There have only been two films whose surprising plot twists made me leap out of my seat. One is the well-known scene in Wait Until Dark, where the murderer who the blind Audrey Hepburn has stabbed with a knife suddenly jumps at her. The other is an unforgettable moment, over thirty years ago.
I was in my late twenties, travelling for the first time out of my country, and alone. Deathtrap was playing in London that year, 1979. I dressed in a lightweight gauzy dress with tiny pearl buttons down the front, and went to the theatre where I was lucky to have a third-row centre seat. I can’t remember who sat to my right, but to my left was a man who appeared, to my under-thirty eyes at least, to be elderly. We chatted a bit before the play started.
People who have seen the film that was made with Christopher Reeve and Michael Caine may remember the garroting scene, but there’s nothing like realistic blood flow from someone’s throat on stage to put you on edge. So I was already close to the edge of my seat when the victim, who we all thought was buried securely in the yard, leapt through the window brandishing a club.
That was the second time I had ever jumped out of my seat. Not just started, or felt my butt rise a bit, but full-on standing, not realising how I got there. Knowing that the British don’t even do standing ovations, I was a little embarrassed and sat down again as soon as I was aware.
Some minutes went by as the play went on with me enthralled. But my focus briefly went to the man sitting next to me, who now appeared to be breathing heavily. Temporarily distracted from the play, I glanced out of the corner of my eye at him, and then for some reason glanced down in front of me as well.
That was when I noticed that all the too-small pearl buttons on my dress, from top to bottom, had come undone. There’s no way to discreetly fasten one’s buttons any more than to zip one’s fly, but I did my best. I’ve never known if that was why the man was breathing heavily, perhaps concerned with what theatre etiquette called for. Maybe he’s in his eighties now, but would still remember the American girl who jumped out of her dress.
Someday I want to write a scene that makes someone else do that.
Becky Masterman spends her days working in a publishing house and her nights writing stylish, exhilarating thrillers. Rage Against the Dying is her debut novel. Becky lives in Tucson, Arizona. you can visit her website here.