My hair is piled on top of my head. I am dressed like a 19th century peasant. I lose count of how many bobby pins I used. A sleeve of them, a pocketful, and yet my hair still insistently wisps around my face. It is the week before Christmas. I have been caroling at hospitals in Oklahoma City all day as part of the community outreach that the vocal music department of my performing arts high school does this time of year.
The trick on a day like this is to try to stay out of class as long as possible once you have returned from the performance. The dressing rooms behind the stage are perfect for eluding hall monitors and vice principals. Since it is not a hallway and sometimes serves as a classroom no one is sure who is responsible for policing the space.
During the holiday season, when the band, orchestra, drama groups and dance ensembles are in high extra-curricular demand you are likely to run into the best and brightest of those departments planted in the same area, involved in the same subterfuge. Impromptu collaborations erupt in those moments, counter tops are drummed, songs are sung around a piano in the hallway. Sometimes the harmonies and dance steps are captured by a skulking photography student, but more often than not these things leave no trace that they ever occurred.
It is after one o’clock in the afternoon; there is little more an than hour left in the school day.
My fellow carolers had piled into someone’s car and snuck off campus to get burgers. I was too scared to actively break the rules and stayed behind, pacing the wings of the stage, re-wrapping my shawl around myself, contemplating un-pinning my hair and just attending the tail end of my Anatomy class. But ditching of this nature only works if no one goes back to class. The minute one person breaks through that boundary, the other teachers get suspicious—if this one is back from the performance, where are the rest of them…? Then referrals get written and parents get called.
And I am not ready to remove my costume. I like the way the boots make me stand, the way the skirt brushes against my calves and the floor. I am not me in this dress, in this spot, right now. I can float in the possibility, silence the constant buzzing in my head, and let the costume inhabit me, let it be Me for a moment. I pace the wings of the stage because it seems too pathetic to cower in the dressing room alone. Even for me.
Thin vocal strains of the women’s chorus waft from a music room on far stage left. A drama class performs monologs from A MidSummer Night’s Dream in the stage right classroom and, between their competing voices, the tinkling of a solo piano player can be heard from the piano in the hallway outside the stage doors.
The auditorium itself is empty, lit only in the aisles and by the functional light that spills through the glass in the classroom doors.
Behind me the stage door from the parking lot squeaks open, cutting a sliver of sunlight into the black walls. It is too soon for the other carolers to have returned from their drive unless they got caught and re-routed.
A boy’s voice, not one of the burger-getters, says Hey.
He must be talking to me; I am the only person here. I turn to see a body framed in the light from the doorway, a semi-familiar shadow suspended in sun.