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African American Black Contemporary

The frayed cuff of Lanelle Vidal’s gray cotton hoodie slid behind her, rustling up leaves as she paced in front of the local cinema. Car horns from across the street echoed through the parking lot, like the piercing flaps of a bat’s wings in a cave.

          

“Are you almost here?” Lanelle asked into her mobile phone.

          

“Yeah, but please go ahead and buy the ticket.”


Lanelle refrained from stating the obvious: Charlie was supposed to have already reserved their seats. He had assured her of as much several times.


“Okay,” she said in little more than a whisper.


“Good, see you soon.”


The movie theater was nearly at capacity. Lanelle managed to secure a spot with a spare beside it. Payday was just around the corner, not that anyone told her bank account, and she could not afford the price of admission for two. She hoped that Charlie would arrive soon to claim the space next to her.


An unpleasant musk rose as she sat, mingling with the artificial butter and the sour, sweet scent of spilled soda in the air. Lanelle folded her arms and crossed her legs to avoid accidental contact with the sizable man to her right. Charlie would be most content and less likely to complain in the nylon recliner between her and the wall.


The opening credits petered out along with polite, but firm, requests for all mobile devices to be silenced. Her phone buzzed, loud enough to startle the man beside her. Another person was walking towards them, and she took note of the lack of other spots available in the isle. She wondered if he was an employee sent to complete a routine check. This idea was dashed as he drew near, a bag of Doritos and a box of whoppers in hand. As a bonus, he brought with him the pungent odor of marijuana.


Lanelle felt her chest rise and contract in rapid succession as she tried to force herself to explain that this seat, although empty, was indeed taken. When she opened her mouth, no words came to her aid, but vivid images of headlines on the news of shootings in movie theaters started to fill her mind. You’re being ridiculous. Just nicely tell him to beat it, Charlie will be here any minute.


She took a deep breath and readied herself to run in the event that the stoner responded poorly to a request of his removal. Before she could utter anything, her phone buzzed again.


“Ma’am,” the large man said with a thick southern accent and a pointed look.


“Oh, right. Sorry,” Lanelle said, quick to retrieve her phone. Her screen was alight with a preview of a message from Charlie: “I’m buying the ticket now.”


“Excuse me ma’am, you're going to need to put that away now.” The man interjected again, impatient. He stared down at the phone, the underside of his face lit as though he were about to recite a sinister story around a bonfire. She darkened the screen and chucked it under her legs.


Trapped between two strangers, one of which seemed capable of violence if she were to attempt an exit, Lanelle’s eyes reddened. She was there at the behest of a man who could not be bothered to show up on time for a film she had no desire to see


***


Lanelle stared absently ahead as she fought the urge to cry. A moon-faced character with large eyes filled the screen and the subtitles she had been ignoring grew larger.

“You have got to start sticking up for yourself,” the pale-yellow creature implored a juvenile in rumpled clothing. “If you don't, people will walk all over you forever. Do you know whose fault that would be? It would be yours. Because you let it happen.”


***


Rideshare services had become just as unreliable as traditional taxis, and prices had skyrocketed to similarly obscene heights. Charlie had not done as his message suggested. He did not buy a movie ticket. He was not there to take her home. Lanelle would have to walk.


She had waited as scores of people flooded the halls, lingered by as fresh faces bumbled into various auditoriums, and stalked the bathroom for any sign of her boyfriend. Every six-foot look alike - of which there were many - egged her fidgety hands on more. Tense to the point of aching, she wrung them red. Her phone remained shoved in her back pocket, still on vibrate, unagitated.


Not only had he stood her up, but he had failed to call. Something must have happened, she reasoned.


***


Lanelle stepped onto the jigsaw pattern of bricks lining their driveway. A crick in her neck protested when she looked up, taking in Charlie's pressed khakis and blue button down as he stood in the doorway, ready for her arrival.


“I am so sorry, really. I got a last-minute call from my boss. I told him about the movie and our plans. He gave me an ultimatum.”


Lanelle was unsure of how to respond. His apology was unsatisfactory. It sounded much like the others. She wanted to ask him why he had lied about buying the movie tickets in the first place or if he even remembered that she was strapped for cash and didn’t have a way home without walking. These thoughts left her tired and with, randomly, an urgent need to urinate. The intense desire to relieve herself took hold and she pushed past Charlie without a word.


The toilet paper holder beside her was empty, save for a brown cardboard roll left in its place. It took Charlie several minutes to deliver a knock, a roll, and a plea for her to be ready in no more than fifteen minutes.


“My colleagues are all there. At the Spot on Brown.”


Of course, they are. “I was hoping I’d have a moment to eat and get showered. The walk was pretty grueling.”


“Yeah, I grabbed you a protein bar and here’s a hand towel for you to wash up.”


***


They were in the middle of the downtown district, surrounded by plants and modern hippies. Lanelle thought it an unexpected change of pace for Charlie and his colleagues.


“Ah, you guys are here,” said a pretty brunette that always left Lanelle feeling a little insecure. Charlie greeted her and the rest of the predominantly male lot. They dove into conversation right away, leaving Lanelle to entertain herself at the empty end of the table. When a sign in sheet fell into her lap, she put ink to paper, all too happy to have someone, even the barista, acknowledge her presence.


An hour passed by before a man with long dark locks appeared, a microphone and a clipboard in either of his hands.


“Welcome to Voices with No End, the longest running open mic night in the city. I am so glad you all chose to join us this evening. Y’all know me, KT, I like to switch it up each week so,” he lifts the clipboard, “I think we are going to do it like this tonight. Someone, anyone, pick a number.”


“Eight!” a blonde woman with purple streaks in the back shouts.


“Seven,” a man in a skirt adds.


“Well, I heard eight first so, eight it is.” the host says and looks down and rummages through lined pages.


“Everyone, we got a new name on the list so please, let’s give a warm welcome to Lanelle!”


At once, everyone at her table is reminded that she is in attendance. “No way, can you believe it, someone has your name.” The smug look in Charlie's eyes is worsened by the laughs of his company. She looks around in disbelief, unsure if someone in the crowd is also called Lanelle. When the applause starts to die down and the host laughs out an awkward, “Don’t be shy, you got this whoever you are,” she is reminded of sitting on the smelly nylon seat in the theater, reading: “You have got to start sticking up for yourself. If you don't, people will walk all over you forever.”


 It's all she could do to take in the mixture of hesitant claps from her table when she stood to greet the host and receive the mic.


How did I get here? The host gave her a wink of encouragement. He put his hands up in the sign of a ‘three’ and she correctly took this as her time limit, not that she would use it all. She found herself staring out into a group of unrecognizable faces who politely smiled and eagerly offer sporadic claps, foot stomps, and snaps.


“Um, hi everyone. I’m, um. I am Lanelle and I have never done anything like this before.”


“HEY THERE VIRGIN!” The crowd erupted in unison. Startled, she stepped back. “I guess, if it's okay, I’d like to just say a few words.” God, what am I doing?


“You got this,” someone shouted.


“I think something important occurred to me today. I was sitting alone in a theater, a place I greatly fear because of the upswing in shootings. I felt a loneliness that I hadn’t felt in a while. I sat between two grown men that did not make me feel warm or fuzzy inside. I kept wondering how I ended up there, and frankly feeling sorry for myself. I was barely watching this movie that I can’t even tell you the name of now, and this character started saying something in a language I can’t speak with a passion I can’t match so I broke down and read the subtitles.


This cat looking thing was saying something about how, if you don't stop people from walking all over you, then you're complicit in their abuse. I think that’s exactly what I have been. I have been holding on to these thoughts of politeness and gentility hoping that they would save me . . . hoping that if I'm nicer or kinder or less threatening, I don't know - maybe people would want to be around me and not harm me?


God, I must sound like a paranoid freak. I don't even know what I'm trying to say, I just thought if I could be a socially acceptable, digestible, version of myself, then I would be loved, and people would show up for me. But it turns out, nobody's going to show up for me if I don't show up for myself.”


Lanelle paused as people, much to her surprise, began to snap.


“In sticking to this role that I have always played, I don't make room for the person I was meant to be or that I want to become. I'm constantly trying to save people's feelings and that is not the same thing as saving those people or myself even.” More snaps and claps and suddenly she's not looking down at the floor, something she hadn’t realized she was doing.


“I think it's time that I stop following whatever script I gave myself - relieve myself of whatever part I thought I needed to play. I think it's time,” she looked at Charlie, “I think it's time that I make room for me.” 

December 24, 2022 04:49

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7 comments

Zack Powell
22:11 Dec 29, 2022

Totally agree with David here - this story definitely deserves an Inspirational tag. Great message there at the end. And I loved your imagery throughout, especially at the movie theater. I felt like I was right there, with the smells and the light from the phone. Such a great setting, and I think you really invoked the feeling of being there. Isn't too long of a story, but it's got a lot of humanity and heart to it. Lanelle felt like someone that we all know, like a close acquaintance or a friend. Great job with writing her. Thanks for shari...

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S N
02:36 Dec 30, 2022

I'm all smiles with thus comment, Zack! Thank you for reading. I was iffy about the bat thing, so I appreciate a vote in its favor.

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Jody S
01:21 Apr 01, 2023

Love the inspirational vibe! You took me deep into Lanelle's despair and the when I thought it could not get worse, she pulled up and inspiration hit fan 😍

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S N
14:23 Apr 01, 2023

Thank you Jody!

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David Sweet
21:35 Dec 24, 2022

Way to go, girl! That was a great story. Hopefully, it will be inspirational to someone who needs to hear your message. Very well written. Lanelle was realized in a clear and positive way.

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S N
21:51 Dec 24, 2022

David, thank you! After having read your story earlier today - thank the heavens I can just read all day today! - I am truly honored to receive such positive feedback from you.

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David Sweet
22:15 Dec 24, 2022

I am enjoying your stories and plan to read all of them. Feel free to leave any feedback for me. I appreciate it.

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