Mr. Gregor had seen the poster in ShopRite when he was standing in line to buy his tea, cheese, bread and bananas. A Midsummer Night’s Dream was being performed at the high school. He looked at the items in his cart and thought about putting them back on the shelf, but the gnawing hunger in his empty stomach prevented him. Eight dollars, the cost of a ticket to the show, was half the money in his wallet. Although the night air would be cold, he would walk the ten blocks to the high school and save the bus fare.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Gregor,” said Dorothy, the pretty, young cashier as he moved through the check-out line.
“Good afternoon, Dorothy,” said Mr. Gregor, his voice rich and deep.
His total was $12.38. After putting the change in his wallet, he took his bag of groceries and went out to the parking lot where the community bus waited to take the seniors back to the apartments where he lived. He took a seat and looked out the window at the melting snow and his mind spiraled back, more than fifty years, to his time on the high school stage. He remembered the thrill of opening night. The dressing room. The girls who did hair and make-up getting so close he could smell their perfume, their soft skin grazing his as they combed his hair. The fear. The rush. The nerves. The energy. He was the star. Puck. Robin Goodfellow.
The memory brought a smile to his lips and he made up his mind. He would go tonight. He would bundle up in his olive green coat. The one he had bought at the Salvation Army last winter for $10. He would set out early and walk to the school. Money was the only thing standing between him and the show. He had to go. He couldn’t miss opening night.
Applause. He had lived for the applause. There was no better feeling than the thrill from the roar of applause. The audience’s reaction bursting out after you made them feel something. Happiness, sadness, it didn’t matter. As long as they had connected with the character. As if it was yesterday he still missed the applause. After high school he had landed a small role in the ensemble of an off-Broadway production. Then he was cast as Judge Turpin in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street at the P-town Summerstock Theater.
There he met her. She was a producer, eighteen years older than him, but still a beauty. He was lost in her world; she was his world. They were together for two seasons. She paid him with a role in Othello. A small part, but he was just twenty years old and he couldn’t believe his luck. He had reached the highest stage. Away from the white lights, she introduced him to the thin white lines of powder that gave him a rush almost as good as applause. At first, they did it once in awhile, but gradually it was more and more. She could take it or leave it, but he felt a need for it. Soon she became tired of his mood swings and his constant demands for the white powder. She moved on.
The show closed. He was alone. Having nowhere to go, he returned home and cleaned up. His mother got him a job as a janitor at the middle school. After she died, he applied for an apartment in the senior housing complex, ten blocks away from the high school. Ten blocks away from where Puck would take the stage tonight.
That evening he bundled up and walked to the high school. His nose was running by the time he entered the small, worn lobby. He could feel the excitement. He scanned the headshots hanging on the wall behind the ticket booth. Fresh, young faces all full of promise mocked him as he slowly approached the table. Wiping his nose with the back of his hand, he stood on line and took the only three dollars he had out of his wallet. When it was his turn, he held them out to the woman seated behind the table. She took them and counted them. She looked confused. “I’m sorry sir, the ticket is $8,” she said.
“I was Puck many years ago on this very stage,” said Mr. Gregor smoothing a clump of matted hair that had fallen over his brow. “I just want to see the show. Maybe a senior rate…” he tried to say as the woman looked around for someone to come to her aid.
“I was the lead. Puck. Robin Good…” Mr. Gregor felt a hand on his arm. He turned to confront the school principal.
“Can I help you?” asked the young man in his starched white shirt.
Mr. Gregor pulled his stooped shoulders back and exclaimed, “Lord, what fools these mortals be!” Excited parents turned to stare. He could see by the look in the principal’s eyes that he wanted Mr. Gregor to go. To stop spoiling opening night.
“You go on home,” said the principal. “You don’t belong here.” He started to pull Mr. Gregor in the direction of the door. Cold air hit his face when the principal flung the door open and guided Mr. Gregor into the still of the night. Moving him away from the packed auditorium where the lights were just going down. Away from the show he yearned to see. The applause he yearned to hear.
The old man stood on the steps. The cold wind whipped his cheeks and blinded his tearing eyes. “But I do belong here,” he said. Slowly, he shuffled down the stairs. The wind had picked up as he started the long, cold walk back to his apartment.
Ann Ormsby is a freelance writer and novelist. Her debut novel The Recovery Room is now available on Amazon.com.