Saturday, May 12, 2012

Chapter Fifteen - Enter Louis

Enter Louis is the fourteenth chapter of Alistair A. Vogan's novel How To Lose Your Voice Without Screaming.

One leg ahead of the other, she said to herself. Don’t blow it. Smiling into the room, she closed the door behind herself gently and walked down the long hall, passing the seated girls. She held her breath, her chin up, her back straight. The tap tap tapping of her heels echoed around the hall, inadvertently hammering at their crumbling self-confidence. Some of the girls peered up from their scripts and, nearly defeated, tried to guess what Martha knew. (If they knew, then maybe, it would be easier for them.) Or just to somehow absorb a bit of that confidence, use it... Martha caught the eye of a girl sitting along the wall and gave her an encouraging smile, not presumptuous, not with too much confidence. You can do it her look said to the seated girl. The girl shrugged and smiled, embarrassed at being so vulnerable. 

As Martha walked passed the others they all, first surreptitiously, then overtly, watched her. The sign above their heads said, ‘Please wait to be called.’ Earlier in the day they’d eagerly listened for their name, their ears pricking up each time the man came out, but now they dreaded that moment, hoping maybe the fire alarm would go off, or the city would be hit by an earthquake. Anything... To have passed through from the other side, dead or alive, was what most wanted at that moment. To be that woman, Martha, that young, beautiful, and talented woman walking down the hall without a care in the world, with the confidence that everything would be simply, naturally, …fabulous. Oh, to have that grace… 

The door to the audition room opened and a small, unattractive man whose look said he’d seen it all before stepped into the hall with a clipboard. Through the opened door, several men in suits could be seen sitting on one side of a table facing the door craning their necks to hear what the one in the middle was saying with a sneer. “Margery Robins!” the small man with the clipboard barked, not looking up. Several women swallowed hard, thanking their lucking stars that their names were Eunice, Carol, Mao Lin or Betty. “Margery Robins!...” he said again looking at his watch. A thin, shy woman stood up apologetically and he looked above her head at the wall without emotion, holding the door open. She walked towards the room like a newborn foal with legs yet too thin to hold up its own body. Her tap dancing shoes, already on, clacked and clipped miserably beneath her like an old fashioned toaster’s doors opening and closing as it fell off a kitchen table onto a wooden chair then, after that, onto a linoleum floor.

Outside the air was fresh and cool and Martha descended the stairs drinking it up. She listened for the door to close, still almost holding her breath. There it was, click. She was alone. Alone with this moment. A big smile overtook her face revealing her many white teeth. She had beautiful teeth, like piano keys but without the sharps and flats. She shook her head and focused on the feeling. Beneath the shade of the tree growing out of the sidewalk, she exhaled and took in a deep luxurious lungful of big city air. She could have held onto the feeling for the rest of her life. 

“Yes!” she screamed under her breath and spun around. She stopped with her hands palms facing the ground, Bob Fosse-style. “Yes!” She glanced up at all the big buildings that didn’t seem so big anymore. It was her town now. She’d earned it! No one could take that away. Exhilarated, she reached for the sky-blue knitted cap on her head, ripped it off and threw it into the air as high as it would go. She didn’t care what her hair looked like at that moment. She watched the cap rise into the air like a champagne cork, straight up through the leaves then around the limbs of the tree and disappear. 

She waited a moment then, gave up. The cap wasn’t coming back. She reached into her purse and pulled out another knitted cap, a red one, put it on, and walked up the street. It was midday. Suddenly, the streets were filled with big city people rushing this way and that. Everyone in such a hurry. And she was part of it all! If you’d seen her, didn’t know her from Cain, you’d think that she’d lived in New York City her whole life. She belonged. She felt it. The only thing that might distinguish her was her smile. She simply couldn't stop smiling, and didn’t care. She was happy, content, for the first time in a long long time. 

“You look happy…” A man in brush-cut and short-sleeve plaid shirt smiled lazily, coming up behind her but looking up at the sky-scrapers. His movements were stiff and self-assured, a military man out of uniform. 

As if the sails on her ship had lost the wind and had switched over to the Johnson motor sticking out the back, the bounce left her gate and she moved self-consciously towards some distant object up the street. “…What are you doing here Louis?” she mumbled.

“Wow! Nice to see you too!” he smiled spiritedly but with some confusion. “I’m just saying you look pretty happy,” he said. Perhaps she was having a bad day, his expression seemed to suggest.

He picked up his pace and walked beside her. He glanced up at the buildings. They stopped at an intersection and made a big show of making space for an approaching jaywalker. Louis’ arm touched Martha’s.  “What are you doing in New York City?” she whispered.

“Standing here. Looking at a pretty lady.” He said, taking in the changes in her since seeing her last. He looked like the happiest guy on the planet. She raised her chin and swung the scarf over her shoulder. “You look good,” he noted. She wasn’t sure how to respond. How was she supposed to respond? She didn’t want to hurt him. She knew how sensitive he could be. Then he added, “…for someone who gives up easily.” It sounded playful but stung. “Hey. I’m parked just around the corner. Let me drive you to where you are going? You’re not gonna believe what I’m driving. It’s not a pickup truck…” he smiled, to himself.

“Why are you in New York City?” 

“It’s a big city Martha! There are a lot of people here! Just because someone else is in this city doesn’t mean it’s because of youm” he said, shaking his head. He tapped the shoulder of the person in front of him. “Excuse me,” he said and the man turned back. “Why are you in New York City?” God, thought Martha. Martha could just disappear. The man in front of them shook his head and turned back. Louis tapped another man’s shoulder, then another, and Martha bit her lip as he asked, “Why are you in you in New York City? …Excuse me. Why are you in New York City? Is it because of me?” One of the men chuckled and glanced at Martha knowingly. She looked away humiliated, shaking her head. 

The light turned green. Martha crossed the road. Louis was right beside her, like a Siamese twin. He smiled at her in good fun. “Come on…” he said.

“Louis. Answer the goddam question.” 

He shook his head and his smile dissolved. “Business, I guess you could call it. Things happen in other people’s lives too you know?” he said, obviously annoyed, then hurt. She could see it but she didn’t care. She was angry. She watched him. He looked lost, seemed to be trying to impress her. She felt embarrassed. She softened and slowed her pace, still walking fast, “You’re here on… business?” she said trying to get through to him.

“A meeting… it is not really a big deal,” he mumbled and watched a shiny white limousine slip past. He looked back and she could feel his eyes on her. Suddenly his face lit up. “I can’t believe I’m looking at you. …Look at you!” he said, hesitated, then added, his voice almost cracking and she noticed, only she would have noticed, because she knew him probably better that anyone else did. “You are… so beautiful,” he said. 

She felt her heart skip a beat. Really, when was the last time someone had said something like that to her? It was like sitting next to a fire and realizing just how cold you’d become. She shook her head. It really was a cold city sometimes. You had to hold your cards close and put on a tough exterior. That’s how you survive. She had changed, hadn’t she? She was a little tougher now. But what had she lost? She could feel his eyes trying to take in everything about her. It was nice, but she wasn’t going to let him in.
“You really are!” he said.

“All right Louis,” she said smiling. 

Louis pointed to her large woven purse. “And you’re dancing.” He shook his head. “Just, exactly, like you said you would.” He thought about this amazed as he stepped aside for an old lady. (Louis, always a gentlemen. He had old fashioned values. She had to give him that.)

She watched him take a quick tense breath, saw him glance at her. He had no idea what her life was like now really, did he? He was on the outside looking in, not really understanding. She wondered if the city seemed intimidating to him. She remembered how it had felt to her in the beginning.  “I just had an audition,” she smiled, like she was giving him a glimpse of stolen jewels in her possession. 

“You seeing anybody?” he asked, almost cutting her off. 

Something inside her just turned off. “Yes. Louis,” she said.

His lips moved almost imperceptibly. “Really?” he asked.

“Well, Louis, things change. …People move on,” she said, as delicately as she could.

“Yah, but…” he looked around the street as discreetly as he could, like a man who’s lost his map but doesn’t want the world to know he doesn’t know in which direction to proceed.  “But…” he added.

And with that, Martha could see that that was the reason he was in town. He wasn’t complicated. She knew when a part of him was breaking. She watched for a moment and looked away. Honestly, she felt for him. She’d really maybe even loved him earlier, when things were simpler, when they lived in the same town and had the same dreams. People change. She took a deep breath and jumped in, “Louis. You are a super sweet guy but, come on, we’re different. You’re a practical guy and I’m…” she said.

“…Dancer?” he continued, cutting her off again.

“Yes,” she said. There it was, on the table in front of them.

“You’re a dancer?” He said, and then articulated it, “A dancer? …Martha?” he said incredulous, looking around at the people around them as they walked up the street.

“Louis. Please. You’re just upset.” 

He nodded, thinking about this. He put his hand on her forearm and stopped her, and she saw the muscles around his eyes twitch…  “I’m sorry, but, did you get a part in …anything?” he asked. 

She exhaled and set her face. She adjusted her scarf too. “No, not…” she began. 

“I just wanted to make sure... I’ve never got a part either so …does that mean…” He laughed, then slapped the shoulder of a man in a t-shirt walking by, “Hey buddy. I think I might be a dancer! Do I look like a dancer? Apparently I could be…” Louis looked at her, smiling with dead eyes. She wasn’t amused. Everything wasn’t a joke. To avoid embarrassing her he changed the topic, but she wasn’t listening.

Her mind went blank. They walked in silence. At one point, she wondered if he was still there…

It was just a joke. And she could laugh at herself. He’d taught her that. He’d helped her get off her high horse. But there was a line. He didn’t realize how sensitive some questions are. Making it work in this business, she told herself, requires a delicate balance of hard work and being positive. Sometimes you have to force yourself to be positive. Sometimes, it just isn’t easy. A lot of people don’t understand that. Sometimes you feel vulnerable, but you still get out of bed. You put yourself out there, on the line, everyday. It looks easy but… 

“Hey Louis, “ she began softly.

He cut her off. “So who is this guy?”

“’Who’s this guy?’” she repeated. “Would you knock it off!” 

She stopped and looked him straight in the eye. People in the crowd had to move around them. Several glared. She raised her chin. This was going to hurt. Let’s keep it simple she thought. “Louis,” she began, “People change. It’s as simple as that. Don’t you understand that? …And, really, I’m not getting any younger.”

He looked at her from head to toe pointedly. “That’s for sure.” 

“That’s disgusting language Martha…”

She closed her eyes, turned around and walked in the opposite direction, with her fingers in her ears. She could feel him watching her, still standing there, his figure growing smaller and smaller, insignificant. But each store window she passed mocked her, reflecting back to her the truth. She was past her prime, fooling herself, her ass was too big - she was like a marathon runner who’d stretched too long and had missed the race. She’d never have children, she’d always be alone.

At home she’d go through her drawers and count her savings, then, sitting on the edge of her bed, estimate how much time she had left before she was living on the street, a bag lady with no where to go, with hair that looked like road kill.

Chapter 16 - Um, thanks

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We would like to gratefully acknowledge assistance provided by:
Rose Street
P.S. Winn
Ben Culhane 
Kingsley Vogan 
Ken McDavitt 
Safia Adam
Robert Bodrog 
Bob Studholme 
Brian Borgford 
Craig Lauzon 
Patreshia Tkach
Chi Diep 
Colin Rivers 
Anum Siddiqui 
Sara Ryan 
Hannah Taha 
Shaikha Alain 
Ayesha Sayed 
Leanne Wherret 
Bruce McCullouch 
Susan Cavan 
Tanya Nguyen 
Margaret Lambert 
Peggy Vogan 
Mahmood Farra 
Barbara Vogan 
Paul Marlow 
Alison Belsham 
Brian L 
Sir William Newman 
editors and story consultants at The Ivan Von Noshrilgram Foundation, Antarctica.)    

Copyright 2000 (Alistair Avery Vogan / the Von  Noshrilgram Foundation)

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