W.F. Lantry

Scene Change

Her win­dow invad­ed my screen. Her text was script, a lit­tle too small, hard to read. “My organ­ist friend,” it began, “flaked. I have an extra tick­et. Privates on Parade.”

This from some kind of nun. She wore a scapu­lar. I had no idea what it meant. She would only say “Mary gave it to Stock.” She was a slow typ­ist, always talk­ing short­hand. I often wished her sen­tences longer. I had to turn off the bells: they rang every time she hit enter. She desired me at sev­en thir­ty.

It was four, and Brisi was bark­ing in the gar­den. When the ravens descend­ed on the pond, or a king­fish­er perched on the weep­ing cher­ry, she always barked. Protecting the koi was her job, and she did it with great enthu­si­asm. I went out, and only saw part of the water­snake. There was no way I was reach­ing my hand in there after. Besides, Brisi was patient, and I need­ed clothes.

Suit or tux? Professor’s uni­form? Maybe the French look: half rolled sleeves, loose tie. What does one wear in DC? I was too new to know. I decid­ed aca­d­e­m­ic was safest, and went back to play­ing at civ­i­liza­tion. Brisi kept bark­ing as the dark­ness began to sur­round us.

She honked exact­ly on time. I guess she couldn’t come to the door. It did look a lit­tle fore­bod­ing, zebra grass lin­ing the walk, the twin wis­te­ria twirling wrought iron would have seemed like snares. I descend­ed the steps, real­iz­ing I’d guessed wrong.

Elegant cash­mere draped her shoul­ders. Strapped san­dals. She looked like she should be in a char­i­ot drawn by doves. I could bare­ly see the out­line of her scapu­lar. I shouldn’t have been look­ing there. A few drops of rain splashed on the wind­shield, and dark­ened my sleeves.

I tried to give her direc­tions, but wasn’t much of a pathfind­er, and she’d lived here for years. Her foot was lead on the Chrysler as she chose 16th.

The streets of DC are no way to get any­where. They are dou­ble fea­ture the­aters, each play­ing a dif­fer­ent bill, which changes depend­ing on time of day. At mid­morn­ing, it would have been an opera of busi­ness skirts, at mid-after­noon a spec­ta­cle of exot­i­ca near the embassies. But now the saris had most­ly dis­ap­peared, replaced by London Fog and the occa­sion­al grey­hound. I thought of Parish, but that was wrong. Rhode Island Avenue was show­ing Louis Icart: “Lady with Two Languid Dogs.” Brisi would have been out of place.

Parking seemed an awk­ward cho­rus of ‘maybe there’s, but the streets were all tak­en. Someone had for­got­ten to tie a rope across a jew­el­ry store’s entrance, and she decid­ed to risk it. She held her umbrel­la at the ready, as if in self-defense from the street, maybe from me. I didn’t share her thoughts, I was too busy scan­ning the scene.

Three blocks to the the­ater seemed an end­less jour­ney of silence. What would I find to say? I prac­ticed in my head. Maybe the land­scape of Paris? No, she’d been there. California seemed out of place. I was just set­tling on Père Ubu when she joined me on the side­walk.

I needn’t have wor­ried, she had it com­plete­ly cov­ered: the plot, the reviews, the movie with John Cleese. Her sea­son pass, and the dif­fi­cul­ties of find­ing prop­er accom­pa­ni­ment. The dis­trict was turn­ing into the­aters and gal­leries. “Ah, here we are.”

It was a small place, and even small­er inside. We were seat­ed in the half round. Things began well enough, the actors were well prac­ticed. But I was not. I’d nev­er been so close to her before. Barely an inch sep­a­rat­ed our arms. I lost the plot con­cen­trat­ing on not cross­ing that inch. The actors sang poor­ly, and there was much march­ing on the tiny stage. It was five paces: one two three four, turn in uni­form. I could see the prompt girl, hold­ing her script. I need­ed one.

The same prompt girl min­gled with us at inter­mis­sion. We stood around, drink­ing cheap wine at three fifty a cup. I was wrong­ly dressed, the women were flow­ers of gems and silk. They looked right through me: they looked at her.

Act two, and the late arrivals, now seat­ed, made the rows even more cramped. The prompt girl announced a mid­stream change of cast: we were to recon­ceive James as Capt. Terri, and would hear no fur­ther of Sgt. Bonny. There was noth­ing for it, my shoul­der touched hers. The play con­tin­ued any­way. The scene back­drops didn’t fall. Only the thun­der, close by, but damp­ened by win­dow­less con­crete blocks, acknowl­edged the change.

Even though I tried to con­cen­trate, I missed many more plot ele­ments. We arrived at the ulti­mate song. Men were march­ing again, but this time with a twist. The pri­vates real­ly were on parade. I glanced over at her, to see how she was tak­ing it. She was star­ing. I was so close to her, I could glance down her neck­line. There was the scapu­lar, sim­ple and brown, a rough cord hold­ing it in place.

And then the scene was over. The lights came up. Actors returned to the stage, but now in robes for their bow. Everyone applaud­ed. Some of the actress­es curt­sied too low. Not for my taste, but per­haps for hers. I felt odd­ly respon­si­ble.

We walked out to rain and light­ning. Beneath the mar­quee, she opened her umbrel­la. It was far too small, a styl­ish sug­ges­tion of shel­ter, and even then it threat­ened to fly. She asked me to hold it, and she wrapped her­self around my arm as we walked, clos­er in this occa­sion­al­ly lit open space than inside the the­ater. She bare­ly noticed the thun­der, and I had the strange impres­sion it couldn’t hurt us, that it was a mere back­drop for the scene some­one else was watch­ing. All part of the set design.

Driving back, she was bright and chat­ty. When we stopped, the scapu­lar was between us. I didn’t know what to do. I kissed her hand.

~

W.F. Lantry, a native of San Diego, has had work pub­lished recent­ly in sev­en­teen sep­a­rate and unique coun­tries, includ­ing Texas, in Kestrel, Literal Latté, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, protestpoems.org, Istanbul Literary Review, Spilling Ink Review and Aesthetica, among oth­ers. In 2010 he won the CutBank Patricia Goedicke Prize, the Lindberg Foundation International Peace Prize (in Israel), the Crucible Poetry Prize, and the Birmingham-Southern College National Hackney Literary Award in Poetry. He cur­rent­ly works in Washington, DC. and is a con­tribut­ing edi­tor of Umbrella: A Journal of Poetry and Kindred Prose. His web­site is: http://wflantry.com/