The theater lights go out, and I smile to myself as latecomers scramble to find seats and run into each other, spilling their popcorn and bruising their shins. Suckers. Of course, this could have been me on any number of other occasions. But not today. Today is different. Today is the fourth screening of Brave with my toddler at the dollar theater, and we’ve finally gotten it right. Fourth time’s the charm.
Addison sits on my lap, her head leaning back against my chest. She holds one of my fingers in her hand and a baby carrot in the other. I’m pretty sure she’s going to forget which hand holds the edibles, but I’m feeling benevolent. Maybe this time I won’t get bit. Her hair smells faintly of soap and spaghetti sauce. It’s nice. This is a good moment.
The movie’s about to start, and I hold my daughter’s little body close as I bend and dig into the diaper bag, pulling out a book. So far, so good. I reach into my pocket, and pull out a little flashlight. Deep breath. Moment of truth, here we come.
I remove my finger from the kid’s grasp and open the book in my left hand. I flick on the flashlight with my right.
Too bright! Addison shields her eyes, and I can see the glow reflecting off of the walls nearby. I flick it off. I think for a minute, as I watch Merida and her “Mum” playing hide and seek. Maybe if I sort of cup the end of the flashlight in my fist, allowing just a tiny sliver of light to escape . . .
Alright! It . . . kind of works. As long as I’m gripping the light just the right way . . . damn. I just blinded someone. I put the book down, repositioning my fingers over the end of the light. Addison looks up at me and tries to swat my hand away.
“Shhh. It’s okay. Just watch the movie, kiddo.”
I try the light again. Okay, this could work. It takes me a minute to find my page in the book again. But Addison’s in the way. I struggle to find a way to get the light close to the page and also be able to see the thing. The light slips again. It’s like a little light show over in this corner of the theater. I wonder if I should whisper really loudly, “Sorry!” but decide against it.
I make Addison get off my lap, but strike out with the chair next to me, which keeps wanting to fold up and eat her. So I force her to stand next to me in the aisle. She’s okay with this for the moment, her attention on the screen. So I position my flashlight hand again, and make another attempt.
I manage to shield the light pretty well, which means that it comes out rather dim and unpredictably. I have to hunch forward and peer close to the page to read, but I’m going to make this work. I get through about a page and a half before my flashlight hand starts to cramp up. The exasperated pressure building up inside of me leaks out of my mouth in a strange, unpleasant sound.
“What’s wrong, daddy?”
“Nothing, just watch the movie.”
I massage my hand and have another go at it. In the movie, a bear makes an appearance, and Addison rushes back for me and I fumble the flashlight. It rolls a couple of rows, stopping with the light shining down towards the front of the theater. Damn. Nation.
I manage to get the book and flashlight packed away. I watch the rest of the movie with my daughter on my lap and thirty-thousand people staring angrily at the back of my head. I can feel them. It burns.
Since I’ve got the movie memorized, we’re at the door before the scene fades to black. As we flee, I’m making revisions in my head for our next visit. Fifth time’s the charm, maybe.
I imagine being back in the theater, holding a book in one hand, my daughter in the other, and still being able to read. Somehow. It’s close, I can feel it.