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Time to Go

By Gerrit Stainer

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Taormina stayed in her seat when the movie ended. It was not a movie that has one of those scenes after the credits, she just decided to see what would happen if she refused to leave when the mop-headed teenage boy with the broom told her to.

Truth be told, the movie had put her in a bad mood and she was falling into another of her nihilistic spells.

She wanted to laugh at the alarm on the flustered boy’s face, wanted to ruffle his hair and pull him down beside her, give him a kiss, jump up and run out of the theater. If she had a little brother he might be like this – someone to tease.

Her sister … Never mind that now.

“I’m not going anywhere,” she heard herself remark conversationally, flinging a shapely leg over the arm of the big soft chair, tossing her head and trying to strike a pose as if she were lounging at the pool. That thought – and knowing how silly it must look in that big chair made her laugh, and she kept laughing while the poor boy mumbled about the manager and disappeared.

Her laughter took on bitter fuel, turned ironic. It was the middle of the night and she was doing this, and there was the weekend, and the distance, and her sister.

It didn’t take long for the manager to appear. She stopped laughing and sized him up as he strode up the steps. Tall, yes, not too much older than her it looked like, and when had she seen a movie theater manager, for heaven’s sake, so cut? She sat up straight and crossed her legs.

He stood at the end of the row, almost within arm’s reach, and met her gaze.

“Well, what’s the matter?” His voice sounded impatient but his face betrayed curiosity.

“I don’t want to leave,” she said, and already it sounded weak in her own ears.

“Really? And what’s your endgame then? Suppose we just turn off the lights and close it all down so you can spend the night by yourself in here. Really? Come on, you’re wasting your time.”

He had a beard too: neat and trimmed and ruddy: here was a man who took very good care of himself. If he were different somehow she might have tried to flirt, but she wasn’t in the mood, even dressed as she was in bright leggings and a tank top showing ample cleavage. He wasn’t looking; he showed no sign on being impressed by any of it.

She felt tired and ridiculous and shook her head as her legs pushed her out of the seat.

“Fine then. Excuse me.”

He stood aside to let her pass and she felt like an old lady. He followed her down the stairs, through the swinging doors into the empty corridor. She felt like a little girl walking to the principal’s office.

Through the empty lobby, they reached the front door and he stood back as she pushed it open.

“Hell of a stunt to play,” he said.

She turned around and looked at him. He raised a brow.

“When your shift is over,” she said, “do you want to get coffee?”

He snorted and turned away. “Good night.”

“No, I’m serious.” She straightened up away from the door, wanted to hold out a hand and decided to. “I’ll be at the Naughty Figs for the next hour, all right?”

He paused and stared at her.

“I’m going now. But really, all I want is to just drink some coffee and talk.”

He shook his head. “My shift ends in an hour and a half.”

“I’ll wait.” And she turned and fled out the door and into the cool night.

He watched her go, and then he laughed.


She went to her car and got in and sat in the driver’s seat feeling bewildered, exhilarated and weary all at once. The weariness gained ground, and with it annoyance as she looked out at the vast nearly empty parking lot. She was annoyed at having to drive what should have been a short walking distance, annoyed at asphalt, gasoline, air pollution, plastics, the whole of human history. There were over 50 hours until she had to be back in her cubicle again – not enough time to go home and be with her sister, and there was nobody else here in this city that she wanted to talk to. She should go home and try to sleep. If she lay down she would get tired, she had plenty of things to help her sleep, she shouldn’t be contemplating going to a coffee shop and waiting for the guy who had kicked her out of a movie theater where she had decided to make an ass and a nuisance of herself for no reason.

But the Naughty Figs didn’t just serve coffee. It was an all-hours diner with a regular clientele of students who were fun to watch while they flirted or crammed or dreamed. She had a book in the car with her. Maybe she would catch some guy’s eye and … yeah right.
Even if she sat there alone for the whole time with her coffee and her book, there would also be pie to go with. That theater manager could order his own pie if he wanted, what was she thinking? Not much, as she started the engine and pulled out of the mega-cine-movie-plex-ola-monster parking lot. She was surrendering to programming more than desire: going to the diner late on Friday nights had become a habit over the few months she had been living here. The movie had been an addition to that in hopes of adding more variety and excitement to her solitary life.

She should have picked a better movie.

She shouldn’t have told her sister she wouldn’t call late at night any more, insisting that Anatolia should be getting her sleep. She should see about getting her one of those phones that don’t have internet.

How much longer out here? It was a good job, better than she had had a right to hope for being so young and in a college town no less. She was lucky, she should be grateful.

She was tired of it already.

The smell of the ghosts of generations of hashbrowns reassured her nose as she walked in the diner doors and took one of her favorite booths. It was within sight of the door and afforded views of student customers who seldom looked her way. She tugged at her tank top and leggings. Every time she went out she asked herself why she dressed to get attention when she always acted like she was some kind of secret agent.

Out came her book, the coffee arrived and with it a slice of apple pie, and in the development of double-entry bookkeeping and the rise of the Medici she honestly forgot about where she had been and what she had done until …

A man cleared his throat above her.

She looked up and was proud of herself for not jumping. There he was, the manager of the theater.

“Okay if I join you?”

She gestured. “Please. I should have mentioned the pie.”

He smiled. “I’m fond of the pecan myself.”

“So you know the place?”

“Sure, who doesn’t?”

“How was your shift?”

“Well, there was this lady who gave Lenny some trouble by refusing to leave. I had to intervene. We spent the rest of the cleanup time speculating as to what she was trying to prove.”

“To be honest, I have no idea.”

“Hm. Coffee and a slice of pecan, thanks.” He turned back to her. “Are you a student?”

“No, I graduated this spring. But I didn’t graduate from here. It’s kind of a complicated thing, I think about it a lot, how funny it all turned out.”

“You’re lonely then, is that it?”

“You look relieved.” Seeing him sit across from her so close, she was relieved herself: she felt no attraction to him. Should that have been a relief?

At least she found herself able to speak more freely than she had with anyone face to face for months.

“Yes, in fact. I’ve met some crazies at work. Plain loneliness is – well, that’s just human isn’t it?”

His coffee and pie arrived and he dug his fork in.

“I thought you wouldn’t want pie,” she said. “You look like you keep yourself in good shape.”

“So do you,” he said with his mouth full and his eyes on his cup. “And yet you had some.”

“All right, fair enough. How long have you been managing that theater?”

“Coming up on a year now. Worked my way up from when I was a teenager.”

“Figured you’d get to watch a lot of movies – do you like movies?”

“Oh, I enjoy some of the classics I guess. I’ll say I’m not so keen on the stuff they’re putting out now.”

Taormina made an explosion sound with her mouth and raised her hands from the table wiggling her fingers.

“Right,” said the manager with a smile and a shaking of the head. “To tell the truth I like movies best with a minimum of special effects. Character-driven, you know.”

“Are you a student then? Psychology maybe?”

“Not at the moment. I might go back, when I decide what graduate program will best help me on my way.”

“That makes sense. Say, what’s your name?”

“Ryan. Yours?”

“Taormina.”

“Isn’t that a place in Italy?”

“Sicily. I’m impressed you know that.”

He shrugged and gestured to her book. “You seem a history buff.”

She sat back and nodded. “I’m a big nerd, and I’m shy, and I’m lonely in the middle of a college town and never do anything to try to meet people. So thanks for coming. I don’t even know how to talk.”

“You don’t seem nervous though. Just awkward.”

“Well that’s me. Only most of the time I am shy.”

He took a sip, sat back and looked at her. She caught his gaze flicker over her cleavage for a moment and smiled. He was a handsome man, and he was a man with a purpose. She should be attracted to someone like this, if she were trying to settle in this city, but:

“I really don’t know what I’m doing out here,” she said. “I think I might go home. I have a good job here but – look, what’s it like for you, managing that place?”

“When I got promoted I started liking my job. It’s hard but it’s challenging in a way that feeds me. And what’s more, this is my home town.”

She sighed. “Do you have family here?”

He nodded.

“That’s it,” she said. “I thought I could go out into the world and be just fine, make my life for myself and I got this job and it seemed like everything was in place. But I really miss my sister, like I never thought I would. And I think she needs me.”

“Little sister?”

“She’s 16, and she’s having a hard time at school.”

He grimaced with a hiss of sucked in air and stabbed at his pie again. She watched him devour the last few bites and drain his cup.

Then he leaned forward. “I think you should go home then.”

She blinked. “You do?”

He poked the tabletop with his finger. “I’m going to tell you something I haven’t told many people. I was bullied in school – really badly. And things got pretty dark for me at one point. But I had someone who was there for me. I kept on working in my crappy little job picking up popcorn and mopping up spilled drinks and dealing with all the taunts and belittling from people who tried to make me think I would never amount to anything. You’d think most of those guys would be the dropouts who ended up in jail? Most of them got business degrees or something and are long gone, out conquering the world. But I had someone – it was my grandfather. He’s been gone three years now. If it weren’t for him I don’t like to think about where my life would have gone. I decided to stay in the place where I feel I belong and make the best of myself. If you can be that kind of strength in someone’s life?” He leaned back and turned his palms up.

Taormina closed her eyes and thought of her home, of Anatolia, the tears in her voice when she had told her how much she missed her. She let her eyes get wet, let a tear escape.
Then she opened her eyes and smiled at Ryan who sat there contemplating her serenely. He raised his eyebrows.

She reached across the table and patted his hand.

“I know,” she said. “And I thank you.” She shook her head, dark waves rippling, and laughed again. “I’ve known all along. I thought everything seemed to fit so well here, but the whole time it’s felt like I’ve just been holding my breath.”

He nodded. “Glad I could help.” Then he yawned. “Excuse me. I don’t usually stay up this late, really. I should be going soon.”

“Yes,” she said, reaching for her wallet. “So should I.”

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About Gerrit Stainer

This professional archivist lives in the land of his pioneer forebears, tending a garden and fruit trees and writing love letters to the land in the form of fiction.

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