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A night at the theatre

by Juanita 

Posted: 30 July 2004
Word Count: 1578
Summary: The fragment uploaded here is part of a short novel or should I say a collection of short stories. All characters figure in all the stories, but 1 or 2 of them take the lead in one story. The fragment I uploaded is part of the final story. Funnily enough, that's the fragment I wrote first. As I'm involved in writing, editing & discussing my first play at the moment, I haven't had time to write the rest of this collection of short stories yet.

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The curtain is still closed. Janet looks at it. That is all that parts them now. After 26 years, nothing but a thin dark-red piece of cloth separates mother from son. And just like 26 years ago, he has no idea. It is she who holds the cards, she whom Fate gave Knowledge. Only this time there is nothing she has to do. She will sit still, motionless, while he will dance, right in front of her. What will the girl be like, his dancing partner? She looks at her programme booklet, but it has no picture of her, of this Reena Regina, whoever she may be. She closes the booklet, [she] doesn’t want to read the plot. There may not be a plot, she has heard about George Balanchine, not one for plots, was he? That is okay with her, she will be happy to see her son dance in a plotless dance. She has plenty of plot in her head.
The hall has gone quiet. The orchestral pit is deserted; Duo Concertante – that much she has read – is accompanied by piano and violin. She can’t for the life of her imagine what sort of ballet to expect, with such strange accompaniment. Is it another one of Fate’s devious tricks? But then, Julian wouldn’t know that his father had been a violinist, of course he wouldn’t. Amidst all the confusion and regret of the years, that had been one of her sole consolations: at least he didn’t get to know their son either.
She looks at the curtain again. Does she imagine it now, or had she first seen his father on a stage too? She might also have met him during the reception after the concert. She’d never liked the concerts Donald dragged her to. It seemed so wrong, going to concerts not because you loved the music, but because the office gave you free tickets. So she’d made excuses, time and again. Sometimes coming after the interval, sometimes just in time for the after-party. Maybe it had been at such a party, that she had seen Duval – what a name! – first. And it was just her fancy, her mad desire for a pattern that would, after all these years, bind the son to the father, establish a bond, however slight between the two of them.
The quiet in the hall tells her the dance is about to begin, the curtain about to rise. She fights the sudden feeling to rise and leave and not to stop walking until she is out of the theatre. The need to stand up overwhelms her, as palpable as the booklet in her hand. She fans herself with the booklet, takes a deep breath. The curtain seems redder than before, it swims before her eyes. She wishes, with a foolishness she hates to acknowledge, to squeeze the midwife’s hand again, press her nails into that hardened hand. No problem, miss, you just squeeze as much as you need. Am used to it, trust me. The sad eyes on her face, the disbelief. She alone had not believed her story – husband away on business, she’d phone him when she was on her feet again – why not? All believed her, and why shouldn’t they. Weren’t thousands of husbands doing the same, destined to the same absence the moment their own flesh and blood slipped into life? Abroad and only back by the time their wife looked her usual [radiant] self again and the baby was rosy and beautiful to look at. Mother and baby – covering up the tragedy of birth by competing in loveliness. Accomplices even then. Accomplices with just this difference: the mother knew. She knew about the show she was putting/put on, the covering up of blood, screams and regret.
Well, she had been saved from that lie. There had been no reason to lie to her husband about the baby. By the time he came home, the baby was gone. Renamed Tommy Reeds, son of Martha and Clyde Reeds. Honest people, understanding people who had asked no questions.

Tommy would be fine. She had told herself that every day. Before going to bed, like a prayer. But the ground beneath her feet had lost its solidity. She felt that one day, a gap would open. The ground would part and spit the whole stinking truth at her. Like the curtain opened now, hell’s red lips slowly parting, revealing first an empty stage – black background – , then a violinist, a pianist and behind them two dancers. They stand behind the grand piano, seen largely from the torso up. A slim woman on the right, in a simple black bodice and soft pink stockings. Hair done up, bright red lipstick. The musicians dressed in tuxedo’s, as if attending a funeral.
It seems appropriate to her that he wears a white shirt. White shirt, black tights. She stops
fanning herself. The whole hall seems to hold its breath, gazing intently at the group of people that stands, dead still, on the left corner at the front of the stage. Janet presses the midwife’s hand [again] and feels her own nails digging into her hand. As her nails touch the flesh/palm of her hand, the violinist lifts his violin.
The violinist plays well, a rich, clear tone.
The pianist isn’t bad either, a little too forceful perhaps.
From the way the girl holds her head upright, I think she’s a good dancer.
She’s not a girl really, truly a woman. A dancer that knows exactly what her body can do, that knows its limits too.
Janet allows all these thoughts in. Makes them up, even, all to give her body time to adapt, time to relax and let the feeling sink in. That is my son. Up there. That is Julian. Only I know him by that name. He doesn’t even know himself to be named Julian. She can’t allow these thoughts, not yet. Her body will tell her when it’s time for that.

These are clues, surely? The way he stands very tall, the way his head is tilted to the right just a little. Any movement could give him away as their son, if only she looked carefully. But deep in her heart she knew that she couldn’t remember a single characteristic of his father. Afraid to give herself away, to betray herself to Donald, she had violently erased any memory from him from her mind. At times it even gave her trouble to remember his caresses. As to herself, well, she never bothered to study herself. It mattered to no one how she moved, walked or smiled. Now she regretted her own negligence. She swore she’d stand in front of the mirror tonight and look at herself, her posture. Vaguely she realized that she wouldn’t sleep in her own bedroom, her own house, tonight. That she had closed that door for good, but it wouldn’t register. It seemed of no importance, a trifle compared to the white shirt-black tights in front of her.
The dancers still stood behind the grand piano, listening intently to the music. Janet began to wish she had read the booklet more carefully. How long would they stand there, motionless? How long until the dance began? The longer he stood motionless, the more difficult it was for her to believe he was real. Not the image she had called up every now and then, imagining her son at five, ten, eighteen. She had stopped doing that on his eighteenth birthday. After that, it seemed inappropriate to claim him as hers. The night of his eighteenth birthday, she and Donald had slept together. After all these years, she still didn’t understand why she had betrayed Donald. They had never had any serious trouble sexually. And yet, the main bond between her and Duval had been through sex. Odd, no explanation would do. She had never regretted returning to Donald after another night with Duval. When Duval left for France, she virtually forgot about him until she found out she was pregnant. But Donald- she would miss Donald. Holding Julian with her gaze, she corrected herself. She would miss Donald, had missing been something she was still capable of. But the minute she had handed Julian over to the Reeds’, she had forfeited the right to feeling the lack of anything but Julian. Nothing compared. The loss of her curly hair after his birth, the loss of Donald’s shares on the market, the loss of crucial documents at her work. Nothing compared.

[The music made no sense to her.] She saw the violinist play the strings, the pianist strike chords on the piano, but its sounds no longer reached her. She heard nothing but the pounding of her blood in her ears. Her own body was as motionless as her son’s as she sat bent forward, the booklet slipping from her grasp [unnoticed]. She waited for him to move with an almost indecent intensity. Could she really trust him to be alive, as long as he stood there motionless? They told you the baby was healthy the minute they held it in the air – monstrous, the way they hold them by the feet, head down – but how do you know for sure? It has to cry, to writhe, to fight the empty air around itself.

It had never occurred to her that the girl might move first.

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Comments by other Members

Nell at 20:11 on 30 July 2004  Report this post
Hi Juanita, and welcome to WriteWords. Your English is excellent, I'd never have guessed that it wasn't your first language if I hadn't looked at your profile. You say that this is part of the final story, so it's difficult to do more than to comment on the writing itself, which is thoughtful and beautifully constructed. There is a sense throughout this piece of quiet waiting; waiting for the curtain to rise, the dancers to appear, the details of the lives of the players in your story to emerge, and of course for the dancers to move. At first I believed the story had ended and felt some disappointment, as I wanted to read on and find out what happened next. I guessed that the words in brackets were ones you were undecided about. I noticed a few small things which I've listed below - mostly polishing.

'She fights the sudden feeling to rise and leave...' ('urge' would be a better word than 'feeling' here).

'The sad eyes on her face...' (the sad look in her eyes).

'...the show she was putting/put on...' ('putting on' is correct)

'The musicians dressed in tuxedo’s...' (tuxedos)

'From the way the girl holds her head upright, I think she’s a good dancer.'
(you've slipped into the first person here - was that intentional?)

'...white shirt-black tights in front of her...' (I'm not sure about that hyphen - maybe 'white-shirt black-tights' would be better.)

'...the Reeds’' (...the Reeds...)

'...she had forfeited the right to feeling the lack of anything but Julian...' (to feel the lack of anything but...)

Juanita, this is intriguing, I'll look forward to reading the rest of it.

Best, Nell.

Mooncat at 22:11 on 30 July 2004  Report this post
Juanita - welcome to WW.

This is beautifully written - really atmospheric.

I look forward to reading more.


Juanita at 11:22 on 31 July 2004  Report this post
Hi Nell, Hi Marie,

Thanks for your beautiful comments! And so soon after I'd posted it too, thank you, I really appreciate it.

Nell, I'm very happy to hear that my English is good. Expressing myself in that language simply 'feels' good, logical. I'll take a closer look at your suggestions for improvement tonight. I browsed through them right now, and my first reaction was: yes, she's right about these phrases/words. 'Quiet waiting' is exactly the sort of feeling I wanted to create.

About slipping into first person - yes, it was intentional but I'm not quite sure it works. I'm thinking of finding another way of achieving a sort of breaking point there. I wanted a change in style there, but sensed that first person might not be the thing to do.

Marie, thanks for your compliments too! It really gives a good feeling to know that I'm on the right track!

Looking forward to reading the work of the both of you too, I'll have a look at it soon.

Best wishes,

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