Dennis twists a skeleton key into a rusty iron lock and pushes open the heavy double doors. Betty follows close behind him into the empty theater where makeup, lights, costume, and music are distant memories of their performance here many years ago. After the incandescent lights sprinkle them with brightness and the wooden panel doors close, outside sounds of traffic muffle. Shadows fall across the inner framework of the empty stage before them.
With their lives finished, they arrive like a pause in a conversation or as a pair of drawn curtains at a play’s intermission. They delay their journey from mortality to immortality. Dennis has waited to bring Betty to his place beyond the final gasp of breath and the last thump of a heart. It is a place atheists do not believe in, scientists ridicule as chemical reactions, and religious speakers envision wrong. It is simply a place further along a widening path where pain is silenced.
Silently, they go to the back of the large stage. Their pallid figures convalesce as they disappeared behind heavy musty curtains which are long and massive. Soon they reappear tugging and pulling two wooden wardrobe trunks out to the center of the stage.
As they both look at the shut trunks, Dennis remembers from childhood riding his bike to the farthest edges of his playground world wanting to go beyond, but knowing he had to go home. The shut trunks are the edge of his new playground and he realizes he must open them before going beyond.
“This is a good assortment of clothes,” Dennis says as they grind the trunks open.
“What are we doing with all this?” Betty asks. Her short, slender figure is frail and the path to this theater took a good part of her strength.
“We’re putting on a play. Ta-da!” Dennis flops on a large felt hat with an oversized crushed feather that drifts off to the side of his head. The yellow and blue feather, set against the green felt, is like a sun dancing over a plush lawn.
“I like this, but where’s our script?” Betty asks.
“We’ll make it up. I’ll start.” Dennis excitedly slips on a dark red shirt over his own as he kicks off his shoes. Turning toward the seats, he looks upward at the high plaster ceiling etched in spirals, twists, and circles.
Dennis sweeps his hand smoothly over his head. “Picture fireworks bursting in a clear night sky. Two people watch the glowing, sparkling, exploding colors as they watch each other. She sees the bursting fireworks reflect in the color of his brown eyes. He is witness to expressions of amazement and joy on her flushed face. From these beginnings, I am born into this world.”
As Dennis moves forward onto center stage, his low voice resonates in the theater. His words search the empty seats for an ear to receive them. “My chest of red is for the life blood that flows in my heart and through my body.”
As Dennis retreats toward the trunks, Betty slips on a large blue dress over her clothes and tosses off her shoes. In the middle of the stage she proclaims, “I arose from the shuffle of a card deck and a pint of tequila. I am here born a blue baby with no breath to breathe, but of strong will to survive. I am a dancer among the poverty that greets me.” Across the stage, she tries a series of steps, leaps, hops, and spirals that terribly impresses Dennis.
Dennis runs forward in bulky pants with legs melted together to look like an ankle length skirt. He slid easily on his knees with arms outstretched to catch an audience applause that is not there. “I arrive to travel through the courts and judgments of the world reaching toward the frontier of adulthood. Swiftly, in the most royal of courts, male adolescence adores the ladies of Venusian fame.”
“But, it’s a court of questionable appeals.” Betty returns to the trunks dropping the dress and wrapping an emerald green sash around her neck and head. She puts on a clown’s red nose and covers her body in a bright, multi-color blanket as she swaggers to the front of the stage. “The girls of adoration are wild with emotion, as wild as hemlock poison flowing in ancient Rome. All male philosophers beware of the great female presence; youthful talkers in their adolescence rage.”
Dennis returns to the front of the stage with a yellow cape flowing and curling behind him. On his head he balances a black derby. “A wish for protection from the causation that will occur when macho energy meets alluring sentimentality. The manly philosophers look for truth as the great feminine talkers look for sympathy. Neither listens to corporeal life.”
“And after causation, which effect comes first — love or the relationship? A fluttering heart breaks, repairs itself, and starts again in a revolution of many sorts.” Betty says before withdrawing to the trunks.
“Amid the revolution of experience, a rite of passage and tingling anticipation waits. Direction is wanted, but not found. . .”
“Wait!” Betty shouts as she holds up a doll the size of a small baby. “Excitement brings a child and partners for life. Is this child safe? What dreams can it reach? What parental regrets can it make into accomplishments?” She tosses the doll high in the air to Dennis who catches it securely with both hands.
Dennis ties the cape on the doll. “Look, the child begins to grow with strength and bravery.”
“Hopefully. Can it survive under that pressure?” Betty says after pulling on a puffy sleeved, lavender blouse and slipping into black, high heels. Precariously she tiptoes about the stage with arms outstretched for balance. “To work go the baby’s parents.”
Rummaging in the trunks, Dennis finds the Greek masks of sadness and happiness. “Responsibility is the driver within this orb of our lives,” he says switching the masks back and forth. “I look for purpose as I seek positive and avoid negative in this sullen world of respite and work.”
“As I gradually became what I became, I tried to learn from mistakes of mine and others,” Betty says returning to the trunks. She throws off her costumes and puts on a cumbersome coat. A wide brim hat hides part of her face and shields her eyes with her silver hair enclosing around her chin. “And the children grow and, yes, they become what they are to become through our fault or not. Is it destiny? Is it fate? Is it their decision or ours or no ones? There is lack of understanding.”
Dennis puts down the masks and throws off his costumes. On his head he adjusts a wig with long, curly dark fibers masquerading as hair. The wig remains crooked and the dark imitations of hair hide parts of his face.
Betty giggles as she faces him on the opposite side of the trunks. She looks cosmopolitan in her hat dapperly cocked to the side in Bogart style. “It doesn’t fit your dramatic presentation. What must we fit into this later stage of our lives? Ensuing life crisis or the search for uniqueness? We are survivors of a daily routine.”
“We must look for experience to paint our sameness with color.”
“What a crock. I’ve had my fill of experience and I look for continuation of my sameness,” she says with hands on hips and a wry smile.
They look at each other for a brief moment, then dash wildly into the costumes strewing them haphazardly across the waxed stage floor.
Betty holds a blue chiffon dress before her. It looks like dry antiquated paper in her hands. “The children are grown, our task is finished. We face each other too much.”
“But, I’m right here to be with you. We’re in love again.” Dennis holds a bow tie to his neck while wearing gold rimmed glasses.
“No, I’m afraid you die,” Betty says matter-of-factly throwing down what pieces of clothing she has in her frail hands. “And I’ve got to dispose of your body and confront your photographs.” Disheartened, she suddenly loses interest in the play.
“That is the nature of things.” Dennis places his clothing thoughtfully into a trunk. “The arrows of time decay physical form with tendrils of age. Death comes in this clockwork universe.”
They walk slowly to the end of the stage and sit dangling their legs over the edge like children. Dennis wants to continue having fun and play, but their improvised play is over. Unexpectedly, they are emotionally exhausted. As the theater begins to fill with mortal people, Dennis and Betty slip off the edge of the stage passing cold chills through people with lives to be completed.
Published July 1, 2000, by New England Writers’ Network