The Girl from the Video Store

The Girl from the Video Store
by Matthew Zanoni Müller
The aisles of the video store feel like a mausoleum of fantasies. Only the new releases in the front still hold their brightness. The older ones, stacked tight on wooden shelves, are rarely picked up, their dust blown off. The store has been on the main street in town ever since we moved here, to upstate New York. In the winter people always come early, before it snows, and leave with stacks of films to see them through the long nights. There are two large dogs that patrol up and down the aisles and the same man has always owned it and the same girl is always there too, but she’s also growing older, treading the line somewhere between blooming and inheriting the face of her adulthood.
I took my younger brother to the county fair in town the year I was just out of college, and he scampered off with his high school friends, voice high and eyes bright, swallowed into the music and lights. I joined two of my friends and we moved through the crowds and passed the rides and stalls of vendors. It felt like walking through a movie I’d seen five times already. We stepped into the barn in the agriculture section and a young cow licked my hand, and kept licking, until she had the whole thing in her mouth. We watched the end of the demolition derby, something that used to excite me. All the cars were stuck in a dirt oval, exhausts blowing. They crashed into each other over and over again until only one motor was left running, and this one declared victor, even though his engine died too, before he could turn it off. The high school kids all ran around in groups, stood pushing coins into the gambling machines, or in front of the game stalls, aiming toy rifles at the
small metal targets. The boys tried to shoot like men, suddenly gaining a smiling pride when they were passed the rifle. It was easy to see how desperately they wanted to hit each target, to give their girls the prize of a stuffed animal, and how much they resembled me, when I was young.
We settled in the beer tent. They were playing country western and classic rock through the speakers on the empty stage. We were on the outside where the tent opened to the tractor lot and old men stood leaning on the giant tires, talking. The band had already quit playing but no one was ready to leave. The lights were bright and the music loud. Might be the only real night out in months for most people. The mountains sat quietly in the darkness behind the grounds, receding into their dark halls, the animals whispering, their quiet feet, looking down anxiously at the bright lights, all of that noise downstairs, like young children watching their parents getting drunk.
Only a few older people were dancing. I stood up and bought another round, beer in plastic cups. A new group of younger people streamed in. They must have been in before. They were swaying and yelling. The girl from the video store was there. She threw her cardigan on the bench of a picnic table and moved out onto the floor, grabbing one of her friends with her. She started dancing like it was the first time she had discovered an amazing love, her feet pounding down into the ground, her legs disappearing into the deep black boots she soon kicked off. Her hair flew around her, up and down, fishtailing behind every one of her gyrations. Her shorts were cut off and frayed just below her pelvis. All of the older men turned to look.
She washed in like water from an old dam that had finally broken. She danced with everybody. None of her was held back, everyone could drink from that water. A tall skinny man falling into middle-age moved shyly toward her and she grabbed him around the waist, moved him out onto the floor and danced all around him, her body grinding up and down his skinny tree frame, his tucked in flannel shirt coming loose and his feet scrambling; his disbelieving eyes. She leaned her head back, arching as far as she could, her hair touching the floor and her torso stretching out in front of him, her breasts all to visible under her thin white shirt, and her pelvis pushed directly against him, at once holding him in place and showing him everywhere he could, and could not, go. Then she snapped back and he was lost in a cloud of hair and before he knew what had happened she was circling another man.
All the older women watched her and talked among themselves. Maybe she was a memory to them growing up out of the dark earth of things they thought no longer mattered. Maybe she was something they had once been, or something that they had always been too afraid to be, something they regretted. But the men watched with their hands on their belts, quiet and interested. And the stoic ones never got up, never moved onto the floor, but in their minds they were moving over it and around her, they were dancing better than any man who actually did move into the bright lights, better than any of those fools. She finally left the floor between songs, stood by a table and took a long pull from a bottle, her face flushed with life. She flipped her hair back with her eyes closed toward the ceiling of the tent above, put her leg up on the bench so that her shorts rode up and to the side, where her underwear should have been.
The next time I walked into the video store I saw her sitting quietly behind the counter. The two dogs barked their way down the long rows toward me, and she held them off with shouts that weren’t convinced of the commands they were giving. So the dogs didn’t really listen, licked my hands and jumped up against my waist, while outside it was raining, same as yesterday.

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