1The Great Class Divide
A rich girl meets a poor boy.
They come from different worlds.
She’s heading toward amazing things but feels suffocated by them.
He’s from the wrong side of the tracks. He was in a gang once. He’s not anymore.
But he looks rough enough around the edges for her parents to disapprove once the two of them fall madly in love, despite having literally no life experiences in common.
“Here’s where we keep the pulled pork.”
Marianna—“everyone just calls me Ma”—pulled up a metal hatch, blasting my face with the stench of dead pig.
“The pulled pork,” she repeated. “For the pulled pork hot dogs.”
“Cinemas serve pulled pork hot dogs?”
I jumped as Ma slammed the hatch closed. “Flicker is not just any cinema. We’re not like CineUniverse. At Flicker, we pride ourselves on a unique, artisan cinema experience.” She smoothed down her black silk shirt. “Now, if you just follow me into the kitchen, I’ll train you on how to make the fresh guacamole.”
Two hours later and I hadn’t learned any of the skills I’d thought I would during my first day working in a small independent cinema. Ma had not once mentioned films or shown me where a projector was. Instead, I learned how to work the till, smush guacamole, shred pulled pork, pour the exact amount of balsamic vinegar into virgin olive oil to make a dipping pot for the “sourdough fingers,” oh, and mix “cinnamon dust” for the popcorn. It took an hour for Ma to admit that, yes, they did still have popcorn.
“When do you train me on taking ticket stubs and showing people to their seats?” I asked Ma midway through washing the avocado out from under my fingernails. The cinema opened in less than thirty minutes, and I hadn’t even been inside the screening rooms.
Ma smiled. “Oh, we don’t want you to run before you can walk.”
The smile made parts of my tummy hurt, like someone was about to jump out in a horror film. She didn’t look older than thirty, but she behaved like an android. Her hair was pulled back into a stiff bun, and she clopped around in ridiculous heels. “You can just be in charge of food tonight. That’s all I’ve put you down for on the schedule.”
I’d seen the color-coded schedule in the tiny staffroom upstairs. It had every hour split into ten-minute intervals.
“Great,” I tried to chirp.
“Harry will be here in a second to do tickets. The new Dick Curtisfield is out, so it’s going to be busy.”
Dick Curtisfield. I used to adore his fuzzy, lovey films . . .
“Is that okay?” Ma gave me a look like I’d be murdered if I dared say anything other than yes. But busy was good. Busy was why I’d taken the job. I didn’t care what lies people were happy to watch as long as I was busy enough to not think about the message I had received when I walked in.
Mom: Your father wants to sell the house.
He wants us to sell the house. Our house. Our home.
I smiled back at Ma because smiling is sometimes the only way to stop yourself from crying. “Sounds good to me. Now, can you explain cinnamon dust one more time?”
Busy was an understatement. The cinema only had two screens, separated by a purple velvet carpeted area with a ticket booth and a teeny bar. By high tide, it was so packed you couldn’t see all the intricate black-and-white paintings of Hollywood stars on the wall.
Harry turned up two minutes before we opened, stinking of cigarettes and bringing the cold autumn air in on his clothes.
“I know, I know,” he said as Ma tapped her watch. Then, before she could tell him off, he pulled her into a hug and lifted her up.
“Oi, Harry, put me down!”
When he did, she was bright red and smiling.
“There’s a queue outside,” he told her.
“That’s why it’s unacceptable for you to be late. Again. The schedule says you should’ve been here thirty minutes ago.”
“I’m always late, Ma. Can’t you just accept that and factor it into the schedule?”
And she giggled. She actually giggled.
I stood behind the bar, nervously polishing the counter over and over.
Harry noticed me, waved and walked over. “Hello, new person.”
“This is Audrey.” Ma spoke for me, clopping behind him on her heels. “She’s a high school student, so she’s only doing one school night a week and weekends.”
Harry scooched behind the bar and came up right in my face, like personal space wasn’t an issue. “I know you.” He had dark hair that stood on end. Every part of him was a bit too long and thin, like he’d been wrung out too harshly when wet.
I shook my head. “I don’t think you do.”
“No, I do . . .”
He was about to say something else when Ma hissed, “Harry? The queue?” and he leaped back over the counter and opened the door to let the stampede in. Well, stampede is something Bridgely-upon-Thames doesn’t do, thank you kindly. It does Chanel No. 5 and Kate Spade purses and detached houses and the Daily Mail and oboe lessons until you reach grade eight with distinction. The line descended on the bar like a really posh zombie apocalypse, and I dropped my washcloth, stuttering as I asked the first couple what they wanted.
“Can we get two Chilean merlots, two popcorns with cinnamon dust, the garlic olives . . . oh . . . shall we just get a bottle? A bottle of merlot . . .”
And I was too busy to think again. Which was fine by me.