Nothing much ever happens at the university library’s film archive building, but yesterday Dr. Roland was wheeled out dead on a gurney. I didn’t remember until it was too late to do the polite thing and take my ball cap off when the ambulance was leaving.
I’ve been taking courses and working here for a year, and in all that time Dr. Roland never once came out of the back room except to leave for the day. He must have brought his lunch because he never went out for it. And he never spoke to me. He was always working on the project he had started right after his first stroke. People told me he wasn’t always like that, private and all. Every time I went back there for a film someone wanted he had projectors going in the screening room. Preservation work, I figured.
I heard a crash yesterday and went back to find Dr. Roland on the floor, barely conscious. He looked at me like we were related. I took his hand, and he gave me a bottle of capsules. I started to give him one, but he shook his head—no. In a slurred voice he told me the pills were for me.
The whole thing has left me feeling blank. I look at my chemistry book but can’t remember what I have just read.
I was cleaning up in back this morning and I saw a microscope I hadn’t noticed before. There were tiny bits of chopped up film on the table next to it. I picked up some tweezers and set a piece under the lens. As soon as I looked in I realized what Roland had been doing with all the projectors. Filming films. He must have been showing three films at the same time on pull-down screens, filming all three of those, then filming three films of three films, and so on and on.
I took the capsules from my book bag, broke one and spilled its black glitter under the scope. With the magnification turned way up everything came into view. The Way Of All Flesh, Citizen Kane, The Birds, frames of frames from hundreds of films—some seeming almost to move like bacteria—each tiny bit a jittery shifting of scenes in black and white and flecks of color.
I’m off now. Time to head home on the train. I’ve taken the same route so many times I sometimes imagine I can see what’s going on all along the way before the train even pulls away from the stop. I lock up, and head out across campus. Nothing seems to change here, even when somebody dies. The sun is so bright I want to close my eyes, but when I do I see the chemistry formulas I have been studying. I need more rest. Maybe a long nap with some background music.
I pop a capsule in my mouth and swallow.
Daryl Scroggins has taught creative writing and literature at The University of Texas at Dallas, The University of North Texas. He now lives in Marfa, Texas, where he and his wife, Cindy, pursue art and writing projects. His flash fiction has recently appeared in, or is forthcoming in Microfiction Monday, Dime Show Review, Sky Island Journal, New Flash Fiction Review, Cutbank, Star 82 Review, Third Wednesday, Blink Ink, and Eastern Iowa Review. He is the author of Winter Investments, a collection of stories (Trilobite Press), and This Is Not the Way We Came In, a collection of flash fiction and a flash novel (Ravenna Press).