Featured Fiction: Our Secret Life in the Movies – by Michael McGriff and JM Tyree

July 10, 2015

San Francisco film buffs Michael McGriff and JM Tyree set out to watch all 800 + films in the Criterion Collection in a single year. After each film, the writers penned a short story loosely inspired by the movie, which became Our Secret Life in the Movies, a collection produced by Austin publisher A Strange Object. We were so taken with the work, and are such big fans of A Strange Object, we approached the team about republishing some of the book’s sketches. Here, we give you the stories inspired by filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, a wonderful look at the stunning prose and unique structure of this highly original and beautifully written collection.


\ After Solaris by Andrei Tarkovsky \

I thought I had woken up. Going out into the hall, I noticed that the front door was open. This was unnerving because I was living alone again after the divorce. The last time I had used the door was early the previous evening when I came home from work. Then I heard someone in the house, fussing around in the kitchen.

It was you in your running clothes. You looked hale and flushed, your breath heaving a little, like it did when you first started jogging. I had made fun of you then, thinking it wouldn’t last, but it was actually one of those minor changes, like listening to new music or suddenly acquiring a hobby like knitting, that heralds a breakup. What was strange about this situation was that the breakup had already occurred, we had agreed not to call or see each other, the old phrases like “space” and “needs” had been dealt and played, and you had no reason to return to our house. You didn’t even have keys anymore.

“Hello,” you said, more nonchalantly than was comfortable.

“What on earth are you doing here?” I said.

“How do you mean?” you said, looking hurt in that way that always annoyed me so much. You gestured to the walls around you in the kitchen as if you were indicating ownership, or at least familiarity.

Then I had my big idea:

“You’re not you,” I said.

“What?” you said, using your don’t be foolish face that came out during social occasions.

“I just realized,” I said. “You’re not you.”

“I don’t understand,” you said.

“What I mean,” I said, “is maybe you’re not who you think you are.”

I was trying to give you a hint or clue to the situation we had found ourselves in.

“But I wonder,” I added, “if you are also having this same dream right now.”

“Oh,” you said. “I see what you mean.”


\ After Solaris by Andrei Tarkovsky \

My first real girlfriend used to pick me up from my shift at the cannery and drive us to the lighthouse overlook on the Old Coast Highway before she took us back to my apartment. She was convinced she could read my thoughts. I loved riding in her Corvair. Its rear engine and orange factory paint.

I always suspected she was a pathological liar and a hustler.

But there was something so tender about her oddities, the way she moved in with me the same afternoon I met her in the mini-mart at the Cheap-O gas station, the way she had hot-glued green plastic army soldiers across her dashboard, the inside of the windshield, and upside down from the bare metal roof. When reading my thoughts, she would say, “Your mind is like a watercress.” The truth is, I liked the way she talked about my past lives, the way we sat with our backs to the dead town I’d grown up in, facing the salty black ink of the Pacific. She entered the rooms of my mind and described in detail how warm or cool they were, how they smelled, how the floors creaked as they settled into the night, how I looked sitting at the desk in the very last and smallest room, how she touched the scar on the back of my head and said she could tell I was thinking about how beautiful she looked. I was happy to give her all I had.

To read the rest of the Tarkovsky sketches, and more from McGriff and Tyree, click here.


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