October 8, 2007
By Amanda Dolan, West Des Moines, IA

The man slipped into his narrow seat
sighing deeply in relief just
as the lights began to dim.

A hushed silence fell upon the audience
as the wall of purple curtain rose
and the actors stepped onto the stage.

The man leaned back into his seat
still attempting to catch his breath
He'd had to ride his bike there,
an ancient, rusted thing,
and he'd been that afraid he was late.
This was-this had been-
(he still had to catch himself sometimes,
and looking at the empty seat beside him, it
still felt like she should be there beside him)
Laura's favorite play, and he
didn't want to miss it.

In the darkness, the audience watched the play come to life,
the stage-lights bathing their anxious faces
revealing the sadness
the laughter, the fear they felt
as they were all swept up in the drama
with bright eyes, left feeling numb
forgetting their own problems
their own lives
forgetting everything but that they were here
and that their happiness, for now
was tangled inexorably in the outcome of each scene

The man was the only one whose mind
still wandered, lingering somewhere else,
blind to the play taking place on the stage,
as he remembered his trip to the theater that night:
The bike heaved over the slanted sidewalk
as he rode through a small weary town
On a streaked store-front window
that he was cycling past
he caught his reflection peering back
and paused at what he saw
Deep hollows had formed beneath his eyes
his face was gaunt and thin and grey
and new creases lined his brow
He hadn't laughed since...
(God, but, it felt like years had passed...)
He hadn't laughed since the day she died
nothing had been the same since then.

The pitch rose in the orchestra pit
building in each measure
along with the man's pain
as he remembered her...
thought of her touch,
her smile
her ringlets of brown hair...
the music spiraled into passages ever faster
ever more intense...
her green eyes,
like the most vibrant
lively bloom in spring
like fields that swept him away...
climbing toward what surely was the much
awaited end...
the way she stroked his hair
the perfume she used to wear...
The audience, a room of strangers
a sea of faces
of old men and women
of young, and rich, and poor
all leaned forward in their seats
gripping their armrests fervently
or perhaps a husband's hand
the music was even faster now
the man whispered "Laura"
his eyes swimming with tears...
as the final scene approached

But then, just as the climax neared
a shout resounded through the room
"Laura, please! Come back!"

The man was on his feet
tears streaming down his face
dripping off his chin
reaching his arms out
grasping at nothing
attempting to embrace the air
perhaps imagining his wife
standing before him
one last time.

The actors, startled from their lines, froze,
and the intensely climbing melody
from the orchestra
died away into silence.
The audience turned to look, to gape, and brood
as one in their anger
and ready to act, or to wage a war

When their eyes found the man
he was standing, lonely, as if on trial
staring at his feet and wiping at his cheeks
in shock, embarrassed
at what he'd just done.
He simply stood there, looking meek
watching, waiting
hoping for someone to defend his cries.
Each member of the audience saw him standing there,
but somehow didn't seem able to speak.

The tension cooled to a dull blue roar
the orchestra nimbly resumed their beat
and the man, bravely, reclaimed his seat.

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