Kileen’s eyes went to the boy in row b, latching onto him and reeling her forward. She undid her ponytail to show off while also hiding the acne peppering the sides of her face. For a moment, she felt like she was in a Garnier commercial, like she was inside the blank screen that filled up theater 2 and not standing in front of it. She was fifteen and her dearest possession was a bootlegged copy of Hiroshima Mon Amour.
Harris Theater was playing Tuer!, a French thriller about a detective on the hunt for a deranged hitman. It was a Tuesday afternoon, a dead time for cinemas. It was just the two of them at the showing. The clacking sound of Kileen’s school shoes felt especially loud against the tiled floors. She’d been meaning to see the film for a while now. Her movie review blog had been dead for three or four months because she never had the time nor the money to go to new showings. Film wasn’t the same to her when she had to settle for watching pirated zip files on the family computer, a sluggish Dell laptop whose spacebar key her stepdad’s cat ripped off out of boredom.
“D’you mind if I sit?” she asked the boy. “I lost my ticket and don’t remember the seat I picked.”
The lie came easy even though her ticket for seat d5 stuck out of her pocket. To get out of both school and her evening shift at Pierogies Plus, she’d faked having strep throat. She’d gone as far as convincing her cousin Ruby Grace to call the front office at New Horizons Charter Academy and impersonate her mother’s chipper singsong. In exchange, she temporarily forgave her for not only stealing the twenty bucks she’d lent her but also her old bedroom, which her cousin had annexed after moving into the city for nursing school.
“Free country, babe,” the boy said. “Do whatever.”
The faux leather upholstery sucked hard and fast to Kileen’s exposed thighs. She took a deep breath as the lights darkened around them. A commercial came on, a promotion for the Igmar Bergman festival. There were three more after that: one for a newly restored giallo film, a short ad for the Fuddruckers downtown that smelled like wet dog and a long, sober one for the Cancer Institute of America. The boy went on his phone, the same Razer flip phone Kileen had always wanted, as images of miserable-looking little bald children filled the screen.
When the opening titles started, they both leaned forward, clutching their hands against the armrests. The mis-en-scène turned out to be too melodramatic for Kileen’s taste. Violin music played as the detective chased the hitman down a series of winding side streets. They reached a steamy alleyway, and at first it seemed like the detective had the upper hand. But no: the hitman spun around and plunged a knife into his chiseled abs, wounding but not killing him. The detective’s face twisted in pain as the music reached a crescendo.
“Merde!” the detective said. Shit.
The scene ended with a close-up of his blood collecting into the cracks of the cobblestone. Yawn, Kileen thought, arms crossed. Her eyes wandered.
The boy next to her was attractive in a self-effacing way, his youngish face smooth and pale and unexotic like milk. He was perfect, she thought, just like an actor from one of the better-scripted CW shows, which meant that he was probably older because everyone knew the networks only hired models in their late twenties for high school dramas.
Kileen didn’t yet know this boy—really he was a man, an eighteen-year-old weed dealer with parents who were never around—murdered people too. One month from now, in December, her mother would inform her that there was no money in the budget for Christmas presents, and Kileen would sulk in the living room that doubled as her bedroom until a news bulletin with his mug shot came on the ancient cathode ray television set. In two months, she’d get up the nerve to tell Ruby about the good-looking boy from the theater off Liberty Ave, and her cousin would say that Kileen’s problem was that she had protagonist syndrome so bad that she lied, souring Kileen’s image of her. And in three, after reading that one Sylvia Plath poem in American Lit (Every woman adores a Fascist/The boot in the face, the brute…), she’d start up Red Dahlia, a short-lived true crime blog dedicated to violent men who were also somewhat attractive. She’d coddle them, psychoanalyzing their violence as the most extreme form of misunderstood love, something only girls like her could tame. To flirt with men on her own terms, she’d take discount weight-loss supplements and Accutane pills from a virtual pharmacy that didn’t require prescriptions.
For now, Kileen and the boy sat together in the dark coolness of theater 2. She only cared about his attention. It was a wonderful, horrible feeling to have a single source of interest; all her other problems weren’t as real, leaving her to obsess over someone who’d most likely already forgotten of her existence.
The beginning of the final act started with a pretty white woman getting dressed behind a translucent partition. She emerged slowly, slim and waifish just like Ruby and all the girls the boy took great pleasure in choking with electrical cables at his parents’ split-level in Mars, one of the better suburbs.
Kileen was neither of these things. At Horizons, before the administration had stepped in, the black and Spanish kids and even some of the other white kids used to call her Tomato because she was fat and turned bright red in the sun. One of her only defenders had been this black girl whose much-older boyfriend, an nth-generation Pole like Kileen, strangled her last month. She’d pushed away another, stronger girl who wanted to fight Kileen. Kileen hesitates calling her a friend because they never really hung out, only nodded at each other in the hallway. She would’ve gone to the funeral. Only, she disliked the anti-cop people who’d no doubt filled up the pews as they made everything into a race thing just like the black half of Horizons.
The boy stroked his lips like the guys at school did with the girls she envied most. Even after the woman had been raped and killed by some forgettable henchman, her body lying limp in the distraught detective’s hands, he ogled her. To be a victim and still be desired—that was all Kileen wanted. Beauty, even more elusive than race, was a substance so wonderful and elusive to her that it could only be described by its title.
Kileen went over towards the emergency exit doors to text Ruby. Her cousin was always free to talk when she wasn’t doing clinicals or taking free self-defense classes at the Ecumenical church. None of Kileen’s Horizons friends—really they were just acquaintances she had lunch with—had ever seemed interested in her life beyond the awful teachers they’d suffered under together.
Yo, Kileen typed. She had to push extra hard on the Tracfone’s plastic buttons. Wut up ho?
On break and just got the number of the doc I was telling u bout. Ruby was a fast texter. Wbu?
Kileen sighed. What was it like to be able to attract sexy heart surgeons wearing only medical scrubs?
Went to the movie and its sooo pedestrian n unintellectual…wanna eat out? Feelin like Mc—
Kileen looked up and saw the boy walking right towards her. She was about to open her mouth when he raised his hand above her head. He was holding something metallic. It caught the light of the neon exit sign. Her heart was racing. The eroticism she’d felt curdled into fear.
“‘Scuse me,” he said. The thing crinkled in his fist. An empty wrapper. He threw it in the trash.
Kileen deflated. “Sorry.”
He made a farting sound with his mouth trying to hold back his laughter. “Ah man. Should a seen how scared you were. You were just like—” His eyes and mouth went wide. He contorted his face like the screaming alien-looking creature from that painting Kileen had tried drawing for art class.
He walked around her and through the double doors. Light from the hallway flooded in, blinding her. She thought she noticed a red jumper cable sticking out of the man’s backpack, but thought nothing of it. Embarrassment turned her body heavy and clunky like a suit of armor.
Forgetting her train of thought, she went back to row b to get her money’s worth. She sat down even though the credits were already playing. When the lights came back on and the workers filed in to clean up, she was still there, sitting.
Megan Howell is a DC-based freelance writer. She graduated with her Bachelor's Degree in French and Francophone Studies, Economics and Creative Writing from Vassar College. She's currently pursing an MFA in Fiction at the University of Maryland in College Park. Her work has appeared in McSweeney's and The Establishment among other publications. Image by Michael Pedersen (flickr)