It happened during the first-act finale.The sound was muffled—emanating from within a pocket or a purse—but still I felt it, the way a mother feels her sleeping baby open its eyes in the …
It happened during the first-act finale.
The sound was muffled—emanating from within a pocket or a purse—but still I felt it, the way a mother feels her sleeping baby open its eyes in the other room. The ring.
Things were going so smoothly until then. I had crossed from wings to stage the same as every other night, relishing the transition from darkness to light, from invisible to visible, from nobody to somebody. The applause filled an empty reservoir deep inside me; a thousand pairs of eyes told me I mattered (for the next few hours, at least). Their attention was a drug, and I needed my fix.
Until I heard the ring, The Ring, the heart-stopping Ring of a cell phone gone rogue.
The Ring filled the air. It broke into molecules and flew towards me, and I couldn’t help but inhale it like a spray of germs from a cougher’s mouth. It entered my lungs, pumped through my bloodstream and infected my veins, hammering harder and harder inside my temples until no other sound existed.
The Ring ruined everything.
The entire cast was kneeling in formation when it happened: us men in the King’s court, the concubines, the swarm of kids, the white boy playing Anna’s son. I hated their stillness, their stoic “show must go on” attitude. How could they ignore this violation, this outright assault on my brief time to shine? Sure, I was in the back row, but what did that matter? A bubble of panic rose from my gut to my brain. It popped.
Who was it? Who was the one with the factory default ringtone turned on so damn loud? Who had stolen the crowd’s precious focus away from me?
I peeked into the house and waited for the inevitable ripple of patrons glaring in the direction of the noise, a school of fish instinctively twisting at the same time. Even if the perpetrator sat there in happy oblivion, the unrest of the audience would point out their infraction. I’d seen it in every city—from Dayton to Sioux Falls to Grand Rapids to Fayetteville. And now, Rochester.
Ah! There it was, the telltale shimmer of shifting eyes and tilted heads, the near-invisible flurry of furious theatergoers. The sweet smell of several rows of self-righteousness, as they all thought: How rude! I remembered to turn off MY phone. Of course, they hadn’t turned off their phones at all. There was simply no one to call them at nine o’clock at night.
And there she was. The eye of the storm.
A plump woman with short, limp hair. Totally oblivious. Glasses. Hearing aid? Her pale face mirrored the stage light back at me, hovering moonlike in the blackness. She was middle-aged, maybe older, yet somehow innocent. But those doe eyes didn’t fool me.
Another woman beside her—the criminal’s partner in crime. The same blunt bob. A sweater. Her features thick and gloppy, as crude as a sketch artist’s rendering of a murder suspect. She nudged the other one and pointed to her purse.
Her mother? Her friend? Her wife? How very progressive of you, Rochester.
The seats in front of them and the seats behind were filled with identical ladies. Some a bit older or younger, wider or thinner, but the same collared shirt and cardigan, the same soft eyes.
College reunion? Nursing home escapees? Brainwashed cult members out for a night on the town?
I saw the crowd clapping at the end of our song, but all I could hear was the Ring—pounding, louder, louder. I crossed the threshold from light back to dark, from act one to intermission, from glorious somebody to invisible.
Then, a glint caught my eye from the seats. A tiny gold cross.
I blinked once, twice, three times, waiting for my eyes to overcome their backstage blindness. It made such sense. They weren’t relatives or sorority sisters or cult members. They were nuns. Three rows of unhabited nuns. And one uninhibited mobile device.
Later that night, after the final curtain call, the sisters traipsed through the parking lot in their sensible shoes and disappeared into a fleet of industrial strength minivans. They didn’t notice me nearby in my street clothes and a full face of sweaty makeup. There wasn’t time to take it off. I didn’t want to miss this. To miss her. Sister Mary Cell Phone.
D-d-doo-doo-d-d-doo-doo-d-d-doo-doo-doo. A reprise played on a nonstop loop inside me. The Ring was my cross to bear, until she answered for her sin.
I slipped my hand into my jacket pocket and touched the cell phone cases, four of them now, one each from Dayton and Sioux Falls and Grand Rapids and Fayetteville. And soon, Rochester. They soothed and comforted me, my little plastic tombstones, all that remained of those horrible rings and their idiot owners who destroyed my moment in the spotlight.
Hold your applause, sisters. The encore’s about to begin.