Sunday 10 June 2012

Short Story 2012 Longlist, Sabine Algur

Stage Fright

She hated leaving for home so late in the night, but it was part of her job. She was a singer at a pub. It wasn’t what she wanted to do, but it paid well and she needed the money. Her beauty had a hand in the money she made. She captivated the hearts of men all over the city and they would come just to see her. Consequently, the pub was always making money because of her. For this reason, the boss wouldn’t let her off easily. It was rumoured as well that he was secretly in love with her, too. She didn’t quite enjoy the attention as much as one might have thought she would, but for the time being, she had to bear it. “Women in this world,” she always thought to herself, “have it hard.”

The streets were generally empty at this time. Loneliness crept into her heart. She lit a cigarette. Although she had many admirers, at the end of the day, ultimately she was alone. While she brooded over this thought, she was suddenly aware of movement behind her. She turned around quickly. No one was there. Standing still in the dim light of a street lamp, she listened intently for anything she might hear. Nothing. At least nothing out of the ordinary. She shrugged her shoulders, and tightened her coat around herself as she proceeded to walk home again.

Well aware that she was considered every man’s dream, a funny but slightly disturbing thought crossed her mind. Having read a lot of murder fiction, she imagined bumping into a lunatic who would say, “If I can’t have you, nobody will!” and then murder her.

She heard the sound of footsteps behind her. She turned around, and this time she saw a man staring at her. The man was well-dressed, wearing a hat and an overcoat. For a while his face was expressionless. Then gradually, as he removed something from his pocket, he began to smile. When his smile turned to a grin, she became aware of the object he removed from his pocket. It glinted in the light. She felt the rush of adrenaline through her veins. It was a knife. “Speak of the devil,” she thought, “ ..RUN.” And she ran, but the high heels of her shoes were proving to be cumbersome. She took them off in a hurry and threw them one-by-one at her would-be murderer. He easily dodged them and pursued her with madness in his eyes, the grin still frozen on his face.

She ran as fast as she could, not daring to look back. The wind tugged lightly at her cheeks, whistling in her ears and her hair flew as though trying to keep up with her. She ran like this for some time until she was out of breath. She leaned against a wall in an attempt to keep herself upright. She scanned the area around her from where she stood, not even sparing the sky. The man was nowhere in sight. When her breathing became even again and she was sure she had lost him, she felt an arm circle around her throat and something pierce through her lower back. “Farewell, my pretty,” he whispered in her ear and then let her go. She fell limply to the ground, unable to move because of the agonising pain. However, the pain soon began to subside and darkness gradually began to descend upon her.
Everything became pitch black.
“Peace at last. Maybe death isn’t so bad.”

There was a red light. “Is this hell?” she asked herself. Slowly, her vision focused. She found herself seated in an auditorium where almost everything was red. There was a large stage in front with a podium. Once she had regained her senses, she noticed she was wearing a red gown, long red gloves and her hair was fixed in a bun. Somebody tapped her shoulder and she turned to find a pleasant-looking man smiling warmly at her. He looked familiar to her, but she couldn’t recall where she had seen him before. As she spoke to him, it struck her and she exclaimed, “Good God! You’re Cary Grant! I absolutely love you! You’re one of my favourite actors!” He smiled broadly, obviously flattered. Before she could say anymore, a man’s voice sounded through the speakers in the auditorium. They turned their attention towards the stage, where a man, handsomely dressed in a black suit, stood at the podium.

The auditorium was initially empty was now suddenly filled with people. It was as though they appeared out of nowhere. “Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention, please?” the man at the podium announced, “it’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for – the Best Actress award this year goes to…” he paused and grinned at the audience. She was astonished to hear her name called out. The crowd cheered and applauded enthusiastically. Cary Grant held her hand and kissed her on the cheek. This was all too much for her. The others prompted her to get up and head to the stage. She stumbled in confusion.

The man at the podium held a trophy in his hands. “Amazing performance, wouldn’t you agree, folks?” he spoke again, “especially the stabbing scene, that downright gave me the chills!” “The stabbing scene?” she thought, and then she suddenly remembered everything. She climbed the steps to the stage slowly, scanning the audience. She knew them all. A feeling of dread passed over her, “But these people..they’re dead.” How she came to be here then became clear to her. She became more sure of her steps now, for with realisation came her acceptance. She even smiled and blew a kiss at the audience. As she received her award, she felt a surge of pride at the sight of Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, even Rod Serling, screenwriter and producer of her favourite science fiction TV anthology series The Twilight Zone. All of her most loved cinematic figures were present and applauding for her and her grand achievement. She had never been so happy.

“All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.”
- William Shakespeare, As You Like It

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