Subtle and calculated: the feminine face of hatred
It all started when my man, Jean Paul – bless his tight ass, Er, soul – came to visit me in the dressing room right after the 11 o’clock show one day. I was in a particularly decent mood. The show was an entertainer, though if you ask me, it was a no-brainer and sexist as fuck. I only had to dress up heavy – an extra coat of mascara, and extra generous with the blush – and let him slap my butt while he said, “Look, dear Clementine! The police are here. You’re safe now.” And I had to exclaim, “Of course. But you’re the one who saved me Mr Denver, sir”. But all I kept thinking was, ‘Safe and violated. Thank you, you ass of a man’. The lights were glaring down at me so I had to smile and act real grateful instead.
But really? I don’t give a rat’s ass anymore if someone grabs my behind or anything. I mean, I do give him a stern eye, and if I care enough to waste my breath, even a piece of my mind. But in this business, sweetie, you really can’t be sensitive about your tushy. We have a common dressing room, for crying out loud. After a point, you get used to all the ogling.
Anyway, sweet Jean Paul and I, we went out the fire exit and shared a smoke on them makeshift stairs.
“Hey, Rhonda”, he said. “You gotta do me a favour, darlin’. You really gotta.”
“J.P, you really pay any attention to your old woman only when you need her.” I cackled feistily. I felt real giddy then. I don’t know why now, but boy, that Jean Paul can do crazy things to a woman.
He used to hang around at the theatre for a while. Then he decided to get an education.
‘An education?’ I sneered. ‘Education’s for bastards.’ I thought to myself and laughed. I really wasn’t in complete control of my marbles. I still remember how he begged me to come along.
“Come with,” he said. “Come with.”
But truth be told, I’m a thirty-five year old woman who is constantly slapped around. He was young, beautiful and smart. He had all my good thoughts and best wishes, if I ever had any.
I digress. So, we were sharing a smoke when he put his hand into his breast pocket and passed a photo over to me.
“My fiancé, Sasha,” he said.
It was an old picture. He seemed to have carried it around for a long time. The edges had curled, and the photo itself had lost all its sheen. But, oh, the girl was beautiful. She made up for the tattered state of the picture. I didn’t quite know how I felt about it. I guess, I must’ve been pretty cool with it.
“She’s coming to the States, from Mexico.” He smiled.
“I told her I’ll make a lot of money and soon too. I told her to sit tight there and that ‘your man is coming right to you’. But she said ‘No.’ Wouldn’t hear a word. She said she’d come here, live with me and we’ll get married right here in Times Square.” He laughed, staring fixedly at the picture. “Wouldn’t hear a word. I mean, nobody gets married in Times Square!”
I remained silent, looking at his young, happy self. He suddenly turned grim and a sadness beyond his age seemed to fall upon him like a bleak shadow.
“Rhonda,” He said. “You know I’m studying. I can’t afford to pay my own damn bills, forget another person’s. I told her I’d quit school but she wouldn’t hear of it.”
He paused, staring at the door through which we could vaguely hear the dialogues of the next play.
“Now I know about the kind of crap that goes on in there but I’m not influential and there are only so many places I can pull a favour. My Sasha? She’s beautiful, talented and naïve, as anybody that ever lived. She can land a role here. But I want you, Rhonda, to look after her.” He looked into my eyes, “Would you do that for me Rhonda? Would you please?”
I thought for a minute. An innate sadness took over me. To love and to be loved was a memory foreign to me. Now I’m no Mother Teresa, god forbid. I get through the day spiting every man that ever walked through the doors of that damned theatre. But here was a happy couple and all I had to do was throw them a bone and look around for ‘em. So I went ‘Sure, to hell with it,’ in my head and I said, “Okay.” Nothing more.
He waited for more but there was none coming. “Okay?,” He asked again.
Did I have to say ‘Affirmative’ and do a march right there, I thought, getting annoyed. I rolled my eyes and repeated, “Okay.”
He hugged me with joy and gave me a highly-inadequate peck on the cheek. Oh, how the boy teased me. I went, “Hail fucking Mary,” in my head.
Two months passed uneventfully with the same damned plays called ‘Peeping Neighbour’ and ‘What did Tom do?’ : the usual sexist shit that plays in a cheap theatre. My manager was still being a pain in the ass, the lousy bastard that he was. I didn’t get a single good break. My director was being just as annoying, and refused to increase my pay. I had my fair share of young bimbos to kick around and only got through the day because my piece in the ‘Peeping Neighbour’ where I had to yell and hit a perverted stalker turned out to be a crowd hit. What can I say? All sorts of crap turns people on these days. As long as their fetishes pay my bills though? Hey, be my guest. I’d love to knee a couple of more groins, if you please.
Then this one day, I just came in for the five o’ clock show and found J.P’s girl in the dressing room. She looked like a poor lost thing there.
“You, girl,” I beckoned to her. “Where’s that boy, J.P, at?”
She was sitting on this stool in one corner, bending over and looking at some props lying around – costumes stapled with glittering party decorations. Theatre folk recycle very well indeed. She jerked to her senses and muttered, “Er, Hi. He…has some exams.”
“What’s your name again?” I asked her. She was just as pretty as in the picture. Older, yes. But just as pretty. I saw a tough road ahead of her.
“Sasha,” she replied. “And you are Rhonda?”
“Yep, Alive and breathing. Say, what play are you working in, again?”
“I’m your understudy in ‘Peeping Neighbour’”
“Not much pay there. Try to land a role, wilya?”
“I will. I am not used to working in a theatre, you see.”
“You’ll figure it out.”
Initially she had a hard time, that girl. The kid took offence very easily. I really didn’t do much, it wasn’t something more than she could handle so I let it rest. Three months in, she knew the trade like a pro. She worked as my understudy in ‘Peeping Neighbour’, but managed to get a role in another play. She tagged around me a lot. She could hang out with them bimbos, they were closer to her age and didn’t have a lousy mouth on them like I did, but she didn’t. Stayed close to my heels like a pet, that one.
One night I caught the flu. Couldn’t get out of the damned bed if I tried. That night she went onto the stage to do my piece. Nailed it straight, I heard.
When I went back to the theatre the next time, my role was gone. How she pulled out a badass role, I can’t even imagine. She was like this sad little creature to me. Even tried to turn down the role but the director threw me out anyway. I crashed at a bar next, still in my costume with an old dirty coat on. I barged straight out of the theatre when the director cut me off. I was drooling on my martini feeling like a sad old lady when the girl came.
“Rhonda,” she called out. I ignored her real well. She walked over to me, grabbed a seat beside me and ordered a drink.
“Rhonda, you can’t leave,” she said.
“I’ll do whatever the hell I want,” I muttered through gritted teeth.
“Rhonda, you are brilliant. You have to stay.”
“I am old, that’s what I am, you dumb girl.”
“But, Rhonda, where will you go?”
It was a really good question. I’ll be damned if I know anything else. “I’ll waitress or something.”
“Why don’t you understudy for a while and then get another role?”
“You don’t know how this business works, kid. When it is over, it is over. You don’t make a brilliant comeback like in them super hero movies.”
“Are you never going to come back?” she asked.
“Afraid not.” We remained silent. The music was blaring loudly in my ears. I stared at the ice cubes in my drink, patiently waiting for them to melt, transfixed by nothing in particular. I did expect it actually. I’d be kidding myself to think that I’d hold on to the job forever. But the reality of being jobless was only sinking in.
Six months passed. I began waitressing at this suave place an hour away from where I lived. I had lost contact with everybody from my old life. It was a cold day in mid- November, and I had just got off the subway and was walking back home. I noticed somebody waiting on the stairs in front of my apartment. I wondered who it might be, sitting out in the dead cold. I could only see the silhouette of someone sitting hunched over with their head on their knees. I walked quicker.
“Hello?” I asked cautiously.
The person jumped up. It was Sasha. She hugged me tightly and began crying. I slowly took her inside. I made her sit on the couch, cleared my stuff around. She looked devastated and cold. I went in and brought her a warm blanket. I sat down in front of her and waited.
“What happened?” I asked.
“Well, everything was going great for a while. I mean I had trouble getting along with the other girls but the show was going fine. Paul and I, we were planning to get married right after he was done with school in December. But we were hard pressed for money so I stuck with the job anyway.” She broke down into tears. I waited for her to get her bearings together.
“And then yesterday evening, the director called me up at home. Told me there’d be a party for the entire cast. I said no, Mr Tony, I’m alright. I’ll see you Monday. But he said I had to be there. He said we’re like a family and I had to come.” She paused to take a breath.
“Paul wasn’t home anyway. I decided to go quickly and come back. The lights were on so I went in. I realised something was funny because it was so damn quiet. It was really quiet, you know?” She looked at me pleadingly. I nodded my head understandingly.
“Then I saw Mr Tony. He was drunk and he caught hold of me. He didn’t let me go. He just didn’t.” She cried.
“So you were assaulted?” I asked. She nodded, still crying onto my shoulder. I really felt sorry for her. I really did. I’d been in the business for over fifteen years. I knew how the trade worked. I knew its downsides and I was immune to the evils of the profession.
I mean, everybody knew that they weren’t the sole proprietors of their business. Hell, no. Your manager told you he’d inform you of some dates? Yeah? Hope to god he doesn’t tell that li’l bitch in them white thongs to pass on a message for him. ‘Cause she sure as hell won’t let it get to you. Why, you’ll probably end up being the last person to know that there’s an opening for a role in a show.
The guy seemed sweet and funny? He is probably narking out your bed room secrets to all the men in the cast and crew. They’re probably laughing over it behind your back, and the worst kind, they laugh on your face and call out names.
So, yeah, everybody knew how the dressing room politics work. And you stay on your guard all the time. Trouble starts when someone gets inhumane and acts like a dick-head.
“Darlin’. It’s okay. It’ll be alright. Don’t worry,” I tried to console her. I was wondering how the director, that old bastard could do something like that. It creeps the hell out of me when men in power try to exploit you. I have deep set problems with authority, ya see. She had no idea how well I understood her dilemma.
I looked closely at Sasha. The poor girl felt devastated. She was only about to get married.
“I..I don’t know how I can tell this to Paul,” she said.
I held her chin, looked into her eyes and told her slowly. “Sasha, you aren’t going to tell J.P a word. Not until after you get married, and then too, only if you must.”
“But.. But Paul loves me.”
“I’m not saying he doesn’t, but you can’t. If you want to talk about it, tell me.” She looked at me sadly.
“I have my reasons, darlin’. But trust me when I say this, you do not want to tell J.P a thing.” I sat by her side through the night. She cried onto my shoulder and fell asleep. While she slept I looked at her young, broken figure. She was too young to be destroyed. I wrote a letter to her in my barely legible script.
“Sasha,” It said. “I want you to hold on to this forever. Whenever you feel low, depressed, things from the past will stare at you in the face. One of which will be last night’s li’l incident. It will torment you, aggravate you, and push you till the point of destroying you.”
“Every year many girls are violated and assaulted in this country. If everyone gives up there is no hope for the broken. I want you to remember that I’m always with you no matter the others. I want you to forget and move forward knowing that Paul and I will always love you.”
I left the letter on the tea table. Sitting beside her, my thoughts wandered to the past. One such incident had cost me everything: Love, family, ambition. The perpetrator got away safely leaving behind no evidence of a crime committed except the scar that I carry, burdening me for the rest of my life.
Now another perpetrator, just as raucous and heartless had committed the same crime on Sasha. A thought struck me, “Why should he get away?”