“Popcorn” by Genna Gardini

When I was almost twenty-three
I did not understand the phrase
“a fear of being lonely”

because I,
only loaned to love
like a book is from a library shelf,
impermanently,

found myself
to be such reliable and constant
company,

that in this wording all I gleaned
was an absence of character,
a blur in the screen.

I thought that wherever I went,
if I went by myself,
I’d surely be fine.

This turned out not to be the case.
Or at least not all the time.
And certainly not this time.

(Because the key caveat in the line
that I wouldn’t hear was, of course,
the word ‘fear’)

That morning,
I bought one ticket for Coco & Igor,
a film about music meeting form,
about Stravinsky and Chanel.

I considered myself on reprieve
from some personal hell:
Which means I was trying to write
but couldn’t.

The words battled back at me,
belligerent, foreign, slippery.
I ducked from them and found a fifty
to buy popcorn, coke, maybe a sweet

I wouldn’t have to share
because it was 9 am and I knew
I’d meet no one there.

The cinema is empty,
which, at first, is a relief.

But then the movie starts and so do I
because ten minutes in, a man sneaks past
the back row and settles close to my shin.
I do not look at him, but he looks at me.

The projection speaks another language, incessantly.
I cannot understand what I hear without help and I hear
words and then a zip, teeth sliding down as if to trip
against a difficult consonant. Don’t look, I tell myself.
It’s nothing. You’re imagining it. This can’t be happening
at the mall in the morning. This film is pastoral, not pornographic.
He isn’t Pee-wee Herman. I am not me.

The subtitles flash under the screen in a message I recognize to
mean: how will you get out of this? The less sure I am the more certain he
became, the soundtrack persisted like untimed percussion, like it was in
pain, and I did not know what to do, so

I ate.

The manifest and faster he moved, the more handfuls of popcorn I aimed at my face, like pixels hurtling at a frame, like hail rattling towards loam, like stones. Imitating the film, my bite reeled. The show seemed to skip from scene to scene, quick as the kernels against my teeth, and I chomped the way my mother chops carrots, vengefully. I just wanted to watch a movie, alone. See, a film is an escape until someone decides it’s not. You are a cone at that door. You are barbwire across the floor. You are not the first man to try to teach me that absence is a space you feel forced to fill but you are the first time I almost listened.

Instead,

I held my coke bottle aloft,
ready to attack if it didn’t stop.
Until finally it did and so did he.

He tucked himself back in,
like he was editing a monologue
he no longer cared to read,
then left.

I stayed where I was
and at the credits’ end,
I remember the flashing of the word ‘Fin.’
I threw the empty popcorn box flush into the bin

and walked back home, unaccompanied.


Genna Gardini is a writer based in Cape Town. Her first collection, Matric Rage, was published by uHlanga and received a commendation for the Ingrid Jonker Poetry Prize. She currently works as a lecturer at CityVarsity.

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