Opening Soon

Kaylee felt cold and empty, like a rusty, railroad spike had been driven deep into her heart and brutally wrenched out. She’d been with Tim three years. Three years. That morning in Holly’s Café, he’d told her of his engagement plans. He and Stasi would be married in October.

“I’m happy for you,” She’d said, shaking inside. He cheerfully invited her to the wedding then rushed off to meet Stasi and Father Antonio at Saint Mary’s. Kaylee left the café alone.

She found a bench along the street. A taxi slowed at the curb. A young woman jumped out wearing a fashionable tennis outfit. A tall man in red jogging shorts and a red Adidas shirt swept her up and spun her around. Still embracing, they exchanged remarks on their good timing then dashed into Holly’s Café. Three pre-teen girls bounced past laughing, music in their steps, books and a jump rope clutched in their hands, talking nonstop. “My momma, she said …”

Kaylee hugged her purse to her chest and bent over it, staring at the pavement. The life she’d planned. Gone.

Tiny drops of rain tapped her cheek, joining her tears. The flow came faster, the drops harder. Shoppers, joggers, and service people, young and old, covered their heads with packages and backpacks and quickened their pace. Then the sky burst. Wind-blown rain soaked Kaylee’s dress and shoes as she ran. Cars sped by, splashing waves onto sidewalks from puddles and fast filling gutters.

Kaylee ducked between yellow-brick buildings on a narrow walking street and leaned on the lee side of one of the buildings. The wind shifted and blew harder, driving the downpour horizontal. She spotted an old theater down the walk, ran to it, and took cover under the entrance marquee. All she could see beyond her shelter were curtains of gray water. How long must she wait for the storm to pass so she could go home?

A split banner spanned the old theater doors, red letters printed on white: THEATER diagonally across one door, CLOSED across the other. Cupping her eyes against the dark glass, she saw a vacant lobby with an empty concession stand, an upset refuse bin, and playbills of past shows in glass-fronted cases. She pulled the door handle. The door opened.

The lobby smelled of mildew and moldy carpet. Pink and tan paths, worn threadbare in the red carpet, arced to both sides of the concession stand, ending at tall, double doors. Kaylee followed the path to the left and pushed through the swinging doors.

The auditorium was empty, cold, and dark—a place that matched her mood, a place to be alone and think. A steady drip, drip, dripping sound came from an unseen bucket. The faint glow from the exit door signs illuminated shadowy rows of seats and an aisle sloping down to the stage. Kaylee chose an aisle seat in the fourth row. As her eyes adjusted, she noted scattered trash and seats with torn upholstery. The dim-lit stage had no curtains and was bare except for a card table near center stage, two folding, metal chairs, and a shaded floor lamp.

Something scurried at the foot of the stage. “Maybe Tim,” Kaylee snorted then hung her head. She took a tissue from her purse and touched the corners of her eyes to lift the sting of tears. Tim had been so cheerful that morning, sharing his big news, totally indifferent to how she might feel. His crass ambivalence was disturbing. Was it that easy for him to dismiss her? To forget how they’d touched and held one another? To forget their kisses? Fleeting visions of running in the surf together, picnics, and flying kites felt like distant fantasies. Never again. Could she endure hearing his laughter, now in harmony with another’s laugh? Would she ever laugh again?

Soft footsteps crossed the dark stage. Then the stage lights came up full. Kaylee blinked, blocking the glare with a palm against her forehead. A lanky, young man in faded jeans and untucked, white T-shirt stood center stage. He laid a sheaf of papers on the card table, turned on the floor lamp, and rattled a metal chair as he sat. The man pulled one sheet off the stack, crossed his legs, and leaned back. His lips mouthed words as he read.

An older, motherly looking woman walked from the back of the stage down the steps to the front row. She had long graying hair and wore a loose smock. After nodding to Kaylee, she spoke to the man on stage.

“Will Jenna be joining us?”

“The metro tunnel is flooded. She’s stuck between stations.”

The woman leaned one arm across her seat and turned to Kaylee. “Excuse me. If you have a few moments, would you sit in and read a few lines for us? Just until Jenna arrives.”

Kaylee sat up, embarrassed, thinking of leaving.

The woman said, “You know, my dear, life goes on?”

Kaylee startled. “Excuse me, what did you say?”

“The play we’re rehearsing, My Dear, Life Goes On. You may have heard of it. It’s by a local playwright.

“Oh, of course. I’m sorry, my mind was wandering.” She introduced herself to the woman then to the man, who handed her the script for Jenna’s part.

While reviewing her lines, Kaylee noticed that the card table had acquired a fine, white cover cloth, and its legs were polished, carved wood. Her seat had become an armchair upholstered in brocade. When she looked up, the young man was wearing a white dinner jacket and she a strapless gown. Instead of a floor lamp, a crystal chandelier glittered above the table.

10_oriental_theater_chicago-e1483917340596

Heavy stage curtains parted to reveal a packed auditorium. The audience buzzed with whispered anticipation. A formal dinner scene set on stage glowed in the spotlights. How lovely, Kaylee thought. She stumbled over her first lines, but no one seemed to mind. Her gestures and lines smoothed as she and the young man proceeded, scene after scene. Soon she no longer needed the script.

At the end, the audience stood and applauded. Her leading man stepped back and extended his arm, insisting she take a solo bow. “This is wonderful,” she said, closing her eyes and inhaling the moment.

The stage lights dimmed. Everything quieted and faded—the audience, her acting partner, the matronly lady in the front row. Cloth-covered, carved wood returned to being a bare card table, upholstered seats to folding chairs, and the gleaming chandelier to a dark floor lamp. Her gown was again the dress she’d worn that morning, still damp from the rain. As she followed the dim-lit aisle out to the lobby, and heard the slow drip, drip, dripping from an unseen bucket.

Outside the rain had stopped. The sun broke through the last cumulous clouds and cast a brilliant halo with rays of bright sunshine. Kaylee shaded her eyes and glanced up at the marquee she’d been unable to read in the rain. The last show was still on the billboard: Time of Your Life by William Saroyan. Only one of the letters had fallen away. Tim_ of Your Life the sign now read, followed by “CLOSED.”

Kaylee shook her head at the irony then caught her breath. The line at the very bottom of the billboard read in large letters: NEW PLAY—OPENING SOON.

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