As soon as the applause fades, Guillermo takes a seat center stage in front of the Tower Theater audience in downtown Fresno; he is doing a Q&A with a local professor of film studies.
“Watching your film almost feels like,” the film professor muses, chewing on the rubber end of his unsharpened pencil, “feels like, like,” he pauses for a short moment, “like something out of—oh, out of a Cortázar story,” he finally gets out, proudly. “Inspiration of yours, I take it?”
Guillermo nods and mumbles something in response. Then he says, in a voice clear and audible, “If I’m being honest, it all came from a dream. A bad dream, you can assume.”
The film professor nods intently. “The film ends on an ambiguous note,” the professor moves on. “The main character—oh, goodness, I’m drawing a blank on his name!—reads part of the manuscript but not the whole thing, then drops to his knees and begins to pray”—the professor begins chewing on his pencil again—“I’m wondering why he doesn’t read the whole thing, and why does he start praying? Is the character terrified to read his fate?”
Guillermo purses his lips and shrugs. “If I knew, I’d tell you,” he says and gives a charming smile, which delights those in the audience.
“Now, you were in Mexico not long ago,” the professor continues, looking through his note cards. “I heard you were working with Luis Buñuel Valentino.”
“Yes, yes. That’s correct.”
“Was it a collaboration?”
“I suppose. I was in Pueblo Mágico three years ago, and I was working on a documentary not with but on Valentino. I’m a huge fan of his work, but it was my wife’s idea to do this documentary. She had it in mind for a while and we talked about doing it for some time—”
“I wrote the screenplay!” someone yells from the back.
“—what?” Guillermo asks.
“I’m sorry?” the professor asks, caught off guard.
“I wrote the screenplay!” someone else repeats.
“Who said that?” Guillermo yells, getting up from his chair.
“I did! It was me!” someone else shouts.
“Is everything okay?” the professor asks Guillermo, mildly concerned.
“You don’t hear them?” Guillermo says, turning to the crowd.
The professor turns to the quiet audience, who also seems confused. Some turn to each other, some look behind. Not a single soul has spoken a word. Some in the audience eventually let out a laugh, albeit an awkward one. Guillermo manages to center himself and lets out a chuckle to keep the mood light, but there is no denying the sense of worry in his eyes.
A light coating of sweat surfaces, but he ignores this. He asks the film professor to continue asking him questions, and the evening goes on and the atmosphere is back to normal. A drip of sweat, however, gets into Guillermo’s eye, but he doesn’t blink. Not even once.
Guillermo remembers when the screenplay first appeared on his desk. It was three years ago when he had just gotten back from Mexico. He found the screenplay and held it with little enthusiasm, but due to its enormous length and anonymity—there was no author or title listed, and the script was 93 pages long (at the time)—he was also marginally curious.
The first page was only a ‘synopsis’: it explained what Guillermo’s plans were for traveling to Mexico to film a documentary. At first, he thought of this as a poor joke, something that must’ve been written by either one of the crew members; but as he turned the page, Paola’s name appeared. Paola was the woman he met and had an affair with his third night in Mexico. He also discovered that every detail, even every line of dialogue, was the same, essentially verbatim. He immediately became nervous and didn’t know if he should vomit or call the police—or both.
As soon as he was about to reach for the phone, he saw his wife and daughter entering the driveway. In a matter of seconds, Guillermo and his family were all inside the house.
“Daddy!” his daughter cheered. “You’re home!”
“I’m home, my love,” Guillermo said, getting a kiss on the cheek.
“We missed you,” his wife said, with warmth in her eyes.
“I missed you more,” Guillermo said, able to make eye contact for a quick second before remembering the screenplay and what he did in Mexico and feeling a horrible feeling of guilt. He turned his sights to his daughter, whose gaze was innocent.
“Say, what do you think about the next time we come with you?” his wife asked. (Where? Guillermo thought.) “It’s been too long that we’ve had a family vacation.”
“Is that so?” Guillermo said, nonchalantly.
“Yes,” his wife said. “I know you’re tired but still something to think about.”
“Of course,” said Guillermo.
“I think it’d be fun, no? Just the three of us.”
“It would be,” Guillermo said, now holding his daughter.
“No one else,” his wife continued. “No distractions.”
Did she know? If so, how did she find out? Guillermo’s guilt flushed the color to his face. Before a response could come, his wife gave him an ambiguous smirk.
“Just something to think about,” she repeated.
The sound of raindrops falling on the roof relaxes him, as does the sound of rapid typing on a keyboard. He’s in his study. What keeps him from completely enjoying the tranquility and productivity of the moment is his wife: Guillermo can feel her standing there, near the door. But it is not her standing there that annoys or irritates him or even makes him nervous. No, it’s the fact that she has stood there now for nearly ten minutes, chewing on her nails.
They’ve been married long enough for Guillermo to know that whenever she has something on her mind, she bites her nails. They haven’t argued about anything recently, so he’s confident that her nail-biting is nothing serious, but he is also ignorant and unaware of how little he knows about anything outside the confinement of his thoughts.
“Is everything okay?” she finally asks.
“Are you okay?”
“Yes, of course,” Guillermo asks, still typing. “Why do you ask?”
His wife comes near him and tosses a newspaper on top of his desk. “You made it in the local paper,” she says with a hint of worry in her voice. Guillermo grabs the newspaper and skims the title: “Local Filmmaker Gets Stage Fright, Goes Off Script.” After reading the opening page, he shakes his head in disapproval and laughs, forcefully. “The lights were very bright and I got a bit nervous,” he says and hands the newspaper back. “I don’t know what to say.”
“But nothing’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” Guillermo says, “is wrong.”
Of course, he knows this isn’t true: for three years, this hasn’t been true, but it’s something that he has kept inside, revealing nothing. His guilt has increased to consumptive levels, and if he wasn’t wrapped in his own thoughts and trying to make light of the situation by turning his confusion and misery into a play (something that the more rational and sane and non-creative side of his brain would have advised him against), he would’ve understood that his wife has also noticed this change but was unsure of what to make of it.
“Do you have anything to tell me?” she asks, earnestly.
“No,” Guillermo says. “Of course not. If there was, I’d tell you.”
She looks at him and recedes to being mute. She smiles and nods, which Guillermo takes a sign of relief, and when she leaves, he sinks into his chair and exhales, almost as if he was holding his breath. Hitchcock, his cat, walks in and jumps on Guillermo’s lap. Guillermo falls into deep thought as he rubs Hitchcock’s grey-and-white fur.
“I was afraid of what else I was going to read,” he confesses. Once again, no one—and certainly not Hitchcock—has said anything. “But now I’m wondering: What else did happen? How else could the story have gone?” He pauses, looks over to Hitchcock. “Do you think I should read it?” Hitchcock only stares and offers a low purr.
Guillermo leans over and unlocks the third drawer to his desk and reaches his hand deep inside to take out a clasp envelope—and there it is, the screenplay, in his grasp once again.
It has gotten thicker and heavier since the last time he held it. After a minute, he starts reading and discovers that more pages have appeared and more details have been added; the screenplay slips from Guillermo’s shaking hands, and he drops to his knees; he begins to pray, although he has little idea of who or what he’s praying to. He’s inaudible. His head hurts. The bewilderment causes the room to spin. Hitchcock purrs and continues staring, curiously.
Ernesto B. Reyes
Ernesto B. Reyes is currently an MFA student at Fresno State where he studies creative writing and teaches first-year rhetoric & composition. His stories have appeared in the San Joaquin Review, Flies Cockroaches & Poets, Brilliant Flash Fiction, Better than Starbucks, and others. He lives in Fresno, CA, with his family.
Artwork: Abigail Larson, Frankenstein