Siamak Vossoughi was born in Tehran, grew up in Seattle, and lives in San Francisco. He has had some stories published in various journals and his short story collection, Better Than War, received a 2014 Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction.
2015-2016 WINNER, COG PAGE TO SCREEN AWARDS
The Outdoor Movie
Armon Eskanderian didn't think there was anything strange about it at first when he asked Elyssa Green if she would like to see the outdoor movie with him at Rossi Park on Saturday night. He was glad she said yes. He got his hair cut on Wednesday, so that it would have a few days to fit his head. It wasn't till Saturday afternoon that he remembered that he hadn't gone to the outdoor movies to watch the movies that summer. He had gone to sit next to the big white wall of the County Fair Building on which the movies were projected and watch the faces of the people. He hoped that she would like it as much as he did.
When they got there, he laid a blanket beside the side of the wall of the County Fair Building.
"I forgot to mention," he said. "I don't come to watch the movies."
"What do you come for?" she said.
"To watch the people watching."
She fell in love with him. She sat down and tried to not show it on her face that she had fallen in love with him.
"What do you like about watching them?"
"They're honest," he said.
"What about the rest of the time?"
"The rest of the time? That's very far away, isn't it?"
She did not exactly fall out of love with him when he said that, but she saw that she would not be able to be free with it.
It was nice that the moment before him was everything, but not so nice as to make everything else a secret.
At least he was honest about it from the start. She laughed and thought of how it seemed it was always like this – the young men who dreamed couldn't let anyone in on their dreams, and the ones who didn't could. The last boy she had known who had been able to tell her everything had been when she was fifteen. What happened to them in those next ten years to send the ones with dreams so far off the map? So far off to the side that they couldn't talk and love their way back? How was it that she could see the beauty of watching the people watching but still be perfectly happy to sit among them and watch the movie both?
"Have you been doing this all summer?" Elyssa said.
"Yes," Armon said.
"Don't the people mind?"
"Not anymore. They might have at first, but now they know I'm not going to do anything bad with it."
"With their expressions as they're watching."
Elyssa looked out at the crowd. He was right. Nobody seemed particularly bothered by it.
"What are you going to do with them?" she said.
"I don't know," he said. "Just hold them, I guess."
Some of them, she figured, were working so hard to know their own dreams that they couldn't afford to stop and explain them. That was the generous way to look at it, but she felt like being generous just then.
The movie started, and they watched the faces. It was a romantic movie. There was joy and wonder and concern and worry and relief.
At one point Elyssa looked over at Armon watching the people watch the movie.
"You like it over here, don't you?"
"Yes," he said. "Very much."
She smiled. "I'm going to go and sit with the people for a little bit," she said. "Just for a few minutes."
"Okay," he said.
Elyssa went and sat in the middle of the crowd and watched the movie. She liked the thought of Armon watching her, even if he was watching everybody. She liked being with them in his view. She liked who they became when he was watching them.
She got up and went back to Armon.
"How was it over there?" he said.
"Very nice," she said.
There was a boy whom Elyssa used to babysit who saw her and walked over to where they sat.
"Hi Elyssa," he said.
"Why are you sitting over here?"
"We're not watching the movie. We're watching the people watch the movie."
The boy looked over at Armon. Armon nodded.
"Do you want to sit and join us?" Elyssa said.
The boy sat and watched with them.
"Nothing is happening," he said. But he didn't get up.
The boy's sister came over to check on him, with her friend behind her. This time Leo explained it. His sister and her friend sat and joined them.
"What if everybody comes over to this side?" Elyssa said.
"That's my dream," Armon said.
"That's your dream?"
"Who would we watch then?"
"Well, at that point, we wouldn't have to watch anybody. But if it came to it, I would go and sit over there so that they could watch me."
"You would? By yourself?"
"I would go with you," she said.
"That would be very nice."
There were young men who'd asked her to go places who didn't have the imagination for a place like that, and there was a young man who did but who hadn't thought of asking her there himself.
She wanted to tell him right there in front of Leo and Leo's sister and Leo's sister's friend that when two people could sit over there together, they already had the world watching, they had the whole world watching, even if they were the only two people in the park. She wanted to tell him that they could have the whole world watching like that wherever they went. And even if they came to an outdoor movie in the park in the summer, they would have the whole world watching them while they sat among the crowd.
"Do you trust them?" she said.
"I trust them from over here," he said. "I trust them unconditionally from over here."
"What does unconditionally mean?" Leo said.
"It means love," Armon said.
"I love them from here too," Leo said.
"See? Listen to Leo, he agrees with me."
"Yes," Leo said. "Listen to me."
Okay, she thought, so it started young. Amidst the crowd they felt lost and away from them they loved them again. But what stayed the same? What stayed the same no matter where they were?
"Did you ever come to watch the movie?" she said.
"Yes," Armon said. "I did that last summer."
"Did you see anything good?"
"Yes, I think so. I can't remember it very well though. I remember the crowds."
"Yes. I figure I must remember them because I had dreams about them."
"What kind of dreams?"
"Nothing very exciting really. Just the people. Their faces. Same as this right now. They're boring dreams on the face of it, but the feeling of the dreams is a nice feeling."
"Is that why you started watching the crowds?"
"Yes. If your dreams are boring, it could mean that you're a boring dreamer or it could mean that life is wonderful. I am hoping that it is the second one."
He was right, she thought. The rest of the time was very far away. It was very far away if they paid attention to the moment in front of them. He was trying to turn that attention into something, into something beautiful if he could. It was only natural that he was going to be very far away sometimes himself in order to do that. Don't try to bring him back, she thought. Don't try to be a bridge. Just believe him when he says that if your dreams are boring, it could mean that life is wonderful, and give your dreams a chance to be boring. They've had a long time to be exciting, but give them a chance to be boring and see how it goes.
“The Outdoor Movie” is a mesmerizing evening: romantic, mysterious, flickering with wonder and curiousity and strange ideas and beautiful light. It’s over too soon and lingers in the brain like love, or at least a good movie about love. Like the characters in the story, I look forward to seeing more.
Daniel Handler, AKA Lemony Snicket
Final Judge, 2015-16 COG Page to Screen Awards