The crowd of people files out of the front door and winds along the sidewalk outside the building. A thousand eager breaths puff out from smiling mouths; they stand close together, whether to stave off the cold or in companionship the outcome is the same. Great doors, older than the hands and feet that hold them, welcome visitors into their equally great lobby.
Ceilings erupt upward and outward, enough to dizzy anyone caught in their impossible depth. Gold filigree accentuates symbols carved into the ceiling. Massive statues stand guard by each doorway, carved into rigid marble, yet their human features are softened by the skill of a sculptor long deceased.
He has the performance bill in his calloused hands, and can barely believe his eyes. Dressed in an outfit hastily bought a Macy’s the night before, he felt out of place and hopelessly overdressed. She said he looked like cowboy gone professional. Which seemed to him like an oxymoron.
He checks his watch and makes his way to the concession stand.
A woman dressed in uniform smiles as he approaches.
“What can I grab you today?”
He looks up at the board and is greeted with an array of wine’s he can’t recognize, let alone pronounce.
“Do you have any beer?”
“We have several.” She says, turning to the board next to her. “They’re all listed here.”
She frowns, “I’m sorry, no domestic beers. Just craft beers.”
He nods and decides on a $4 bottle of water instead. He turns to leave, then reaches into his pocket.
“Hey, do you know where this seat is?”
She leans over the counter and eyes it. “Yes, you’re going to go up those stairs over there to the very top. Would you like me to call an usher to take you?”
“That won’t be necessary. Thank you though.”
The staircase is as magnificent as the rest of the hall. Crimson carpet leads up the stairway, a bust of a gentlemen he has no way of recognizing sits in an alcove. Railings are more of the marble carved to look like wood banisters, lit by a chandelier housing a thousand brilliant motes of light. In a moment of insanity, he stops and checks his boots—despite being brand new—for dirt.
An usher greets him at the top of the stairs. His presence is that of a security guard or bouncer, but his language is that of hospitality.
“Good evening, sir. Welcome to the Alexander, do we have balcony tickets this evening?”
“I think I do.” He says, his southern drawl feels painfully obvious when talking with them.
The usher reads the ticket, smiling and motions him to follow. He opens two more doors and seats him at the front of the balcony, high up above those seated below him.
“Enjoy the show, sir.” The usher says and leaves.
A few eyes turn his direction. They wear pearls, diamonds, gold and silver. Dresses made of materials that cost more than he makes in a year. Suits and ties perfectly measured and perfectly fitted, meticulously crafted for one occasion. The men’s faces have features like the statues below, as if chisled out of stone. Women, wear their makeup with perfect accentuation, young and old alike. They smile at him, but it’s only because he’s seen them see him. He smiles back and nods nervously.
Everything in him screams to get up and leave. The people. The noise. The venue. He sticks out like a blister. Cowboy boots just don’t belong with these fancy dress clothes, he should have been more insistent.
A woman next to him says something, but he misses it.
“I’m sorry?” He says.
“I was just asking if you’d seen a show here before.”
“Oh,” he says. “No, I haven’t. This is my first time.”
She nods, as if affirming something she already knew.
“My daughter got me these tickets.” He says and looks over the railing. “How high up do you think we are?”
She shrugs and says something to her husband. He’s sure it’s something about his out of place facial hair or bolo tie.
“He says about 45 feet. I’m Gloria Wellings by the way.” She reaches out a hand.
“Jake Patterson.” He says, taking her hand. She smiles again, and then frowns.
“How did you say your daughter got you these tickets?” She asks. Jake begins to answer, but is interrupted by the usher, who closes the doors above the balcony. The lights begin to fade. Gloria waits for an answer, but something has changed in Jake’s demeanor that indicates he’s forgotten or doesn’t care.
The crowd’s noise moves from murmur to mumble. Only when total blackness assaults the hall does the crowd quiet completely. They sit in perfect darkness. In that tiny, miniscule moment, there is nothing. No nervous fidgeting, no rustling papers, they all hold their breaths, their hearts stop beating, even if only for an infinitesimal moment. Anticipation.
Then an amber light, too faint to see at first, casts its glow over the stage. It’s small, but it feels warm and welcoming, makes one want to reach out their hand to feel heat from its fire. Some restrain themselves, others lean closer.
A single figure lays on the stage. Cast in the shadow of itself and that of the waning light. It’s hard to see at first, its form is made foreign by dark contours and fading light. Then an arm rises fluidly from the figure and, as if conducting, a series of slow moving string instruments join in choreography. Their music low and lilting, like the figure on stage, pensive and cautionary. As the dancer rises, more instruments add themselves to the melody. Before long the dancer is sitting upright, head, arms and torso moving rhythmically with violins, cellos, violas, bass, and contrabass. A stunning melody to match its stunning muse.
The amber light glows brighter, and at the moment the dancer rises, it illuminates the stage brightly.
As soon as he sees her face, something expands in his chest. His out of place thoughts disappear. The hard man grimaces against the welling feeling in his core just long enough to retrieve his handkerchief from his pocket.
He watches her move elegantly, with more grace then he or anyone in their family was able to show. The feeling in his chest creates a buzz all over—a flash of anger, of regret, then of pride and happiness—thinking of the ridicule the kids gave her when she said she wanted to be a dancer.
Gloria next to him looks through the performance bill, then leans in towards Jake.
“What did you say your last name was?” she whispers.
But he doesn’t hear her. He’s lost in the dance before him, hopelessly and wonderfully lost.