New York Movie, Edward Hopper, 1939
It was an hour and-a-half into the main feature and Lilly was bored.
She stood at the foot of the stairs leading to the balcony, leaning against the wall, listening to Gary Cooper's voice as it came from the speakers.
It was a great movie but she'd seen it three times. She could almost quote the dialogue. She'd been a movie usher for three years and she'd seen them all.
She shifted her weight from one foot to the other. She looked down at her crisply starched trousers with the red stripe. The slacks were nice. They were comfortable, but the matching blue jacket didn't fit quite right and sometimes it felt like it was choking her.
Her shoes were pretty and she loved them but standing around in them for three hours at a time was hell on her feet. And she had to stand here. She couldn't nip out for a quick smoke in the back alley. Not that she would. The back alley was where the projectionist usually went for a smoke and she didn't like the way that he looked at her.
She shifted her flashlight from one hand to another, then held it under her arm when she noticed a bit of lint on her slacks. The lint turned out to be a bit of candy that was stuck to the fiber. She had to use a lacquered nail to pick it off. She made a disgusted noise as the sticky remnant came free of the fabric.
Her flashlight slipped from under her arm and dropped to the floor, rolling on the carpet. She uttered a curse under her breath as she followed it, stooping to pick it up before it rolled any further.
As she stood she looked up at the screen. Gary Cooper was speaking earnestly to Ray Milland his dusty Foreign Legion jacket looking just about as uncomfortable as hers.
That was when he turned and looked at the camera.
That was odd. Lilly didn't remember him doing that before. Copper turned back to Milland. Milland was speaking now but did Cooper seem distracted? He seemed to be. Odd that she didn't notice that before. Cooper was usually the more focussed of the two.
He did it again. Lilly stood up straight and stared up at the flickering screen. Cooper was turned away from Milland and he seemed to be scanning the audience.
That had not happened the last time she had watched the movie. She was certain of that. Had the projectionist made a mistake? Had he slipped on a gag reel or something?
Cooper held up a hand to stop Milland. "Hold on, Ray," he said.
Ray? The character's name was John. What was going on?
Cooper walked forward and his steely gaze looked out into the audience. He seemed to be searching for someone in particular. "Excuse me," he said from the screen. "Who's crying?"
The audience looked at each other, confused. Lilly stared in open mouthed shock at the screen.
A woman stood up shakily in the middle of the theater. "Me," she said in a weak, mousy voice. "I'm the one who was crying." The audience turned to look at her. Lilly did as well. She remembered her. She was small and thin and bespectacled. She'd come in and sat by herself.
"Why are you crying?' Gary Cooper asked, his face a mask of loving concern.
The woman glanced around nervously at the other patrons. She shook her head. "I've been in New York for a week and..." she stopped, her finger twisting a handkerchief. Her voice had an accent that Lilly thought sounded southern. "...I don't know anybody here and I can't find a job and... and there's just so much noise and so many people rushing this way and that... I just... I just thought I'd escape for a few hours. But when the picture started I just... I just..."
Cooper held up a hand, shushing her gently. "Don't cry. It's alright. Listen, why don't you tell me where you'd rather be right now?"
"Alpena, South Dakota," the woman sobbed.
Lilly's brows raised. South Dakota?
On the screen even Cooper seemed a little nonplussed for a couple of frames. but he quickly recovered (he was a great actor, after all) and gave her his trademark smile. "Well, then what are you doing sittin' there? Go on. Get back to Alpena. Go back to the family that loves you."
"Really?" the woman said staring at Cooper's giant monochrome face. "For real?"
"For real," Cooper said, smiling. "Go on, now. Pack your things and head on home!"
"I will!" the woman said and she ran to the aisle, clumsily climbing over moviegoers that were in her way. Halfway up she turned and waved at Cooper. "Thank you, Mister Cooper! Thank you!"
"You're welcome," Cooper said.
The woman dashed out of the theater past Lilly "I'm going home!" she said excitedly as she ran out the door.
Back on the screen Cooper smiled in a satisfied way. "Another happy ending," he said.
The music swelled. The scene faded to black and a title car came up proclaiming: THE END.
The theater lights came on and the moviegoers stared at each other, blinking in confusion. Then they began to get up from their seats.
One older man turned to his wife. "That was the worst movie I've ever seen," he said.
Lilly couldn't help but agree. And she'd seen them all.
I've been here and there. I've drawn a lot of pictures. I've written a bit, too. I'm not good at this self-promotion thing. Look, you want to know about me? just visit these websites. Okay?