Haunted -- flash fiction by Asha Cook
I look one last time into the audience– past the stage lights, past my doubt– for you before I’m dragged down by a line of people connected to me for a group bow. When we lift back up, I cast my eyes to the ground, refusing to look out again. I know what’s there. I’ve been looking for the past two hours, hoping the door at the top of the theater would swing open, letting in all the light and reality from the outside world, to reveal you at the top of the stairs, waiting. I might’ve paused or broken character or stumbled over my words, but I wouldn’t have cared. You would’ve smiled at me and all would have been right. Instead, I let myself be led into the darkness of the wings as something fiery gathers in the back of my throat, making me afraid to even open my mouth.
I push the doors open and am met with offensively bright hallway lights that make everything move slower as my eyes are desperately scanning for a place to seek refuge, and the more time that passes, the closer I am to losing my grip on the frayed thread that’s holding me together. I finally decide on a place and rush towards it, my hands grabbing the cool metal handle before throwing myself inside, slamming the door shut, and locking it. For a moment, I just lean against the bathroom door, relishing the silence as everyone else changes in sealed off dressing rooms and the audience collects themselves in the theater, leaving me between them in a space I’ve created for myself before falling apart anywhere else. I know this small island I’m on can only last so long before it is invaded by the actors and viewers wanting to finally meet. It’s opening night and almost everyone will have someone waiting for them. Except me.
For years, we’ve waited for this. From the very beginning when my roles were only named out of politeness, you were there. You swore you always would be. You promised over and over that one day, when I got the lead, you would be in the front row, opening night, with flowers in your hand. Who was I not to believe you? Now I’m standing in the bathroom, gripping the sink, shaking, trying to control laughter that would surely become tears if I let it out. I face myself; a girl with a painted face and carefully done hair in a costume that feels like it’s swallowing me whole all alone, and my heart sinks. The air around me feels wrong and I want to tear through my skin to breathe. I want to shatter the mirror in front of me and feel myself disappear. I want to be held together. You should have been here, I think, I needed you to be here. I hear the people getting anxious outside the theater door and the talking from the dressing rooms gets louder as people start to approach the door to leave. I exit the bathroom and join the people still changing and try to get out as quickly as possible.
After I finish, I weave through the crowds of people now in the hallway, greeting their friends and family members and receiving praise. The laughter and light chatter is almost deafening and as I’m pushing my way, I find I’m still looking for you and my eyes begin to sting at the ridiculousness of it all. As soon as I get outside, the cold wind hits my face and it sparks a feeling of freedom in me. I finally let go of the thread and feel myself come loose under the ink-stained sky and a white cloud escapes my mouth. It reminds me that I’m still breathing. My father comes to pick me up and as we drive away from the school, something clicks into place, and before I let myself cry, I open the window to leave it all in the night air.
Asha Cook is an aspiring film director and screenwriter who spends her days dancing, reading, learning piano, and planning escapist fantasies. She has maps upon her walls marked with Xs on all the places she’d like to visit and she paints what she thinks her life would be like there. She has a million stories running through her mind and one hope to share them in any form she can. She loves to spend time with her family and friends and bake and embroider sayings onto pillowcases that she imagines will
be helpful in all seasons of her life.