A story about an odd stage performance
He'd never seen an act quite like it. When she'd carried it onto the darkened stage, everyone thought it was a silly joke. Then the gasps had spread through the audience like wildfire. It looked so real -- not some kind of mechanical trick. It had made Jason feel uncomfortable. Then painfully jealous -- that another act could eclipse his own waning success.
When the clicking of lids, swishing of brushes and sliding of drawers finally ceased, Jason heard the woman pacing up and down her room. Clothing rustled and keys jangled. Jason darted back into the tiny storeroom. As he held his breath, the beating muscle in his chest tried to thump its way up, through his taut frame and closed mouth.
He thought his throat was about to split by the time the footsteps had passed. He shuddered, breathed deeply and peered around the door. A small orange bulb blinked from its dusty corner. As soon as the sound of silence permeated the cigarette-tinged air, Jason's trembling legs drew him towards the dressing room. He knew it wouldn't be locked yet. She always went to the ladies room before leaving the building. He wouldn't have long, but he only needed to see how it worked.
As the door creaked open, Jason imagined a tortured tree screaming in a distant forest. Sensitivity danced on the edge of his teeth, pricking the gums and burrowing deep into his jawbone. He stepped into the room, a kaleidoscope of sparkles and layered mirrors grazing the soft lenses of his vision. Perfume touched his nose and eyes like a warm stream of honey and flowers.
He wasn't quite sure why he dared not gaze closely upon its big glassy eyes. Yet, as he stood shaking, staring at the back of the snake-strewn head, his feet felt like the roots of sturdy oaks, growing into the brown carpet. No matter -- he thought as he reached to touch the head. All he had to do was to examine it from the back. He needn't be surprised that the snakes were silent and rigid, like ornaments, now that nobody was working its levers or activating the buttons.
And when he did touch the scaly skin of its serpentine hair, slippery as baby-oil, he could almost have imagined it coming to life, hissing, striking his sickly-waxen hand with pricking fangs. He strained to control his breathing, to pump the blood back into icy veins. The expectation of horror seemed as paralysing as if it had been real. And yet nothing stirred or wriggled or rippled its gelatinous, reptilian flesh. So why did it feel so... alive?
It only took a moment to separate a clump of snake-like appendages and see that the scalp was nothing more than soft pale material; more like latex than real skin. No buttons, no openings, no seams. But still Jason felt his jaw grind and ache as his fingers slipped and rubbed across the fleshy rubber. Frustration prickled over his face as the room pulsated with shades of red. Why could he find no explanation for this unpleasant object and its bizarre performance?
He rubbed tense fingers against the burning stubble that needled the pores of his grubby chin and neck. A fire was starting to fill him as he thought about the applause she'd received in the audience. How could anyone be better than himself? -- and a woman, no less! With his face stretching to take the shape of the anger that consumed it, he pictured himself stabbing a knife into the inanimate head, slicing away its wormy strands.
He spun dizzily in hope of finding such a tool to accomplish the task. Mirrors repeated his flailing figure, skewing his already distorted face, mocking him. But as the sound of blood streamed into his ears, he found himself unable to move. Heels were clopping along the corridor, approaching the room, and Jason's panicking mind had turned his legs to columns of iron.
The face that appeared in the doorway looked almost as shocked as his own. Clearly he'd been mistaken. She couldn't have been about to leave, because her hair was bundled up in a thick towel as if she'd just been in the shower. Jason fought back the urge to lunge at the pink-robed woman, to shove her aside and run like a terrified child. He wanted to speak, to explain his mistake, yet all he could do was stare as she sidled into the room and began to smile.
His voice felt like something dead as it stammered from his dry, creaking mouth. "Sss ssorry, r wrong room." When the woman spoke, it was as if a pot of double-cream had tipped, spreading the contents thickly across the room. "It's okay. I'm Theresa. That's my sister." Jason felt his legs tingle and the blood in his brain begin to clot. He tried to purse his lips to form words, but could only stare at the white towel that was starting to hang to the side of her head. He felt sure it hadn't actually moved, but was merely threatening to come undone.
He noticed for the first time how blue and glassy the woman's eyes were. In fact, rather friendly, he thought, as he struggled with indecision; whether to apologize again and walk away. But for some reason he no longer felt the desire to move. He pushed a hand to his neck to find out why it felt so swollen, but only managed to locate something cold and rough before his fingers began to crack.