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  • Shadowgod - Almost Home
  • Shadowgod - Almost Home
  • Shadowgod - Almost Home

Circumstances - 24. Chapter 24 -- Roger

It was something of a mystery. One minute, Roger was there, busy as always, and the next, he wasn’t. He had a small part in the production, a good little scene near the end of the second act that part of the action pivoted on, and he’d been working on the large conference table in the green room during the first and most of the second acts. Everyone had seen him as he’d taken apart a wireless microphone and tried to figure out what was wrong with it. It wasn’t giving out the same volume as the others. He was in costume, too, though it was a reasonably contemporary script, and his costume varied very little from what he normally wore. In fact, when the designer for the production for their small community theater saw what he’d been wearing the day she was taking measurements, she said, “I don’t mean to seem rude, but could you just wear what you’re wearing now?”

Roger had laughed and said, “Of course – or whatever I happen to be wearing that day. All my clothes are pretty much the same, and I’ve worn them in other plays. I do that all the time. At least, for some productions – it’s kinda out of place when we do Shakespeare.”

“I don’t know,” someone had put in. “Half the time we do Shakespeare in modern dress, anyhow, ‘cause we can’t afford anything else.” They didn’t do Shakespeare very well, either, and they all knew it. But the schools paid them to mount and tour the productions, and since the theater wasn’t especially well set up to make money, having a little extra never hurt. “And what the hell – they’re mostly grade school kids. What do they know about the Bard?”

So Roger had been in the green room, chatting occasionally with the other actors as they moved in and out, and tracking the play as it progressed on the squawk box. Shortly before it was his time to go on, he asked if anyone had a script, and someone had joked, “It’s a hell of a time to learn your lines.” Roger just laughed and said, “I always brush up before I go on. Even when I have a bigger part, I always keep a script in the wings.”

“Where’s your script now?” someone asked.

Roger shrugged. “That’s a good question. I know I’ve seen it around. But I don’t know where I left it.”

“Maybe you should stand and look over Megan‘s shoulder,” someone suggested. Megan was their usual stage manager, and Roger knew that was a terrible idea. Even when a show didn’t have a lot of cues, like this one, she was territorial and didn’t like anyone near her as she sat on her stool stage right following along. Eventually, he found another actor’s script and went off, walking toward the stage. But the next thing that happened was a long silence.

Most of the cast was onstage, but there were a couple of people in small parts hanging out in the dressing rooms, and what they noticed was the monitors had suddenly gone silent. “Is that thing dead again?” someone asked. “Is that what Roger was trying to fix?”

“No, he was working on a wireless mic – had it all in pieces. In fact it’s still over there on the counter.”

“Oh, yeah. I see it.” But that didn’t explain the silence. Still, no one offstage thought anything about it till Megan‘s voice suddenly came over the air, reading Rogers lines.

“What’s up with that?” one of them asked.”

“I don’t know.” And they both ambled out to see. Megan was standing where Roger should have been, carrying her heavy looseleaf binder, still wearing her headset around her neck.

“Roger’s vanished,” another actor said, looking as confused as the people onstage. The people in the audience simply went with it. They didn’t know that Megan wasn’t supposed to turn up, half reading from her prompt book – she usually had a script fairly memorized from being at all the rehearsals. The audience just thought it was part of the show and listened along.

The community theater had a small following, mostly of relatives and friends, and half the time the people who were in the audience just weren’t onstage for that particular production. This play, an older, ‘80s comedy that everyone knew better from the expanded movie, only had a cast of nine, so it wasn’t like a musical that put almost everyone onstage. At intermission, as soon as the curtain closed – their almost constant stagehand, Paul had taken his cue without Megan telling him – everyone quickly gathered on the set asking:

“Where’s Roger?”

“Is he OK?”

“Did he suddenly get sick?”

“Has anybody seen him?”

They all expected to find him bent over a toilet in one of the johns, or – far worse – maybe having tripped, fallen, and knocked himself out backstage. But he wasn’t in either of the bathrooms, and no one could find him backstage, even later, after the play was over and all the work lights were turned on. Then someone noticed his car was gone. Soon after, someone thought to phone him but got no answer.

“We should stop by his apartment,” someone suggested.

“What would he be doing there?”

“Well, he sure isn’t here, and where else would he go?”

“Down to Ginger’s?” That was their local bar.

“In the middle of the play?”

“Maybe we should take one more look around,” Megan said. “You never can tell where he might have fallen.”

“I was doing a tour once,” an actor reminded them, “and someone fell into an unused orchestra pit – because the door wasn’t labeled or locked. Broke his ankle, too, so he couldn’t even move.”

“And Roger is what? Sixty?”

“Not that old – and we don’t have an orchestra pit.”

“We’re lucky to have a piano when we do musicals.”

“True – but I’m not saying one thing has anything to do with the other. I’m just saying Roger’s got to be around.”

“Did anyone call the hospital? – since his car’s gone?”

“The hospital’s five miles away. If he was that sick, he wouldn’t drive.”

“Well, he couldn’t’ve asked anyone – we were all onstage.”

“Or going to be.”

“There’s Paul.”

“Then who would’ve pulled the curtain?”

“Megan?”

“Then Roger would’ve told her, too.”

“Or Paul would.”

“You’re right – Roger’s real thorough. He’s always been that way.”

“And Megan couldn’t’ve pulled the curtain. She’d be onstage, subbing for Roger.”

“Just like she did – book in hand.”

“Then maybe he did tell her.”

“Then why’re we looking for him now?”

“And there wouldn’t’ve been that five minute silence – while everyone figured out what to do.”

“It wasn’t that long,” Megan objected. “It was less than a minute. I just unplugged myself from the console and went around to the other side of the set, to see if Roger had fallen asleep, waiting for his cue.”

“That’s not like him – he always looks forward to acting.”

“Relishes it.”

“He is something of a ham.”

“And when I couldn’t find him,” Megan went on, “I had to race back to my desk, grab my prompt book, and go in the nearest door.”

“Yeah, that really threw me,” one of the actors who’d been onstage said. “Not only were you there instead of Roger, but you were in the wrong place.”

“You snuck up behind us, when we were all expecting Roger to come in the other side.”

“Sorry,” Megan apologized. “But I thought it best to get everything going again.”

“And you did – it was.”

“Except for all the dumb looks on our faces.”

“And the fact we’d been vamping to cover the delay.”

“I’m not sure how much of the audience noticed.”

“That we were improvising? Oh, come on.”

“At least, it wasn’t in iambic pentameter – I’ve had to do that.”

“Or in the middle of a song.”

“It may as well’ve been,” one of the actors who had been in a dressing room said. “For the longest time, no one was saying anything.”

“That’s what got our attention – the silence.”

“The l-o-n-g silence.”

“It wasn’t that long,” Megan repeated. “It may just’ve seemed that way.”

“Besides, you couldn’t see what we were doing onstage.”

“To cover.”

“We were fooling with that bunch of flowers.”

“The ones in the vase.”

“On the couch table.”

“Doing business.”

“It was funny.”

“It was desperate.”

“It was the first thing I thought of,” the actor who started it explained. “I was standing right there, and I’d fooled with those flowers before. So it seemed natural.”

“It didn’t make much sense with what was going on.”

“But if you didn’t know the script...”

“A lot of people do – from the movie.”

“Movies always change things. Like in Wait Until Dark.”

“Maybe no one cared. They were just having fun. It’s a comedy.”

“At least, no one was laughing – in the wrong way.”

“I caught a couple of odd smiles in the front row.”

“Still – especially ‘cause it’s opening night, and there’s a party planned – that’s probably what everyone were thinking about.”

“And these old plays’re longer – three acts. They were probably thinking about that, too.”

“And of racing to the bathroom at intermission. There’s never enough room”

The opening night party was at the director’s house, and there were frequently parties planned. That’s why most of the company liked to be in plays, and that’s where they all wanted to be just then. And – especially since Roger hadn’t turned up – everyone figured he must be all right. There must have been a family – or friend’s – emergency that called him away.

“Bad timing,” one of the actors said.

“Hell of a time for that to happen.”

“Well, the problem with emergencies is you can’t plan ‘em.”

“They’re like accidents.”

“And I’d drive out to Roger’s place, but it’s twelve miles in the opposite direction.”

“I’ll go out there first thing tomorrow morning – well, after church.”

“I’m sure everything’ll be OK.”

“And we’ll keep calling. Eventually, he’ll answer.”

“Maybe his phone’s just dead.”

“Also not like him.”

“Well, maybe the battery died.”

“I sure he’s fine,” Megan insisted. “But I’ll tell you, it gave me a scare. In all my years, I’ve never had to go on like that.”

Still, the weirdest thing that happened was when Rogers apartment was checked the following day – he wasn’t there. Most of his stuff was – an odd collection of books, furniture, and decorations, some of which people recognized as being castoffs from old productions over the years. Roger lived on the second floor of what had been the farmhouse of a small farm. It was no longer owned by that family, and the land was now leased to a large corporate group. The downstairs was rented to someone unrelated to Roger, and a newer, outside set of stairs went up to what had been four small bedrooms. That was Roger’s place.

Fortunately, the door wasn’t locked. “There’s no reason for that,” one of his downstairs neighbor’s said. “There’s almost never anyone here except the three of us and maybe some of my husband’s and my friends. But we mainly see them in town, ‘cause who wants to drive way out here?”

Roger’s car was gone, along with what seemed to be all his clothes and his laptop and shaving stuff. Eventually, anything that was left was neatly packed up and moved to the barn the theater company used for prop and furniture storage. “He could be back to clean out,” people reminded each other, “so we’d better keep everything safe.” But the truth was no one believed it.

And Roger never turned up. Over the next few years, some of what had been his wandered onstage again – or was finally donated to Goodwill when it got in the way.

And what had happened to Roger? The truth was that he’d been so busy, and he’d always done rehearsals carrying his script and casually glancing at his lines, that he never really learned them. And though he’d been a quick study in his younger years and – like Megan – had sometimes just depended on the repetition of rehearsals to force the words into his head – his memory was that good – he was also quietly glad that he wasn’t so skilled an actor that he was ever cast in anything besides small parts. Still, as he stood at the door of the set waiting to go on – script in hand and ready to be set down – he realized that, this time, nothing had stuck. His short scene and tiny part contained a lot of pivotal, if double-talking funny, plot information, and it may as well have been in lawyer’s Latin – it was that complicated. And he couldn’t just go on with his script in hand, because he’d look like a fool in front of practically everyone he knew. But he was standing near both the set door and the one that led to the steps and down to the parking lot. And faced with a real door and a fake one, he left.

“Wrong choice! Wrong choice!” all of his former friends would have kidded him. “Why didn’t you just come onstage with the script, and we all could’ve laughed about it later – together?”

“It was only opening night, and we only had one performance that week ‘cause dress rehearsal was on Friday. And we were scheduled to run Fridays and Saturdays for a month-and-a-half. You would’ve been fine.”

But, evidently, Roger didn’t think so, maybe from not thinking clearly from being self-overworked and too overly responsible. Or maybe from suddenly thinking very clearly. So he walked out of the theater, drove home, grabbed what was necessary, left the state, and went almost entirely across the country – to somewhere sunny and warm where putting on plays wasn’t important. And he never went into a theater again.

2019 by Richard Eisbrouch
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Truly an overreaction, but it smacks of possible physical/mental illness.

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Or he was just tired of being a mainstay of a small community theater, and it took that kind of mistake to make him realize that.

Thanks for that note.  With just a few words changed, it made me clarify the end of the story.

Edited by RichEisbrouch
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