by Jack Coey
Basil sat on the ratty couch memorizing the monologue.
I thought after graduation you would see things differently, and I was able to maintain that delusion for a time, he whispered.
“That’s not right.”
He looked at the playbook.
“Shit,” he thought.
Delusion was illusion and a time was a while. He whispered it over, and then over, and added the next phrase. It was Tuesday and his callback for The Bancroft Traveling Theatre Company was Thursday. He was twenty-eight years old, and his father was impatient for him to grow up. He didn’t think about it, but there was a lot riding on this audition. He watched a cockroach cross the floor. He concentrated on the playbook again. He was moved when he read the speech.
“It’s beautiful,” he thought. “This is what my father doesn’t get.”
He remembered talking to Daphne about it at the audition last week.
“My father totally thinks I’m an adolescent,” she said.
“Oh, I know,” he answered. “Absolutely.”
“The misunderstanding and suffering go together,” she observed.
“Daphne sure is smart,” he thought.
“Like being a martyr,” he offered.
“That seems pretty dumb too, don’t you think?”
“Yeah, but how do you avoid it?”
“Maybe that’s not the point. Maybe the suffering helps us with our art.”
“You mean like gives us emotion?”
“Don’t you think?”
He shook off the memory. He concentrated on the speech and made good progress until he was interrupted by footsteps on the stairs. There was a tap at the door. He hoped it was Daphne. He got up to unlock the door.
“I know you’re working,” she said, “but I brought you a sandwich for your break.”
He was touched by her thoughtfulness.
“How very kind of you.”
“I know I need a break when I’m trying to memorize.”
He looked at her. She had black hair and round breasts and lipstick. He wasn’t sure but he thought she was from Boston.
“There’s wine left over from the party the other night,” he thought. She looked around like she wasn’t sure.
“Please, have a seat.”
He pointed to the couch. She tentatively moved to the couch.
“I’m sorry I’m a slob,” he confessed, “I live by myself so I don’t see it.”
“How about this? You have a quick sandwich, and get back to work, and I’ll clean your apartment?”
“Oh, you don’t have to do that.”
“You want me to come back?”
She worked for a few minutes and had to leave for cleaning supplies. Basil felt guilty about all she was doing for him at the same time he was excited by her liking him enough to do it. It was the worst distraction he could possibly have at this moment of his life.
“Ain’t that a kick in the ass?” he thought. “When the stakes are highest is when the distractions are greatest.”
He used the tension created by Daphne to apply himself even harder to his task, and she was there mopping, washing, and wiping. He heard her from the bathroom.
Later on, she offered,
“If you want me to prompt you, I will.”
“I’m not ready yet, but thanks.”
He thought he could use that as a way to get her to come back tomorrow.
He woke up the next morning on the couch and went to the kitchen to put on water for coffee. He thought about the monologue. He had work to do yet, and couldn’t figure out if he wanted Daphne to come today or not. It seemed like she’d do anything for him except stay and have wine when they were done working. He started going over the monologue in his head.
You acted like you wanted to give me the opportunity to show…
“No, that’s not right.”
“Yes, that’s it.”
you things were different, but what’s that old saying? you can’t change the hide on a zebra…
the spots on a leopard …
“Yes, that’s it.”
He realized he didn’t know the monologue as well as he told himself. He knew he didn’t have enough time.
“Alright I better think about what’s going to happen if I bomb this audition. I guess nothing which is the point from Dad’s point of view. What was it Daphne said,
‘Misunderstanding and suffering go together’?
I still have today. Maybe I can get it down today. If she comes, I’ll ask her to come back later. That’s it, that’s the thing to do.”
He drank some coffee and had a bowel of cereal with no milk. He heard the footsteps.
“Your apartment looks much nicer.”
“Thank-you for cleaning it.”
“How’s the monologue coming?”
“I wanted to talk to you about that.”
“I thought if I was left alone I could concentrate better, and maybe you could come back later in the afternoon…”
“That’s foolish. You’ll make much faster progress if you let me prompt you. The corrections happen much faster because I’m on book, and can catch your mistakes as you do them.”
He looked at her standing by the door.
“She’s right,” he thought.
“You’re right,” he admitted.
He made her a cup of black coffee.
“I take cream,” she said.
“I don’t have any.”
“Why should I be surprised?”
That annoyed him.
“Would sugar be too much to ask?”
Now he was really annoyed.
He gave her a packet of sugar from the cupboard. He sat with her at the kitchen table and they began to work. Basil struggled with the middle of the monologue. She pleaded,
“Talk to me, Basil, talk to me! Convince yourself this is happening between you and me.”
She didn’t lose her patience with him, and over and over, gently prompted him. Finally, the unexpected happened, and he recited the monologue start to finish. She helped him with some blocking. They were drained.
“Come on, let me buy you dinner,” he suggested.
“Oh Basil, I’m sorry I can’t. I have an acting class in forty-five minutes on Twenty-Third street.”
He made her promise she would have dinner with him sometime.
Then his nerves started. He recited the monologue over and over until he was sick to death of it. He said it fast; he said it slow, if he could have recited it in Chinese he would have. His nerves kept him from sleeping well. It got so all he wanted was to have the audition over. He showed up for the audition and thought he would vomit until they called his number, and just like that, he was as calm as a monk. He started the monologue as slick as could be, and was in the middle, when he went blank. All he could hear was the humming of the lights for several seconds until out of the dark a voice,
He rode the subway downtown, and didn’t know what to tell Daphne. When he got back to his apartment, he sat on the ratty couch, and called his father.
Jack Coey lives in Keene, NH.