NINETY-SEVEN, 2.0

Evelyn pulled her hand out from the cold feel of Bill’s fingers, grabbed her glass of water and took a sip. Bill smiled his half-smile, the one he’d worn the day they first met. She wished it had the same effect on her now as it did all those years ago. “I’m sorry, I’ve just never seen you so speechless,” he said, waving the waiter down for a coffee refill.

“I’ll admit, shock isn’t something I feel often, but this film, everything I experienced while watching, it was uncanny.”

“Tell me more about it.” Bill poured sugar in his coffee, which was odd being that he usually steered away from sweets. But Evelyn let it go, as she often did when it came to her husband’s habits. It was a night of celebration, after all, and she wanted to get straight to telling Bill why.

“What I watched today was a miracle. The second film by a filmmaker who I thought, well, we all thought, was dead.” Bill gave her a look, so she quickly said, “It has to be hers. It came to us as a VHS, without a label of any kind except a typed address for the Vickstown Film Festival Director. Arrogant, don’t you think? Three weeks past deadline. Kathy shelved it when she opened the package, said she was curious to watch it at some point, but thinking it wouldn’t be until next year. But we still don’t have an opening night film — well, we didn’t, until now. Everything else has become mediocre in comparison, so we didn’t think much of the tape when we put it in. But we needed something, a real gem, and it turns out this is it. This is a diamond, Bill!

“Mr. Griely — I never got used to calling him Lawrence — he would’ve been in awe. If he wasn’t dead already, I’m sure the shock would’ve killed him.  Don’t look at me like that, I’m not horrible for saying so!

“With this movie premiering at our festival, we’re going to pull in A-List talent. I mean, really, everyone will come to see this film — everyone. Maybe…no, well, maybe we’ll save it for closing night? Give people a reason to stay? What do you think?”

Bill looked up from stirring his coffee and swallowed hard. “Depends, I suppose, on the content, and what the producers want.”

“That’s the odd thing, there were no credits, no production company names. Just the title, and not until the end: Appomattox. But it’s not about the Civil War, in fact it’s not a war movie at all. It’s a journey, a battle of wits, one would say, about control, of ourselves, of… dammit, Bill, it’s hard to explain but I’m just excited about what it means. Imagine, our little festival will be the one to bring Liana Ristalla out of the shadows.”

Bill looked doubtful, and his brow furrowed as he asked, “Why, though?”

“You sound like Kathy. She asked me the same thing, ‘Why Vickstown?’ I’ll tell you what I told her: why not? We’re small, but we’re growing, and we’ve always paid tribute to Ristalla’s legacy with the annual screening at the Stratton Theater. This is the opportunity we’ve been waiting for, to put our festival, this city, on the map of the film world. Sundance, Cannes, Venice. Vickstown.”

Bill shifted, uncomfortable. Evelyn felt her eyes tearing up again, dabbed at them with her napkin. “You really think it’s that good?”

“Bill, look at my face. How long have we been married?”

“You know how long.”

“And have you ever seen me this passionate about anything?”

“Other than our wedding day?”

Evelyn felt a sting, ignored it. “You studied her, Bill. You know what she meant to cinema history. The first female nominated as director, writer, and star of her own film. Boy, the Oscars blew it that year”

“How does she even know about Vickstown?”

“Who cares?! This is an opportunity, and we’re going to grab it! It blows every other film we’re screening out of the water.”

“Let me guess, more Hollywood Studio imitations?” He said it with a sneer, knowing how she felt about the “Studio System”.

“Ugh, I can’t begin to tell you. It seems everyone wants to emulate the most popular thing, commercialism over artistic integrity. Show me one film maker today brought up without having made at least a dozen commercials and I’ll show you — I’m sorry, Bill.”

He just looked into his coffee, “S’okay, pays the bills.”

Evelyn felt guilty, tried to smile when she asked, “How was your shoot, any way? You never told me about it.”

“Because you prefer I don’t.” He let it hang there, then said, “Same as always, three days in the mountains, filming one fast car driving after a slow car, blah blah. The usual bullshit, client unhappy, producers butting in trying to save and pull back on their bid.  Visual FX will be atrocious as always.”

“At least you finished on time.”

He nodded, then continued talking about the stunt work. Evelyn tuned him out, as she often did when he talked about his big-budget projects, commercials included.

She preferred discussing the fringe artists, the outsiders. Her career had a chance to take off when she was offered a direct-to-video adaptation of a novel, perhaps a Lifetime movie, Evelyn couldn’t remember. Then her mother became ill, she met Bill, and  remained in Vickstown since. She was grateful to have lived in the same town as Lawrence Griely, though, and managed to find enough creative energy to start the festival with him. He confessed to her once that he just wanted to do something with his time, and Evelyn agreed to help.

She’d never been able to have children, and after marrying Bill the fire in their relationship fizzled to the comfort level of a childhood blanket: there when you need it, otherwise collecting dust. He wanted to move out west, she didn’t, so they spent half their year apart and the other half co-habitating. When the festival came around each year, she put him to work, and they usually felt a passion for each other during the week that brought her back to their courtship days. The feeling didn’t last long, but was something they both looked forward to every year.

Which is why the next thing Bill said caught her attention. “…glad you liked my film.”

When she looked up, there was such a look of hope in his eyes that she almost started crying. “I’m sorry, my mind wandered, what did you say?”

“I just hope your mind didn’t wander when you watched Appomattox, but it sounds like you at least focused on that.” She gave him a confused look, so he continued, “I’ve felt so long like I’m not in control, that I’ve lost my senses. So I went back and looked at the films I’ve loved, and the ones you rave about, and just gave it my all. Liana Ristalla has been dead for twelve years, Evelyn, whether you believe it or not. But, for you, I wanted her to feel alive again. I think, I hope, my film did that for you.”

“You…you made it?”

Evelyn didn’t ask for proof he was telling the truth, because when he took her hand it was warm, and calm. Just like it had been on their wedding day.

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