Gray Metal Faces – January 7

The Hilltop Theater was old, older than any of the actors, directors, or staff of the Piedmont Shakespeare Company, even older than most of the company’s subscribing audience. The Bird enjoyed the Hilltop, the sound of its wooden floors creaking even under her own light feet, as if the building itself were speaking to her.

Janet Wernick kissed her daughter in the lobby, then hurried towards the dressing rooms in the back. Carrying the book she had brought with her, The Bird walked over the worn red carpet into the darkened auditorium. A handful of people, mostly family of the cast like herself, were already seated. A middle-aged woman, hair filled with sticks and glue so that it seemed to sprout from her head like an overly manicured shrub, caught her eye, waved hello. She waved back, and when the woman (wife of the actor playing Polonius, the teen believed) turned away, The Bird took this as a sign that it was safe for her to continue with her original plan, which was to sit by herself near the back, and read. At least until the members of the Bark Bay High School fencing team arrived.

The Bird entered the second to last row, shuffled three seats in. Years of exploring had revealed that of all the seats in the auditorium, this was where the lighting was best. She opened her book to the bookmarked page, sank in the seat to allow the light from behind her to hit the page — and then nearly jumped when she felt a hand touch her right shoulder.

Oh! Sorry. It was a male voice, whispering behind and above her. The Bird turned, saw a man wearing a suit and tie. The light from the wall behind him cast shadows over his face, yet The Bird was able to see the trace of a smile.

I didn’t mean to startle you. The man’s whisper was barely audible, the teen picking up his meaning more by context than hearing.

The Bird looked up at the man’s shadow-hidden face, and told him he didn’t — she stopped herself, realizing she was whispering, then continued in her normal, soft-spoken voice — there was no reason to whisper, she told him, the actors actually liked hearing voices in the audience before dress rehearsal.

The man stepped out from the row behind her, the light from the back wall of the theater catching his face. He looked around thirty, with short brown hair and a pencil-thin moustache above his lip. The light seemed to gleam off his teeth as he smiled, approaching her.

“You must be Kassandra?” The Bird nodded. “Your mother tells me you have a few nicknames, how should I call you?” She replied that she liked to be called The Bird. The man’s eyebrows arched soundly, as if controlled by an enthusiastic puppeteer, as his hand reached over and squeezed her left shoulder. “Bird! She didn’t tell me about that one.”

He removed his hand from her shoulder, an action that brought The Bird much relief, and brought it down to within an inch of her chest. He smiled, his teeth white as sugar. “Theodore Jasper. Call me Ted.”

The Bird grabbed the man’s hand quickly, as if warding off an attack. She said it was a pleasure to met him; it seemed to her the safest thing to say at the moment.

The man who called himself Teddy Jasper withdrew his hand. Your mother is a very talented actress. He was whispering again, but The Bird no longer felt the need to correct him.

She whispered a thank you back to Teddy, and raised the book she had brought to her chest, like a shield.

Do you like to read? The Bird nodded, and fought her instinct to flinch as Teddy Jasper reached over and grabbed a corner of the book, lifting it until light from the back wall reflected off its cover. Teddy Jasper furrowed his brow, sniffed. Don’t know that one. Are you reading it for school?

The Bird asked Teddy Jasper how he knew her mother.

Hmmm? Oh, Janet. She’s a — business associate. The Bird replied that her mother was an actress, not a business woman.

Teddy Jasper threw his head back and laughed loudly, his ha-HAAAEW echoing across the empty seats of the theater. A stagehand adjusting a prop on stage turned in their direction.

“Sorry,” Teddy Jasper called with a wave towards the stage. He turned back to The Bird, leaned close and whispered under his pencil-thin moustache, as if speaking in confidence. All of us are in business, young lady. It’s just that for some of us, our business is more — he waved toward the stage — creative.

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