At first, nobody recognized the woman who was standing in the third row screaming bloody murder. The young thespians tried to soldier on, applying the full gamut of projection technique they’d learned in Miss Mudge’s grade nine drama class. They all hoped she would stop: the moment would pass, the stroke would end, the spider on her pant leg would die. But she just kept on screaming. She didn’t modulate her pitch. She didn’t stop to breathe. Most of the sopranos would admit it was quite impressive work.
The guidance counsellor Gupta tried saying Ma’am a few times in a low voice. Hassenpfeffer, the vice principal, the one the other teachers called Baldy, tried pulling her ever so gently by the elbow. Even Spratt, the boy’s junior basketball coach, tried successive peals on her famous orange whistle. To no avail. The woman would not stop screaming.
A few minutes in, the entire cast sat down on the end of the stage; the Israelites in their robes and the Pharaoh’s wives in their headdresses. Jacob turned to Joseph and said, I guess this show must not go on.
Trapped by a herd of paper maché goats upstage left, Nigel, the boy playing Joseph, tried to turn himself invisible, marshalling as much of his raw acting ability as he could. But this performance was beyond him. The Technicolor Dreamcoat wouldn’t allow him to disappear. It was too bright. Already eyes and heads were turning, making the connection between the boy in the coat and the woman screaming.
They kept trying to shush and calm and silence her, but Nigel knew that she wouldn’t stop. The police would come and she wouldn’t stop. He’d seen it all before.
Just last week, Miss Mudge made them all do the trust exercise in class. Like always, Nigel was last to go. He closed his eyes and crossed his arms, but he couldn’t fall back. Just let go, said Miss Mudge, You’ll see it’s always easier the second time.
But they didn’t know he was already falling. Freefalling then and now, arms pinwheeling, flitting between black and white and technicolor. Falling down down down the endless pit of his mother’s scream.
Matthew Heiti was born and now lives again in a meteor crater in North Ontario. He has a published book, The City Still Breathing (Coach House Books) and a play, Black Dog: 4 vs. the wrld (Playwrights Canada Press). Recently, his work has been published in Sledgehammer Lit, the Quarantine Review, antilang, and Arts Everywhere. He is the winner of the Carter V. Cooper Award for Emerging Writer, and Grain Magazine’s Short Fiction award. More details on his published work can be found at harkback.org. In his spare time, he is usually working.