The man wanders down the aisle then back up again. His eyes strain to find her in the darkness of the theatre. The movie had begun and he had gotten there late. With tall images of black and white dancing before him, he starts at the top once more and carefully scans each row as he makes his way down. A clearing of the throat and a fake cough from the back urge him to take a seat. And when he reaches the row, their row, he sits. One seat off the aisle (she prefers the aisle) and places his hand softly on the arm rest they’ll share. He remembers the first time they had sat together. They were both running late that day as well.
The old theatre was now used as a multipurpose community event center. Announcements of plays, concerts, even weddings lit the marquee. Tuesday’s were called Nostalgia Day and featured old movies, mostly black and whites, with two o’clock matinee and seven o’clock show times. The matinee was his favorite, a sparse crowd that would for the most part stay quiet during the movie. And for a man widowed nearly three years, and with no kids or grand kids to dote over, it was a way to fill some lonely hours with memories. The hats men wore. The cars. The first time he ever saw the movie. Even the names of the big stars brought a different era to mind. And though he wasn’t sure when the loneliness set in, it had. At first he stayed busy puttering around the house finishing the projects they had started. And then some time spent visiting old friends. But now it was just down to him and the house.
The movie that Tuesday was Strangers on a Train, a Hitchcock film that he vaguely recalled. He loved Hitchcock and liked that since he didn’t remember the whole story he could enjoy those classic twists and turns all over again. It was raining and his bus was late so was he running late as well.
He hurriedly paid for his ticket and headed straight for the theatre doors. His eyes tried to adjust to the darkness as the opening credits rolled. “Wonderful,” he thought, “I made it.”
There once were lights that ran down the floor on both sides of the aisle but with time only a few were still lit and he used one stretch in particular to find his favorite seat. Midway down, center section, on the left aisle. Eyes glued to the screen, he made his down the theatre but as he started to turn into his row, someone was standing there blocking his way. “How rude,” he thought, “This is my row.” His arrival startled this intruder. As they both turned to see who was there, he could tell it was a woman. Being the gentleman, he slightly bowed and gestured with his arm openly and widely as if to say you may share my row. And she, in turn, placed her hand firmly on the aisle seat and gestured just as openly and widely down the row as if to say this is my seat and you, kind sir, are welcome to any one of the others. As the first words of dialogue started, he realized they were blocking the screen for others, so he brushed past and took the next best seat, right beside her. Frustrated, he plopped down and promptly took possession of both arm rests. “She gets my seat,” he thought, “I’ll take her arm rest.”
As the plot settled in, so did this pair. Soon they were caught up the movie and the tense meeting had become of little importance. By degrees, his arm slid off the arm rest dividing them. First his elbow, then his forearm until only his hand was left resting there. He could tell she, too, had relaxed and somehow sitting there next to a woman in a darkened theatre was nostalgic in itself. And as her elbow found its way onto the disputed territory neither seemed to notice.
There’s a tense scene in the movie where the villain stalks an unwitting victim through a carnival. Through the cacophony of the carousel’s music, the barker’s pleas and with strings of flashing lights above he follows. Revelers pass by, obscuring the evil doers view. There’s a young couple laughing, a cheering group holding their stuffed animal trophies high, a kid with a balloon. Then a loud POP!!! And like every person that has ever seen this movie, these unexpected seatmates both jump. Her hand instinctively reached for his and he, just as instinctively, with her hand upon his and her fingers curled into his palm, holds tight. The balloon had burst to reveal a lit cigarette held by the smirking villain, and though the scene quickly dissolved into the next, neither this man or woman had let go. And in the darkness of the theatre they continued to hold hands in silence. They sat through the ending credits until the house lights came up and she eased her hand away to gather her purse. Their eyes met briefly, and awkwardly, as they stood then with a polite nod, she turned and walked toward the exit.
The next Tuesday matinee was a romantic comedy starring John Wayne named The Quiet Man. And with the bus right on schedule, the old man follows the aisle lights down to his favorite row and takes his new favorite seat.
“Who knows? Perhaps she’ll come back”, he thinks….he hopes. And as the lights go down he feels her slip into the seat next him. She places her hand at the end of the arm rest they share and he softly covers it. And with a tender squeeze as if to say, “there you are”, the movie begins.