What a Glorious Feeling

by Sara Brenes Akerman

The monster watched the movie while perched on a tree, undetected as he gazed at the screen of the drive-in theater. It was the movie Summer Stock, starring Gene Kelly, which came out in the late summer of 1950. Looking at Gene, the monster felt undone. He wanted to eat Gene Kelly, eat him whole and also eat him very slowly. Have doubles upon doubles of Gene so that he might eat him again and again, sometimes in a single bite, sometimes piece by tiny piece. And then eat and eat and eat, with both of his mouths, until he had gobbled up all the doubles and was left standing face to face with the source of his dreams. The man himself. The dancer. The singer. The spectacular creature. And then eat him, too.

In the last few weeks of the summer, he had seen at least twenty old movies from his perch, dead quiet. Once everyone, even the projectionist, left, he would come down slowly, stretching his hulking figure and bending his knees both ways. He was lithe and nimble. His skin was reptilian and his teeth serrated. He could giggle, and he could roar, but was otherwise mute. He could swallow a person whole.

There was no malice in his killing, but he understood death. He knew that to eat a person meant that they would no longer be in the world. He also knew, and this was harder to wrap his head around, that when he ate one of them, he would see the world as they had seen it, if only for a little while. Just until he’d finished digesting them. To eat them was to eat their memories and the repository of feeling they had produced. He ate things he couldn’t understand.

But which he understood a little better with each meal.

Which is how he got into movies. How he understood a human language he could not himself produce.

He had been eating people for ten or so years, which comes up to just a few months when translated to the scale of a monster’s life. And still, he couldn’t remember a time before the present. When things had been different, and he had been elsewhere, and he had been something other than alone. It was as though he had been born already fully himself, materialized out of thin air, the first one of his kind, the way Adam must have appeared, quite suddenly, in Eden.

But ever since Gene, he slowed down when he got to the feet. He wanted to really look at them. Understand how they were made, how they moved. Fibula, tibia, talus, phalanges. He would play with the toes, bending them back and forth and, as he did, he would imagine touching Gene’s toes ever so softly. He would press his palm against the soles, trying to understand the muscles beneath the skin. He licked those small bags of tendons, bones and joints. He sniffed them and put them against his ear. In his mouth, they felt like nothing special. Little things, hard to chew and full of tiny bones that would splinter and end up stuck between his teeth.

He wanted to uncurl his own foot, usually wrapped around a branch or a neck, and have it horizontal to the ground. And then move it up and down, the way he had seen Gene do, and make a controlled sound. A music to dance to. Himself the maker of the music and its recipient. That tapping sound was so good when it came from the screen. When it emanated from the bottom of Gene’s legs. There was no way for him to replicate it, but he could attempt a kind facsimile, using his long, hard claws against the floor as his instrument. Without the sweet mechanism of tap shoes, he was forced into a kind of reverse tap, further encumbering a dance already compromised to begin with.

And it wasn’t just the sound. He wanted to move and, through his movement, make a home out of the air around him.

The monster grew to love Gene so much, he stopped eating people altogether.

As a final offering, his brain produced a recollection. Gene dancing. His arms stretched out, his body tilted forward and spinning. Like a helix whirling. His foot stomping the ground to mark each completed revolution. And all the while smiling in that Gene Kelly way, that full-to-the-brim smile that makes you think of smiling not as a gesture but as an action, able to modify the temperature of the universe. Gene Kelly in his loafers and white socks. Gene moving his feet so quickly your eyes cannot follow. Gene becoming not just movement but the idea of movement.

In his hunger-fueled delirium, he thought he could hear the sound of his own feet against the ground, finally tapping. And he knew in that moment that he was dying a dancer. A dancer in a community of dancers, who had added his own silhouette to the endless line that curls around one body and coils around the next.

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