By: Jackie Dyszel
“Die! Die! God in heaven- die!” Mia kicked at the nearly lifeless body gripping her ankle as a haggard woman crawled toward her on the floor of the butcher shop.
Like a morning alarm interrupting a dream, the 5pm school bell rang. “That’s time!” Mrs. Talcon called. Liz brought the stage lights up and the cast of Sweeney Todd walked off of the stage and put their scripts in their school bags.
I liked to watch everyone come out of character. When they started chatting about their weekend plans and the drama in their friend groups, it was as if they were a whole different person from the murderous characters they were just a few seconds before. Nobody’s transition was quite like Mia’s though.
Every day at 2:15 I watched Mia fade away and Mrs. Lovett surface, and in the split second between 5:00:00 and 5:00:01, Mia came back. Through all of my years of performing, nothing has mesmerized me more than Mia’s talent.
“Hey, great job today, loser.”
I could never refrain from smiling when I heard that voice. “You too, I guess.”
“Shut up. Ready to go?”
“Yeah, let me just grab my keys.”
Mia and I walked together to my car, just like every other day. Her parents won’t let her get her license, but she lives right across the street from me and we both have to stay after school for rehearsal, so I drive her to school every day. It doesn’t hurt that it gives me a few extra minutes with her.
“I think tomorrow we’re blocking ‘By The Sea Reprise’,” she said.
“Oh cool, I get to throw you in an oven.”
“You finally get to live out your dreams!”
I glared at her and she laughed, Which made me laugh.
I dropped her off and waited for her to walk in her front door– mostly to make sure she got inside safely, but partly because I knew she would let Mango run out to my car to say ‘hi’.
Sure enough, Mango came barreling down the driveway, wagging his tail as if his life depended on it. He jumped up and put his paws on my window frame and I scratched his head. Mia whistled for him to come back inside and he obeyed. He was the most compliant, friendly dog I had ever met, and Mia always joked that he was her parents’ favorite child.
“See you tomorrow morning,” I called out, and Mia waved goodbye as she shut the door.
My fork scraped the bottom of my chicken pot pie tin as my mom went through her daily interrogation about my day.
“It was fine,” was my recurring response.
“How did you do on your calculus test?”
“Great! What did you do at play rehearsal?”
“It’s a musical, Mom.” A misconception that any thespian has undoubtedly corrected numerous times. It doesn’t even bother me when people get it wrong, I think I’m just classically conditioned to correct it.
“Whatever. How was Mia?”
“What? I just want to know what kind of quality content I’m paying 12 dollars to see.” She liked to not-so-subtly hint at her annoyance with the raised ticket prices, courtesy of the district budget cuts. She also liked to not-so-subtly hint that she wanted me to marry Mia.
“Do you even have to ask that question? You know she was great.”
“Well, I can’t wait to see you two on stage together.”
“Whatever,” I dismissed her and put my dishes in the sink.
By 2 a.m. I was just starting to doze off while memorizing kinematics equations when I was rudely awoken by the sound of a dog howling. I looked out of my bedroom window and saw that Mia’s kitchen light was on. The ungodly howling was coming from Mango. Odd, In all of the years I’d known Mango, I’d never even heard him bark I took out my phone and texted Mia.
“Hey, what’s going on with Mango, is he alright?” She took a few minutes to respond and by the time I got a text back, Mango had quieted down and the light in Mia’s house moved from the kitchen to her bedroom.
“He’s fine, I was just practicing my lines and he got a little freaked out.” Then another text, “What are you doing up so late?”
“Studying for physics, my midterm is tomorrow. If ‘Steel-Balls Mango’ is that freaked out, I’m scared for my reaction on stage tomorrow lol.”
“Haha, be warned. Night, Q. Sleep is more important than perfect grades, I better see your bedroom light turn off soon.”
“Okay, stalker. Goodnight.” On that note, I turned off my light and saw hers go out too. I fell asleep to the gross smell of something burning, racking it up to another one of Ms. Stacy’s “Burn-My-Cheating-Boyfriend’s-Belongings” bonfires next door. I assumed my mom would spill all of the details of the latest breakup the next day.
I honked outside of Mia’s house the next morning, letting her know I was there. I got a text then, “give me one second, running a little late, sorry!” I figured she had just overslept from being up so late. I was surprised that Mango wasn’t watching me from the front door, but I guess he was a little tired, too, after his little freak out last night.
I looked around down the street, trying to find some entertainment while I waited for Mia. Most of the houses were still dark, considering high school starts long before most of our neighbors jobs do. A few early birds were dragging their trash bins to the curb in the 6am darkness. I noticed movement at Ms. Stacy’s house.
She was walking to the front door holding her boyfriend’s hand. It seemed like they were just then coming home from the night. I guess the burning I smelled the night before hadn’t come from her after all. Then what…
Mia opened my car door and I jumped, not even noticing her walking down the driveway. She was wearing a pink scarf that made her blue eyes look brighter than usual.
“Sorry I’m late, long night.”
“Guess I’ll just have to speed,” I joked. She hated when I drove fast.
Physics is first period, so I got my midterm out of the way early on and spent the rest of the day running through my lines in my head for rehearsal that day. We got to the auditorium at 2:15 p.m. as usual and waited for Mrs. Talcon. On Fridays there was always a hectic energy of excitement for the weekend. It took awhile for us to settle down on days like that.
Mrs. Talcon made her usual grand entrance through the stage left door and the chit-chatting reduced to a mere murmur before the silence that came when she began speaking.
“Let’s not waste time. Todd and Lovett, on stage.”
Mia and I climbed the steps to the stage and Mrs. Talcon started us off. “‘By The Sea Reprise’ is a difficult scene. Think about the original song and the peace and love your characters felt at the beginning of their journey before all of the conflict began. Now think about how much has changed and the hatred that Sweeney now feels toward the world. He has just killed his own wife unknowingly. Mia, Mrs. Lovett still loves him and doesn’t see the monster that he’s become. She doesn’t want to believe that he has changed. Take a second to get into character and then begin.”
I thought about what she told us. As much as I wanted the performance to be realistic, it’s hard to get into character when you have to kill someone you actually love. But it’s not real.
Okay, focus. My wife, who I thought was dead, has been alive this whole time and Mrs. Lovett, who I trusted most in the world, has been lying to my face since we’d met. And now I had killed my own wife, mistaking her as a common beggar. I imagined Mia lying to me. What that would feel like– my whole life being a lie. The auditorium lights went down, leaving the stage illuminated, and the scene commenced.
“Lucy…” I began, sorrow in my voice.
“Should’ve been in hospital, wound up in Bedlam instead, poor thing!”
“Oh, my God…”
“Better you should think she was dead. Yes, I lied ‘cos I love you.”
“I’d be twice the wife she was! I love you!”
“What have I done?…”
“Could that thing have cared for you like me?”
Soft waltz music began, my cue to shift from sorrow to enlightened. Sweeney started to dance with Lovett. She had convinced him that they could still live happily together. By the sea. Together, they would be at peace. Leaving their past behind, including the murder of Lucy.
“Everything I did I swear I thought was only for the best, believe me! Can we still be married? Come here, my love .. Not a thing to fear, my love . . . What’s dead is dead.”
I put my arm around her waist and we swayed to the waltz. She was relaxed, believing that I, or Sweeney rather, had put her deceiving lies in the past. I waltzed her closer to the oven.
“The history of the world, my pet— Is learn forgiveness and try to forget.” Now she really believed me. I could feel her relax into my chest as we danced. “And life is for the alive, my dear, so let’s keep living it—”
In unison: “Just keep living it, really living it—!”
I let a sudden wave of hatred come over me as I seized her. The moment before the final blow, I could feel the fright of Mrs. Lovett’s realization. Mia’s stunning acting once again shone through. I saw true horror in her brown eyes— brown? No, Mia’s eyes were blue. This was wrong. Just go through the motions, follow the blocking.
I plunged Mrs. Lovett into the open oven with a blood curdling scream from her. The train whistle blew, signifying yet another death in our plot. I kneeled by my dead wife and sobbed into her.
A long pause, then, “Great!” Mrs. Talcon’s voice came beckoning from the front row, snapping me back to reality.
I walked to the oven and gave Mia a hand, glancing suspiciously, but not obviously, at her eyes. Blue.
“Good run, Q! You ‘killed it’,” She spoke in her normal bubbly voice, but I had an eerie feeling in my gut.
“Yeah, you too.”
I quietly sat in seat A108, my unassigned assigned seat. Our run of the show moved forward, but my mind was in another place.
The drive home that day was quiet. My mind was playing tricks on me and I didn’t know what to believe anymore. I dropped Mia off and barely even noticed that Mango didn’t come to my car. It was just one more weird thing to add on to the list.
I sat at my desk in my room and got started on my homework. I had work all weekend and liked to get my homework out of the way early on. Mia always called me lame for choosing to spend Friday nights doing homework.
Two hours had passed by the time the sky started to get dark. I heard a door shut outside and looked out the window to see Mia locking her front door behind her. I remembered my mom telling me that her parents were going away for the week. Otherwise she would never be allowed to go out alone.
Before I even knew what I was doing, my feet were carrying me downstairs and out of my back door. Something told me that Mia wasn’t safe. I followed her, sneaking behind houses and trees. Being practically invisible to the world paid off sometimes. I noticed her grasping something shiny in her left hand that looked as if it were a straight razor.
She reached the end of our neighborhood and turned left onto the sidewalk that goes through the borough. Small shops glowed with warmth inside, and lights were strung from building to building across the narrow street. I never really stopped to appreciate how pretty our town was until I was stalking my best friend through it.
I followed her all the way through town, past the church where we sang with choir, past the coffee shop that we sat in and practiced lines time after time. As we went further, the business of the town died down and there was nothing but trees and street lights. It was harder to sneak behind her with no background noise for me to blend into. She turned right and went through a rod iron gate– the cemetery.
My mind started to process what in the world I was doing. God, she was probably just visiting her grandfather or something, I never should have followed her. I was about to turn back and wait in town to make sure she got back safe when out of nowhere she went to the left side of the graveyard where she always turns right. I decided to stick around a little while longer.
She walked a few feet and stopped at a large grave. I couldn’t see very well, the sky was only dimly lit by the moon and street lights in the distance. I went full out Mission Impossible spy mode to get as close as possible. I finally found myself crouched behind a tree, so close I could almost reach out and touch Mia. I realized that she never looked back once while I was following her here. Something was motivating her.
I leaned out from behind the tree to try to get a closer look at the name on the gravestone, which she was now kneeling in front of with her head down. I was confused when I read the name “Nellie Lovett” engraved across the top of the stone. A million thoughts rushed through my head. In my bewildered state, my foot slipped, crunching on a stale leaf on the ground.
My heart raced as I glanced up to see Mia calmly turning her head to me. I was face to face with brown eyes lined with fire when she said, “Hello, Mr. Todd.”