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The Not Too Late Show

by Chris Yodice

Today had not been Lyle Lavie’s worst day.

That might have been the day his wife left. Or maybe it was when his square-headed boss had announced a company reorganization that would affect exactly one position: his.

But it was a bad day nonetheless. These two events had occurred within a week of each other, and the year since had barely improved Lyle’s situation or his mood. He had managed to land another job yet found each day a muddle of unappealing people and happenings. These were capped with desolate evenings of television and cheese sandwiches. He grumbled constantly. And today, in retrospect, he had found the world especially irritating.

So the movie projector on his kitchen table, surprising as it was, was certainly more promising than the rest of it all. And, really, it shouldn’t have been that surprising. Not after finding the man at his front door.

The long day done, Lyle had begun to insert his key when the door was opened from the inside. He was taken aback when someone stepped into the doorway. The man was dressed in an old-time usher uniform. He wore a red pillbox hat encircled on top and bottom with an inch-high black band. It was strapped under his chin, ensuring it stayed on despite its sharp tilt. He himself was old.

“Ticket, please,” the old man said.

Lyle stammered. “I live here,” he finally said.

The old man looked at him. His thin lips spread into a surprisingly warm smile. He nodded and with a wink said, “Of course.”

Lyle walked through the living room past the flat-screen TV and rows of DVDs, looking over his shoulder as the man in the red suit followed him into the kitchen.

The projector took up a considerable part of the kitchen table. Until now, Lyle had only seen one on TV. It had two large reels and, though not yet rolling, hummed with electricity and potential. The lens was directed toward a side wall, bare of pictures; they had been taken down and carefully placed on the counter. Wordlessly, Lyle sat in a chair beside the table, in the dark, drawn by the promise of the projector.

Behind him, the usher flipped a switch. An intense light glaring off of the white wall gave way to a countdown of numbers. Four. Three. Two. One. The movie started.

The first thing Lyle noticed was music. It did not come from the projector; the movie itself was silent. The bright string of notes was being played on the piano in the adjoining room. The instrument had been untouched since his wife left. Actually, it had been silent for long before that. But now its sound burst forth.

Lyle’s conscious awareness of the piano did not last long and he was unconcerned with who was playing. The joyous melody melded almost instantly with the flickering images on his wall. And it was then that Lyle forgot his day and everything around him.

First, there is a baby and the world is bright. Then a child. And the child becomes a man. He does not do so easily. There are successes, but he also stumbles and suffers. He has loss. Clouds edge the sky and day always succumbs to night. But the sun returns without fail, bringing with it light and grace.

Soon, the man bears the inevitable dark, stronger than before. He is happy often, but not always; he knows that the latter is impossible but he seeks humor and joy when he can.

The man grows old and the final image is his face, worn and smiling. It is a reflection of all he has learned and all he has done, his struggles, his hope, his love. He has lived life. And Lyle has seen it all.

When it is finished, Lyle remains seated. He does not know how long he has watched; it feels as if it could have been an hour or a lifetime. The usher breaks down the projector while the piano player shows himself for the first time, tuxedoed and mustachioed, and replaces the pictures on the wall. The pictures somehow seem new to Lyle, and he realizes he hasn’t looked at them in a long time.

The two men take what they have brought and leave. The kitchen is as it had been.

Lyle walks to the front window and looks out as the light of the new morning shines through.

Copyright © 2008 by Chris Yodice

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