New Fiction: Florence the Forgotten

Maggie Hennefeld

 

Foreword

 

This day and age, you only count as an undead being if you are fleshy enough to fall in love: anatomically correct vampires, Oedipal demons, baying werewolves who turn out to be your soulmate, and even coming-of-age witches. If there is no corporeal lust involved then you might as well have stayed dead for good. But my name is Florence and even though I am a specter without a body, I still think that my story deserves to be told all the same.

 

To say that I have no body whatsoever is a bit misleading, because insofar as I make claims to no body, I potentially occupy every body. I hover in between living beings and projected beams of light. I haunt the film screen. I am a flickering specter that passes through you in the movie theater during moments when you feel magnetized to the characters you are watching. 

 

Prologue

 

When Egbert the overworked neurosurgeon found a vengeful outlet during a John Wayne retrospective last week—somehow the Native Americans all reminded him of his mother-in-law—I was there. (Just because I’m disembodied doesn’t mean that I’m ideologically neuter.) I was there when Janice the divorcee mother of two found a new purpose in life to become a part-time mountain adventurer after that James Franco film last year. (Weirdly, she gave up on these ambitions shortly afterward, and now audits literature courses at Yale, Brown, and RISD.) I was even there when the state’s attorney general decided to reveal his sex scandal to the public while watching a heartwarming romantic comedy. But he couldn’t find the right words in under 140 characters. (I learned this during a subsequent haunting of a Vin Diesel film.)

 

Long story short, I know a lot of things. You’ll have to excuse me that words are not my forte, as I’m accustomed to thinking in images. Right now I’m imagining myself floating about two inches behind your head. Maybe you’re driving your car down the road. Yes, I see it, you’re driving your car down the road. I’m giving you a new viewpoint on your movements and actions by literally placing you smashed up against the car’s ceiling. It is an exciting relationship we have.

 

Tomorrow I’ll help you look back at yourself from the perspective of your iPhone while you’re texting—and not the distorted you you see when you invert your camera app. That’s just smoke and mirrors. I will literally show you what you look like from the perspective of your iPhone. Now, imagine that…

 

Introduction

 

People often ask me if they can call me Flo. Sure, Florence sounds like an old-fashioned name and is one syllable longer, but I take pride in it all the same. I feel like all I do is “flow” and pass through, from one being or source of matter to another. A stately name like Florence is probably the most solid thing about me—at least it feels that way sometimes—so please do not be offended if I insist upon refraining from nicknames. I do not mean to be overly formal; I just think that we will get to know each other better this way. Simply put, being condemned to a constant state of “flow” is my earthly torment. Every time the film ends and my host body exits the theater, while the projector softly flickers off, where do you think I go? I will not tell you now, because we are not ready for that yet, but take my word for it, we will get to that point of understanding each other much sooner if you’re not just thinking Flo Flo Flow Flow Flo FLOW FLO FLO-OOoooo-OWWW all the time at the back of your mind.

Acknowledgments

 

There are two kinds of people who I do not like to haunt:

 

1)      Women who wear too much eye makeup or overly large earrings. This is a pet peeve, really. There is something inhibiting about gloppy eye mascara or tinny, dangling ear accessories that gets in the way of what I do. When the point of your existence is to facilitate meaningful corporeal identification while yourself limited to visual and invocatory stimuli, then you’ll get it too. For some reason I have the worst time with this problem while haunting Zooey Deschanel films.

 

2)      Viewers who find the films themselves, er, arousing… This is very delicate, I get it. Don’t worry guy in the LA Dodgers cap who sat in the back during every matinee of that Michael Fassbender film, your secret’s safe with me. Alfred Hitchcock got it. Say it with me, friends: DISTANCE. We’re running a cinema theater not an escort service.

 

Epilogue

 

That said, there are no films that I would as a rule exclude from haunting. Films attempt to tell you how to look, which they dramatize through absorbing stories. If we could just leave it there, then we’d have no problems. But people always attempt to outsmart the movies—to outlook the looker (not realizing all the while that they are that looker). Nine times out of 10, viewers who have that annoying counter-, inner monologues, who try to watch the film against the grain of the text, just end up exacerbating whatever harm or injury they think was done to them in the first place.

If a character they were identifying with gets violated in a film, or somehow disappoints them, they’ll take it out on the film—and they’ll do it right in front of me. They let the film hack out a piece of their soul and then will fill that void by extracting a piece of the film, which they bury deep inside of them. It’s like an infinitesimally piecemeal Faustian wager. They let the film crawl inside of them and then blame the film when they’ve already made it a part of themselves. People form investments in characters and let themselves be haunted outside of the theater—where I can’t be with them.

 

Afterword

 

People always ask me what my favorite film is, or more often who my favorite movie star is, but I think they miss the point of what I’m doing here. If I had a favorite movie star, then you would not be able to feel so potently magnetized to yours. It’s like asking capitalism what its favorite commodity is, or asking communism who its favorite proletariat is. You fool, the system only thrives on limitless exchangeability.

 

That said, I will admit that I like the comedies. I very much care for that genre. It tickles me to inhabit a laughing spectator. Do you have any idea what it means for a ghost to feel tickled? Well, we are way too early into our relationship for me to begin to describe that…

 

Author Bio:
Maggie Hennefeld is a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine.

 

Photos: Oneras (Flickr); Joe Dunkley (Flickr); Number 657 (Flickr).

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