congratulations to Asha Azariah-Kribbs of Salisbury, Maryland, the July 2014 recipient of the Penn Cove Literary Arts Award.
If you don’t fit in Anywhere, you will—
We hear her before we see her.
She wheels herself into the light. Her hair hangs in a cropped wave across her face, hiding all but pale lips and chin. She is wearing a blue dress with bright ribbons, an old school Alice rolling through a Wonderland of acrylic stars and silk flowers. I can see her twisted ankles before her feet disappear into round flat shoes.
We weren’t expecting this.
After red noses and feather bellies, jugglers and dancing dogs, we don’t want to see a handicapped girl in a wheelchair. This is a prank in poor taste. She ought to stand. But she wheels herself to an electric keyboard, one of those faux pianos that depend on finger pressure instead of pedals.
There’s a swing a few yards away. It’s long metal, a low trapeze. She sits for a moment like she can almost see herself there.
She starts to play.
We feel sorry for her. She shouldn’t be here.
She should be—
The light changes.
She pauses. She doesn’t look up.
He is an angle of offstage shadow.
The overhead beam has startled him from his natural element. Skinny shape in paste makeup and deep lipstick, he turns on his heel like a puppet caught trying the live performers’ paints and liners. He moves jaggedly. Snapped strings.
The young woman strikes a key.
His head swings back, sharp.
She plays, soft and sad, bent low over her instrument.
He bends, biting his red lip. His palm rests flat in front of his toes. One lank leg, long, long, and thin, stretches perpendicular to the floor. The knee bends back. The hand lifts. His lean foot twists. It is a posture at once alien and uncomfortable. He holds it, his other hand moving now to trace out the silent rhythm of the music. His fingers hesitate as if they would hold some of the light that has surprised him. Single-legged, he looks like a scarecrow weathervane, arm extended, one heel under him and the other unwinding in slow and sinuous motion, to find the floor again.
The music stops.
He snaps up, alarmed.
She sees him.
Trembling, he falls on his knee.
She glances at the swing.
He feels that eagerness, that hope. He seizes it. He stands. He crosses to the swing and rests his sixteen-inch foot on that bar.
She laughs aloud.
The audience breathes. It’s alright.
Is that all we wanted—to hear her laugh?
Her fingers move light over the keys. It is a tune fast and brave. The other covets it in himself like tinder wanting flame.
Some people don’t belong Anywhere.
They belong Nowhere.
He mounts the swing and stands an instant, poised, watching as we watch. He has forgotten us. That is the illusion of theatre—the white lie, of theatre. She directs him with nothing more than a song, and he follows, when he follows, as if he is her instrument, fluid and delicate as the motion of her hands. When he lifts his body and taxes those wire limbs over the motion of the bar beneath him, the effect is grotesque, and wildly beautiful.
Only in this twilight realm could these two be one in loneliness. Here, a broken wing can inspire two left feet to fly.
He alights; he is before her. He extends his hand with its slender, odd-jointed fingers to her face and tips her head back, soothing the bangs from her forehead.
We see her face.
She reaches for his sloping neck.
He lifts her.
Her useless legs hang on his knobby arm. He stumbles again, a little, not quite like before.
The light dims.
He goes to the swing.
Now she will move with him. Now, now she will prove to us all that she can stand. Perfect vibrancy, young energy and tender feeling, will pale our memories of brighter acts with all the ethereal beauty and twisted contortion of living art.
This is the white magic of theatre.
He settles. She leans on his shoulder.
They rock, slow, to the light motion of his stretched leg.
The curtain falls.
I had almost forgotten.
They don’t belong.