Found Terrible Minds yesterday due to the linked post. So much humor and brilliance in one space!! Soooo – I decided to play along with Chuck’s Flash Fiction Challenge.
With a MAJOR caveat. I’ve never been a fiction writer. Ever. Like pretend I’m in 6th grade (though that might be insulting quite a few 6th graders) and this is for ELA. But it was fun.
His blog is brilliant – please go give it a read.
Here it is – based on The Idiomatic outcome “Practice killed the cat”
“For the love of God, stop. Please! Just stop. The neighbors think you’ve lost it, and I’m beginning to agree with them!”
It felt like the 10th time she’d said that today, but he couldn’t. It was compulsive. This need to rehearse the fouettes en tournant over and over again. It made him dizzy, but that didn’t matter now. In fact, it began to feel like reliving an old high.
He’d given up hope of ever being more than an understudy. He’d resolved this, and become happy with his place in the cast and the world. He and Molly had settled in to a quiet schedule around performances and her work. He was content.
Then at 8:14 this morning, the phone rang. The lead was out, severe stomach virus with dehydration. They’d actually gone so far as to admit him to the hospital. He’d recover, but they had to fill – and it was John’s opportunity to live the role, even if only for a day.
Mr. Mistoffelees was his. This was his shining moment and the fouette was the crowning glory of this role. Molly would never understand. Her desk job paid their bills, that much was certain, but the passion, the drive, the all-consuming fire wasn’t something she could relate to – at all.
“John – I know you’ve worked hard. And I’m so happy for you, but this is, frankly, ridiculous. Pictures are falling off the walls. The downstairs neighbors are threatening to call the police.”
He couldn’t even hear her anymore. It’s as though the need to maintain perfect balance and form while completing the rotations in his old, worn shoes on the highly polished hardwood had overridden his ears’ ability to process sound. Demi-pointe, turn, retire, turn, retire, turn. Over and over and over.
John began to feel faint, his vision blurry. He’d been ignoring the roaring in his ear, but he was starting to think that Molly might have a point. He should take a break. If he wore it out in practice, he’d be no good on stage. He had brush-up at 3 anyway.
He stopped with a final, sweaty turn and took a minute to catch his breath. “You know what, Molly – you’re right. Let me clean up, and we’ll go grab a bite and sit in the park for a bit before rehearsal. We should be celebrating. I’ve got this!”
Molly breathed for what felt like the first time since the phone rang. He’d been spinning like a top for the past 2.5 hours, and she really couldn’t take anymore. She loved him, but it drove her crazy when his good sense went out the window like that – it didn’t even have the courtesy to ‘whoosh’ as it went by.
Molly and John spent the remainder of midday walking, holding hands, talking. He was ecstatic, fairly thrumming with the energy of his excitement. She was giddy for him. There was giggling. There was kissing. There was a rose from a street-side flower vendor. There was the perfect intimacy of a rose-gold afternoon.
“Gotta run, babe. You’ll come backstage after, of course?”
“Of course, baby – I love you. Break legs!”
Brush up goes by without a hitch. The director is pleased. The stage manager can’t believe he’s hitting the marks so well. Off for makeup and costume and they’re set.
The show has run for so long, it’s hard to believe there haven’t been a million major mishaps. And maybe there have been. Maybe that’s the magic of theatre. We mostly never know. They cover up the minor injuries and illnesses. They make up for broken set pieces and equipment. They hold more together with gaff tape then we could ever imagine.
But this one couldn’t be covered up, and gaff tape was no use here.
John was shining and brilliant, on spot with every cue. Molly’s face hurt from grinning at his performance for so long.
Until that very last turn. Stage mics can pick up enough that granny in the last row heard the snap. There’s nothing like the sound of bone cracking, really.
Molly saw him go down. She knew it was bad. No one’s ankle should ever be at that angle. She’s a problem-solver though, already poised with what hospital to go to, which orthopedic surgeon was best. She was so caught up that it took her a moment to realize that something else was wrong.
“Why isn’t he moving? He should be yelling in pain,” she thought.
And the curtain dropped. The audience mumbled in concern, and time stopped.
Backstage, after the initial crowding around of cast members and quick drop of the curtain, they all began to back away. Slowly. Hands over mouths, tears begin to fall as they turn to one another for solace.
Molly rushed to the stage door, and was immediately let in. Continually bringing in treats for the techies has it’s advantages in a situation like this – they remember your face.
She ran, full-bore, to the stage and saw everyone standing stock-still – they either couldn’t look away or couldn’t bear to look at all.
She froze. And in that moment, she knew. He wasn’t moving. And he wouldn’t again.
The cast parted to let her through, and she dropped to her knees at his side. No wailing for Molly. Silent tears blurred her vision. There was no lifeforce there, no heartbeat. Just her John utterly still on the stage in this costume he’d waited so long to wear.
There was busyness then. The emergency crew left with him. Announcements and apologies that the show was over for the evening. It all went dark. Molly still can’t remember how she got home that night. Whether she slept or didn’t for the following three days. There were funeral arrangements, and family members rushing into town.
But she woke up from the fog when the call came from the coroner’s office.
“Were you aware of any heart problems?” “No.” “Did he have a family history of heart disease?” “No.” “Any reason you can think of that he would have had a heart attack? Excessive strain as of late in any way?”
“Yes. Yes there was.”
2.5 hours straight. Spinning like a top. Practicing for that role, for that one shining moment, until he felt sick. He’d said he was tired. But that was all. Some say practice makes perfect. But this wasn’t perfection – it was like the worst joke God ever played.
Curiosity didn’t kill the cat. Practice did.