Gaslight

 

Franklin had forgotten what day it was. He woke to find that he had passed out on top of the spare curtain boxes again. They weren’t very soft, but just soft enough to fall asleep on. He was pressed up against one of the furnace grates, the heat being what woke him up.

“Final call for Franklin to costumes!” a grainy voice boomed over the intercom.

He struggled to climb out of the mess of dusty fabric, falling on his shoulder before he was able to stand. Standing up and finally somewhat composed, he sauntered down the dim lit hallway to the crudely painted red door labeled “costume dept.” He already missed his warm, makeshift bed.

For a while he had a pretty good thing going with Laura, being able to pass out on her dressing room couch. They had known each other since college and were always friends, even if Franklin was a bit distant at times. That ended when he had drunkenly brought a new swing back to the room. He chuckled as he remembered how he woke up that afternoon. Laura had rolled the swing onto the floor and was swatting Franklin in the face with the arts section of a newspaper. An arts section with his, Laura’s, and Martin’s faces on the cover. Franklin couldn’t even be mad, he just laughed and walked out. Nobody ever saw that swing again after that day.

Franklin reached for the doorknob and used his other hand to push the jammed door open. He wiped the flakes of sticky red paint off his hands and onto his trousers.

“Where the hell have you been? We’ve only got twelve minutes.” said the owl-faced costume director while lighting a cigarette.

“Really doesn’t matter now, does it Stan? I’m here.” responded Franklin, slightly annoyed at the question.

Stan stopped dressing Franklin and put his cigarette out in a poorly made clay ashtray. He walked over to a window and opened it, trying to get the smoke out. Both men could hear the car horns coming from outside. The odd looking little man turned around, Franklin realizing he was about to be lectured.

“I know you don’t give a damn about any of this, but some of the people here actually do. Obviously, I know where you were. When the higher ups walk around the facility, they always tell me to stop smoking around the costumes, so I use the back door outside. I’ve seen you sleeping off a stupor in the piles of unused garbage. Just stay still so I can finish, then get the fuck out.”

Franklin decide that he would just not respond, there would be less headache for him that way. He heard the intercom call “places” and went over to his. Martin was already waiting for him when Franklin arrived.

“Let’s have a really great show tonight.” Martin said, patting him on the shoulder.

“Why do you always say that?” Franklin asked him. “As if I’m going to intentionally have a bad show.”

Martin ignored him as he stepped out under the stage lights. Franklin followed him from a distance, performing his character as a second nature. After fourteen minutes, Franklin walked off stage. He would have about a half hour before he would be called again.  Stan hobbled past him on the stage left wing, looking out at Martin. Franklin never understood that tradition, where the old man would look out mesmerized at a subpar stage actor.

“Can I have one of your cigarettes?” Franklin asked, tapping him on the shoulder.

“If you agree to fuck off, sure.” responded the owl-faced bastard.

Franklin walked out the back exit to west 45th, not realizing that the door had locked behind him. It had begun snowing, apparently it was nighttime. Nobody could tell if it was day or night in that dark theatre. After his cigarette, he knocked on the door, only to be opened by Stan.

“You didn’t fuck off, no more smokes for you.” grumbled Stan, leaving the door open a crack.

Without thinking, Franklin kicked out Stan’s cane from under him and walked straight onto the stage, not even turning around to see if the old prick was hurt. Franklin played his part for the last scene, and came out for bows. He was third in the order, hating it.

“You’re gonna lose your job tonight.” Laura whispered to Franklin as they locked hands for the final bow.

Franklin sauntered toward the box of curtains to retrieve his wallet and keys, only to be stopped by the director.

“My office, now.” she demanded.

Franklin passed her and walked another twenty feet to grab his personal items. He knew they would try to fire him, but realistically, they couldn’t. In the haste of trying to get the show off the ground, the casting team had completely forgot to recruit an understudy for him. He walked back into the costumes department room, changing out of his costume. Stan wasn’t there, and the window had been left open.

“Do you even enjoy what you do?” the director asked him as Franklin walked into the office.

Sitting behind the desk was the director, and in her two chairs were Stan and some woman in a grey pant suit that Franklin didn’t recognize. He looked for a chair, but apparently for this “meeting” he would be standing. The woman in the suit stood up and closed the door behind him.

“You show up for drunk consistently, only come to half of our rehearsals, are always late for curtain, and now I find out you kicked over an eighty-year-old man. Just one of those are cause to fire you. So try to explain this to me Franklin.” said the director, shuffling through contracts to find Franklin’s.

“You know what? I’ll tell you why. Why the hell would you cast that subpar television actor as the lead over me? Sure, he was a household name twenty years ago, but we just can’t let his career die can we? No, we have to plaster his fucking face all over Manhattan.” Franklin yelled at the group.

“His face sells tickets. People know him. They don’t know you, and as soon as he stops selling out the theatre, he’ll get pulled and replaced with some conservatory brat. Sure you’re a great actor, but don’t think that you’re not replaceable. Also, Martin doesn’t attack old men who he has disagreements with” the director said flatly to Franklin.

Franklin gauged the room. Only Stan was looking directly at him, smiling. The old bastard truly believed that Franklin would lose his job.

“You’re going to call me out on that? He goes up on stage to stare at Martin’s ass every night and I’m the one at fault. Why do you even care what happens backstage as long as the checks clear? This isn’t some shitty modern musical that everyone loses their minds over. It’s a philosophical drama that makes delirious bisexual honor students jerk themselves off to their own false sense of intellectualism.” Franklin snapped back at them as he left, slamming the door behind him.

He walked down the hallway back to his “bed” of curtains and passed out. Later on when he woke, Franklin felt a sharp pain in his chest. Somebody had stapled a letter into him. Franklin struggled to pull the shard of metal out of him, he winced as he opened the letter.

It read:

“Show up to all rehearsals and shows on time sober, we’ll talk after the holidays, Merry Christmas, Franklin.”

There was no signature at the bottom, but Franklin could tell who it was from by the stationary. He stood up and opened west 45th door, pushing the snow on the ground out of his way.  It was two in the morning as Franklin walked through the now deserted streets. He had never seen anything like it before, a completely desolate Times Square. Franklin sat down at the nearest bench, only to hear pre-recorded Christmas carols coming from one of the speakers outside of a nearby department store.

He stumbled down into a subway terminal, not being able to stand hearing the music on the streets. Gauging the area and not seeing any workers, Franklin ducked under the turnstile and boarded the first train he could find. Aside from a few homeless people, the train was practically empty. Franklin passed out again.

When he awoke, Franklin found himself propped up against a subway column. His wallet’s cash was cleared out, but his identifications were still there. At least the thieves of New York had some honor. Franklin stumbled up to the streets, looking up at the brownstones and colonials. A homeless man sitting in the snow tugged at Franklin’s pant leg.

“What’s wrong with you man?” he grumbled.

“I’m not really sure where I am” Franklin responded.

A confused look came over the man’s gnarled face. He stood up to get a better look at the stranger.

“Shit, you’re that guy on the posters with the TV guy. Well sonny, you in Brooklyn, now how about a few dollars for all that good information?” the homeless man said as he sat back down in the snow.

“Sorry friend, your pals already got to me on the train, but here.” Franklin responded as he handed a small bottle of gin to the elderly man.

He started to trudge through the snow, and when he reached the corner of the street, heard the homeless man yelling out at him.

“Merry Christmas you bitch!” he screamed from his little home in the snow.

“Christmas eve or Christmas day?” Franklin whispered to himself as he continued walking.

Franklin aimlessly walked through the streets. From Argyle Road through Carrol Gardens, finally stopping near a little park on State Street. Two copper statues of bears stood out to Franklin, their positions making them look as if they were dancing in the flurries of snow. He kept walking, making his way onto Willow Place. It was six in the morning now.

Looking up and down the street, Franklin only saw the lights on in one house. He looked into the first-floor window. An old woman was sitting in front of her fireplace, crying over a folded American flag. Franklin couldn’t help but think of his brother who had been killed overseas, and his brother’s wife who had spent years of Christmases alone. Still lost in thought, Franklin hadn’t realized that the old woman had spotted him from the window.

“If you want money, I’ve got none for you. I give money to homeless shelters, not individuals.” the old woman said as she opened the window.

“No, that’s fine. I saw you crying in the window. You lost your husband in the war?” Franklin asked hesitantly.

The woman hobbled back into another room of the house. Franklin wondered if she would come back, since she left the window open. In a few moments, she walked back to the window, holding a polished wooden box. Inside the box were a plethora of medals and pins, all of which Franklin didn’t know what for, and at the bottom of the box was a revolver pistol.

“Iwo Jima” she whispered as she closed the box.

Franklin didn’t know how to respond. There was nothing really to say. He looked her in the eyes and nodded. She turned to the table next to her and picked up a tray of cherry cordial chocolates, offering one to the stranger outside her window.

“No thank you. I should be going. Merry Christmas ma’am.” Franklin said as he began to turn around.

He heard the window shut behind him as he walked back onto the snow-covered sidewalk. Walking further down the street, Franklin became mesmerized by a gaslight and the way the flustering snow would melt as it landed on the glass mantle. He sat down on the stairs outside of a brownstone building.

Though it was still dark, Franklin thought he saw carolers approaching him. They stopped outside the old woman’s house and began to sing. It was eight thirty in the morning now.




 

Liam Doerr