We arrived at the theatre early. My dad sat in the aisle seat next to my sister, and I sat next to my mom. The Little Boy sat onstage playing with an old-fashioned camera, a little pre-show scene. He wore a sailor suit and had a blond bowl-cut, and glasses that kept falling off his face. I thought he looked too sweet, too innocent. I wanted to punch him and make him cry. I’d only ever punched someone once before, a few years earlier. I’d been trying to do my homework but couldn’t with the arguing emanating from my parents’ bedroom, so I flung open the door, stomped in, closed my hands into tight fists, and punched my dad on his fleshy upper arm, telling him to shut up. I meant both of them, but he was a man, so I punched him for both of them. Later my mom came into my room and told me I shouldn’t hit people. I was twelve, I should have known better.
The lights dimmed and the show began. The Little Boy spoke, but I could barely understand him. He couldn’t enunciate properly – there were vowels, but no consonants, no shapes to his words. He wasn’t talented, I kept thinking. He didn’t deserve the part. Not only that, but he didn’t age during the show. He stayed the same age even though time went by. And time went by and the sailor suit was the same and he was the same age and I still couldn’t understand what he was saying when he spoke. His cry of “Warn the Duke!” was garbled, awkwardly comic. My mom and I quietly made fun of him during intermission, mocking his poor diction. It was the kind of humor my dad didn’t get, or didn’t like, because it was mean. I enjoyed it then, but I hoped no one in the audience could hear me.
The actors danced on between scenes at the back of the stage, moving slowly to the tune of a player piano, their forms silhouetted against a blue and orange backdrop – a burning seaside sunset, like the view my dad had wanted us to see. Women in hats, men in suits, Mother, Joe as Father, and The Little Boy all walked and bowed and gestured in pantomime, then froze when the music stopped so you could get a good look at them, how happy they seemed, how graceful and happy they seemed, even if just for a moment and even if it was just pretend, but the music resumed quickly and they moved on.
Joe invited us backstage after the show. We stepped into the dark wings and onto the stage, empty except for the bare ghost light and the screen where the actors did their pantomime. While everyone admired the costumes and wigs, I approached the screen. I walked as I’d seen the actors walking, turned around slowly, bowed, raised my arms and crossed the stage, thankful for the existence of this theatre, a space where I could pretend something, too.
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