The Northville Review
an online literary journal
Blank Screen, the Review

James Valvis

This is a low-budget production.

I sit on the beaten recliner, staring at the blank television screen, feeling as dark as the room. There are no great cast members in this movie, no elaborate plot schemes, nothing but the dull constancy to keep me watching. My leg has fallen asleep. I smack it one time and something tingles. I’m not sure what. I light another cigarette while the cat looks at me.

“What do you want?” I say.

“Mao,” says the cat.

“Don’t remind me,” I say.

The cat looks at me.

“To hell with Mao,” I say.

“Mao, Mao, Mao,” the cat says.

“What about Lincoln? What about Lenin?”


I look at the television. There are no special effects. The screen doesn’t even flicker. It’s as though it’s already been done. For three nights I have looked at the television’s achromatic face without turning it on. It really makes no difference. From
time to time I will notice a somber reflection on the screen. It will move and then stop.

The other cat? My girlfriend? What’s left of my life? Isn’t this what Plato feared?

Shadows cast on a cave wall. Or did he really fear being brought up into the light? I don’t know. It’s hard to know anything anymore. It’s easier to just sit here and fake it.


“What more do you want?” I ask the cat. “They already own us.”

“Mao, Mao.”

“It’s not right,” I say.

My cigarettes taste like blood. My arm is dead. I move my fingers in my left hand just to make sure they haven’t gone ahead without me. Who’s directing this damn thing? Who’s the man in charge? I don’t know. I don’t know if anyone knows.

I pull the blanket up around my neck. I am mysteriously cold. The cat sits like a Sphinx next to my feet. Her eyes are as gray as the screen. The cat makes an attempt to leap upon my lap and I push her back. She lands and settles back into her stare. She licks one paw and washes her face with it. Then she looks at me again. It’s one accusation after another.


I don’t answer her. I’m tired of her shit, her threats. Where does she get off?

There are people lined up around blocks to see the newest hottest movie. I see reviews of it everywhere. It’s not just me. How small we have all become, how provincial, how low in purpose. The cat jumps onto my lap and I am too slow or too tired or too disinterested to stop her. I run my hand across her thick fur, listen to her purr her death song, and look into her tenebrous eyes.

My soul goes straight to video.

About the author

James Valvis is the author of HOW TO SAY GOODBYE (Aortic Books, 2011). His writing can be found in Anderbo, Arts & Letters, Juked, LA Review, Northville Review, Rattle, River Styx, storySouth. His poetry has been featured at Verse Daily and the Best American Poetry website. His fiction has twice been a Million Writers Notable Story. He lives near Seattle.