The man stared into the dark maw of his duffel bag willing it not to be true.
He scanned the small dressing room where he’d flung the bag’s contents: towel, shaving kit, gray t-shirt, jogging bottoms, dark jeans, new shirt still in the wrapper for the after party –
It wasn’t there.
His nerves ratcheted up another level.
Casting his mind back, he clearly recalled packing it that morning. He’d gone to the gym – could it have fallen out there? Surely he would have noticed, but things had been so rushed. Then he come straight to the theatre, to this room and stowed the bag. Had he pulled it out at some time like a talisman and forgotten? Closing his eyes, he remembered taking it from its resting place in the bottom of the drawer and carefully unfolding the tissue. It still smelled spring fresh from the last washing and pressing along with a hint of cedar from the cachet he used to prevent moths getting to it.
It hadn’t started as a habit. He’d happened to have it the first few times he landed a big role. But after repeated incidents, he started seeing a pattern. and began wearing it as a humorous half baked superstition. He’d imagined cracking jokes at dinner parties and self-mockingly ascribing his success to it. Still some niggling, primitive part of him whispered: what if it’s true? So, he’d gone to lengths to preserve the precious item. Until now.
His heart pounded.
Calm down. Just calm down.
He’d been so focused on his private talisman, thinking all during rehearsal when he could hold it, feel it, soothe his jangled nerves. If ever there was a time for it, now was it. This was one of the biggest nights of his career. After not gracing a stage in 11 years, he would do so again in one hour. Sure, he’d done repertory theatre but only in ensemble and never as a headliner and certainly not propped up by all the PR. He was the main event, as they say, the one who could ensure the success of this production; the one whom critics would be watching, poison pens in hand.
Sweat beaded on his forehead. Was it hot in here?
Here he stood, in the same place graced by such greats as Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud. And now he here he was, audaciously wanting to begin the long climb to possibly taking a place by their sides.
His stomach rolled. Maybe it was true what they said about Olivier barfing before every performance. He felt ill, the small space closing in on him. Time was ticking away but he had to get some air. He had to get out.
The man stood hands in pockets outside under the the stage door canopy breathing in the not so fresh evening air. If the lose of his talisman portended bad luck, it was starting. He looked up in to the light drizzle. A few metres away huddled two young women in coats and nice frocks with their damp heads together talking and taking puffs from a fag. He groaned, mouth watering for the taste of tobacco and smoke. Although he quit years ago, he could really use a fag now. He ran fingers threw his short locks, shifting from foot to foot. The rain didn’t help his mood. If anything, he felt more morose and antsy. It crazy to think he could do this, that he could return to the stage after many years having been only an ensemble player and think he could pull off a headliner. He should have started smaller – joined another ensemble as a secondary character and worked his way up. Too late now. Time to consider what to do when he bombed.
One of the women handed the fag to the other, waved and headed around towards the front of the theatre. The other took a few more puffs then suddenly looked his way. She broke into a smile.
Oh hell. She recognized him and was probably a fan. He really didn’t feel in the mood for this right now, but politeness drilled into him since childhood forced him to return the smile – if only he could. His eyes begged “I’m sorry” and he dropped his head.
Her smile faltered as lines of concern replaced it. She called softly to him. Hey.
He looked up, expecting a nasty reply for his attitude. Instead, he met two compelling eyes and a radiant confident smile. Hey, break a leg man, she said. Giving him two emphatic thumbs up signs and a wink, she turned and walked away.
He blinked, watching her back until she turned the corner. He thought of the caring and concern in her eyes and the faith transmitted by the two thumbs up. She and her friend had come to see him, to watch him ply a craft he loved, to enjoy the theatre that he loved. The place would be packed with well wishers rooting for him, waiting to be transported by him. He looked up into the rain, letting the drops wash away the paralyzing self-doubt and panic. He would do what he’d always done – his best. It would have to be good enough.
He opened the stage door and went inside.
The stage assistant rapped on his door. Five minutes until curtain call. She moved to adjust his costume and stumbled. Oh, there’s something here by the door, she said and left. He peered down and there it was. Picking it up and holding it to the light, he grinned. The talisman – an old pair of red Calvin Klein briefs, slightly faded and a little stretchy in the waist now, but well maintained. He chuckled. Imagine a pair of pants throwing him into such a tizzy. A bit disturbing and crazy making actually. But what should he do? He had no spare pants; should he wear them? They were still clean and not trod on, not that that really mattered – he’d resurrected worse from his bedroom floor. After thinking a few minutes, he chucked the pants into the duffel bag. A check in the mirror decided the issue.
Naaaaah. He’d go commando and knock ’em dead.
Hey, break a leg, Richard Armitage.