The New Generation of Classic Short Stories

Vol. 20, No. 1

The Movie People

by Fiona McFarlane

When the movie people left, the town grew sad. An air of disaster lingered in the stunned streets—of cuckoldry, or grief. There was something shameful to it, like defeated virtue, and also something confidential, because the townspeople were so in need of consolation they turned to one another with all their private burdens of ecstasy and despair. There had been in that season a run of extraordinary weather—as if the blank blue sky, the unshaded sun, and the minor, pleasurable breeze had all been arranged by the movie people. The weather lasted for the duration of filming and then began to turn, so that within a few weeks of the close of production a stiff, mineral wind had swept television aerials from roofs and disorganized the fragile root systems of more recently imported shrubbery.
      My primary sense of this time is of a collective mourning in which the townspeople began to wear the clothes they had adopted as extras and meet on corners to reenact their past happiness. I didn't participate. I was happy the movie people had left. I was overjoyed, in fact, to see no more trucks in the alleys, no more catering vans in the supermarket parking lot, no more boom lights standing in frail forests outside the town hall. The main street had been closed to traffic for filming and now the townspeople were reluctant to open it again. It's a broad thoroughfare, lined with trees and old–fashioned gaslights (subtly electrified) and those slim, prudish Victorian storefronts that huddle graciously together like congregants in church, and as I rode my scooter on those windy days, our surroundings looked more than ever like the picturesque period street, frozen in the nineteenth century, that had brought the movie to us in the first place.
      I rode my scooter to the disgust of ladies in crinolines with their hair braided and looped, men in waistcoats and top hats: citizens of some elderly republic given an unexpected opportunity to sun itself in the wan light of the twenty–first century. I knew these people as butchers, plumbers, city commuters, waterers of thirsty lawns, walkers of imbecile dogs, washers of cars, postmen, and all the women who had ever taught me in school. They stayed on the footpaths all day. They eddied and flocked, up the blocks and down again, as if following the same deep and certain instinct that drives herring through the North Sea. They consulted fob watches and pressed handkerchiefs to their sorrowful breasts. The wind blew out their hooped skirts. It rolled the last of the plastic recycling bins down the street and into the countryside, where they nestled lifelessly together in the scrub.
      I rode to the home of my wife's parents. She was sheltering there, my wife, Alice, because the movie people had left. She loved them, you see. Not her parents—that tranquil couple of bleached invertebrates—but the director, the key grip, the costume ladies, the hairdressers, the boom operators, and most particularly the star. The whole town loved the star. Even I succumbed, just a little—to the unpredictable feeling we all had in the weeks he was among us, that he might at any moment emerge from a dimly bulbed doorway or unfold his long legs from a rooftop. We'd never seen anyone so beautiful. He shone with a strange, interior, asexual light, and his head seemed to hang in midair as if requiring nothing so substantial as a body. Looking at him was like entering a familiar room in which you see everything at once—and at the same time, nothing.

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