Sibyl & Sam
A slash of red velvet; the curtain rose and I saw them in the hazy glow of the gas lamps. My audience was waiting!
Well they’d have to wait a while longer. Before us was the male impersonator Stephen/Stephania in her trousers, moustache and false eyelashes, then the idiot playing songs on his musical saw; a trapeze act, (all sparkles and cheap thrills), the acrobatic dwarf troup and then us.
There we were on the bill - the headline act: Sybil & Sam! People were beginning to give us the recognition we deserved. We were on the cusp of something huge, I could feel it.
Well, the recognition I deserved. She hardly earned her keep. It was me who did all the work; writing the gags, hours of practising, honing, refining to make ours the perfect comedy double act.
I had to hand it to us, we were funny; a little slapstick, a little bawdiness - just enough to titillate. I lived for that moment when we stood, bathed in the glow of the footlights, savouring the smell of greasepaint and burnt hair, dust and sweat and exhilaration. The smell of the theatre!
I looked into the darkness of the wings and caught her eye. She was flashing that insolent smile, mocking my shabby stage costume while she sat resplendent in her sparkling evening gown. I reminded myself that was why we were funny. I had written us like that! But her mockery hit home.
“I know what you’re doing” I hissed “and it won’t work. You can’t put me off. Tonight is my night.”
She was planning to upstage me. I knew it - to go off-script and throw me off balance. But we still had a little time.
“Come with me. Now. We need to talk.”
We went into an empty dressing room and I wheeled to face her.
“Why do you want to spoil this? You think you could do this without me?”
Always that niggling fear. Would she use my hard work to get to the top and then leave me with nothing? Did I need her more than... no!
“Who do you think you are? If it wasn’t for my writing, my performance you’d still be on your knees behind that public toilet where I found you. You were nothing before me.”
She said nothing, just tipped that crimson cat smile at me.
Too much. I lashed out, striking her hard, knocking her to the floor. And then I was kicking, punching, tearing. Screaming at the witch I had rescued and who was now plotting my undoing.
And then there were hands on me, pulling me from the spilled sawdust and rags. I saw what I had done. Her perfect porcelain face, smashed, a gaping hole in one white cheek; one eye gone, the other staring sightlessly ahead. Stuffing spilled from rents in her stomach; one arm stretched hopelessly forward.
The other performers stared. I had their attention now, alright. I dusted down my jacket and executed a perfect bow. One dwarf threw the tribute of a single, wilting rose at me, which flew to land on poor, broken Sibyl, our act in tatters on the dressing room floor.