The Unexpected Visitor
by Neetu Malik
I am backstage, ready to approach the footlights. A few moments remain before the curtain rises. I have stood here, at this very spot, innumerable times and know my lines. The pit below me is occupied, I am aware, but the orchestra is silent and dark.
Anticipation fills the hushed auditorium, the only sound being that of muted coughs and whispered chatter. I know someone who sits there today who has never sat there before. Not for me. Why he chose to come today, I do not know.
“Megan, there is much that I cannot tell you at this time, but I will tell you that I have regretted my absence from your life in the years you needed me. Perhaps, you have overcome the need. I can never cross the bridge to where you once stood, but I hope to meet you on the side where you now stand. I will be at your performance tonight. I hope you won’t mind your old man sitting in the shadows. And if it isn’t too much to ask, I would like to take you out to dinner after the show. If you will allow me to.” – The note wasn’t signed. It didn’t need to be.
“If you will allow me to” – words he thinks empower me to choose. Smooth as the opening notes of the cello below me, but unlike the instrument, they jar on every fiber of my being. I must put them out of my mind lest they break the chords in my throat. It is not his voice I have ever feared; it was always the silence– of disapproval, of reproach, censure and condemnation.
“You must work harder, Meg. Don’t fritter your time away daydreaming! You need to get those grades up in science and math, girl. Music isn’t a profession. You can’t live on song.” Middle school memories of slamming doors, thumping footsteps, loud reprimands followed by long periods of silent withdrawal, leaving me cringing under the weight of denied affection rose from the fog of my childhood like a stab in my chest. Trying to please Papa was impossible. I had to be better, and better than everyone else, but I still couldn’t be good enough. Then he and mum broke up and we just went on with our lives.
The note trembles in its descent to the floor. I don’t bother to pick it up. I will deal with it later, after the show. I step forward as the music begins. I have rehearsed my aria to perfection. The audience deserves the very best on this opening night. The curtain rises and the stage lights are upon me. I cast the slight tremor in my heart aside. The man in the shadows cannot disturb me. I am the one in the spotlight.
About the author:
Born in India, Neetu has lived in Austria, England, and Canada before settling in the Eastern USA in 1994. Neetu’s eclectic work reflects her diverse background as she explores the joy and darkness of the human condition in poems and stories noteworthy for their intensity in brief span. Her poetry is published in journals and Anthologies from Australia, USA, UK, and India. Her poem, “Soaring Flames”, was awarded First-Place by the NY Literary Magazine (2017). Nominated for the Pushcart Prize 2019, Neetu’s poem “Sacred Figs” was published in The Ocotillo Review by Kallisto Gaia Press in May, 2018.
Published to Flashes