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Rounding the long side entrance to the empty theater, I smell blood. I wipe my palm against my nose, and when I see it’s clean, I leave and pace the red hallway until I see a red polo.

A middle-aged man with Down syndrome. He’s checking the trash cans by the theater doors for discarded popcorn buckets, so guests won’t fish them out for free refills. I’m not in the mood for popcorn this morning, but if I’d seen an empty bucket sitting clean and reachable on my way in, I might have changed my mind.

I step out into the lobby to find someone more credible. But for the girl at the concession counter, the place is vacant. Even the bearded guy who took my ticket is missing from his folding chair.

I step back into the hallway and see the man drop his head into the black opening of another can, searching. I really don’t want to get him involved.

This is his job, I correct myself. Let him do his job.

I approach from behind, jingling my keys and clearing my throat for a warning, and when he turns around, I ask him how it’s going.

He smiles briefly and says, How can I help you, sir?

I can barely see his weary eyes beneath his visor brim. His plastic name tag gleams, roger.

I report the smell to Roger, expecting him to take me to a manager or another employee. He doesn’t nod as he listens, the way I do when strangers talk to me. I feel a little bothered by this, and ashamed of that.

Follow me, he says. He hurries along the wall to an inconspicuous closet and opens it with the single key on his retractable. He fills a rolling bucket with hot water and guides it nimbly by the mop handle into the hallway, steam lines trailing.

He locks the closet, turns to me and says, Ticket? I unfold my ticket and place it in his open palm.

The Weight of Faith, he reads, redirecting us to the other end of the hall, Rated R. I forget which door I came from. I need to pay closer attention.

Back inside the theater, Maria Menounos is taking up the screen. Her face is all angles as she stands in the lobby of another theater. It’s just like this one, from the pillars to the neon letters. She’s talking about being an insider, teasing the next ten minutes of access to the inside. I feel a little excited.

I look around and see I’m not alone, not counting Roger. In the upper section, a weathered woman with AirPods and a Yellowstone hoodie sits watching something on her phone, her nose catching the blue glow. She’s two rows above the seat on my ticket, the seat I always get when I leave work early for a matinee.

I think, Huh … the audience has doubled, and I wonder if she’s been here the whole time, if maybe she’s the source of blood. It’s not likely, but possible. I wonder how much Roger knows about menstruation. 

Starting from the very top, Roger snakes his careful way down through the rows, sniffing the air. I stand on the landing between the lower and upper seats, leaning on the railing. I’ll start from the bottom, I say loud enough for him to hear over Maria and the music.

No, no! he says, Please don’t do that! Please take your seat and enjoy the show. Thank you!

An exclusive look at the new season of The Rings of Power plays. I’d heard about this a few years ago, but I never got around to watching the first seasons. Every line on the giant face of this blonde elf is soft with digital light. With pain and righteous fury, she draws her bow in battle, and me into this silly world with stakes so high, there are no stakes.

Roger asks me again to please take my seat as he passes me on his way to the lower section. I move toward the stairs enough to indicate compliance, but I don’t want to sit until we’ve found the blood.

Halfway through the third row, Roger finds it. He gasps and points two fingers at the floor. That is not very nice! he says. Just look at—ahhh—that’s just not funny!

I jog to the middle of the second row and look down at a styrofoam tray holding two pink steaks and leaking bright, watery blood on the polished concrete. The price tag is still on the ripped plastic wrap. $48.49.

Woah, I say, Full blown steaks. Rich kids?

Mean kids, he says, speed-walking toward the exit.

I sit where I’m standing, trying to understand why anyone would sneak steaks into a theater just to leave them on the floor. I assume it was a prank. On whom? The staff? Roger? It’s absurd, and maybe kind of funny, but I feel like I’m missing something. Maybe they were high. The first time I got high, in college, I understood why it seemed everyone in high school was having more fun than I was. They were. I think about the classmates I resented for living fuller, sadder, tougher lives. I picture some of them working different jobs, and I have the feeling none of them are skipping work today.

My mom would always say, You think you’re the exception to the rules, but also to goodness. She was right. I hold myself above and below everything. 

I distract myself by watching Maria Menounos. I wonder if she owns anything with sleeves. She’s doing so much with her eyes and hands, but also her smile and nose. She really is good at her job. She makes you feel like all of this was made for you, that the itch is yours and universal, the scratch already in production and starring your favorites. I wonder how far removed her career is from the designs of her desire. I think of all the gorgeous women born with souls for art, who tend their dreams in stubborn faith, yet only manage to book commercial work. I think of those who book no work at all. How are they all changed by it?

I think, It must be hard to be a woman in Hollywood. I chuckle.

Roger returns with a black trash liner billowing. He’s lost his visor. He drops the steaks into the bag, presses out the air, and ties a knot down at the base to lock the seal. He drops the bag and rolls the bucket to the spot. I take a seat and alternately watch Roger mop and Maria ask trivia questions.

In the spellbinding hit film series, Harry Potter, what is the name of Harry’s pet owl, who faithfully delivers his post throughout his years at Hogwarts?

Roger and the hooded woman shout, Hedwig! I look at each of them, expecting their eyes already on me, maybe smiles. He remains focused on the spot, she on her own screen, AirPods still in.

This 1997 epic romance and disaster film, directed by the legendary James Cameron, held the record for the highest-grossing film of all time until 2009, when Cameron smashed his own record with his sci-fi hit, Avatar … I’ll give you a hint: it famously portrayed the maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic. Can you name the movie?

All three of us shout, Titanic!

Der da der! the hooded woman adds.

I can’t stand her, I say to Roger.

Who? he says, Maria?

Yeah, I hesitate, I guess it’s not her so much, just the whole thing. These questions are a joke.

She gives the latest news and behind-the-scenes looks at movies and streaming series, he says. That’s her job.

The lights dim, and he hurries to finish cleaning the spot as the trailer for a Roseanne Barr biopic plays.

They ever let you watch movies on the clock? I say. You should join me. I can get some popcorn, candy—whatever you want.

No, thank you, he says, I’m at work.

Can’t you take a break?

I had my lunch already, he says, mopping the spot and wringing the mop. Is this your day off, or what?

No, I laugh, Well, yeah, but don’t tell my boss.

Oh, he says.

You never play hooky? I say. Skip work to goof around for a day?

Can’t say I have, he says.

You should try it sometime, I say.

He wrings the mop well, throwing his dense weight against the bucket lever, then passes slowly over the clean spot. Good thing I didn’t try it today, he says, You’d be on your own with this mess.

Wow, I say. You’re right.

Crap! he says, I forgot the safety sign. Will you please make sure nobody sits here while I get it?


No, the mouse in your pocket … Yes, you!

Sure, I say, tapping my pocket.

Oh, my God! He literally checked his pocket, he says with a kind sigh. I’ll be right back. Sure you can handle this?

I got you, I say.

Thanks, he says, moving to the aisle. And you can just take your purchased seat when I get back.

I sit and watch the trailer for Roseanne. I don’t recognize any of these actors. I didn’t know Roseanne was dead. Or maybe she’s alive. I imagine watching a movie about my own life, imagining the melancholy that must follow. I’m not a fan of Roseanne, but I hope she never has to watch this.

Now a trailer for a horror movie. I don’t do horror, so I stare over the seat in front of me at the spot as colors play vaguely on its drying shine. In my periphery, an older couple, holding hands, heads into the third row.

Ohp! I’m sorry, I say, standing with my arm out, You can’t go past here. There’s a spill. They’re taking care of it.

The man reads his ready ticket through his glasses, then checks the glowing numbers between the seats. The woman pushes ahead, the man adjusting his position to not separate their hands.

We paid for those seats, she says, pointing at the spot, leading the man forward.

E9 and E10, he says.

We like the previews, she says. We’re going to sit.

I lower myself fast into the row and make my arm a gate. He’ll be right back, I say. Why don’t you take these seats right here until he does?

But those seats are spoken for, the woman says. The man nods.

I think you’ll be just fine, I say.

You don’t know that, she says. How could you know that? Do you even work here?

I do, I say.

Sure you do, she says.

This is ridiculous, the man says. We’d like to see your manager.

He doesn’t work here, Andy, the woman says.

My manager’s the one on his way right now, I say. Just hang tight. Please.

The couple sits near the spot in their newly assigned seats murmuring to each other, animating the fingers of their held hands. I can’t tell whose are whose.

Roger returns with a folded yellow sign. When he sees the seated couple, he sprints to them, raising his voice, Excuse me! Excuse me, you can’t sit there!

The couple stands, and the woman sharply makes her case to Roger. He listens, nodding, closing his eyes as if praying for patience.

I’m sorry for the inconvenience, he says. I’ll tell you what … Let me make sure its dry, then you can take your seats.

The woman fidgets. That’s all well and good—and we do appreciate your help—but now we’ve missed our previews.

I apologize, ma’am, Roger says. Why don’t we offer you some delicious popcorn and cold beverages? Complimentary, of course.

Well, the woman says, that’s a start.

The man nods vigorously, straining to read the name tag, and says, Thank you, eh …

Roger, says Roger, standing the sign over the spot.

Thank you, Roger, the woman says. We’ll take two Large Diet Cokes and very light butter on the large popcorn, please. Very light.

We’ll have your seats ready in a moment, Roger says, gesturing for me to meet him in the aisle.

What are the odds, I say, as we both near the row’s end.

I had a feeling that would happen, he says, resting his heavy hand on my shoulder. One large popcorn, easy butter, and two medium Diet Cokes. Just tell Angelica it’s comped. Can you do this?

I gotchu, I say.

He gives me the look I deserve.

Really, I say. I got you.

Thanks, buddy, he says.

Before rounding the corner to the long side exit, I turn and watch Roger approach the spot from the far side of the third row, unpinning his name tag from his now untucked polo, removing it, holding it between his thighs as he pins the tag to his black, tucked undershirt, collapsing the yellow sign gently, kneeling, spreading the polo over the spot like a clean linen.

I look up for the hooded woman, to see if she is seeing this. Her seat and the entire upper section are empty and washed green by the beginning of another trailer.