The theater seemed like a rite of passage, the tender weight of eighteen years told Jerry as much, as there were layers of terror piled atop one another even before he could step through the wide entrance, even before he had decided he was going to do it tonight. He could see the men from where he sat, at the park across the street like a jilted soul, obscured and suffering. The men didn’t arrive together, he noticed; each one’s gait a variation of confidence, or maybe intent. There were some who darted glances here and there, as though angels or the police or their mothers were lurking behind, ready to bust them from their cocoons of shame. Yet some were casual, maybe a bit indifferent, while others huffed, impatient to reach the open mouth at the end of the tunnel, something more.
They purchased tickets from a tinted booth, and from where Jerry sat he could see the rectangular hole above the booth’s tiny wooden counter, and spied the anonymous hand that reached from the shadows. The hand took the cash and disappeared, then returned with change and a single stub, like a grotesque tongue that tasted the night. Five tongues conjoined in a Siamese freak, lolling under the alcove’s brown luminescence, shooing or pointing the patrons towards the double doors down the hall, before it slithered back into the dark booth, away from sight. It hid, waiting with one purpose, sticking back out for the next man, and the one after.
It was Tuesday, and the moviegoers varied as much as the moviegoers could vary. Some of them were old, some paunchy, some good-looking, bearded, muscular, lithe, sad, tall. A combination of two of those, or four. But the terrors and their multi-layered heft prevented Jerry from crossing the street, not yet. He sat on a pebbled bench at the park, frozen by a lopsided fear, staring at the theatre lights that boasted a forgotten skin flick nobody cared about. Home lay far away, a half an hour’s commute, but the small city circled into itself and he could run into people he knew. Or people he knew might see him enter, despite the baseball cap, because sometimes those who took intricate pains to hide themselves were the ones who stood out of the crowd; cowering, hulking figures that drifted above a rigid sea. And sometimes, people run into people when they wanted it the least, and it expanded into an awkward episode, riddled with indignity. And what if he met someone who knew him in there? Was it worth the shame, or the story?
Finally, Jerry stood from the bench and crossed the street. He stopped before the ticket booth and watched the hand creep out of its repose. It turned its palm upward and flicked its fingers twice, luring him to come closer. Jerry wondered what the hand tasted like, wanting the horror, the danger and the thrill it promised. He closed his eyes to an image of writhing silhouettes, varied shapes as much as shapes could vary, hands grabbing him, pulling at his clothes, ripping at his desires, opening them for him. He could smell the cigarette smoke, the piss on the walls, the fluids on the seats.
Jerry’s sharp breath gasped him back to his senses. A young man, with the endless night stretching in front of him, seducing him to kneel, kneel, kneel. Instead, he turned and hurried away. His broken chest firm about a new resolve. His heavy footfalls equivalent to tears.