So I finished shelf number nineteen and let the wrench drop to the old, pale wooden floor. It landed with a crack, sent an echo throughout this giant, empty theater palace, punctuated the end of my work session. Boom. Echo, echo, anybody home? A lonely theater is the place for an echo. I picked the wrench up, whacked one of my newly constructed shelves, dropped it on the floor again, listened for the applause.
This place was a real theater – a nice one, a southern hot spot for the arts – back in the days before movies. During my childhood, it was a movie house, one of three in downtown Templetown. For the past six or seven years, it was nothing but another evacuated downtown building. All moviegoers, naturally, moviegwent at the mall. So now it was turning into a theater again. A fundraiser was in progress. The screen was gone and the stage was turning back into a stage. All the sticky movie seats were gone; real theater seats were on the way. All of these projects, of course, were professional jobs. I was working in the rehearsal and storage areas. Not much historical renovation going on there; just grunt work.
What a huge building, so quiet, so dead and stupid, with just me inside. And to think, all the hoopla was for a little hoopla – a play, an occasional drama – a few nights a year of song and dance and story.
Like I said, my wrench smacked the floor, earned a thunderous applause from the audience, and I called it quits. My hands were cut and scraped from the metal shelves. I clopped down the long wooden stairs, released more echoes into this quiet, dormant, theatrical swirl. I locked the door – it was a big building, a giant door, all secured with a little lock and a tiny, stub of a key – and I went around the corner and into Gracie’s restaurant, stepped up to the bar and ordered a beer.
My good friends were there. Ah, how wealthy can a man be? To have such friends – that is, Gracie, my ex; Jerry Baker, director extrordinaire; and the community service woman, that hardened slave driver with an oddly gigantic torso and killer eyes.
They sat at a table. The director was obviously a ladies man – a professional entertainer – he had both women smiling, leaning across the table listening to his wit. I gave them all a little wave, not to be so forward as to approach my superiors. I had my beer standing at the bar, staring at the T.V. Basketball clips flying by on ESPN.
Jerry Baker came up to me like we were old friends, a big smile on his face. He was a moody bastard himself, with his list of jobs; never knew whether he would be friend or foe.
“I checked out the shelves today,” he said. “They look good.”
“Thanks. Only five more to go.”
“Althea is perfect!” he said. “I knew she would be, got that about her the minute I saw her. Casting takes place right here, in the gut.”
He made a fist and poked his gut.
I took some credit for Althea’s marvelous first impression. She had just fucked me good, and I her. The immediate vibrance of that moment is what Jerry had walked into. It still lingered now. Obviously, being the interpretive visionary a director has got to be, he had wanted a sexy woman in the part of Eliza Doolittle – a woman to offset that proper, asexual beast, Henry Heggins – and how could he have found a sexier one? Vivacious, willing, tuned for the moment: Althea’s cunt had embraced my cock just seconds before Jerry met her. Who could be more sexy than that? My medication was doing its job, keeping the bipolar shit in check, so I flattered myself strictly on an inward basis. I didn’t go so far as to share these insights with the director.
“Great,” I said. “She is special.”
“C’mon,” he said. “Bring your beer over here and join us.”
“C’mon. We won’t talk about your debt to society.”
I tilted my head toward the table. “They will,” I said.
“No, they won’t. We were just talking about the play. I was telling them about Althea, how I had this mental image and then the reality suddenly appeared.”
“Miss Community Service over there still wants a pound of my flesh,” I said. “Her testimony is crucial to my freedom.”
Jerry laughed. “She’s not that bad,” he said. “Really. I’ve told her only good things about you. She’s in the show, too.”
Great. She’s in the show too.
I joined them. Gracie said, “How are you doing?” referring to my grief.
“No problems,” I said.
“Are you sure?”
“I’m sure. Well, I’m not sure sure. But I think I’m sure. Why, you ready to haul me back into the hospital?”
“No, but I’m concerned. You don’t seem too shattered.”
“I’m getting the hang of this normality shit,” I said. “You know that. I’m equally as shattered as I usually am. Well, more so, under the circumstances. But I’m coasting like a firecracker,” I said. “Joining the human race, like everybody else. See? Look at this. See that? That’s steady.”
I clunked down my beer glass, held out my hand, kept it there. There was very little shaking.
“I was concerned,” she said. “You know where to find me if you need me.”
“Ha. How’s Artie?”
“Not back yet.”
“Damn, he’s doing the whole world tour.”
“He saved a long time for this,” she said.
Conversation turned back to the play. I listened to jabber about sets, costumes, the orchestra and the cast. I drank two more beers, caught a ride home with Miss Community Service. She was hyper about the show, about Jerry, the beginning of rehearsals. She didn’t bug me about my forty-eight hours, talked to me more as a theater insider. She was in the chorus.
“I love that play,” she said. “The music is sooooooo wonderful.”
As she slowly eased her car past the old, restored houses near the center of town, approaching my apartment, she hummed a few bars of “I Could Have Danced All Night,” one of Althea’s big numbers.
She dropped me off at my dwelling, so centrally located – this gigantic old house, split into four good sized flats.
I went in, and surprise!
And I mean surprise.
Althea was there, smiling like hell. Those bright, blue laser eyes lit up again.
But that wasn’t the surprise.
You could see the floor. The piles of old newspapers – gone. The stink was gone. A lemon-lime fragrance rising from the shiny hardwood. The old food lying around had vanished. No beer cans. All of my dirty clothes were somewhere, presumably cleaned and stashed away in drawers. The filthy kitchen was clean. The bathroom was white again.
The place was immaculate, suitable for human occupancy.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“I thought I’d move in with you for awhile.”
Sounded swell to me. But the lack of mess is what blew me away.
“Yeah, I’m game, really. But look at this place? What are you, some kind of domestic, housekeeping, old timey, in-your-eye-woman’s movement mating type?”
“Hell no! I had a cleaning service come in here. It looks great, doesn’t it?”
“Yeah. It’s never….how the hell did they –”
“I moved some of my stuff over.”
“You’ll miss your mommy and daddy,” I said.
“I will not! This place is great. I’ll still go back there when I have my kids.”
“Aren’t you excited about the show?”
“Not really. I can see that you are.”
“I’m the lead!”
“You didn’t know I was a singer, did you?”
“I suspected it.”
“You’ll be there the whole time, right? I mean, you’re going to help backstage, right?”
“I’ll be done with my hours by show time,” I said.
“But you can still help.”
“Every leading lady needs a show fuck!” she said.
She was out of her mind with excitement.
“Glad to oblige,” I said.
And I did.
The bedroom was in magnificent condition, no longer a giant unkempt closet. It was so tidy that it looked like a different room in some other house. Again, the actual floor was visible, and the smell – gone.
Damn, these divorced, aging, manic stage women are the way to go. Give them half a chance, and they leave their inhibitions at the door. They do it not just with enthusiasm, manic energy, grasping for the metaphysical –†but with a certain desperation; I would say borderline craziness, but it’s not borderline.
She made me tingle all over, got me involved – then, when I was operating within her space, my body one, big, pliable, quivering brain stem, she jerked me around good, got me to do a few things that I never would have thought of on my own. It was really quite nice.
“If you live with me, you’re going to take your medication,” I said.
“I’m taking it!” she said. She was on top of me, propped up on her arms with her breasts swaying before my eyes. She had gotten us both off good. I had come, lost all strength and size, and she was still squeezing away, tickling my waning fancy, smiling like hell. I was working on my body temperature – trying to get it back into the nineties. “I’m not manic,” she explained. “Just excited.”