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Six Words

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       Swish. The door opens and he’s inside, immediately trapped in the spotlight of her not-so-loving gaze.

 

      “You’re here!”

 

       What- why is the room so empty-

 

       “Where is everybody?”

 

       Relief turns to disappointment in seconds. “And you’re not in costume. Fuck it!”

 

       Wait. No one said anything about costumes.

 

       “We were supposed to wear a costume?”

 

       “We’re up.” Clink, clink. Metal hangers against metal racks. The lights are so bright in here, there aren’t many of them but his eyes are burning all the- “Here, put this on, it’s something.” Thump. He catches the fabric, mechanical and stiff and now she’s gone, moving across the floor before he has time to blink.

 

       “Come on. It’s places, now.” She motions and he follows her to the side of the stage, to the wings, that’s what they call it right?, that’s a theater word, but why does it matter-

 

       Her hands, grabbing him, catching him as he pulls on the whatever-it-is, and her touch burns just like the lights did. “Barry- Barry, look at me. Look at me.” He’s looking, but he wishes he wasn’t because he doesn’t see her, she’s there but he’s not, he’s far, far away and shit, he’s tired. He was asleep not long ago but he’s still tired. It’s that feeling again, that dark, smothering wave from a month ago that pinned him to his bed and forced his head below its surface to the point where he couldn’t breathe safely and what? Her mouth, moving, she’s waiting, she must have said something, oh shit-

 

       “I’m sorry, what?”

 

       “FUCK! Just- whatever.” She moves again, all harsh, angry strides, and it’s not fair because he genuinely doesn’t know what she said. “What?” But she doesn’t hear him, and the stage lights shut off to the sound of scattered applause, and each one of Nick’s footsteps rolls through his ears like a thunder clap.

 

       “Well Puck just took a big dump out there, that guy sucks.” Nick disappears with an eye-roll and by the time he looks back, she’s gone too, positioned onstage like a living sculpture. Okay, okay. Right. It’s acting time now. He’s here to act, he’s an actor, that’s what he does, that’s what he wants to do-

 

      What’s his line again?

 

      Her voice carries from the stage, couched in posturing formality, but for the second time, it falls on deaf ears. He can’t listen to her, he needs to work on his line. Just that, his line. Don’t think of anything else. Not the parked car, not that- that look in his eyes, that slowly-dawning fear, the realization that he was sitting next to a murderer…

 

       Is that what he is?

 

      “My lord, my lord, the queen is dead.” Each breath is a gasp, each word a hiss. “My l- my lord, the queen is dead, my lord-”

 

       Six words. It’s only six words. Six words shouldn’t give him any trouble.

 

       “My l-”

 

       A knife, slashing through his brain, illuminating his surroundings in pure Technicolor.

 

       Chris and Sharon and Theo on the pier, standing and smiling and happy together, before he took it all away for what exactly

 

       “Fuck!” No, he can’t- it’s distracting him, just say the- what? There’s a phone ringing, but there’s no phone backstage, he doesn’t think so anyway, where’s it coming from?

 

       “My lord, the queen is dead, my lord, the queen is dead-”

 

        Sharon lovingly reaching for the phone, her honeyed voice carrying over the receiver, seconds before disaster

 

       “Hello?” He spins around but she’s not there, just like the phone’s not there, but she’s out there somewhere and she’s about to receive the shock of her “Yes?” NO!! No no NO, don’t think about that, don’t let it-

 

       Sharon’s kind face falling with disbelief “What?”

 

        UGH. There’s a tightness in his chest and arms and a panicky feeling in his throat, and he just- needs it to stop, needs to stop seeing them, needs to forget what happened but how can he

 

       Thwack thwack thwack THWACK stop it stop it stop it THWACK shut up, just shut up-

 

       Sharon sobbing on the phone, falling to the floor, grief etched across her countenance

 

       He can’t breathe, what’s this fucking thing she put him in? He throws it off thump but it doesn’t help, he still can’t breathe, he can’t see or hear or think straight

 

       Theo, alarmed, inspecting the scene “Mom?”

 

       “FUCK!” THWACK. No no no. Just get out there, just get onstage and say the fucking line, six words, that’s it, he can scream and cry and vent later, just get through this, get through this-

 

       He’s already screaming inside. Not that it does any good. Not that screaming aloud would help either, he’s done it before but it hurts, and

 

       Sharon and Theo dressed in black, weeping as the soldiers raise the star-spangled banner over Chris’ casket fuck the phone is ringing again, why is the phone ringing

 

       “Thank you” Sharon mouths to the soldier, mourners spread out in rows behind her

 

       “stop stop stop” just make it stop

 

       “Mom?” THWACK “STOP STOP STOP!”

 

       Sharon cradling Theo on the floor, hysterical “FUCK!” would someone just answer the goddamn phone

 

        “Yes?... When?...”

 

       “Hello?”

 

       SLAM. The table rattles and there’s silence, blessed silence, but all of a sudden it’s not blessed because it’s a cue, he’s an actor and he’s here to say his line.

 

       Six words. Just six words. Six words… and then it’s over.

 

       He turns, only then realizing that he’s sobbing too, only then knowing that there’s nothing he can do, and everything that he could have done.

 

       Six words. Reach your mark, look at her, and say them.

 

       “My lord…” He can’t breathe. He says it anyway, and it’s not her eyes he sees, but Sharon’s, full of tears and pain and rage. He says his line as the guilt rips him up from the inside, and every word is a beg for forgiveness which he doesn’t deserve.

 

       “The queen is dead.” The queen is dead. Dead. Chris is dead. The phone rings.

 

       Sharon… your husband-

 

      He’s silent, but he’s still screaming. He doesn’t know when it will stop.