She lowers the blinds,twists the cord between her fingers until the slats have narrowed and there’s no space in between. The room is darkened, twilit in the brightest time of day and she tugs at the sleeves of her business jacket, steps out of the corporate heels and frees her hair from its office-appropriate twist.
As she does so she watches herself in the full-length mirror, switches the binding pencil skirt for a pair of long leggings and flimsy camisole. One candle, two, three – her thumb moves deftly over the control of the lighter she wields just long enough for the wick to catch flame.
The room is spooky now, shadows popping up where they hadn’t been before.
The room fills with the scent of vanilla-cinnamon-ginger again, combines with the fragrance of green tea in her bedroom and perfume that lingers in the bathroom. Time, then, to lower illusions. She brews a pot of green tea and pours the liquid into a teacup, lets it reflect gold in the candlelight before draining it.
Now, she isn’t a top executive at a prestigious firm; she isn’t the girl who blows into a coffee shop every morning and has her drink handed straight to her, freshly capped, because the barista knows her and has learnt the drink to her exact specifics.They do this for all the regulars, she assumes, but there’s never time to ask so she just chucks five-dollars into the tip jar and runs.
She is none of these things, and she moves on to the next part of the ritual. With an ill-experienced hand she does her eye makeup, shadowing in new colours to change the shade of her own eyes, and swipes on red lipstick. Red red red: lipstick and blood and flimsy cocktail dresses. It’s alive.
She is alive, and she scoops up the latest play she’s supposed to be reading, stuffs it into her tote with highlighters and red pens. It’s got to the point where she buys red pens in bulk, annotates her plays with them and learns her lines first by rote, then by performance.
Secretly, she is an actress.
Her office is a bland joyless sort of place, the kind of place where people work for paychecks more than out of any real love for what they do or who they work with.
In the theatre it’s cold from air-conditioning, a quick refreshing blast of cold air when she comes inside from the street where she can see heat rising if she watches long enough, but the air smells like a dozen mingled perfumes and peppermint tea and burned-out candles. It’s such a change of pace from the faint scent of expensive after-shaves and furniture polish that she can’t resist coming back, even when she burns out and tells herself that she should really hold off this time around.
They sit in rickety chairs on a stage that needs vacuuming, but will be polished shortly before the performance. If she is in the performance, she doesn’t know anyone who will come to see it – there won’t be anyone waiting for her with flowers or celebratory dinners. It’s how it has always gone: her colleagues don’t understand the habit, and so she keeps quiet about it, makes no mention of it at work but doesn’t go out of her way to hide the newspaper coverage that inevitably happens.
The revisions are finished. She auditions, and gets a supporting role. (Tells herself it’s OK, that she wasn’t going for the main because there’s a promotion up at work and if she gets that she will be able to cut back her hours. There will be more time for acting)
It follows that she slips up one morning, mind still foggy from sleep and she hasn’t had her first cappuccino yet. She swabs bright red onto her mouth, kisses the excess off onto a tissue and hurries out the door. Her boss is disapproving, because red isn’t appropriate for the office and what does she think she is, an artist?
In the bathroom she meekly wipes it off, leaves the faint red stain on her lips in place of a different shade, and goes about her day.
This is all it takes for her colleagues to start their whispers. For all that they live in a city, cosmopolitan and full of life, they can be dreadfully small-minded.
She sleeps little and switches her coffee order to something stronger, the kind of drink that makes her lips purse when she drinks it because it tastes that bad, but she perseveres because the coffee is gives her the jolt she needs until she’s back on the stage. Fitting the play in among her work schedule is always a challenge and she has to try to conjure up new and legitimate-sounding reasons to avoid travel in the middle of play season.It mostly works.
It’s going okay, she always manages to juggle a dozen time constraints and commitments but one morning she slips up. She sleeps too hard when she’s in a play, misses alarms and train stops. This time her alarm doesn’t go off, doesn’t jar her from sleep and her internal body clock doesn’t register the rapidly-changing hours.
The three really important meetings of the month – she misses them all, blissfully unaware, curled under the blankets and awaking refreshed. By the time she finishes getting ready, she has missed almost the whole day. There’s no point in going to work now, so she phones in a fib about waking with flu and gets fired.
All there is to it now is the play. She cashes out her last pay and clears her desk. Doesn’t bother to say goodbye, but gets a reference.
There’s enough money to tide her over a few months, so she focuses fully on acting.
(So, okay. She’s still an actress, it’s just not such a secret any longer)