August 02, 2016
I hate the theater. Why does Sheila insist we go? A man my age has no time to spare. I study a floor map hanging on a wall in the lobby, noting the exits and locations of the men’s rooms.
“Come on, Oliver,” says my wife, pulling at my arm. “We’re on the second floor.” She starts walking toward our seats, waddling to and fro. Her fire engine red hair speaks to the massive crowd: I’m hair. I’m hair. Make way, I’m hair.
I turn to follow her and freeze. My father is at the bar. I recognize his stance, shoulders back, a commanding Army officer, ready to salute. A leggy brunette yaks in his ear. Orange overhead lights tan his skin a leathery brown and it changes him, makes him younger. He needs a shave.
Sheila clutches her fingers around my arm and pulls again.
But I refuse to budge. “Look! There’s Dad.”
“Don’t point!” Sheila says, pushing down my arm. “We don’t know that man.”
“Dad!” I shout. Heads turn.
“For gods sake, Oliver. Your father’s been dead for twenty years,” she says.
“I know it.” This is a lie. I feel ashamed but I can’t remember. I pull a handkerchief from my pants pocket and clean my lenses.
“Let’s go, dear. You don’t want to miss the beginning, do you?” Sheila says in the voice she once used to trick our children into eating vegetables. She trudges forward, and I follow her up a flight of velvet-carpeted stairs, her gaze on her orthopedic shoes, paying attention to anything, anyone, except the man with whom she has spent a lifetime.
I think to say I’m a man, damn it. Talk to me like I’m a man, but instead, I say to her back, “If you are to drag me to this nonsensical playroom, the least you could do is buy me a decent seat.”
“It’s a sold out performance, Oliver. Our seats are just fine.” She looks over her shoulder at my unstable feet.
I grip the railing. “Fine? Fine?” I take a step up. “I’ll be lucky if my nose doesn’t bleed.” Step. “All over the people who paid more below.” I can’t recall what we are here to see. I won’t ask. Sheila would get angry with me for not remembering.
She trucks on, her skirt bunching up her behind. She stops at the top. There is another bar and windows that look out to Broadway and its illuminations. People stand about, chatting, sipping, and laughing. “I snuck a bottle of water inside for you. It fit in my purse.”
Lights flash on and off, and I picture Sheila in a hospital bed cradling our youngest son Charlie. I blow my nose in the handkerchief and stuff it in my pocket.
We take a right to the balcony. There is a big drop to stage level and glancing down makes me dizzy. I hold Sheila’s shoulder to steady myself. I don’t recognize this place. “What are we doing here?” I ask.
“Can I help you find your seats?” says a woman in a man’s suit. She hands me a playbill that reads: A View from the Bridge.
“No. What is this? I don’t want it,” I say.
Sheila shushes. “We’re seeing a show. It’s time to be quiet.”
“What happened to Dad?”
“Pardon him,” she says to the woman. “He gets confused. They won’t call it Alzheimer’s, but of course it is.”
“I’m so sorry,” the woman says, waiting.
Sheila shakes her head and won’t look at me when I say her name. She is rummaging through her purse. I don’t know what I did wrong. It makes me sad but I can’t help her if she refuses to talk about it.
She presents our tickets to the woman, who shines a flashlight, saying, “This way.”
“Sweetheart?” I say softly.
Sheila takes my hand. We interlace our fingers, Sheila and I – hers, mine, hers, mine – and we go ahead.
ANDREA ARNOLD is a Los Angeles-based writer whose fiction has been published or is forthcoming in The Conium Review, Literary Orphans Journal, and elsewhere. Her nonfiction has appeared in several places including Electric Literature, The Rumpus, and The Nervous Breakdown. She holds an MFA from USC. She is now at work on her novel. For more about Andrea, visit her website and follow her @drearnold.