Willard got a call back. He was surprised, his knees shook, and his voice trembled, but they must have seen something. The only thing he could think of was they must have thought his nervousness was a character choice instead of him. He told Flo about it, and she shook her head. He auditioned in the banquet room at the E.F. Lane Hotel in Keene for Foster and Lewis, two producers from Concord, who were casting a play called I Did It for Love, a three-act comedy around same-sex marriage. The stage manager was named Leon, and he came into the supermarket where Willard worked, and told him about the call back.
“We want to see a two minute prepared monologue,” he said, “we’re looking at you for the role of Wallace,” this last bit of information Leon delivered in a tone which revealed he thought there was more chance of the Pope delivering a Mass drunk than there was of Willard getting the part. Willard didn’t care much for Leon’s attitude. It was Tuesday, and his call back was on Thursday, at one o’clock.
“You might want to look at Wallace’s speech in the second act to his sister about his becoming aware,” advised Leon.
Leon smirkingly, said that Reginald, the director, who was in Boston looking for actors, would be there Thursday for the final decision. Willard didn’t give a shit for Leon or Reginald either for that matter. The play was to have a month’s run in Keene, and if it did well enough, get moved to the Charles Street Playhouse in Boston. Willard stocked shelves at the supermarket, and it would be fun to do something different for once, but he wasn’t going to kiss ass either. Flo, who worked in the cash office while chewing gum, said,
“I admire your balls.”
Willard blushed. Willard was good-looking, he could tell from looking in the mirror; he was seventeen years old and dated some girls but found them silly or boring. He lived down in his grandmother’s basement, and was friends with Flo who was ten years older than he, and was married with two daughters. Flo was an addicted cigarette smoker who was now an addicted gum chewer. Willard could not think of a time when Flo’s jaws weren’t going up and down. Flo was maternal towards Willard, and nagged him to go twice a week to the Laundromat, and helped him straighten out his credit. Flo felt bad for Willard; she believed he didn’t know what he wanted, and ended up with marginality. Flo sensed that Willard would have to learn more about himself before he could go any further in life.
Willard went by the E.F. Lane Hotel after work to pick up a copy of I Did It for Love, and when he got back to his basement, looked at the speech Leon recommended. He was touched by it. He sat and read the play until his grandmother called to him from up the stairs to walk the dog. He was annoyed, but acted pleasant towards his grandmother.
“See, I can act,” he thought as he walked down the driveway.
He worked at memorizing the speech. He was in the lunch room, and was silently moving his lips, and the other employees questionably looked at each other.
“You all right?”
“You’re like talking to yourself…”
“I’m memorizing my audition.”
“You’re an actor!” exclaimed Vivian.
“But you’re going to be in a play! That’s so cool! I always wanted to act,” explained Vivian who was a skinny teenaged girl with thick glasses and acne who worked in the seafood department who was forever putting the shrimp in with the clams.
Sal kept yelling at Vivian,
“Shrimps are red, clams are grey.”
“I’ll help you memorize your lines,” offered Vivian leaning towards Willard, “that would be fun for me.”
Willard hesitated, and then, handed her the script. He made good progress with Vivian’s help.
Willard felt differently now. Working on the speech gave him a purpose or point to his life that was new. He also had a friend he hadn’t expected; Vivian followed him around when she wasn’t putting the shrimps in with the clams. She badgered him with advice.
“On the line ‘Father seemed to be uneasy…’ you should stand, and cross stage left to visually break up the speech. Plus, it cues the audience that the climax is coming.”
Willard tepidly smiled. He went over the speech again and again, and it got so he was impatient for tomorrow to come.
He showed up about ten minutes early. After an audition, Leon and an actor came through the double doors. Leon apologized they were running behind schedule, and it would probably be a half-hour yet. Willard was engulfed by the speech, and hoped that when he gave it, he would be free of it. He remembered in school he learned stuff for a test, then, forgot it. He went back outside and walked down Main Street with the speech in his head. He was nervous too; his heart was beating fast. He walked around Central Square, and came back. After several minutes, Leon came through the double doors, and invited Willard into the room. There was a playing area at one end of the room, and at the other end was a long table with four or five people seated at it. There was a spotlight in between the table and playing area. The room lights were on, and Leon did an introduction of the people at the table. Reginald gave a riff about the play, and how they hoped to move it to Boston, but Willard only partially heard him because of his nerves.
“Take the time you need, and raise your hand when you’re ready to start, and we’ll dim the lights,” instructed Leon. Willard moved an empty chair to a spot, and he set up another chair for himself. He sat in his chair, and he heart was racing, and his chest was tight. For a moment, he thought he couldn’t breathe. He raised his hand and there was the spotlight.
I was confused at first because my feelings didn’t match with my biology, I guess you could say. I liked it when boys touched me, or I was close to boys, and I felt nothing having the same experience with a girl. All of my chums were having feelings about girls,
and I played along, but felt totally false about it.
All the nervousness melted away, and Willard felt like a soaring bird high up where no one could touch him. He stood and walked towards the empty chair.
There was a social studies teacher in middle school who seemed to sense what I was experiencing, and one afternoon out on the soccer field when we were separated from the other boys, said, ‘don’t feel badly about what you’re feeling,’ and he gave me a look, and I understood that, somehow, he understood. But about a month later he was dismissed, and I heard adults call him a pervert, and I sensed I must be one of those too.
Willard paused to contemplate the cruelty of that. He smiled. He began again,
Father seemed to be uneasy around me, and one night he came into my bedroom, and asked if I would go talk with Father Dolan about how I was feeling, and I remember feeling totally humiliated.
Willard was flush with anger. He paused and dropped to a softer tone.
I went to see the priest, more for Father than anything, and he talked about ‘unnatural desires,’ and advised me to pray for deliverance. I knew I would have to get away before I could understand myself so after high school with Mother practically hysterical, I got on a bus to Boston where I met other gay men, and for the first time in my life, understood myself.
He stopped and there was silence and darkness. Out of the silence, there came a voice.
“That was beautiful.”
Willard felt that way too.
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