About the Writer
Gayle Brandeis is the author of Fruitflesh: Seeds of Inspiration for Women Who Write (HarperOne), the novels The Book of Dead Birds (HarperCollins), which won Barbara Kingsolver's Bellwether Prize for Fiction of Social Engagement, Self Storage (Ballantine), and Delta Girls (Ballantine), as well as her first novel for young people, My Life with the Lincolns (Henry Holt), which won a Silver Nautilus Book Award. In 2011, she released The Book of Live Wires, the sequel to The Book of Dead Birds, as an ebook. Gayle teaches in the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Antioch University and lives in Riverside, CA, where she is mom to two adult kids and a toddler. She recently began a two year appointment as the new Inlandia Literary Laureate. You can find out more at www.gaylebrandeis.com.
Scott was so literal. We told him “break a leg” before he went on stage, and then he fell down the prop stairs and snapped his tibia in two places. The show didn’t go on for Scott. He was taken by ambulance to Riverside Community, and his understudy had to stuff his hair under a skin cap quick. Scott showed up at the cast party a couple of days later wearing an actual cast. How literal can you get?
The cast party was held at the Big Top pizzeria at Castle Park; it was after hours on a Sunday night, so all the rides were shut down. The hot summer air smelled like funnel cakes, the thick sugar of them, even though the stands were closed. I wanted to climb into the Octopus with my boyfriend, climb into one of those bucket seats in the dark and make it swivel around, but as soon as we started to scale the fence, a security guard popped up out of nowhere and beamed his flashlight in our eyes. We went back into the pizza place, which was filled with people in stage makeup and street clothes and smelled like an old mop drenched in pepperoni grease.
Everyone looked sick and wrong under the florescent lights. We all had triangles of white makeup at the corners of our eyes that were supposed to make our eyes look bigger from the audience, but up close all of our eyes just looked small and tired and red. Scott’s understudy still had his skin cap on; he looked like a chemotherapy patient. But everyone was smiling and crying. Everyone was hugging and saying “Good job” and “Are you sad it’s over?” and “I’m kind of sad but kind of relieved” and “Are you going to try out for Joseph?” Everyone was drinking pitchers of root beer and trying to steal real beer from the parents’ pitchers. Everyone was trying to act like we were real LA theater people and not just summer high school theater program people from Riverside, 60 miles east of the city. A million miles away in coolness. If we were going to make it in Hollywood, we couldn't have Riverside on our resumes. It would stamp us as hicks, as tweakers. As nobodies, even though Riverside is actually not such a bad place to live.
We all crowded around Scott; he was like a king in his wheelchair. Another literal thing--he should have been the king. The King and I king. He had even shaved his head for the role. We all took turns signing his cast, writing things like “We didn’t really mean it!” and “Is a puzzlement!” with noxious smelling markers. Under his cast, his leg was a puzzle, held together by pins. All of us were a puzzle, held together by summer and make-up and a script we’d never perform again. We thought about how easy it is for things to end, for things to break, for things to fade away. The silent rides suddenly felt ominous all around us. We went into the bathrooms. We wiped our make-up off with brown paper towels. We watched our faces blur.