was arrested for being myself. That's what the
officer charged me with as he handcuffed me and shoved me
down the hall to the waiting van already occupied by a
middle-aged couple picked up for indecent exposure.
At the station house, I was directed to a room
with pallid yellow concrete walls and a large mirror,
obviously an observation window. A second officer
offered me coffee, pulled up a chair close enough for me
to feel the heat of his breath but far enough so that I
couldn't reach him with my feet.
"Why'd you do it?" he began, wasting no time,
wanting a confession immediately.
"Like I said to the first officer," I offered,
choosing my words carefully, my admission jeopardizing my
fate. "I'm innocent. I was only...acting."
"Let's not get technical," he replied, sharpening
his gaze. "How do you account for last night then," he
asked, planning to hear only what he expected, what would
make his job easy, and let him leave early enough to join
his wife for dinner.
For the second time that morning, repeating it
verbatim, I narrated my whereabouts of the last fourteen
"I was standing offstage, script in hand, making
sure all lighting cues and entries and exits by the
uncle, his sister, her young son and the lesser
characters were carried out as planned. For months that
felt much longer, clipboard in hand, I stood behind the
curtain. I watched as the sister in her blue satin dress
sashayed around the stage, the uncle bragged about his
financial investments, and the son soared his toy
airplane above floor and table, interrupting their
conversation with fantasies of WWIII invasions,
proclaiming himself a superhero in a loud enough voice
for them to hear and consequently ignore.
"Though I often sat content on my stool, mouthpiece
strapped around my chin for delivering instructions
to the control room, each word of the dialog so well
memorized, I tell you I could have delivered the entire
thing myself, I suddenly broke out in a dizzying sweat.
By the dinner scene, Act IV, line 33, when the uncle
confesses amorous feelings for his sister and stumbles on
the leg of his chair, I strode onto the stage.
"'Why, Nancy,' says the uncle, tapping the table
nervously with his right hand, 'we were not expecting you
until...later.'" He then fidgets with his tie, which is my
cue for grabbing his bowl of soup, pouring it onto his
lap, buttering myself some bread, and ranting about
everyone having so many expectations of me, an eloquently
delivered speech that brought me great applause
afterwards during bows."
"Exactly," said the officer, pleased by my
"But it was an act," I defended, suspecting a
difference in interpretation.
"Attempting bodily harm," explained the officer,
"is a felony, but you caused quite a...disruption. If
you're lucky, you'll be given a small fine and serve
community time." He glanced at the mirror smugly.
Once again, my body temperature climbed
dramatically, my thin rayon blouse suddenly too heavy and
tight for the room. "This is absurd!" I yelled, leaping
up from my chair. The officer tried to force me back down without
success. "The reviewers were pleased by my performance!"
"Critics know nothing about laws."
That's when I lost it. I'd had one too many
arguments about theater aesthetics with the uninformed.
Same as the night before, a dizzying heat surged through
my body, a current that left no room for contemplation.
I grabbed my chair, raised it overhead, and before the
officer could stop me, I brought its full wooden weight
crashing down on his shoulder. He flopped to the floor
near his chair like a puppet severed from its puppeteer,
his pad of paper falling beside him, his pen rolling away
from both of us, the sound echoing in the starkly empty
room, eventually followed, when the pen stopped rolling,
by a complete and profound silence.
Shortly after, the lights dimmed, the curtain
fell, and I bowed to a series of bravos. The critics'
opinions that night were mixed.
* * * * *
Cheryl Pallant lives in
Richmond, Virginia, and teachs writing and dance at
Virginia Commonwealth University. This story is from
Dreaming With Eyes Open. One of her stories, "A Touchy Situation," appeared
in Issue #2 of The Cafe Irreal.