You’re the star of an obscure French indie flick. Arty even for arthouse. Lately, you’ve been seeing this girl who’s into that sort of thing. She’s not the sort of girl you usually date. She smokes e-cigs and drinks espressos, wears short skirts all the time, never flosses. She has the shiniest brown hair. She’s let you kiss her twice, her tongue fluttering up against your mouth, soft and surprised. She invites you to a film festival showing the works of a lesser-known French director.
He has a certain je ne sais quoi, she says.
The first film comes up. You’re nestled in close to your new girlfriend, not quite holding hands, fingers nearly brushing. The hair on the back of your knuckles rises at the lights go down.
A familiar face fills the screen, and your arthouse girl nudges your shoulder.
Is that you?
It is, you say. I think it is.
The film is just you doing a series of mundane things: putting on stockings, painting your toenails, brushing your teeth. Your favorite scene is a shot of you applying liquid eyeliner and, in the mirror’s reflection, the image of the man filming you with his phone is captured. He’s wearing a beret; he must be the French director.
Why didn’t you tell me, your girlfriend whispers.
There is no dialogue in your movie, only a series of intertitles written in French. You can’t read French, can’t speak it. Your girlfriend’s mouth moves as she whispers the words. You find them so beautiful: the words, her breath, her mouth.
On the screen, you are stepping out of the apartment into the sunshine. You squint and adjust the waistband of your skirt.
A French intertitle flashes across the screen. The font, you think, is very nice.
What does it say? you whisper to your girlfriend.
Shh, she says. She lifts your hand to her mouth and kisses it, her lips caressing each finger in its turn. You sigh and shift in your seat. On the screen, you do the same.
The final shot of the movie is you standing alone on the sidewalk, holding a balloon. There’s no color in the film, but you think the balloon is red. In films like this, the balloon is always red.
But you have never stood alone on the sidewalk and held a balloon.
You lean over to mention this to your girlfriend, but she shushes you again, hands you a red balloon.
A man gave this to me for you, she says. Take it, go on.
You take the balloon. On the screen, a light breeze rustles your skirt.
Now what? you say to your girlfriend, but she only arches her eyebrows in response.
All right, you say, all right, and slide out of your seat and leave the theater. You stand on the sidewalk outside and hold the red balloon in your hand. After a while, finally, you let it go.
Cathy Ulrich is a writer from Montana. She likes silent movies. Her work has been published in a variety of journals, including Split Lip Magazine, The Airgonaut, and Booth.