Rayne & Delilah's Midnite Matinee

Rayne & Delilah's Midnite Matinee

Jeff Zentner

For Tennessee and Sara, my salvations

For Jessi Zazu (1989–2017)

and all young women

who make things together,

who burn bright

Here’s the thing with dreams—and I’m talking about the kind you have when you sleep, not the kind where you’re finally learning to surf when you’re fifty: they’re carefully tailored to the only audience who will ever see them, which is you. So I’m not big on telling people about my dreams for that reason.

That said, there’s this recurring dream I have. It comes around every couple of months or so, but I wish it were more often because it’s awesome, and when I wake up from it, I lie there for a few moments, wishing I could reenter it. In this dream, I’m at a familiar place. Often it’s my grandma’s house.

Her house was tiny. It always smelled like quilts and oatmeal cookies and that musty odor when you first turn on a window-unit air conditioner after winter. It had a cellar that smelled like cold dirt even during the summer, where she kept store-brand cans of creamed corn, jars of home-pickled dilly beans, and two-liter bottles of Diet Coke. In my dream, I descend into the cellar. I find a door leading to a passageway. I go in. I follow it for a long way; it’s cool and dark, and I’m not afraid. Eventually it opens into this grand, palatial, brightly lit marble room. There are columns and fountains, and the air smells like flowers. I push forward and find room after room. It’s all grand and glorious, beautiful and perfect. It’s not what you would expect to find.

But there it is, and for those few minutes (I’ve heard that dreams are never more than five minutes long, which I totally don’t believe, but whatever), you get to experience the most unexpected grandeur, running like a rabbit warren under my grandma’s little house in Jackson, Tennessee.

And then I wake up, the thrill of possibility and discovery drifting upward off me like steam. It’s such a delicious feeling. Just stay a little longer, I say. But it doesn’t.

Yet another reason it sucks to tell people about your dreams is that then they suddenly become amateur dream interpretation experts: [Nondescript German psychiatrist voice] Well, you see, when you were riding that bicycle made out of fish sticks while wearing an adult diaper, it symbolizes…That you’re afraid of failure. That you’re filled with seething rage. That you’re afraid to become such a grown-up that you no longer call fish sticks “fish dicks.” Who knows?

But dreams are their own universe. They exist in you, and you’re the God of that universe, so no one can tell you what they mean. You have to figure it out, assuming dreams have any meaning at all, which I think they only sometimes do.

This dream, though—the one about finding all the hidden rooms—I think it does mean something. I think it means there’s something great inside me, something extraordinary and mysterious and undiscovered.

That’s a thing I tell myself. It’s a thing I believe.

I love mediocre people. The ones who try their hardest to make something beautiful, something great, something that someone will remember and talk about when they’re gone—and they come up short. And not by a little bit. By a lot. They’re my people. We laugh at them, but you really have no choice in this life but to believe with all your heart that you’re extraordinary. You have to hold this conviction against all evidence to the contrary. Living is too sad otherwise.

I wonder sometimes if I’m really the mediocre person I think I am, because probably one of the deals with being mediocre is you don’t realize you are. In fact, I bet you’ve got to think you’re better than everyone else to attain full mediocrity. Some of these movies Josie and I watch? They must be the product of a megalomaniacal mind. Any self-awareness at all would keep them from being put out into the world. Bad monsters. Nausea-inducing (and not in the good way that you want from a horror movie) camera work (bonus points for obvious attempts at “artiness”). Bizarre, tossed-off romantic subplots that are often more terrifying than the threat at the heart of the movie. Nightmarish musical interludes (the more whimsical and unrelated to the plot or theme of the movie, the more unnerving). Abrupt, anticlimactic endings that look like the money ran out before the story did.

I feel this obligation to bear witness to all of it and give others the chance to also. A duty, I guess. Here, this is the work of my brothers and sisters in garbage. Remember them and what they tried to do.

I also love mediocre people because we’re always getting left behind. When someone leaves you, maybe you get a reason and maybe you don’t. I don’t know which is better. If you get a reason, I guess you can work on improving or something. So that the next time you don’t get left behind. That probably works better with boyfriends and girlfriends than with dads. You only get one dad, and if he scoots, it sorta doesn’t matter if you get a reason because it’s not like you can work on it for your next dad.

I don’t know why Dad left. I don’t think it’s because either Mom or I was mediocre. He loved mediocrity as much as I do. At least I think he did. All the movies were his. Or his and Mom’s.

Someday I want to ask him why.

“New pants?” I ask as Delia gets in my car.

“Yep. Seven bucks on Ebay, not including shipping from Slovenia.”

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