Death Rehearsal

A memoir by Carmen Mason

When she was ten she was finally permitted to go alone to the movies after the children’s cut-off at three o’clock. Her mother would write a note to the movie house manager saying her daughter loved, must see, could not live without The Red Shoes or Samson and Delilah or Lily; how it was impossible for her to concentrate next to all the rowdy children. He’d finally agreed to let her in.

She would walk quickly to the fifth row, choose her center seat and slide all the way down. She’d sniff in the smelly haze of fake butter and popcorn, quietly open her Good and Plenty, then – pink and white, piece by piece- crush and suck, chew and swallow the tiny pellets of licorice while the lights dimmed, the music came up and after one or two minutes in the dark, the coming attractions began or perhaps the cartoons or the newsreel would come first. Usually the lumpy, dumpy matron with her black hairnet would descend upon her right before the first main feature, wiggle her flashlight in her face and tell her gruffly to move on back to the kids’ section. That’s when she’d softly inform her she was Mr. Bryant’s special guest and wave the letter at her. The matron would squint and scowl, then trudge back up the aisle.

She loved her darkening solitude, her secret world where on each side heavy wine velvet curtains hung and thick gold braided ropes pulled tightly round them in the middle like a fat woman’s waist. Parting them was the huge white screen where women danced to Arabian melodies, barely dressed men fought lions and threw their beloveds to the ground before covering them with kisses, or a crazed ballet dancer danced, then ran off the stage, through the town and tossed herself off a parapet into an oncoming train. Or a shy country girl talked to a marionette and told him of her secret passion.

During those first few minutes – despite her praying they would not come – thoughts about death arrived and circled her, blocking the stage, deafening the music. The image of her dying father and, although she could not name it then, the desolation of chance and demise entered with the growing darkness and sat down next to her. Then the voices began – the litany, purposely, religiously: one day, you will be dead. You will die and never, ever again be here, sit here, see this movie, any movie ever again. You Will No Longer Exist. You will not see, hear, feel, smell. You will never ever have another Good and Plenty or Three Musketeers, watch the actors kiss and kill, love and lose, then embrace and love again forever. You will not again see Mummy or Melisa or any friend; eat, touch, think a single thought.Your Mind Will Stop. All This Will End. Be Over. You Will Know Nothing and Everything Will Continue Without You. You – Never. Ever. Again. Dead. Dead Forever.

Then the movie would begin.

Carmen Mason, born in the Bronx, N.Y., has written poetry, stories and essays all her life, won  several awards, and taught English and writing for fifty years while being raised by two daughters. She has been a member of The Institute of Retired Professionals at The New School for sixteen years.