I reach the dressing room. The towel is dirty yellow from the matinee and my hands feel weak as I lean on the table. My shoulders hunch, my chest heaves.
I unbutton my shirt.
Was it always this hard?
The audience is on the sidewalk almost instantly, trading the heat of the auditorium for the warm night. Their noise is all around me now. Smoke drifts up through the window: first the heavy brands of the men, then the sweet ones of the ladies. I don’t care about their reviews, but I listen hard for my name.
A woman’s voice carries above the others. I know this woman, or versions of her. She is happy just to be out for the night, not having to sit through another ball game, another argument. She has seen my studio pictures and has told her friends in the typing pool she is seeing the show tonight. She will not now allow herself to feel disappointed. I resent her happiness, and am sick with myself for that.
There was a time when I could take Kate out anywhere and we’d be happy: before we were hollow. A time when we could hold each other’s hand without feeling desperate.
She will be back in her dressing room now, surrounded by bouquets. But in my mind, she is frozen in the final scene: head thrown back, a drop of sweat falling from Nick’s forelock into the private hollow at the base of her throat. Under the lights they are a perfect statue. I lie dead on the stage in front of them, blurring around the edges.
The door opens and he comes into my space. The room comes alive. He is telling me it was a great show tonight. He is telling me what a privilege it is to star with his idol. His tone is telling me we both know they’ll be together before all this is over. The sole of one of his polished brogues is peeling away at the toe.
Kate will expect me at the apartment tonight but I won’t be there.
He is talking about her again, he always does.