Some sex, hints of violence.
When The Lights Came Up
All he could think was that the costume smelled musty with undertones of sweat, and that led to wondering how many people had worn it over the years. The theater group had been running for over fifty years, he’d heard that from the stage manager just last week. The mind boggles he sneered inwardly. It hadn’t been his idea, this ridiculous production. Hell, it wasn’t really his idea to act to begin with, that was all Maggie’s fault, everything that was happening to him now was down to her in some fashion.
He moved towards the side stage and could just see the left section of the crowd, marvelling at the number of people in house to watch a Christmas Pantomime. He was playing three distinct roles this week, four if you counted the one he’d already been performing for the last couple of months. When his line was coming up he eased closer and strode onto the boards to deliver his rhyming and slightly naughty soliloquy. His gaze was on his co-stars face as the bit needed, but he could feel a frisson of recognition in his soul, it was like her spirit was here.
On he pushed though, his voice rose and fell with the script, and he opened a large painted red mouth in mock surprise towards the audience. He heard the laughter, bowed excessively and was momentarily warmed until he remembered, he was a mere character to them.
Seven minutes later he was back on stage in another fetid costume and pancake makeup that created a brand-new persona. This time he was supposed to roll and tumble, knock another character on the head with a foam hammer and fall over his own feet. He was a limber young man so the role was easy for him. As he came up from a somersault he glimpsed her face in the second row; big blue eyes that melted his heart almost every time he’d tried to stay cross with her. Her beautiful face framed by a fall of black hair that she’d scoop up into a knot in seconds. His psyche knew it couldn’t be her but his heart wanted so badly to see her sitting there.
Almost missed my mark there, he admonished himself as he backflipped and threw his fellow actor off balance on purpose. The audience chuckled as one. He moved to the side of the action piece and watched the woman. His own face was unrecognizable tonight so he could be a voyeur on the stage. It was an interesting turnabout, being the audience for a change. Maggie was sitting next to a man, correction the woman was sitting next to a man. He searched her features for any difference from his Mags, with the light in his eyes though all he could see were the similarities. She had the same wide smile with lots of white teeth, a small narrow nose and determined chin. God, they could be twins or at least sisters. His girl was taller and thinner than this lass, she was the last time he saw her anyway.
Campy music started and the on-stage cast sang a version of ‘Oh Come All Ye Faithful’ with the lyrics referring to the orgasmic type of coming, nothing to do with Old Saint Nick tonight. He smiled knowingly throughout the song as his character demanded, his false bushy black eyebrows raising up and down. The lyrics jolted him back to an early morning lie in, blankets in a tangle, two sets of lungs gasping for air, the scent of their sex lingering in the sheets. They could always turn each other on, even when the rows were increasing in intensity and frequency the sheets were still hot.
The bell rang for intermission, he and his castmates stood in a line bowing to the audience. There was a rush to the lobby bar however so they were mostly ignored. Mostly. She stood staring right at him as if she were trying to place him. Her date draped a sweater over her shoulder and whispered into her shell-like. She nodded and turned her gaze from the stage to thank the fellow. They eased out into the aisle and followed their fellow spectators towards some liquid refreshments.
While the crowd took in hors d’oeuvres with their gin and tonics, the actors gathered and rehashed the first act. He’d been teased about losing his attention for a minute but they agreed it worked as it made him look like more of a clown. He laughed it off and sipped his tea. No booze for him these days. He couldn’t trust himself with it anymore, not after some bizarre events in the autumn anyway. He did miss it; it had been a part of his life since he was a lad in Brighton after all. Most if not all of his castmates still went to the pub after performances and not drinking had him sticking out like the proverbial sore thumb, but he rode the jests and just said he’d developed an allergy to alcohol, it was partially right.
The second half, when it started was a loosely based ‘Scrooge’ production. He’d been chosen to play Bob Crachitt, it was juicy without being the lead. His director had told him he just wasn’t quite ready for a leading role yet, ‘maybe next season son.’ The truth was though he didn’t even know where he’d be next year, it all kind of came down to fate. So, he played his part to the comedic hilt they’d rehearsed and the audience was with them all the way. As he said his lines and then waited for the fellow playing Ebenezer to speak back he scanned the crowd again. His murky soul was strangely pleased to see and hear the appreciative smiles and clapping. They sang along from the lyrics printed in their programs, cheered, and jeered in all the right places; adults being children for just one night.
As his eyes found the woman’s eyes in the dark he was stunned to see that she was watching him again. Her date had left at the intermission for some reason, perhaps a doctor on call, regardless he wasn’t there. Her gaze burned into his face. He hadn’t much makeup on in this role, just a hat, scarf, and beard to adorn his chin. He felt naked all of sudden. Exposed to blue eyes, again.
‘Feckin Hell’ he muttered to himself before joining in on the song ‘Thank you very much.’ It was obviously a crowd favourite as many of the audience sang along. He’d seen it with his aunty a few years in a row on her telly. She’d loved the Albert Finney production and walked around the house belting it out on Christmas Day. Of course, she’d had a few belts in her glass beforehand.
As he sang and smiled with his castmates the spirit of the season flowed through him. Everyone in the whole theater was smiling or laughing. He marched across the boards, threw his hands up in victory with his fellow actors, trying not to knock over the wooden set boards. He managed to fit into a space at the back of the crowd, not really hidden but out of direct range anyway. ‘Who was this woman? Did she have a connection to his Maggie? What did she want from him anyway?’ He slid off stage just before the last notes died on collected lips.
He was in his last costume of the night, a large shaggy white horse. He was completely covered and though the interior of the horse’s head reeked of stale and greasy sausage rolls and was hot as blazes, he was strangely glad to be unrecognizable. He knew his stage name was in the program with all the other parts he’d played tonight, but at least she couldn’t try to intimidate him by staring him down while he worked.
His body undulated and his head was thrown back, the movements of the pantomime horse were strangely erotic to him and he was glad that his oversized costume covered him completely. Her lithe body swam before his eyes, her mouth open in wonder, her gentle cries rang in his ears. His flashback to their last meeting matched with his stage movements. He pawed the stage boards and shook his furry head, getting and staying in character after each flashback was getting increasingly difficult. He could hear the music through the mesh in the mouth and swayed along with the cast as they belted out yet another bawdy tune.
When the lights went up and his crew were gathering to bow for the final time he shifted his head so he could see out of the eyeholes. His heart all but stopped. There were two blue uniformed officers posted at each stage exit and at the front of the orchestra pit below him. The woman’s date had returned to the theater and stood at the lobby entrance next to Chief Detective Kittrick. He’d been the Inspector in charge of the investigation three months ago.
He sunk to his knees amid the gasps and queries from the audience and cast members. In submission he gently removed the horse’s head, laying it on the floor beside him. Raising his eyes, he found hers. She was moving down the aisle and spoke to him, taking off the black wig as she did so.
“This is it Eric, the metaphorical curtain has come down on you.”
“Who are you? Even without the same hair you resemble my Maggie”
“Your Maggie? You mean the one you strangled in your grotty little apartment? You snuffed the life out of her Eric and tried to blame it on a break-in, said you were on stage at the time. She was killed just as she was about to leave for New York. Were you so insecure you couldn’t let her career outshine your own?”
She flashed her detective I.D. up at his face and saw him reading it. She stood wordlessly as two officers pulled him up from his position on stage, helped him out of his costume and clamped his arms behind his back while one of them rattled off the speech about his rights. He was nudged from behind and felt his legs moving but his mind had shut down. It picked up on some bits, the curtain dropping, the music had ceased, and he could just hear the droning voices of the police as they interviewed his castmates.
He looked at her, this Detective Trott then up into the lights and quoted a Shylock line from the Merchant of Venice.
“If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?” He took a bow and then let himself be led off the stage and into theater history.
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