“In the Cutting Room”

The comparison of an edit suite with a closet is a natural one. Omar would say his is larger than a linen, but smaller than a proper walk-in; for a pantry it would be considered roomy, but as an elevator it would feel cramped. Patterned aggressively with spiked foam paneling, many have joked that it evokes the narrow and pitiless embrace of an iron maiden. However, the most apt comparison of all might be with a padded cell.

Omar prefers stasis and solitude and for these reasons volunteered for what the assistant editors refer to as “vampire shift.” The pay is the same, but there are fewer distractions. Just another night in the crypt.

It is well past two in the morning, but the lack of windows has a nullifying effect and sometimes the footage begins to supplant reality. When it’s sunny on screen, it feels as if it must be sunny outside. When it rains onscreen, Omar will check his shoulder bag, making sure he brought an umbrella.

Editors no longer physically slice and splice their way through ribbons of celluloid. Scraps do not tumble unwanted to the cutting room floor, to be swept away with push-brooms by small men with hunched backs and gray coveralls. The computer is the intercessor, having fully replaced the razorblade.

Omar’s present task uses only a small fragment of his skillset. He advances, frame by frame, through the results of a tap dancing contest. A prize is to be awarded to the dancer who can amass the greatest number of taps within a span of sixty seconds. Each time a heel or toe makes contact with the parqueted maple floor, Omar presses the F2 key, marking the frame with a yellow-colored locator. Later, the sound engineer will analyze the waveform and verify that the tap is audible. Upon confirmation, she will change the color of the locator from yellow to green. But that is another task for different day.

The dancers mostly grimace, their jaws and fists tightly clenched. There is none of the joyful flourish one typically associates with the craft. It is a purely mechanical exercise, pounded out with the bullheaded concentration of an oil derrick or a jackhammer. Behind them hangs a banner. It says, “Tapping Their Hearts Out!”

Because the soundtrack does not concern him, Omar is able to minimize his tedium by listening to music. He streams a recording of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 2 off of YouTube, but it fails to satisfy. He believes that live performances are differentiated by their imperfections, and he cannot find the version he prefers. Therefore, he is perpetually anticipating coughs from the audience and slight variations in tempo that never come, and the piece feels oddly empty without them.

Omar sets an alarm to go off every twenty minutes. It reminds him to stand up, so that the blood doesn’t pool in his legs and put his toes to sleep. Each time the alarm sounds, he rises and takes a step in either direction, brushing his fingertips against the black foam thorns. With his arms fully extended, he can touch opposing walls simultaneously. This amplifies the feeling of the iron maiden, and he counts himself lucky that he is not claustrophobic.

During one of these breaks, he clumsily attempts to tap dance but his sneakers fail to properly interact with the salmon-colored carpet. Even the soft-shoe is harder than it looks.

Watching the feet pounding onscreen, Omar’s toes stiffen and begin to take root, weighed down by fresh spoonfuls of blood that feel as dense as liquid metal. It is a black static, poured as thick and solid as a concrete wall.

If ever Omar chose to scream, the soundproofing would completely conceal the noise from the outside world. But he does not choose to scream.

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About Sean Gill

Sean Gill is a writer and filmmaker who has studied with Werner Herzog, documented public defenders for National Geographic, and won the 2016 Sonora Review Fiction Prize. Other recent stories may be found in McSweeney's, Word Riot, failbetter, Akashic Books, and So It Goes: The Literary Journal of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library.