What two women think of as they walk home from the theatre.
Stories begin when a woman speaks up. When a woman speaks up, she takes a piece of the turmoil here, a torn segment of it there, a scrap of it in the corner, a shingle of it from the roof, and realizes, unlikely as it may seem, that they have corners with complementary angles. Placed together right, maybe, they can function as a little art shelter, and keep our heads away from the rain.
Now, while they were all clapping in the theatre, and the curtain was coming up for the bows, and cetera, and cetera, a woman in the second row saw that the actress was not entirely comfortable holding hands with the hero, whom, in the final act, she had kissed and married.
It seemed to her, in fact, that the red lipstick smile, exaggerated for the stage, was smeared by the kiss into an s-like ambiguity—half up, half down.
And having made this observation, the woman stood up, and clapped three times, thinking distinctly that threes have the magic power of transport. The actress looked at her. She left.
It was about midnight; it was about a mile’s walk home. For a few moments here and there, the woman imagined what she’d do if attacked. At one point she was almost carried away with aggression; at another, she smiled at the concept of terrifying the attacker with manifest insanity: perhaps she might chant the Canterbury Tales prologue, in all its Old English glory, and add a little malice to the tone. Such is witchcraft that works.
But she was not attacked. As was usual after a play(particularly involving music), she wanted especially to use words; she mused on that when she was through with her action fantasy. Words, as she had discovered, were dangerous little things that could kill and heal, inform and deceive.
And, in the last fourth of the mile home, as she was thinking over again in her mind the meaning of the play and the way the actress looked in a red sequin dress in the third act, she had a particular urge to watch the sidewalk, as though it might rebel against her with an upheaval any moment.
It was midnight. Like many people who love words, she was eager to perform; ironically, one can only perform freely in front of hundreds or alone. She was running through a list—“how to tone my emails so that they sound polite, intelligent, and not pathetic. How to make people believe my praise when I really mean it, which I sometimes do.” And cetera. “How to understand why deliberate evasions are artistic.”
When she started talking, it was barely audible. She was mumbling some rhyming half-cliches, that would have sounded better put to music. She mumbled some more, looked around, and seeing at the moment no one, sang with half a voice.
Half a voice was and is awful to her. Now, she was almost home. Almost where her roommates could demand a style of acting all their own. “Damn realism,” she thought. “Doesn’t conform to reality at all.” Her singing changed...
A woman who still had a remnant of bright red lipstick, who carried a sequin dress and heels in her duffel bag, walked up in sneakers from behind. She tapped the singer on the shoulder. “Singing my song, eh?”
Moving fast, the actress smiled and took a turn, still smiling as a side street swallowed her up. The other woman, tingling from that touch on her shoulder, held that kind expression in a freeze-frame. As she reached her door, she was still replaying in her mind regret that she hadn’t said, in that vital second, why she had changed the words.