A short story: ‘The Late Show’Published 6:57pm Sunday, October 30, 2011
Column: Pass the Hot Dish
Editor’s note: Alexandra Kloster’s column this week is fiction.
Mick Salem was at the movies. Six months in Deer Rapids and he hadn’t done anything but crawl through dusty tomes at the local historical society. With a week left in his working sabbatical he decided to take a break and finally hit the one screen movie house in the center of the small northern Michigan town.
Old theaters were Mick’s secret obsession. He’d had one-night stands with once grand movie palaces all over the country. The Deer Rapids Theater had seen better days. Over the years broken chairs were thrown out and never replaced forcing the rows of seats into the grimace of a gap-toothed old man. Traces of a mural lingered on the ceiling, a horse and chariot running across years of water damage.
Pretty typical, Mick thought, but still better than watching a movie at the mall. Just then a striking blonde strolled up the aisle in one of those old usher uniforms, the kind that resembled the chocolate soldiers he ate as a kid. She tapped her unlit flashlight against her hip and paused next to his seat.
“You’re a new one. Mind if I sit with you?” she whispered. “This place is a tomb. I never have any fun until the late show.”
Mick looked around. No one seemed to notice or care about the disturbance. “The late show?” he asked, intrigued.
“Sure. You should come back for it. It’s a swell crowd and great flicks, Clark Gable and Myrna Loy all this week. I love Myrna Loy.”
“Uhh, me too, ‘The Thin Man’ and uhh, the other ‘Thin Man’ movies,” Mick sputtered, taken aback by the way her blue eyes shot through the dark.
“Super. I’ll come find you after the lights dim.” She stood up, then spun around and knelt beside him. “By the way, I’m Marjorie,” she cooed and disappeared into the shadows.
Everyone had arrived by the time he took his seat at midnight. These people were serious about their nostalgia. They looked like they’d walked through the screen of a classic film. Some of them even smoked. How’d they get clearance for that, Mick wondered.
For four nights Marjorie and Mick watched the late show from the balcony. Mick was crazy about her or was it Myrna Loy or the way old theaters seduced him into another world? With only two days left he was eager to take this scene outside to see if see if it played in the daylight, but every night Marjorie ushered him out before the end of the show claiming she had to make her rounds even though Mick hadn’t seen her actually work all week. The door closed behind him and she was gone until the following midnight.
On his last day, Mick wanted to surprise Marjorie by showing up that night looking like the rest of the “swell crowd” as she called them. Tonight he was going to ask her to visit him down state. Who knew what might happen? He practically skipped to the counter of the local antique store with his vintage suit and fedora.
“I’ll finally fit in at the late show tonight,” he said to the elderly clerk.
“Late show?” she asked.
“Next door at the theater,” he said, proud that he’d discovered something even a few of the locals didn’t know about.
“My boy, there hasn’t been a late show in that theater since the fire,” she said.
“Oh, yes. It was gruesome, tragic,” she said lowering her voice. “They never figured out how all those poor people got trapped inside. Killed, all of them. Some say it was a cigarette that started it, but that doesn’t explain the locked doors.”
Mick’s mind raced all the way home to his rented house. The old lady was wrong, had to be. He’d been to the late show every night this week. He’d ask Marjorie. It was Halloween after all. The locals probably cooked up that story to scare tourists like him.
He dressed and grabbed his hat. The wad of newspaper holding the hat’s shape fell out on his bed. This was the sort of thing he could never resist. 1955. His fedora had been in the mothballs a long time. He turned to the middle pages where the interesting bits hid. A small square at the bottom of the page caught his eye. “Marge Ferrell, Detroit asylum escapee, still evading capture.” That’s when he saw Marjorie’s face in the light for the first time.
It was a relative, her grandmother maybe, Mick rationalized. There was always an explanation. He had to pull himself together. He was a historian for crying out loud. Calmly, he folded the newspaper and put in his pocket. Marjorie would explain everything and then his hands would dry up and stop shaking.
As soon as she sat down he showed her the paper. “Do you know this woman?” he asked.
“You’re a swell guy, Mick.” She hadn’t even looked at the picture.
“Is this your grandmother?” Mick pressed. “Come outside with me Marjorie so we can talk.”
“You’re a swell guy and that’s why you can’t play.” Marjorie said calmly.
“I like to play. It’s what happens at the late show, Mick. It’s what happens every night.”
“C’mon outside, just for a minute,” Mick insisted. He grabbed her arm and led her to the lobby.
Just as he felt the fresh air on his face Marjorie yanked her arm back and he heard the familiar sound of the door closing behind him. He turned to see Marjorie behind the glass, smiling. She pulled a key from around her neck and locked the door from the inside. The last thing Mick saw before he fainted was Marjorie tapping her flashlight on her hip as she disappeared into the theater. The flames were already licking up the walls and the people began to scream.
Woodbury resident Alexandra Kloster appears each Sunday. She may be reached at email@example.com, and her blog is Radishes at Dawn at alexandrakloster.com.