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Signs (2002), by Susannah Clark

     My laptop has only been open for a few minutes but the keyboard is already hot against my belly, rising gently with each breath. I’m scrolling through an illegal video-streaming site, searching for a way to fill the night. Thousands of movie titles move up the screen, suggesting infinite access to both novelty and nostalgia. I choose the latter, clicking on a link for Signs. 

    It’s been nine years, but I feel ready. This time I will finish the movie. I will see the alien. I click on the green play button and lean my head against the pillow. The screen turns blue and the beginning credits flash to a swell of orchestral music. And then I am no longer in my bed, but sitting in an adjustable cushioned chair. Back in August 2002.

     We were sitting in a row toward the back of the movie theater and there were at least nine of us—a group of rising ninth grade girls converged with a group of rising tenth grade boys, each of us fidgeting to our own rhythm. High school was starting in less than three weeks, the next stage of life cued up. Soon there would be a scene on the screen to escape in, and characters with whom I could replace the people sitting next to me. But not yet. After several teasing previews, now there was just text, the names of strangers. The only plot twist I had to invest in was the fact that the prettiest girl in Arlington County was sitting in the seat between me and my first date.

     At least I thought it to be my first date. In the past three months of summertime, my friend Ellie, blonde and bare midriffed, had provided me with my first beer, my first time sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night, and my first cigarette. And now she was going to help me get my first kiss. We had met Brian and Ryan a day earlier, loitering in the parking lot of the local grocery store. Ellie did the talking, and the flirting, and the number exchange, while I stood by with a shy smile and minimal eye contact. I liked the one named Brian.

     But somehow in the following three days, our double date became a triple, a quadruple, to a full-on group thing. When Ellie and I told our girlfriends that we had landed dates with tenth graders, they wanted in. Ellie called Ryan and asked him to "bring friends."


About the Author

Susannah Clark received her MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Emerson College in Boston, where she also taught creative writing and freshman composition. Her work has appeared in publications such as Inside Higher EdExtract(s)Rock & Sling and others. At the time of the publication of "Signs (2002)," she won Flyway journal’s Notes on a Field contest in nonfiction, for her personal essay about working as a barista during the Boston Marathon Bombings.