Lights Fade: Laurel Halbany

Julia’s reflection raised its arms. It rippled in the yellowed, uneven glass of the mirror. It turned slightly at the waist and gestured at something unseen to its right. It took a half-step, awkward and hobbled, a bird with an injured wing, and then Julia’s foot twisted under her. She flailed into the heavy wooden frame of the standing mirror and knocked it over, landing flat-out across the glass. She looked down at her reflection; for an absurd instant she worried that it might be hurt. A dull bead of blood dripped from the point of her chin and splashed the mirror.

Someone shoved the heavy back curtain aside and the other actors of the company crowded into the space. Nicole, the tallest woman in the group, did not so much shove them aside as move them by the aura of her angry presence. She looked down at Julia. “What happened?”

Julia awkwardly rolled over and sat up. “I was doing warm-ups in front of the mirror—”

“You’re not supposed to be practicing your dance,” Nicole said, practically hissing the last word. “You should be practicing your lines and practicing them sitting down until your ankle heals. We are putting on this play with a skeleton crew and nobody has time to be your understudy. Is that clear?”

Nicole spun and stalked away without waiting for an answer. The other actors milled around, avoiding her eyes. Only Kai stepped forward, regal, beautiful Kai, helping Julia to her feet.

“Sorry about that,” Kai said. She smiled an apology. “Jarré hasn’t sent any new pages of script in days and Nicole’s very upset.”

You don’t have to apologize for her just because you’re sleeping with her, Julia thought, but did not say. She mimicked a smile back, and nodded, and said nothing at all. She resisted the urge to go back and check on the mirror before she left the theater.

————

Julia spent the next two days sitting down. She didn’t bother to practice her lines, because there were only two. She passed the time re-reading Abelard Jarré’s other plays, the ones she had hunted down in the basements of used book stores and read to tatters when she was a drama student: Memorial Sand, Anticlast, Hour of the Oxen, even Indolence, his first and least-regarded play that was nonetheless her favorite. In the thirty-five years since releasing Manifenêtre, Jarré had written nothing. He gave no interviews and appeared in public rarely; many speculated that he was dead. Through some chain of friendships or remote relation that seemed hazy to Julia, Nicole had gained his rare favor, and Jarré picked her tiny, all-woman theater company to stage his new play Carcosa.

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