And Fill Me from the Crown to the Toe
My first thought was that she had a fantastic body. She was a good deal younger than me, in her late twenties, I estimated. Later, I learned from her passport that she was thirty-one.
Her face was pleasant enough, the nose a bit too strong for my liking, her brown eyes a bit too small. Her hair was long, light brown and wavy. With a new haircut and improved make-up, she would do just fine.
The spring production was Macbeth. The Scottish play didn’t exactly have many roles for women, but then again, few classical plays did. I tried to imagine her as Lady Macbeth, going mad over the murders she had encouraged, desperately washing her hands of the invisible blood sticking to her skin. She seemed a bit young for it, but Michel’s trust in talent and mask was absolute. One of the witches maybe? At least there would be fewer lines to learn.
Or maybe she was a costume or stage designer?
I hoped she was a new actor. I had been waiting for one for some time now.
She walked up to Michel. Her face transformed into an exaggerated grin before she air-kissed him continental style. Stage crew rarely feel the need to demonstrate how chummy they are with the director, so her affectations almost certainly made her an actor. She was clever. Hopefully not too clever.
Michel walked her over to the stage and introduced her as a recent London School of Performing Arts graduate, as well as the company’s newest member and their Lady Macbeth. He rarely hired anyone straight from school. She had to be special.
Weeks went by. It became apparent that she was indeed exceptional. Her memory and diction were impeccable. Her face moulded itself into an older woman’s, into reflections of hope, cunning, despair, dread and madness, seemingly in the blink of an eye.
Initially wary of the newcomer as any well-acquainted group would be, the cast soon warmed to her. She did so well, both on and off stage, that I worried about my chances with her.
It was Ben who went to speak to her the day before the dress rehearsal. That seemed fitting; he’d had the same conversation with me, fifteen long months ago. Not that I was counting.
“Would you mind staying behind for five minutes?”
“Sure, what’s up, Ben?”
“So there’s this thing we all do the night before every premiere,” he said, sheepishly looking down at his feet. “You know how actors can be a bit superstitious.”
“Yes, I’ve heard!” she laughed. “But I’m not.”
“Just hear me out, okay?”
She noticed the serious expression on his face and nodded.
“See, there’s this legend about an actor, way back, decades ago. She died in an accident during dress rehearsal, but kind of… lingered, I guess.”
At this, she huffed and rolled her eyes, but Ben held up his hand and carried on.
“Ever since, before each premiere, the company holds a ceremony for her. We bring candles and make a little sacrifice, food, drink, flowers, token gestures really. The legend says that those who don’t will take her place.”
“You’re joking!” She giggled.
“No,” Ben said, his face now slightly panicky. I remembered that expression, too. “No, I’m serious. We’re doing it in the break at dress rehearsal tomorrow. I just wanted to let you know so you can bring a candle and…”
“…and nothing. You’re having me on! Make fun of the new girl, take some photos and post them on Insta, I’ve heard all about it. Just look at your face, you know I’m on to you.”
“Please, just listen! We can’t force you of course, but I’d strongly recommend you join us. We don’t want to lose you.”
“And you won’t, don’t worry about me. Thanks for the warning though, and nice try.” She laughed, holding up her hand to stop any further discussion, and walked towards the exit.
Ben stood silently for a minute, wondering what he could have done differently to convince her.
The next evening at dress rehearsal, the company went backstage after the second act. Ben gave her one last chance.
“Oh, come on, give it up already,” she groaned, more irritated than amused now.
“Are you sure?” Ben asked, as he was obliged to.
“Yes. Yes, I’m sure,” she said, rolling her eyes.
Ben nodded sadly, then joined the others backstage.
As soon as the candles were lit, I felt myself drawn towards her. Each morsel of food, cup of wine and flower they placed under the picture of the tragic actor whose death had started this chain reaction made me stronger.
I let her breathe me in, then felt myself gaining control of her muscles, her nerves, her sensations. I had felt her panic, initially, but it subsided, pushed to a little corner of my awareness.
At one point, I felt so strong that I simply knew I could banish her from her body for good. And I did. She would have her chance, too, with the next new actor, the next dress rehearsal. For now, what counted was that I finally had a body again.
It was, indeed, a fantastic body. Much younger than my old one. Although I would need a better haircut for the premiere, just in case someone wanted to interview me.
I walked backstage and joined the rest of the company who were awaiting me with mixed emotions.
“Nice to be back,” I said. “And thanks for giving me the main part!”
Michel grimaced. “I hope you’ve been paying attention and learning the lines.”
“Of course,” I said.
I had observed the new me closely. Very closely indeed.
About the author:
Birgit lives in Edinburgh, Scotland. They write short speculative fiction and have a soft spot for the slightly bizarre and characters who view the world with a healthy dose of sarcasm. Working as a scrum master by day, they also have a PhD in toxicology, which they consult for the occasional (literary) poisoning.
Cassidy Johnson is a traveling artist from Nashville, TN. Working primarily in pen and ink, she creates whimsical drawings and designs that seek to entertain and tell a story. You can see more of her work and purchase her art via cassidyjohnsonart.com or her Instagram @chaosssssidy.