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Short Story
From 'At The Arthouse (A Farce in Super 8)'

That was when all the trouble had begun, as far as he could see, with that night degree she’d done out in University College, Dublin. She’d started getting ideas about herself then. ‘Film Studies’, no less. At first she’d thought she’d do ‘Women’s Studies’, but then she’d changed her mind. It is a woman’s prerogative to change her mind. There was a ‘Women in Film’ module as part of ‘Film Studies’ anyway. He’d wondered if a man could do ‘Women’s Studies’ too, if he wanted to. Studying women, he’d have liked that. But no, ‘Film Studies’ it was, for her.









Why would she, or indeed anyone, want to study films? Movies are just movies, and you either like them or you don’t. Most of the wives of the men he works with rent videos just to keep their kids quiet, not to study them. At least Lucy and him hadn’t had any kids. So they hadn’t had to keep them quiet. Although maybe it would have been better if they had had some. Maybe then she wouldn’t have had the time to go off studying films. Most of the men he works with watch Sky Sport at home if they can afford the satellite dish and connection fee, or in the pub if they can’t, or if they want to be with their mates. When they watch a film, if they watch a film, their idea of a good one is something with lots of action and adventure, featuring Arnold Schwerzenegger or Silvester Stallone or Bruce Willis in daring escapades, smashing villains’ heads in. Or else something with a nice bit of body showing, Demi Moore or Michelle Pfiffer or Sharon Stone being sexy, getting their kits off. Or best of all, both of these in the one show. You don’t need to study those kinds of films. You just enjoy them.
He works in an insurance company, as a salesman. She had been a cashier in a building society, until she’d finished her studies. Then she’d left and started freelancing, as she’d called it, doing different jobs here and there, buying costumes and props for films that were in production, and then being a location manager. At first she’d made less money than he had as a cashier, and she was only working on and off, now and then. Then she’d begun to make more money than before, and to be working more often, in fact almost all the time. She even made more money than him, all the time, in the end.
It was while she was doing her degree that she’d begun dragging him out to see films he wouldn’t normally have considered going to see, or even watching if they’d been on the television. She insisted that the full effect of the best films could only be appreciated when they were viewed on the big silver screen, and so staying at home and renting videos was, for her, a poor substitute. During their courtship, of course, they had gone to the pictures together, but since she’d started studying film she called those kinds of movies ‘commercial’ or ‘mainstream’. She preferred ‘independent’ films, she said, or ‘classics’. Although there was another category, she added, which combined being just for fun with making you think as well. It was called ‘cross-over’.
One of these new kinds of films that he’d actually liked, once she’d succeeded in getting him to the cinema to see it, is really an old one, in black and white. It is the one about the two men who disguise themselves by dressing up as women, because some gangsters are after them because they were witnesses to a shooting. They are musicians, and they join an all girl band for a tour, and there’s this one girl they both fancy, but they can’t do much about it, so long as they have to keep pretending to be women. This is a comedy. He’d liked this actress, the blonde one who’d played the real woman, even if she’d only been a fake blonde. Lucy had said that this woman was ‘the last star’, and that the reason he liked her was because he was nostalgic for women film stars who did not, either on film or in real life, project a public image of self-possession and professional authority. He could not feel about Jodie Foster or Susan Sarandon or Sigourney Weaver the way he felt about this woman, because they were stronger than she had been, and had more control over the lives they led and the parts they played. Or so it seemed. He liked vulnerability, even if it was just another pose. With the star of this film, you could also get the feeling that maybe it wasn’t just another pose. She liked forcefulness, especially if it wasn’t just another pose. With the actresses she admired, you rarely got the feeling that maybe it was just another pose. He thought that what Lucy had said was very difficult for such a simple film. It was comedy. A film so simple that it even has a happy ending, like most comedies have, unlike most of the films she’d begun bringing him to see. He loved a happy ending.

First published in ‘New Irish Writing’, in The Sunday Tribune, February 1998, edited by Ciaran Carty, and nominated for a Hennessy Literary Award for Best Emerging Fiction









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