...the awkward title being a cryptic crossword clue that the heroine is stumped by momentarily at the action's crucial point; an oversight, a slip, as she is something of a black belt in games of linguistics. She can read the black and white shapes in the puzzle corner of the well-thumbed daily rag left on a train carriage seat and know if she's seen it before. She can pass her hand over the clues like braille (an affectation; but it does seem to help her concentrate) and collect half of the answers in one sweep, returning to fill in enjoyable details subsequently. She likes to picture the word grid as a house that she has to clean or illuminate, and each answer, despite being in black or blue ink, is actually removing dark dust from the far flung corners. Large words please her; but more rewarding are the three-letter nuggets to be dug out of the corners, the tricky acronyms and abbreviations, little globs of adhesive.
Off the page her movements are dreamy and vague. Her observations of what is happening slow, and cars will honk at her daily as she wanders across busy streets, chasing code in her head and rearranging alphabets. Her husband calls it 'taking inventory', as it looks like she is internally tallying wherever she goes. He laughs about it by day, and visits other women at night.
This night they make a date: A movie. A throwback to their younger romance, and the effort they make to dress and have fun saddens them both, but they try not to show it. They take a cab, line up for tickets, smile sweetly at one another; he holds the door for her, and she almost laughs. They imitate themselves so well that she is disoriented.
The film begins, and they hold hands, even when it becomes uncomfortable. They check each other's reaction regularly at first, and then settle in. She is pleased at the neatness with which Ernest Borgnine's (or Humphrey Bogart's, or Robert Ryan's; she isn't sure which) dilemma is set-up on screen, the clean moves of the plot containing an elegance. But soon this pleasure recedes, and an uneasy quiet grows in her. Her husband is engrossed, so kissing his arm, she gently unhooks herself and heads to the bathroom to calm herself with a crossword.
She knows, at the moment that the word ROGUE evades her (an easy one, an open goal), that something is wrong. She looks up at the cubicle door and listens. Nothing. She slowly leaves, washes her hands, and looks in the mirror. Her face is hers alright, but a look in the eyes seems to serve as a warning that she cannot quite read. She recites clues in her head (4D: Sunken female?: THE LADY IN THE LAKE, 13A:(intersecting; third letter must be D) Repetitive ritualistic behaviours: OCD), and the look fades. She still suspects her reflection is tricking her, however.
She wants to head back to the movie, but can't. Her husband, handsome and sensitive tonight, now horrifies her.
Minutes pass, hinging on her lack of cutting edge in discovering another answer, one that pivots from THE LADY IN THE LAKE (from the tip of LADY, ending at the the L, which itself is a scissor shape): 'Very sad unfinished story about rising smoke'. She knows, instantly, that 'very sad' yields the definition, that the word will be sombre. 'Unfinished story' suggests, obviously, an incomplete word which houses the 'rising smoke' part. But here her brain apes the clue and itself seems to move upwards, rising from the clean bottom corners of her puzzle to the top, and then further, off the page and into the middle distance. It hovers in mid-air, vaguely aware of an alarm bell somewhere, in another room.
Her face looks reversed in the mirror; she thinks of the lopsided weather vane on the roof of her house whose arrow always points down towards their bedroom, accusingly. A knowledge evades her slightly, but she searches for it. But there it is: she realises she is going to leave the theater and go home. And then she already is, walking across the lobby with purpose. But something stops her at the door: an answer.
TRAGICAL. Of course. The obvious solution makes her laugh: The rising smoke is a cigar, and it runs backwards up the page, clothed in TAL; which is almost TALE, and thus an unfinished story. It takes minutes, but order is restored. She decides to return to her seat, hold his hand and pay attention to the film. She does not know that her husband is gone, vanished in the interim, already in a cab across town, dreaming of flights to carefree territories. Or that the night was an opportunist performance, and that when she finally goes home, with some kind of awareness dawning, she will find a house shorn of every sign that he was ever there.
Dyslexic French Red; Ne'er Do Well (5) Directed by Simone Tzerkovska Produced by Dexter Hunstler Written by Victor Joi Starring Elizabeth Tizla, Hanz Janck Czech Film/CBK 104 Mins Release Date UK: Oct 1956/US: Oct 1956 Tagline: none.