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Two Proposals

by Deborah Rochford

This story is written in dedication to my son, Joshua, who has demonstrated endless patience in instructing me in the art of storytelling.

Table of Contents
Table of Contents
parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

part 1

Clutched tightly to Joshua Kellerman’s chest was a yellow legal pad covered with numbers and fragments of words. He had a thousand thoughts that he wanted to get down on paper, needed to record, but the damn ink in his pen wasn’t flowing as it should.

At first he was afraid the pen was out of ink. Josh had taken it from a motel room, which meant others had probably used it. How many words could one pen write? He stopped, intrigued by the thought. He had written countless words; if anyone should know how many words could be coaxed from a single pen, he should. He examined the clear plastic barrel, noted the thin line of blue that filled three-quarters of its length. The ink must be frozen.

He held the pen tightly in his gloved hand and shook it, as much to warm his hand as to free the ink. He stamped his feet to ward off the encroaching numbness. He should have worn winter boots instead of dress shoes. He tried not to breathe in through his mouth; when he did, the cold made his throat ache. His borrowed winter parka crinkled when he moved and a plume of white smoke wreathed his head when he exhaled. Bits and pieces of straw-colored hair escaped from an old woolen cap, which he tugged on every so often in an effort to eke out a bit more coverage for his ears and forehead.

Josh was surprised at just how cold fifteen degrees felt. He had tried skiing once or twice when he was in college and didn’t remember feeling as if his whole body had been dropped, naked, into a frozen-over pond. Of course, the altitude of the Rockies was greater than the altitude of the Sierra Nevada’s; maybe Colorado’s mountains were just colder.

He ran his free, gloved hand over the snaps on his jacket to make sure they were all closed. He shrugged. Complaining wasn’t going to change anything. If he was going to make Boulder his new home, he had better get used to the cold. He pushed aside his feelings of discomfort and focused his attention on the reason that he was here.

Josh had already walked the perimeter of the old theatre once to get a feel for the place, a general idea of size and construction, a look at the architecture. The second time around, he had laid his pen and pad down near the entrance of the building so that his hands would be free to touch.

The lobby doors were ten feet tall and made of oak with panel insets made of tarnished copper. Josh gazed at the door for several long minutes, ran his hands over the dozen bound roses embossed in the metal, traced out the worn pattern of laurel leaves carved into the wood framing the doors, dreamt of spending an afternoon sanding and polishing.

At several places along the walls, he touched the stone, scrubbing at the surface with his gloved hand to get a close look at the deep rose color of the quartzite. At one point he put his nose to the icy stone and inhaled deeply. Age had a fragrance all its own.

This time, the third time, was for the practicality of numbers and money. As he walked he counted his strides: thirteen strides wide, which translated to approximately forty feet. When he reached the corner, he stopped briefly to record the distance on his yellow legal pad, shaking his pen vigorously until it worked, and then walked the length of the building from front to back, recording a distance of approximately fifty feet.

At each corner he measured his height against the wall, stepped back to estimate the height from ground to roof. He was a couple inches shy of six feet tall, but his dress shoes added some height. The building had to be at least twenty feet tall.

So it went until he had estimated the height and length of all four sides of the building. Finally he peered upward, trying to get some sense of the condition of the roof. Patches of worn cedar shingles peeked through beneath overhanging branches, dark raggedy stains against a thin sheet of white snow. No doubt the roof would have to be replaced. Not his favorite thing to do, but if he did it himself he could cut the cost in half.

He thought for a moment, doing a quick run-through of the materials he would need for repairs and the cost of the supplies, and then added a few more notes. The brick was in good shape. From what he had read, it was virtually impossible to damage quartzite. Much of the woodwork around the windows was too full of rot to be rescued, at least on the outside of the building, but the carved wood of the doors and door frame could be stripped down, sanded, and refinished.

He finished writing down his thoughts, ran back to his car as fast as his frozen leg muscles would allow. He was shivering so violently it was difficult to fit the key first to the lock and then to the ignition. He needed heat.

He turned the key and pressed down on the gas pedal. The motor sparked to life. He made a mental note to thank his mother. She had insisted on buying him a new battery before he traveled the sixteen hours from California through the mountains of Colorado to Boulder, in the middle of January. He would have preferred to wait until spring to make the trip, but Mr. Lawson had another offer on the table, and from what the man had told him, it was a good one.

Josh swallowed hard and pressed his forehead against the cold plastic of the steering wheel. He fought against the sense of futility that threatened to engulf him. He hadn’t counted on competition.

Nate, a guy he’d met at a pizza and beer fundraiser for an Indie film, had mentioned the closed-down theatre while telling Josh about a boyhood stunt that had been an inspiration for a short film. The short had won Nate a prize at a small film festival. He had been more than happy to show off his work and sent Josh an electronic copy. The camera work left a lot to be desired, and the acting was so-so, but the story had touched him. It was about a man who had built a theatre on a mountaintop and about a boy who loved movies but didn’t have extra pocket money to spend on what his mother considered “frivolities.”

The boy would sneak into the theatre every Sunday afternoon by removing the covering on a large air vent and crawling into a janitor’s closet. When he heard the crowds gathering, he would slip out of the closet and walk through the double doors that led to rows and rows of cushioned red seats that faced a screen that filled the entire wall.

Old Mr. Lawson, William Lawson, the man that had built the theatre, caught Nate on a snowy winter day. Nate, outfitted in a heavy coat and boots, had become stuck in the vent. Instead of calling the police, the old man unofficially hired the boy as an usher. Nate had only been twelve at the time, so William Lawson paid him under the table, a quarter an hour more than minimum wage, and gave him free entrance to any movie he cared to see.

Josh looked up at the old theatre sitting dark and silent against the backdrop of a stormy sky. The doors to the theatre had closed in 2001 when the old man died. Josh wanted to open those doors again to revive the art of storytelling, to bring back movies that meant something beyond showy special effects.

He squeezed his eyes shut tight, just for a moment, and tried to still the longing that filled him. It had been a long time since he had wanted anything this badly. He shivered, and reached out to turn on the heat, pushing on the plastic lever that regulated the air temperature, making sure it was as far into the red zone as it would go.

When the air streaming out of the vents promised some warmth, he unzipped his coat and used his hands to pin the sides against the dash. His coat billowed out like a hot air balloon, capturing the flow of first warm, then hot air. The warmth traveled along his torso and rushed into the arms of the jacket. His muscles began to unclench and his hands and feet felt as if they were on fire.

He remained where he was until his body had shed the last vestiges of the outside cold. He sighed contentedly and pulled the lever to recline his seat.

Now he waited. He closed his eyes and tried to rest. He had driven a long ways and knew that the fatigue clouding his brain would get in the way. This was the right building for him, he could feel it in his bones, but it would take some very creative financing to make it work. The current owner, Rigel Lawson, would have to be willing to trust in him or, rather, trust in his vision.

Josh had questioned Nate very thoroughly and done his own research as well, looking at property deeds, searching through newspaper archives, and looking at current, on-line maps and satellite photographs of the theatre and the surrounding community.

Rigel Lawson had inherited the old theatre from his father, who had practically built the place by hand. From what Nate had told him, William Lawson had only shown the best of what Hollywood had to offer; movies that offered a new perspective, a slice of life, a commentary on what it meant to be a human being, a message to take home and hold in your heart.

Some of the films had been silent films from the 1920’s and 1930’s. For these, William Lawson had built a small platform near the screen to hold a baby grand piano and hired young people from the community to play the musical score.

Josh opened his eyes and leaned forward to wipe the condensate that had collected off of the front window so that he could gaze at the old theatre. He loved it already, just like the man who had built it. Josh knew that the original venture had never been a sound financial investment. Nate had told him the old man actually made his living as a carpenter and handyman; the theatre had been a labor of love. Josh would have liked William Lawson, of this he was sure. He hoped the current owner, William Lawson’s son, Rigel, had the same kind of heart.

The rap on the window caused him to jump so high his head brushed the ceiling of the car. The intruder, who wore a wool overcoat, peered in at him with grey eyes that matched the color of the sky. Josh held the window button down until a slice of cold air streamed in. He stopped before the window opened too widely, worried that it might refuse to close again, as it did on occasion.

“Are you Josh Kellerman?”

“Yes.” Josh scrambled to open the door. “Mr. Lawson?”

“Yes. That’s me. I’m sorry if I startled you, but you didn’t seem to hear me when I called your name.”

Josh hopped out of his car. Mr. Lawson was elegant. He made Josh feel shabby by comparison. The older man wore a wool camel-colored coat, a scarf that had the soft, delicate look of cashmere and leather gloves. He had thin lips that did not hold even the whisper of a smile.

Josh held out his hand. “Pleased to meet you, sir.”

Mr. Lawson scrutinized the younger man’s clothing and then directed his gaze to his car. Josh feared for a moment that the older man was going to walk away. Disappointment formed a hard knot in the pit of his stomach. This was a well-to-do business man. People in business looked at the bottom line of dollars and cents.

In the end, Mr. Lawson took his hand. Josh clamped down on his misgivings. Nothing was impossible, and nothing could be gained by giving up.

“Well, Mr. Kellerman, I assume you would like a tour of the building?”

“Yes, sir,” he said, nodding, “I would.”

The elegant man nodded once perfunctorily and marched toward the theatre. Josh reached into his car and turned off the engine, grabbed his pen and yellow legal pad, then scrambled to keep up. He looked around for Mr. Lawson’s car and finally spied it. The charcoal-grey BMW was parked across the parking lot near a stand of pines.

* * *

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2016 by Deborah Rochford

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