Home Movie

It seemed like a fragment of a childhood memory.  I was sitting in the front seat of a pickup truck beside my grandfather.  The truck was parked in the doorway of a collapsing old barn that my grandfather used as a garage.  Only the bed of the truck was tucked inside the barn.  The cab was out in the open in the muddy driveway that wound its way up to the barn, and the driveway was lined with rusty mufflers and discarded fenders and other debris on either side.  There were empty cans of oil and old food wrappers scattered about the seat of the truck.  My grandfather just stared out the windshield, saying nothing, as he drank black coffee from his heavy brown thermos.  He held the thermos in one hand and he held the lid in the other and he drank the coffee from the lid.  He took his time drinking the coffee, dipping his chin forward with each sip but keeping his eyes fixed and watchful on something out there beyond the windshield.  It was an overcast day, but through the grime on the windshield I could see that there was soft light breaking through a stand of bare trees across the field.

I wasn’t sure what the significance of this memory was, or why it had lingered with me.  But as I sat there watching my grandfather and watching him watch the light through the stand of trees as though he expected something to emerge from that spot, I heard a voice somewhere in the darkness of the barn behind me.  It sounded distant, like it was rattling around inside a rusty metal drum.  The voice was talking about how they could clean up old footage like this, make it something crisp and usable.  As the voice spoke, it seemed like the scene before me was drawing focus.  The colors and shapes softened and blurred for a moment, as though seen through a tear drop, and then the whole scene pulled into an incredible sharpness.  I could see every detail.  All of it became meaningful.  There was a movie of this.  The boy and the grandfather sitting in the truck.  The light beyond the trees.  There were long, unspoken shots that you lived with, dwelt in, contemplated for their own sake.

I opened the door and climbed down from the truck.  I wanted to have a look around, see everything with this new clarity.  I saw it all in a succession of long takes.  There was a long shot of a row of pines, the wind cascading through their branches.  I could see every needle.  I could feel winter coming in on the wind.  The shot lingered just as long as it needed to, saying everything it needed to say.  I turned and saw the farmhouse with the long clothesline strung from the corner of the house to a telephone pole out by the road.  There were sheets and blankets hung on the line and they rippled in the wind.  There was no one around, but the shot rolled on and on, as if to say that it would stay here, long after everything else was gone, after the wind had carried off the world, and there just this place, just this memory.

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One thought on “Home Movie

  1. There’s a smooth perfection to this, and a tying together of things . . . don’t know if I want to try and analyse what I mean, or perhaps should save it for a response to yours at my place.

    But then I cannot resist remarking on the artistry, where the simple narrative is just one strand of a triple appeal to the reader, the other two being its presentation as a movie, with various techniques for highlighting “significance”—zooming, unblurring and lingering—and the declaration, repeated in various ways, of intrinsic meaningfulness.

    And the best part is that it’s not aimed at making the reader ask “What is the meaning, then?” as if such intensity of gaze, such clarity needed something else.

    Liked by 1 person

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