On Saturday morning, the final shoot went off without a hitch. The whole crew came together; the food was ready; the sun was out with clear skies. Nothing about it could have been better. We had plenty to shoot, but everything went as it should, interlocking like a perfect clock.
As we wrapped the second to the last scene, we took a break and everyone scrambled for the craft services table. Bees and other insects swarmed around it, but they darted off when the people crowded around, chowing down on donuts, chips, and crackers.
I about joined them but Nathaniel grabbed me by the arm, pulling me to the side.
“Hey, Howard, can we talk a sec?” he asked, looking worried and forlorn.
“Yeah, absolutely.” I followed him over to a tree, roughly a football field away from everyone else. He clearly didn’t want anyone to know about our conversation.
“What’s all this about?” I asked.
He bit his fingernail, grimacing. “So, I got another call from the studio.”
“Don’t tell me. It was Paul pulling your leg, wasn’t it?”
“No, no, it’s real, Howard.”
“Oh,” I said, “so, what is it, then?”
“They said they wanted me to come out and meet everyone.”
“What? That’s amazing! When are we going?”
He frowned. “No, listen, they said they wanted me to come out.”
“And I asked them if my crew could come.” His crew? “And they said no, they just wanted me. They really liked my cinematography and wanted to connect me with some other projects.”
“You’re kidding…” I said, “that’s…wow, that’s great!”
“And listen, man, I…”
“No, Nathaniel,” I said, “I couldn’t be happier. I’m happy for you. This is a good opportunity. You need to grab it. And I mean, who knows what’ll happen with our film? Might mean good things for everyone else. Did you think about pitching this short to the studio?”
“Oh, no, I mean, I didn’t really want…”
“Right, right, I get it.”
“So you’re not mad?”
“Okay, good. That makes me feel a lot better.”
I was furious; a deep rage swirled inside me. How could he betray us? How could he betray me? We were supposed to stay together, make movies together, not sell-out the first chance we could get.
I left the set a little earlier than everyone else. I wanted to ensure my house wasn’t a total nightmare. I opened the front door and noticed a faint odor. It smelled like a backed up toilet. Oh no. I ran to the bathroom, grabbed some all-purpose cleaner, and tried to mask the smell the best I could. Then, I took a large towel, rolled it up, and shoved it against the foot of my father’s door. I lit several candles and opened a few windows and hoped by the time they arrived, the smell wouldn’t be noticeable.
The party arrived on time. It was a small crew, no more than ten people. Exhausted after a long day of work, it felt good to kick back and relax. We ate pizza, played card games, and talked over wine and beer. After many years working together on our film projects, we became a tight knit group. We’d been through a lot of failure, seeing our projects rejected time and time again. But we felt good this time, we felt like success was within our grasp.
“Would you keep it down out there!” my father screamed. His sharp, blood-curdling screech echoed through the whole of the house, almost as if the house itself were speaking. His abrasive and sudden intrusion on the party silenced their cacophony.
My body froze. My teeth clenched. I saw the look on all their faces. Disappointed, disturbed, sad, confused. They all displayed an array of emotions and they all threw them on top of me.
“I’m sorry,” I said, sighing.
“No, it’s okay,” Melissa said.
“My father isn’t well. Please forgive him,” I said. “Everyone continue. I’ll be right back.”
When I stood and turned my back, they began chattering and whispering. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but I could only imagine it wasn’t good. Why would it be? I went up to my father’s door and knocked on it lightly. “Father,” I said in a sharp whisper, “please don’t ruin this night for me.”
“Are you out there with your little movie buddies?” he asked, his loud voice booming throughout the house. It sounded like he and the house were one.
“Keep your voice down,” I pleaded.
“I’m sorry, little Spielberg, am I ruining your Academy Award party? Did you win best director yet?” he asked and then belly laughed.
“You’re embarrassing me,” I said between gritted teeth. “Just please be quiet and we’ll talk after.”
“I thought I told you I didn’t want you to have a party in my house!” he boomed. “We can talk about this right now in front of all your little friends.”
“I want them OUT!”
“Look, old man-!”
“Out! Out! Out! I want them out!” he cried like a newborn baby.
I couldn’t believe he was doing this to me. Rage swelled in my chest and bubbled up to my face. The heat emanated from my cheeks, my forehead, my scalp. It was strange. While I felt a wave of anger toward my father, I also felt a leg-shaking embarrassment and nervousness about what my friends would think of all this. But the anger, the malice, it won out in the end, overshadowing anything else.
“Screw you! You hear me? I hope you drown in your own piss. You hear me, you fat old fart? I hope-” I screamed at the top of my lungs. Wads of spit hit the door in front of me. My lungs heaved as my heavy breath muted my hearing. But, as my breaths calmed, I focused my attention to the door and heard a faint cackle.
Is he laughing at me? I wondered in horror, but then my outrage was interrupted.
The front door slammed shut.
I turned, fearing the worst. My heart sank. They all left. Every last one left the house, except for Melissa. She stood at the bottom of the stairwell, looking up at me with her doe eyes.
“I’m so sorry about this,” I said, feeling isolated and alone. I felt my nerves tight and my brain fog.
“It’s okay,” she said. “It really is. You need to take care of your dad. I never should have put this on you. It was a good party, Howard. We’ll talk soon.”
She blew me a kiss. “We’ll talk soon,” she said with fear in her eyes and then left.
She left me. She left me because…because of him. She left me because of what he became.