This was the moment: behind the curtain, the lights off, the stage set. My mind emptied of all but the character. Still, some small part of me remained, could hear the stilling crowd beyond the curtain, hear their voices dying away as the time drew near.
The stage hands are at the ropes, and with inaudible squeaks, the curtain parts. Now all that is between us actors and audience is darkness. A click and a flash, and the scene comes alive. A casual little opening, a living room where much of the play will unfold, is brought into existence by the light.
But I do not know when it will come, try to not know that it will come. The other actors only play one part tonight, but I play two. Any moment now, their masks will be ripped from them, but I have masks within masks, a performance within the performance.
The bomb went off as she began her exit, stage left. It was after some impactful declaration that she would never marry so and so, that she loved another. So was the start of the play, and it was that she should have then met her love, and they would sail off to America never to be seen again, leaving the old, dejected father, me, to sit contemplatively, smoking his pipe, tall and proud though his heart broke. I was happy, in some sense, to blow up the whole sentimental mess.
The alarms sounded, and the sprinklers went into full force. All was in panic, all was in chaos. And so, my performance truly began.
“Get to the exits!” I shouted, backing away behind the thin façade of interior walls.
As soon as I retreated into the darkness, my finger grasped the ring of the trap door. Jumping down the shoot, I escaped to the lower levels. Above, I heard the pounding feet of the masses desperately trying to flee. Women scream, children cry, and all the while I make my way to his office.
There was no need to drug him, simply get him boozed up. The sounds had awakened him, but he was too inebriated to understand what was going on. I found him mumbling on the couch, the whisky bottle nearly emptied. I was surprised the bottle hadn’t killed him already.
“Come on,” I said, “It’s time to go.”
“What’s going on,” he demanded of the plastic plant beside him.
I took his arm, dragging him to his feet. “They’re all demanding their money back,” I lied, “we need you to unlock the safe.”
“Blast ‘em,” he said, and fell back down. Missing the couch, more so just grazing it, he slid onto the floor.
Sitting behind the desk, I settle into the new office chair. Slowly, the black faux-leather cushion deflates around my ass. Testing the springs, I lean back a little. Thinking it over, I decide on a little impromptu display. Throwing my feet up onto the desk, I put on the most relaxed air I can muster while the sirens scream.
I spied the young man out of the corner of my eye, scowling at me as he entered the room. Pretending not to notice, I continued to study the forgery hung upon the wall across from me, some painting passing itself off as a Rousseau. A colorful imitation, but imitation nonetheless.
“What’s with all the theatrics? The bomb?” he growled.
“Why, haven’t you guessed?” picking up my feet, I turn around to face him. “They’re going to blame you. The cops already had an anonymous tip about your apartment. They’ll find some interesting material there. You’re not supposed to be here, and I, brave man that I am, coming to rescue my benefactor, find you hidden down here, an intruder.”
“I came to see Clarice—”
“And you’ll never see her again,” I finished. “I’ll not have you ruining her, leading her along the primrose path in her brief moment of fame—”
And then I saw Clarice coming through the door, her stage makeup still on, and watched her dainty fingertip reaching out, just ever so slightly touching the arm of her young man. From the floor, my drunk boss arose, wiping his brow with a handkerchief, his steady hand soon lighting a cigarette. Standing, I returned to the Rousseau, and studied the signature yet again.