Short Story – The Silence of Wings

Author’s note: I’ve been a bit obsessed with CATS and theatre lately and I suppose a bit of Grizabella and Gus the Theatre Cat may have leaked into my brain. Anyway, enjoy.

The Silence of Wings

Tonight, he tells himself, is no different from any other night. Thirty-five years of the smell of resin and dust and sweat. Thirty-five years of the heat of stage-lights on his skin and make-up and costumes in various degrees of ill-fitting.

And thirty-five years of standing here, in the dark echoing silence of the wings, looking out on the pool of light where reality is happening, waiting for his cue.

His fingers brush the thick material of the legs, soft as a moth-wing and quieter. The legs are the vertical curtains that hide the wings, he has explained to neophytes and non-theatre friends, though the number of the former has increased over the years, and the number of the latter has shrunk almost to zero. Because they don’t understand this, he tells himself. This womb-darkness, this silence. Standing in the wings waiting to be born, watching for the moment, saving his breath and his energy for that single leap into the light and into the story.

It’s almost as if being in the wings, you aren’t real. You only become real when you step into the light.

Out there on the stage he notices that one of his colleagues is flagging. A hand gesture a fraction too low; his delivery a little more sluggish than yesterday. No one in the audience will notice because they have not stood here watching and waiting. It is up to him, then, when he makes his entrance, to take energy onto the stage and feed it into the others.

But thirty-five years. It’s a long time. And he’s not as young as he used to be. His name on the playbills is smaller. Once, to his mortification, it came behind the dreaded “and”. Starring so-and-so, this name, that name. And (and this in tiny print)… his name. An afterthought, a species of conscientious obligation.

He warms to the topic. He was on track to being a star once, the one with the name in big letters. Oh, maybe not such a big star. He thought he might be, for a while there, when he was playing the good roles, the solid roles in the good theatres. He had a good review, or two or three, in some major newspapers. He was mentioned positively, at any rate.

But then it slipped away, the momentum. Oh, there were a few directors who turned him down. Someone started an ugly rumour or two but they never phased him. But the time stretched out and he got older and… things just happened. Somewhere in the darkness he waited and waited but the time was never right, and the Sir never got put in front of his name, which became smaller and smaller on the playbills.

But here he is, and it’s tonight, and…

He notices it suddenly, the changed texture of the silence. It intrudes on him in the wings, echoing out from the pool of light. And he looks up and they are staring at him, staring at the wings with a terrible awkward expectation. His cue, he realises with a shot of ice down his spine. He’s missed it. By how much? Not much, surely. Well, nothing for it but to gather himself and get out there. The audience won’t have noticed.

He breathes in and out, once. Tonight is no different from any other night, he tells himself.

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