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|Roast dinner. Emotions. A terrible fax. A lonely stage.||
They are sitting in Arrel’s dressing room. The meal was roast dinner, so the six of them are feeling quite sated. Elamen is smoking. Weistone is sipping a three-quarters empty glass of brandy and they are all reading the script. There are seven pages, neatly split into paragraphs where each scene comes to an end, making roughly six scenes in total.
First is a rather speculative moment for Arrel in the gardens of the palace, with buckets of rain. Then to a discussion between Weistone, Elamen and another of the main characters the place, followed by a scene which left off with Irim sprinting through the city, where she was desperate to save her mother from the clutches of this chapter’s bad guy. A couple of scenes with the bad guy tormenting Talia and Talia being brave but weakening, completing with a section on a discussion between Weistone and another of the main characters, Atcha, who rarely likes to sit with the rest of them. The extras call this standoffish and downright rude, but the rest of them know her well enough and have the grace to realise she means no harm by it.
“Don’t I go on?” Talia comments, scanning through her cutting speech addressed to her captor.
“That’s nothing. I’ve got about eighteen ruddy paragraphs here,” Weistone mutters sourly. He flips through his copy and highlights yet another line on the back page.
“It could be worse,” Elamen says, “You could have a singing solo.”
“You don’t...” Weistone starts, eyes wide but his friend shakes his head with a smile.
“But don’t think it couldn’t happen!”
Arrel is studying his scene at the very beginning. There is nothing different to it than any of the others. If he read this and had not read the letter then nothing would seem out of place. Viola is studious with her writing. Nothing should affect it.
“...but if you’re trying to encompass real emotions,” Suth had asked, “Doesn’t it help to experience the emotion you’re describing?”
As a professor, he is curious about everything and anything. He and Viola are always researching some new topic or sharing notes on some forgotten city.
“Yes, I suppose so,” Viola replied from her seat on the stage, “But there aren’t...genres of emotion. You have a specific reaction to every event. If I am happy about finishing a really good book or whatever, the reaction will be different to someone being happy about surviving a war.”
“Yes?” he exclaims, looking up sharply.
To his dismay, the cast is watching him with worried eyes. He wishes they would stop looking so concerned, as if he is about to explode or throw himself into a gorge. It is the look they give him on stage, whenever he makes a particularly heroic speech about dying on their behalf.
“Time,” Elamen says again for the third performance, “What. Performance.”
“What time is the performance?” Talia translates.
“Oh. Whenever you like. It doesn’t really matter.”
“Well, then I vote for a nice round time like...eight o’clock,” Weistone says practically. “That gives us an hour to rehearse and find all the right scenery.”
Suth says that the music and lighting is all set up. Talia says that she has found a number of good costume choices for Arrel, which launches into a veritable wave of helpful comments. The fax begins to buzz once more behind them all, unnoticed until Suth glances up and lets out an exclamation that encompasses grief, anger and overwhelming memory.
They all whirl round and stare at the fax. Waving gently in the jaws of the printer, the paper shows a smiling picture of a pretty young woman, with long black hair and dark honest eyes. Above it is written her name in bold red letters. Beneath both of these follows a list of details and dates. Arrel crosses the room and tears it out of the fax, his eyes flicking back and forth over the text.
ILIES. Fictional character. Main character. Date c/d: 08/01 Author: Viola Vever. Date e/d: 01/05
You requested an image of ILIES from our archives. Thank you for your services. Please note that character copyright no longer belongs to story or author but to Effacing Corps.
Arrel is no longer really looking at the paper, it is almost as if he is staring straight through it. His hands are pale and shaking. Quickly, he holds it out so his friends can see it, but cannot see his face.
“Who ordered this?”
No one moves and no one makes a sound. Arrel sighs. He puts the sheet down on the table, being careful to avert his eyes.
“Alright. I’ll just leave it there until...until you would like to collect it.”
He turns round with a quick composure of his face.
Irim almost lets out a gasp; in that moment, she has never seen a man look so old. She wants to rush forward and hug him, hold onto, plead with him to smile. His is a face that hides no secrets. Arrel is dying. His skin looks as if it is too tight for his face. His eyes no longer glow like that used to.
“Arrel, there’s no harm in asking for a picture of her,” Elamen says cautiously, half way to his feet.
Arrel glances at him with sad eyes.
“No, no,” he protests, “Of course. I know that.”
But he does not explain why he was so shocked to see Ilies’ picture. Irim is still looking at the paper on the desk; has it really only been three weeks? Ilies’ face looks just as it always did, with sunny expression and radiant with life. Irim sometimes goes into her dressing room these days, and stands in the middle of it, looking round at the discarded clothes and props. The hairbrush lying on the countertop from where she dropped it in her haste to reach the stage.
“No hurry, no hurry,” Viola assured her, “Honestly, your worrying!”
“Is this the right costume?” Ilies asked, a little frantically, indicating the red dress with white pleats.
“Of course. You’re far too organised for your own good,” Viola had laughed, even though it was the wrong dress.
It is half seven already. Suth is practising with the lights and trying to find an atmospheric one for rain. He is the most skilled on the technical side of things in the theatre, so works the equipment with a couple of extras called Olis and Pregor, who came as crowd-members for a scene eleven months ago, then sort of lingered.
“Would you like to test a bit of rain?” Suth mutters into a microphone on his jacket.
“Be with you in a tick,” Olis replies.
A stream of water starts tumbling down onto the stage, eliciting a startled cry from Talia and the bad guy, Kirithin, who are rehearsing their scene. Kirithin shoots Suth a suitably evil look then departs on squelching boots to his room. Talia rolls her eyes and darts after him.
“That’s fine, thanks,” Suth tells Olis, sharing a glance with Irim sitting in the aisle, who has to concentrate hard on not laughing.
Arrel chooses that moment to wander in, in full gear, still stuffing his long shirt in and straightening his crown.
“Half an hour till curtain up,” Suth tells him.
Arrel cannot resist letting his eyes rove up to the door at the back of the auditorium.
“Right,” he says, “I’m ready whenever you need me.”
“Approximately twenty seven minutes, fifty six seconds and nine milliseconds then.”
Arrel stares at Suth, who bursts out laughing.
“I’m sorry,” he gasps, “I suppose I’m just really happy to be doing this again.”
Arrel grins, then turns round to study the stage. A few extras are helping set up the palace gardens and Pregor is downstairs directing the movement of props. (“Be careful with that! I brought that over from Roget’s Thesaurus, it’s a priceless original!”)
Experimental bursts of music leak from the speakers on either side. Everything is as it should be and soon everyone will be clearing the stage in readiness for forty minutes or so of performance. Arrel knows his lines and mutters them under his breath. A description will be provided to help him, whatever good that might prove. He is terrified of getting up on stage and having his head filled with nothing but memories of Viola and how she is still not there.
The time she coaxed Atcha out of her room to come and celebrate Christmas with the rest of them.
The times she read to Irim, when she was younger.
The way she would applaud only at the very end of a show, then clap louder than anyone else and for longest.
The time she accidentally set Arrel’s cloak on fire when she was operating the lights and would do nothing but apologise for days, then went out and bought him a bottle of wine and kissed him and apologised again.
Things have been so bad since in these three weeks. Rehearsals are potted with arguments and muffed lines. Performances are without energy. They are all going to try doubly hard today, Arrel knows, and try to get back on track, with or without Viola. They are trying so hard to make things go back to the way they were. Things will get easier. Soon, it will be as if nothing had ever been wrong or bad.
Suth is talking into his microphone again. Already, everyone is moving offstage and heading upstairs or to wait in the wings. Pregor brandishes his clipboard at the extras until they depart to the greenroom, where they can watch the performance on a monitor. Suth, Irim and Arrel give each other a high-five then break away with whispers of,
Arrel clambers up onto the stage. He lays out his script on a stool so he can glance over it when he comes off. His heart is hammering frighteningly fast. This is real thing. He is usually nervous before going on, and it is no better today. There is only Suth and Irim watching from the stalls and a dozen or so extras in the greenroom. So it cannot be them he is frightened of.
The lights are dimming. There is still no sound of banging doors or running footsteps.
“Oh heavens! I’m sorry I’m late.”
“That’s fine, Viola. Glad you’re here. Would you like a front row seat?”
“Thanks, Suth. Elamen! Put that fag out! I can see the smoke. Where’s Arrel? Oh, there you are. Good luck, my darling. You’ll be amazing.”
But it never comes.
And he’s on.
|Lieutenant Arc Ch. 6||Lieutenant Arc, Ch.2|
|All the Stars||Dancing in the Words|
|Hero's Enemy||Lieutenant Arc, Ch. 8|