by Kristen Perkins
The streets were brightly lit, casting pools of lights in various colors, making the brightly clad insects below alien humanoids with skins of shifting greens and yellows, reds and blues. All were hurrying in a way that seemed rashly calculated.
The lights descended like sunlight through the broken glass bottles on the drunk’s porch; the projected souls of bad memories and bad drinking songs. They were the northern lights, heavenly and harsh. Like God’s judgment, descending light clothed in darkness. Beautiful. It is an illusion.
The people below look up at the signs, unfiltered, uncouth, and undignified. And below the light these worlds move self-importantly. They have elevated themselves – higher than the lights, higher than the signs, higher than the air where they can suffocate in triumph.
They shuffle into theaters now. Funnel through the grand doors until there is a silence in the streets. The silence lasts, the stillness unbroken and time passes. A minute, an hour or a day passes in a stillness. And then an impermanent strolls out from behind a theater. He lights a cigarette and inhales deeply. It is not a gesture of the overworked actor needing relaxation. It is a gesture of heavy lidded sophistication — he is bragging. He lounges green skinned against the wall of the theatre. The stoic usher stares at him sideways, jealous.
The impermanent lets out a puff of smoke. He has been training an entire week for this moment, for today and nothing else matters. Today he will be noticed, today he will be liked, and today he will be famous. There will be an audience full of important people who will see him, love him, want him.
The smoke rises green until it disperses above the lights into blackness.
He checks his watch, his hand is a green that he does not notice. He still should have some time before his entrance but he ambles back around just in case the show is moving a bit faster than normal. In the green room he sees a permanent actress changing costume. He can’t remember what role she plays. He knows she has had years of training and feels smug. Tonight he will become as famous and more liked. He has heard of other impermanent that were so good that thousands came to their funeral. He will have a thousand people come to his funeral – this he thinks.
The impermanent master nods at him and steps outside the green room to hear the actors onstage. The familiar words, it is almost time now and he steps back into the green room, gestures at the impermanent.
The impermanent swaggers forward. Together they make their way backstage. The master centers the impermanent on the taped-out X. As he waits for the cue-line he tries to remember the name of the impermanent. He tries to do this every night as a nice gesture. He has never heard the name but it was on the roster, one for every day. He thinks it starts with a J but can’t remember. He tries to remember every night. He never can. He supposes that it doesn’t really matter, he will find out tomorrow from the newspaper.
He hears the cue line and pushes the impermanent (John, Jacob, Jim?) out into the bright light of the stage. The master stays to watch; he always does. Like the glittering beetles of the audience, he never gets tired of watching this. This is exciting, gritty, real.
The impermanent feels the push and then he feels the lights. He feels the roughness of his costume against his skin. He feels his skin, his muscles, his blood. He staggers, falls. He is kicked in the side hard, a sharp pain and the breath leaves him. He feels exhilarated; He knows that all those people are watching. Watching him. Someone shoves him up and he scrambles to his feet. He is punched in the stomach. The crowd loves him. Pain wracks him and he doubles over. A hand grabs his hair, shoves his face up and slaps him. Blood fills his mouth and he spits it onto the stage. He doesn’t fight back. It’s part of the rules.
Someone grabs him from behind and holds his arms back while another punches him again and again then kicks him in the shin. His weight drops, muscles giving out, giving up, but the permanent behind him is strong enough to hold him upright. The audience cheers, they love this part. They clap and the impermanent fights back a smile.
The master impermanent watches from the side enviously. He is transfixed even though he knows that tomorrow the clothes will be sown back together, the blood wiped away, and another impermanent pushed onto the stage. He will watch it again. He always will. From the dark sidelines he is entertained, clapping along with the audience. Watching this reality.
Onstage the impermanent feels this reality. He feels the blood pounding his body. Feels it as if he was there in those veins, feels the push and the shove from his heart outwards, feels the burning of his bruises and the ooze of his cuts. He feels exalted. He tastes sweat dripping into his mouth just from the pure exertion of feeling pain and those bright lights. Something inthe back of his throat tastes spoiled. He hears himself groan.
Strangely, despite the overwhelming pain and ecstasy that fills him he also feels the heat from those lights. It warms his entire body like sunlight on a pleasant spring day. It feels like childhood and tastes like chocolate melting. It smells like winter blankets, and sounds like bee’s. It is comforting, soothing even. It is the hot breath of a lover’s sigh against his neck.
They have taken out knives now. The audience has forgotten their aloof dignity. They have forgotten their impassive smiles. There is clapping and shouting, some jump up in their excitement. They cheer and clap each other’s shoulder, pointing as if their neighbor isn’t just as engaged.
Onstage the impermanent feels their love as he feels the blade of a knife cut into his stomach. He is submerged in glory and pain.
He falls down at the edge of the stage, his hands around his stomach. His face towards the audience, he sees a woman with her child balanced on her knee in the front row. The women is smiling broadly and the little girl is clapping her hands in the distinct way of childhood, palms together, fingers splayed. She laughs a tinkling laugh that he can imagine but cannot actually hear over the roar. He smiles at her as he feels his own blood pool around him, dark red and slightly sticky.
The master impermanent recognizes this part from where he stands backstage. This is the moment when the impermanent will lie there, unmoving and bleeding but not yet dead. The audience holds a collective breath. They see his chest rise up and down but he is down, he is done, he is dying.
The impermanent has very little time left. He has no time for his life to flash before his eyes. He has no time for regret — he hears the cheering. He has no time for sadness or anger, no time to fight back, no time for introspection, no time for a cathartic realization.
He does have time for some things. He has time for pain, for undeniable, indefinable, unconquerable pain. For pain that he’s never felt before. For pain of such severity that will prevent him from ever feeling pain again. For ever feeling again. For pain that pounds through his head, through his body and explodes outward pounding the walls of the theater. He has time for this.
He has time too, endless time, for rapture. For rapture, those seconds stretch to years. He has the time of the immortals for rapture. Rapture fills him, fails him. He is lifted up in ecstasy, spiraling above the people, above the light and the signs and the air. He believes as he dies now that he will be lifted up into immortality. Not in any heavenly or divine sense but immortalized in the minds of all those audience members, in the papers and magazine printing his name, his smiling picture.
He dies now on the verge of laughter. And his flawed heart ,‘twixt two extremes of passion, joy and grief, burst smilingly. The people watch, a couple let out a strangled cheer or a gasp. There is a pause and then applause, so loud and long that a permanent has time to drag the body away. The impermanent leaves a trail of blood that glistens in the lights.
The master impermanent goes back to the green room. He never stays for the rest. The real show is over. He picks up a magazine; the cover has an impermanent for a show he saw last week. A brilliant scene where they had her drawn and quartered. He thought it was a historical drama but he can’t be sure.
The show is almost over. There is a concluding scene. The lights darken. Then the stage is flooded with light again. There are bows, a cadaver is brought onstage and there is tremendous applause. It has been a good show.
Outside the usher still stands against the door. He checks his watch; the show has run over by two minutes. Then people stream out. Blue and red and yellow people. He hears them talking about the impermanent’s scene. It is their favorite. Again the usher is envious. He holds open the door, this is his purpose, and like any doorstop he goes unnoticed.
The people walk quickly and talk about their new understanding of the genocide and how terrible it was. The men nod impressively and the women look sad. What a terrible time that was. They all agree, but what a great performance. Yes they all agree and then smile. Especially “that one part”, “that one scene”, no more specification is needed.
There is a funeral scheduled for tomorrow. No one will come – of course not. The newspaper might edit in a crowd but maybe they won’t have too. In tomorrow’s paper, they spell his name wrong. No one will correct them.
The people hurry off, blue and red and yellow. The usher locks the door and slips away. The lights are turned off, god’s abandonment. The master impermanent is the last to leave. He pauses on the dark street to breathe in deeply. Breathing in all the shadows and for the briefest moment, shorter than a second, he grasps those shadows, that darkness, inhales an understanding. But it is gone too quick to comprehend and his mind turns to other matters. A flicker of a name skirts around his recollection but he doesn’t try to remember, that is not his job. He is the master impermanent, he doesn’t know them, but he delights in their death.
Kristin Perkins is a freshman at BYU in the Theatre and Media Arts college. She is an actor, writer and mediocre balloon artist. She worked as a theatre critic for a year being published by a website that is now extinct (it is not her fault). She likes escalators, Kurt Vonnegut, a boy named Nick and taking apart things like pens and broken electronics. When she was little she regularly decapitated Barbies and preferred to play with sticks.