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The Changing Room
Sequined dresses fluttered and gleamed in the dim light as they were passed from one hand to another. They were grabbed in turn by long, bony fingers, slender, long nailed fingers, cute, stubby fingers of tiny hands, palms covered in cream, palms covered in sweat, hands of pale white, hands of olive tan, hands of chocolate brown; all together they were the fingers, palms and hands of women.
There were women of every shape and size between their twenties and their thirties. There were women who liked reading books and women who liked reading magazines. There were women who were feisty and women who were complacent. There were women who wanted more and women who wanted less. There were women with children and women without. There were women who loved men and women who loved women. They were all actresses.
Smiling faces had makeup applied to them by the hands of their respective bodies, or by the hands of others. Various colours of the spectrum were used to bring out assets and tone down flaws. All of this was being done before two long rows of vanity tables all neatly lined up for their customers. The stools belonging to each table had been placed in corners much like naughty children, as the women needed to be able to move around; to borrow each other's things, or to ask for each other's help.
A general sense of agitated excitement was moving around in-between the females, nudging here and pulling there, making sure hair was properly brushed and clothes fit on as they should. Once it had settled down, and made its way out the back door, another sentiment—that of glowing beauty—glided down amongst the actresses, throwing its attractive powder about generously. For a second all women became one; one sly nymph that could have killed with a mere glance. They all looked beautiful and talented, in the prime of their life.
The makeup plastered on their faces made sure that this image was maintained even in the cruel, glaring stare of the stage spotlight. The first girl to step on stage was calmed by the blinding brightness as it made sure she wouldn't have look directly at any of the faces—500, in fact—that were staring straight at her, waiting for some sort of miracle. I say girl, for she was the youngest of the whole group involved. The youngest, the thinnest, the most innocent...the luckiest.
She began her monologue cautiously, still trying out her audience, listening for comments, gasps or hesitant clapping. Anything that would give her some sort of an idea what she was up against; what kind of claws the hideous monster waiting for her in the shadows had.
She explained the reason for her clothing—a white, flowing dress that stretched down all the way to her ankles and made her look almost like a dollop of whipped cream. She said she had been on her way to church on that unfortunate Sunday morning when...she moved aside dramatically to reveal a doll that looked a lot like her, lying down on a 'hospital bed', covered up to her neck with a slightly torn, obviously yellowing 'hospital blanket'.
That was when the young actress heard the gasps around the room, in response to the idea that her character was in a coma, and immediately thanked God under her breath; somewhere in that pitch darkness there was a monster with fluffy hands, which was easily moved by the slightest tragedy.
The curtain dropped for a short while so the bed could be moved off the stage and the props slightly changed to depict an impression of a forest of dreams. This of course meant that the colours as well as shapes and sizes of plant life and the like were mismatched to create a dream-like ambiance.
"What kind of monster do we have?" the oldest woman whispered into the ear of the youngest. She was wearing a torn up and rather revealing dress of a green yet mustardy colour. She represented the apathy within the heart of the main character, who was posing as anger, hate and rebellion. And when I say oldest, I mean she had just turned thirty.
"Baby. Fluffy, cuddly, easily moved," the girl whispered back.
'Monsters' were classified into three different groups for this particular play, depending on their initial and strongest reactions. The babies where those who were interested in the tragedy of the story, and waited for it patiently. They would laugh when they had to, but too much comedy would lose them. Adults referred to those who enjoyed the comedic side of the play, as well as the more romantic moments. This type of audience could be rooted out by carefully listening to when they clapped and paying attention to the number and intensity of wolf whistles given off by the crowd. Lastly there were the children; the monsters with the sharpest claws. This meant that the majority of those in the audience were either critics or just general sceptics who were waiting for the play to go wrong so they could spit their corrosive venom at it. This was the crowd who only clapped when the curtain fell and had seemingly no reaction to anything else. Whenever a child monster was waiting in the dark, the actors would have to improvise to the best of their abilities and put as much emotion as possible into their act; otherwise, not even the falling curtain would cause any reaction.
The news of the monster soon spread like fire in a wooden village amongst the actors and actresses, causing the tactic to adapt to the situation. All possible dramatic scenes were automatically included and even scenes that weren't as dramatic were made to seem a lot gloomier than in the original form of the play.
"Excellent," the eldest woman replied, smiling, but only for a few seconds; the curtains were soon pulled back up and the act began fresh.
The little girl in a coma met all of her feelings; some, such as love and apathy posing as completely different emotions to fool and confuse her. She confronted some, and got along well with others. The first act of the play was all about establishing the character's personality; a well rounded 'girl from next door' whose only real problem was that she received no support from either family or friends, and was left to her own devices all the time, except on Sunday mornings. In real life she had gradually deteriorated, and the accident that put her on the hospital bed in the first place had been self inflicted—she had deliberately run in front of a car. All these ideas were discussed as a colourful, all-female cast of one sided emotions gave their own two cents on her situation. The only emotion the girl was not willing to face was her fear.
Because of this, horror haunted her whenever she seemed to have a moment of respite; and the more she ran away, the more blurred her facial features and her identity became.
In one instance, while running away from a large, serial killer teddy bear, whose light sandy fur was matted with blood and whose small, beady eyes seemed to suck out all the light out of the surroundings, the girl came across a small, clear pond (denoted by a collection of light blue blankets surrounding a mirror placed on the floor of the stage). Her reflection all of a sudden seemed clearer than ever, but instead of a normal face there was but skin with no sensory organs whatsoever. A crystal scream was uttered by the actress who fell to her knees, placing her hands over her nonexistent 'self'.
Unknown to the little girl, horror was creeping up behind her to the sound of muted, breathless warnings uttered by the audience. The woman who played horror was given very cat-like qualities by the heavy makeup on her face and had to keep a constant, sickly smile on at all times; two things that were giving her a terrible headache. But while she was in that role, she felt so taken in by it that everything else was forgotten. For as much as she was hated by the audience, it was undeniable that she was a stunning creature.
Horror pounced on the girl and wrapped her cloak around the frail body; the curtains dropped, and the sound of applause thundered over the performers.
During the intermission, the props were changed once again and the cast was given a break. The youngest actress was congratulated on her wonderful performance by the other women, who forced themselves to remain as much in character as possible. From time to time the eyes of one or another would shift towards an obscure, dark green door at the far end of the changing room. From time to time, one or another of the women would have the impression that the door was being reflected in the mirrors of the vanity tables; that it was open, and that everyone could see inside. But this only happened from time to time, and the few male members of the cast who were there for the second act of the play failed to notice anything. Good; it was better that way.
"Ready? Places, everyone!"
The cast prepared and were given the signal that the curtains would be raised once again. The new scene brought another round of gasps from the audience.
Over the course of the first act, the dress of the 'little girl' had become badly torn and tattered and her makeup looked like it had been painted on rather than applied. Now though everything had returned to normal; she was home again and...back on her way to church. To quote the script:
" Frankie: Wha...where...am...I? This couldn't possibly...
(Frankie looks around anxiously, not believing her eyes. Finally, she turns towards the audience.)
Frankie: Can you believe this?! I...I'm home!"
As the play continued to move further, the audience was introduced to the protagonist's family members as well as her friends and everything seemed so wonderfully nice. Many were wondering why the play was going on for so long...this seemed like a perfectly good, if a slight bit confusing, happy ending. But as the story progressed, the main character became more and more agitated; more and more unsettled. The young actress used her own personal experiences to channel those feelings, to make them look as alive and as genuine as humanly possible.
As Frankie stated in her own monologue, halfway thought the act, everything was too nice. Her parents genuinely wanted to know how she felt, where she'd been; the people she knew at school wanted to know who she was, and if they could somehow be her friends. Moreover, the few friends she did have idolised her every move; fun, but sickeningly sweet.
While she walked off from the happy crowd, trying to give herself some alone time, and considering how she really wouldn't mind living like this, she saw what every young girl is 'supposed' to see in a story or a play (according to those who read and/or watch them); her dream person. Her soul mate. Yes, of course it was a boy...what else can you expect?
He was charming and handsome...to her. He listened carefully and had a great sense of humour...as far as she was concerned. But he would probably have been everything her parents, not to mention her friends, would have hated—in the real world.
For in the world that the protagonist was in, wherever that may have been, her parents loved him and her friends adored him; all of a sudden she had everything she wanted. She didn't need anything anymore—no need for food or water or shelter or rest. All she needed was him. That is, until she fell into a proper and deep sleep.
The red waterfall flowed once more, and the props were returned to the hospital scene. The young actress now placed her body in the place where the substitute doll had been before. The actors who played her parents now sat on stools at her bed side, their faces grim, and their eyes hollow. The emotions that had haunted the girl before all stood huddled in a corner, waiting for her to open her eyes. She did.
But everything was supposedly misty and grey in Frankie's yes. She couldn't speak but her mind reached out, and recognised her emotions. They all crowded around her bed making as much noise as possible. Her parents didn't see or hear anything. To quote the script once more:
"Love: You're scaring her, stop it!
Confidence: Oh, be quiet, she's just fine!
Apathy: Can we get this over with now, please?
(Frankie's eyes widen. They all take notice.)
Happiness: Oh, you're awake, good! Listen sweetheart, we don't have much time; the world you live in, it's a dream, it's not real. Whatever they're telling you there, it's not right—
Anxiety: N-no, don't tell her that!
Sadness: Exactly, explain yourself. Frankie...here's what. That world is somewhere in your mind...and...you can choose to stay there for as long as you want, but you're in a coma here and so...you might die really soon.
(Frankie murmurs under her breath)
Frankie: Where's horror?
(The feelings exchange glances, then reply in unison)
All: Within you.
(Frankie's eyes roll back and her body convulses slightly; she faints)"
The curtains drop to the frantic applause of the fluffy monster in the dark.
When they are lifted, they reveal Frankie and her soul mate, sitting together on a bench under a lone lamp post:
" Frankie: You can stop trying to toy with me now. I know who...what...you are.
Tomas/Horror: He does exist you know...I didn't make him up.
Frankie: No, you stole him...from my dreams...but why?
Tomas/Horror: What's your decision?
Tomas/Horror: Your decision, now that you know what's really going on. What do you want to do?
Frankie: If I stay here, I won't have to try anymore but my body will deteriorate and die; and I'll make real people suffer needlessly. If I go back...I'd have to live the hard way, to work towards building an identity for myself...and at the end of the day I'd still die...
Both: It's a lose-lose situation.
(They laugh together)
Tomas/Horror: So? Which game over scenario sounds more appealing?
Frankie: The one where you're not my soul mate.
(Sharing a smile, the boy and the girl look extremely similar in the dim light. Almost like twins)
Tomas/ Horror: Very well."
The boy passed his hand before the girl's eyes and she fell limp in his arms. He grabbed a firm hold of her, knelt down and placed her on the edge of the stage. The young actress could clearly hear the quickening breath of those sitting in the front row.
This time, instead of the curtain, fog clambered up from the bottom of the stage gently obscuring the vision of the audience. When the fog cleared, every one of the emotions was kneeling by Frankie's limp body and Horror had replaced the boy. Those with a keen eye were the first to notice that the girl once again had no face—it was as if Act 2 had never happened. With her characteristic smile, but without a word, Horror reached forward and grabbed on to the edge of the girl's 'face'. The mask in actuality peeled off easily revealing the real face everyone had come to know over the course of the play. It was smiling brightly, as if in a most beautiful dream. The heads of all the feelings bowed low, one after the other, and the curtain fell for the last time.
The actresses smiled at each other, sweat forming beneath the thick coats of makeup on their faces. Holding hands, they waited for the curtain to be raised—
And they were rewarded with a standing ovation; from the whole audience.
"See, what did I tell you?" the youngest told the eldest with a cheeky edge to her voice.
Once the pleasantries were over, and the actors were all given leave, the undressing process began. The boys took a lot less time than the girls did, and so left much earlier.
The girls on the other hand did more than just change and wash; they uncovered secrets. With every piece of makeup wiped off, the bruises of some became clearer and clearer. Contact lenses were taken off to reveal tired, bloodshot eyes. Padded bras were removed to reveal bodies that were less voluptuous than they seemed.
The only things the actresses had to look forward to were abusive husbands, parents or lovers, children who needed to be fed and houses that needed to be cleared of filth. And those were the lucky ones.
Each face became more grief stricken the better it was cleaned.
"Well girls?" one of them chirped with an easy grin, "I've got one word for all of you..."
She ran, giggling to the green door, unlocked it and disappeared behind it. She was followed by a stampede of supposed 'ruins' whose lives had ended in a shorter time than they had taken to develop.
The back door revealed a large, spacious storage room, littered with large, comfy, crimson, velvet armchairs. There was a metal staircase leading up to a dark room above the one they were in. It was rusty, and creepy but highly appealing. In a corner lay a large wooden chest covered in mould on the outside, its mouth gaping wide, stuffed with moth eaten costumes that could take you to any world you wanted. A lonely, scrawny, bare light bulb, hanging by a dangerously long chord and swinging back and forth as if it was trying to soothe its own nerves, was the only item with the purpose of providing light. But the centre piece of the whole room was a rickety oval table that had a stack of books underneath it to replace the two legs it was missing on its right side. On the said table were two bottles of expensive, ancient, red wine, a bottle of champagne, several cans of beer, two bottles of whiskey and one of vodka; as well as some tonic water and other flavoured soda for those who needed it.
"As I said, I only have one word for you," she ducked under the table and grabbed a clear glass from the mismatched collection staked there next to the books. She then proceeded to open a wine bottle and pour some of the dark, aromatic liquid into her glass. "...cheers!" she raised her glass to tired faces of women and the peeling plaster on the whitewashed walls.
A few hours later, anyone that would have come into the room would have witnessed a small, calm celebration of sorts. The women were splayed over the armchairs or sitting in awkward positions on the creepy steps, glass in hand, some drinking alcohol, others not. Loud rock music was playing from a solitary phone on the table, and the vastness and emptiness of the room only served to accentuate the sound. There was a general feel of unity, of togetherness, but also one of emptiness and remorse. Just like Frankie, a character they had become greatly accustomed to over the one year in which they had dedicated to her, they too lived in a paradox. They could stay in that backroom and only leave it when they had to climb up on stage, looking beautiful and proper for the rest of their lives; but they would probably die a lot younger than they should and their children waiting at home would as well. The other option was going back to their miserable lives, hoping they would be called back to perform one more time, next week or maybe the week after that, and in the meantime they could try to find themselves...and maybe that person of their dreams. They would die anyway, and the chances of accomplishing anything remained slim.
But looking at each other convinced them that they really didn't have a choice.
A common sense of guilt reverberated through all, leaving its dirty fingerprints on their minds. One by one, they stood and grabbed their coats, leaving the room and giving one last glance to the mirrors. Their beautiful faces were now trapped in the reflective glass and their tired worn out ones were ready to face the world.
In the cold midnight air, the youngest asked for a promise with a voice of mist.
"We'll all stay together right? We won't lose track of each other, right? No matter what."
Hesitant smiles replied, while arms covered the places where the bruises still
hurt. Heads bowed down solemnly as all replied in unison.
They shared one last heart wrenching hug, certain that their stellar performance would earn them another spot next week. They were sure they would be called back.
They never were.
Life moved on.