(This is a fictional short story, in 1230 words.)
There was nothing quite like an afternoon double-feature on a weekday. Hardly anyone in the cinema, no queues for the ice-cream lady, and if the films were good, you could sit through them again for the next showing, no questions asked. Fair enough, the first film would be average at best, but the main film would almost always be worth seeing. In between, there would be a newsreel, then perhaps even a few cartoons.
The shorter Easter holiday was always boring for Nigel. For one thing, the weather was often awful, so the usual walk around the seafront was out of the question. Mum was at work until almost six, so he wandered around with his door key hidden under his shirt, suspended from some itchy string. And there was nothing on the television until the evening, but then Mum always decided what to watch anyway.
Stuck in his room reading encyclopedias, world maps, or old comics could only be tolerated for so long. So when Mum gave him his pocket money on a Monday, he knew what he wanted to spend it on, even if that meant having hardly anything left for the rest of the week.
The old Roxy had seen better days, that was for sure. It could do with a coat of paint, and some of the seats were as hard as a park bench. But it was only a ten-minute walk from home, and the interior still retained some of the grandeur of when it opened, in 1926. Almost forty years later, it was showing its age in more ways than one. The projector made a ticking sound as the film was playing, and four decades of tobacco smoke had turned the once pristine plaster-work ceiling a strange shade of orange.
Still, two films, an ice cream, and some small change from his pocket money. That was worth it.
He was outside the doors before they opened. One middle-aged lady stood in the queue ahead of him, her bag stuffed with knitting. It was obvious that she would be whiling away her time knitting a jumper or something, as the films played out in front of her. A man came and stood behind him. He was smoking a pipe, and looking straight ahead. Nigel made a mental note to avoid both of them when it came to choosing a seat. The knitting needle clicking would drive him mad, and the clouds of smoke from the pipe would choke him.
Just as the doors opened, a teenage couple turned up at the end of the short queue. The girl was giggling, and Nigel knew for sure that they would be spending their time snogging in the back row. They probably wouldn’t even remember the films. The uniformed commissionaire looked like a sergeant-major, his grim nod signifying that they could go in. As he stood behind the knitting lady at the cash desk, Nigel was hoping that Pamela would be taking the money. She lived a couple of streets away, and though she must have been at least thirty, she was so glamorous. Like one of the film stars on the screen where she worked.
He was happy when he got to the desk, and saw her big lipstick-covered smile. That meant she would be selling the small tubs of ice cream in the intermission, and he would get to see her again.
Inside, the lights were still on, and Nigel chose a seat at the end of a row, halfway up. Before the first film began, around a dozen more people turned up, coughing and rustling bags of sweets bought in the foyer. Just as the lights dimmed, a thin man came and sat right next to him, placing a musty-smelling overcoat across his knees as he sat down. Nigel had spent enough time in the cinema to know that this didn’t bode well. In an almost deserted afternoon showing, there was usually only one reason why an older man on his own would sit next to an an unaccompanied twelve year-old boy.
As soon as they started to show the coming attractions of next week’s big film, he quickly moved seats, right across to the small single row on the far side. If the man followed him over there, he would have to resort to going outside to tell the commissionaire. Fortunately, the thin man got the message, and stayed put.
The first film was a western. Nigel could take or leave those as a rule, but this one was quite good, especially for the B-film. And it was in colour too. He had checked the poster outside, and noticed the film was called ‘Geronimo’. It starred Chuck Connors as the famous Apache chief, not someone he had ever heard of. But he certainly looked the part, and there was just enough action, between the boring stuff set on the reservation. Still, it certainly didn’t escape his notice that Chuck was not a real Indian, but some other familiar faces made it feel good enough.
Once the lights were on again, Nigel was waiting with his cash, hoping to be the first to spot Pamela arriving with her tray of ice creams and drinks. She usually picked a spot in the middle, on one side, but if nobody walked down to her, she wandered around the aisles in case anyone called her over. On afternoon screenings, business was slow, and by the time she arrived, the lights were going down for the newsreel. So she switched on the small light that illuminated her tray, and the bottom part of her face.
Nigel was the only one who bothered to go and give her some trade. He smiled at her and politely asked, “Vanilla tub, please”. He could smell her perfume, and as she handed him the small tub and wooden spoon, he liked the way her nail polish caught the light from her tray. When she handed over his change, her fingers felt warm, and she gave him a brief smile, the lipstick appearing to be rather congealed on her mouth.
How many times he had imagined kissing those lips.
The ice cream was gone before the main film started, and he dropped the paper tub and spoon on the floor. As the opening credits rolled, he naturally recognised the name of the star, Dirk Bogarde. It was a black and white film, which felt rather flat after the bright colours of ‘Geronimo’, but as it was a world war two film, he was sure he would like it. And it was called ‘The Password Is Courage’, so he was certain it would be full of action The smoke from the cigarettes and pipes of the adults was rising and swirling. Nigel watched as it passed though the beam of the projector, creating a blue haze.
But despite being about the war, and starring the famous Dirk, the film was a disappointment. It was about a soldier who keeps escaping from German POW camps, and Nigel started to wonder if it was supposed to be a comedy. He felt cheated by the title, and even thought about leaving before the end. But he stuck it out.
Walking out into the dark of a dull and chilly evening, he pulled up the small collar of his jacket against the cold. Thinking about next week, he managed a smile.
They were showing ‘The Longest Day’ at The Roxy, and that looked really good.