I tossed and turned throughout the night, unable to sleep. There was a long day ahead, but I would get all of the sleep that I needed soon enough, unable to resist sleep when the night comes. One misses so much while the eyes are open as it is. There is no one who, truly, fears not the stage. Whether fear or excitement, no matter. The effect is the same.
The sun would be up in a moment and spill the soft rays of Nature's stage lights into my room, but I would rise before it today and begin my rehearsal in the darkness. Fitting! My best work now long for the shadows, as it were.
I arose. I stretched. I washed. I arrived at the theatre. Dressed in my finest attire, the costume carefully chosen and laid out for me by a loving hand, with face tastefully decorated just so as to catch the light perfectly, capturing and preserving my every expression—a face known for its gesticulations.
Today promised to be a very special day. The final act. The final performance. There would be no more encores. All shows, even the great ones, draw to a close. Knowing this made it nonetheless sour. The show had run its course and it is always better to go out on top, as they say in the business, than to overstay one's welcome. That I should go out with such a "Bang!" I would leave the stage with the same reverence with which I approached it, exiting stage right, no need of the old Vaudevillian hook to make the modest thespian of me.
The stage is an altar, a place of belief and ritual and magic…movement and doing. There is celebration and there is worship. There is the cult, the performer a priest, the faithful congregation. There is love and there is sorrow, both real and imagined, but there is emotion, always the emotion...rising and crashing simultaneously upon both performer and audience in often unexpected waves. No performance ever the same nor its effects upon the souls of officiant and parishioner alike.
One is fortunate to have lived as she would have chosen not otherwise to do. The summation of my career--my life—predicated upon sharing with others the experience of the entirety of the catalog of human emotion, from the depths of low to the peaks of high. Such a life one dare not dream of exchanging for the nightmare of not living life such as it is. Praise...critique...no matter, the show must go on, life must go on. This is the human condition.
"Showtime!" I am informed. The butterflies launch from their perch in unison to begin their wild and aerialbatic dance. I feel them as always, perhaps more so now in this final moment of glory. I could never tame the wild little things. Peeking out from behind the curtain, a full house! I smile...no I laugh from the sheer rush of joy! Each and every soul here for me! Eyes upon me, the star of the show. I never dreamt that I might touch so many souls. I have been blessed, truly I have. And here they were now, waiting for me, and I knew that they loved me for I could feel the love burning in my heart as I drew nearer them and they to me. I, in turn, loved them with a fierce reciprocity. I was who and what I was for them and because of them.
Curtain about to open...the butterflies now as though sparrows... I would miss the stage. I would miss my role. I would miss my fellow cast. I would miss my beloved audience. But I would savor every morsel of these, the final moments, of this encore presentation. I would give my very best!
As Time is so prone to do when one is caught up in rapture—living in that singular moment where one feels amidst the sinews the truth that there is indeed neither past nor future—it passed, the show was over, and the curtain closed. But tonight, there would be no curtain call. No last exchange with the audience, no final bow. It was all over. Now I would have that long overdue sleep…the peaceful rest.
As I closed my eyes for the final time that night, my last memory is of the taste of saline upon my lips from the lone teardrop that had fallen as I listened to the minister read my eulogy. It was such a beautiful monologue. And then I slept through the night.
This story first appeared in Raven Cage Zine, Issue 57 (May 28, 2021).