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A Bad Movie

by Wayne Scheer

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Eliot had his life planned out--after college, he'd go to graduate school and major in English, establish a safe career as a high school teacher, buy a modest house in a Cleveland suburb, raise two kids, and Helena would always be at his side.

Until she dumped him for a guy named Joe.

"You don't know him," she said, as she packed her things. "He makes me laugh."

So he did the stupidest thing he could think of. He gathered the money for next semester's tuition, filled the tank of his 2002 Camry and headed for California. He had no idea what he hoped to find, but that's what characters in bad movies do, and his life had just turned into a predictable second-rate flick. Might as well add the road cliché.

He thought of checking a map and planning a journey down the blue highways, the forgotten roads of America. That's what Jack Kerouac would have done. He took I-80. No wonder Helena said he didn't make her laugh.

Eliot drove all day, past farmland and rolling hills until stars popped like paparazzi bulbs in the evening sky. He stopped at a Comfort Inn just off the interstate, worried that if he drove too far down the lonely road, he might end up at the Bates Motel.

If this were a movie, he thought, he'd meet a leggy redhead and have wild sex. Or he'd encounter a sad-eyed runaway and persuade her to return home to her grateful parents who'd take him into the family business. Instead, the only person he spoke to was Clyde, the night manager, who checked Eliot's ID, took his money and returned to watching America's Got Talent.

But not meeting the redhead gave Eliot time to think. He had driven ten hours and hardly thought at all, listening to the radio and letting his mind go blank. Now visions of Helena flashed by like an out-of-focus movie montage. The more he thought, the more he remembered how she'd pick at the blackheads on her face and yawn out loud when he tried to sleep. She was too skinny and refused to let him have anchovies on his half of the pizza, fearing the oil might run to her side. They always had to have mushroom and green pepper because she liked it that way.

Staring at the cracks in the ceiling, he thought about the paper he had been writing for his Shakespeare class before he took to the road. It was hard to believe only a day had passed. Could he return as if nothing had happened. Did he want to?

Nothing and everything had changed now that Helena was no longer at his side.

Eliot continued staring at the cracks in the ceiling. For the first time in his life, he had no idea what to do next.

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