The Theatre is Sleeping and I’m Still Awake

Mehdi called me last night, delirious and nearly unintelligible. He told me to say goodbye to the theatre. He flew cross country to stay with his father when the pandemic first hit. He said his biggest regret is that he didn’t say goodbye. So I told the dean of students I’d left my wallet in the tech booth and I drove to the high school. It was a stupid lie. I think if I wasn’t a senior it wouldn’t have worked. The thin leather pouch burns in my jacket pocket as I open the heavy theatre doors. Mehdi was right though. I need to look through ‘my window’ and say goodbye. I swallow. The light is dim, soft, and as thin as the watered down Pepsi we used to drink. The air smells sharply of dirty tile and metal chairs. The cold glow of the ghost light makes me shiver. This feels like an intrusion. The theatre is sleeping, vulnerable under a blanket of dust. I force myself to keep walking. 

Quietly, I climb the rusting ladder and clamber into the tiny, cluttered, tech booth. I gaze out the windows at the empty seats. It used to smell like vinegar chips and tangerine gum up here. The stage manager always stole them from the gas station when she got nervous. Now it just smells like mildew. Still, everything’s just as we left it. Even the lighting chief’s coffee cup is here, moldy and half drunk on his desk. My stomach clenches. This was like home to me, but now it feels foreign. I’ve never seen it so empty of people before. It was always crammed with kids, each one desperate to feel alright.

Now the booth feels like a convincing set, one that would crumble if I pressed too hard. All the life, chatter, and laugher has drained out of this place, leaving it hollow and brittle. I settle into my old chair. The floor creaks.

I touch the masking tape with ‘my window’ written in black pen. The glass is strangely clear, there’s no colorful glare, just a few stray handprints and the rows of seats beyond it.

So I look through ‘my window’. I really focus, and I let myself remember. I exhale the memories. The sleeping theater starts to dream.
The crowd rustles and murmurs, blending to dull fog before going quiet. The curtains part, and Mehdi’s back on stage.

The candy-colored stage lights dip and twirl against the floor. They ripple in his wake. He raises his arms, and the air crackles with anticipation. A sharp grin shadows his face, captivating control pours off of him. That grey tongue licks at pink lips and his velvet, thundering voice strikes like lightning. He grabs our gasps like reigns and pulls. It snatches our breath and draws us forward. When he reaches for the sky, I swear he could pluck down the moon.

I remember a scuffle of movement in the booth, the whispering of cues.
I close my eyes. My breath is caged in my throat. So, I inhale slowly. When I open my eyes everything is hollow again.

I look at the empty theatre and realize there’s nothing to say goodbye to.
It’s missing what made it a home.

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