Alex Patriquin

Marginalia & found poetry. Short fiction and other projects. Musings  on startups. Photos from NYC and travels.

Stage Lines

Vera Burghal did her best to ignore the dozen red roses at the edge of her makeup table. They could burn so close to the lightbulbs on the mirror.

There was a knock on her dressing room door.

"Don't let it be Harry," she muttered under her breath, wiping the cold cream off of her crow's feet. "Come in!"

It was Thalia, in costume. "Well, well, looks like someone's got a secret admirer," Thalia winked at her reflection, maneuvering her billowing silk dress around the wardrobe closet.

"Ugh, I wish. At least there would be a bit of mystique," Vera said, drawing a mole with a red pencil on the round of her cheek.

"Come now, honey," Thalia said in her Big Mama accent, "There are lies told simply for the pleasure of lying, as Saint Augustine says."

"Poisons," Vera got into the act, "Venomous thoughts and words! In hearts and minds - That's poisons!"

"Listen," Thalia squealed with porcine relish, "there's going to be a critic from the New Yorker in the house tonight."

"The New Yorker?" Vera whisked some extra mascara off her eyelash. "What would The New Yorker want to do with a threepenny stage in a seaside elbow like this?"

"I don't know. Maybe he's up on vacation with his family. Maybe's he's got a taste for the local shellfish. Who knows? All I know is that Richard wants us all to be fabulous tonight. FAB-U-LOUS," Thalia said, a dead imitation of their flamboyant director.

"Ladies, your adoring public awaits." It was Harry, hovering at the door, ready-to-roll in his white seersucker suit and suspenders.

"Well, hey there Big Daddy!" said Thalia, back in her Southern drawl. "Don't worry 'bout him, honey," she whispered to Vera, standing to leave, "He's just an old dog on the paw for some new tricks."

"Now you best scurry on back to the kitchen, Big Momma," Big Dadddy née Harry chuckled, patting Thalia's ample rear as she flew out of the dressing room. "And check to see that Lacey's got them butter biscuits cookin in the oven!"

"What can I do for you, Harry?" Vera said flatly, doing her best to ignore Harry's grandeur in her mirror.

Harry saw himself, his ridiculous Southern Gentry get-up, the 120 watt bulbs of her dressing table lighting up his liver spots.

"Come, come now, darling." It was poor old Harry again. "I just came to say hello. Let's let the ice between us melt, Vera. I miss you. Truly."

Vera leveled her eyes at him in the mirror. "I know it was you who leaked our little dalliance to the paper, Harry."

Harry shuffled on his feet, heaving deeply. He ambled over by Vera's dressing table. His gaze lingered longer than necessary on the little card affixed to the roses, though Vera's glare did not avert.

"So, what if I did, Vera?” asked Harry, falling into the folding chair. “Will you begrudge a washed-up old man a sliver of your spotlight?"

He is head sank nearly down to his two-tone shoes. Who was this puppy of a man before her? She resisted the urge to lift one his suspenders and shake it like a collar.

There was going to be a critic from the New Yorker in the audience tonight. It wasn't enough that she be in her finest form. She needed Harry to be too.

"Don't talk to me about has-beens," Vera turned towards him and shot daggers. "I've seen plenty of puppy-dog men like you trample into my life and shit on my carpet before."

Harry sprang up, knocking back the folding chair with a clang. He stared into her icy eyes and his jaw hardened.

"You're right, Vera. If anyone doesn't need to hear about has-beens, it's you."

Vera bit inside her lip, but not enough to let him see.

Harry walked to the dressing room door, knocking through boas and dresses. At the door, he wheeled around on his heel. Their eyes locked in the mirror - a pair of caribou about to lock ornate horns.

"Still, I've got to hand it to you, Vera. Even without our “little dalliance”, as you call it, your story makes quite the lede. Despite her age, Ms. Vera Brughal steals the show as the much-younger Maggie in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof."

He turned on his heel again, and slammed the door behind him.

A few minutes later, the backstage lights flickered. She scurried to take her place behind the curtain.