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Curtain-Raiser
by Feech
Feech -- all rights reserved
 

I'm sitting on the back of one of the tall, dark-varnished chairs at Quincy's, at a table for four. My right foreclaw is beading with drops of condensation from the lower outside of my cherry soda glass, and around one corner of the table from me is Melodie. Tonight, she is wearing a dress, orange at the collar and sprigged with some kind of white and yellow flower over the bodice. It makes her chestnut hair look more fiery than usual.

Jordan Milner, whose hair is bright red anyway, tends to make my attention stray directly across the table in his direction, and I chide myself many times over for fretting about his presence so close to my fiancee. Something in me is ticking off the minutes until our time alone tomorrow night, and in the excitement surrounding that same something is a fierce vulnerability, a possessiveness that seems to spring of the very nearness of the moment. I'm not even noticing the faculty woman Jordan brought with him; she's full in a good percentage of the view of my left eye, but I doubt I'll remember anything about her but a slightly appealing note to her laugh. I'm almost certain she'll walk up to me at school one of these days and remark on the nice dinner, and only then will I recognize and acknowledge her.

Melodie laughs at something that the faculty woman says. She chimes in beautifully under the ceiling speakers playing popular music by some female vocalist; the volume of the music complements her laugh, and I appreciate that. I sip at my cherry soda. I also appreciate, among other things such as the stuffy yet comfortable heating level and the excellent venting of cigarette smoke, that Quincy's has real cherry sodas with the syrup added when you order. This place really is almost perfect. I've come here quite a bit, compared to any other public gathering place besides the performing arts building at Hayden Heath.

We don't have a wedding party, except for Melodie's stepsister who is only going to be able to come out tomorrow, so Jordan and... Patsy? Is that her name? I would swear I've worked with her before but I don't remember... decided we should at least pretend to have a rehearsal dinner, and we agreed. The priest didn't want to make the drive out to Hayden Heath, but said he appreciated our invitation, and it's just the four of us, enjoying dinner out on what seems to be a normal night for a dinner out. I have met the priest four times. He seems like a nice fellow. I really don't care, as long as a church wedding makes it all official for Melodie. I've never seen the dress, and suddenly I can see her in it.

A flash of visions splattering over my actual sight makes me shiver, but I don't know why. I can see it all, all of a sudden, for one tiny heartbeat at a time, one minute glimpse per revealed item. I have no idea what the dress looks like, but in this instant Melodie seems to be sitting across the hand and claw printed warm table in a puffed-sleeve white satin gown with an upstanding, lace trimmed neckline. It's gone, and beyond that I see a dress she has never worn before, and then a light blue and beige sweater and tan slacks. I don't where any of this is coming from; it's as if my mind is making up for the agony of wait I've put myself in; letting me spin into odd little future vignettes because it figures I don't have anything better to do in my uptight emotional state.

Melodie changes places at the table, in my visions, and changes into many types of clothing, but never changes her hair. At one point her expression is very serious, and now I'm not sure if it is something that will come about in conversation with me or is actual, now, in response to something one of our dinner companions has said. Her fine chin is resting in her hand. It truly is, right now. She's looking across the table at whats-her-name, and nodding into her hand. Her eyes are a tiger's eye gold in this particular lighting. I nervously sip at my drink, and twitch an antenna in agreement at something Jordan has said. He seems satisfied that I am actually listening. He can't understand that I'm anywhere but here. He's eating something with sauerkraut for a side dish. I realize that Melodie has a plate in front of her, but reason that it must be for looks only. The ethereal do not generally eat in the same manner as ordinary university professors. I find myself admonishing her students for not appreciating her better, although I have always been the first to say that they adore her.

All I could think about this afternoon was the organizing; the rides to the church, the reservations back at the hotel in town, where we're eating, what we're eating, how we're eating, all the details and major things that could go wrong in a very small wedding such as ours; I thought about how large weddings must be devastatingly nerve-wracking and how Melodie was more flustered than I'd seen her in a long time, but that it could have been me projecting.

That was all I could think about this afternoon, and now it has gone beyond planning to the surreal; I find myself hoping vaguely that I will manage to bring myself somewhat back to Earth by tomorrow afternoon or all the planning will be for naught simply because I will not engage in any of it. I will sit like a mounted butterfly on a board and gaze blankly into oblivion, always seeing beyond the one crucial moment of legalizing and officializing the thing I'm mooning about anyway.

I still can't see it as we leave the restaurant. I can see everything but; perhaps all the discussion of just how the ceremony is to take place has left me numb, or certain it will complete itself smoothly. I wonder if it's like knowing you know a show, and the trouble, the worry, and the ultimate fantasy is just what might happen afterwards in the midst of the first audience and beyond. Wandering too much during rehearsal doesn't set well, but in the flow of time before a well-prepared performance it seems inevitable that someone will be wondering, not as if it could really happen but just as a matter of course, if this is going to be a big thing that no one expects. Wondering whether members of the cast will be remembered for next casting call and launched now, invisibly, on a dazzling college and beyond career... Wondering if the play itself, for the writer's part, will be the beginning of production after production of quality and fame. It doesn't matter, in the end, if none of that ever happens. But it does matter if it does happen.

Maybe that's what's dizzying me the most. The fact that if this happens, if we get married tomorrow, if the plans we've rehearsed and discussed and fretted over actually come to completion, we will be married. It's not like a show, where it ends when it ends and what doesn't happen is for wondering about another time. If we perform this, if we do it, the beyond is inevitable. I can't make myself see the details anymore; I can only see the beyond. I'm blinded and confused with it, and delirious in a way I haven't felt since before my Scabs; I hardly recognize it. I think it might be a shuddering, barely-repressed sort of anticipatory joy. I don't want to make a poor judgment call on that, but it just might be.

The air is whipping, cold, but not nasty or dry-cold. I let Jordan carry me to my fiancee's car. I don't know why I let him; he thinks I'm being especially amiable tonight because I'm getting married tomorrow, but I suppose I'm in some kind of trance. Melodie chuckles at what she can recognize as my disoriented state, but then she appears apologetic and her cheeks color with just a dot on each. "Put him in, Jordan, put the poor man down; you'd think it's something far more of a threat than marrying plain old me."

Jordan places me on the front, chilled seat covering and sticks his head in to say: "I don't know, Melodie, maybe it's more threatening to a guy than you think."

I have written barely a word all night on my notepad; I look at it now, strapped to my left foreleg, but still do nothing with it. A comeback, either to defend Melodie or tease either of them a little, is just not entering my mind. I close my wings carefully, cringing as they touch the carpeted car ceiling, and lower myself a little down towards the floor, off the seat, so I won't brush the feathering off my wingtips.

Jordan laughs at something his date says from behind him on the sidewalk, grins his broad grin again at Melodie, then gives me an actual serious congratulations before turning away and clanking the car door shut behind him.

"Shadow, what's up? You've said hardly a word all evening."

I know. I would write that on my pad, but it seems redundant.

She reaches over and touches me, pressing lightly on the v-shaped section of furlike texture right behind my eyes. I relax just a little under the touch. She's still Melodie and, under a jacket against the outdoor wind, still in an orange-yellow-white patterned dress. I take a glance up at the rearview mirror, trying to get a glimpse of my wings. I want to have some sort of substance to myself, too, remember the black swallowtailed wings and the buttercup spots. We match. We're engaged. I shiver. She pulls away.

"I've got to get home," she says with a tone of understanding. She grins slightly. "Best get a lot of sleep, yes? And you shouldn't see me tomorrow, and soon it will be almost tomorrow, and I suppose it's bad luck or something if you get a look at me before the ceremony. So I'd better zip home before midnight."

I don't want to go. The sudden thought of drowning in my thoughts alone at home, dropped off at the door and sinking all night in the constant bridging from now to after, no certainty of the next time I will actually see her, begins to gnaw at me before she's even done talking. I can't see the wedding anymore, in my mind. Not since yesterday. It's after, all after, and if I don't connect now I'm afraid I will somehow overstep the mark in time and everything will fall away from under me. It can't hurt to take a little more of tonight and just be in the same place with her. I tug at her sleeve with my butterfly-talon, but she almost seems miffed as she starts the car engine.

"Dom, I don't know, I..."

"You're tired, I know," I write on my pad.

She shakes her head and then smoothes back a lock of hair. She checks her own reflection in the mirror, then adjusts it for driving. She adjusts it every time, and she's the only one who ever drives this car. That's the kind of thing I need tonight. The visions from the restaurant are gone and any kind of aloneness seems black-dark, and deeply threatening. I would almost rather have left her with Jordan, or had other company myself, than go with separating ourselves completely for the night. I'm used to wanting to be alone, so I never thought I'd want someone else around, but I should have invited someone over for the night. Any man would do. Anyone to chat idly with, imagining her doing the same with any friend at her own house.

"Dom, let's go. I get the feeling you're waiting for something, but I am too, and there's got to be some practicality in going home and getting some sleep."

I shrug my legs at that. She's still not actually pulling out from the space; the car motor thrums under me comfortingly. "We could go somewhere," I scribble offhandedly. "Not just say goodnight. I'm not going to sleep well, anyway."

"The ceremony will go fine."

"I know it will."

She looks at me. We've shared this gaze many times in our engagement. It comes during the pause after each major life issue is discussed; it's an agreement gaze, but in this case the discussion was left out. I feel for a moment as if all of the discussions we've had are being replayed, revisited and decided upon once more for the entirety of our marriage preparation. After this, it's all the real thing.

This is the real thing, I think. I want and need it to be. I can't marry someone I don't have any connection with. I would go through the motions, but when would the connectivity come again? I slowly become aware that just being with Melodie tonight is not quite enough. The dinner, our companions, all were planned in advance and lost in the swirl of my mind. We must go somewhere, even somewhere simple. We must have a frame of reference for our selves.

"I need something real, real like ourselves," I finally articulate on my notepad.

She nods. She drives out away from the restaurant, past the turn to my hillside house out beyond her place of residence, and over the recently repaved frontage streets to the university. She pulls into the court at the performing arts building and swishes out of the car, over to my side to help me out.

I want to walk to the doors on my own, but the wind prevents it. Melodie carries me silently, except for the tapping of her shoes on cement, but I do not wonder what she is thinking. I don't know whether she is fed up with me and my silence and demands, or whether she feels the need as well, but I do not wonder. I do not fear whatever thought she may be having, and it strikes me as odd, as if I am watching my behavior from a distance and making objective notes.

The building is unlit, except for the necessary safety lights outside the lobby and to show where the stairs start on either side to the second level; some gray-dark light from outside makes its way in through the tinted windows. The Lady carries me to the black box theatre and in through its main-lobby door under the open staircase.

"Stop," I write, and she hears the pen and looks down at my arm in the dim light before entering the pitch-blackness. "Thank you, Melodie."

"You're welcome." I think I see a soft smile with that. She touches me with her left hand; the light here does justice to the subdued gold on the underside of her finger, normally overpowered by the diamond, even if it is a moderately small diamond.

We enter into the box, and I hop from her arm onto the spongy painted floor; she steps from memory directly to the light switches and begins feeling for the correct ones. "Are you excited?" she asks from some feet away.

I don't know quite how to answer her until a light or two is lit, then I nod. It still feels black in here; all the surfaces are black. I hear something from above.

"Maybe we should go up and see who's in the booth."

I shrug. It sounds good to me, actually, to do the same things we would if we were here in the daytime, and on a normal day. I reaffirm my answer to her earlier question by writing it down: "Yes, I'm excited. I'm terribly-- something. I'm glad-- you know I'm glad I'm marrying you."

It doesn't seem real, even as I write it. I wish I could get back the imaginings I had at Quincy's-- specifically the ones about Melodie's body. I seemed to have plenty during the entire rest of our engagement, and now when I need them I'm a quivering mess and hardly even thinking like a man. But what can I expect, I suppose. I'm not, technically, a man in the genetic sense of the word anymore.

"I'm so glad too, Shadow. Let's go upstairs."

It's easy to hear and feel the sounds nearly thundering out of the sound booth; one of the students must be up there and employing the system for all it's worth, just not projecting the sound out to the box as for a show. We make our way to the hall via another corner door, flat in the wall until opened, and I fly to each corner and landing and wait for Melodie to catch up.

My fiancee opens the door to the sound booth, two flights above the black box floor. Last I knew, there were only two students trained in any detail on the sound equipment, and with the apparent emptiness of the room it appears that the one in residence has to be Kilroy. The computer screen is lit, several dots and margins on it flashing as they mark off various duties, and the clock in its lower right corner reads 10:30 pm. On the day before Melodie marries Dominiq. Tomorrow night. I almost grasp a wash of such physical anticipation that it holds me back at the door for a moment. I don't hold it, though, not as I would like to, and the casual but high-tech air of the small room eases over again.

"Kilroy? You in here, Hon?" Melodie calls many of the students 'Hon'. I'm not sure that I'm disappointed that she does not usually apply such pet names to me.

The blasting music, some kind of hard rock group most likely airing on a local radio station, stops abruptly. "I wasn't paying attention. So sorry."

It's a clip from a middle-aged, formal man's voice, and I've heard it before. Kilroy has some clips pieced together specifically for often-used phrases. Even with my excellent eyesight, the student himself is not immediately visible. Among the variously hued buttons and keys on the sound board, one larger red one is the obvious draw to the eye, but even there it takes a moment of focusing to separate Kilroy. He's red, too, in two distinct swatches on his tiny back, and the remainder of him is night black with reddish trim. "Lemme switch to a lettering system," requests another voice, and the half-inch shape on the large button makes a few maneuvers with the button and its thin forelegs. "There." Now the voice is purely computer generated. There's nothing he can't get it to do with that button. It's no wonder to me that he stays up here; I find myself hoping that sometime some nice young student will coax him out and about as Melodie did me. He's more visible when he's invisible, using the words and music only, but he can't get much company when there's not a show going.

"Hello, Kilroy!" Melodie's voice expresses such overt joy at the appearance of one student; she does it for me, too, and I almost feel a twinge of unworthiness, but it doesn't really come fully to my senses.

"Wow-- hi-- I did--n'--t think there would be anybody up here late like this. Building--'s empty."

"We just thought we'd stop in and say hi."

"Hi. So you guys getting married tomorrow."

Melodie grins and nods. "Something wrong, Kilroy? Don't feel like using the sound clip voices?"

The box elder bug shifts on his button and the equipment speaks again. "Com-puter mood tonight."

"Nothing's wrong?"

"No. Honeymoon."

"Just around here."

The little student shakes, and I imagine it's silent laughter, untransmitted to the machinery. "Watch out. Pranksters will find you."

"They'll have to answer to the attack swallowtail, then."

I hold my pad up where Kilroy can see it: "Not if they're in my classes, they wouldn't dare."

Kilroy laughs again. Things begin to feel a little more real. Melodie leans on the back of an unused chair and crosses her ankles. "Staying up here all night, then?"

"Of course. Why pay for dorm room."

He looks so fragile. It's one of the few times I've had any such thought about a student. My mind is on him, and with this, it seems that the patterns of my fantastical thinking refind themselves. For, with my attention on the computer screen, Melodie's legs and the insect student, the back of my mind drifts into its imaginings of headboards and unclad skin. Tomorrow doesn't matter. Tomorrow night does. For some reason, it feels more sacred to me, right now, that Melodie cares about the church at all than it does to be getting married in one. I could envision it all for her, write it down, it would never happen and everything would be sacred and real. But I know that for her it's more important than that, and all the time my mind drifts further into what have become familiar hopings. I know what her skin tastes like to my own. I want to taste what she anticipates about the ceremony itself, but it will probably all wash over me in a cold daze.

It's not just her, physically. It's her, every way. But this has been one of the longest twenty-four-hour stretches in my life, and it's still going on. Not midnight yet. Not yet bad luck, or whatever she thinks it is.

"Any requests."

"Hm, that's thoughtful, Kilroy; what should we ask for, Dom?"

Good question. I pan over many slow songs, oldish and recent, and eventually offer, "'Kiss', by Star and Crescent."

"Oh, yes," smiles Melodie. "Let's have that one, please, Kilroy. And thank you."

"Of course no problem. Let me get it for you."

Almost instantly the music-box-like opening strains are emerging in impeccably balanced volume from the in-room speakers. The kid's good. I hope he gets a nice break when it comes to graduation; there aren't many places like Hayden Heath.

Melodie's eyes spark at me, warmly, in the way I'm so used to that sometimes I feel ashamed of taking it for granted. I vow to soak it up and appreciate it with all of my being, so I do so, for the few instants before she crosses to me and kisses me quickly on the edge of my tucked-in mouthpart. Kilroy interrupts the recording to interject a moment of stadium applause. I turn to him, swiftly.

"Wiseguy," I write.

"Best wishes you two."

"Well, thanks." "Thank you." I pen and she talks at the same time.

Kilroy continues the music. Melodie sways to it, almost absently.

"Got some advice for you," the student mentions, this time 'vocalizing' just over the song.

I twitch to show I'm listening.

"If you--r--e going to get all spruced and take a shower, do not use soap."

I laugh. I can't help it. The motion is different than any other wing-shaking I've done; almost a forward-rocking, and I'm sure what expression I do have on my black butterfly face is different.

"Serious man that stuff can kill you."

I know. That's not why I'm laughing. Kilroy has a light way about him whether he's serious or not, and I know he was kidding with me until I laughed, and now I truly think he's startled. I would be, too, except that I'm still adjusting to stopping laughing.

Melodie asks straight out, after one good, hard stare at me.

"Shadow, are you laughing?"

I manage to stop and reply solemnly. "I guess I was."

Kilroy is silent for some time, and replaces the song with another when it ends. At last Melodie speaks up, and I notice how much I like her voice in the small room. "Let's go, Dom, before it gets to be the next day and we turn tradition on its ear."

"Oh like you are not already," points out the mechanical voice. My fiancee looks at me, seeming to register my form for the first time because now she laughs, too.

"Well, I guess it can't hurt, but I want a few things like I was always told they would be."

"Have it your way of course. Good luck you two. See you back in school."

"Of course, Kilroy. Thank you for the song."

"Hey no problem."

Melodie opens the door to the hall, and I follow her trailing tea-length skirt. I fly up and land on her chest, face to face with her, as soon as the sound booth is behind us. Kilroy's own music blares again, muffled but rippling vibrations out all over the floor.

"Dom!" She backs up to the wall and laughs, flushing deeply. "You startled me. I expected you to fly on forward."

I hold my notepad up to her eye level. "Let's stand here a little while. I like the way you look."

"If you want me to look good tomorrow afternoon then I'd better get some sleep tonight."

"Does that mean you won't need much tomorrow night?"

"Shadow--" Melodie's mouth turns up in her most charming smile and I get it in profile as she blushes and turns slightly away. I hook my claws cautiously in the dress fabric over her breastbone. "--stop it-- you're going to make me want to cheat and start tonight."

I want to write 'would that be so bad?' but instead I revel in knowing that she's feeling it, too. Our bodies are real, at least. I nudge her with my half-unrolled proboscis and press the soft part of myself level with her hips.

"Shadow," she says, as if exasperated, but then kisses me between the eyes and on the mouth. I raise my right forelimb and scratch gently at the nape of her neck, where the chestnut hair starts. I tighten myself against her.

"Come on, now, let's go, and we have the rest of our lives after tonight."

I climb one footstep higher on her torso and nudge her again. She sighs, half-laughing, half ready to just kiss me again. Finally she does, but pushes me down a little bit. "Let's go," she orders me, smiling. "Save it, Dom."

I kiss her one more time.

"Dom! Tomorrow night. Let's go, husband, I'm either exhausted or giddy or both."

I release the tiny folds of dress that my talons have caught up into themselves, and let myself lightly down to the floor, nodding solemnly to Melodie that she should precede me down the stairs. She touches the side of her dress and curtsies to me. Tomorrow night.

Tomorrow night. Tomorrow night.

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