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The Promised Land
The lobby is small, smelling professional and polished, yet unmistakably of animals and humans of varying sorts, although the scents are not soaked into the walls and carpet as they will be in a few years.
There is no closed box office window, but a counter with vertical wooden beams serving to frame the space wherein sits a middle-aged woman, with golden hair done up in a bun, who smiles at me when I step onto the maroon carpet. Behind me, the door slowly hisses shut, and my back fur rises just a little before I smooth my ruffled nerves again and nod to the smiling woman.
Out of the corner of my eye I can see some of the rest of the lobby. I turn to get a better look; a window seat, covered with vinyl about the same shade as the carpet, fills the nook of the display window where upcoming shows and auditions are announced. The audition I am here for is printed out in black on white, seen backwards through the paper from here inside the building. Sunshine cuts a path across the short stretch of carpet, past another bench in another, windowless nook, to a steel drinking fountain adapted for most forms and a cream-colored wall with a picture on it.
The portrait above the fountain shows a girl and a jungle cat of some kind, probably a SCAB, but it's hard to tell. The girl is slight and blonde, with a quiet smile, interesting even without a close inspection of the photograph, and the animal is black with yellow eyes.
Above the second bench is a portrait that I presume, given the usual arrangement of lobbies, to be that of the people for whom the theatre is named. They are a youngish middle-aged woman and a man, smiling, hands lapped together as they pose easily for the photographer. The background is a rich grey that gives the feel of an oil painting. There is a shining brass plate set into the frame, probably with their names and, if they are not living, the dates they were born and died. I wonder when that photograph was taken, and what they were thinking about at the time.
Just as I turn to the box-office woman, as she opens her mouth to speak, someone comes from the flat blue door to the right of the counter and steps as if to head for the office supplies behind the desk.
"Hello!" He says, mid-step, swiftly changing direction when he notices me. He holds out a hand in greeting.
I almost shy back. This is quite unexpected. The blue door closes on its own, but before it seals itself I hear a murmur of voices coming from behind it. A collection of mixed but not blended body scents comes out with the air. Some of the other auditioners must have gotten here early, as well. I entertain a shudder of nervousness, but since my nervousness is divided I actually manage to act ladylike for the important-seeming man who is trying to greet me.
I nod in a sort of courtesy-without-a-dress and offer my right paw with the palm down, submissively, to shake hands with him. Despite my shyness, my handshake is strong, thanks to Grandpa's years of tutelage on the art of impressing those who may empower you, and the man seems pleased.
"I am Lawrence Kelly, welcome to our theatre, Miss." He smiles in an almost frightening manner. I can't figure out what it is about him that seems so wrong until I realize that it is just that; he is being so outgoing, so friendly, so welcoming, and he must be busy. This is not like a normal audition at all. At normal auditions no one has time for you. At normal auditions, you have your four minutes or, if there has been a change of plans since the last posting, a "Sorry, we won't be needing you; could you clear this space for the actors?"
"November Divosijli," I say. "Hi."
Mr. Kelly has black hair and a black beard, so black that it almost seems too much with the bright blue eyes and equally bright smile. He smells like sweat and an art gallery, and I get a sudden notion that he is not a "Theatre Person," as such, but rather someone appreciative of art who has the funds to back a local theatre for himself. He wears a smooth-textured Cardigan that looks far more professorish than theatre-ish. "Fine, fine," he smiles, "good to meet you. _November_. Nice name. Directly in through this door is the seating area; we'll have you all gather in there and send you through to the back for warm-ups, so we may as well get started with the early ones. I see you have your resume; that goes to German-- the yellow gentleman, our director, you can't miss him. Good, there, go right on in there and we'll have all of you set and organized before the rest even get here."
He smiles all the time that he is talking.
Okay... This is odd... Since when is anyone this enthusiastic in the professional theatre? Not that I have any professional _experience_ beyond thwarted auditions, but still...
Could this be a good omen, this outgoing and helpful theatre backer, or could it be a sign that this is some off-the-wall operation that will never go through with a show or make it off the ground? Well... Either way, I have to try my best. It's the least I can do. In a way, I am not here for them, but for me; no matter how they view my audition, I will prove to myself that I am still an aspiring actress. That lifelong fact has fallen too far into question.
Mr. Kelly turns away to speak to the box-office woman, and I make my way up to, against and through yet another door, into the theatre proper.
The blue door falls shut behind me.
The apartment is dark.
It is always dark, I suppose; a sort of protection against its smallness, as if, when you can't see any edges, there are none.
Not that I mind the smallness.
So that means I am rationalizing again, and the real reason it is dark is protection from the _contents_, or the sight of the contents.
I turn on one lightbulb's worth of light over the white-enameled sink and watch as my steel-grey hands wash themselves under the stream that trickles on down into the stainless drain and away. All around the stainless steel drain are rust spots and other places where the enamel has been marked with something or other, and it strikes me as ironic, but I don't have any choice but to accept the sink the way it is.
I have no idea why my thoughts are taking the turns they have. I think I am trying to protect myself from getting too excited. Just because I actually made it through an audition, all the way through, without being thanked and sent on my way, and just because they noted directly to us as we were leaving that callbacks would be made by phone, does not mean _I_ am going to be called back. It is a logical leap that my brain keeps making because, for one thing, Mr.Kelly and the rest of the theatre people were so friendly, and for another thing I _want_ to go back. I want it so bad I am listening for a phone call that will not come in two days, while the rest of my body except for that one listening ear sits and stares and considers what it would be like to be called back, just once, _really considered_, for a _professional part_... I don't even care if I don't get a part. I just want to be called back.
So I keep concentrating on the feel of the edge of the bed where I sit, and on whether or not I should put on some music, and on telling myself: November, you're not getting called back. They gave you your time and that's all you get. I don't care how much you want to go back to that nice little theatre again. I don't care that it _is_ small and cozy and that the people smiled at you, or at least some of the less nervous ones did, and you managed to smile back and were inordinately proud of yourself. I don't care, I don't care, I don't care.
But Grandpa said, mews a little voice from years back that somehow managed to break into this conversation, _I could do anything I want_.
When I handed my resume to the director, Mr.Ross, German Ross, I caught a moment to glance around at some of the other women, paying more attention to them than to the men, since they would be my competition... Mr.Ross is hard _not_ to look at, but his stern pink eyes, glinting in the dim lighting of the audience area, made me want to stare and turn away at the same time. He actually made me feel a little more at home as soon as I saw him; he looks and behaves about right for the impatient, no-nonsense theatre people I was expecting.
Beyond the grey tweed jacket of the tall, broad-shouldered cinnamon-yellow parakeet man, I could see some figures standing against a carpeted wall; they seemed to know each other and the place already, and not to be auditioners. From my place near the low stage I could smell the difference between them and German, German and the auditioners. The air in the performance and audience spaces simmered with the changed heartbeats and brain workings of the preparing auditioners...
I don't care how damn well you pulled it off. I don't care if some of the biggest names in this state's theatre community were there and you _still_ went through with it.
But Grandpa _said_...
Grandpa said not to sit in the chair.
I remember Grandpa telling me, sternly, to refer to him as _Grandpa_, not ever Grandma or anything else I would call a lady, even when he changed into a lady just like any other. He preferred it, a lot of the time, when we called him "Sir." And his card-playing friends called him "Jack" or "Johnathan, You Old Stick-in-the-Mud," same as they always had, for as long as they kept coming.
It wasn't his SCABS that kept them from coming. At the time, it didn't even seem to me, young as I was, that there was anything all that bizarre in Grandpa and Grandma buying their clothes at the same Wal-Mart sales and Grandpa conducting his games in a powder-blue pants suit while Grandma served drinks from the kitchen in her nearly matching seafoam green one. To me they were perfect. And I knew my Grandpa the minute he came home from the hospital, threw my little (then pink) arms around his neck and listened patiently while he explained what had happened as best he thought he could to a little girl.
I never saw it as unusual. I thought it was a part of life, a _normal_ part, the way "girls' changes" and cracking voices were for girls and boys just a little older than me. The word "disease" could not be bad coming out of Grandpa's mouth. He said it gently, the way he said everything, even when reprimanding me for referring to him as a lady (I may look like one, November, but remember I am married to your Grandmother and it's still me, your Grandpa). The darkest he sounded was in the days before the visits from family and friends started to peter out; I knew then that he was sad, and I never associated anything about Grandpa Casey with any kind of bitterness.
I do now.
I wonder sometimes if I will be able to go on as long as he did.
What if, he fretted, what if...
What if you cremate a body and it's still alive? What then?
What if you inter a collection of wooden slats and glossy dark finish and it _changes back_? If planks can be sentient, are ashes of those planks sentient?
How long is sentience gone before life goes?
Where do you put a wedding ring on a chair?
What do you do with a little girl who doesn't understand and whose wide-eyed innocence eats at your heart until you can't even look her in the eye when you speak of her Grandma anymore?
He was there for me, all the way. I was too young to be there for _him_, and all the neighbors and relatives who had spent their time around his dining room table were spending it around some other of their number's dining room table, because Grandpa _asked_ them to.
He went out, sometimes. Then an aunt or an uncle or a high-school girl would stay with me. But I missed the card games, and he wouldn't take me.
Living as I do now, I know why.
He was afraid that if he left the house with me in his arms, he would never, ever go back.