The audience had left for the night. So had the cast and stagehands. Augie was left alone.
It was quiet and peaceful, calm. Augie felt like he was waiting for something.
He huddled himself in the shadowy curtains, in an exit cubby, tingling chills running up his spine and raising the hairs on his wrists and the back of his neck.
Carved creatures encrusted the walls, the ceiling, lit only dimly from a few little bulbs tucked away. Their shadows are otherworldly and sometimes Augie swore he saw a flicker or a shift in a shadow when there shouldn’t have been.
Something was happening. Something is happening. He can’t believe, but he still shivers. He can’t leave.
The flicker just beyond his peripheral vision moves to the corner of his eye, to the moment he fully focuses on the slowly creeping carved dragon as it unwinds itself from the edge of the doorway. As it moves past the curtain, ruffling the edges, its short, gnarled and scaly feet hitting softly against the thick plush carpet its eyes pass over Augie, missing or dismissing him as nothing, as a shadow, or at least as harmless. Its goal is elsewhere.
All around Augie, the carvings on the walls and ceiling are coming alive. Each creature has a different motion, a different goal. Some chubbier creatures from the ceiling almost float and flounder, but the smaller, scrappier creatures scuttle, scampering around the carved flowers and shapes that begin to bloom and shift into tiny moments of jungle. Most are aimless, only moving in geometric patterns and lounging loops. Others move with a purpose, focused. Some move for the edges of the stage, even to the wings. A few creatures settled themselves languidly over the backs of seats, or wind themselves underneath and between the chairs.
Together, the movement looked choreographed, yet independent. Augie watches them, shrinking back slightly, eagerly widening his eyes, his mouth falling open just slightly with each passing moment.
Those creatures, the dragons and long bodies and sharp points and rounded edges, those creatures that gathered around the stage become still. They look on toward the center of the stage, waiting. Their stillness is almost startling compared to the gentle seething and writhing of the creatures in the audience. Their quiet waiting, their patience, takes Augie’s breath away. Suddenly, it’s more important than ever to stay, to watch, to see what happens.
The creatures don’t notice or don’t care about his presence. It doesn’t make Augie special, so much as make him feel invisible and unimportant to this moment. It isn’t put on for him, and he isn’t the special one who was allowed to visit. He is an afterthought at best, but more likely simply a part of the setting, the background. He had become the carving on the wall as the dragons and scuttling creatures became the world.
There is a palpable energy and tension in the air between. It only takes a moment for Augie to see what they have been waiting for. They were waiting for the memories. Shadowy figures drift downstage. First only a few, but more will come soon. Some aren’t complete memories, with their skirts drifting away behind them, or a piece of their body missing. They are ghostly but Augie knows they aren’t quite ghosts. They were characters, actors, – even stagehands.
They each come from a detail in the theatre, on the stage. From past shows’ little plagues and bricks, from things actors have left behind, from mysterious stains on edges and corners. There’s tiny bits of costumes ripped long ago left in corners, and the blood and tears of frustration and drama, the strongest longing for lost opportunities and missed performances. From each layer of memory, from each piece of person and character that lent flavor to the theater, that built its history, the shadow of a memory appears.
They seem disoriented and confused as they gather in the center of the stage. They look everywhere, sometimes all at once, and they shift and slip away every few moments. Looking for their audience, trying to find their cue, wanting to perform once again.
Augie hears the orchestra. There is no orchestra, but still he can hear it. The music is soft at first, and then it swells, taking hold of his gut and sweeping him up with the hidden stories from long ago, the history of the place. The pitfalls, mistakes, the dramatic entrances and bold scandals. He’s fills with emotion, traveling through the stories again, at once, and with a moment of forever.
The memories on stage shift as a beautiful, complete memory sweeps onto the stage, the train of her glittering evening gown flowing behind her in bursts and waves. Her hair is curled gracefully on top of her head, her curvy body striking a coiling, dangerous power pose, one hand on her hip, one hand shyly covering her mouth. Her luminescent pearls gleam at her throat. Her eyes flash with devious amusement. Every memory falls into the choreography of a century – performance and daring dramatics. Pieces of original shows, gossip of the cast, the anguish and exhaustion of stagehands. The leading woman is stealing away the show, and she knows it.
Augie is enthralled, captured by the majesty and wonder of this private performance. Not a performance for him by any means, but for the memories. The memories’ delight and pleasure, reliving their origins, playing out their lives in the beauty and splendor they are remembered for.
After moments of forever, the leading woman strides down and across with purpose, elegance, finesse, and ferocity. When she reaches her mark, her song reaches its crescendo and she seems to burst with light and energy as she embodies her song, arms embracing her audience, throat tall and graceful as her head is thrown back into her passion.
The crescendo cascades through the room, crashing, crystalline, and cool. The perfect climax.
And in the breath of a moment, all is quiet, all is returned, all is still. The performance is over, and the theatre sighs, relaxing for a while.
The music rings in Augie’s ears as he slowly moves away from his corner curtains, out to the street. Where life goes on.