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The Promised Land
part 5
by Feech


        "Okay, folks," says German, "There are some things I feel you should know."

        We shuffle to get comfortable and yet look alert as we begin to get used to the certain bodies and smells around us. I remember this from college; this feeling; this coming together... I begin to feel slightly triumphant, and good...

        "_First_ of all," German goes on, "We don't have our own musicians; all these fine musical folks have been borrowed from a local orchestra. _So_, I want you all to be extra nice to them until our own budget can hire people to match them."

        We nod and smile.

        "_Next_ of all..."

        I notice that Alexander Leaf says very little. He seems to be here mainly in the writer/dramaturg position, and although this makes sense, I keep getting the feeling he should be doing _more_. Maybe it's his fame that makes me think that. On the other hand, maybe he just doesn't talk much to the group because he uses a vodor... The sound is easily understandable, but maybe he is actually shy...

        "... We have no costumer _as yet_. Therefore I need all of you who have some expertise in this area to help out in that vein. Raise hands now, come on, that's good boys and girls... Okay, Daniel, Kent-- is there nothing you don't do, boy? Thought you were going to be on hand as a back-up dramaturg as well... Sharleyne... All right. _And_ Box Office help."

        I raise my hand. I figure I don't have much talent in any other areas besides acting so I may as well volunteer for something safe.

        "November. Good... Andrea, great..."

        German marks on his clipboard. Eppie, Bix and Andrea's daughter...? I think. Anyway, Eppie bounces over director's chairs just to see if she can, grazing one with the top of a foot on occasion. Daniel, seated over by the piano and crossing and uncrossing his ankles, looks nervous again. German and Alexander have already explained that there will be a meeting to discuss personality traits we should all know and trust each other about.

        I kind of like the sounds of that; we were always taught in classes that the basis of a good show is trust. It did not make sense to me that we then ignored this fact in actual production. Maybe there is something to be said for working in a theatre that's run by someone interested in, but not tied to the traditions of, theatre. Maybe Lawrence Kelly had German organize that sort of trust meeting because the logic of it made sense to him.

        Bix complains very quietly about the way his white hairs tend to drizzle all over his chosen outfit of black sweat suit all the time.

        German looks up again. "You may all think this is a bit over your requirements, being all of you actors and actresses, but the plain facts are that if you don't work in more than one capacity the outcomes of this production are going to be _less_ than any of you might desire. Think back to those high-school shows and how everyone did everything, eh? This is our first show here; I expect to make it something you will all be _proud_ to have been involved in on many levels. And then maybe we can afford to hire a House Manager so Tanya can run Box Office, and maybe we can hire a Technical Director, which we are working on, believe me, and a sound board operator of our own as opposed to borrowing other theatres'. Okay? All with me so far?"

        We mutter in an affirmative manner and nod. Someone sneezes.

        "Good. Right. Okay. As you know, I am your director. Feech is my assistant director and the Publicist; listen to her." He turns to look back into the carpeted audience area and points out Feech, standing out of the way of the jumping Eppie. "Also, naturally, listen to me." He winks at the assembly in general. "And Tanya-- give her any hassles, and you _will_ answer to me. We _need_ a House Manager. As for a Stage Manager, we are working on it in conjunction with Technical People. For now, Val is it, and I've had Gabe--" he nods towards the wildebeest-morph-- "volunteer as assistant. We're borrowing a make-up artist and hiring a groomer to get you all started along those lines.

        "Now go eat something."

        We rise not-too-eagerly, still getting a feel for each other as defined fellow cast members and for the Theatre itself.

        Mr. Kelly reportedly wants to add on with the building next door at some point, but for now the place is somewhat small, although welcoming and functional. There are even perches above the sound booth where flighted guests could attend shows most comfortably, if they so desired. I hear that Alexander and his pet dog live _here_, on the premises, in the basement. I don't know whether that's strange to me or just kind of warm and comforting, thinking of the Theatre as someone's permanent home.

        I should be deliriously happy. But I start to look around, as people mingle and as we discuss carpools and schedules and families, and I start to see a pattern.

        Gabe/Anatoly has a friend with him: Kent/Walter.

        Andrea/Svetlana has a friend with her, Bix/Freddie.

        Daniel, member of the chorus, has someone waiting back home. He's talking about her, then laughing at something someone says in return. He really gets into the conversation, but whether that is from exuberance or from nervous energy I can no longer tell in the mass of personal scents around me.

        Alexander has Silence, his smallish Dalmatian dog.

        German has no one, I think, nor Feech, but then when I look up for the sheen of yellow feathers I see that Feech is talking to him about something and it shatters that. Not that _I_ am not talking to people, as well. Not that Feech and Mr. Ross might not be just as alone when they leave this building. It's just that everyone seems to have _someone_. Someone right now, and I don't belong here.

        Yet I do, officially.

        I am gazing blankly at the front page of my copy of the libretto when Gabe/Anatoly comes up to me again. Kent/Walter is gesturing vigorously in the background to Bix, who is nodding as if he is about to break into an eager retort as soon as Kent stops. "You okay, there, November?"

        I blink, hearing the sound for a moment without responding. It sounds strange for Other people to speak my first name casually, lately; it hasn't been usual since college, and even then I was often alone.

        I'm so lonely.

        I almost _say_ it, out loud, and feel myself shudder at the shame that could have ensued from spouting off something like _that_.

        The wildebeest waits, patiently.

        I respond: "Yes, I'm fine."

        He smiles. "You looked a little lost is all. I'm glad to know I'll be working with you. I think we'll all--" he gestures at the group in the space-- "make a good team."

        "The producers seem to think so," I manage with a little smile.

        He shrugs. He looks around again. "Yeah, well, I think I agree with them."

        I know I'm not really responding the way I would want me to if I were initiating contact with me as a fellow cast member.

        He waits another respectable amount of time, then asks, "You want to go get something to eat with me and Kent?"

        I nod... "Yeah... Sure, I guess I can. Thanks."

        He flicks an ear at my hesitation, and inquires, "You got somebody waiting for you? Want to make a phone call?"

        "No--" I hold my script up to my chest, focusing my gaze somewhere in the back of the room as if I have just seen another cast member do something interesting. "No-- no one. Thanks for asking me, let's go."

* * * * *

        "This is a _stupid_ show!" shrieks out German, pacing among us at the initial rehearsal. "Stupid! The people are stupid and make stupid assumptions! Half the music is incurably corny!"

        Kent Dryer beams. Someone coughs.

        "_Therefore_," states the director with a fist to his clipboard, "We are going to _treat_ it as such, and make it work for us. I mean really, come on. If a person in your life acted this way, you would accuse him of having some of the worst personal problems _I_ can think of, anyway.

        "_You people_--" with a sweeping gesture at us all-- "are PAWNS! Chess pieces! Walter almost gets to be one of the actual players, but not quite. These guys--" he puts a hand on Bix's shoulder and nods to Gabe-- "go their whole lives thinking they're something they're not.

        "Maybe you, Anatoly, get a little bit of a clue. You, Freddie, you're the winning king. That's _all_. Who wants to be a king in Chess? But you let yourselves. So!"

        German wheels around and stops in front of me.

        "Everything centers on the _queens_. _You_ two, you are the _queens_." The director lifts my face with a finger under my chin as if illustrating something about me to the rest of the cast. He sets his eyes on Andrea and nods to her.

        "I want to see you _all_ play this _stupid_ game to the hilt, or you're sure as hell not the people who do it in the world of the show. You got it? I want to see camp, overworking, overacting, the whole works. _I'll_ tell you when to cut it back. But if there's only ONE message to this entire musical, we might as well make _sure_ the audience gets it. Yes?"

        We nod. Someone murmurs something sounding like an affirmative comment to the person sitting next to them.

        I look at Bix, who is wagging his tail.

        German looks at his clipboard, then eyes Andrea and myself again.

        "You two, you queens, you're more valuable, you're more important, and you _still_ have no control. Let's see if we can show that right now, off the cuff. I want to see valuable and helpless. Princesses in glass boxes or whatever the hell. Go-- now."

        I take up Florence and put her mostly in my eyes. I notice that Andrea's mouth entertains the most change. Mr. Ross regards us critically, along with the curious rest of the cast.

        "Mm-hm..." he nods, slowly. "Okay, yes, I think we're getting somewhere..."

* * * * *

        When rehearsals are in the afternoon, I sleep in, and when I can't sleep, the glossy black and caramel of the chair is warm and smiling in its dragon engraving before my eyes in my room...


        I sleep in the bathtub, some nights, just so I won't wake up after the sun and see that chair out in the main room.

        Grandpa... Grandpa! What were you _thinking_? Were you thinking she was alive?

        Or just that you didn't know?

        And why-- why...

        One night in the bathtub, I know why. One night, with towels banked up around me for some semblance of bedding, I feel the balls of my dark grey-brown-cream furred feet press against the chill of the white enamel and I shudder. What if _that_ were Grandma? What if there was no warmth, ever, except what you put in, like water over a corpse, water into the bath?

        He was afraid.

        Afraid I would break her, yes, or scratch her, but also afraid she was either in there or not and there was no way he could tell and if he _touched_ her...

        If he touched her, she would be cold.

        And he would _know_ she was dead.

        Which has really been assumed, by the family, as if the rocking chair is somehow her urn, but which could not be assumed by _Grandpa_... Or by me.

        I curl up in the tub, palms over my head, ears tight to my skull, eyes shut under their dark rims so it is as if I have no eyes at all.

        Grandma. If I look at her, she is _tempting_...

        And if I touch her, what then?

        Is she there, like Grandpa is (in my mind, and I hope somehow in truth) at the cemetery when I touch the stone slab?

        But I _know_ he is dead. I know.

        I cry a little, just a few tears seeping around the edges, for missing Grandpa, but I don't know what to feel about the chair.

        Anger... Maybe? Something that makes me sick, though. Something wrenching and terrible.

        Those tracings of gold-hued grain down perfectly turned dowels... The handrests, the indented and _inviting_ seat; the curve that would hold... _my_ head if I... _dared_ to do what I know I must not, must not. I've covered it with bedclothes, but then it just looks softer and all the more tempting.


* * * * *

        There is a _show_ to do.

        A wonderful, glorious _show_.

        I have to learn how to apply the right kind of make-up in the right way to my fur and skin; Angelo the Groomer is always telling me to hold my head _up_ and behave like I do when I'm _acting_ so I can learn to get consistent results. The "borrowed" make-up artist mostly helps the Norm members of the cast and touches up what Angelo helps us do. I never knew before the red-haired man that I would swear was a woman and got SCABS, just a hunch I've gotten good at following, arrived with his kit, that there was make-up made especially for use on fur.

        It doesn't smell as strong as the normal stuff.

        Bix raves about it, and the Norms stick their tongues out at us in jealousy.

        I do a lot of giggling.

* * * * *

        On the night before Opening Night, Lawrence Kelly puts his arm around my shoulder and takes me aside.

        "I haven't seen the whole process of production for this show," he says, cheerfully; "would you say it went well for you?"

        "Oh, yes," I assure him, noticing the eager scent about him as has pervaded the air near every member of the Company for the past few days. "I mean... I mean, I don't know how _I_ have-- I mean, that's German's call, but _I_--"

        He chuckles. "That's fine, November, I was asking _your_ opinion. So, you planning on acting again after this run?"

        "Oh-- I mean, I would have to audition, but I intend to audition, you know, around here..."

        "I'll tell you what we've been thinking, and German and Alexander and I are talking to everyone about this individually."

        It can't be what I think it is, but it's shaping up to be that way. But it's impossible. But it's _possible_...

        "I'd like you to think about something for me. Nothing to sign yet, just something to get your brain around. I started this place with the thought in mind of eventually funding   "

        He's going to say it...

        "  a repertory--"

        He said it. He actually said it, my ear caught it, my brain processed it-- he said it...

        "  group of professionals to maintain a regular local season. Is that something you'd be interested in? If you're staying around here, that is."

        I nod, dumbly.

        He pats my shoulder. "No pressure, just give it some thought. We'd like to have you; we're casting for versatility, when we can, and although I suppose I shouldn't make calls based on gut instinct, we think you and some of the others fit into our vision. Hope we might build a group."

        He grins. I smile weakly.

        "Give 'em a good Dress," he tells me, backing off to, no doubt, go blow the mind of yet another cast member. "Break a paw!"

        I put on a great Dress Rehearsal. Even Feech takes me aside and says so, and she's not usually one to do so. I've almost forgotten about being afraid to ever see her again. Maybe she feels good about me, too. I don't know.

        I don't know, but I feel the power starting. Just a little, but it's there.

        They _want_ me. Permanently.

        Me and Daniel and Feech and Bix and everybody that wants to stay.

        We're good, damn good.

        Daniel still looks and smells nervous a lot of the time. But I think German or Larry got to him, too, because when he comes out of the back with his eyes still sort of raccoon-lined with his make-up, he comes close to me and says, "Hey, November, nice job."

        "Thanks," I say. "You too."

        "Thanks." He stands for a moment, tousling up his black-black hair with his own hand like an animal rolling in grass after prolonged confinement.

        "You know," he says, carefully, always sizing me up-- I'm used to it by now, we all are, and we know to watch for signs of his particular serpentine tendencies acting up-- "You know... I think I could get to feel really comfortable in this place."

        "Me, too."

* * * * *

        Dark, light, _blinding_ light, more dark, flashes, sounds, scents, and then...

        Strangers are shaking my paws and congratulating me on a good show.

        Eppie is chatting with everyone and then some. Andrea is smiling broadly and making eminently entertaining comments, which should be impossible after the power-drain of doing a show, but she's making them anyway...

        Gabe wraps an arm around me and gives me a lick on the cheek, then does the same to Andrea. Bix is making the same rounds. The Dalmatian goes so far as to kiss Silence and Alexander, too, although at the same time he shows distinct humility around the shelled playwright. Everyone does, somehow.

        This should be all I ever wanted. Easily.

        I'm jostled around in the smiling crowd in the small lobby, past the consistent photographed smiles of the Kellys in their frame, into corners and out of them again, always with my heart _filled_ with my release scant minutes before from Florence and her melancholy life; _filled_ with my own rehashing of my voice and the others and the way I was blinded from seeing the audience but could _smell_ and _hear_ them beyond those lights... Every other member of the cast, I am thinking, could scent the air above the boards and take into themselves a piece of _someone_ there just for them.

        Everyone except me.

        And yet, there _were_ people here to see _me_ tonight... _As Florence_.

        What about _me_? Does _anyone_ outside the Theatre know me as _me_?

        Probably not... _I_ don't even know me as anything but an actress and a shy girl. I don't have anybody.

        I need to talk to Grandpa.

        I surprise Gabe and Kent by mentioning casually that I think I'll be leaving now.

        "Aren't you staying for the party?"

        I hesitate.

        "It's just downstairs in Alexander's apartment. You're not staying?"

        Gabe's blue-grey hands hold my dark ones, making me just slightly uncomfortable... I don't want to insult him, but I need to leave. I need to be with _someone_. Someone from my other family, before I can have this one in this building.

        I shake my head.

        "Listen," says Kent, sternly, a tone he has gotten good at in playing Walter, "we can't let you go home alone. It's late, it's pitch-dark out, and you're a SCAB. Nope, we're going to at least have to drive you."

        I don't want them to know where I'm going. On the other hand, he's right. I squirm a little.

        "Let me drive you home."

        Something comes to me. "No, no-- It's very close by. Honestly, I can change so that no one will notice me. Honestly."

        Gabe's grey and Kent's amber eyes register some doubt, but I must appear earnest enough. I don't even know if I can do it again as I did a long time ago, but I _need_ to be alone until I can get to the cemetery.

        Gabe releases my hands. "Well... All right..." He snorts a little, and Kent gives me one good scenting for honesty-- I can tell by his own scent. He looks Norm, but he's a she-wolf or something. We learned all that when we had our meeting. I feel a twinge of shame at not having told them... about... But it really doesn't have anything to _do_ with Theatre. Does it...?

        "Anyway..." I say, beginning to back off to the glass door...

        "We'll miss you at the party," Kent tells me.

        "Thank you," I reply, "and I'm sorry, but I need to go home tonight. 'Bye."

        I get out of there.

        The streets are empty in that mid-time of most of the audience having gone home and the actors still hanging around. Most of the buildings along the street are dark, except where a streetlamp gives a false gleam of light to a window.

        I look down the sidewalk one way, and then another, but see and hear no one.

        Grandpa's stone is a few miles away... I could walk it in humanoid form...

        But Kent is right. I almost turn around and go back in to ask for a ride, but decide that now that would look stupid. And then I wouldn't be able to ask them to drop me off at the cemetery. I just wouldn't.

        I look at my paws. I close my eyes, as if I am still looking at them without looking.

        My tail... If I recall correctly, I started with getting it to be smaller, the one time I did this.

        I step out of the lights from the theatre and carefully take off my clothes, then stand on them, concentrating. I wonder about someone coming out and seeing me, or maybe even an attacker lurking in the deeper shadows just behind me, but nothing seems amiss in the area.

        Somehow I manage to push away the ghostly fears enough to get my tail to recede. I feel the sensation as if bones were melting, but coolly, without a wrench or a sting. I flex my claws to keep my mind on the shift into small, November-the-cat until I am that, staring with the same-but-smaller yellow eyes out at the dark.

        I pick up my housekey in my mouth and start trotting for the cemetery, but it is not long before the shadows begin to daunt me, and I can smell too many strange cats, here on the ground... And dog urine... And grease... My paws feel sticky and gritty already and I have only gone half a mile.

        I could go home.


        I continue trotting, but startling at every new sound. I cower in the gutter when a car comes by, wanting that tiny wall of cement where I can use it as a protective stand at my back, and I know I look ridiculous. I hope no _real_ cats show up and see me. Not only that, but what if they wanted to fight? What if I'm on their turf?

        I mew a little around the key in my mouth, and my own ears flick at the sharp, pleading sound.

        Another few blocks, and I've had it. I'm going home.

        But I can't go in half-morph form, I realize. I'd be naked.

        All right...

        I make a turn and trot determinedly for my apartment, trying to look purposeful and tough, watching at every moment for cars and scenting the air for those dogs that left urine everywhere. I smell the marked areas of a tomcat's territory, and hurry a little faster.

        Someone left broken glass on the sidewalk... I can see it shimmering like little stars or jewels in pieces on the pavement. I see it too late to avoid stepping in the first of it, though, and then half-limp, half-purposefully-stride on towards my room.

        I need a bath, I think. A bath, and a long talk with Grandpa. You there, Grandpa? I didn't make it to the cemetery. I'm sorry...

        At last, the flaking paint of my thin-walled building comes into view.

        I climb the stairs, then at my own door I pause and press up against the wood to change my fur back out to the size of skin that covers the whole me; my bones refill their spaces, and I insert key in lock and go in.


        Just like I like it.


        I break down.

        I can't take it.

        I _remember_... I _always_ remember...

        Grandma and her cat, and the empty house when Grandpa died, and Uncle Sherman and Uncle Tad each on one side of the chair and carrying it out for me...

        I'm so _jealous_ of them.

        I clench my fists. _Damn_ them!

        No! No-- I don't mean to damn anybody. I really don't. It's not fair it's not fair it's not--

        I reach up and turn on the light.

        The chair and I are both naked, although she looks quite a lot more dignified and fine than I do, I know.

        I don't think...

        I go for the bathtub, trying desperately to stay the temptation I really know I'm going to give in to anyway. The water warms me and cleans the grit from my feet and hands; I rub the tearstains from my face fur.

        She's still out there. She never moves. No one ever touches her. Just Tad and Sherman, that one time.

        Were you afraid, Grandpa? Of the cold? Wood is cold even when it's alive, isn't it.

        I almost cry again, but I don't.

        When I leap out of the tub, I am the cat.

        Exhausted from Opening Night, the dark walk, the changes... Grandma...

        The chair awaits, smooth and dark and grooved for sitting in.

        I gauge the distance, eyeballing the curve of the seat versus the arch of my body and the strength behind my leap, and I jump, that lightly that I don't even rock... Her... as I land on the slick varnish.

        What the hell. I'm not even thinking anymore. This isn't even me. I may as well.

        I balance on my haunches at the very rim of the chair's seat, and begin a gentle, but determined, rocking motion with my torso and front legs. I stare spacily at the floor and don't pay any attention to anything until I feel the rocking strengthen under me in the way it does on a swing or in a cradle when one has enough momentum going.

        Then, I allow myself to slide all the way back into the semi-circle of ornamented dowels and turn around three times, while the chair is still rocking.

        If I can just go to sleep while the momentum lasts, the rocking...

* * * * *

        Two sensations wake me.

        One is the sensation of Two AM. I know it well. I would not even need to look at the clock.

        The other is my purring, rhythmic ins and outs in my chest over my curled, warm body on the chair.


        Is still rocking.

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