Screen Test: A Short Film
by Thom Arnold
He is sitting on a bus, head rattling against the window. He’s not wearing any earphones, not reading, just watching the houses pass. Absorbing the vibrations of the road. He sees a man and woman walking a dog on the street, and moves his head to follow them.
He looks down, checks his watch, and reaches up to pull the stop request line. He’s on his feet before the bus stops and tries to excuse his way past the old woman next to him. Oblivious to his maneuvers, she stares straight ahead until the bus comes to a complete stop, and only then does she raise her head, smile, and scoot her legs into the aisle.
He’s wearing an outfit that appears to be assembled entirely of Salvation Army scavengings but is well-groomed with a neat, close beard and fashionable, maybe even feminine, sunglasses. Is she seeing this? We can’t say. Thanking the bus driver, he steps out into the street.
It only takes him a few steps to arrive at a door wedged tightly between a youth clothing store and a restaurant. It has no number on it. He looks around quickly. To the observer, it’s not clear if he’s orienting himself or checking for lurkers. Satisfied with whatever he sees, he reaches for the doorknob.
Now we are a frame. All within is white walls and a white chair. No longer are we in the plane of his existence. We peer through a lens, and existence becomes a screen – digital, film, print. We are his world.
He sits down. We’re focused on his face now, his shoulders hovering in the bottom of the frame. He removes the sunglasses, breathes in. Closes his eyes. Exhales, and looks at us.
A history appears on his face. We watch his eyes change, lifting and brightening. No longer is he the man on the bus. His cheeks raise, and a smile curls in.
“I’m Angel.” The history coating his voice.
“What do you do around here?” we ask.
“Whatever I want to do, I guess.” His shoulders shrug slowly, not slightly. Exaggerated, yet believable.
“Really? Sounds like a good gig!” we joke. Badly.
“Yeah, I guess.” He looks away, disappointed and bored.
“Well how do you get away with it?” We bore him. We press onward, hoping to bring her back.
She takes a deep breath. Blinking, exhaling, and returning her gaze to us.
“I just don’t worry about things.” She lies here. There is no indication of this being a lie other than a feeling she gives us. Something about her is false.
Someone interrupts us.
“Alright, that’s great. Could you try going through the other part?” They ask.
We do not blink. Our frame remains open; it does not cut to black. He closes his eyes. There is nothing but more of his inhaling. His shoulders rolling. Neck cracking. He rubs his eyes and opens them.
“I can’t believe this is who you are, who you’ve become,” he barks.
The severity of his voice is startling, but, betrayed by pain, it wavers. We understand he is older.
“Could you just listen to me?” we plead.
He opens his mouth.
“Again, but looser.” They are not satisfied.
“Let’s make it fun.” They order it.
He looks us in the eye. Inhales, exhales, maintains eye contact, then a blink.
“This is who you are, now?” He leans back.
“I can’t believe you’re coming to me with this.” His eyes cautious, head tilted away from us. His hands open, moving about as he speaks. No longer older; we are all equals now.
It’s effective. Just listen. We offer, calming:
“Think of the money.”
“I am thinking about the money.”
On his face we see a monologue appear, unbidden: caution marked by cheek biting and eye twitching, transitioning expertly into sullen acceptance – swallowing, face-slackening.
“I just don’t think it’s a good idea.”
“Thank you.” They interrupt our moment.
He looks at them. Our gaze does not shift. We watch his looking.
“It was a pleasure.” He smiles, gets up, and leaves. For a moment, everything is again white walls and an empty chair.
Back on his plane, again we are invisible to him, and, as he departs, again we follow. We are no longer his world. We are no longer recording it. He goes down the stairs, leaving the cold, white light behind him. He fades into the darkness briefly before the soft glow of the street brings him back. He opens the door.
Outside it’s raining, now. He looks up, a drop of water splashing on his cheek; he blinks and reaches for the sunglasses.
Our eyes go black.
All we hear is rain and music.
is a writer, social worker, and pop culture enthusiast. He got his MSW from the School of Social Work at the University of Michigan in 2014 and is currently based in Boston, MA. This is his second publication. He recently launched and occasionally contributes to POPTIVIST, a blog about pop music and art.