The woman is explaining the plot to her lover: "Hades is the god of the underworld, right, and he fell in love with Persephone, the goddess of the harvest, so now she lives with him in the underworld for half the year, which is why we have winter and fall." Abbey can tell they are lovers based on the way the woman rubs the soft spot between her partner's thumb and forefinger, the same way Abbey did with the boy she once tried to love. It seems sudden that, at 22, 17 has become once. The woman and her lover are intertwined across the thin arm of the theater seats. Abbey sits with her hands in her lap. She has not come here with anyone. The cousin she has flown from Iowa to New York City to visit was unwilling to spend the exorbitant ticket price on a musical she'd never heard of. Abbey is used to doing most things by herself anyway. Not in a sad way. Her alone is one of neutrality.
"So, Eurydice is a dryad, or nature spirit." The woman's deep voice lilts. Her lover listens attentively, or maybe apathetically. Silently, at least. Abbey is sitting too close to look at them, but she can gauge their body language out of the corner of her eye. She has never seen old lesbians. Older, anyway. She sometimes forgets her generation did not invent queerness. That others have survived it.
The woman's lover keeps glancing up from the program that has been thrust in front of her to look at the stage. The set is sparse: a collection of wooden tables and chairs strewn about to resemble somewhere lived-in. A pub, maybe, or a home. A man in black clothes takes a seat in the tiny cage-like structure at the back of the stage behind a drum kit. Abbey always thought she would learn how to the play the drums someday. She thought she would do a lot of things, be a lot of people. She thinks these thoughts about time as if she is running out of it.
"Are you listening to me?" The woman asks. Abbey almost says yes. She doesn't know much about Greek mythology either. She has been in need of someone to explain it to her, lean over her shoulder and point to names and images like she is a child (she is hardly not a child). "Yes, yes," the woman's lover responds. She folds her legs in a new position, right leg over left, so her foot is now rubbing against the shin of the woman. The woman flips a page of her playbill and accidentally bumps Abbey's arm. "Sorry," she says. Abbey doesn't respond. She means to say, "It's okay," means to say, "You can leave it there." Instead, she scoots further back in her chair so that her arm and the woman's will no longer intercept.
An announcement comes over the loudspeaker instructing the audience to turn off all cellphones. As Abbey reaches into her purse to silence her own device, she sees that neither the woman nor her lover has moved. Presumably, they have already turned off their phones. They have one another for entertainment, for distraction during interim time. Or maybe all silence is comfortable when inside love.
The lights descend and the cast emerges from the wings. They arrive on stage, all of them, all at once, like they know they are supposed to be there. They are, of course, but it's not only the audience who is aware of this correctness of presence. Abbey feels a jolt in her chest and her hands sting from clapping so hard. She wants to look over at the woman and her lover to see if they feel it too. Maybe they live in this place. Maybe they feel this way—this adrenaline, this joy, this knowing—always.
Abbey observes the show's first several numbers through a dreamlike fugue. It is not until "Livin' it Up on Top" she is finally awoken. The man playing Orpheus (an actor Abbey does not recognize, he's not the original) climbs on top of one of the tables and raises his arm. "To the world we dream about," he toasts. The full company turns towards their audience, prop mugs in hand. Eurydice is looking right at Abbey. The fictional woman's lover continues: "And, the one we live in now."
Only recently has Abbey learned there is a future. A future where she could find, or maybe has already found, herself. One in which she is unafraid of who she is and whom she loves. She hadn't considered the possibility there might be a present too. That she could walk out of this theater and set free the doved desires in her pocket. No one on stage is moving, for they are all too busy seeing one another. Abbey begins to weep.
When the lights come on at intermission, it is several breaths before anyone gets up. Once there is stirring among the audience, Abbey steels herself. She had decided she would make small talk with her seatmates, determined to assert herself as herself. Abbey, for the first time, looks directly at the woman and her lover. In their place is a stretched-out teenager and his girlfriend. He is rubbing the soft part of her hand.
"So good," he says. The girl hums in assent. Abbey glances frantically further down the row, to the seats in front and behind her. The world she has been dreaming about is nowhere to be found. The teen boy sports the woman's same green knit skullcap, strands of dark hair spilling out from underneath. Abbey sits on her hands. Back on stage, she can make out the fading outline of Orpheus's actor standing on his table. Someone has pushed his chair in.
is a proud Midwest transplant currently teaching English in Vigo, Spain. She is the first place recipient of the 2020 Marjorie Stover Short Story Prize and has previously been published in Laurus Magazine, The Fourth River, Unstamatic
and elsewhere. You can find her on Twitter @mikienbrown