Her hands were covered in wrinkles and spots. When did these appear? She rubbed the lines and brown blotches, massaging her fingers across bumpy bones and violet veins.
“They’re ready for you, Ms. Thurman.” The production coordinator knocked on her door.
She stood and stared at herself in the mirror. An old woman looked back. Is that really me? She leaned in and applied a dab more blush. Her knotted fingers fluffed her silver hair.
Her shoes were tight so each step pinched her toes. But she could still fit into her high heels! She walked carefully from the dressing room to the stage. The legs of her red pantsuit swished back and forth with every stride. I still have it, Sister.
The audience murmured when she entered. I can still stun. The surge of adrenaline straightened her spine and she strutted to her chair on center stage. Smile! It was always her best feature.
A square table with a white tablecloth was next to the chair on stage. There was a pink rose in a vase in the center. How sweet! But why was the table was set with plates, silverware and glasses of water? A chill circled her chest. She didn’t recall a refreshment break between acts: she never ate on stage. Perhaps it was part of the production set.
A stage-hand helped her into the seat. Her heart sank when she realized only half of the auditorium was filled. She used to sell-out at small theaters like this. Her adoring fans loved her romance advice columns and devoured her books. The television specials didn’t work out too well, but that was the network’s fault. She still had her dignity, and her fans, and that’s what mattered.
“Would you like some tea?” A young stage assistant stood next to her.
“Why would I want tea, dear? I’m about to do my show.” She wondered if she should apply more lipstick—Palisades Pink.
“Of course. You usually order hot tea with honey? For your vocal chords?”
She furrowed her brow. Her tea preference would’ve been in stage notes. “Yes, thanks.”
“I’ll be right back, Ms. Thurman.”
The audience was talking amongst themselves. They were all at tables, too. Were they eating? Good God! This is a supper club. Why didn’t my agent tell me?
She noticed there was no microphone. It should’ve been on the table. Her hands began to shake. She glanced around to see if there was a mic stand, but there wasn’t one. Her heart pounded. They should know she always uses a microphone. She signaled to the assistant.
“I need a microphone. For my presentation in a few minutes. Where’s the microphone?” She could hear the fluster in her voice. It rattled like an old muffler.
“Ms. Thurman, we don’t have a microphone. It’s—”
“Susan, it’s wonderful you joined us today,” the Manager interrupted.
She stiffened. He wore cheap cologne, a striped brown shirt and wrinkled khaki pants. Theater managers should wear suits, not khakis.
“I recognize you. You’re the manager. I was just asking your assistant for a microphone. My vocal chords are more sensitive nowadays. It’s a standard request for all my appearances. Please bring one immediately.” Her needs should be at the top of his list.
The Manager smiled at her. “Susan, we talked about this last week. We don’t use microphones in this room—it’s an intimate dining experience here. People don’t like voices blasting loudly. I’m sure you can understand?”
Why was he speaking to her like she was a three-year-old? She was a professional and required the right equipment.
“Here’s your tea, Ms. Thurman.”
“Did I order tea?” The world was spinning around her. There were too many people on stage.
“Tea. For your vocal chords?” The assistant’s eyes sagged with sadness.
“Tea with honey. Thank you.”
“Let us know if you need anything else.” The Manager walked away.
“Will you at least dim the lights?” She called out to him, straining her scratchy throat. “It’s not the right ambiance for my show. I need a soft, romantic setting. Hello?”
He was already talking to another table.
“Hmph. This theater isn’t what is used to be.”
“Ms. Thurman, would you like to order dinner?” the assistant was back again.
“No, dear. I don’t eat before my show.” She wouldn’t want food stuck in her teeth—that would be embarrassing.
“How about ordering now for after the show? Our special tonight is Chicken Piccata. I know it’s your favorite.”
“How do you know that? I’ve never met you before.” This assistant was bordering on bothersome.
“We’ve met, Ms. Thurman, I’m Natalie and serve you—”
“I can assure you that we’ve never met, dear. I’ve only performed here a few times.” A flicker pricked her brain. Something was familiar. But she couldn’t pin point what.
“Howdy, Miss Susie.” A large woman in floral scrubs sat down next to her.
“Magnolia.” Those deep-set brown eyes and country twang calmed her nerves. Nostalgia flowed through her veins. Here was her favorite person, Magnolia.
“Did I hear you were doin’ a show for us tonight?” Magnolia’s crooked smile melted her heart.
“I thought I was.” She wasn’t sure anymore. Things were all backwards. And why was Magnolia at the theater?
“You asked for a microphone. We both know that shows happen in the activity room. This is the dining room.”
“Dining room?” The sour taste of disappointment filled her mouth. “I thought I was doing a show here.” Stripped of her illusion, she saw the room wasn’t a theater.
“You okay?” Magnolia’s warm hand patted her back.
Heartache washed over her like a waterfall cascading over a cliff. Westwood Retirement Home’s diners were waiting for their dinners, not for her performance.
Magnolia disappeared; so did the imaginary stage.
Natalie waited to take her dinner order.
She sat upright to show her dignity was intact. “Chicken Piccata, please.”
“Tea with honey. For my vocal chords.”
Kassia has been a storyteller her entire life. She writes both long form and short fiction. She enjoys the characters that rattle around her brain when she writes a novel and the adrenaline shot she gets from birthing a short story. She is a proud member of the Sound Writers Group based in Kitsap County, WA. Kassia wrote this piece specifically for Context!