“The Living”

Let somebody else do the living. We have been doing all of it and we are tired. All that living and all that dying – that was us. Who did you think it could be? Even the easy stuff gets tiring after a while, but truth to tell, there is no easy stuff. Let somebody else do the easy stuff too. We’ll watch and remember how there is no easy stuff, and we’ll feel proud of ourselves for having forgotten that. Let somebody else do the living even as we know that all that regular living is right outside. We’ll return to them ready to lead the way if we can watch somebody else do the living for a little while.

There was a year in my life when I was still a boy back home when I decided to go without watching movies. I couldn’t let somebody else do the living when I didn’t know what the living was. I felt very proud that I did not know what the living was, and I had a great worry that people were going to movies to learn what it was. I just didn’t think we needed that. We were as good as the ones on the screen. Secretly I felt that we were even better.

It wasn’t a goodbye to movies. I just wanted a year. A nice clean year to know that all my feelings were my own. To put them to the test and see if they could pass for audience-worthy, even if the only audience was me. What it meant in practical terms was that there were nights when my friends would decide to see a movie and I would head out to the theater with them and say goodbye as they went inside and walk around in the streets until the movie let out. Sometimes something interesting would happen and sometimes it wouldn’t. Every time I would wonder if I was being precious. All right, I thought, then I’ll find out about being precious, but I’ll be finding out firsthand.

They would come out of the movie and they would be ready to go on to the next thing.

What about all that living, I would say.

What living, they would say.

In there. In the movie.

What about it?

Tell me about it.

So they would tell me about the movie and I would fill in the gaps in my mind in a way that made the people in the movie live, and I would be very happy that somebody was living, even if I hadn’t wanted to watch them do it, and even if I wasn’t any closer to knowing how to do it myself.

I’d still have one foot in each kind of living – the sure, certain kind on the screen and the lost, uncertain kind I was doing, and I would hope that nobody would notice it.

It was harder to abstain when my family suggested we go to a movie, because it was a rare occurrence, and because it was embarrassing to admit to my mother and father I didn’t know how to live. But I knew the same problem was still there: The movie might be wonderful, and its wonderfulness might even last a little ways past the theater, but no matter how wonderful it was, there would be a point on the way home when I would look out the car window and I would feel farther away from life and not closer to it, for no other reason than that I’d watched somebody else take hold of it, wrestle with it and come out either on top or tragicomically behind. But either way they’d had it out.

I dreamed of having it out with life. It was a vague dream but it was an important one. I didn’t want it to get confused with all the ways they had it out on the screen, even though it was very nice when it could be specific for a little while.

Is it like a hunger strike, my father said, which was very embarrassing because he had been in a real one.

Yes, I said.

What are your demands?

I don’t know, I said. Something other than movies.

He roared with laughter.

Okay, he said, I hope you get it, and they all left for a movie, my mother and father and sister and brother, and none of them looked any less living for doing so.

I didn’t like to think that they were going to the movie to give something up of themselves, to surrender something. But it was different with my family: My mother and father knew how to live, and my sister and brother weren’t worried about it just yet. It was when you were seventeen and life felt very close and very far that it was hardest.

In the summer of that year, I met a girl. It was just before I was going to leave for college. We went out on a date, and at the end of the date she mentioned a movie that she wanted very much to see. It was a movie that I wanted very much to see. But I told her that it was the year of no movies. I told her I thought there was a thing in life that movies couldn’t touch.

I know, she said. But that doesn’t mean you can’t see them.

You know?

Yes.

Are you sure you know?

Yes.

Did you ever have to go a year without movies?

No, she said. But I think about it when I watch them.

I think about it when I watch them too, I said. But then it feels like a fight.

It does?

Yes.

Well, that’s all right.

It’s all right. But it’s nice if it doesn’t feel like a fight.

What does it feel like then?

I don’t know.

How long till the end of the strike?

A few more months. It’s nothing though.

No, she said. If you want to have a year without movies, you should have a year without movies.

You know what it feels like? Just for a moment, when the lights go down? It feels like I am saying, let someone else be in charge of living. I feel like I have to do a lot of living before I can let someone else be in charge for a while.

She smiled and I felt very happy. It was a good time to be the one in charge of living and kiss her, but I couldn’t climb down from my own declaration and do it, and I thought it was going to be a very big problem if I was giving up on movies and feeling so proud of living that I was forgetting to do it.

 

 

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About Siamak Vossoughi

Siamak Vossoughi was born in Tehran, grew up in Seattle, and lives in San Francisco. He has had some stories published in Glimmer Train, Missouri Review, Kenyon Review, Massachusetts Review, and West Branch. His collection, Better Than War, received a 2014 Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction.



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