HOME MOVIES - ROBERT AQUINO DOLLESIN
This afternoon, we buried my brother Damon’s first wife. After we dropped his kids off at Game World, we returned to our father’s home -- the home my brother and I grew up in -- and Damon handed the tape over to our father. Then he went into the living room where, after fixing himself a strong drink, he collapsed on the sofa and began to cry.
I headed straight to the kitchen. Standing in front of the sink, I tried to scrub the soil out from beneath my fingernails. It didn’t come out. If Julia, my fiance, noticed the grime caking my nails she would ask questions that I wasn't ready to answer.
My father, whose gnarled fingers were still gripping the tape my brother had given him, hobbled in after me and asked how everything went. I shrugged. “Damon damn near lost it,” I said.
“He’s too sensitive,” my father said. He then asked how Damon’s kids were taking the loss of their mother.
I turned the water off and wiped my hands on a dishtowel hanging in front of the sink. “They’ll both be fine. Especially Corey. He’s got our genes.”
My father smiled. “I never was worried about him.” He put a hand on my shoulder. “Come on. Let’s set up the old movies.”
I pointed at the tape in his hand. “Don’t you want to watch that?”
“Not yet,” he said. “Not until I’m sure Damon can handle seeing it.”
In the living room, I pulled the screen down and set the old movie projector up. Damon, who was still weeping, shook his head. “I can’t watch these tonight.”
“Oh,” my father said, smiling but stern. “But you will, Son. You will.”
I shook my head at my brother’s behavior. Damon must have noticed, because he said, “Just wait until you and Julia get married. Then we’ll see how tough you are.”
“That’s enough,” our father said. “Enough.”
He stooped forward and sifted through the box of old films. “Ah, this is a good one.” He held up one of the round steel casings and said, “How about we watch beautiful, shy Louise?” Louise was our father's third wife.
“Connie’s on the same film,” I said. She was his fourth wife. Not so shy, but just as beautiful as Louise.
My father laughed. “Then Louise and Connie it is.”
I threaded the film into the projector. “Dim the lights, Damon,” I said.
“I’m not watching,” Damon repeated. He started to get up off the sofa.
“Sit down!” my father shouted. Damon sat.
I hit the lights, flicked the switch on the projector and the jittery home movie began to play against the screen.
In the film, it was a Christmas morning past. A very young woman -- Louise -- stood grinning in front of a decorated tree. When the camera zoomed in on her, she raised a palm and shook her head. The camera held its distance. Louise, who still stared into the lens, bit her lower lip and clutched her pink terrycloth robe closed. Then she stooped and, using her free hand, began to gather up all the torn wrapping paper and unraveled ribbons that littered the carpet. She stuffed them into a paper Safeway bag.
The camera swept right. It passed the old console stereo our father still owned. It steadied at the foot of the winding stairway to examine a very young Damon and me as we sat on the carpet and ripped open packages of toys. In a high pile off to one side of us, brand new clothing remained untouched in boxes with cellophane windows.
The pull-down screen in front of us went snowy bright. A brief burst of static was followed by crisp images of a new day.
The same shy Louise, who earlier in the film had been tidying up the living room on a Christmas morning, now stood very still against a green billowing tent. She posed smiling as if for a photograph and not a moving picture. The camera slowly withdrew to reveal a low orange sun and a serrated line of pines above the tent.
The tent then spun in place as the camera slowly circled it. For a few moments the image projected on the living room wall alternated between my father’s scuffed boot toes, lifting and dipping, kicking up clouds of red dust, and beds of dead pine needles that covered the ground.
A white screen. Static again. As the reel continued to turn, the projector clicked, clicked, clicked.
Suddenly, the fractured image of someone running.
It was soon clear that the woman racing through the tree-dense forest, pine branches clutching her arms, was Louise. Each glance over her shoulder revealed an expression of mounting terror. She stumbled. Once. Again. On her third fall, she stretched out her arms to keep her face from slamming against the ground. Struggling back to her feet, she began to run again.
She veered right, momentarily disappearing behind a stand of shivering trees. Seconds later, the camera swooped around the same corner.
Once again, static replaced the images on the screen.
“Do I have to watch this shit?” Damon said in the dark.
Nobody replied and I heard him begin to weep again. I almost moved to the couch to try and comfort him, but the old film started to play again.
We watched in silence as the camera moved in close to an ant bed boiling over. It followed a line of red ants as they marched across cracked earth and dead, curled leaves. In their soldierly file, the line of ants mounted the manicured fingernails of bent fingers, then trooped over a pale hand, and continued up the length of a long, slender arm.
Dipping even closer, the camera fixed long and steady on the woman’s face; her wide-sprung mouth and eyes. You could hardly recognize her as Louise.
Like spring drizzle, static filled the screen again. The static gave way to a montage of a campsite, which came quickly in snapshot fashion to reveal:
Blue jays, a pair, preening their wings while perched on a low branch of a pine tree.
A large moth flitting around, then briefly landing on the trunk of a tree before winging away again.
Damon smiling for the camera, his braces flashing in the low light. He brought five wiggling fingers dripping with blood close to the lens.
A blue-bodied dragonfly carefully balanced on the bent tip of a high blade of grass.
The green tent, its folds writhing in the breeze. Then, through the tent’s flap door where a flashlight laying on the canvas floor, its beam on, swung left and right, casting its glowing cone against the tent walls.
Me filling the screen, leaning back with my hands on the earth behind me, my legs dangling in a freshly dug hole.
Me and my brother standing knee-deep in a fast moving river, casting our lines against the current.
A spitted trout smoldering over a pulsing fire. Around the fire, me and my brother laughing.
Me and Damon again, covering disturbed earth with armfuls of branches and dried leaves.
The film paused, the screen went white, the reel spun. Click. Click. Click. Click.
Suddenly the scene that projected onto the screen was of the driveway of my father's suburban home. The same home we sat in now. A different woman filled the screen. Connie. Our father's fourth wife. It was a gusty day. Dry leaves caught in whirlwinds. Trees in the yard bowing. Connie’s fiery red hair whipping across her grinning face as she leaned back against my father’s sky blue Ford Mustang.
Damon looked over at me and snidely said, “Connie sure looks a lot like Julia, don’t you think?”
I didn’t reply.
“So when you guys getting married?” Damon asked.
Remaining silent, I heard my father giggle. I stared at the screen, watching Connie raise an arm. And, as she shoved her hair out of her eyes and waved to the camera, it struck me that Damon was right. Julia did look an awful lot like Connie.
BIO: Robert Aquino Dollesin was still a kid when he left the Philippines. He now resides in Sacramento, where he tries to get something on paper every day. He sometimes blogs at Robert Aquino Dollesin.
Irish Times Crime Fiction column, February 2018
13 hours ago