December 17

The Exterminator’s Visit (Part 4)


In her dream, Ethel Finley’s television broadcasts Simone’s final hour.  The character returns home, exhausted after another long day of scheming.  She reaches for her house keys, and there’s nothing ominous in the shot — broad daylight, and no tense music on the soundtrack.  But she’s alone, and Simone is never alone.  Why would viewers want to watch her walk into an empty house?

Unless it’s not empty.  The door opens wide into the house, and there’s a shadow behind it.  And…a gloved hand, its fingers curled around the edge of the door.

It’s always a gloved hand, so you can’t tell if the attacker is male or female.

Now inside, Simone reaches to shut the door, and she stops.  “Oh, it’s you,” she says.  It’s somebody she knows!  But they won’t show the trespasser, and Simone is smug — like in those confrontation scenes, because she always has the upper hand — and she says, “Go ahead.  I dare you.  I double dare you,” the camera stubborn on her face, moving closer so you can’t see anything else, and the other person will not speak, and Ethel wonders if it’s a knife or a gun or if those gloved hands would wrap around Simone’s throat and tighten, and then that smugness disappears for just a moment, Simone’s mouth opening, ready for a scream…

The scream comes, but it’s deeper than expected — like a man’s scream.  In her dream, Ethel grabs a remote, rewinds the scene to review what she’s heard, maybe uncover a clue she’s missed.  This time, Simone makes a low grunt, almost a growl as she confronts her intruder.  There’s a background crash, as if something topples over, but the onscreen actress doesn’t raise an eyebrow at the sound.

Maybe there was an accident on the set, and the producers forgot to edit it out.  Sometimes these shows were filmed live, and actors flubbed their lines or an overhead microphone dipped into the frame.

Sloppy.  Simone deserved better on her final day.

Ethel rewinds the scene to the very beginning.  Even though she already knows what is going to happen, she has to admit that the scene still feels a little scary.  The idea of an intruder in her own home actually gives her the chills, almost as if she feels a cool draft from outside.

“Go ahead.  I dare you.  I double dare you.”  This time, as Simone challenges her unwanted visitor, Ethel distinguishes a faint rustle on the soundtrack, like the flap of a plastic tarp in the wind.  A fresh draft raises gooseflesh on her arms.

She grabs the remote, planning to review the same scene again, fully expecting fresh variations on the soundtrack.   This time, while the image is still on pause, she hears another crash, a rush of footsteps, then the slamming of a door.

Ethel opened her eyes, stared at the blank screen and the unplugged television set…




[…continued in December 18 entry…]