A Trip to Skull Island with the Circus Animals
Heather J. Macpherson
We sit in the balcony overlooking the stadium. The proscenium stage empty but the screen, and I think how lovely the scarlet velour grand drapes look as ropes and pulleys hoist the weight high above the stage; they disappear behind the border, tucked away like an unknown revelation.
The theater is dim as if the world is set at six o’clock in October all the time. We don’t really say
too much. Once settled in our center row seats with our concessions, I knew conversation was over. I occasionally show excitement, but play it cool like dad, wait patiently for the movie to begin as we accept the flickering glow of anthropomorphic treats singing and dancing across the screen, convincing us to go to the lobby. Movies are serious business.
Edward Hopper’s painting New York Movie was anonymously donated to the Museum of Modern Art in 1941. The usherette is deep in thought, maybe worried about finding love the way some always worry about paying bills. Being alone isn’t easy. Her shoulder-length blond hair is brighter than anything else in the painting; she leans against the wall beneath a lit sconce near drawn curtains at the bottom of the stairway, which I imagine leads to the balcony or maybe a secret hide-out. The curtain ties are dirty and frayed with age. Viewers are there to escape, but I imagine she’s seen this movie over and over the way Hopper used his wife as a model, over and over again. Escapism holds a new meaning called emptiness. I wonder what movie is playing. Maybe she’s just bored
A few people sit scattered in the wings, eating hot buttery popcorn and sipping ice cold cola. Candies plink in their boxes, sliding from one end to another as viewers pour sweet treats like Milk Duds and Junior Mints into their hands. It is so quiet you can hear mouths chewy-wet with chocolate and caramel, the distinct sound of stickiness letting go between molars. I got a little extra with my popcorn too: a small bag of M&Ms. Don’t tell mom, he said. It’s almost time for
the show to begin, and here’s where my memory gets foggy. When I remember the movie, we
are in the middle of things as we always are, fumbling with retrospect, confusing story-lines.
I never liked the circus. I remember when Gramma took us to Barnum & Bailey’s with Aunt
Cheryl and her kids. Gramma was proud to have center seats with a clear view over the heads of spectators in front of us. She was proud to have paid for the tickets herself with money left for
refreshments. But it was crowded and loud and the bathrooms were dirty. I tried not to show
disdain, but laugh and giggle with the other kids, point wildly as each act began. I didn’t like the
clowns. They came out in a small car and tumbled out one after the next with painted faces, bright colored wigs of neon green and Pippi Longstocking red. One of them ran up to our seats in the stands, tossing candy and blowing horns. Children flocked to pick up pieces of the yellow wrapped Dubble Bubble. I didn’t understand this kind of fun. Dubble Bubble tasted chalky and didn’t really blow great bubbles. And it was hard to chew. At least Bazooka had Joe. But there they were as if money just fell from the sky. As I peered over their heads I knew the clowns and their lousy gum were just distractions as my favorite animals were brought into the the big top.
The elephants looked tired as handlers struck them behind the ears with bull hooks; they didn’t
move much faster, or look any happier.
The moment Kong is captured and the camera zooms in on his fear-filled eyes after hearing those words, “Eighth Wonder of the World,” he recognizes doom in the gleeful faces of man. I think of that day at the circus, how I wanted to take the bull hooks to the handlers and free the elephants. At least Kong was only trapped in celluloid. King Kong was released on March 2nd, 1933. Of course I wasn’t born then. My arrival was decades later on March 3rd, 1973.
Dad and I sit at the table together, eating ham sandwiches and potato chips. Whatever made me think of it? Remember that time we saw King Kong at the movie theater in Moosup? Your eyes were not fear-filled, although they worried a lot of the time; it is easy to retreat to the darkness of a movie theater. You looked at me funny, nearly cocked your head in puzzlement. We never saw King Kong at the movies.
I watch it every year, sit center cushion on the sofa, recall a memory my father says never happened, but I am convinced he took me to the cinema to see Fay Wray and her King Kong as firmly as I remember the elephants. Maybe pepe took me, but I’ll never get to ask him.
Maybe I watched it as a Creature Double Feature on Channel 56 or something, but so strongly I remember sitting in that balcony next to dad in the flickering light of the screen, as I do this moment with hands clasped with hope for escape.
About the Author: Heather J. Macpherson writes from Massachusetts. Her work has appeared in Niche, ATOMIC, Blueline, Bond Street Review, Spillway, Pearl, OVS, CLARE Literary, RadiusLit, Rougarou, and other fine publications. She was recently a guest blogger for The Best American Poetry Blog featuring an interview with Stephanie Brown. Heather is the executive director at Damfino Press.