Chapter 4: New Worlds
Image by Robert V. Ruggiero
Est. Reading Time: 16 minutes
Almondine's senses were in overdrive. Buildings rose up to touch the sky, some in rugged tans and grays, some full of glass that shone dark blue, or pale blue and white as it reflected the progress of the clouds. She smelled the dust of stone, sun baked stone, dirt over stone- such a variety of stony scents that smelled nothing like the earthy stone smells of the fields at home. She smelled fresh bread and spiced meat in waves, cutting through the smell of stagnant puddle, and then suddenly it was all whisked away by the shift of the wind, bringing instead the smell of water. At first only the cleansing smell of a large body of water, not fishy but faintly reminiscent of the green things yet to blossom. As the sky darkened and all the buildings and the people running around beneath them took on a similar dark shade of gray, Almondine understood it was about to rain.
She knew she needed to find shelter from the impending showers, but she didn't know where she might be welcome, what buildings could offer help and what buildings might only exist for people who were not her. The people here walked together like schools of fish most going the same direction, but never acknowledging anyone around them. Almondine didn't know who she might ask about where to go. She'd like to find something like diner, or a pool hall, or an owlery, or any of the kinds of places the characters in her books enjoyed stepping into in order to be free from the weather. Almondine could feel doubt and fear creeping in. Unusual sensations that started in her stomach and snaked tight tendrils down her arms and legs. While she took stock and made mental notes of these new feelings, she pulled a folded sheet of paper from her bag, opened it and refolded it into a wide brimmed hat- perfect for keeping the first errant drops of rain off her face while searching for a place to pass the time until the sun returned. Buoyed by having found a solution, albeit a small one, she was ready to moving her feet forward. As she joined the flow of foot traffic she tried her best to keep up but occasionally still apologized when someone bumped into her. But soon she was walking as fast and precisely as everyone else, and she began to grin, feeling like she was winning a secret game. She stopped suddenly on the sidewalk, hearing a shout of complaint as someone was forced to move around her. Almondine stared with wide eyes at the sign above her. A large awning of sorts jutted out from the red brick facade of the building. There were bright, round light bulbs dotting the border of the sign and in the darkening sky they looked like miniature suns. Titles listed in solid black font inside the borders of the sign made Almondine fairly certain she had found a bookstore. She had read more than a few books she felt were worthy of shouting their titles out to the world. She jumped out from the stream of people, the rain suddenly gone under the safety of the sign.
Almondine ran a finger along the heavy gold trim of the doors before pulling on one of the handles made of gold rounded ribbons and knots. Inside the building was cool and dry, with an odor she could not identify. Something dry, but with a hint of oil and salt. She stood on a wide worn red carpet that seemed to go on forever. A mural on the wall from the floor to two story ceiling loomed over Almondine. In faded paint women in long gowns with tightly curled hair laugh with men in suits and black top hats, while pointy stars shimmer and shine all around them. What is this place, Almondine wondered to herself. She walked further out onto the sea of red carpet and began to turn in a slow circle to take it all in. As she turned, a young man named Ethan Plum stepped out into the lobby from a set of office doors. He paused to watch the girl in rose print pants and electric blue sweater turn slow circles in the lobby. The backpack made her look like a schoolgirl, but when he saw her features as her circle brought her face to face with him he realized she was probably closer to his own age of twenty- two than to that of the child he thought she was. But there is childlike wonder on her face.
"Can I help you?" he asked.
She stopped turning and looked directly at him. She saw a man with brown hair swooping over the sides of his forehead and pale green eyes that studied her, and in a strange way she did not mind the studying. Almondine smiled and Ethan felt the power of her smile somewhere in his solar plexus. Walking toward him quickly, she held out her hand in front of her.
"I'm Almondine, it's nice to meet you," she said.
Ethan found himself temporarily at a loss for words, a rare occurrence in his life, before holding out his own hand to take hers. As their palms connected Ethan suddenly saw within his mind's eye the most beautiful slice of pie he ever ate as kid, and heard the sounds of a perfect sunny day at the ocean three years before.
After Almondine let go it became just him and her and the lobby once more.
"I'm Ethan, I'm the daytime manager," he said in an uneven voice as he shook off the confusion.
"What a wonderful thing to be," she answered, tilting her head in appraisal of this incredible new information
"What is it about the daytime that you manage? How much light comes in?" she asked.
"I, what?" Ethan shook his head, "No. I mean, well actually I guess that's sort of true since the theatres need to. be dark but what I mean is I'm the manager for the day shift here at the movie theater. I make sure everything is running okay, but there's another guy who runs the evening shift."
"I see," Almondine said, nodding her head seriously.
"Are you here to see a movie?"
"At first I was just looking for a place to get out of the rain, then I was excited at the prospect of this being a bookstore. But there aren't any books. Thanks to you, now I know it's a movie theatre," Almondine said, returning to looking around, a wide smile on her face. "I've never been to one before."
Ethan laughed, a small burst of laughter that was born partly out of the assumption it was a joke, partly out of nerves, and partly incredulity that people existed who truly hadn't experienced one of the greatest things one could possibly experience in life. Almondine looked surprised by his laugh. She decided she would laugh too. Laughing was an awfully good feeling, and a wonderful way to bond with people, even if she wasn't entirely certain what they were laughing about.
"You've really never been to a movie theater?" Ethan asked.
"Never," Almondine said rocking back on her heels.
Ethan felt life had provided him with a grand opportunity. He could show this girl the place that he loved so much, and if he was lucky he might be able to sit beside her in the theatre at sneak glances at the face of someone attending the movies for the first time.
"What is it that I'm smelling?" Almondine asked, tilting her nose up into the air like a curious cat.
"It's probably the popcorn," he said, knowing that it was always the first thing he smelled when he walked through the doors.
He walked over to the concession counter and pointed at the large glass square of white and yellow popped corn. It reached nearly to the top, freshly popped and salted. Ethan was the first to admit that this was really only time worth getting popcorn at the movies, when it was fresh. It was only then that he thought of the Spanish name for the treat which translated to "little doves of corn". Most of the time he instead found it to be a dry nuisance that would decorate the floors of the theater.
Ethan walked behind the counter and Almondine came up and leaned against the glass top looking down at all the colorful boxes of treats displayed inside. He reached in a scooped a small bag of popcorn and then set it on the counter for Almondine.
"Here, please let me give you your first ever bag of movie popcorn."
Almondine smiled at him, and he grinned back, her hazel eyes wide as she reached out with eager hands. She took a couple pieces from the bag and popped them in her mouth. She chewed and looked up thoughtfully, then tilted her head from side to side, still smiling. Almondine reached around and swung her backpack in front of her, rooted around inside for a moment before pulling out a small jar of powdered cinnamon. She sprinkled it over the popcorn and squirreled the jar back into her bag.
"Do you have any sugar?"
Ethan thought for a minute before reaching behind the counter for the little packets they kept on hand for the rare patron who wanted a cup of coffee. He held a packet out to her. She took it, split the paper open and shook the crystals over the cinnamon.
"That will be even better. Try it," she said to Ethan, pushing the bag back toward him a bit. He reached out and took a handful. She was right. He thought perhaps he would only want cinnamon sugar popcorn from now on.
"It's great," he said and pushed the bag back to her. "Bring your popcorn and I'll give you the tour."
Ethan had only given new employees the full tour of theater. Normally his experience with customers was limited to receiving complaints about the content of the movies, which he could not control, or processing refunds for the odd occurrence when something had gone wrong with the projector and the movie had to be canceled. He certainly never took one of his movie-goers up to the screening booth but as he was the manager at the moment, Ethan thought it was within his discretion to make this exception. Almondine followed the young man up a tall set of stairs, passing framed posters as they went. They had marvelous titles like "It Happened One Night" and "Daring Adventures of the Amazon."
"This is where the movies come alive," he said, opening a door into a wide dark room. He turned on a faint light and the contents of the room became more visible. There were large wheels all stacked on one another and a contraption with arms and spindles sitting in front of a square cut into the wall. Ethan picked one of the wheels from a shelf and walked over to the machine. Almondine watched as he pulled a thin brown strip from the wheel and began to thread the strip into and under parts of the contraption. He snapped things into place and flipped a switch on the side.
"Look," he said, pointing to the open square.
Almondine moved over to the opening and peered out the few extra inches of space at a vast room below. Directly in front of her was a big moving story. People in black and white danced and laughed together. There was a little dog who mimicked them, turning in hopping circles at the edge of the dance floor and a man with a giant boutonniere gave the dog a treat. Almondine inhaled and brought a hand to her chest. Ethan watched the flicker of the silver light reflected in Almondine's eyes and felt a flutter of knowledge in recognizing a once in a lifetime moment.
"May I watch a whole movie?" Almondine asked, popping more popcorn into her mouth, wide-eyed and eager.
"Of course, I'd like to... well hang on, come back downstairs with me," Ethan said, starting and stopping as he tried to work out how to provide a specific experience for Almondine. He didn't want her first movie on the big screen to be the kind of crap that was frequently on offer at the theater these days. He wanted to share with her one the films that had made him love movies. On their way down the stairs he explained there was usually a schedule to the movies, and that people showed up at a specific time for the movie they wanted to see that the theater offered.
"There's supposed to be an 11:15 show of 'Gals and Dogs' but it hasn't been doing well, so if we don't have any patrons come in for the movie by 11:20 I'll show you something better instead."
"Thank you," said Almondine.
"Would you mind just waiting here until then?" Ethan asked, gesturing with an open palm to a padded emerald velvet bench.
Almondine smiled and sat on the bench, tucking her sneakered feet under herself as she continued to eat her popcorn.
While Ethan talked to someone newly present behind the glass counter Almondine looked over at the glass doors and watched the rain fall in sheets off the overhang up front. In the quiet of the lobby she could hear the faint sounds of the rain landing on the roof above. She sighed a little, happy to be inside where it was dry but feeling a little shiver of otherness that comes when the world under the presence of rain. Almondine turned away from the doors and looked up at Ethan as he approached her again. Looking at him, with the green of his sweater and his pale green of his eyes, made her think of her favorite tree in summer.
"You appear to my only guest today, and I've told Pete I'm showing something else to our one guest so now that everyone's 'in the know', as it is, I'm going to go get the movie set up and if you don't mind," Ethan cleared his throat, looking down at then back up at her, "I'd like to sit and watch with you. If that wouldn't be strange."
"The world is full of strange things, some very wonderful," Almondine commented, "I'd be pleased if you joined me."
"Well, come with me and I will show you into the theater."
Almondine stood and they walked side by side to the open doors that led into the theater. In the dim lights she could see all the seats were a deep red like the carpets in the lobby, with dark wood arm rests.
"Pick any seat you like, the whole house is yours," Ethan said, opening his arms to the room.
He backed up the aisle from Almondine and found himself beginning to give a little bow, which he realized was kind of weird, so he tried to pull himself up out of it and ended up performing a jerky sort of shuffle away from her. He mentally cursed himself on his way up the stairs to the projection room.
Almondine stood alone in the silent theater and looked all around, taking in every detail she could. She decided to sit in the middle row of the middle section of the theater, a spot that felt like the heart of the theater. As she sat in the silence she felt like she was in a moment between moments which in and of itself is an interesting place to be. She enjoyed the cool empty space but wondered what it would be like to be here when every seat was filled. She wondered what people talked about while they waited for the movies. Almondine called up the echoes of the visitors before and sat amongst their faint watercolor bodies as she watched them eat popcorn and lean toward to each other to whisper things Almondine would never hear.
Suddenly the lights went down entirely in the space and the screen in front of her came to life. The echoes disappeared as Almondine focused on the screen. People sang and danced in bright yellow raincoats. It seemed like such a perfect answer to the gray rain outside. By the time the candy colored women appeared on screen Ethan had found her and sat down beside her with a bag of chocolate candies. He offered her some and as she reached into the bag for one he whispered a little fact about how the scene was shot. She absorbed the information and resolved she would have to look into how movies were made, and for that matter how long movies had been made.
They sat together and watched the movie, cinnamon popcorn and pieces of chocolate passing between them in the dark while whispers about "Busby Berkeley" and "Talkies" were exchanged for sounds of admiration and interest. The people onscreen were wonderful singers and found occasion to sing not only of their joys but about the things that perplexed them or made them unhappy. They moved with the kind of elegance that surely must be practiced specifically for the occasion of filming because Almondine had never seen people move like this in their day to day lives, at least not when they thought of themselves as unwatched. In place like this, in a moment like this, it was easy to forget there was an outside world. Almondine wondered if this was what it felt like to be in love, to share something independent of the outside world that would be hard to describe to anyone not a part of it. The movie ended, as all movies must, and Almondine stretched. They both stood and Ethan looked to Almondine and asked, "Did you enjoy it?"
"I loved it. I think movies will be something I have to have more of," she said as she slung her backpack back over her shoulders.
They walked out of the theater together and there were a couple people standing in the lobby, waiting, and talking, further proof that the day would go on.
"Thank you so much for keeping me company today, I've learned so much," Almondine said and stuck out her hand.
"No, thank you," Ethan said, and he took her hand and without pausing to think about it, kissed the back of her hand.
Almondine blushed and he let her hand go.
Pete called Ethan's name, needing him for some matter or another, and Almondine turned to leave.
"Will you come visit again?" Ethan asked.
"I have no idea, Ethan," she said with a smile, the kind that was sincere because she was telling the truth and a little sad because she was telling the truth.
"See you," Ethan said, wishing for everything, and hesitant to return to work.
Almondine waved and then pushed open one of the glass doors and disappeared out into what had become a sunny afternoon.