by Jill Kelsall from Toronto, ON
Feb 11, 12
This story needs a better ending – a Valentine’s Day ending.
It starts at one of the handful of repertory movie houses that survive in Toronto. I could go on about how much I love rep theatres: the just-right scale of them - not colossus, nor over-grown living room, the lack of video arcade hype and outlandish pricing – but that’s not why I’m writing.
It was my birthday. I’d gone to see a movie with a girlfriend.
I’m single, widowed far too young and for far too long. At first I tried to change that story – dated men a computer found for me – and found, as you might expect, a good match on paper, but no soul fit. I believe in soul fit – I believe love … finds you. Maybe that’s why I was at this particular movie on this birthday. It was a love story. I wanted to keep believing.
So there was a man sitting across the aisle from me in the theatre. He was pleasant looking, he had a newspaper – folded thin under one arm. He ate his big bag of popcorn with ungainly enthusiasm. He smiled easily.
The theatre grew dark and I was engrossed - I won’t describe how susceptible I am to movies – it’s embarrassing.
But as the closing titles rolled, I thought again about the man across the aisle. Why couldn’t I meet someone like him?
Suddenly, I remembered the old story about the man at sea. Nearly drowning, he refuses three offers of help, saying that God will save him – that he is waiting for God, ¬and then – he drowns. When he gets to heaven he asks St. Peter why God didn’t save him and St. Peter says – We sent you a rowboat, a life raft and a submarine - what more did you expect?
What more did I expect? He was sitting a few feet away. It was my birthday - you’re supposed to take chances on your birthday.
So – for the first time in four decades, I decided to take a chance. I stood in the aisle behind him and tried to speak. This is where my near decade of singleness collided with a case of indescribable nerves. He looked up and smiled in such a way as to freeze me to immobility. Then he stood up and left the theatre. I compelled my limbs to move.
A crowded movie lobby doesn’t do anything to ease the nerves. He was through the door. He stood outside in the pool of light spilling out onto the sidewalk putting on his coat. “Excuse me” I blurted.
Somehow, I explained. “I don’t usually do this. It’s my birthday. So I’m just going to ask you if – um by any chance you’re single?”
“As a matter of fact, I am” - he said it sheepishly – looking down and then up with a smile, and I was… well, I was just thrilled. We chatted, he wished me a happy birthday and then offered to take me for a drink.
In a fit of misguided loyalty I told him I couldn’t because I had come with a friend.
“I can’t ditch her – it wouldn’t be right - but I’d really like to do that sometime. Can I give you my number?” I scrawled the number on his newspaper. He walked with me to the corner where I saw my friend and floated across the street to meet her.
Willing my feet to stay on the road I beamed at my friend that “I did it!” and as I explained the situation I could see it vividly – the number I wrote on that paper. It was my number alright – when I was twelve.
My old brain had lurched into action and I had written my childhood telephone number on that paper.
I ran, no I pelted back to find him. He was gone.
The worst part is not losing track of him – the worst part is the thought that he might be as good a guy as he seemed. He might pick up the phone and get the operator’s voice that’s now at the end of that number – and he might think it was a cruel trick, it was just the opposite. It was a leap of faith.
I put a note on the theatre’s website and left a card at the ticket booth addressed to Nick. Nick – that’s all I know, no numbers, no addresses, just a face, a name and faith.
I’d like to say it doesn’t matter – but it matters to me.
This story needs a better ending.