Thursday, March 31, 2011

4:51 p.m. A Short Story

The left armrest of Balcony Row B62 is nowhere to be found. The right armrest, barely affixed, dangles precariously from the seat. There must have been a mistake. Peter checks the scuffed placard against his ticket. There has been no mistake. Begrudgingly, he unfolds his seat cushion, whose springs release a wicked cackle that provokes glances from nearby patrons. Peter sits down, with his coat on.

Over the telephone, the opera house manager promised a good view. But on this evening, the only view to be had is the eczema-ridden spot of scalp, surrounded by an ever-thinning non-mass of violet-white hair, belonging to the ticket-carrying octogeniarian in the same seat, one row up. Her view, as far as Peter can surmise, is unobscured. Her arms rest, comfortably. She is also the tallest old person Peter has ever seen. He tries not to stare.

For one day’s pay, this is what he could afford: purple hair, baldspots and big heads, which jointly block an inconsequential sliver of a toy-sized stage. And she will be here any moment. Balcony Row B63 is hers to fill.

The house lights flick twice. 5 minutes. The audience manically settles and clucks. Its pitchy collective voice competes with the tuning pit orchestra. Still, the only sound louder than Peter’s thumping heart is the tocking second-hand of his grandfather’s wristwatch, on whose eggshell face he now focuses. April 14th.

They met two weeks before, on a blind date their friends encouraged. She had called. She suggested April 1st because it would be funny. Peter didn’t think it was funny. She said she was excited to meet him — she had heard so much — and she gave him the address of a restaurant in her neighborhood. The evening had gone surprisingly well, aside from an unbearable greeting in which Peter — who from childhood has suffered hand placement anxiety — first, did not return his date’s friendly wave upon entering the restaurant, and second unintentionally ignored her outstretched hand when she introduced herself.

Alice, she said. I’m Alice.

Peter had never enjoyed an affinity for sweets. Once a year, he would have a small carrot cake for his birthday. The dessert, though, was mostly to appease his friends. But when he saw Alice — smiling, pink-lipped, pony-tailed and willing to overlook his initial fumblings — Peter could not shake the uncontrollable urge to 1. Devour a strawberry ice cream cone, and 2. Mentally — and privately — collect the world’s longest list of sweet-tooth-related come-ons. She was refreshing, alive, beautiful. In a word: lovely.

Over dinner, he learned that Alice liked Frisbee and the smell of gasoline. She also loved the ballet.

As a fisheries wildlife specialist, Peter had done many things within the spectrum of boring to adventurous. He had, however, never been to the ballet. And at that moment, nothing in life sounded more exciting than going to the ballet with her. Later, with hands-in-pockets, Peter walked Alice home. At her door, he nervously asked if she’d like to go to a performance. She smiled. Yes of course. I know the manager. I’ll books us tickets.

“No,” Peter replied, “Let me. I’d love to.” It was a date. A second date. For a brief instant, just before Alice opened the door, Peter was conscious that he might actually be glowing.

Which is why the current situation is unacceptable. Discreetly, Peter whisks away the beads of sweat that form along his hairline. The curve of his nostril is warm and damp. He catches the faint stench of mildew the never seems to leave the fiber of his jacket. He considers ordering champagne. Quickly, he hops into seat B63 to check the view. It’s not good.

The lights dim. Her seat is empty. Peter wonders if she took one look and left.

But Alice is on her way. She’s almost there. And she is excited. In the middle of the second act, both armrests will fall off her chair. He’ll hold her hand. In the dark, they will steal glances like the teenagers at the multiplex on Friday nights. How strange, she’ll think, that this is the very opposite of perfect, when it is, in fact the most perfect she’s felt in five years.

Like Peter, Alice has done many things within the spectrum of boring to adventurous. But until this evening, she has never run so fast from the subway to make it before the curtain rises. And nothing in life has sounded more exciting than running to the ballet to be with him.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

More please