuscript. The words ‘Ecstasy of the Eternally Asleep’ stood out starkly against the white paper. “… What’s it about.” I couldn’t work up any enthusiasm in my response.
“Oh, you’ll have to read it to find oouuut…” My father looked so pleased. “I’m going to work to have it published, you’ll get to see the dedication then. It’s to you and your mother.”
I slammed my fists on the table and stood up. “You don’t. Get to dedicate this book. To mom. You hear me?” I made my way to the door.
“Please! Please take my book with you!”
My father sounded frantic, desperate.
I looked back at the manuscript. Walked back over. Picked it up.
With cold eyes, I looked my father in the face and ripped it in half. “We’re done here. Go fuck yourself,” I said, not dropping my gaze as I dropped the shreds of paper on the floor and walked out.
My father committed suicide that night. Apparently they will go through with publishing his book though. Like hell I’m going to read it.
The final question though: whatever happened to Cassie Kralie and her movie?
I did some digging. And came up with far more questions than answers.
See, Cassie never actually went to college, at least not for a film major. She started out as a general before she dropped out, she and a couple other students. The couple other students were the stars of ‘Inspiration’. Today being the era of the internet, I figured it wouldn’t be hard to find them.
I found two of them. Autumn Hodge, the star, and Barry Becker, her friend in the movie. Both of them were found dead, a double suicide as both leaped from a bridge.
The others? It’s like they never existed.
Has been missing since the weekend ‘Inspiration’ aired in our little town.