“Tonight is Ana’s last night. She has been with us for forty-seven years. Thank you for everything, Ana! Ladies and gentlemen, Ana Jackson!”
Ana stepped to the microphone and looked at the full theater below her. Her chest swelled as the whole theater stood up and started applauding.
“Thank you. Thank you so much!” She wanted to say something clever, something touching, but nothing came out. She just stood there, listening to the applause getting louder and louder.
She remembered the day she joined the theater, she was only a few years older that Juliet. This made her chuckle inside as she recalled the actor who played Romeo was middle-aged and balding.
“Go home, grandpa!” a teenage boy at the back shouted as Romeo entered the stage. They say you must always choose one person in the audience to look at during the performance, and she looked at the girl sitting next to the boy. She was young and beautiful, giddy with love.
I wonder what happened with them …
She could always tell when it was someone’s first time at the theater. Very few are completely out of place like the teenage boy. The others look at the stage with wide eyes. They glow. They turn to the person next to them often. “Did you see that? Did you feel what I felt?” they say without words. She knew the feeling well, it has never left her. Every time was like the first time.
She looked at the audience, and she could see them. Fireflies glowing in the dark. They will come back.
The first play she saw was Cabaret. She was sitting in the front row, so close to the stage she could touch it if she just leaned forward a little. She could see the stitching on the costumes, the sweat running down dancers’ legs. They were singing for her, dancing for her. She could swear they were all looking only at her.
♫ “Maybe this time, I'll be lucky. Maybe this time, he'll stay. For the first time love won't hurry away …”♫
The lyrics hit Ana hard. Her high school sweetheart had left her just a few weeks before, and, although it wasn’t a Romeo and Juliet kind of love, she could feel this wouldn’t be the last time. Sally was looking straight at her now, she wasn’t imagining things. With every note they were mourning past and future loves together.
Ana bought the Cabaret record. She had a little bowler hat she had bought at the charity store, and her late grandfather’s walking stick. Whenever she was alone at home, she would put the record on at full blast, dim the lights, and sing.
♫ “Money makes the world go around, the world go around, the world! “ ♫
She would tip her hat and hit the floor with the stick.
Oh, but who needs money, and who needs the world to go round when you can have magic like this? Theatre was a safe place for magic, for singing and dancing, crying and laughing, even cursing.
But then she remembered how expensive the front row ticket was, and how she had to lie where she was going, and then lie about her age to get in …
There was another way. She was going to make theater her home. And she did. Forty-seven years of pure magic.
Ana named her son Tony, after the Tony Awards. The father was one of those loves that hurried away, the one she and Sally sang about all those years ago.
When she was pregnant she would play her records, and the baby would kick in time with the tune. When he was seven, she took him to see Annie. “I don’t want to leave!” he said when the play was over. When she asked him what he wanted for his birthday, he said a violin.
It was just the two of them and their love of theater. He was such a good child, always studying or practicing his violin. She remembered the day the screeching noises turned into music and he ran downstairs. “Mom! Did you hear that? I don’t sound like I am torturing mice anymore!”
He loved musicals, Hair was his favorite. He grew his hair and knew all the lyrics by heart.
♫ “Let the sunshine, let the sunshine in!” ♫ He would sing at the top of his voice.
♫ “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine!” ♫ Anna would sing back.
“Mom, you are ruining the song!” he would laugh.
She remembered the day he was accepted to play in the theater orchestra. She cried tears of joy, after a very long time.
The crowd was still applauding. It felt like hours, but she knew it was only minutes. Time has a funny way of expanding to accommodate memories, and more random memories started flooding in.
The time she fell off the stage and broke her leg; she couldn’t work for months and it broke her heart.
The time she saw something shiny between the seats; it turned out to be an engagement ring. A very grateful young man came to collect it and brought her the biggest bunch of flowers.
The time she found an old book on the theater floor, love letter for a bookmark. No one came to claim it. She felt sad at the thought of books and love letters not being wanted.
The time she saw Phantom of the Opera for the first time and the giant chandelier was lowered over the audience – how the blood drained from her face and her heart started racing. The time Tony saw Phantom of the Opera for the first time and the giant chandelier was lowered over the audience – how his face went white and he gasped. The time Tony played for the first time in their theater, and every time after that.
The time theaters were closed for months on end because of the pandemic … She still went in every day. Everything had to be ready for the reopening, even if nobody knew when that would be. The beautiful dark red seats were empty, but she could still feel the magic. She would go onto the stage, look at the sea of clean, plush seats, and shout: “We will be back! You will be back!”
And now they were back. A girl to the left looked just like the giddy teenage girl from the Romeo and Juliet story. Imagine if that was her daughter, or granddaughter! Another girl, in the front row, was leaning towards the stage. Tony was standing to the side of the stage, smiling and waving at her.
They were back, applauding her … Her! Ana Jackson, the theater cleaner. She bowed and left the stage.