Don't Look Back
Nicholas Rombes

The Halloween party was supposed to be fun. But instead that's when things really began to spin out of control, like some ride at a local carnival that's throttled up too high and you can feel the metal cage starting to come loose, the lock pins rattling free, this close from hurling you out into the night. Come as your favorite historical figure. It was just clever enough that the few invited professors—Halberstam and Crabtree—actually came. The bombing had stopped, at least for now. There hadn't been a bombing raid for over a week. We were in high spirits.

"Bonnie and Clyde—they're from a movie," Damien said to one couple dressed like beautiful, tragic gangsters.

"And they were real people."


Brendan was dressed like Brad Pitt from Se7en, which wasn't too hard because he accidentally looked like him anyway, except skinnier. But not a historical figure, unless you count movie characters as historical figures. He wore the wrinkled white shirt, the across-the-chest gun holster, the nice shoes, the five-day growth of beard. He gestured like a rookie cop with the sacrificial wife.

"This isn't going to have a happy ending, you know," he said, cocking his head slightly to one side.

"This isn't going to have an ending," I told him.

Several people—including a few girls—were dressed like Cobb from Inception. Those vests.

Damien was Dr. Strangelove, in black with a white shirt, the creepy sunglasses, the black leather glove, the chrome wheelchair, the maniacal accent. He spent most of his time gesturing wildly and maneuvering through doorways. He never broke character once (except to drink), and kept ordering nuclear attacks all night.  

There was Marion from Requiem for a Dream, bleached out from heroin, Jack from Fight Club (two Brad Pitts, I know), Selma from Dancer in the Dark in her frumpy hand-knit sweater, and someone I didn't know was slumped on a cream-colored couch as Neytiri from Avatar. When she stood up she left a purple stain. Professor Halberstam was Bob Dylan from Don't Look Back, slinking around in his shades, full of cool and shameful self-loathing. Crystal came as Jamie Lee Curtis from Halloween, in soft feathered hair, a simple white blouse unbuttoned at the top, and jeans.  

Me, I was Sandy from Blue Velvet. Laura Dern was so pretty in that movie. Blond hair, long skirts, school backpack. Not at all ironic. Everybody thought the ending to Blue Velvet was satirical, a parody of the naivety of true love. But not me. I cried at the end to see them together and happy. I believed that was possible.

Then there was Beverly, dressed like Uma Thurman from Pulp Fiction. That was just like her, to come dressed as a character from a movie so popular at one time that was it was now fashionable to hate. Black shoulder-length Egyptian hair, crisp white cotton shirt, clam digger pants. It was so typical. She smoked like she was having oral sex.

"I've got a scene just like this in my story," she said. We were standing by the fridge. People kept opening and shutting it for beers. Bottles clanked in the door each time.

"That's interesting," I said.

"Now don't be flip, mommy-o. I worked very hard on it."

"Please tell me every detail," I said. I finished my beer and opened the fridge and got another one, the cool air pushing against my face.  

"Well there's lots of sex and violence, for starters."


"What's happening here tonight," she said, looking around, "this is pretty much how it's written. Of course the details are a little different. Oh, and there are explosions."  

Damien lit candles on windowsills and tables and counters and the place took on the glow of a ritual. Outside, the city was deserted. We were deep into the night. In the distance, there was the familiar sound of machine-gun fire. And then, like the distant wail of a tea kettle, we heard the jets. They must have been very low and very fast because before the sound even registered in our brains the wail became a shriek and the explosions shattered the windows, sending glass into bodies and faces, extinguishing the candles. In the quiet pause before the screaming began, under a gentle rain of sparks falling from a blown light fixture, I glimpsed Halberstam (I would not ever have the chance to call him "Professor" again) fumbling to take off his Bob Dylan glasses, as if something less than darkness was the answer to anything.

Nicholas Rombes has stories in or coming from Oxford American, Significant Objects, matchbook and others. He writes for The Rumpus, where he serves as film editor.

Detail of photo on main page courtesy of Lois Poisy.

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