First showing was three days later, a Saturday, with the film being projected on the white cinderblock wall of Butchie’s Garage, which sat at the end of the road leading into the Sunset.
Residents began filing down two hours before show time. Some brought lawn chairs for seats. Others dropped the tailgates of their pickup trucks and sat on those. The Vilanova brothers carried their living room couch all the way down, just to show everyone how to watch a movie in style.
Wes, Doug, and Jason set up the projector they’d acquired from the community rec center. All three were dressed in their best jeans and tee shirts. Jason had even combed his hair, which was a first for him, carefully crafting a magnificent part that had some of the adults addressing him as President Kennedy.
Five minutes before the start of the show, Momma and Denny drove down in their brown El Dorado. No one asked where Grady was, though many whispered theories passed through the crowd.
Momma took her seat in the recliner waiting for her at the front of the audience. She showed no reaction to the encouraging pats on the back or the warm words she received. She just sat there looking very dignified, and very determined. Jason hit the power button, and the Sunset Matinee began.
It didn’t take very long for the audience to realize the ruse that had been played upon them.
The chaotic scenes that they’d starred in weren’t even in the film, except for occasional instances where they could be seen in the background. Rather, the movie was composed of clips that had been shot by Denny on the sly since the moment that the auditions began.
Like a cinematographic ninja, Grady’s little brother had captured dozens of community interactions. From the hysterics of the crowd watching Sam Lacoe’s bumbled attempts to ride a unicycle to Sherry Ray consoling her daughter over a tear in the girl’s tutu, from Jason unknowingly filming for nearly a full minute with the lens cap still on to Doug and Mary Sherman discretely holding hands while eating hot dogs, Denny had captured it all.
What emerged was a picture of a vibrant community of loving, lovely individuals. After the initial confusion passed, bouts of wild laughter arose from the crowd. A few eyes filled up with tears. Projected onto the side of Butchie’s Garage on a summer night, the Sunset looked like a place at least as good as any spot on the planet, and a great deal better than most.
At the very end of the film, Grady appeared onscreen, sitting on the couch in his mother’s living room. He looked pale, maybe even a little thinner than he’d been the last time people had seen him three days before, but the smile on his face was radiant.
“All my life,” Grady said, “the only thing I thought about was getting out of this trailer park. I didn’t even care where I went. Any place seemed better than here. Now, knowing that I’m sick and don’t have much time left, I regret that.
The saddest thing about it is that I never even thought to make the place better, not just for me, but for everyone else. I mean, let’s face it, I probably made it quite a bit worse, if anything.
That’s why, after I found out I was going to die, I got to thinking about how I could make some kind of mark before I left. That’s where the inspiration for this movie came from. I want all of you to know that from where I sit now, you’re all beautiful. I’m grateful to have spent my life here with all of you.
And Momma, I’m grateful that you raised me here.”
For years afterwards, people would swear that Grady’s eyes looked down from the screen and directly at his mother at that very moment, as if he could actually see her.
“If I got the chance to live again, I’d do it all over right here. I swear I would. The only difference is that I’d be less of a shithead.”
That line got some laughs from the crowd.
“So, for the Sunset Matinee finale, I want to thank you all for being a part of my life, and I want to offer you some wisdom. Yes, I know I’m younger than most of you and you’re probably wondering what the heck some punk kid is going to tell you about living. All I can say to that is learning that your days are numbered makes you grow up real fast, much faster than you can grow up in any other way.
What I want to say is that none of it is really all that complicated. It never was. The meaning is each other. That’s all. The meaning of life is the people around you right now. So, next time you’re feeling lost or worthless, make someone laugh. Give them a hand. Do something for someone else. Sounds too simple to be true, maybe. But, from where I sit, it’s the only thing I wish I had more time to do, and the biggest thing I think I’m going to miss.
The screen went black and the crowd sat in a heavy silence that seemed to last for a long time, though it was really only a few seconds. Then, all as one, they broke into passionate applause. The standing ovation went on for nearly five minutes.
After that, people quietly packed their things and headed back to the park.
The attendees filed behind Momma as they went, regardless of whether or not it was actually on their way. They patted her shoulder. A few kissed her cheek.
Through it all she remained unmoving, her eyes fixed on the wall of the garage with an expression of proud defiance.
Copyright 2020 Jeff Suwak
Continue to Part 13 (Final)