This is a work of fiction, based on the lives of a group of dancer's. The story takes place entirely backstage in a theatre.
The cold metal door shut behind her with a whisper soft click. The icy air enveloped her, pricked her skin like a million wasps, swarming the air around her; yet she did not feel it. Her hands shook as she pulled the cigarette and lighter from her bra. Turning the lighter over in her hand she stared at the bright colors swirling in a bright orange and purple kaleidoscope. The seemingly random pattern had no beginning and no end. Just like her life. She let the flame flicker in the wind, and go out. Relighting it she lit the cigarette dangling haphazardly from her lips. The bright cherry red burn of the tobacco focused her attention. The acrid, subtle smell of the smoke calmed and distracted her. As the nicotine rushed through her system, she relished the rush of sensation. Her body shivered as her mind raced back and forth across the vast savanna of thought.
As she leaned against the door, the beat of the African drums reverberated through the door and her skull. The pounding was an all too familiar beat. Reminiscent of the wild, steamy African Jungle and ancient rituals that no white man had ever dreamed might exist the drums created an echo of stories told through ages unknown. The Africans onstage delved into the rhythm of the music and soaked themselves in the mystic power it provided. The syncopated rhythm of their feet whispered alongside the drums. She knew she should be going back inside. After she finished her cigarette, she promised. And then the rattle of the Israeli tambourines signaled her cue. But she didn't care. She stood there smoking her cigarette, listening to the jingling of the tambourines and the whine of the music. The cigarette smoke hung in a steely grey haze around her head as she rolled her head, savoring the sickness of the act.
The bright red end of the cigarette crept closer and closer to her lips. Soon she snubbed out the butt and retreated from the cold. The door shut behind her; she took the key and locked it behind her. Easing the key around in a circle the satisfying click as the door locked was a sound she relished. Technically, nobody was supposed to leave the building once the show started, but she didn't care. Her little breaks were her only relief. The darkness swallowed her so that she was forced to let her eyes adjust before weaving around the machinery and debris scattered across the scene shop. The faint light off the stage trickled around the corner, aiding her ever so slightly. Her bare feet felt their way instinctively across the concrete floor. The door of the dressing room presented a slight issue but she eased the handle down slowly and lifted as it swung open. Pleased with the silence, she slipped silently behind the curtain and hurried to change her costume.
"Where were you?" The inquirer was a tall, thin blonde. She too stripped off her Israeli costume in favor of the black jazz pants of the next number. As she undressed, her pale skin illuminated by the blue backstage light, a small tattoo bearing the words “Remember Me” across her shoulder blade became visible. "We wondered where you were, but we had to go, so we went anyway. Are you okay?"
"Yeah." Sari answered half-heartedly. "I'm fine. I just got distracted." She realized she was lying through her teeth. But she didn’t care anymore. Pulling her shirt over her head, she sighed. "I just hope Margot isn't going to chew my ass off."
"Well, hopefully she didn't notice." The two dancers hurried to finished changing and raced out of the darkness into the faint light of the wings. The show never stopped. Pulling on their shoes, they hopped rather clumsily into their places just off stage, just in time for their cues to start. As the music played, she lost her thought in the choreography, the feel of the stage beneath her feet and the heat of the lights shining down on her. As the mood of the music changed, so did the flow of her thoughts. She was no longer a person but a dancer. Fluid music and motion rippled through her body, a temple for the worship of the eternal thought that is music. She had no thought, no opinion, no emotion. All that mattered was the music and the movement. Soon the music ended and she was back in the wings. Rushing to change into the next costume. The next dance. The next thought. Life outside of the stage ceased to exist; all there was was the theatre. And that was good.
But all too soon, the dance was done. The dancers all filed out to greet the audience, sign autographs, smile, wave and pose for pictures. One by one they trickled downstairs to the makeup room. Each one gave a sigh of relief as the entered the room, but none were so relieved as Sari was. She sat in front of her mirror and gazed at the reflection staring back at her. Not for the first time, she thought This isn't me. I do not know this woman staring back at me. Slowly the makeup flaked off of her face. She paid special attention to her eyes and lips. She removed the makeup off the right side of her face. Staring again, it struck her how much this simple action reflected the mask she felt inside. But her costumes need hanging and she had to get to work.
As one by one the other dancers trickled down, the makeup room filled with laughter. Somebody put 'Chicago' back in the CD player. The lights were brightened, the smell of makeup remover permeated the room. The scurry of preparation was long since gone; the dancers could relax and take their time. It was late, but none of them had anyplace to be. Except Sari. Even just thinking about it made her skin crawl. She hated it, but she needed the money. Such was the sad story of too many women, she had decided a long time ago. She determined that she would take the job, but only out of necessity. The moment something else opened up for her, she was gone. She hated it.
"I told her. She was soooooo pissed. But what is she going to do? It's not like she's paying any of us. I just hope that I can come back later." Lo-lo was pregnant. She was only three months, which was the only reason she had danced in the show. Had she been further along, or worse, showing, there was no way in hell Margot would have let her dance. If Margot had known. Which is why Lo-lo decided to wait until opening night to tell her. When Lo-lo's boyfriend found out, he had run faster than a streak of greased lightning. So Lo-lo would have to raise the baby herself. She would figure out somehow. She was resourceful, she was. She worked two part time jobs and went to school, on top of dancing with the company. Sari was more jealous than she could say. More than anything in the world, she wanted a baby. Not that she would ever, ever, even consider touching a man. But she wanted a baby. She eyed Lo-lo's stomach with a hungry pain. Forcing herself to think of something else, she returned to her own costumes.
"I know. I told you I would be late tonight. Yes, I'm sorry... Alright. I'll be home as soon as I can." Lizbeth danced when she could get out of the house. Everyone knew how Hardy, her husband treated her but Lizbeth refused to see any fault in him. As he drove her to a panicked and miserable existence she bled love for him every night. Sari had eased ointment into more than a few bruises that covered her skin like a purple curse, a plague she wished she could take away from the poor woman.
"Hey, Lizbeth, you ok?" The few words she ever spoke, were always reaching out to the woman.
"I just have to get home. Hardy forgot that I had a performance tonight." She hung her head, ashamed, though she had no reason. "He said he missed dinner. He's quite upset." The frail woman reached up to pull on her earlobe. A nervous habit. Sari was the only one who noticed.
"You know, you don't have to go back to him. Come stay the night at my place. I have to work, but I'll be home in a bit. You can crash on my couch, and we can ride together tomorrow." Sari was trying desperately to save Lizbeth before Hardy killed her. But Lizbeth wouldn't budge.
"I don't know why you keep saying that. I love my husband. Why wouldn't I want to go home to him?" The hazel eyes shifted away from Sari's gaze, they knew the answer, they couldn't ask for help. "And I know he loves me. I just need to be more attentive. That's all." She shrugged on a thin and ragged green plaid coat and cheerfully wished everyone goodnight, escaping out of the makeup room before Sari could say anything else.
As the door closed behind her, Lizbeth relaxed ever so slightly. She knew Sari was right. But she was so afraid. So afraid she was too cold to shiver. Her stomach howled its anger at her. She was so afraid. Afraid to let go. Afraid to ask for help. Afraid to be alone. Afraid of what people would think. So very afraid. Too frightened to even shiver.
Sari walked into warmups, already tired. As if that had any effect on anything. She wiped the tired off of her face and smiled thinly. Only to be met with a room full of sobbing dancers. She didn't know how she knew, but she just knew. Lizbeth wouldn't be dancing with them anymore. Sari sank back into the shadows and bypassed the warmups. She knew that Margot would be pissed, but she didn't care. She couldn't handle dealing with all the grief. She sank into her chair, next to Lizbeth's empty one. She laid her head on her arms, looking at Lizbeth's makeup box. The empty room only hurt more. Suddenly filled with a fury she could not control, she flung the offending box across the room, spilling its contents on the floor. She heard the door open and she looked up to see Lydia the stage manager poking her head in.
"Are you alright? And shouldn't you be doing warmups?" Lydia was a sort of mother figure to the dancers. She kept all the costumes pinned together, the stage hands in line, makeup fresh, hair combed, ankles wrapped, and so much more. She was the glue that held the entire show together. Her salt-and-mostly-pepper hair was cut short, framing her face. A laugh that would challenge Kris Kringle's and a helping hand for anyone. Sari secretly wished that her own mother had been more like Lydia.
"Yeah. No, I'm fine." Sari lied through her teeth. "Just clumsy, that's all." She stooped to cram the makeup back in the box. As her fingers brushed the lipstick and blush, she began to tear. She tried to brush them away, but Lydia saw.
"Liar." Lydia pulled Sari off her knees and looked her in the eye. "Look. She's gone. We have a show tonight, then we can mourn. Right now, you need to do your makeup, and rearrange the placement for the Cabaret number. Okay?"
Sari could not hide the pain in her eyes as she nodded yes. But the pain ran so much deeper than Lydia guessed. Than anybody guessed. So she nodded, looking away as Lydia smiled and said, "Good. Now you'd better hurry up. Mom's not going to be happy you missed warmups." Sari nodded again. She placed Lizbeth's box back at her place as Lydia left Sari alone. She stared at her own reflection, again. The same as she did every night. She sat and she stared until the other girls started to trickle in. Nobody mentioned Lizbeth. It was too painful for everyone. They prepped for the show in almost silence. No one even mentioned 'Chicago'. One by one, the items disappeared from Lizbeth's station. Pieces had been lent to her, had sentimental value. No one was going to let them get thrown out. Soon all that was left were her costumes. Sari took them up just before the show.
Handing them to Margot, she took the criticism for having missed warmups without hearing it. She nodded and tried to look penitent. Margot gathered the company and told them that though Lizbeth's death was a tragedy, they had to put on the show, just like every other night. The show must go on. Bullshit, thought Sari. Absolute Bullshit. But she didn't say it. She couldn't. Margot had her explain the placement for the Fosse piece and the show began.
The door shut behind her again with a whispered click. She hadn't even bothered with the Israeli costume tonight. Her fingers search shakily for a cigarette, then she remembered. She didn't have any. Her last pennies had gone in the gas tank to get here. She would have to do without. She stood in the cold, but did not feel it. She listened to the beat of the African drums, the sounds of the highway, the screams of a far off siren. She began to shudder, not from the cold, but from an uncontrollable sorrow. At first it was a gentle shake, almost imperceptible. She crept backstage, away from the icy air and back into the stage lights. As the show progressed, so did her shaking. By intermission, the girls were asking if she was alright. Yes, she responded hollowly. Just not feeling well. I'll be fine. Halfway through the second half, she walked up to Lydia's lectern. I'm not feeling so well. I need to leave.
You can't, Lydia replied. Try and pull yourself together for the rest of the show. It's not that long. Sari began to sway as she shivered. I can't, she said. She tried to focus, but Lydia had two heads, and then three, and then the world began to swim as she sank into oblivion. Sweet rest, where there was nothing, absolutely nothing.
At last, she slept.