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silly stories

My delicates are drying on the dash board heat vent of my car. They flutter at the lacy seams when I pull into the left lane at Nanaimo. There’s been no time for laundry. I am praying, “Please God, give my dog a heart attack.” I slow to 20km for the sharp turn at McGill and my fatigue allows for a couple of tears. The poor old boy has taken a turn for the worse. I bought the small bag of dog food at the grocery store. When can I even fit in the vet? “Oh, God, don’t make me put down my dog during tech week.” I sigh. God, as I understand God, is not some invisible administrator of canine euthanasia…I know…but who am I going to ask to do the job if not me?

Last night I warned my daughter, “You may want to spend some quality time with Tartuffe because I don’t know how long he can last, honey. He can’t go down the stairs, he’s waking me up several times a night to go pee, he has a hard time eating, he’s messing in the house and vomiting.” She gazed out the window, casually, “Well, I don’t love him like you do, Mom. You’ve known him for eighteen years. I don’t even remember his frisky days. He mostly just sleeps.”

Later that evening she was lying on the floor beside the pup, big round splashy tears streaming down her cheeks. He rolled sideways with a groan and thud, hoping for a belly rub, his milky eyes fluttered open towards the ceiling. His fur – still as soft as an angora bunny. “You can’t kill him, Mom, you can’t. He’s so sweet.”

I nodded, bleary.

“want some tea?”

We watched the Crown and sipped from the china cups I inherited from my Gramma. My daughter headed to bed all royalled up and dreamy. I tried, but Tartuffe woke me at one thirty, three and five. I stumbled around our rainy block with him each time, sputtering aloud like a mad woman, “I can’t, I just – can’t – keep – doing this…”

We open tonight after four intense rehearsal weeks. I am in Misery, playing Annie Wilkes, a huge demanding role, I drive every scene. Though this is one of the most significant roles of my career and the only time I’ve played someone “scary” in thirty years of being in the business, I don’t know anyone in the audience and there is no fan fare. The poster for the show tonight cropped a promo shot in a way that featured the male actor and decapitated me. We’re on tour first before hitting the main run in the city.

I am grateful for this quiet birth. It gives me time to grow the role. Right now we’re in survival mode still and rehearsing during the days, The set is like a big fun house with pop out doors and moving furniture. The play is largely underscored with music and sound and so the cues, the timing, the demands of the scenes, the fight choreography…it’s been a brainful for sure. I’ve loved the challenge but I certainly have needed my sleep.

We rehearse for five hours then break for dinner before our first audience. I decide to go for comfort food. I’m in West Van at the Kay Meek and stumble upon an Italian joint on Marine called Carmellos. I order the special without checking the menu. I have no room left in my brain for decisions. I just need a quiet hour to eat and rest my voice and not think.

A monied handsome foursome sit down in front of me. They chat about their travels in Spain, the painting they just commissioned and then – “Do you know anything about Misery? It’s Stephen King. Kathy Bates won the Oscar for it you know. Very intense story. Very suspenseful. She was AMAZING.”

No pressure, Frangione. No pressure. I munch my very nice lobster stuffed ravioli and sip my lemon and honey.

“I hope the play is as good as the movie.”

Shake it off, Frangione. Shake it off. I order a double espresso. Oh you foursome, hold onto your custom designed hats. You’re gonna get Annie live and jacked up on caffeine.

I get the bill. The cockadoodie ravioli is thirty bucks. You’ve got to be kidding me.

I get a text message from my husband. He’s unable to stop in to feed and walk the dog on his way to work the night shift. He didn’t realize I was rehearsing all day. I text my ex, the only other person with a house key. “Can you by chance walk and feed Tartuffe for me?” He texts back kindly and immediately, “I can do that. Happy opening!” I sigh with relief. “Oh that’s so great, thank you. And this might be your last time seeing the old guy so I’m glad you’ll get a chance to say good-bye.”

I head back to the theatre and start my warm up. Two hundred and fifty tickets sold tonight. Not bad. I think through the story. Will they find it suspenseful without the aid of camera close ups? Will they find me scary? Will anyone laugh? What parts of this are funny? I guess we’ll find out. The three technicians backstage are running around doing last minute checks on moveable parts and props. The two male actors are chatting away in their dressing room. They’re wonderful men, my first time working with either of them. One is a real jokester always making me laugh and the other is thoughtful and on these rainy days he’s a spot of warm sun.

My director is giving last minute reminder notes. She’s a tiny woman with a huge intellect and she’s also a dear friend of mine. This is the first time we’ve worked together in this capacity and she’s really challenged me to be something other and it’s been uncomfortable living without all my defaults of motherly soft sensual gliding energy. She described Annie as a Mac truck and I have aspired to be this. I live mostly in the bottom register of my voice and I lead from the pelvis. My costumes are magnificent. I convincingly look over two hundred pounds. I’ve been given these wonderful tortoiseshell 80s glasses. They are my favourite. I get another text from my husband.

How are you doing, honey?

I open tonight.

Right. Feels weird not to be there.

No. Come to the Granville island run.

How are you feeling?

Tired. Tartuffe woke me up three times.

Oh honey – sleep deprivation is a kind of torture.

I know.

It’s been two and a half years – 

But he’s still wagging his tail and sneaking down the lane to steal cat food from Alice’s porch and licking puddles. I can’t kill him.

I wasn’t telling you to kill your dog. When will you be home tonight?

Eleven. 

Well, good luck honey! You’ll be great. I love you. 

We get through the show without too much of a hitch. There are a few dropped cues and some late entrances and a missing prop but nothing the audience notices. They laugh and they gasp and to my great surprise they give us a standing ovation and hoots! I head backstage to shower off the blood. When I’m presentable, I meet up with the artistic director near the green room. He gives me a big smile and a full hug. He hugs according to how much he likes what you do. I am used to the half hearted side hug. I think this was my first full. This is my favourite moment of the evening. He’s retiring this year. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him and I’m glad to have made him happy.

I head home in the rain. Nobody wanted to go out for a drink to celebrate so I treat myself to a quick glass of wine and a plate of asparagus on the Drive. When I get to the condo, nobody is home. The kids are at the others and Scott is doing a night shift. I turn on the light and Tartuffe is lying on his side on the carpet, too deaf to hear me come in…or…? Or?!

I take off my boots and walk gently towards him and bend down for a pat. I startle him awake. I check around the house. He’s been golden. I walk him around the block. He finds something interesting in the bushes by the blue house that always has some kid smoking dope off the porch. Tartuffe decides, at his age, with his sore back hips to roll. Oh yes, he rolls in the bushes with glee. I didn’t know he could still do that. A little moment of puppy. I chuckle and say to him, “is that for my benefit? Can you tell what I’ve been thinking lately?”

He rights himself and wags his tail. Well, I’ll be damned. He’s made a comeback. We continue down the dark rainy road. I think that’s my favourite part of having a dog, walking in inclement weather. He forces me to get out and experience damp dark starlit and solitary beauty. I’ve never been much of a dog person. Certainly I’ve never called Tartuffe my fur baby. He does not get up on the furniture, he does not lick my face, I don’t give him a stocking at Christmas. That’s just not my thing. I have a bit of dog guilt for sure. Could I have made his life more fun? More interesting? Could I have pet him more often? Yes. But we must have done something right. He’s a happy little dude who has lived to eighteen. I respect him enough to have him live out his days as long as he seems to want to.

“Hey. Buddy. I opened a big show tonight, Tartuffe.” He looks at me sideways and pees. Whatever. You silly humans and your silly stories.

We sniff and snort our way down the dark empty puddled street.

 

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