The Box Checked OTHER (Part 1)

 

The pain was unbearable after every hour she waited for her turn. Every time she glanced down at the incisions the black patent leather of her cheap heels had dug into the backs of her feet, red seemed to scream up at her. She was swimming in the pain of the entire week; ramen noodles Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, wine Friday morning, splurging on a brunch she couldn’t afford in a part of town she didn’t live in, to meet with friends that just didn’t get it.

The eggs at brunch weren’t like the ones she had perfected over the years, a hard pill to swallow after she signed the check. What was once a scary element of life, an uncertainty she didn’t care to learn more about, the kitchen slowly became her best friend as money stretched thinner through the weeks. Eggs over easy, or poached, sometimes with green onions sprinkled on top and a homemade sauce she concocted from leftover packets of sauce from various take outs. Sometimes scrambled, sometimes fried. Only on days where she could cry herself to sleep, when the call back never came through, when her agent texted her the bad news instead of called, so he could stash it away as a problem for later as he dealt with his fruitful clients. Eggs brought out her creativity. The kitchen was a place to bring meaning and art to her world when life failed to.

Her friends’ laughs next to her were too high and too loud, and even she knew they felt their contrast to the tranquil scene around them—cute, vapid couples glued to their phones, random loners who hadn’t touched their food in hours, mothers who had traded their baby bottles to waiting nannies in exchange for wine glasses in the mid-morning sun, escaping a world that was too tame for their liking. If the scene was a question off a job application, she and her friends would check the box: OTHER, because that was what they were. The off category that didn’t seem to fit in anywhere, the unfortunate who people question why they aren’t married with little babies to tote around, yet are secretly envied for not having them. The in-between ages that aren’t important for huge birthday parties and getting drunk during the week or even one night stands, yet that is exactly what still happens. It felt as lifeless as the world around them. But the laughs, it kept their energy from matching those inner thoughts.

She thought that maybe if she stared into the thick gloss of her pointed toes, she could swallow her thoughts of taking those damn shoes off and screwing it all to go back home and Moscato-ing herself to sleep. The paper they gave her when she arrived was gripped firmly in between manicured fingers. 1357, it said. The girl in front of her was 1359. 1358 left four hours ago, complaining on the phone about unneccesary bookings. Who would have thought that necessity had various perspectives, she thought as she stood in her reality.

The line moved slimily forward a few inches, and the sudden momentum after standing in place for several minutes sent electric zaps of energy up her legs. The pain of her throbbing heels suddenly became fuel, and she knew she wasn’t going anywhere else. She bought the heels last night at a dance hall down the street from her apartment, after learning she got the part. Dancing. It was what she did to old Frank Sinatra songs in her slippers at night. Robe on, face mask chipping away and forgotten on her cheeks. The city dying down around her as she slid across her floor. The cars below were her audience, honking horns and skirting tires taking place of the claps that politely bid farewell to a job well done. Spotify couldn’t capture the gritty crinkle of old times she could feel in her bones when she used her record player; it just wasn’t the same. Old winning over the new. The box checked OTHER seemed more and more perfect for her every day. She could listen to the dreamy, euphonious timbre of Sinatra’s voice until the end of time. It was what she heard in elevators when she had them to herself, what she smelled when she pulled out a new concoction from the oven, the distant sound that plays in the background of her life as she runs through puddles of rain to hail taxis, the hidden meanings behind Tinder date smiles that promise more than one night stands. Her dream world had a Frank Sinatra playlist.

She was told she was going to have to dance today. Say a few lines, then dance. The shoes were cheap and fit her budget. Her agent advised to spend as much or less than what the gig offered to prepare for it, which seemed like such ridiculous advice to someone struggling to pay bills. He told her fame was what she wanted, and that was what will pay in the long run. The gag was that this gig was unpaid, and the shoes were fourteen dollars. She hadn’t followed through with this one. The line creeped slowly forward, like the stubborn droplets of sweat running down hot legs in the summer time. She could hear the choppy velvetiness of the music behind the closed door ahead of the throng. One, two, three, four, one, two, three, four. Watch me, please. Yes, yes, okay. Look at me, what is your name again?  Thank you. Next.

Crisp no’s rang out into the hallway as the door opened and 1300, then 1301, then 1302, filed out, giving sneak peeks of the inevitable. She looked around. The casting call had called for a specific height, a specific level of athleticism, a “can-do attitude.” The hearty mix of colors and faces that filled the hallway was reminiscent and fitting of the city. She felt affinity for them all, as they stood there in pain and in anticipation, going over steps they hadn’t learned yet, sharing past gig stories with the girl in front of and behind their place in line. This was what she lived for.

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