My short texts were first selected and published by editor Matt Potter, based in Adelaide, Australia, with a strong Berlin connection. Though he has gone on to other editorial projects, he was a great early supporter of my work. He published some of my police stories, some of my personal pieces in his online magazine Pure Slush (which went offline a few years ago) and anthologies. Here are two from the magazine and one from an anthology:
Senior Recital (first published in Notausgang, Pure Slush Vol. 2, 2012)
An Actress (first published in the online magazine Pure Slush, Oct. 2012)
Resemblances (first published in the online magazine Pure Slush, March 2013)
You push open the dark padded door to the stage, at first tentatively, but when it resists (maybe something out there doesn’t want you to perform?), you push harder. Now that you’re wearing a tight knee-length skirt and high pumps, the path from the door to the shiny grand piano seems farther than at the dress rehearsal. The spotlights along the front of the stage tilt upwards, drawing you in, but you wrench your eyes away and head for the corner of the piano where the top of the keyboard meets the grand’s sinuous curve.
It’s a big hall with only a few people sitting in the long rows of seats. Supporting yourself on the piano and taking a small bow, you absorb the atmosphere: cold, unwelcoming. Though you have no chance to identify all the listeners scattered about in small groups before sitting down to play, when your vision will alternate between the keyboard and the far side of the stage, it’s as if they’ve all crossed their arms in front of their chests: so you think you can play the piano, huh? OK, we’re waiting: show us your stuff.
You sit down on the piano bench and turn both knobs to raise it to your preferred position. Your skirt rides up in back – you’ll be drawing attention to it if you stand up and smooth it down, but wouldn’t it be worse if it tore along the seam?
This recital is essential for getting your degree. Three blasé professors with notepads are definitely sitting among the thirty-odd listeners in the hundreds of empty seats. You can’t do this again. This is your very last chance, you say to yourself. Again.
Moving your hands to the keys is a no-turning-back moment. Gathering your thoughts beforehand – the Bach Prélude starts on an F# upbeat in the right hand – you’re off. Okay that was fine, you think, and now the Fugue. You struggle to stay present in each phrase as it comes along. You’re obsessed with that bitch of a passage towards the bottom of the second page, where the same chord can take you in two directions: forward towards the dramatic coda, or back into a loop, repeating the beginning, going around and around ... Well, now they’re clapping – you must have found your way out of the maze.
You’ve got two works on the first half of the recital. It’s the second piece, the Chopin Scherzo, that’s really got you freaked. You’ve practiced the passage with the chord jumps, each a slightly different contortion of the fingers, for hours with the metronome, challenging yourself to master it at an ever faster speed.
The passage works about 40 percent of the time.
But not today. Lots of extraneous notes make at least half the chords sour and off-color. And then you stumble into a murky glade and careen around. Is there any way out of the dark forest suddenly shooting up around you?
No longer able to judge time (was that 20 seconds? 7 minutes?), you jump to the much-practiced last page: this will get me out of this thicket. And it works, you build one phrase, then another, the piece takes on its own momentum, the end is in sight, home free, intermission approaching. You inhale sharply and land heavy-handedly, blatantly on an irreconcilable dissonance, left and right hands one tone apart, hitting almost the entire chromatic scale. (Wasn’t Schönberg celebrated for his policy of inclusion, for making all notes equal under the law?)
You stand up, pushing the piano bench back and directing your gaze solely at the dark, heavy door, and you leave the stage, leave the professors judging you, leave your senior recital performance, leave the conservatory, leave the degree program, leave it all behind you.
Together with six others, I attended an acting workshop one weekend. We each introduced ourselves. Cara said that she’s studying film and TV acting. Cara’s got the whole package: huge almond-shaped eyes, long legs, broad, beautiful smile, long, full wavy hair.
A couple times she photographed herself with her iPhone: leaning against the wall, a coquettish smile frozen on her lips. She ate snacks, and the wrappings rustled and her apple crunched.
Each of us had prepared a monologue to work on in the group. One woman brought a text about the seven deadly sins. When she ran it by us, the teacher suggested a few approaches she could apply to improve it. Unbidden, Cara announced she had a huge problem with Envy. “Or rather, what I mean is, I have a huge problem because others keep feeling envy towards me.”
When it was her turn, Cara told us: “I only learned yesterday that I was taking part in this workshop. So I brought along something I wrote in a course on developing your own monologues based on your life.”
Looking to the side I rolled my eyes: there’s a reason we turn to great literature when looking for monologues – it’s been thought through, structured, refined.
“So,” Cara told us, “this is about something that really happened when I was 15. I call it ‘Getting the short end in a new school.’” Though she brought along a hand-written text, she recounted the story without consulting it. New in the school, she worked to establish herself in opposition to a ‘fighting machine’, a big girl (the second time a ‘Polish girl’) with an aggressive look on her face and a tough stance, plus a number of followers among the other girls (and brothers to back her up). Cara went on: “I couldn’t help it if the boys liked me. This one Palestinian guy fell for me. It’s a problem I often had back then. Actually I keep having this problem: men develop a crush on me, men who don’t interest me whatsoever, it happens a lot.”
See: here’s why the rest of us stick to written texts – so we don’t go off on irrelevant tangents.
“But my rival wanted him for herself. And since I had no designs on him – it was fine with me if they went out together – and in fact in the end she got him – she should have been happy! But then … there was this gym incident – we were playing basketball. I can’t help it that I’ve played basketball all my life. It’s something I’ve always done with my brothers. I’m really good at it, and the boys were really impressed.”
Wow, that’s great for you.
“And so I was playing center and doing a fast break – and you know how it is when you’re doing a fast break, you’re moving down the court – and then there she was, right in my way. And she was twice as wide as I was, like I say, a fighting machine. And she took offence and slammed me against the wall, telling me she’d see me after class. And then – though I told the gym teacher that I was sure something was going to happen in the locker room – that damned teacher didn’t intervene. He just didn’t have the balls. In the locker room her clique held me down while she beat me up. She beat me so badly that I ended up in the hospital, where my mother had to pick me up. Afterwards there was a big conference with all the parties – and no one took my side, no one. For some reason everyone considered me the aggressor!”
Cara looked around at the group defiantly, looking for nods of confirmation of her version of what had happened.
Cara had taken up all the air in the room. It was her workshop, and I couldn’t hear myself think any more. Which didn’t stop me from watching her ...
When I see Jenny at the theater I can’t take my eyes off her. It’s not that she’s stunningly beautiful, though she is perky and fresh, full of youthful energy.
The thing is: she reminds me of my best friend from high school, who remained my best friend for years after that as well. Though I can’t quite put my finger on the resemblance.
Kelly was taller than me, of course, a good head taller. Perhaps not embarrassed about the difference in our heights, but always aware of it. This new acquaintance is my height, and polite enough. Her eyes shine as Kelly’s did, her glasses are similar.
But Jenny is a bit formal with me. When she’s talking to women her own age, her body language is looser, more spontaneous. She probably imagines she’s supposed to act somewhat distant around a gray-haired lady like myself.
I’m dying to tell Jenny why I’m riveted any time I see her crossing the room. In fact, I’d love to confide in her how dear Kelly was to me and how I miss having her in my life, how sad I am that contact with Kelly has dwindled as the years have passed.
But how would this revelation affect Jenny? It has nothing to do with her, and everything to do with me. Were I to open up to her like that, she’d probably start avoiding me on those nights we’d both signed up to volunteer at the theater.
And even if I did disclose to her why my cheeks tinge with red when I’m near her, I’d still be at the same place I am now: regretting the loss of a friend.