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Alistair Rey

The Amateur’s Guide to Metacinema

We sat on the steps of the cemetery watching the film crew mill about the street and cluster into small groups like pack animals plotting their next hunt. They unloaded equipment from flatbed trucks, tested lenses and measured angles with sweeping panoramic gestures of their hands. You tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to a man in khakis and a stained oxford shirt talking on a cellphone.

—That’s the director, you whispered to me.

—How do you know? Maybe he’s the executive producer?

You only shook your head and watched as the crewmen began erecting scaffolding and discussing where to position the high-powered lamps. I knew you were correct but I could not resist questioning your judgment, if only to elicit your attention. We were in love but you didn’t know it yet.

I listened as you plied one of the cameramen with questions, asking what the movie they were filming was about.

—It’s a movie that doesn’t exist, he said. It’s not intended to exists, at least not in the way a regular movie does. Pretty clever, huh?

The cameraman gave a half-grin as though to indicate just how clever he thought his explanation was. You just waved your hand, unimpressed, and turned your attention to the extras assembling in rows behind the crew line. They all looked nondescript, much as extras probably should look I thought.

—It’s been done before, you said, turning to me.

I smiled, unsure to what you were referring. I was happy to have your full attention, although I lowered my head slightly and winced, uncomfortable with the knowledge that your gaze was fixed squarely on me. I tried to pass off my awkward gesture as though I were shielding my eyes from the bright sun but then remembered we were sitting in the shade. Your hair was dappled by the leaf-patterned shadows cast by the trees overhead. I had a sudden urge to run my fingers through your hair and balled my hands into tight fists until my knuckles were white and bloodless. I can be impulsive at times. The people in the ward have told me this on numerous occasions.

—The movie that doesn’t exist, you continued. They shoot little scenarios and brief scenes that are then posted to websites and media outlets. They advertise them as clips from a movie. There will even be a poster, a trailer, a cast list and, if they’re really good, a production company sponsor and reference on IMDB. But when you try to find the entire movie, you can’t locate it. You just have these little clips and scenes scattered on the internet. Fragments hinting at a story. Pieces of a film that was never really made. It’s called metacinema.

You articulated this last word and I watched the movement of your lips. At that moment, I felt compelled to place my lips to yours and taste your breath. I had to remind myself again that I could be impulsive and bit my tongue until the taste of blood filled my mouth.

—Trendy. Very trendy. Blog-raving trendy, as you grimaced at the crewmen and extras moiling about in front of us like an ant colony.

I had no idea what you were talking about and so remained silent, trying to detect how bad the gash on my tongue was and whether it had ceased bleeding.

—These guys don’t get it. They’re clueless when it comes to finding the really good stuff. I mean the stuff that’s really worth filming. They just pick a spot and say this looks nice, or let’s do this here. This street’s got some character. Picturesque. That’s the term they use.

—Uh huh …

—You wanna see?

—See what?

A grin meandered across your lips and I felt slightly dizzy as you tugged playfully at the sleeve of my oversized sweatshirt. At that moment, I could think of nothing else but your touch, the contact of skin on fabric bringing us momentarily together.

—C’mon, you said, pulling at my sleeve and lifting my whole body off the cement steps we had been sitting on. The entire motion felt fluid and effortless.

You led me along the cobblestoned streets, the afternoon dream-like, the silence between us almost religious. Giving myself over completely to your lead, I struggled to commit every passing detail to memory: the intricate cracks in the pavement our shoes passed over; the perilous angles of the broken shutters hanging from dilapidated homes; the rough texture and golden hue of bricks in the waning sunlight; the scent of burning leaves and mulch impregnating the air. When we finally stopped, it took a moment to collect myself. I did not recognize the landscape, so bizarre and alien in the crepuscular light. I had the impression of being in a completely different city than the one we had been in earlier that afternoon, perhaps even a completely different world. I wondered how far from the ward we were and if they might be searching for us at that very moment. I don’t care, I told myself. And I didn’t.

Through the dusk, you pointed to an old church across the street. The windows were lit with a faint glow; the drone of chanting emanated from inside. Drawing my eyes from the strange building, I turned to you anticipating an explanation but none came. You only raised a single finger to your lips indicating silence. Taking my wrist in your hand, you guided me through the overgrown grass toward the lambent window. Pressing your face to the dirt-streaked pane of glass, you gestured for me to do the same. I wondered whether there might be spider webs concealed in the thick evening shadows and momentarily hesitated. In the end, however, I managed to ignore my fear and obey.

Inside, a congregation was in session. The people looked dark and sickly in the flickering candle light illuminating the open room. As the rhythmic chanting reached a crescendo, they flailed about in violent spasms uttering phrases in a language I could not understand. The room appeared to sway and pitch with the motions of the congregation, their bodies becoming entangled as they thrashed about and reconfigured into strange inhuman forms. After a few minutes of this odd dancing, a congregationist wearing a peach-colored tunic entered the room leading a goat on a leash. The air swelled with a chorus of grunts and my eyes bulged in horror as the man unsheathed a blade and slit the animal’s throat in one clean stroke. Blood silently streamed out onto the floorboards provoking wild howls from inside the church. I wanted to look away, but I couldn’t. I knew that you were transfixed by this atrocity and that we were sharing this moment together; that this was the beginning of our undeclared love; the instant of its realization. Without a word, I reached up and ever-so-slightly allowed the tips of my fingers to graze your hair. You did not flinch or resist. You were enraptured.

After the ceremony ended and the congregation exited the room, you instructed me to wait by the window.

—Where are you going? I asked. Are you going to come back?

You didn’t reply as you crouched down in the tall grass and slowly crept away into the darkness. I watched the night swallow up your shape. I don’t know how much time passed. I continually turned my eyes to the night sky and followed the movements of the gauzy clouds as they passed across the face of the moon. The church was silent and nothing stirred. Every time I stared out into the night I saw the image of the man in the blood-stained tunic imprinted on the darkness. I understand now that I will never fear anything as much as the thought of you never returning; of being completely alone; of feeling surrounded by an ocean of midnight and experiencing the singular terror of absolute abandonment.

Later, we lay in the grass of the cemetery, our backs pressed against the weathered tombstones. The film crew was still at work in the street below, their lamps illuminating the carefully constructed scenery of the set. I looked up at the stars and then felt you shift your body closer to mine. The severed goat head lay between us in the grass, its coarse hair matted with congealed blood. In the dark, you reached out and took my hand. It was warm and moist, your palm coated in the animal’s gore. We allowed our fingers to interlock and you squeezed gently. I closed my eyes and listened to the murmuring crickets. I was happy and secretly wished that we would never have to return to the ward, that we could stay here in the cemetery holding one another. I was drawn from my thoughts by a staticy voice coming through a megaphone. In the street, the director was barking orders at the actors starring in the movie that did not exist.



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