This Is Not a Film by Melanie Sevcenko


Off-ramp, highway.

A long-haired man, mid-30s, shrouded in white sheets. He assembled the crucifix strapped to his back from Styrofoam and spray paint. His nephew gave him the fake blood. The sign he holds reads, Give me a sign. He squints against the sun and blinks out the dust from the shoulder.


A salesman lost on the road, behind a wheel. He sips from a Dixie cup that contains two pills. One sits on the other’s back. There is no room at the bottom of the cup for both of them at once. The salesman scratches his neck and glances at his key in the ignition. Its counterparts sway like they’re taking a walk against his hips, a pocketknife the centerpiece of the key ring. He thinks, “I better not lose my cucumber. I mean, my pocketknife.” He shoots a look to the Jesus on the shoulder of the highway, then runs over a piece of green fabric with white polka dots.

He wishes he was out there.


Out there.

A woman on the highway service road pushes a stroller with no baby inside. Instead, under the belt is strapped a 12-pack of Miller. She spots the first billboard she’s ever taken the time to read. And it reads, “Today your home will feel better.” She smiles at the billboard model, who smiles back with her hand on her hip.


A photographer’s studio.

He snaps a picture and the talent breathes for the first time in thirty seconds. A key grip steps in frame to usher out a potted silk tree. He trips on an extension cord.


The hardware store where the tile specialist lurks under a lighting fixture sky with his boss, who dangles a length of extension from his fist. The badge on his breast has a symbol of two hammers crossed like bones. The tile specialist’s lips get sore for steak and the thought spoken outside his head says, “Next week I’m outta here.”

We PULL BACK out of the window to a WIDE EXTERIOR SHOT of the hardware store. The stroller woman enters FRAME RIGHT and moves LEFT as we TRACK RIGHT. The frame eats her like Pac-Man. Before she disappears, we notice she wears headphones. Into her ears they sign, “You always fear that love is not enough.”


A bird flying overhead. It chirps, “When I finally get high enough, they’ll think I’m engine-powered.”


BIRD’S EYE VIEW of a youth sprawled out in the dry field behind the shopping plaza. He points his telescope up to the bird.


POV of telescope.

It ZOOMS IN. Inside the fuselage, the drink carts clang together and beyond its windows the passengers mistake feathers for clouds. The bird drops its feces.


POV of driver.

Wipers of the parked car smear the bird droppings across a windshield. Fingers tap the wheel at the pace of the wipers. The car radio says, “Next time you shop, please consider only the necessities.”

PAN to the passenger side window. CLOSE UP of a bearded man through the rolled down windowpane. He speaks directly to the space in front of him, “Radio is a life filter. I just got mine installed.”


Across the parking lot. Exterior of a bank.

A transvestite clicks his heels in front of the locked glass doors. He drops his purse and screams to the hot dog stand, waving a white check, “Money and all this, I dreamed it!”

The hotdog vendor gives a thumbs-up and turns the dial on his portable stereo. The radio announces, “Tomorrow, we will speak these words in a different order.”


A pool of ketchup on the sidewalk. DOLLY OUT to reveal a dog. Its tongue lashes at the condiment. Its thoughts speak out in gruff tones, “People only dream of getting this close to the taste.” And his leash pulls taut, and on the other end, the Mayor wipes his mouth with a napkin and he pulls it back from his lips. In mustard are the smeared words, Say you’re sorry.

He tosses the napkin into the trash, but the wind steals it first and clings it to the chest of the cook on his way to work. It covers a portion of his t-shirt and spells out, Only today, dick.

Beside him, the high school principal checks his watch because the alarm beeps. He looks to the clock tower for reassurance and a plane passes in front of its face. Time is obliterated because the plane’s tail banner says, All this will happen too soon. He darts out of frame.

Skating into a MEDIUM SHOT is a boy on a board with black hair over his eyes. His headphones are the size of Babylon and they’re coned in swirls of soft ice cream.

We TRUCK IN for a CLOSE UP. He smiles with all his teeth.


The actor standing on the apple box pleads, “Come to the magic theatre; they’re reading life scenarios against tapestry drapes.”


The gardener says, “It’s too late, I have the atomic time.”

And his baker wife adds a cup of sugar to her coffee.


A businessman with a shoulder strap briefcase recently grew his hair out to his back and lost his job.

And his teenage daughter smiles at the sight of robots and puts a sticker of one on her school notebooks.


The boyfriend says, “I like this girl too much for someone my age.”

(And age, it was no support. Under wheels it fell loose and knocked its bricks together, making the noise of coconuts falling, scooped up, halved and drawn into instrumentation.)


The child in a mother’s arms says, “I heard everything.”

The mother in scratched up sunglasses and aqua shorts goes, “Shhh.”


The punk with the blue legband stops at the median and whistles to his professor.

And the professor yells back, “My beard came today.”

His student, holding the professor’s ass in corduroy, squeezes harder and whispers, “Don’t bother.”


The executive director misses her mouth and spoils her peach blazer with coffee.

“Christ,” she curses, “Time to get drunk.”

“Yes, it’s time,” answers a young man in shy smiles. He turns his chin into his jacket collar and ruffles the paper in his jeans pocket.


Jeans pocket. CLOSE UP of fingers that unfold the paper’s crease.

INSERT: The paper.

A hastily sketched figure of a tree drawn to look like a flaccid old man. His face is bark, his feet are steeped in roots, his arms are crooked and knotted, his hair is willow. His comments are penned inside a thought bubble, pointing to his nest, which could be his brain, on the upper chamber of his branches.

It reads, I salute the gag in every story, common as any place.


Melanie Sevcenko is a journalist and poet. Her journalism, in both print and radio, has been published by Al Jazeera, BBC, Global Post, Monocle, Toronto Star, USA Today, and CBC Radio, among others. She also produces the radio program Berlin Stories for NPR Berlin. Her latest poetry chapbook, We Slept in Body Bags, Just in Case, is recently out from Finishing Line Press. Her poetry and short fiction has been published by newleaf, The Fourth River, Sojourn, BlazeVOX, and Nexus. She has also been invited to read her poetry on NPR Berlin, The Secretly Timid podcast, Brave Ear Radio on Radio On Berlin, and at the Sojourn reading series in Dallas. She currently lives between Berlin, Germany and Plymouth, Massachusetts.

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