Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others. Past and present. And by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future. – David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

She  stared at the dressing room mirror. She knew that she was looking at herself, but was concerned by tiny changes that made her less of herself and that only a scrubbed-clean face revealed. She gently pressed at the thin wrinkles around her mouth and between her eyebrows. She rubbed her cheekbones, massaged her temples, and ended by tugging her eyes to erase the emerging crow’s feet. There is always a moment when aging becomes a present activity and not a future worry, where mortality and appearance and condition merge and eyes go wide and the subject gasps as if it is the last breath they will ever take. This happened to her, but the act was brief. There was make-up to apply, vocal exercises  to perform, and her ears were always open to the unending advice of the lead actor.

She still wasn’t quite sure why she’d auditioned for the role of Ophelia. There was no reason, not now, not with her responsibilities, not at her age. But she was lucky – her dirty blonde hair had yet to go gray, and despite the errant wrinkles she looked 10 years younger. This and the director was her brother. Nepotism had gotten her the part in a play she had no business being in. Mike would be in the audience tonight, and every night of the play’s run, and Jamie and Beth would be at his side, ready with a dozen roses and dozens more hugs and kisses. But that was hours away.

Stage make-up made her look like a ghost under the fluorescents. She pursed her lips and made sweet faces alone in the room. It was fortuitous that Hamlet had so few female players. Here, Ophelia ruled the roost, not because of seniority (Gertrude had that distinction), but by the sheer power of her descent into madness and silent death. Lately she’d been taking a bath every other day, forcing her head underwater and opening her eyes, imaging what Ophelia felt as the reeds caressed her into eternal sleep. The thought of her next warm bath was interrupted by a crack of thunder and a summer storm. She welcomed it with open arms – the smell of Arizona, of the earth cracking itself open, drinking from a thousand tiny waterfalls, every tree, flower and weed reaching for a few precious droplets. She loved the way the rain made the city new again, how 110 degrees became a distant memory from another place. This new place was damp and sultry and alive. The perfect time to be Ophelia in Act I.

She took one final look in the mirror before curtain call. At the same time a dark figure entered  a set of double doors in the back of the theater, ready to induce another gasp of mortality.


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