From the Holding Pen Steven was able to peep out and watch. It boosted his energy, and tonight the seats were quick to fill. Not unusual for a last show. This was a benefit for both the hospice and Mark Winslow’s proposed class action suit. That meant an audience of politico homos as opposed to theatre fags.
“Ten minutes to curtain.” Monica poked her head in.
“Not yet. I’ll step in tonight. New sexual dynamics.”
“Better you than Evan.”
“Steven, you are terrible.” Monica giggled.
Steven faced the wall. It was near pitch black except for glow tape on the wall over his costumes. There was a very dim light but he learned to do his changes in the dark so Tim couldn’t watch.
He strained to hear the house music over the chatter of the crowd. Tim hadn’t arrived yet, but his first entrance wasn’t until about ten minutes into the play. Steven’s was five minutes after Tim’s.
It was the wait to start that made Steven anxious. Once the play began, it was a train with an inevitable rhythm that overrode anything outside of it. Except one of the passengers not showing up. Was there a black out before Tim’s entrance? He had memorized his cues but no one else’s.
“Places on blackout.” Monica whispered. That meant about one minute. In the blackout the music faded, the audience settled down and Steven would hear the pitter patter of big actors’ feet on stage to be in place for the lights up.
The music didn’t fade. No pitter-patter. The lights dimmed, and a couple of spots came up on stage.
“Good evening. Before the show starts I want to thank you all for coming out to support this action against the city and the police department.”
Steven peeked out. Mark Winslow stood in the light. Usually these speeches were saved for the end of the show.
“We face …”
Tim flashed past and into the dressing room.
“… what will be a difficult but rewarding legal battle. As a community ….”
Tim rushed into the Holding Pen.
“Sorry,” he panted. He hugged Steven. “I told Lisa.”
“What?” Steven pushed him away.
“About you and me. Now that the show is over.”
“Thank you for your support. Let the play begin.” The audience applauded.
In the silence of the blackout, Tim breathed in his ear. “Have you told Luke?”
The lights went up.
“Is this it?” Kevin expected the theatre to be more than this dark, dusty space. The seats were stacking chairs in uneven rows that spilled around all four sides of the large room over assorted wooden risers. The risers got higher near the walls. The space held 150 people, tops.
“You were expecting a high school auditorium?” Paul handed him a program.
There wasn’t a stage or a curtain. In the center of the room were four narrow cots on wheels in a cross formation. A vase of yellow flowers on a stool in the centre. A spot light drew his focus to the flowers every time he glanced at the stage.
The theatre was packed. He recognized several men from Big E’s. It was odd to see them without drinks or cigarettes.
“What’s it like to be in the audience for a change?” One of them stopped to ask him.
“No lights in my eyes for a change.”
“Full house,” Paul remarked. “Benefits do that. Gives them something to bitch about in return for their donations.”
“Hello, Kevin?” A tall grey-haired woman stood in front of them. “Kevin McLeod?”
“Theodora Mathias. You might know me as Teddi M.” She gave Kevin her business card. “I’ve heard you at Big E’s. Give me a call.”
“Not the Teddi M.?”
“None other. Most people expect a six-foot black man.”
“He’s … I mean she’s … TknoSonk! Paul, they’re big!”
“So we are.” Teddi smiled. “The cover picture doesn’t do you justice.”
“Queer Plus? There’s a stack in the lobby.”
The lights dimmed.
“We’ll talk later.” She went to her seat.
Kevin began to get up, but Paul grabbed the waist of his pants.
“One doesn’t leave at the start of the show.”
“Wait till intermission.”
The lights came up again. Mark Winslow stepped into a spot between two of the cots.
“Good evening. Before the performance starts, I want to thank you all for coming out to support this action against the city and the police department.”
Kevin fidgeted. TknoSonk! Queer Plus! He had posed for Waki, their photographer a few Saturdays ago. He wasn’t told it was for a cover.
“Thank you for your support. Let the show begin.”
Kevin hadn’t heard a word. The audience applauded. The theatre went black. He was aware of the fumble of feet but he wanted that pile of Queer Plus where he couldn’t get at them.
David tilted in his seat against the wall. He’d seen the show enough. Opening night had wracked his nerves, it was as if his costumes were responsible for missed cues. Work on the clothes changed what he saw in the play. He was more interested in how the fabrics lit and moved than anything else.
Once the house opened, Evan’s excitement level rose as seats filled. David enjoyed being part of a couple. A pleasure that lessened when Kevin McLeod arrived with Robert Ing’s tattooed toy.
“Penny for your thoughts?” Monica slipped into Evan’s empty seat beside him.
“What is this thing about the next show?”
“What do you mean?”
“No one wants to name it. ‘The Scottish play,’ and not Mac …”
“Don’t.” she put her hand over his mouth. “It has a history of ill winds, dark forces smiting those who would dare produce it. I remember one production where the cast came down with food poisoning on opening night.”
“I’m sure. If someone utters the name the ill gets iller?”
“Some say so, and who are we to mock the boat? There’s lots of superstitions about the theater. Evan has his own little quirk.”
“Such as the Scottish play?”
“No. His is about the last line.”
“Not hearing it till the first performance. Steven even didn’t see the last line till opening night. Lucky it was a short line.”
“Weird. I like it.”
“Gotta give the ten minute call, and Tim isn’t here yet.”
“Fucking actors.” Evan sat. “Closing night, full house and where is Tim? I got Mark to do his pitch now. That’ll buy us an extra five minutes.”
“What if Tim doesn’t show?”
“That wife of his wouldn’t let him miss a show. You’d think it was her up there. If cars are male penile extensions, Tim is her … breast augmentation?”
“Must be uncomfortable for her to watch Tim and Steven.”
“Acting, my dear boy. Acting,” Evan exclaimed with a faux British accent. “She told me she and Tim practiced that scene so Tim could imagine it was her he was fumbling with on stage.”
“He and Steven are pretty real.”
“Too real. If you catch my drift …”
“They are getting it on offstage?”
“If Tim is to be believed.”
“I can’t see it. What has Steven said to you? Nothing I bet.”
“Steven doesn’t say much.”
“Shell shock after the assault.” David suggested.
“Could be. He is good to work with. Took direction, asked the right questions, made smart decisions, didn’t argue. A director’s dream.”
The lights dimmed. While they were down, Tim dashed across the stage.
“I hate the final show.” Evan kissed David on the mouth.
Grateful that their proximity to the audience prevented conversation, Steven closed his eyes to focus on his performance. The action on stage was a rain that washed away all distractions. When Tim made his entrance, Steven breathed deep to find John. John was close, but Luke hovered.
Luke, I’m sorry. There is nothing here. There never was anything. I love you. Remember that.
A gun shot was his cue. He shifted his shoulders, adjusted his neck and entered. He was John. Gabe was there, as indifferent to him as John was to Gabe. The scenes progressed. The train ran smooth. Each stop and start, exit and entrance, sped by without problems.
“Oh, I didn’t expect you to be here.” John entered.
“Who did you expect?” Gabe answered.
“No one. I was looking for a place to be alone. To think.”
“Think? About what?”
“About this situation. About what brought us together.”
“Do you mean …”
“I don’t know what I mean.” Their eyes locked, looked deep. A slight dim and a warm hush enclosed them, pulled them closer together.
“I … I …” Gabe faltered.
“I know.” John stroked his hair. “I know. Murders. Death. Through the death I’ve felt it but,” Gabe kissed the palm of John’s hand, “we can’t, till we know who’s responsible.”
Gabe brought John to him. Kissed him. “We can.”
Gabe unbuttoned John’s shirt. John took Gabe’s hand and pressed it over his heart. Gabe’s other hand undid John’s belt buckle. The train glided from one stop to the next as dusk descended.
They were naked, on the bed, in love. The light that hovered around them smeared from yellow to red, dimmer till blackout. Some nights Steven sensed the men in the audience shift in their seats to get a better view, forced to squint as the lights faded.
The blackout would be long enough for them to scamper naked off stage. Tim to the main dressing room, and Steven to the Holding Pen.
Tim lay on him. “This isn’t enough for me.”
“It is for me.” Steven shoved him off and exited.
Yves rubbed his right hand. After an hour of mouse clicks it began to ache. He clicked aimlessly through pictures of naked men. For the most part they were too young, too pretty, too hairless, too static; click to the next one after only the head of one downloaded.
When he allowed a whole picture to appear it was a strip tease. Pictures materialized from the head down to fill the screen, the cock the last part revealed.
Hello Ricardo. A pleasure to meet you again, so soon. You look very nice. You have had a little shaving done since I saw you five minutes ago. Sorry I didn’t get to wield that razor.
At the bottom of the picture was the model’s name.
Boris! Last time it was Ricardo. A man of mystery – Brazilian or Russian, what is it?
The pictures were no longer erotic. The first year he was online he couldn’t wait to see who flashed their nakedness. Now it was more an affirmation of sex rather than cause for it.
Well, Jake, you’re not the only one with more than one name. He looked at the picture of Jake he had put up. Mark’s visit played on his mind and he needed to talk about it. On line he might do that with anonymity, but tonight a real human held more appeal.
He had tickets to Steven’s play. He’d attended the opening and although he had enjoyed it, he wasn’t sure what the point of it was. Men with emotions he didn’t understand. Emotions and sex connected in ways that left some of the characters unfulfilled and bitter with each other, except that rare pair who had the alchemy that combined them.
Along with the tickets there was an invitation to the cast party at Lubba’s that night. It was too late for him to get to the play so he headed out for the cast party.
When he arrived, the emptiness of Lubba’s made it apparent that he was early. A sign taped to the front door announced, “Private Function. By Invitation Only.”
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