Within an hour of meeting Thelma’s mother, the VCR is humming. Thelma gathers bedding, curls herself on the couch. I sit in between her and her mom. Thelma warned me about mom’s home video infatuation. I’ve come to realize that I’m the only one from my generation without these clunky, plastic relics. It’s okay though. Home movies are for families with deadly secrets. If you watch 48 Hours: Mystery enough, you start thinking people with home movies are the ones who end up getting murdered and show up on TV.
Home videos backfire. There’s this kid who’s really famous right now for being a floppy-haired teenager with crystalline teeth and cuddly eyes. He sings. There’s this old video of him singing into a hairbrush. He’s like twelve, and it makes him look so lame. Elvis never had a tape like that. However, if Elvis ever had told people he sang into a hairbrush at twelve, people would’ve wept just thinking about it, thinking of the magic involved in that one moment. The idea is so much better than the image.
On the screen, Thelma is seventeen. She’s onstage singing “Maybe This Time,” and her voice is ravishing. She doesn’t look anything like she does now – ponytail, sweatpants, makeupless – but somehow older, more like she’s been coached into womanhood. Thelma’s mom gazes at the TV. She is trying to transport herself back ten years to Thelma’s performance. Not only is she imagining turning back time, she’s picturing herself inside her daughter’s body, dreaming how it must have felt.
“Amazing,” I say. Thelma’s mom smiles, squeezes my knee hard.
Watching endless videos of Thelma being an extraordinary adolescent makes me self-conscious about lacking superior kid talents. Not only was I not an exceptional child, I have no regular stuff caught on tape to make up for it. But slowly it hits me. I can use the absence of recordings to my advantage.
I think about telling Thelma how I came up with the idea for The Truman Show when I was nine years old. I could tell her I used to pretend that cameras followed me everywhere and sold my every move and word to some television company in outer space. But that’s totally true and so I know she won’t believe it.
Then… an idea! This can be anything, I tell myself. What’s something beautifully, profoundly contrary to who you actually are, something impressive in ways you couldn’t possibly be but always wished you could?
“I was in a rock band!” I blurt out.
“What?” Thelma exclaims. She comes unbundled from her blankets, lunges forward.
“Relax,” her mom says. “I’d love to see footage. Tell me more.”
I breathe dramatically, stage-breathe. I close my eyes. Whatever I say will have to be sensational, cinematic. I need to take care, get it right, because I know whatever I say will live forever. Their eyes pan in on me like two upper bodies rigged to dollies.
Simon A. Smith writes and teaches English in Chicago, where he lives with his wife and a murderous orange tabby named Cheever. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Hobart, Quick Fiction, Monkeybicycle, Whiskey Island, PANK, Bound Off, Prick of the Spindle and a few others. He likes it here.