A Short Story
“I just want to make sure you understand; it’s okay to start going on dates now. You’re even welcome to borrow my car if you need, and… I was just worried that maybe you didn’t feel you could ask to borrow the car, but you’re welcome to. … Just letting you know.”Fellow’s Mormon mother, in the kitchen one night, a few months shy of his 17th birthday
Fellow knew the opera house’s public stage door well—the one where autograph seekers gathered after performances. But he also knew another stage door, an inner one restricted to technical staff and performers. He passed it every time he ventured into the guts of the building, where he volunteered in the administrative offices after school. One charmed afternoon, somebody left the inner stage door wide open. This was how he found himself leaning on the door frame, with the tips of his feet touching the stage inside.
Inside the real opera house, a fictional opera house had been assembled on the stage. During performances, audiences gazed through a golden proscenium arch covered with naked statues writhing in sexual embraces. Inside this arch, actors lathered in garish makeup paraded around in lavish costumes. Towering set pieces rolled in and out, transforming the stage into a grand staircase and then a mausoleum. At one point, a gondola would glide across the fog-covered black deck as if floating on a lake, carrying a ghost and his lover to a hidden lair.
From the stage door, Fellow witnessed all the sets and props waiting for an audience, an orchestra, and artful lighting. Under cold fluorescent work lights, nothing convinced. He gaped at the dusty, disheveled backside of everything. All of Paris seemed crammed in a cellar. The illusion broke before him, yet he delighted in this exclusive view.
“Hey, I’m heading across the stage. Would you like to join me?”
A caught breath, then Fellow said, “Sure.” The stagehand had appeared suddenly, as if snapping into existence at the edge of a shadowy offstage wing. His face scrunched amiably like a pug and he was of average build. Thin silvery hair fell beneath his bald crown. He was garbed head-to-toe in black.
“I’m Hal,” the stagehand said
Like the backs of the sets, Hal seemed dusty and breakable. His voice, however, glided calm and nonthreatening into Fellow’s ears. Not for an instant did the teenager feel out of place or in the way. Of course, this is how it what was supposed to be. Children like Fellow always dreamed this would happen if they were caught peeking between the maker’s curtains.
They proceeded around the stage rather than across it. Hal took Fellow up to each of the show’s ornate set pieces: a faux-catwalk which could raise and lower; a two-story set of opera boxes; a remote-controlled boat which doubled as a bed; and a trick throne through which the lead actor could disappear in front of 2,000 witnesses. The magician’s devices lay bare before Fellow, yet he felt he’d go right on loving the magic.
Last of all, Hal took Fellow to the center of the stage. There a great chandelier slumped beneath wires stretching all the way to the house’s ceiling. This was the defining set piece. At each performance, the chandelier burst into light and life, rising up during the overture, and later falling back to earth at the command of the opera ghost.
a broadway baby’s hand
breaks the light curtain
created by lusty prisms
each orb skirted with chains
of beads like ballerinas
a harem of jewels bounded
by three golden tiers
joyous belly protruding
like the fat lady herself
singing with light
to make the rafters
shake and shimmer
him quiet, his bashful
as he traces virgin
fingers on her robe’s belt
permitted by a prince’s
Hal should have forbidden Fellow touching the chandelier, but he seemed to know the boy needed a moment. For his part, Fellow wanted to run away and be alone. He needed to wonder about it all in private, before the sweetness faded. He took a step back and put his hands in his pockets. Gazing dumbstruck at the chandelier, Fellow muttered, “Thanks.”
As Fellow exited out the public stage door, he felt a pulse of hunger and knew he’d obey it. Striding over to the box office, he asked if any seats remained for the evening performance. The show was officially sold out. Still, he managed to purchase a stray obstructed-view seat. He’d be sitting just to the side of the proscenium arch covered with naked demigods. No bother. From his cramped corner of the audience, he’d be able to watch the glowing chandelier rise up from the stage, from the very spot he’d stood earlier. As a pipe organ played, Fellow would watch the chandelier pass over the stalls of patrons, ascending into Celestial glory high above the balcony.
Over the next two-and-a-half years, Fellow spent most of his mission savings in this manner, returning many times to the opera house. Almost always, he came alone. Occasionally, he felt interrupted by the thought of his mother gently expressing concern for his reclusive ways. He wished she could understand. For him it was not at all about being out on the town with family or friends. For him it was about the shows. Fellow was in love with the shows; he felt he loved them as much as he would ever love anything or anyone.
The young man had stood before a burning bush. Pure and undefiled—he wanted to spend as much of his life there as possible—on the edge of a pool of light, where revelations happened.
This short story was prompted by the recent passing of Hal Prince, renowned director of many Broadway musicals including Sweeney Todd, Company, and The Phantom of the Opera.
Reactions are welcome in the comments section below. For another Fellow piece, try A Revelation in New England.
Featured image by Takazart on Pixabay.