This story is the 7th part of the Griffin filmmaker series. It follows Forever East.
As a teenager Richard told his parents he recalled certain memories from his early years. In his crib, shadows in red light in his room. That’s the nightlight you used to have, his mom told him, a red caterpillar. I remember some instances of waking up and crying and being afraid and no one there. We always came to get you, his dad told him, if you woke up crying. Do you remember me or your mother rocking you to sleep, balancing you on our chests while we were half-asleep ourselves? No, he said, that’s something I don’t recall. His parents looked at each other and smiled.
At a film festival the boy sat under the chair as he watched his father answer questions at the long table. Boring, he thought, sitting here watching people talk. It’s a festival, his dad had told him. There’s fun things to do, people come to watch new movies, hear people talk about movies. Son, people are coming here to see daddy’s new movie. Is there anything I’d want to see, he asked. Well, tomorrow, there’s animation—cartoons. Sort of like what you watch at home. Tomorrow is so far away, he thought, using the top of his head to lift the chair slightly.
He’s walking down the street alongside his mother. She’s tall to him and he looked up at her hair and there’s light shining through the strands at the top. People were walking around them, toward them, in many different directions. He said things to her, mom, can we get a hot dog, mom, can we get ice cream, but she shakes her head no. Sometimes he felt like it’s just the two of them, when dad was off making movies. A white puff of cloud blocked the sunlight. Her hair was no longer illuminated. She looked down—in her eyes he saw worry. Later that day, he drew this picture with crayons, made rain come from the clouds.
Richard, his dad said, the film’s called Overshadow. Home at the dinner table, dad with notepad at his side, scribbling illegible cursive in between bites. Mom’s there, attentive, looking back and forth at the two boys in her family, smiling when Richard looks at her. The film’s about a particular man’s quest to, well, it’s for adults really, see, it’s a man, and there’s his father who was a big advertising executive and he’s seen only in flashbacks, and he’s trying to compete, well, see, there’s, um, Helena, can you explain it to the boy? It’s about a man trying to be better than his father, she said, her words a burst of sound, her face a grin looking at dad. A slurp of milk, an oops as a small shower of macaroni and cheese hits the floor. Why would someone want to do that, the boy asked. Mom looked at dad and they both tilted their heads, popped their mouths open. They didn’t answer.
Two weeks after his mother died, he confronted his father. The man, aging years in months it seemed to him, sat at the table surrounded by stacks of paper. You would think you’d have more to say, Richard said, standing on the other side of the table, arms crossed. Mom’s dead and it’s like you don’t give a crap, it’s just business as usual. His father closed his eyes, gently removed his glasses and placed them unfolded on the table before him. He looked up at him. Richard, we don’t need this right now, I know you’re upset. We, Richard said, we, since when are we, we? You are Griffin, the film director, and it’s you, you and your stupid movies. Son, you don’t understand. You don’t get it. I cried before she died, I cry at night by myself, I cry. When you fall in love and marry and have a family and the person you’re with is taken from you, get back to me and let me know just how painful it is. By instinct his dad looked to his left, the place where mom used to sit, where she reassured, filled in the blanks, was peacemaker and wise voice, and froze at the emptiness. Richard watched him do this then walked away, back to his room, shutting the door with a sedate click.
He’s walking home from a friend’s house, a trip he’s made dozens of times before. Slight buzz wearing off. The smell of baking bread from a round the clock bakery then cooking oil and ginger and seafood from an Asian eatery. He feels his stomach rumble, making him hungry, decides to wait until home for food. Passes a nightclub bustling with crew cuts and black dresses, an oblivious intoxicated couple almost stumbling into him. Then, a street of blank stare windows, silence. He could hear his father’s voice: this city, its moods, it takes your breath away. Inhales. He thinks, the man’s been through enough. Fueled by alcohol, he thinks as he’s thought before, tomorrow, I’ll tell him many things. I’m sorry for my teenage years. I know it’s been difficult with mom dying, with this terrorist group, and the media onslaught. I’m ready to go back to college. I’m ready to follow in your footsteps. A shadow crosses his pathway. A shot cracks the night. He’s thinking, mom, we miss you, before he realizes that this shot was his, that he’s lying on the ground.