“2nd Unit” by Tim Etherington

by Tim Etherington. Three brief excerpts from Tim's short story 2nd Unit, about a small town in Southwestern Ontario that is invaded for several days by a film crew shooting a television “movie of the week”.

Tim Etherington - Photo credit: Christina Robertson
Tim Etherington - Photo credit: Christina Robertson

Tim Etherington is a Peterborough writer and teacher with a long history in live performance. His newest play, Zombies Versus Bunnies, which he co-wrote with his daughter Lydia, will be performed at the Showplace Lounge on June 21st and 22nd.

Here are three brief excerpts from Tim’s short story 2nd Unit, about a small town in Southwestern Ontario that is invaded for several days by a film crew shooting a television “movie of the week”.

By the time most of the town was awake, the unit had already set up base camp in the parking lot of the Kinsmen Centre. Kids shuffling through those insufferable, distracted final weeks of school slowed down on their way to class or rushed out at lunch to gawk at the people with the sleek phones and overflowing clipboards, to steal up the fire escape of the Lord Simcoe Tavern and see the old Molson Bank bathed in bright light.

Old geezers would politely ask to look at the ancient Fords and Chevys restored perfectly to their Depression-era factory look. Their fresh paint jobs sizzling on the hot steel, spraying colour into faded black-and-white memories of groping somewhere out in the impossible darkness of a rural night. Teenage kids hanging out on the edge of all things – admitting to no one that they hoped someone important would notice – discreetly asking anyone with a walkie-talkie if they knew who the director was.

And everyone was pissed at Janet Oostrom, chosen to be an extra in a scene, just cause her dad’s the mayor, eh? Janet, sitting on one of those movie chairs while a guy combs her blonde hair, her looking all proud of herself – just cause her dad’s the mayor. When the TV station from Wingham sent a news reporter, her dad was all over the place, shaking hands with the director and the “stars”, winking into the camera and letting slip that there could be more movies coming up.

The first night the crew tore into the Lord Simcoe, nearly cleaned them out of draught. And then the next afternoon an SUV arrived from Toronto and he told the Simcoe that they were off limits – some lady in the film and her contract conditions or something like that. Everyone figured she must have been the one calling for the farmers’ sons that night – she jumped up on the pool table and told all the patrons at the bar to go home and get their sons . . .

And everyone at the bar was thinking: where have I seen her before . . . or . . . wasn’t she on that TV show about the lady cops, or she played the sister in that mini-series . . . the one who marries the poor brother, the one that disappears, the one at the beginning, the other person in the party scene, the elevator, the airplane, the one who gets killed . . .?

Out on Main Street, in the driveway beside the Credit Union, Janet Oostrom sat in a real director’s chair among the fluttery make-up crew. She was having her hair styled.

“You have beautiful hair,” the man said to Janet, as he twisted a few unlucky strands around his knuckles. His own hair was a kind of blue, and it bunched up in a furrow on the top of his head. “The water is so freaking hard in Toronto – it’s the absolute worst, trust me – you are very lucky to be here.”

“What the hell do you mean? Lucky to live in this dump?”, Janet asked. “Oh. . . I wasn’t talking about living here. . . God, no. . . I was talking about the water. It’s much softer here. It doesn’t strip your hair like the water in T.O.”

Janet looked at his reflection in the mirror. He had great clothes, the kind you see in a music video, not the kind of Wal-Mart crap people wore at her high school. The kind of clothes her new friends would wear when she moved to Toronto.

Down at the Kinsmen Centre parking lot, the Ladies Auxiliary was stocking the craft table: devilled eggs, corn bread, roast beef, apple pies, various kinds of potatoes and lots and lots of bean salad. They chatted amongst themselves in a patois honed over generations of weddings, county fairs and funerals. Chattering in calm, layered tones like wise old geese. One grey head almost indistinguishable from the other.

Watching her father standing in line with his sagging paper plate, winking and smiling at everyone, it occurred to Janet that this must be it, this must be the moment from which the rest of her father’s life would be compared. Back home in the den, on a mantelpiece stuffed with picture frames, she could already see his photographs of dead moose and hooked, gasping muskies giving way to shots of disinterested film people quietly suffering a photo op with the utterly forgettable mayor of some small town in the middle of nowhere in particular.

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