I cannot remember my girlfriend’s name. I try and wrack my mind, but the more I focus the more it slips away. This is important right now, more important than anything else I ever did or did not do, but I am unable to do it. I can’t remember her name, I cannot remember her face. She is beside me but I cannot remember her face, or how she looked like. I look at her and my thoughts slip, unable to find any purchase, condemning her to complete and utter oblivion.
I can remember her presence, the things she did. How she would grab me tightly from behind and kiss my neck, refusing to let me go or turn my head. I remember her expression when waking up after falling asleep next to me, sullen and slightly grumpy. She was a late riser, drinking coffee in the mornings and alcohol in the evenings. She liked to dance but never sang. Too embarrassed at her own voice. Not even drunk singing, never. She was always trying to drag me to dance with her, though, insisting until I relented. And if I said no she would pout for a moment, before breaking into a cheerful grin.
She was also serious about what she worked on, always. If she took a job, she would drop all smiles and carefree attitude, roll up her sleeves and do the damn job as best as she could. Her geology thesis, her volunteering at the local library, her amateur theater troupe. She still smiled and joked, but also made sure everyone around her worked as much as she did. And nobody worked harder than her.
Yet I still cannot remember her face, or her name. She could be anyone, anywhere. She is in front of me. She is bleeding to death.
No, not quite. She is gasping and coughing, a wet gurgling cough that I never want to hear again. There are frothing bubbles coming from the wound in her chest, and as she gasps more bubbles pop from the wound. That’s because her lungs were perforated, and are flooding with blood as air bubbles out. She is struggling, gasping for air, but her own blood is flooding into her lungs, preventing her from breathing. She is drowning in her own blood.
I stand corrected: She is not bleeding to death, she is drowning. She is dying in front of me, and I cannot do anything. I cannot even remember who she is.
The curtains come down.
A few hours ago, at the start of this evening, it was different. I remembered who she was. I remembered her and I told her:
“I’m not sure if I should be going with you tonight.”
“Come on,” she said. “It’s not as if you’re doing anything else. Jeez!” She wrapped her arm around my waist and pulled me closer as we walked down the street. It was chilly, but not too cold; chilly enough I could feel her warmth against me, and I pulled her closer myself. I was enjoying my night out, despite my protests.
“I do have a test, actually. Not a hundred percent free,” I said.
“Are you ever a hundred percent free?” she asked.
“Don’t blame me, blame my teachers,” I replied. “Or the corseload. Or the college, I guess…?” my voice trailed off at the obvious bullshit excuse. My girlfriend noticed my weakness, and pounced at it.
“Oh, is that the ‘Don’t blame me, blame society’ excuse?” she said in a mocking tone, smiling at me.
“Man, it’s all The Man’s fault,” I joked, pulling my best stoned hippie impression. “The Man keeps putting us down.”
“Why is it always ‘the man’ that’s to blame?” she asked. “It could be The Woman that’s putting us all down.”
“Could be,” I answered diplomatically.
“It’s all The Woman’s fault!” She spoke, with a better stoner impression than mine, all gravelly voice and matching posture. “The Woman is putting us all down, I tell you.”
“Well, considering the teacher giving me a test tomorrow is called Mrs. Higgins… You might be onto something there,” I realized. “Yeah! Actually it IS The Woman’s fault. Well, a woman, at least. That woman being Mrs. Higgins.”
“Ok, we’re going off track,” she dismissed, suddenly serious. “You’re always busy. Even when we do stuff together, or when you find time...”
“Well,” I paused, searching for words. “That’s life, I guess.”
“What if you were going to die tomorrow?”
“Oh, this again?” I laughed, despite the subject matter. It was always one of her go-to arguments before doing something crazy or when convincing me to go to a party or whatever. ‘What if the world was going to end tomorrow? What if this was your last day on earth? Would you spend it sitting around at home watching TV?’ It’s the argument she used to drag me out, at 10 pm, to watch her theater group rehearse a play the night before opening. Which is what she was doing right now.
“Well,” I said. “If I was dead at least I wouldn’t have to worry about the test anymore.”
“That’s true, glad you’re looking on the bright side,” she nodded. “But seriously. What if you were going to die tonight? You go to bed and never wake up. What would you want to do? How would you spend your last hours?” Her expression grew serious as she asked, looking straight at me. I stopped walking and paused, looking back at her while considering my answer.
“Dunno,” I said, a bit surprised by how the conversation tone had changed so quickly. “I guess I would spend it with you...”
“Aww,” she smiled and pulled me in a hug, kissing me quickly before letting go. “That’s sweet!”
“And...” I continued, still thinking.
“And?” she asked.
“I’d like to eat a cheeseburger.” I said.
She returned me a blank, skeptical look.
“Seriously?” She asked.
“Well, lofty wishes have a habit of giving only disappointment so… Yeah. Cheeseburger. You. Feels like a solid plan.”
“But a cheeseburger? Not even something fancy, like a gourmet panini or...”
“No, no, no,” I protested. “Fancy isn’t always better, you know. I like simple. Simple’s good.”
She stared at me for a moment, then we both broke into laughter. It was good-natured humor, a shared laugh at what I said. “Seriously?” She gasped, holding onto me for support. “A fucking cheeseburger, of all things?”
“I’m serious,” I said, in-between chuckles. “I don’t know… It’s what I’d want.”
“No, this is wrong!” She giggled, but her face changed from incredulity to concern back to laughter. “Your last wish is supposed to be something grand and meaningful and poignant and… Well...” She laughed again, unable to finish that sentence.
“Like what?” I asked.”
She gave me a look and chuckled some more, shaking her head in disbelief. “It’s lame! Can you imagine if someone ever wrote a story like that?” She put on a gruff voice. “Mr. Cody, you will be executed at dawn. Any last wishes before you go?” She then replied to herself in an eager, younger voice. “A cheeseburger, please!”
“Well,” I shrugged. “When you put it like that-?”
But I was silenced by my girlfriend hugging me so tightly, my air was pushed out of my lungs. I awkwardly hugged her back as she clung to me. It was a quiet, tender moment, a little awkward in all the right ways, until she relented. “Thanks for coming to watch my play,” she said, smiling.
“It’s alright,” I mumbled, a little happy and stunned, taking her in. Her smile, her eager eyes.
“I’m kinda nervous, to be honest. I really want to know what you think of it.” She said, as we continued walking, closer now to our destination.
“It should be fine. You know...” I struggled for words, trying to toe the line between honesty and being kind. “It’s not a professional theater group. It’s alright to be a bit rough around the edges… So long as it leaves a good impression on the audience, that’s what counts.”
“We have something cool planned,” she said. “I really hope it works!”
“Looking forward to it,” I replied, and I really was.
When we arrived at the theater there was already a group gathered at the entrance. Small, no more than 9 people in all, 11 with us joining them as someone struggled with the keys.
“Sorry,” he mumbled back to the crowd. “Key gets stuck; sometimes you just have to… There!” With a final click the door opened and he turned back to us triumphantly. I forget his name. A member of my girlfriend’s theater club. He was the oldest of them at 46, with thick curly brown hair and glasses. He flashed us all a sheepish smile.
After walking inside and flicking on the lights, he welcomed everyone into the theater . The entrance hall was a bit shabby and old, although not completely without glamour. The floor and ticket counter were both made of solid wood and the wall had an engraved pattern that must have looked very high class thirty or forty years ago. Time and lack of funds had both worn that luster down, with chips, scratches and a faint patina of dust, but the old theater still had some of its charm.
“Do you know where the newbie is?” My girlfriend asked of the man with glasses, as they walked past the entrance to the next set of doors. “Is she already in there or...”
“There was a small change of plans,” he replied, fiddling with the keys again. “She should be here in ten minutes or so with two of her friends.”
“Oh, ok. That leaves the other guy, who’s going to be here soon, right?” Asked my girlfriend.
“Yeah, he already texted me,” replied another actress trailing behind the two. She was a friend of ours, a short woman with a cheerful smile and endless capacity for alcohol. She (what was her name? Why can’t I remember her name?) was wearing a worn hoodie and hair tied in a ponytail. “He already texted me, should be here soon, actually. A little earlier than expected,” she shrugged. “I guess they balance each other out?”
Glasses man laughed. “Would be great if it worked like that, huh?”
“It’s ok,” said my girlfriend. “Everyone will make it in time, don’t worry.” Then she turned to the rest of the crowd, what I assumed was the audience. They all looked like family members or friends, and I saw a girl I was pretty sure was our friend’s sister. She looked a lot like her. “Hey, everyone! Thank you for coming,” my girlfriend spoke, looking at all of us and raising her voice.
“Excuse me,‘ a small voice coming from an older man with a small, neat beard and receding hairline. He looked in his fifties or so. “Can you tell me where the washroom is?”
“Oh yeah,” my girlfriend pointed to a door on the side of the entrance. “Go in there and down those stairs. Just turn on the light before you go down.” As the man gratefully shuffled to the door she turned to the rest of us, smiling. “Everyone, feel free to come in and pick a seat. It’s going to take a while to get everything ready and start the play, so make yourselves comfortable. And if you need to use the washroom, well… You know where it is.” She gestured to the door leading downstairs and smiled.
Glasses man opened the door leading to the auditorium and ushered everyone in, cast members dragging each a guest or two. The stage area was very much like the entrance, old and worn, but still imposing. It even had thick red curtains that hung from the ceiling, blocking our view of the stage. They were imposing, dark red and made of heavy fabric, despite dust and age fading their color.
My Girlfriend walked with me to the auditorium and gave me a chaste peck on the cheek. “We’ll get ready soon, ok? Might take a while, so be patient,” she said.
“Don’t worry,” I answered softly, getting closer to her so we could hear each other as small conversations broke around us. “I won’t be going anywhere.”
She gave my hand a little squeeze. “Tell me what you think when the play’s over?”
“I will give a most thorough critique,” I winked.
“Maybe afterwards we can go get that cheeseburger you seem to want so much,” she suggested, smiling mischievously.
My only answer was a chuckle before she let go of my hand and joined the other actors, all now walking backstage while chatting excitedly between themselves.
The chairs were a bit more modern than the rest of the theater, dark blue fabric peppered here and there with faint stains. The puny audience gathered for this rehearsal made the space feel larger and emptier than normal. Small conversations and shuffled steps echoed faintly as people spread out and took their seats. Everyone gathered towards the front rows, but kept a chair or two empty between each other. Space given to strangers when we must share a common seating area. Not everyone, of course, two men sat together and one pulled his phone to show something in the screen to the other. Another woman, older than me and well dressed, sat a chair away and put her handbag besider her with a sigh.
There was a wait, stretching out the minutes into sleepy anticipation. At first I was content to sit and wait for the actors to enter stage right, but as more time passed without any sign of the play starting I grew restless. Wondering what time it was I checked my pockets but my phone was not there. Of course. The battery had died, forcing me to leave it at home.
“Excuse me, have you come to one of these rehearsals before?”
The one who spoke was the lady beside me. She looked out of her element, looking suspiciously at her surroundings before turning her attention to me. “A couple of times,” I answered, truthfully. None of them had been this late, or brought as many people as this. Rehearsals for amateur theater wasn’t really something that brought in the crowd. I made an effort to come to them whenever invited, if only to spend some time with my girlfriend despite my busy schedule.
“Do you know if it’s going to start anytime soon? It’s been twenty minutes already.”
“I don’t know… Maybe someone is late?” I looked at the stage but still could not see anyone near it. I strained my ears to hear any noise coming from backstage.
“Well, I hope they start it quickly or just cancel it altogether. It’s getting rather late, isn’t it?”
Part of me agreed with her, but I balked at the idea of seeing this rehearsal go wrong or being cancelled. I knew how much time my girlfriend spent putting it together, and if the play went wrong it would hurt her, despite what she might say afterwards. “It should start soon,” I said, with more hope than conviction.
“I would prefer to watch this with everyone else at opening, really. But my husband insisted! Here I am on a Wednesday evening and don’t even know the name of the play we’re supposed to be watching.”
Part of me wondered if it was worthwhile to answer her. She seemed more in a mood to complain and vent, rather than curious about the play.
But I had no idea how to answer her, so I said, “the play’s called ‘The King in Yellow’ I think.”