Friday, 6 January 2012

The Home Cinema

Although it was years ago, Rob still remembered the night he and his partner Beth, along with their friends Barry and Sam, decided to convert the bottom half of the house that he and Beth had recently purchased into a cinema.

It was just a drunken conversation over a bottle of wine and a DVD of Amarcord at first; about how the small town that both couples had ended up in, following their university days in big cities, had but one cinema, and that only showed the big Hollywood films. If they wanted to watch the quality art films they had enjoyed on a regular basis not so long ago, they had no choice but to rent them from the local library, and they had a pitifully small selection.

We should run our own cinema, Rob had joked, and then we could show whatever films we liked.

Yeah, said Sam, that would be good.

Well why don’t we, said Barry. We could do it: between us we’ve got the knowledge to run a business, especially with Beth’s accountancy skills. I mean, there’s bound to be an audience for it; there must be loads of people just like us living round here, not being able to go and see anything they want to watch. So why not open our own cinema, right in this town?

But how would we afford to rent the property, asked Sam. A space that big would cost a fortune.

It wouldn’t have to be big, said Barry, just large enough for a basic screen, about fifty seats, a projector’s booth, and a kiosk. We could run an absolutely amazing, really tiny cinema.

What about here? said Beth, out of the blue.

How would that work? said Rob.

Well, she replied, we knock down the wall between the living room and the dining room. We’d still be able to get to the kitchen through the hall, and we could make upstairs into a flat for us. We’d have the screen on the far wall, and the projector’s booth would be in the bay window, then we’d fit in as many seats as we could in the space between.

Yeah, that would work actually, said Rob. I mean, now’s the time to do it. After all, we don’t have kids and won’t do for a bit, fingers crossed, although sometime, of course, and this house is much more space than we really need. And we’ve got a bit of money, and we’re young now. Really, this could be our big adventure; the thing we tell people about in years to come that was totally crazy but we’re really proud of, so let’s do it!

Yeah! they all said, and Barry proposed a toast to the cinema.

That night, after Barry and Sam had staggered out their front door and he had clambered woozily into bed, he thought about the cinema as he lay, imagining the possibilities of the films they could show, the seasons they’d have of their favourite directors, and whether the curtains on the screen would pull to the sides or rise upwards. Rise upwards, he pondered, that would be more magical.

The cinema’s a great idea, he said to Beth, just before they both fell asleep.

Yeah, it is, she muttered.

We’re definitely going to do it, aren’t we, he said.

Yeah, of course we are.

He was still thinking about the cinema when he woke up the next morning. He had the idea that they could somehow use the kitchen as a place from where they could sell ice creams and refreshments, taking the door out maybe and replacing it with a flip-up counter. They could still use the kitchen to cook their tea in; just use it as a kiosk as well when the films were on.

He was going to mention it to Beth, but she looked too much in a hurry to get to work, both of them having overslept slightly because of the booze. He was quite surprised that she didn’t mention the cinema herself though, as she was excited about it as he was, the night before.

As he drove to work, Rob considered the projector. Would it have to be in a booth, he thought. It would save space if it weren’t. But then it would be too noisy. It would have to be in a booth, just a very little one. Who would work the projector, he asked himself, as the lights turned red at the crossing. They could hire somebody, and pay them from the ticket money, or he could work out how to do it himself. It couldn’t be that hard. He would work the projector, and Beth could work behind the kiosk. Barry could work the door, and Sam could… well Sam could do the kiosk when Beth was busy doing something else, he guessed. Maybe they would all do a bit of everything. That way, the place would run like clockwork.

Rob parked his car, put his security card round his neck, passed through reception, took the lift upstairs, went down the corridor, and sat at his desk. It was there, at round about nine thirty-five, that he had his first negative thought about the cinema. What about parking? They had a driveway, but only enough space for two cars. He reflected for a moment, and decided, as it was a specialist art cinema, the clientele would understand that they could not provide them with the amenities that a normal cinema would. They would leave their cars at home, of course, and be happy to come on the bus. Anyway, a lot of their customers would be students or intellectuals, who would cycle everywhere anyway.

The next potential problem occurred to him round about ten twenty-seven. Insurance. Their home insurance would never cover it. He’d have to look it up, but he imagined that the payments on something like a cinema would be pretty hefty. Still, he’d already resigned himself to the idea that they’d have to take out a rather steep business loan from the bank to make it happen. Insurance would be something they would need to take into account, but Beth’s deft accounting skills would see them through, he was sure.

At eleven eighteen, he thought about planning permission, and mulling over health and safety by eleven thirty-two. By the time he was getting ready for lunch at twelve thirty, he had an awful feeling that the cinema might not be a good idea.

The phone rang. It was Barry. He was phoning to ask Rob if he was hung-over because he was, and to say thank you from him and Sam for a great night. Rob waited for him to do so, but he didn’t mention the cinema. Rob wanted to say something himself: get some reassurance that it was a good idea, that they really were going to do it, but he just couldn’t. The words wouldn’t leave his throat. He put the phone down, feeling ashamed.

Beth was home already when he got back at quarter past six. She was standing in the kitchen, putting some pasta on in the space where the kiosk would have been. He kissed her hello, and sat in the living room with a cold drink, looking out the bay window, where the projector and its booth were both absent from his line of vision, resting on a sofa pushed up against the wall where the screen should have been.

He wanted to call her in; talk to her about the cinema, come up with solutions to the various problems he’d thought of during the day. Make it seem like a good idea again. Make it ok. But he didn’t.

He looked out the window. He turned the telly on.

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