She stood on the landing above the main theater, above the warm darkness and the lighthearted contentment of the crowd below. Her eyes were lined in cheap mascara that showed signs of smearing; sooty trails were left in the wake of now-dried tears. No one noticed her and she noticed no one – no one, that is, except for the couple on the third row, three seats from the aisle. They were perhaps the happiest couple among a myriad of happy couples enjoying the show, lost in a world of their own creation as they cuddled and whispered together in the enchanted, shadowy realm before the stage. To her, it was as if a crimson smoke drifted heavenwards from their delight in simple companionship, but it was not the incense-scent of vicariously experiencing the kindred love of two fellow humans. It was an acrid smoke, a bitter smoke that stung her nostrils and tainted her tongue and smeared her mind with the inky blackness of outraged anguish and infuriated sorrow.
As she watched (not the performance on stage, but the drama played out between the snuggling twosome), the woman leaned over to the man and murmured something in his ear, and they stood simultaneously and attempted to inch out of the row as unobtrusively as possible – while, of course, maintaining an unbreakable hold on the other’s hand. She sucked in a breath, tightening her grip on the railing. Her knuckles blushed white and the veins lining her pale hands stood out from her skin, holding back the blue rivers of frigid blood that could no longer carry heat. His arm now around the woman’s waist, they ascended the stairway, and as they did, she felt the tide of memories in the back of her brain threaten to rush out of their bunkers and foxholes to flood her mind with the stuff of shadows: recollections, remembrances, reminiscences. But threaten ominously was all they accomplished. She wasn’t one to lose control very often, and as she had already crumbled under the weight of her past once today, she refused to give in to her emotions again.
The pair stopped at the summit of the steps to speak in hushed tones to the usher, who smiled wryly and then gestured toward the dimly lit corridors that led to the murky domain beyond the theater. When their love-lit eyes followed the usher’s indicative finger, her cheeks flushed, burning with the fire that had been raging, unquenchable, deep inside her since what felt like the beginning of time. . . even though it had only been a few weeks ago since its violent kindling. Then, as if drawn by fate, the man and the woman started toward her. Her cheeks’ fire peaked with such ferocity that it was vaguely surprising that the theater wasn’t engulfed in a blazing inferno just from the vehement flushing of her face . Just before they passed, she ducked her face behind a shielding hand, staring down at the railing, feigning concentration on its intricate design, while the whole time her mind was wholly riveted on the two traitors strolling, arm in arm, right behind her.
Of course, they never even noticed her.