By Dan Domench
Through a wall of window hazed by breath and sweat, I watch floodlights on the ski lift towers convert falling snowflakes into orange embers. The trails are ribbed like children’s corduroy and the green shadows of the woods fan out before the roving headlights of the groomers. It is a scene designed to incite desire. And like all calls to physical passion recklessly luxurious.
I pull my focus back inside to the buzzing beer hall the size of a basketball court. I sit back from the bar in a beat leather chair. The walls around me clutch rusty saws, antique skis, and the front grill of a dead truck. Pine logs stacked on the andirons in the stone fireplace to my right smell good, but burn poorly. Across from me sunk into a couch are two friends–a married couple, veterans of more lucrative days in filmmaking. They are exhausted. The youthful ambition that rolls through the air on waves of nervous laughter visibly ages them. That ambition has a bouquet: a nose-burning bite of melting electrical wire and exhaled mentholated cigarette.
I am unaccompanied. I would never expose anyone to one of these alleged festivals.
I watch a woman make her way through the crowd toward us. She sits down across from me. My father, the cop, often said we all wear uniforms and hers is intelligentsia gray: gray sweater, gray creased trousers, and black calf-high boots. My friends recognize and welcome her, but she politely deflects their attention.
The woman asks if I am me and I say I am. She crosses her legs, leans forward, and crosses her wrists so that her phone is in her open right hand with the blue screen lighting her eyes: the pose of our age. She says she is one of the judges for the category of Best Film. She asks if I would call my film a romance. I say yes, of a kind. She asks, why are you making these little films?
Immediately my friends stand and say goodnight. Behind the woman’s back, they make gestures that mean “watch out.” They fear this woman and I am supposed to, but I lack self-preservation when it comes to my work. I am fiercely protective of the actors, the crew, and the others who sacrificed real days of their real lives for my imagined characters. My friends do not want to witness what may happen next. They bump away through the crowd. I feel alive and alert and ready.
I say to the woman, before I answer your question, I need to ask, can you remember your first love? She says, yes. I say, do you still love that person? She says, no, that would be pointless.
I say, the ridiculous truth is that I am severely in love. She frowns, looks at the screen in her hand.
I say, when I was nine years old, I wandered away from a beach party and fell into an abandoned well. My legs were twisted against my chest and I could not move, could not call out. I felt a deep and hopeless terror. Buried alive, can you imagine it? After a long time, I wiggled into a position where I could scream. Two women from the party heard me and came to the edge of the well. They let down a rope. It was the rope swing I had been playing on earlier that day. Swinging out over the water and jumping.The women were not strong enough to pull me up. I had to climb hand over hand toward them as they held on. They wore modest two-piece bathing suits. One suit was yellow and the other was faded red. I climbed out and collapsed on the ground sobbing. They strode away talking to each other and dragging the rope in the grass behind them. My fear, that rope, their nonchalance, the color of their suits, and the blue sky above altered me. Those two women: I make my films for them.
She says, why is that story not in your book or your press kit? Did you just make that up? I say, it is for you, I will never tell it again. She turns her phone over and leans back. I say, you love someone. Her head tilts slightly. She says, it doesn’t matter. I say, I want to hear your story. No, she says, now what happens?
I say, you walk away and I watch you go. She nods yes and her eyes soften and she does not move. I say, you are an important person and you can’t be seen with me. She nods yes.
There is a pause too long for film; too short for life. She stands and walks away– the crowd parting before her in deference. As she pushes out the door toward the darkness streaked with swirling snow she turns and looks at me. We are already lovers.