Danielle Rae Bryant

Stage Play in Five Acts of Her: Matinée

DRAMATIS PERSONÆ
She—Is a pup­pet.
I—Live inside her except when she lets me out to play.
We—Are are always togeth­er.
He—Will be men­tioned only once.

***

ACT ONE

She stands on hard­wood. Long porce­lain arms cov­ered in three-quar­ter sleeves hide near-fad­ed bruis­es. Her mouth forms a per­fect O framed with red clown lips. She learned the O from years of prac­tice. Practice, he called it. She sings the vow­el, push­ing it from diaphragm and out through the the­atre. She ignores the hands beneath her.

Stagehands watch from beneath her. They fon­dle and move her from the trap­door. Their fin­ger­nails are dirt-caked and sharp and she ignores them, calls to her audi­ence of one who sits in a red vel­vet seat. Cue me.

It is iron­ic, her watch­ing me watch­ing her, because we are the same, and I might cry for her if sen­ti­men­tal­i­ty had been a strength. I watch her jos­tle and feel noth­ing.

Ignore them, she says. It is her only line in this act and it is unnec­es­sary.

She bends at waist so to push for­ward and spread her­self delib­er­ate­ly, bal­anc­ing and throw­ing out arms and hands curved like a porce­lain doll’s, palms stretched out, grow­ing like ten­ta­cles over red vel­vet seat­backs. Like drift­ing sea­weed, her fin­gers beck­on. They pluck me from my seat, pull me, glide me to stage, where she stands me at her hip, deny­ing me the space inside her head and I try not to look at it, the space in her head, because I do not want her to think I want it.

***

ACT TWO

We swoon under hot lights melt­ing the wax of our face. We can smell the face wax. It melts like can­dy paraf­fin filled with pas­tel pink and green and yel­low sweet sug­ar syrup glis­ten­ing with the dew from our mouths. We can­not smile. The make­up will not let us. Our mouth is an infi­nite O and our eyes pierce through baked on mas­cara.

We are hol­lowed out and old and used, cracked from the stage lights, but between the crack­ing, beneath the grime, we are per­fect. It does not mat­ter. No one will want us soon. We are a dying art.

***

ACT THREE

Say it. Say it out loud. Sing it to the world. Let me inside so I can help you. I point. There, look, you have an audi­ence. The vel­vet seats fill with peo­ple she always knew but not real­ly.  She has hid­den her­self behind bro­cade and red clown lips for many years.

There is your moth­er. I point. Your father. I point again. Your broth­er, sis­ter, cousin, sec­ond cousin, and your aunt who we all believed to be an alien clone. I go on, point­ing out all the patrons who might lis­ten. But she stands, mouth still, a maid­en caught in stage lights.

Coward.

She tries to cry but her make­up will not let her form the face and so the tears fall in two thin lines between nose and cheeks, along her big wide O.

***

ACT FOUR

I could have writ­ten her as is with long bushy hair, skinned knees, over­hauls, blue­ber­ry stains on her fin­gers and teeth because she eats them too much. I love her bet­ter this way, blue­ber­ry-stained and wild.

I shuf­fle dance close to her, in front of her, to the side. I move to make her laugh, break the freeze. When I trip on pur­pose, she laughs acci­dent­ly in a short burst of air. Her arms fall to her side then wrap at her waist like they used to when she ate blue­ber­ries and laughed acci­den­tal­ly out loud and final­ly, I think, she will shed the bro­cade, crack the face, but as I watch and wait, her arms form again, stretch­ing out in curves. She bends at waist. Feet spread over the trap­door. The stage­hands jos­tle her.

***

ACT FIVE

Do you remem­ber when I slipped in the snow and you stood laugh­ing? I was not so mad about the gro­ceries, and I did not hate you so much then, because I still loved you like déjà vus. I loved you so much that I wrote you in this play. Remember?

She does not move or wrap her arms, does not acci­den­tal­ly laugh or sigh. She says: You can come in. And she pulls at her ear and opens her head like a hinged trap­door.

No. I want you to come out.

***

ACT SIX: The unplanned act like one last try. A last call before clos­ing.

Remember the time you laughed three times? The snow was noth­ing, a tri­fle, but you laughed because it was fun­ny and then you laughed when we broke our ankle— I stop because I real­ize I’ve spo­ken of us again, we as in a col­lec­tive.

Yes, it was fun­ny, she says. He—. She stops short because he was only sup­posed to be men­tioned once, a sec­ond men­tion­ing was not in the script, and now I’ve added a third. She cor­rects her­self. The per­son who will not be named stood in front of the train, between us and the train as it kept com­ing. That per­son did not move until we were safe.

That per­son broke our ankle pulling us to safe­ty. That per­son broke oth­er things, too.

We stop because the sen­ti­ment is like fill­ing a shot glass at last call. Half full, half emp­ty, clock tick­ing.

We jos­tle again, wince, crack our make­up a lit­tle more. A bro­ken mar­i­onette with no strings. We hold still, wait for the stage­hands to remove their fin­gers and drag us, bro­cade heels over hard­wood, to our place behind the red vel­vet cur­tain, where we will wait for the evening show to begin. All the best peo­ple will come to see us.

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