The Tallis Theatre used to be a barn. It sat on a heap of land, half of which was now an asphalt parking lot. The theatre retained the general appearance of a barn, although it was painted brown and not red.
Stacey led Lennon through wide, heavy wooden front doors into the lobby, which was narrow and carpeted in red with framed photos of past performers and past shows. The front box office was tight and small. In a past life, it had been a stable stall.
The thick doors to the house were propped open with chairs and Stacey sailed through them. The theatre—any performance space—was home to her.
“This is the place,” Stacey said, voice carrying through the space. Lennon glanced up at the exposed wooden rafters and saw lighting, sound equipment and rigs before her eyes wandered down to the stage, which took up the entire far side of the descending auditorium. It looked like the stage was nearly five feet off the ground.
Lennon placed a hand on the back of a lacquered wooden chair. The house smelled clean. She caught a hint of lemon pledge and fresh air wafting in from the open front doors.
“This looks so much bigger from the inside,” Len said.
Stacey pointed up to the cables. Lennon caught up with her. “That used to be the hayloft.” Stacey opened a door beside the stage, which opened into a narrow, cold passage that opened into a large space with mirrors up against the walls. “They used to keep the tack here for the horses.”
“And now it’s makeup,” Len laughed.
“Yeah. That hall on the other side leads to the dressing rooms.” Stacey kept them walking down the hallway they were in. “Offices here. Conference room.” She gestured to a large room on the other side. A small tag on the outer wall was labeled Rehearsal Hall/ Cabaret. Len peeked in.
“That’s huge! That’s bigger than the small theater we had at school.”
“Used to be the diary,” Stacey commented. “At least the insulated parts. Over here is the passage to the shop—sets, scenery, the whole deal. Used to be the silo.”
“Oh, yeah, silos.”
Stacey laughed at her. “Sure. Growing up in Queens, did you ever encounter a silo? What do you know about them?”
Len shrugged. “I read a lot of books?” She said, her voice rising at the end the way Hikari’s voice often did. She added in her best Hikari glance: wide-eyed, cute, small and innocent.
“Oh, kid. I’m so glad you’re here,” Stacey laughed.
Stacey’s new guy didn’t have a speaking role in this latest production, apparently, and he let it be known about four seconds after he and Lennon met. Nick mentioned that his role was a pothead who flunked out of class. Lennon and Stacey agreed that that was plausible.
“I’m trying to get the physicality of it,” Nick said in his broad Long Island accent as they walked out of the theater, trailed by the playwright, who reminded Lennon of her brother. His name was Gerry, short for Gerard, and like Jack, Gerry was weedy, skinny through the legs and thickening through the torso, but broad and bony around the shoulders.
“I’m not sure how much to slump back and last night, I was working in the mirror, trying to get the glazed look down,” Nick said to Stacey. He was a handsome guy, Lennon conceded, with black hair and blazing bluish-green eyes, accentuated by a charming smile. But his thick accent made her wince. Of course. I travel two thousand miles and I hear Syosset. Man, these Missourians must think we’re completely butchering American English.
“You have it. It’s there,” Stacey told him. “In Tuesday’s rehearsal, I thought you had the character embodied perfectly.”
Lennon raised an eyebrow as they stopped beside Stacey’s car. From her understanding and perusing of the script, Nick sat in three scenes, didn’t have any lines, and largely stared at the audience blankly and did nothing else. What exactly was there to embody? Can’t he just sit there?
“Anyway. Len,” Stacey said. “Let’s grab some dinner. I have to work a shift at Esme’s tonight. Bar food okay?”
Lennon shrugged. “Pub grub is fine.”
“We’ll go to the Black Kettle then. Nick, Gerry, do you want to come?”
“I think my brother’s working tonight,” Gerry said with a very teenage shrug, eyes peering through his floppy brown bangs. “Stacey says you’re a writer.”
“Sort of,” Lennon answered. “I was a creative writing major.”
“That’s bull,” Stacey sang, unlocking the driver’s side door. “You are a writer. You’re just not published yet.”
Oh, yes, something else she hadn’t done yet.
“That’s because I’m afflicted with the inability to finish anything,” Len said, opening a backseat door and sliding in.
“Oh, I know what that’s like,” Gerry said, sitting in the back beside her. “It never seems good enough, does it?”
Len smiled over at him, feeling big sisterly. “No. It never does. You just get sick of looking at it and fiddling with it eventually, I think.” She stuck her tongue out and said, “I have a huge paper trail of things I’ve written, but very little of it is complete.”
And it struck her how sad that sounded. Lennon had been writing since she was a child, about six years old, and other than a few short stories and half-realized novellas, she had very little else to show for all that time. She jokingly referred to all of those pieces as her “juvenilia.”
If only something inspiring or intriguing would fall into my lap, then maybe I’ll finally finish something, have something to show for all of this time and effort, instead of leaving it as this futile thing.
The Black Kettle was the bar Lennon and Stacey had driven by the day before, one of the first buildings a visitor saw upon entering Landslide. Indoors, the place had a bar on one wall and small tables and booths placed throughout. There were wood-paneled walls on the far end, where there was a small platform with chairs piled on top, and the rest of the walls were painted red. As her eyes adjusted to the rather dimly-lit room, she saw that the Black Kettle had TVs evenly distributed throughout, mounted on walls, which drew Lennon’s eyes to the baseball game being broadcast. Kansas City Royals at Yankee Stadium, second inning, and the Yankees were already losing.
Gerry pumped his fist upon seeing the score. Lennon grumbled as the four made their way to the bar to order their drinks. Nick, who apparently didn’t drink, declared himself the designated driver. He turned around when Len muttered, eyes on the score.
“You’re a Yankee fan?” He asked, surprise in his voice.
“Yup,” she answered. “You?”
“Yup,” Nick replied. He shot up a few points in her estimation. “You’re from Queens, right?”
“Uh-huh,” she replied.
“Not a Mets fan?”
“Nope.” She didn’t feel like getting into a discussion about why she wasn’t a Mets fan, despite growing up fifteen minutes away from their stadium. And it was probably impolite to describe her disdain for Mets fans, at least in public, so Lennon kept her answers short.
Nick shook his head. “We’re not doing so well. I’m not sure what the standings are…”
“We’re five back of Boston,” Lennon said.
“Lenny, what do you want?” Stacey called. Lennon glanced over to see Stacey talking to the bartender. “Malibu and cola?”
“Yeah, I’ll have a rum and coke,” Len said to the bartender, a guy not much older than they were, with light brown hair that seemed to stick up in every direction.
“I’ll have a beer,” Gerry called out. The bartender shot him a look that Len recognized: the “yeah, right” look of an older sibling. Glancing between them, Len saw a resemblance, sort of. Both had wide-set eyes but Gerry’s were bigger and brown while Gabriel’s looked blue. They had the same straight patrician nose, not too pointy or too flat. Gerry’s hair looked a touch darker and it was longer, but still stuck up in the back.
The one behind the bar was clearly the elder. He had a five o’clock shadow while Gerry had fuzz; he carried more weight through the shoulders, arms and chest than Gerry, too, and stood up straighter. But he wouldn’t be considered heavy by any means, but well-built.
“Try again, Gerry.”
“Fine. Root beer,” Gerry said. “Thought I’d give it a shot, Gabriel.”
Gabriel smiled, shaking his head and turned to Lennon. “Can I see some ID?”
Len rolled her eyes as she reached into her purse, fingers colliding with her wallet, and then pulled out her learner’s permit, which she slid across the bar. He picked it up, studied it for a few seconds, and handed it back.
“You probably get that a lot, huh?” He said, reaching for a glass.
She pointed to Stacey. “Not going to card her, huh?”
His eyes moved back to Lennon’s face with a steady blue-eyed gaze, evidently amused, then said to Stacey, “In the interests of fairness, since I didn’t check…”
Stacey dug out her ID. He gave it a cursory glance.
“New York and New Hampshire. You guys with the theatre?”
“We are,” Stacey said, pointing to Nick, who was tapping his fingers on the bar. “She’s visiting me.”
“You can kind of tell when people aren’t from around here,” Gabriel explained. Len thought she saw his eyes linger on her for a second before he moved around, mixing drinks. Gabriel handed his brother his root beer. Oh, of course. I don’t look like anyone from around here because I’m not white, therefore…
Len glanced over her shoulder at the few patrons scattered at tables around the large room. Each and every one of them was Caucasian. And not only Caucasian, but blonde and blue-eyed; there was one brunette in the whole lot of them. Is the entire town white? Surely the theatre attracts some people of color. You can’t exactly have Nick play freakin’ Othello. It doesn’t really work, does it? Then again, he’s from Long Island and he’s Italian and Jewish. Maybe they consider him ‘ethnic’ out here.
“Same where I’m from,” Stacey said. “My town’s a little over a thousand people. It’s obvious when someone’s not from there. You know everybody.” Lennon had snidely nicknamed Stacey’s town Mayberry on her one visit there.
“Exactly,” Gabriel replied, but he didn’t seem particularly thrilled by the concept. Len imagined that knowing everybody meant that they all knew you—and all of your business.
He handed the girls their drinks with a smile, telling them he’d keep the tab open. As Lennon followed Stacey to a table, her eyes looked up to the TV, trying to discern the score. The Royals scored a run at the same moment, making the score irretrievable for the Yankees. Len winced, then cursed under her breath. Stacey didn’t comment; she was used to Lennon swinging from articulate, literate speech to the foulest, most truck driver-like language imaginable within the course of one sentence.
“Was that you?” Nick asked her as they sat, Len across from him and Stacey beside him. Gerry settled in at the head of the table, where he could see the game.
“Uh, yeah,” Len replied, biting her lip. She’d never learned how to control her cursing. She often forgot that other people were more easily offended by language than she was.
“Len curses like a trucker,” Stacey said with a smile. “We were walking down Boylston Street once, me, her and my little sister. I think it was a Saturday night, so the sidewalk was filled. Our dorm was on the same block with, like, four bars and a club around the corner.”
Stacey continued on. “So we’re making our way back to the dorm and the three of us come face to face with this homeless guy in the crowd. He’s pretty drunk. My sister and I were edging away from him.” Stacey leaned away from Nick to demonstrate. “He’s saying creepy stuff about ‘pretty college girls’ and he was practically foaming at the mouth, but Len? Lenny stood there and very sweetly said, ‘Fuck off’ and then held onto my belt loop so she wouldn’t get lost in the crowd.”
Nick laughed. “That’s amazing. Don’t mess with Lenny, huh?”
“Nope. She’s a city girl. She’ll curse you out in six languages.” Stacey sent a beaming smile in Len’s direction.
Lennon drank, wondering if there would ever be a way to truly distance herself from New York. Once upon a time, she would’ve been proud of an antic like that.