Fiction by Tom Weller
The cool air of the theater settles into the Scrap Boys, hits their sunburned skin and sinks into their bones, banishes the heat of the summer, the sunlight and humidity they’ve absorbed wandering downtown streets. The harangues of shopkeepers, the too-cool stares of the high school boys leaning on their shit-box cars, the dismissive giggles of the skinny blonde girls from school walking in a pack, they go too, all of it dissipating like dew under the glow of the State Street Theater’s flickering silver screen. Been days since the Scrap Boys have been this cool, felt this light, maybe weeks, hard to say, summertime in a slumping rustbelt town’s slippery as mercury, impossible to hold.
Three backyard haircuts, six eyes bright and wild as roman candles, twenty-four prepubescent fingers and six prepubescent thumbs always reaching, grasping for what is not theirs to hold, Scrap Boy 1, Scrap Boy 2, Scrap Boy 3, where one goes, the other two follow sure as the sting that follows a slap. Neighbors by chance, brothers by choice, they share one heart; they share one religion.
The State Street Theater is the Scrap Boys house of worship, two screens showing five-buck matinees, evening shows for $7.50, role of red tickets for screen one, blue for screen two, and a single serve-yourself nozzle to butter every tub of popcorn in the place. Among slouching rowhouses and vacant storefronts, the marquee lights of the State Street Theater grope toward 1950’s grandeur while the old timers shuffling in reminisce about the fifty-cent matinees of downtown’s better days. And as the Scrap Boys worship, shoulder to shoulder to shoulder, glowing in the reflected light of the movie screen, the Scrap Boys open their messy heart, an invitation to grace.
Tonight the Scrap Boys venerate the roar of car chases and the poppoppop of shootouts. They sit at the altar of sleek silver spaceships and landscapes on fire, prostrate themselves before superbeings flying like jet planes and pounding buildings into rubble. The Scrap Boys’ heart swells like a thunderhead, crackles, nascent lighting. Theirs is an exuberant faith. Hell nos and Fuck yeahs erupt from Scrap Boys’ with the volume and urgency of Hallelujahs born of a Baptist service.
In the State Street Theater the Scrap Boys find communion, are pilgrims surrounded by pilgrims. Rich and poor, young and old, pretty and ugly, darkness washes differences away, leaves a tribe of hazy gray shadows, seekers, all following the same light.
In a minute the projector will break. The picture will freeze, the sound will garble and stop, a street corner prophet choking on his own tongue. But no one will leave. Why would they? Scrap Boy 1, Scrap Boy 2, Scrap Boy 3, in the darkness of the State Street Theater, they have their congregation, they have each other, they have their open heart, and they have this holy moment, this chance to believe, despite the darkness engulfing them, there’s still a happy ending coming.