When I got off work, it was always funny sitting in the back of the theater, smiling as families made their way up the candy-stained aisle as the screen played the credits. I would say hello, arms around my stomach as these strangers silently judged me. A few of them talked back. Once a girl grinned and shook my hand before her embarrassed friends pulled her out.
Pushing myself up by the armrests, I hobbled to the double doors, downing my Slushie. Mhm. Popcorn.
“Shelly.” I beamed, bearing my teeth as I pressed against the glass counter. I clicked my acrylic nails together, pink black white airbrushed patterns dancing wildly.
She glanced at me, pulling her thin ponytail through the strap of her baseball cap. Flattening the Harley Davidson Motorcycle enamel on the front, she sighed. Popping the bright yellow collar of the Coldwell Cineplex uniform polo shirt, she reached under the counter.
A carton brimming with popcorn smacked onto the glass, the red pinstripe design dizzying. “And?” I batted my eyes, hopeful.
“Dammit, you owe me.” Shelly grumbled, snatching a ladle from a warm metal box of hot fudge and drizzled the chocolate over the fake butter and the popped corn.
“I am yours forever, you sexy beast, thank you.” I took the carton and started eating.
She propped her elbows on the counter. “That’s what I’m here for. Serving your cravings and every sugar high kid that comes in here.”
“You can’t ignore a calling, my darling.”
“Look who’s so wise. You’re just lucky that you got off early.”
I pressed the back of my hand to my forehead. “Oh, Lordy, they had to, since my poor pregnant self couldn’t handle the thought of dealing tickets any longer. My stamina’s too weak.”
“You’re only five months pregnant, you asshole.” She pegged popcorn at me.
Wiping the chocolate off my sweatshirt with my finger, I shrugged. “Who gives a fuck.”
“Obviously Mr. Nash.” She pointed to the men’s room door, where our boss leaned against the wall.
He stared at everyone over his thick mustache, picking out people that he didn’t need for his business. We didn’t get a lot of potheads for customers anymore ever since Nash chased a bunch of them with Pixie Sticks. He was reluctant to cut my hours, but when there was a sexual harassment suit a few years back, he’s been trying to keep the record clean. Doesn’t mean he’ll actually let me have maternity leave, however.
Popcorn in hand, I left the counter for the arcade games stationed by the fire exit. Ms. Pacman, you are mine. The classic beeps gurgled from the speakers behind the screen, and the buttons and joystick were immensely sticky from years of use. I was flying through the seventh level when they came in.
“Look who it is!” Someone snickered.
The intermission between levels played and I turned my head. People from school. Girls squeezed into Barbie doll clothes, and boys streaked with light sunburn on their faces.
“Little Miss Sunshine.” A boy stepped forward, smirking.
Rolling my eyes. “Get that damn look off of your face, Jeremy Kay.”
He loomed over me, six feet tall. I placed my hands on my hips. I was five three and I couldn’t give a crap.
“Why stand up for yourself now?” He chucked. “What’s there to save?”
“Whatever it is, I don’t want to lose it to a rat shit like you,” I scoffed.
He clicked his tongue. “You have a little too much sass for a little girl, don’t you think?” He knocked me against the Pacman machine.
My hand curled into a fist. “Son of a bitch.” The punch landed square on his nose.
Cursing, he pushed me against the wall, his eyes watering. “I don’t think you should be doing that, in your condition an’ all.”
“Get away from her!” Shelly hopped over the counter, a little delayed.
“Didn’t your mama ever teach you anything?” Jeremy breathed heavily in my face.
“What the hell are you doing, young man?” Mr. Nash was flurrying behind Jeremy, mustache threatening.
Suddenly, a hand struck my face. “Look at me when I’m talking to you.”
I spit in his face. “Motherfucker,” I kicked him deep in the shin.
He stumbled backwards, and I made my way toward the door. Crowds of people were against the walls, looking on with fright tattooed on their faces. The rest of the group was yelling at Jeremy. In fact, everyone was yelling. It was so damn loud in the quiet little Cineplex. This was going to get around by Monday.
Too quickly did he grab my wrist.
“We’re not done here,” he growled.
A shotgun cocked. “I’d say you are.”
Eddie stood at the door. Stony eyes pierced through his sunglasses. He could easily make a shot at Jeremy. And everyone knew he would too, if Jeremy hadn’t let go.
“You’re getting off easy, slut.” He sauntered back to his friends.
Chucking the carton of popcorn at him, I yelled, “Just stay the hell away from me, man.”
I took Eddie’s arm and we went to his stalled pick-up truck out on the curb.
“Does your daddy know you stole his gun?” I pulled into the passenger seat.
Jeremy rapped against the car window. Nash was standing at the Cineplex door, arms crossed.
“Crazy bitch.” Jeremy mouthed. As the truck pulled out, I very distinctly flipped him off and said a few choice words. Then it was just Eddie, me, and the silence.
Picking at my nails, I started humming a few bars of a Dixie Chicks song when Eddie started complaining.
“No, not them.”
“Children lose their youth too soon-”
“Watching war made us immune-”
“Shut up, goddammit!”
“And I’ve got all the world to lose / But I just want to hold on to the / Easy silence that you make for me / It’s okay when there’s nothing more to say to me / And the peaceful quiet-”
“Okay, you’re done!”
Laughing, “Fine. You sing then.”
He glowered at me, his grip tightening on the steering wheel.
“A, B, C, D…” I started for him.
I nodded. “Best sing-along song.”
“Somehow I doubt that.” Eddie started fiddling with the radio, flipping from static to static only to settle on Jimi.
“Oh, come on, Hendrix? How predictable.”
But he was already gone, lip-synching to the lyrics.
“When will they make the rest of my life into a movie?” I put the DVD case of Juno back on the shelf.
“As soon as you make the call to Hollywood, gorgeous.” Shelly flipped through the tabloids near the cash register.
Walking across the crusty Blockbuster’s carpet, I sighed. “Then there’s Where The Heart Is, and that just makes me cry my freaking eyes out…”
Shelly shook her head. “Can’t forget that new show, Secret Life of the American Teenager.”
“Ha,” I snorted, picking through the Horror section, “Disney corporation trying to keep up with the newest trend, teen pregnancy. Epic failure.”
“Gave them great ratings, it did.”
“I bet.” I picked through the classics left on a Saturday night.
The door opened, and a little wind chime jingled sweetly. “Find anything yet?” Eddie dug his hands into his pockets, fishing for money.
Flashing him a cover featuring Freddy Krueger, “How about some Nightmares on Elm Street?”
“Only if we can get some Molly Ringwald for next week.” Shelly yelled from the candy aisle.
Definitely not. I shuffled into Comedy, skimming over the Adam Sandler’s and the American Pie’s.
“What about Mel?” Eddie picked up Mel Brook’s Young Frankenstein.
At the check out, Shelly waited with king sized Crunch and Kit Kat bars. Shirley, the only employee, sat in the lotus position on the counter, deep in meditation. She had bangles and leather bands up to her elbows, and huge gold hoop earrings in her left ear. Eddie cleared his throat, and she fluttered her golden-tipped eyelashes and floated down to Earth. She smiled. “Hullo.”
I grinned. “Hey Shirl.”
“Winona! Oh, my little malekh-” she started muttering in Yiddish, with a thick Hungarian accent. Born and raised right here, never left, but she’s famous for her accent. “Vos makhstu? How are you, my meidl?”
“Tonight’s movie night, so I’m not doing too bad.” I shrugged, sliding the DVD cases across the counter.
She nodded, flashing the bags of candy over the scanner. The radio playing over the PA system segued into a new song, and Shirley stopped in mid motion. “Guzkeit, it’s my Bruce.”
Bruce Springsteen serenaded her, inviting her to Mary’s place to have a party. The chorus chanted to let it rain and Shirley’s eyes began to sparkle.
“When I was following his tour,” she remembered throatily, “he had a show at a big stadium, very crowded, very eng. He sang this song, my favorite lid, and the sky broke apart into a downpour. It showered over all the people, dancing in the rain, lord, it was beautiful. Sheyn, like a church.”
Eddie smirked. “Vi romantish.” How romantic.
She chuckled, and bagged the DVDs. “Oh, listen to me, going on about my Bruce. I’m sorry, my bekl, my kinderlekh, let me ring this up for you.”
“Thanks, Shirley.” Eddie leaned over and gave Shirley a peck on the cheek.
“You never call me aunt anymore. I never hear Mume Shirl anymore.” She scolded, pressing buttons on the register.
I slapped Eddie’s arm. What a bad nephew.
“Oh, farkakt.” Shirley cursed, punching the register’s screen. Eddie placed crumbled bills by her and quietly took the plastic bag. Shirley grumbled, ripping a stained receipt from the printer. “I hate this fucking thing, piece of tsebrokhn kak.”
Eddie ushered us to the doors. “I’ll see you at home, Shirley.”
Shirley sighed. “Vos nor…”