Phoenix Rises

Tomorrow would be the “new start day” Kevin promised himself. But where to start?

The mid-term essay was due at 9 the next morning; as yet his efforts were a clutter of disjointed paragraphs and midnight false starts. Drifting along, brushing past other straggling students, Kevin kicked at the papers tumbling across the campus quad and twisted absentmindedly at his loose jacket button.

He should get back to the library and buckle down. More urgently he ought to phone Jerry to beg a few bucks to pay the rent. But his cell phone needed recharging and he didn’t know where the nearest pay phone was.

The campus lights (recently installed and touted as environmentally friendly) were dim and the persistent drizzle made the air heavy. When the button popped off in his hand, Kevin pushed it into his jacket pocket. If he could find some thread, any color, he’d sew it back on. Another two buttons awaited a similar fate.

Although it was early September, stress and lack of sleep chilled him to the bone. A heavier jacket would have been in order. He’d forgotten his winter one at his old apartment; next time he saw Arnie, he’d ask him to bring it to class.

First things first; the essay was due tomorrow. Who could he coax to help him at this late date? Sheila had written most of his first one but now she was hanging out with Geoff, so it wasn’t likely she’d bother to give him a hand.

Kevin had promised himself he’d be more “proactive (Sheila’s term) but couldn’t think how to do that. Suddenly he was jolted alert by the sound of a chorus of moans. It reminded him of the print of mangled images of souls suffering in hell that had hung in his Sunday school classroom. Many a nightmare had been invoked by those faded images although no change in behavior.

The groans came from an open basement door. Without warning, as if awakened by the human grumbling, the sky spit out a torrent of chilling rain. Kevin clutched his papers to his chest; he hadn’t been able to find his knapsack that morning.

Curious about the sound and desperate to avoid the wet onslaught, he slipped through the open door. He blinked to adjust to what looked like an inferno on a bare stage. It was an old theatre, with rows of empty stalls. Shaking his damp jacket, Kevin slipped into an aisle seat and stared at the mass of bodies contorting and writhing in a fleshy mass on stage. No escape for them either, he thought. Then like a colorful phoenix, a flame rose. It was a girl, thin as a knife, her arms stretched above her head. The mass lifted her up. A cry, like a burst of sex, split from her lips.

Although she was covered in a body suit, Kevin recognized his dream girl immediately. She was the latecomer in his English class. Every week she burst into the room ten minutes into the lecture, just as he was dozing off, with a different exotic hair color. The strands jutted up in all directions as if she had been struck by lightening. Her clothes were bizarre. Who knew where she found them. Multi-colored jackets like Joseph of Armathia’s, sequined jump suits like Elvis Presley, capes like Superman.

Kevin seldom remembered what the professor said but he never forgot how his muse looked. His daydream was startled awake by a harsh male voice, “Can I help you?” Kevin looked behind alarmed alert by the huge looming figure.

“Come to volunteer? Good. Jim said you might be by.”

Before he could sputter a protest, Kevin was lifted from his seat and dragged toward the stage.

“So what will it be? Painting? We expect to be here all night.”

“Actually,” Kevin began, recalling the paint streaks on his parent’s bathroom from his efforts and his essay due the next morning.

“Stop,” a voice called from the balcony, the moving mass on stage froze.

“Good, they’re taking a break,” his guide said. “You can say hello to the cast before you set to work.”

Laughing and pushing against one another the actors moved to the front of the stage to welcome the volunteer. “The man who’ll save our bacon,” someone cried.

And there she was, aglow, “Well, its my English guy,” his phoenix said. “Do a good job and quickly. I don’t want to have my bum streaked with wet paint.”

Kevin visualized her bare bottom in Technicolor—pink, plump and painted. She swooped down and gave him a wet peck, freezing him on the spot. He tried to explain the essay (and didn’t she too have an essay due?) but something had happened to his voice.

His guide laughed as the girl turned away. “Actors,” he said, “so dramatic. Lucky we’re more down to earth and get things done. Tom, by the way, and I forgot your name.”

“Kevin Campbell.”

“Forget last names. No one will remember.”

“What’s the girl’s name?” he asked.

“Becky, but not Becky Sharp, Becky Nightly.”

Kevin suspected, as an English major, he should recognize the Sharp reference but his mind was blank.

Before he could object, Kevin was in a white paper overall, paint brush in hand, slapping on primer. All around others were laughing, protesting and pushing against one another. Hours passed, Kevin’s arm ached, whenever he thought they might be done, someone brought in something more to paint. It was three o’clock before Tom announced it was time to go home.

“The janitor is having a fit. I’ll slap the last bit on tomorrow morning.”

As he was leaving, Kevin’s Phoenix popped her head around the corner. “If you come to opening night, you’re invited to the cast party,” she called and then vanished.

Suddenly alone, Kevin struggled in the dim light to find his way out of the building.

Wending his way back to his room, Kevin realized he didn’t have details about the opening, which presumably was the next night. Was it in that basement theatre or somewhere else and at what time? He’d check it out the next day at English class. Now he had an excuse to talk to her—theatre buddies that they were.

The following morning scrambling for an excuse for the late essay, Kevin made it into class and settled down beside his friend Rodger.

“You won’t believe what happened to me last night?”

“You finished your essay?”

“No, I met up with that beautiful girl in our class?”

“What beautiful girl?”

“The one at the back who’s always late?”

His friends swung around to check. “What girl?”

“She’s not here yet. We were up all night?”

“You slept with her?”

“No, I was painting.”

His friend looked back. “I don’t know who you mean. There’s that ghostly girl who wears the brown cape.”

The professor droned on but Kevin hardly heard a word. By lecture’s end his neck ached from swinging back and forth and still no Phoenix. Of course, it was crazy, to expect her. The cast was probably doing a final rehearsal before the show opened that night. Why else would they have worked so late the previous evening?

On the professor’s final word, Kevin burst out of the classroom ignoring the dire warning about late essays. This was more important. He was needed elsewhere.

In the harsh sunlight, it took Kevin a few minutes to locate the alley he’d gone down the night before; everything looked differently in the day. Finally he noticed the tipped garbage can. This was it. He ducked around the corner, rushed to the side of the building and stopped short. Where the night before the theatre door had been, there was an enormous hole. At the bottom an orange excavator was struggling to dig deeper.

~ Melodie Corrigall


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