Thursday 16 July 2020

Episode 12 The Final Curtain

by Janet Howson

a bottle of champagne

Shirley felt almost light headed as she approached the church hall. It was helped by the fact that Lucy and Carrie, her two loyal and long suffering daughters, had insisted she had a glass of wine before facing what was probably going to be a long arduous evening. Shirley had obliged, more because she was eternally grateful that Lucy had stepped into Val’s shoes as Hermia, staying up all Wednesday night attempting to familiarise herself with lines she had known when in her school production of ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’. Also, for Carrie who had taken over Shirley’s job on sound and lights whilst she stepped into Stacey’s role of Titania. Carrie took after her father, she was technically minded, preferring to be back stage than on the stage. The thought of Jamie sent a shiver of fear and loathing through her.
    Shirley’s bag felt heavy. She had brought the bottle of champagne she was going to open on the final night but had decided that after all the problems it would probably be welcome after the first performance tonight. Carrie and Lucy had been chatting away but Shirley hadn’t really been listening.
    “Jordan’s waiting outside, mum. Bless him. He’s like a loyal puppy. He would lay down his life for you.”
    “Don’t be silly, Lucy, he just enjoys coming to the group. He is probably quite a lonely man.” Shirley whispered as they were getting close to Jordon who had now seen them and was smiling at them with his half twisted smile.
    “Good afternoon ladies.” He did a mock salute. “Reporting for duty with full battle gear,” he indicated his suitcase, the one he used for every production.
    “I hope the rest of the cast are as prompt as you, Jordon, we desperately need a word rehearsal before the performance. I have never put on a production before without a dress rehearsal.” By now Shirley had unlocked the church hall door and lent against it to let the other three in. Jordon picked up her bag, glad to be useful.
    Both Lucy and Carrie knew the hall like the backs of their hands. From young girls, Shirley had brought them down to watch, then participate in the various productions their mother had directed or acted in. They loved it as much as her. Carrie went straight onto the stage to check the lights and sound. Lucy started to pull out some of the chairs into a circle for the cast to sit and complete the word rehearsal. Jordon and Shirley took their costumes and  make up, gathering Lucy’s up as well, to the changing rooms.
    It wasn’t long before they heard to sound of the fire door bang as members of the cast arrived. Shirley returned to the hall in time to meet them First it was Lauren and Jean, talking in subdued voices. She could just make out they were talking about Len, Lauren’s father.          “How is Len, Lauren? I was so sorry to hear about his stoke.”
     “He is much better, thank you Shirley. It wouldn’t surprise me if he turned up to watch the last performance. He’s made of strong stuff.” Shirley wasn’t fooled by Lauren’s joviality. She knew how close she was to him and how she worried about him.
      The conversation came to an end when the door banged again and Jess, Patrick and Jason arrived. Shirley noticed how tired Jason looked. She knew his flat had been burgled. Such bad luck. Patrick was not his usual exuberant self and was talking quietly to Jess. All Shirley knew was that Jess had family problems. She was also aware that Jess’s husband was unfaithful. A situation she was very familiar with.
    Nina arrived next. Her eyes were red. Her lips dry and her hair hung messily down her back, not in the usual neat plait. Shirley hoped her girls were okay. She knew Nina had missed the dress rehearsal because she had to stay with them. Perhaps it was as simple as her husband being unable to babysit. Somehow, Shirley didn’t think so.
    A loud laugh preceded the arrival of Debbie and Annie. They were obviously enjoying a shared experience and could hardly control their hilarity. Their laughter was in sharp contrast to the subdued atmosphere that lay across the hall like a cold mist. Their conversation could be heard by everyone.
      “He won’t spin a tale like that again. Pilot?  Prat more like. I can’t believe I fell for it. Mind you by the time we had finished with him I don’t expect he will show his face again at
Cinders,” Annie quipped.
      “I just loved it when you were asking him all about his so called flight to Australia, He even got the name of the airport wrong.  Christchurch, that’s in New Zealand!” Debbie wiped the tears of laughter from her eyes. “Hi, everyone, sorry about yesterday but we are up and running tonight. Word rehearsal first? I could certainly do with one.” With that both girls took their costumes to the changing rooms, passing Sean on route.
    “Hi ladies, it is your favourite hunk, Superman Sean, always at your bid and call. No command from you too much or…”
    “Sean, just admit it, we are out of your league,” Angie interrupted.
    “No, you’re not a pilot for a start.” Debbie burst into giggles again.
    Sean looked very confused but followed them to the changing rooms to hang up his costume. “Anyone putting the kettle on, I could do with a brew.”
    “You know where the kitchen is, Sean,” Angie shouted back.
    Shirley was fairly pleased with the word rehearsal. Everyone seemed to be making a special effort, probably because they all felt they had let her down by not making the dress rehearsal. Hopefully, Carrie wouldn’t have to prompt from the side of the stage, a job she was aligning with her lighting and sound responsibilities. Shirley was aware that some of her cast were rather subdued. Nina looked upset, Jess seemed to be rather distant but she didn’t have many words so Shirley wasn’t worried about her lack of concentration. Jason kept on checking his phone as if he was waiting for some important message and Lauren was not her usual enthusiastic self, hardly surprising as her father was still in hospital. The group members were like family to Shirley and she worried about them, they had been her life saver when the situation with Jamie got unbearable.  She had only confided in Jordon though about his affairs and aggressive behaviour towards her.       
    “Okay it’s six fifteen, so if we say everyone back here at seven fifteen ready to do their make up and get their costume on for the performance at eight o clock. Maggie and Edna are coming down to help give out the programmes and set out the refreshments. Please make time to thank them. They were a bit upset last time that their efforts were not recognised.” Shirley had to treat the two ladies with kid gloves as they had been members of the group for years but no longer acted at the ages of eighty six and nearly ninety.
    The group drifted off, some had brought sandwiches and sat in the changing room to eat them. Debbie, Annie, Sean and Jason went down to the nearest pub for a ‘restorative’ drink as Annie termed it. Shirley just hoped they would get back in good time.
    Shirley went and found her daughters. Carrie was running through the music cues and Lucy was speaking out her first lines out loud but stopped when she saw Shirley. “Hi mum, you okay? That went quite well didn’t it?”
      “Are you hungry? I can nip to the chippy if you’d  like? Carrie said hopefully. She had a good appetite and worried that her mother hardly ate a thing and was so thin.
        Shirley’s stomach lurched at the thought of greasy chips, her IBS had been terrible all day probably due to nerves. “That is sweet of you Carrie, nip over and get some for you and Lucy. I’ve got a cereal bar and a yogurt so that will do me. I’ve put the champagne in the fridge for after the performance. I think we will all be in need of that.” She reached in her bag for her purse when she had a sudden thought, “Oh, let me just see if Jordon wants some as well. Have you seen him?”
     “Not since the end of the word rehearsal, perhaps he is in the changing rooms?” Lucy put down her script, “I’ll go and look for him, mum, you can be putting the kettle on.”
    As if on cue, the door swung open and Jordon, red in the face and panting through exertion literally ran into the hall. “I don’t know where it could have got too. I thought I had brought it down with me, then I wondered if I had left it in the house so I ran back to see if it was there, I have searched the changing rooms but no sign I just don’t understand it. I’ve let everyone down, it is a disaster.”
      Shirley took him by the hand and sat him down. “Now calm down, Jordon, it can’t be that bad, nothing ever is. Take some deep breaths and start from the beginning. What is it you have lost?”
     Jordon put his head in his hands for a moment then looked up, he was obviously near to tears. “My head, Bottom’s asses head. I can’t find it anywhere. How can I do my part without my head?”
    Shirley took a moment to take this in. Jordon was right, it would be difficult to show the transformation from man to beast without the head. She must appear calm though, there must be a solution. She was aware that Carrie and Lucy were trying to supress laughter. She fished a note out of her purse and gave it to Carrie. “Go and get the chips, Lucy go and sort out the tea, I think Jordon could do with a cuppa.”
    As soon as the girls had disappeared, she put a comforting arm around Jordon’s shoulders, “There will be a solution to this, Jordon, There always is. Remember when Dorothy’s red shoes went missing just before the start of ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and Stacey found a red lipstick and a pair of white trainers abandoned in the changing rooms and gave them a once over, and Bingo the problem was solved.” She felt Jordon relax a bit and smile. “Or the time when Lady Bracknell lost her handbag and we ended up using a bag for life because it was all we could find in time? The audience thought it was very funny. Nobody expects perfection from an Am Dram group.”
     Jordon by now was laughing with her. “And the time the beanstalk in ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ collapsed before Jack was supposed to have climbed up it and…”
     “That’s it,” Shirley cried out, “the cow that Jack sold for a handful of beans, we have still got the cow’s head in the stock room.”  Then before Jordon had registered what she was talking about she was running out of the hall to access the steps up to the well-stocked costume store. In a few minutes she returned clutching the cow’s head a look of triumph on her face.
    “Sorted. No one will care if it is an asses head or a cow’s head. At least you will have turned into an animal” She carefully placed it on Jordon’s head. “Suits you,”
    “As long as I don’t have to wear the udders. I remember the problems we had with the washing up glove filled with water.”
    They were both laughing when Carrie returned with the chips and did a double take when she saw Jordon wearing the cow’s head.
    At seven fifteen everyone started to congregate in the hall. Even Annie, Debbie, Sean and Jason were on time, Debbie full of the fact she had been able to persuade some of the punters to buy tickets for the performance. “They probably won’t come, it being a Shakespeare, but at least they paid for them… their loss.”
    “Well done Debbie. We are struggling a bit with filling the seats tonight but Friday and Saturday look better. We can treat this as the dress rehearsal we never had. Right, everyone in costumes and then then those in the first scene take your places. Break a leg,” she added, a phrase she didn’t really like as she felt she was tempting fate and one of the cast might do exactly that.
    The audience arrived, Maggie and Edna handed out the programmes as they entered, Shirley announced the cast changes and the play began. As Shirley had predicted all the usual problems you would normally iron out in a dress rehearsal occurred. One of the lights was flickering and Carrie had to stop using it as it might trigger migraine or a fit. The music to be played during the scene changes broke down and they ended up using ITunes on an Apple phone. Debbie had to be prompted twice and Shirley herself was a bit rusty with Titania’s speeches. The scene changes could have been better but that was to be expected.
    As the final curtain came down, Shirley breathed a sigh of relief. She looked over at Jordon in his cow’s head and smiled. It had worked quite well It was surprising how many of the audience really did not know it was the wrong animal’s head. Lucy had been brilliant as Hermia, not a word wrong and Carrie had dealt well with all the failures of the sound and lighting systems. Her real family and her extended family gathered on one stage together. This is where she felt at home.
    She left the stage and headed for the changing rooms. As she reached in her bag for the  champagne her phone vibrated. She picked it up, it was a text from Jamie. Trust him to spoil the night. Got home no one here. Where is my dinner? Where are you? Shirley couldn’t believe he had forgotten that it was the first night of ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ especially as his daughters were in it. He never came and watched them. ‘Got better things to do with my time’ he would tell them.
       Shirley looked again at the text then deleted it. “Champagne everyone?” This was met with cheers, high fives and hugs all round. “I was so proud of you all and tomorrow will be twice as good, particularly if Jordon gets the right head!” She smiled at Jordon who laughed good naturedly as everyone lined up to have a glass of bubbly.
      Jordon raised his glass, “I would just like to say thank you and well done to our director who has battled on through so many set-backs,”
    “No it is me who should be thanking all of you. You are like a second family to me.” She was starting to feel quite tearful. “Right enjoy your drink then get off home and have a good night’s sleep. It isn’t over until Saturday night.”
    Usually Shirley would have packed up her belongings locked the hall and made her way home to deal with Jamie, his dinner and his violent moods. However, tonight there was something she wanted to do. She found both Lucy and Carrie and told them to make their way home without her. She then went back to the changing room to find Jordon ready to leave to return to his empty house.
    “Jordon, if you are not feeling too tired that is, would you like to have that talk we were meant to have about the murder mystery you have written. The one about the good loyal friend of a lady whose husband was having affairs  and then murders him?” She smiled to herself at the aptness of the situation.
    Jordon looked both surprised and thrilled. All the times he had wanted to ask her back to his house for a late night drink but had never quite got up the courage to do so. He knew her marriage was over so he felt there was no moral issue. “What a wonderful idea. I have got a bottle of wine in the fridge waiting for an ideal occasion and this is definitely just that.”
    With the rest of the cast disappearing through the door with shouts of ‘see you tomorrow’ ‘sleep well’ and Sean singing ‘We are the Champions’ Shirley and Jordon made their way outside and Shirley locked the doors. She turned and Jordon was by her side holding all of her bags. Reliable Jordon, her rock. She knew at that moment as she turned to study his face, a face she knew so well, that love doesn’t have to be at first sight or intensely all consuming. Love can grow and flourish as hers had done for Jordon. For the first time in years, Shirley felt a sensation she thought she had forgotten. A feeling of happiness.
 About the Author
Janet taught Drama and English for 35 years in several Comprehensive schools, directing a lot of plays, some of which she wrote herself. She was spurred to start writing again when she found a folder of forgotten poetry she had written years ago. She is now enjoying writing short stories and is honoured to have been chosen to be published in The Best of CafeLit and also Nativity  a Bridge House publication. Her first published book Charitable Thoughts is now out at last and available on Amazon Books.


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