Where Credit Is Due

It was nearly over. It hadn’t been much of a movie—some talk of world domination, some fights, some explosions, and countless shots of the hero running through a hail of bullets while pulling a woman in a torn dress behind him. Now the villain was dead, his scheme thwarted. The hero and the woman in the flatteringly torn dress were attending to the obvious sexual tension between them. I crushed my empty Raisinet box and stuffed it into my promotional drink cup. The hero and the woman were walking along a beach, their backlit affection bleeding into an atomic sunset. They stopped near a bench and kissed. The fronds of a palm tree bristled slightly in the island breeze. The chorus of a song I’d heard while buying my ticket in the lobby burst into the foreground. Most of the audience stood up and watched the screen as they shuffled their way to the exits. I rose slightly in my seat, waiting for the credits before I made my way out of theater. I never leave before the screen goes black and the credits begin to roll. That way I don’t miss anything. So, I waited. Instead, the two lovers broke their kiss. The song played on for awhile and then faded until only the sound of the sea and seabirds remained.

I settled back in my seat, intrigued. Had the villain somehow survived being crushed by a flaming train car filled with explosives? Was there another, secret villain? Mid-way through the movie one of the hero’s best friends had been exposed as a traitor. Was there another traitor? Was the woman a double-agent? Walking hand-in-hand the hero and the woman, now mere silhouettes in the fading light, slowly crossed the beach, arms around each other’s waists, and strolled off-screen. The silhouette of a dog appeared, followed by a loping figure who lobbed a small dark circle into the shallows. The dog dashed in after it with a splash. Okay, I thought, I give them credit for not ending the movie on the usual high note.  The hero and the woman save world and the world goes on, blissfully unaware of what they have done. Interesting.

I picked up my drink again and leaned forward. A couple sitting two rows down stood up, draped their coats over their arms and headed towards the exit beside the screen. To my left I heard murmuring as another couple made their way down the aisle.

Instead of the credits, what followed was a shadow play. The dog paddled out a little ways, retrieved the ball and then turned back, its head bobbing rhythmically above the water. When it reached the shore it paused to shake the water from its coat and then ran towards its owner who patted the dog on the head, then threw the ball farther down the beach. The dog took off at a run and disappeared. The ambling silhouette of the owner followed the dog offscreen.

Swiveling in my seat, I looked all around me. Everyone else in the theater had left. On the screen the last light of sunset faded below the horizon. The black shapes of the bench and the palm tree framed the deepening blues of the sky and ocean. A seagull landed on the back of the bench and strutted there for several seconds before flying off towards the moon.

When had the moon appeared? There were stars, too, slowly brightening against the surrounding night. The distant form of a freighter appeared on the far corner of the horizon.

Still no credits. I considered leaving but I was convinced something was about to happen. Maybe they would cut to the deck of the freighter and a new set of villains would initiate some scheme that would be the subject of a sequel?

Another breeze rustled the palm tree. After awhile the figure of a man wearing a baseball cap appeared with slow, tentative steps. In the darkness it was impossible to see him clearly but his movements were cautious and elderly. Grasping the top of the bench, he lowered himself with deliberation. Then, dark and still, he sat and watched as the freighter continued its slow progress across the screen.

I sat and watched the man on the bench. Was he awake? Was he alive? Was he watching the waves or the ship or simply sitting and thinking?

I watched, still waiting. What was the point of all this?

On the screen the glimmering tips of waves bulged in the distance, beginning their sloping surge towards the beach. One by one the waves crashed and swept onto the shore, rippling into foam, emptily rolling in like credits that never come.

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