Stage Play in Five Acts of Her: Matinee

by Rae Bryant

She—Is a pup­pet.
I—Live inside her except when she lets me out to play.
We—Are always together.
He—Will be men­tioned only once.

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She stands on hard­wood. Long porce­lain arms cov­ered in three-quarter sleeves hide near-faded bruises. Her mouth forms a per­fect O framed with red clown lips. She learned the O from years of prac­tice. Prac­tice, he called it. She sings the vowel, push­ing it from diaphragm and out through the the­atre. She ignores the hands beneath her.

Stage­hands watch from the trap door. They fon­dle and move her from the trap­door. Their fin­ger­nails are dirt-caked and sharp and she ignores them, calls to her audi­ence of one who sits in a red vel­vet seat. Cue me.

It is ironic, her watch­ing me watch­ing her, because we are the same, and I might cry for her if sen­ti­men­tal­ity had been a strength. I watch her jos­tle and feel nothing.

Ignore them, she says. It is her only line in this act and it is unnecessary.

She bends at waist so to push for­ward and spread her­self delib­er­ately, bal­anc­ing and throw­ing out arms and hands curved like a porce­lain doll's, palms stretched out, grow­ing like ten­ta­cles over red vel­vet seat­backs. Like drift­ing sea­weed, her fin­gers beckon. They pluck me from my seat, pull me, glide me to stage, where she stands me at her hip, deny­ing me the space inside her head and I try not to look at it, the space in her head, because I do not want her to think I want it.

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We swoon under hot lights melt­ing the wax of our face. We can smell the face wax. It melts like candy paraf­fin filled with pas­tel pink and green and yel­low sweet sugar syrup glis­ten­ing with the dew from our mouths. We can­not smile. The makeup will not let us. Our mouth is an infi­nite O and our eyes pierce through baked on mascara.

We are hol­lowed out and old and used, cracked from the stage lights, but between the crack­ing, beneath the grime, we are per­fect. It does not mat­ter. No one will want us soon. We are a dying art.

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Say it. Say it out loud. Sing it to the world. Let me inside so I can help you. I point. There, look, you have an audi­ence. The vel­vet seats fill with peo­ple she always knew but not really.  She has hid­den her­self behind bro­cade and red clown lips for many years.

There is your mother. I point. Your father. I point again. Your brother, sis­ter, cousin, sec­ond cousin, and your aunt who we all believed to be an alien clone. I go on, point­ing out all the patrons who might lis­ten. But she stands, mouth still, a maiden caught in stage lights.


She tries to cry but her makeup will not let her form the face and so the tears fall in two thin lines between nose and cheeks, along her big wide O.

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I could have writ­ten her as is with long bushy hair, skinned knees, over­hauls, blue­berry stains on her fin­gers and teeth because she eats them too much. I love her bet­ter this way, blueberry-stained and wild.

I shuf­fle dance close to her, in front of her, to the side. I move to make her laugh, break the freeze. When I trip on pur­pose, she laughs acci­dently in a short burst of air. Her arms fall to her side then wrap at her waist like they used to when she ate blue­ber­ries and laughed acci­den­tally out loud and finally, I think, she will shed the bro­cade, crack the face, but as I watch and wait, her arms form again, stretch­ing out in curves. She bends at waist. Feet spread over the trap­door. The stage­hands jos­tle her.

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Do you remem­ber when I slipped in the snow and you stood laugh­ing? I was not so mad about the gro­ceries, and I did not hate you so much then, because I still loved you like déjà vus. I loved you so much that I wrote you in this play. Remember?

She does not move or wrap her arms, does not acci­den­tally laugh or sigh. She says: You can come in. And she pulls at her ear and opens her head like a hinged trapdoor.

No. I want you to come out.

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ACT SIX: The unplanned act like one last try. A last call before closing.

Remem­ber the time you laughed three times? The snow was noth­ing, a tri­fle, but you laughed because it was funny and then you laughed when we broke our ankle— I stop because I real­ize I've spo­ken of us again, we as in a collective.

Yes, it was funny, she says. He—. She stops short because he was only sup­posed to be men­tioned once, a sec­ond men­tion­ing was not in the script, and now I've added a third. She cor­rects her­self. The per­son who will not be named stood in front of the train, between us and the train as it kept com­ing. That per­son did not move until we were safe.

That per­son broke our ankle pulling us to safety. That per­son broke other things, too.

We stop because the sen­ti­ment is like fill­ing a shot glass at last call. Half full, half empty, clock ticking.

We jos­tle again, wince, crack our makeup a lit­tle more. A bro­ken mar­i­onette with no strings. And we hold still, wait for the stage­hands to remove their fin­gers and drag us, bro­cade heels over hard­wood, to our place behind the red vel­vet cur­tain, where we will wait for the evening show to begin. All the best peo­ple will come to see us.