He threw the towel onto the dressing table. It’d been a long day. Maybe it was time for him to retire. He’d worked at the job too long now. Too long to relate to the reason he’d initially chosen it. Too long to draw on the feeling and purpose that once kept him going. He sighed as he sat into the chair, slumping against its backrest. He was tired. Perhaps it was time that he retired.
He opened his eyes. Eyes that silently clamored for more rest. Eyes that waited impatiently for the day that he could no longer open them. They felt so heavy sometimes. He didn’t blame them. Every waking moment was nothing but torture.
Every sight. Every object he laid his eyes on. Each and everything he saw, only seemed to bring him pain. A painful reminder of the world without her. The world without them. The world that once existed, but would never be again.
He sighed, closing his eyes to ease the suffering. The seemingly ceaseless torment that persisted day after day. Even so, deep down, he knew, it would always be there. Sight or no sight. Eyes open or not. The pain. The loneliness. The emptiness.
He forced his eyes open. Regardless of his emotions, things weren’t over for him yet. He still had to clean up his makeup. He still had to go home. There was still another day waiting for him. Still another song to sing. Still another performance to perform.
Reaching for the makeup cleaner, he felt his fingers brush against a smooth surface. A surface that shouldn’t be there. He felt the area again. A card? Must’ve been something that a fan secretly snuck in again. He sighed as he picked it out from where it was lodged, prepared to throw it out.
Just as he dropped the card into the waste bin, a color and a familiar shape from the corner of it caught his eye. He leaned down toward it to get a better view. He put a hand over his lips in shock. Immediately, he bent to fish it out. Holding it to his chest, tears came down to his face, washing away some of the makeup that he meant to remove anyway.
It was a photograph. Not just any photograph, but the one that he took five years ago. Right before it happened. He closed his eyes. Only moments before he fell from paradise.
A tear fell from his eye, staining the paper. Frantically, he wiped away the droplet, smudging the ink under his fingers. Blurring the image that was already so fuzzy from the tears filling his eyes. As he wiped, his attention fell to the remaining characters, in the corner, that survived the smear. Ten years in the past. A decade ago. Had it already been so long?
Ariah. His hand tightened over the photograph. Ariah. My Ariah. The image brought him back. Back to the days that laughter filled his world. Back to the days that she was still by his side. Back to the things he’d long forgotten. Back to the days that his life had a purpose. Back when performing on stage had a purpose.
His daughter. His precious daughter.
“I know you can do it, daddy!” He could still hear her voice echoing through his head. He could still see her with a teddy bear in her arms and Spot, their dog, circling her legs, both excitedly cheering him on.
He could still see her, sitting below the stage, eager to watch his next performance. He could still see her, sitting among the audience, clapping with the greatest enthusiasm. He could see her running up to him and wrapping her arms around him in a hug, backstage, before he got a chance to change out of his costume. He reached his hand forward, dispelling the illusion on contact. But she wasn’t there any longer. And she would never be again.
A hand clapped him on his shoulder. He turned to find a young woman, and let out a breath. Disappointed. He didn’t know what he’d been expecting. It was impossible for his daughter to be back.
“I’ve added new programs to your schedule.” She said. Right. He was supposed to get a new assistant.
“I’m not interested.” He grumbled, turning away. Life was already hard enough as it was. He didn’t need anything new on his plate. He didn’t need anything that she hadn’t gotten to see. He didn’t need anything to forcefully widen the already expansive gap between the two of them. Not while there existed a gap of time and a chasm of life and death.
“I know you can do it!” She said again, with a tone that he would always remember. He turned to look at her, really seeing her then. The auburn hair. The smile. Now that he thought about it, she was about the right age, given the ten years. Tears spilled from his eyes.
In that moment, the pain, the loneliness, the emptiness that he’d felt over those years vanished. None of it mattered anymore. He smiled as she wrapped her arms around him, a hug that he’d never forgotten and had long missed. Perhaps after all these years, the Lord finally looked down onto him in pity and granted him the forgiveness that he sought…at long last.
He looked up at the ceiling, at what would’ve otherwise been the sky. Thank you. He returned the hug, putting his arms around his new assistant. Thank you so much. At that moment, his life was finally complete and he couldn’t dream of anything that could make it better.
This story was inspired by a writing prompt from the “Promptly Written” Publication.
Not the plot, just the object essential to the plot
THE PLOT: An aging actor comes to a crossroads
THE MCGUFFIN: An old photograph