Friday, 21 May 2010

Chapter Five

The college theatre hall was wide and dark, with red arc lights on the stage, a white spotlight in the corner. A few munchkins sat around in the aisles, eating their lunch and talking. Stagehands were ambling about engaged in various tasks. Mr Holmes had gone for coffee and cigarettes, leaving the students to what he called their ‘questionable devices’.
Serima was perched on the edge of the stage, legs hanging over, bathed in red light, a sandwich in her hand. She didn’t feel hungry. The Oz script lay beside her and she had the headphones of an iPod in her ears, listening to a Tori Amos song with the volume down low, like a gentle ghost in her head. Tori’s freewheeling melodies offered some comfort. Serima was thinking, inevitably, about the dream; the realness of it, the vividness and lucidity.
She hated going to that place. It was utterly banal to her now. She pulled the headphones from her ears and switched off the iPod.
Too many Dreamless nights. A mother’s daughter. A mother’s son.
She couldn’t close her rationality to it. She’d tried numerous times, in vain. The images were too powerful, all at once a part of her and yet separate from her. Maybe Jobe could live in a contradiction, satisfy himself with turning it into a cruel cosmic joke, but she couldn’t. It wasn’t a thing of beauty.
The dream.
The burning trees. The thing moving in the dark that was shaped like a girl, slaughtering shadows that ran screaming. Serima was watching, naked, high in the branches of a burning oak, unscathed by the flames. She wasn’t the only watcher. The children were there too, looking down from green stars. Gossamer Children, they called themselves, and they watched from the edges of her dreams many times before. It was only a few weeks ago that she began to consciously sense them, but now she knew they were there since mum had been sectioned.
Observing the massacre she felt turned on; erotic, awake, lustful for blood. Jobe could never understand. She couldn’t allow him that. It sickened her to think of it.
The blood, its scent so sweet. It had been too dark to see it, but she heard it spurting from torn flesh amidst all the screaming and running. How could something murder a cluster of shadows? She wanted to leap down from her hiding place and bathe in the blood, wanted to embrace the thing that was shaped like a girl. But she was afraid, of the shadow-girl, of the mysterious Gossamer Children, so she only sat naked in the tree and watched, feeling moist between her thighs. When she woke, she had been dry. That was something, she supposed. It was only sexy in the dream; her body hadn’t responded to it in reality.
Still, she felt a stab of guilt and dropped from the stage, sitting in a seat near the other students, away from the accusing red glow of the arc lights. She watched munchkins and flying monkeys milling around; talking, eating, drinking coffee. The Tin Woodsman and the Cowardly Lion were over by the emergency exit, huddled in a square of grey daylight, sharing a naughty cigarette. Serima couldn’t help but feel a slight flush of happiness.
She was doing it. It wasn’t exactly running smoothly, but she was doing it.
It was quite cool. Some of the stagehands were working on the front of Dorothy’s ruined Kansas farmhouse, others piecing together sections of the yellow brick road. Another quick stab of fear pierced the momentary happiness – she didn’t have a Dorothy. She was two months away from debut and she didn’t even have a lead actress. Katie and Jennifer were sitting further back in the hall, both clad in identical blue-white gingham dresses, eating chips and slurping Pepsi. Serima would chose Jen if it came to that, although frankly she didn’t think the girl was good enough.
She’d decided to keep the ruby slippers from the MGM film rather than return to the silver shoes of the book, because she’d fallen in love with the movie long before she read the original. For her the ruby slippers were truly magical. Growing up, they’d become a kind of totem for her; crushed by fate, seduced by destiny, yet homeward bound. Ooh-la-la…
She took a slow breath and then a bite of her sandwich.
Her best friend, Anna Duncan, was talking to the Scarecrow and glanced warmly at her, winking like a conspirator. Eventually she strolled over and sat down, staring intently at Serima. Anna had short blonde dreadlocks tied back from a pretty but fierce face, wearing jeans and a ‘Nirvana’ hooded-top, her black fingernails edged with scarlet.
“You okay there, artist-in-musing?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. Just a bit worried.”
Anna had a straw in a can of Cherry Coke and nodded, taking a noisy sip. “Just chill, we’ll find another Dorothy. Don’t even stress it.”
Serima frowned. “I want this to be perfect. As you know. We’re only a month away from debut. Anna, if I screw up I’ll hate myself.”
“Are you blaming Kelly?”
“No, of course not.” Kelly’s mum had finally died a week ago, and Serima supposed the girl was in no state for a trip into Oz right now.
“Seri, it will be perfect. Everyone around you knows what a genius you are.”
“My brother’s the real genius. I’m just a delivery girl.”
“What?” said Anna, frowning.
“Nothing,” Serima mumbled. “Private joke.”
Anna stroked her arm and grinned. “They’ve got faith in you, man. Even Sherlock thinks you’re hot shit.”
‘Sherlock’ was their pet-name for Mr Holmes, the deeply laconic, virtually unflappable head of the theatre department. “I guess so,” Serima murmured.
“You know I’ve got faith in you, right?” Anna gripped her hand and stared pointedly. “Complete faith. You’re so talented, you cow. You make everything seem effortless. I’m thinking about having you killed.”
“You’re a sweetheart.”
“What’re friends for? Bitch.”
Serima laughed out loud at that. Anna offered her a sip of the Coke and she declined. In the half-light, she saw someone walking down the centre aisle of the hall. Anna glanced round, turned and nudged her. “It’s your one true love.”
Serima smiled thinly. Anna gave a sly wink, got up and wandered back to the Scarecrow. It was Michael that was approaching. He was tall and athletic, dark brown hair, lamentably kissable lips. Inwardly she sighed and then felt guilty for the hidden gesture.
Michael glanced at her and frowned. “What happened?”
“Nothing.”
“You don’t look right, Seri. I can see…something’s up.” He sat down where Anna had just been sitting, dried paint on his hands. Serima didn’t say anything so he began scratching a fingernail across the back of his hand, flaking at the paint. “The play will be awe inspiring, I just know it.”
“Yeah,” Serima nodded, “Anna just told me the same thing. I hope so. We haven’t even finalised a new Dorothy yet. I don’t want to crash and burn here.”
“You won’t. If worse comes to worst, you can play Dorothy. You know all the lines.”
“I want to remain behind the scenes if I can help it.”
He grinned, “Yeah right.”
“It’s true.”
“I’ve nearly finished the painting, Seri. Miss Carson says I’m a talented bastard and I shouldn’t let it go to my head.”
“Yeah? Cool. Can’t wait to see it.”
He was intently studying her face, Serima realised. It freaked her out for a moment but she glanced away. “So, what do you want to see?” he asked her.
“What? Is that some kind of abstract question?”
“Hello…the cinema? A film, tonight. We made plans last week.”
Serima cringed. “Shit…I totally forgot.”
“Don’t jump ship on me now,” he said, glancing away.
“No, of course not. We’ll go.”
“What do you want to see?”
She shrugged. “Whatever.”
“Is that some dumb American teen-comedy…?”
She laughed at his joke and pulled him close for a lingering kiss, surprising him. From a few rows behind them Anna and the Scarecrow both gave a loud whistle. A few of the munchkins and flying monkeys laughed, raising their sandwiches and coffees in celebration.
Serima rose from her seat, smiling, and barked at them, “Get back to work or heads will rock & roll!” A few denizens of Oz cackled with glee.

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