June 20, 2016 by The Citron Review
by Shelley Senai
She’s alone up there on the bright expanse of stage, belting out the hits—her hits—one after the other, and she’s there but she’s not there. Tonight her mind flitters like an errant butterfly between two memories. In one—she is dancing—in the rain on a beach in Phuket, arms outspread, clothes plastered to her body, barefoot and high beyond belief. In the other—she’s six years old and pressed into the gap between her grandmother’s soft body and the arm of her nubby brown recliner, pointing at things in a family photo album, Nana’s ancient hand gently patting the small of her back. What connects these two moments she can’t quite work out but they flicker before her nonetheless.
Meanwhile the notes continue to pour from her without effort. They are fluid, a natural spring. It’s her final number, the real showstopper, and they erupt from her belly with force. And then, before she fully realizes it, before her mind has left that picture in the album of Nana standing with her sisters in their different swimming costumes at Lake Pontchartrain, the notes have stopped of their own accord. Her concert has ended and her body is bowing, hands pressed together at her heart.
Now all that she has put out has been multiplied and is being cast back to her by the packed hall, a tsunami of sound. It washes over her, bathes her in its fierce adoration, so loud it almost drowns her. She had forgotten about her great aunts in that black-and white lake photo until just this very moment, in swimsuits that decreased in modesty according to age, with Birdie, Nana, the youngest, standing giddy in her high-waisted bikini, her skin tan and taut, her smile so easy. So free.
Her costume is too tight. She should have never agreed to so many feathers, but the stylists all oohed and aahed over it and by then it was too late. Now as her flock of attendants usher her off the stage, she feels the pointy feather tips poking into her ribs, her armpits, her spine, all her tender places. These are the gimmicks they have to use now to keep her act interesting amidst the theatrics of the current pop artists. They have to make her look like a chicken, she supposes. That’s relevancy for you. But her manager said as long as she keeps going along with everything, and especially as long as she keeps doing her signature kiss-wink thing (which often photographs wrong and she can’t help but wonder if everyone is just egging her on somehow), she will fulfill her contract and, what’s more, perhaps attract the attention of Vegas. Her manager spreads his ring-laden fingers and raises his eyebrows whenever he says the word “Vegas,” as if it’s some magical land where the rivers run wine instead of water. God, she’d kill for a drink right now. Just a tiny harmless sip. That too was not permitted. Per the contract, she must stay clean.
“You were so great,” a tiny wisp of a thing says to her, her infantile hand on the back of the feathered dress. She can’t be older than twelve, though she wears the black outfit and headphones of a stage attendant.
“You were, Vel. Oh, you were. Seriously great,” says her assistant, Kristy or Kristen or Kris-something. She’s new.
Between the stage door and her dressing room is the hallway where people who have paid extra money—her “superfans,” a queer mix of mostly tween girls and middle-aged men and their wives—wait for her, restless. The first group calls to her, Vella! Over here! We love you. She bends to take a picture with them and signs a t-shirt, and then the baby stage manager is guiding her to the next, a small clutch of teenage girls, piercing, you’re amazing! We love you! Photoflash, signing, flowers now, she passes them to Kris-something (Krista?) and keeps moving. It was beautiful! You were so good, Vella! You were perfect! Sign. Snap. Flash. Smile! Do the kiss! She does the kiss, they laugh. The feathers are certainly breaking skin now. Incredible! We love you! So amazing! Smile. Kiss. Snap. Sign. The tide moves along, and now she’s almost at the end, she can see the roped off area where they cannot go. Again her mind goes to Birdie in that photo, zooms into her face and that blurred smile until all that remains is a handful of gray pixels. Last group. Kiss. Flash! Snap, smile, sign. She takes their flowers—purple snapdragons, her favorite, and Nana’s favorite—and it’s these she’s clutching to her breast when she hears him and turns.
“Hey Vella, you suck!”
No more than a kid. He’s laughing. Dissention ripples through the crowd. The baby attendant and Krista and the others swirl around her, clucking, don’t listen to him, dumb kid, what does he know? They are vying for that one kernel of truth. They want to take it from her, erase it from her memory. They want to keep her happy. They want to keep her in the dark! They want to placate her, like a child. Well, she won’t let them. She wants to rise up. She wants to spreads her wings wide, let out a shrill warning. Back off!, she wants to scream. This is mine.
Instead she plants her feet and shouts to the kid:
“Hey! Thank you!” she says.
And she means it.
Shelley Senai lives outside of Boston where she is a PR consultant by day, fiction writer by night, and mother to a small child both day and night. Her writing explores themes of loss and family. Shelley holds a B.S. in communications and a minor in English from Boston University.