Opening Night

opening-night“Michaela, curtain in five,” came the voice from behind the door. Callie stared at her reflection in the mirror with a tense look on her face. She could hear the reprimanding tones in any utterance of her given name, one she hadn’t heard in years.

Michaela Ambrose. The family lineage dictated by her surname meant one thing. She would be a lawyer, just like her father and grandfather before him. Her brother had accepted his fate graciously. Callie was the black sheep, obstinate and unyielding to the ploys of her shepherding parents.


Callie hadn’t known what she wanted to do with her life. She was only a junior in high school. Why should she be pressured into a decision so early? These arguments fell on deaf ears until Callie became a reclusive and rebellious teenager.

“Michaela, put something appropriate on. We need to leave in five minutes,” scolded her mother.

Another evening at the theater. Just great, thought Callie. More pompous and high falutin snobs, overdressed, and clapping ceremoniously at all the proper moments. It was all so fake. She hated everything about it. Callie knew she’d be forced to dress accordingly. It didn’t stop her from pressing her parents’ buttons. It was the tiny bit of control she seemed to have in her life.

It was about midway through the second act. Callie was disinterested, arms folded, scowl on her face. The actress was dancing delicately across the stage, belting out the signature note of her solo performance, when it happened. Whether it was the glint of bright lights off the reflective brooch in the front row, or simply a lack of concentration, she faltered.

The voice of the actress cracked as she fell to her knees, just a moment of imperfection. As quickly as she stumbled, the actress regained her poise. The collective inhalations from the crowd, however, were deafening. It was such a powerful misstep that even Callie found herself with a need to catch her breath. While everyone else had gasped in dismay, Callie had been drawn into her performance for the first time that evening.

Everything always felt so contrived about these productions. Now this? This was real. It showed the imperfections in humanity. There was a sense of authenticity and vulnerability in failure. Although Callie wouldn’t wish this type of misfortune on anyone, she had to admit that she felt fortunate that it occurred that evening. For the first time in her life, she could identify with someone. With something bigger than herself. The standing ovation awarded by the crowd at the completion of the performance was consolatory in nature. For Callie, however, it was genuine.


That actress had ruined Callie’s life. In her parent’s eyes, at least. The spark ignited on that evening so many years ago, however, allowed Callie to reclaim ownership of her young life. Michaela. She whispered the name to herself. The apprehensive face in the mirror morphed into a grin. It was opening night, in more than one way.

Unspoken voice

its-all-make-believeI am nothing but a figment of your imagination. I am nonexistent in the physical sense. But even imaginary entities deserve a name. Mine is George. I know, it’s a rather plain name. Maybe that explains why it has been such a struggle to have my story told. You see, there are so many other imaginary creatures inside my author’s mind – he is real, by the way – I think. Anyway, these other voices have much more interesting names like Francesca, Isadora, and Anastasia – or Broderick, Ignatius, and Nicodemus. Forget for a few minutes that these voices come in male and female counterparts. That’s another story for another day, if I am able to be heard again. It was difficult enough edging my way into the conscious corner of my writer’s mind this time around.

All those other voices? They have elegant and pretentious sounding names. And the stories they beg to tell prey on the ego of its readers. They weave plot twists together to compose the most daring adventures. They hide magical talismans in the most unlikely but fortuitous locations that lead to wonderful tales of discovery. This is not one of those stories. So, if you are looking to travel around the world, discover hidden treasure, and be surprised by unexpected plot twists, you may as well stop reading now. Well, on second thought, maybe you do want to continue reading. Take a chance, why don’t you?

This is a story about a man. The entire story takes place on a park bench. Pretty interesting, huh? This man has a name, but nobody knows it. It’s Fred, by the way – his name that is. Another one of those plain names. Maybe that’s why his story has remained untold for so long. I can relate, but I digress. I must stay focused lest my creator banish me from existence. I have seen him do it before.

Seated on this park bench, Fred stares at the sidewalk in front of him. He wears a brown hooded jacket and tattered blue jeans that look as if they have been worn for the past week and a half. Truth is, they have probably been worn for much longer than that. He holds a can of peach slices in his one hand, picking out the pieces of fruit from the syrup inside with great care. He doesn’t want to waste the juice. It is sustenance that he needs to help him get through the day.

Fred tilts his head to the side as a mom walks by with her young son. He must be ashamed of his primitive existence here on the bench. He looks away to avoid eye contact. No one has seen his eyes, it seems. People waltz by talking on their cell phone, listening to their music, absorbed in their own world. They are oblivious to the existence of this other human being – one who deserves to have their story heard as much as anyone else. But no one stops to ask what that story is.

He snorts long and hard through his nostrils. The cold fall weather, his clothes that inadequately cover his extremities, and the evident malnutrition has probably led to some medical condition that will never be diagnosed, never treated, and will only cause his health to deteriorate further over time.

It seems like a sad life, doesn’t it? To our materialistic and egocentric selves, yes. But, you see, I think that is why I exist. If only for a fleeting moment, I am that unspoken voice that finally edges his way into the conversation to shed some light on reality – and the truth.

Remember when I said no one knew Fred’s name? No one cared enough to ask? I suppose that’s why I did ask. Well, I can’t ask of course. I don’t exist, remember? But, I somehow coerced my inventor to carry out this request on my behalf. It’s not something he usually does so I was quite surprised by his obliging manner. I was even more surprised – and I think he was too – by what happened next.

“Good morning, what’s your name?”

“Fred.”

Just one word was spoken, and yet the message conveyed through those steel blue eyes spoke a seemingly infinite number of words painted in the most charismatic hues. Time seemed to stand still. Yeah, I know, it’s one of the clichés you find in those other stories. This was no cliché, however – this was real. It was as if the rewind button had been pressed, the movie just witnessed was replayed frame by frame in the space between our collective eyes, momentarily locked upon each other.

Fred stared at the ground – he wasn’t mired in feelings of self-pity and depression. He was watching the line of ants navigating around the twig at his feet. Undeterred, the tiny insects always seemed to find a way to persevere and survive despite their lacking physical endowments. Inspiration from an ant – the same ants that are considered pesky and annoying to the rest of us.

house-wrenFred tilted his head – he wasn’t ashamed of his disheveled appearance or poverty stricken lifestyle. He was simply directing his good ear towards the chirping bird in the tree above him. The house wren was plain and simple in appearance. And yet, he was still able to create beautiful and exquisite music. No one could ever convince him that he should not sing his song to the world. Everyone else misses out on these simple pleasures. We have a cell phone to our ear. We have our latest mile time to beat. We have more important things to worry about. Not Fred. No, not Fred.

Fred snorts through his nostrils – he isn’t sick, not yet at least. No, he is grabbing hold of that crisp fall air as it blows by him. Pulling it back through his nostrils, he inhales it deeply into his lungs. The air, filled with the scent of fall leaves, sends a message to his subconscious mind. He is catapulted back to his childhood, recalling fond memories of jumping into the leaves that his dad had just raked into a tall pile under the giant oak tree in his backyard. He is struck with a sense of humility – and gratitude. Things can change in the blink of an eye. He appreciated what he had now, even if it was only a can of peaches and a second or third hand brown hooded jacket. It could be much worse. Of course, the rest of us look upon this situation and feel a mix of pity, remorse, maybe even anger – surely, it couldn’t get any worse than this – and geez, all you have to do is get off your butt and do something. You have control over your own life, after all.

listen-to-the-quietest-whispersHard to believe, isn’t it? All this from a glance into someone’s eyes. To be honest with you, I wouldn’t have believed it myself. Things are rarely as they appear on the surface. Maybe that’s the whole point though. We don’t really know how a story is going to unfold before our eyes. We can’t appreciate the seemingly insignificant or misconstrued details until we decide to listen to a story – deeply – whether it’s through our eyes, our ears, or those unspoken voices inside our head that we seem to neglect far too often.