The theater is empty. Large but not vast, not quite yet discarded in the American rush to the lowest common denominator, it sits as regally as it can when it’s alone. Since more than half of its volume is dedicated to spectators, and the remainder yearns to be filled by four-dimensional expression, it cannot avoid loneliness when it is empty. Maybe that is why days off are called dark days, and why the single light on a stand in the middle of it all is called a ghost light. An empty theater is a lonely place, and wherever you look, the shadows are deep and long.
She sits in the fourth row, the row that puts her eyes about three feet above stage level, where she will not miss anything. The shadows are all behind her as she faces the ghost light, and she sits upright with the impression that she shouldn’t be here, that she could never afford this seat, not on her salary. The ugly children carved into the plaster of the proscenium scowl at her, reminding her of this. The shadows are different on their faces, for they are confronting her and not the light. She begins to count them but loses interest after three. There are other details to notice, after all, without arguing.
The carpet of the aisle crushes just slightly in a cadence that causes her back to spasm, and she hears the fabric of a jacket sleeve brushing a jacket front, but she stays facing the ghost light because its brightness blinds her a little. She hears the whisper of air from a seat as it takes the weight, behind her and to the right, the creak of an armrest as the elbow pivots on it, and the soundless implication of the rubbed chin, studying the shadow that is the back of her head. She feels the eyes on the nape of her exposed neck and makes the effort not to adjust.
The fabric sighs and the creak now is different, and closer. The scrutiny is more intense, perched on the seatback of the row just behind her. She shifts her weight and crosses her legs. Her gaze travels beyond the ghost light, into the rigging, into the massive black drapes called borders which frame the action and hide everything else. The lights hide behind the borders and manage to shoot without being seen; the scenery hides before being lowered into place, at the right time, in the dark. She lets herself get lost in the black fabric, the swamp of shadows that says don’t look here, the show is down there.
A small sound directly behind her, and she knows it: the parting of lips, the wet release of the tongue from the roof of the mouth as if speech is coming. The breath is there, and the tightening of the throat, and she swears that each intake is being drawn along her neck like a tracing finger. Her hands pull into her belly to untangle the knot, and she imagines the first word without actually hearing it, struggles to interpret it, wonders how to answer it without appearing dishonest, to explain herself and the shadows and the sounds that aren’t the voice which is only breath and just behind her ear now. Her trust requires her to look ahead, to not look back or even to the side, to face the stage with her eyes at three feet above stage level where she will not miss anything. She has to trust and has to believe because this is the only thing she has.
She feels the wisp of hair behind her ear that has come out of her bun; it has landed just where her skin begins to be hidden. Her hands and thighs clench tighter in a resistance of remaining fixed, but in the end she turns around and sees the envelope on the armrest in the row behind her, a dull white thing nearly lost in her shadow. She has to lean over the back of her seat. Clutching it to her, she walks slowly up the aisle, the shadows growing deeper. Just after pushing through the lobby doors, she takes the time to light a cigarette and reflect that the sun must have gone down a while ago. She crams the envelope into her purse and crosses the street, leaving the empty theater behind.