The Empty Space Between the Frames is a Lie We Tell Ourselves
“You aren’t going to turn that on?” Petra pleaded.
Andy blew the dust off the projector.
He bent down close to the vents that housed the fans and peered through the slats. The silver housing and threads that fed the film through the machine were barely visible from that vantage point. But he knew what he was looking for. He had watched his father fix his 35-millimeter projector in their basement when he was a child.
“This is why we came,” Andy said, baffled.
He remembered watching his dad take the film out of the projector sometimes when the bulb set fire to the frames. His fingers would press the holes at the edge of the celluloid into the brackets of the splicer so he could slice the film and then glue the clean edges back together. He figured there must be a terminology for the operation his father performed. At that age, he did not have a film vocabulary.
“I can’t even remember why we came here. Was that why we came here? We came to find a movie?”
“Are you joking?" Andy turned to look at her in the dim shadows of the room. The blue of her eyes had all but vanished. "We talked about it on the beach. Don’t you remember talking about it on the beach?”
Petra moved in closer to him. She put a hand on the back of his head. She ran her fingers through the thick waves of brown hair. She said, “I came here because that's where you were going.”
“You weren’t interested in the movie at all?”
“I was interested in you," she explained. "Don’t you see that?”
He turned away from the projector to look at her face. He pushed his face close to hers and let his lips brush against her lips. The breath rushing out of her mouth in a gasp filled his mouth. Her mouth opened welcoming his mouth. Under his shirt, her fingers danced along his back.
Petra pulled her lips away from Andy’s mouth. She said, “Something bad is going to happen if you switch that thing on. I feel it. I felt it the moment we stepped into that room.”
Andy tried to kiss her again. She moved her lips just enough to remind him they were still there. But she wasn’t prepared to change the subject entirely.
Petra whispered, “You nearly had a panic attack a minute ago.”
“It must be that fish I ate. I must still be seeing things. This place looked like the house where I grew up. The house I lived in when I was a little boy. But it clearly isn’t. I saw something else when we walked through that door. Something that wasn’t there.”
“Maybe it’s not the drugs? Did you ever think of that? Maybe it’s this place that is messing with your head?”
“It wasn’t really a drug at all, right? It was a fish. I’ve been kind of on and off tripping all night.”
“Something isn't right here. I don't think it's just the psychedelic fish. I didn't eat it and I don't feel right in this place.”
“What does that have to do with the film?”
Their faces were still only inches apart. He could taste her breath every time she spoke. He enjoyed the way her lips felt. He realized she could persuade him to ignore the projector by continuing to kiss him. This was something he hadn’t experienced before. No one he could think of had ever convinced him not to do something he wanted to do. It was a strange sensation to suddenly feel vulnerable to something outside himself.
“Kit said that everybody who watched the movie died.”
“I think he said they went crazy and then killed each other.”
“How is that better?” She wanted to know.
“Maybe it's not even the right film in the projector.”
When his father was splicing the film back together, he explained how the eye couldn’t move fast enough to catch the flash when the missing image should have fluttered through the projector. The eye would replace the missing frame with an idea that it had made up from the other images it had seen before. The pictures move so quickly through the projector the brain can't catch up to the image. So the mind fills in the blank it doesn't even realize it hasn't seen, his dad told him. Every aspect involved in motion pictures is a lie that light and image and sound play on your subconscious. That lie manifests itself in stories and emotions that play out on screen, his dad once told him. Everything on screen is a trick.
“Something bad is going to happen if you switch that on,” Petra said.
She pressed her body close to his. He could feel her breasts heaving against his chest. Imagining what was on that film made her so anxious she could no longer control her breathing. She pressed her face into his neck. The smell of her coconut shampoo intoxicated him. Her fingernails were digging into his back. He liked the way the sharp edges stung his skin.
“Don’t you want to know what they saw?”
“I’m afraid I might lose you,” she said.
“Where would I go?”
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