|Fans and self-important well-wishers
finally have dispersed; their accolades, like sugar cubes, quickly dissolve.
The actors chat among themselves, commiserating; it is closing night, the last
hurrah, prelude to their Unemployment Blues.
"At least you're doing the last show of the season, Ben. Janie and I go back to the bread lines—LA for her, New York for me. Brrrrr; I can feel that Hudson River chill already—rain and sleet and gone-gray snow trickling down my spine. Yesterday, in Manhattan, it was fifteen."
"No; actors left breathing. The rest had probably frozen to death in line."
"Paul, it's April."
"Janie, it's New York."
Ben opts for silence; there is nothing more insufferable than woebegone peers.
Paul downs his fourth Black Russian.
"Where the hell is Gillian? Deserted us in ow... ow... Ben?"
"Thank you... of need?"
"She went home."
"Say what? How? When? Went home without a word? That's treason! That's cruel! That's MOST unusual behavior!" He draws his finger across his throat. "Off with her head."
"Paul is in his cups."
"Pickled to the gills."
"Objection! I am stone-cold sober. Watch me walk this plank, you fractious, scandal-mongers." Paul walks two of his fingers along a groove in the threesome's table. "There; see? Everyone stand and applaud. Go ahead, I'll time you. The record is one and a quarter minutes." He refers to the back of his wrist (though it bears no watch), then glances at his cohorts. "Hey, up on your feet."
"Do you believe this man; actually clocks ovations; to the second, no less?"
Paul lowers his arm.
"It's love. However long they clap is how much they love me. To clap, my friends, is to give a person love."
"To love, if your involved, is to give a person clap."
Paul's head defines an arc from Janie to Ben.
He drops his head to the table. Janie pats his back.
"First time, ever, I've seen this man pass out."
"I am not unconscious; merely stunned by my detractors."
They let him stew.
"Janie, why did Gillian go straight home?"
"Said she wasn't feeling well. Didn't look good, either."
"She sure as hell looked good onstage, tonight. Rarely have I seen her any sharper. Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. And that last line... Whew! Blew me away. Didn't even sound like Gillian's voice."
"It wasn't." Ben regards his colleague with a do-explain expression. Janie obliges. "That's what she told me. Afterwards. 'Thanks,' she said. 'You saved my ass. For the life of me, those words just wouldn't come.'"
"If Gillian didn't deliver her line, who did?"
Ben seconds her.
"Well, it sure as hell wasn't me."
Paul revives for a moment.
"Off with her head."
Fur worn, limbs limp, face somewhat impassive, Mongo sits on Gillian's flannel-clad breastbone... as she outlines his fuzzy features with her thumb... thinking... reminiscing... drifting into a vacuum left by sheer exhaustion.
"No sense crying anymore, my little friend; it's over. Funny, life... acting. Morgan will be home soon. We'll have our little scene of reconciliation. I'll apologize—profusely. He'll accept. Not right away, of course; he'll hold his pain against me. I'll have to stroke and soothe his masculine ego. Eventually, however, he'll come around. Forgive me. Allow me into his heart. Far from which I've strayed." She looks at the monkey's button eyes, for sympathy. "Long enough to have hurt him, I admit." She hugs the toy to her forehead. "But wounds like his will heal, with a little balm... with a few kind words... with the truth. Which is?" She lowers her chin. "I love him."