Lights, Camera, Aro!

By CharCharChar

“Stop,” says the man holding the threads of my future in my hands. “Look darling, come here for a second would you?”

I approach the dimly lit desk, his co-chairs in too dim of lighting to make out after being in the stage lights.

“We all know you can act; you wouldn’t have made it this far if you couldn’t act. What I’m asking for from you is to emote, to bare your soul through improv. Can you do that?”

I stand frozen, fighting back tears that don’t belong. This is where good little girls say “Yes, I can do that.” But it’s too much of a lie. I don’t know what’s there to emote, and if I’m willing to look at it, let alone let others see.

“We picked this scene specially for you darling,” he adds, as though I needed more pressure. “So just – be you, all of you.”

I nod stiffly and flee over the stage edge lights, past the kitchen table and confounding props, through the fake front door, leading to what I imagine would be a white picket fence and green trimmed short lawn and immaculate flower beds, only the audience can’t see back here so no one bothered to manufacture them.

I duck into the safe dimness of side stage, my safe zone my comfort, where nerves can ebb and flow and no one can see your face. My heart speeds up, I breathe deep to dissuade it, but it’s not listening to reason.

The lights flicker, flicker, die. There’s a chorus of groans and a single curse word.

“I thought you could use a minute,” says a ghostly voice nearby. She sounds strong-willed, proper. I wonder how long she’s been dead, but learned as a child that it’s impolite to ask.

I also learned as a child to never insult a ghost, even a weak one, because you don’t want them following you around for a decade making fart noises. They’ve got time.

“That’s kind of you,” I say. “But a power outage is a bit-“

“Oh tosh,” she says, “It’s only the building. Not like they’ll try and cast me out for a smidge of misbehavior now and again. Besides, I’ve made good friends in the wings over the years.”

So she wants something from me. She wants to be the kind soul that gave me the pep talk at just the right moment, that I look back on and tell stories and build up her renown.

“The pressure getting to you?”

The pressure is a distant hollow thing, gargantuan but old and sluggish. I know its ways well.

“I’m not sure I want this path, not sure if I’m willing to emotionally bleed in front of strangers. It won’t be this once. They’ll ask it of me again and again.”

“Such is acting,” says the ghost. She’s probably about to spin into a pep talk about heartiness and steel, but I cut her off.

“I try not to wonder if they think me an oddity, a chance to observe the emotional happenings of an aromantic. Ooh, look she doesn’t have this specific feeling we all have, but wow she does have all these others.” I lean back into the heavy curtain, wrapping my self pity up in a nice velvet package.

“Is that really what’s holding you back? That you feel used, gawked at?”

“It’s the prompt. I don’t know what angle to take, and whatever angle I do take they’re going to take that as how all aros feel about love, and I’m not even certain how I feel about it. Indifference doesn’t cover the half of it. I don’t know how to know, and I don’t want them seeing – me.”

The ghost is silent. The lights come back on, but the two of us stay in our shadowed retreat.

“You are not required to show yourself to the world,” she says. “But it seems like you could have used seeing you, when you were growing up.”

Tears sting my eyes. It’s the old illogical hurt, that someone should have told me sooner, but who exactly is to blame? I’m no different than everyone else who didn’t comprehend there were other ways of being, of feeling, of not-slightly-vague.

The chill of the ghost’s presence reminds me I am here in the present.

“Imagine what it would be like to be a child sitting out in the audience right now, about to see this piece of you she has been needing to see.”

“Well now there’s pressure,” I try to say snarkily, but the sob trapped in my throat all this time slips in between the words.

“You don’t need to do it right, you don’t need to represent everyone. All you need to ask yourself, is do you want the world to see who you are, knowing there are people out there, like you and not like you and in between, that will see you breaking free, and that little seed could awaken in them, that they too could be themselves.”

I giggle out of stress. “It started out like you were being reassuring, but now there’s an extreme pressure to save all the potential younger me’s out there.”

“Save? No, we don’t save them.” The weight of her unexplained words extends the momentary silence. “Try one more time. Not what you think he wants, not what you think you want.”

My mark waits for me on stage and I meet it. A tech notices and raises the stage lights. The judges’ face are too far and obscured to read. I turn my attention to the props: a table, a bouquet of roses, a note.

I glare at the roses, but the glare quickly turns to agony. I shutter the emotion. A half laugh. Shoulders slump.

“Space,” I say low enough that the audience can hear, but would worry they might have misheard. I straighten up and apprehend the note in a tight fist.

“I said I wanted space. To wrap my head around things.” I walk in a tight circle on the spot, the note raised above my head.

“Flowers aren’t space; they’re you inserting yourself into a conversation I need to have with myself.”

I storm over to the kitchen. Open the refrigerator, close it. I turn

to face the audience and cross my arms tight in front of me – classic defensiveness.

“Romance is happiness, right?” I look forlornly at the fridge, hoping the audience will imagine me opening it, closing it again, unhappy with what I have. “And everyone wants to be happy, happier. Am I even happy at all?”

I pace to stage left, looking down at the note. I let my head fall back, arms limp behind me. Martyred on exasperation with a syncopated groan.

I pop back to straight, high energy, card raised in the air. “I didn’t want for this to happen. We click sure. A fun time, yes. But I told you after coffee I didn’t feel the same, and I told you a week later. And now a year. A Year.”

I turn away from the audience; this is getting out of hand. Details from my real life slipping in.

I scream, the kind of stage-scream that parents complain after was too loud for their child (who honestly seems delighted), the kind of scream I will feel in the morning and into the afternoon, the kind of scream that comes from the old hurt I keep at a distance, that can only be allowed in for a sliver of a moment.

“My dearest flower,” I read from the card, and produce the perfect tries-to-laugh-but-can’t-quite. “I have something I need to tell you. I will call you after you get home. Please pick up. I will never bother you again. If you ever loved me, you’ll do that much. Good bye.”

I clench my jaw, but show it through the stiffness of my body from heel to crown.

“I won’t answer the phone of course,” I tell the audience, trusting them to distrust me.

“I told him space, and this isn’t space, and boundaries are good and important and I’m fracturing under the weight of what he wants, what the world wants, the unknowability of what I want.”

I storm beyond the imaginary box of the kitchen, into the void-space of stage right. The audience should feel space-less with me, as though we are together in my head.

“But what if the ‘something’ he needs to tell me, explains everything?”

“I don’t know who to blame. Myself for being weak, him from being manipulative, society for being cold and hollow, uncaring. That the two box system chops people up and misplaces their hearts,” I tell the audience.

I trudge back into the boxed space of the kitchen set.

“Or maybe none of us are any of that, and this pain is just the way of things, and maybe it’s not even pain. Maybe my absences are best swept back under the rug.” I look down at the rug and give it a little kick. “I am so tired of trying to figure it out.”

The phone rings. I freeze. Between the rings, my legs carry me to the wall the prop phone is mounted to.

The second ring.

I lean toward the phone, hands planted on either side, like I’m at war with this plywood home around me.

I could pick up the phone, play out a fractured past, bring my ghost on stage to recount and reopen the wounds of words and persuasions and cavings.

I curl my pain back into myself, not too much at once, not when I don’t know what it’s comprised of. I’ll unfurl you later, in my own time, in my own space, for me and me alone.

I hold my hand over the receiver, highlighting tender weakness with the arch of my pale fingers. The phone rings a third time and I retract them as though the emotional pain were physical, a burn.

“I don’t know if I ever loved you. I think I did love you, in my own way,” I tell the untouched unconnected phone. “But, you don’t get to decide what I have to do because of it.”

I don’t know if I have more to say, or if I’m able to say more, to feel more than I’ve already let run through me. I sag my posture, leaning into the wall braced by a single forearm, faced toward the audience, but curling down, away, becoming private.

The stage lights turn off then on. Perhaps a tech reading the room. Perhaps my ghost friend’s encouragement.

“Okay, we’ll let you know.”

I stand and frown. He’s riffling through papers, not looking at me. Did I make the wrong call? Was the inner me wrong? Should I have picked a strong stoic confident ending?

Soft airy claps from the right wing break me out of my worry. That wasn’t the point of this anyway.

I leave out the back. Crisp lake air refills my mental engine. Wind shakes branches at me. I pull my coat tight around me, savoring my inner warmth. It feels as though one knot of many has loosened in my chest, and the rest may give me more breathing room someday soon.

Published by aaaliteraryjournal

A literary journal dedicated to Asexual, Aromantic, and Agender storytelling, through poetry, essays, fiction, creative nonfiction, etc. We will publish on our page when submissions are open. You may now also follow us on Twitter at @AaaLiterary.

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