Have you ever waited too long to move toward a special person—to connect with him or her letting them know how you feel– see where it goes? That wonderful old standard song, Send In The Clowns, says it all. Here’s a short story holding the mirror up to just such a man in just such a situation...
Back through the doors of time into the shadows of what had been, my mind lingers on her words. Striding down the hall backstage Royal Albert theatre, I look for my manager to see if he’s had any success in finding her.
The air in my lungs feels as stale as my chances.
“Pardon, Mr. Graeme.” I knock shoulders with one of the stage crew as we narrowly avoid each other in the dim passage. I grumble something unintelligible, not wanting to start anything I haven’t the time to finish.
If I’ve lost her my life might just as well be over.
Round the final bend and out the access door, I burst into the public area not giving a damn. A clutch of hens turn toward me, recognition obvious on their pretty plasticine faces.
“Graeme,” one squeals, grasping the arm of the girl next to her. I nod, but blast by them like a train on fire. Their disappointed whines fade behind me as I press through the theatre access door, nearly running over a duo of ushers.
Celebrity has its benefits, but I’ll be damned if I can see even one at the moment.
“Charlie.” The strain in my voice feels like nails on chalkboard down my spine. My manager turns around, hand on the seatback of the chair at the end of the row.
His expression darkens as his glance alights on me.
“What the fu—are you doin’ out here?”
“You found her?” The random crisscrossing of patrons through aisles and rows attests to the emptying of the hall. Only ten minutes since the end of the concert and already it’s reaching empty.
“You know it’s considered rude to text during a performance.”
“Fuck you, Charlie.”
He lifts a hand to my shoulder and gives a firm squeeze. “It’s not worth bein’ assaulted by women.”
“I don’t care about that. Did you manage to get the ushers to co operate?”
“I don’t know how brilliant you think I am, but–”
“Enough to find one tall American in a crowd of bent over blue hairs.”
“Jaysus, man. I’m your manager Graeme, not the bloody Pope.”
I break from his grasp and charge down the aisle toward the stage. The receding crowd blurs in my peripheral vision and I focus on the front five rows. To far stage left there’s a man in business suit towing a woman along next to him. She a tall statuesque blonde, navy woolen coat buttoned snug against her.
The sudden tightness through my chest feels like the rush of some drug bent on paralysis. My feet refuse to move and I gap at the image before me. Like some bad instant replay at a world cup match, she sidles across the aisle as though in slow motion. The overhead lighting filters through her hair, a soft sheen of spun gold. Alabaster skin contrast against the dark blue of her coat, she moves with grace in a decidedly ungraceful situation. Penny arcade likenesses of her flip in front of my eyes, remembrances of photos she’d sent along with her letters of appreciation.
“They’re fookin’ fanmail, man”. Charlie’s voice scratched through my brain like steel wool. Why had I listened to him?
They came to the end of the row and entered the aisle. Move!
My feet become unglued but remain leaden as I make way to the nearest row of seats. Their progress toward the exit outpaces me. My thighs burn with unused lactic acid, the remnant of primordial necessity. This was no time for escape, but if I didn’t catch her before she disappeared into the crowd, the virtual saber toothed tiger on my tail might as well take me.
Across the curve of seats, my knee hits the metal back of one of them knocking my kneecap with the unmistakable sting of a funny bone.
“Jenny.” Her name exits my lips in a rush, volume swallowed by the crowd and my inability to grasp the moment. I may be over six foot tall and ostensibly a man of some athleticism, but my approach to the woman of my dreams might as well be happening to a fifth form school boy.
No world-renowned celebrity of silver screen lives inside my skin at the moment. I am after all just a man.
A man in love.
Miracle of miracles, she turns. Recognition immediate on her face, she pauses, releasing the hold she has on the man’s hand. A quick jerk of her head toward him and he nods understanding, turning back to exit.
She stands ahead of me but a short row of theatre seats away yet I am immobile. I stare at her, the weight in my chest as though someone has dropped a hippopotamus atop my sternum. I send a hand to my jaw rubbing the week’s growth of beard as though the reminder of my age and status will somehow do me good.
My mouth is open like some fish gaping for air. Clamping it shut, I draw in a deep breath. My chest hurts, suddenly vacant.
She walks toward me. Why can’t I move? I’ve been waiting for this moment for—forever.
When you find her you’ll know it. Mum’s voice echoes in my internal ear. Never let your film makin’ get in the way of your heart. It’ll be there tomorrow, but she may not.
The last red carpet opening had found her more melancholy and enigmatic than usual. She’d never made any mention of wanting me to settle down, never dropped the heavy hints most mums would of a son fast approaching middle age and never married.
“Graeme.” Her voice was honey. More than my sweetest imaginings the American accent never sounded better.
“I’m sorry.” I apologized. Not exactly the first words I’d imagined saying to her, they were nonetheless the truth.
She extended a delicately graceful hand. “It’s very nice to meet you.”
I took it in mine. It was warm.
Shaking off my surprise, I pulled her to my chest and held her close. Light vanilla spice filled my head. Her fragrance was like a cozy winter’s afternoon in the kitchen meets feral allure. There was something definitely primal about this woman. Jaysus.
She pulled away eyes connecting to mine. “I’m surprised you are here.”
What an ordinary thing to say. How could I not be here? She was here.
“Uh…You told me. Your letter said–”
“That was months ago.” The matter of fact statement had an edge of judgement to it.
“Yes. I was otherwise engaged. My manager intercepted most of what you wrote and simply didn’t realize–”
“That I am a human being with real feelings and blood running through my veins?”
Ouch. She was right. My fan mail sorting service was meant to keep letter writers happy—never to deal with the incisive nature of a woman such as she.
Her gaze held no malice in spite of the sting of her words. The gray blue of her eyes was liquid sincerity and the organ in my chest that was labeled as my heart seemed suddenly inadequate to the task.
“I wrote to you for months, Graeme. I told you about my life and aspirations. I connected the dots between my life and yours. I asked the right questions and filled in some of the answers with what I felt was your world as projected through your eyes.” Her eyes became suddenly moister.
“But that wasn’t enough.”
“It was.” I grasped her hand and squeezed. “It is.”
“You never wrote back.” Her words drove into my heart like nails.
“I had bad counsel. I didn’t see the truth of it. Of your insight into me.”
“You didn’t have the time.”
I had no response. How could I? She was right. I’d let the demands of my celebrity run my life. I’d allowed the definition of the job to define me in spite of the fact I’d sworn I never would.
I’d become the man on the film posters.
“I think I love you,” I said. God…the truth of it cut me to the quick.
What I expected to see in her eyes was a return of the same. She knew me, after all, better than I know myself. She’d written the truth of it through the months. The truth I’d ignored in favor of believing there were no sagacious fans.
“I wasn’t just a fan.”
Another slash—acid to the heart.
My eyes dropped to the carpet no longer able to look at her.
“I saw you. The man behind the mask. You weren’t a character or an actor. You were you. You were the boy who grew up in the streets without a father. You were the struggling man with a dream to touch hearts. You were the man who stole so many hearts of women around the world who saw into those beautiful deep eyes of yours to the man who lived to uplift and inspire.”
My gaze reengaged hers.
“You were real.” There was an edge of hardness in her stare. Was it some sort of armor?
“I still am.”
“You aren’t.”She lifted three fingers to the center of my chest. “Not in here.”
“I am,” I contested.
“You left him behind when the phone started to ring.”
“I’ve always steered what I’ve taken on.”
“Until the lights got to bright and too many people wanted you.”
I looked into her—into those eyes I’d seen only in photographs. There was sincerity. She knew her mind and spoke it. Sincerity in what she said, integrity in what she’d done.
“What’s his name?” I looked into her eyes a moment longer then toward the door where the man who’d held her hand waited.
“Is he good to you?” I sounded like I’d known and loved her all my life.
I looked back into those beautiful gray eyes.
“Good.” I lied.
Every dream I’d ever had stood in front of me. Every iota the woman who’d been made to know the darkest corners of my soul and love me still. Every millimeter a self made person, an introspective version of myself with one caveat.
She’d not sold out.
And in that moment, I knew she was right. The lure of the limelight had devoured that part of me I’d promised it never would. I’d chased the glamour and called it by another name—legacy. I signed the contracts, made the films, promoted the product all in the name of making a difference. What I’d really gotten was fame—famous.
Yeah, some of my stuff would live on. My work touched lives. The kudos and the accolades poured in along with the inevitable nay sayers who thought I was rubbish. Was I rubbish?It sure felt like it.
I’d lost the best thing to ever—not happen to me.
“Take care, love.” I leaned to her, placing a soft kiss at her cheek.
And as I drew back, I looked into her face.
“Goodbye Graeme.” She turned and walked toward the door.
“Goodbye,” I whispered.