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In The Waiting Room

by Larry Stark

The first thing he noticed was that he was not in pain.

The room, he noticed, seemed to be made entirely of light.

And he, himself, seemed to be made of light.

It wasn't surprising. Nothing seemed surprising here. He understood that he was here waiting, though that concept made him neither impatient nor anxious. He had a vague sensation he might have done something like this before, but he remembered no details. He remembered no details about anything, actually, and had a vague awareness that this was fine.

After some time -- or no time -- someone else came into the room. She was also made entirely of light, and he wondered for an instant why he knew it was "she." In other circumstances, perhaps the image of a pleasant, efficient woman in starched whites with a clipboard and ball-point pen might have flitted across his consciousness, but nothing like that happened here.

He was aware for a moment of curiosity about his well-being, his assurance that all was serene. Then began an exchange which in other circumstances he would deem a conversation -- although in this case speech would have been only an approximation of the events.

"Is there anything unfinished?" she wanted to know.

"I was never published," he nodded. "If I'd been born in time to die in the war, I'd have gotten published, probably early in life. I'd have had time to learn-by-doing, instead of festering into abstractions and self-indulgence. I never had to meet a deadline, never had to please a broad audience."

She made notations. "It's the creative impulse, right?"

He nodded. "I wanted to write hard-cover books for money, I guess you could say."

She smiled apologetically. "Yes, but next time it might not be that books, as such, will be the usual medium of... "

"Oh, right! Yes, the creative impulse, then. Right." He smiled. "I keep forgetting."

They smiled a moment at one another, knowing it to be a pun.

"Anything else?"

"Sex regularly with the same beloved partner."

She made a note. "And marriage and children?"

He frowned. "Yes, you get what you pay for, don't you? But does it all have to be in the same go-round? What I mean to say is, I don't feel those as unfinished. Not this time at least."

"Oh, of course! You'll have plenty of opportunities again, I'm sure. I mean, there are always regrets too, aren't there?"

He nodded again. "You mean like being thoughtlessly horrid to bugs, right?"

She looked at the papers on her clip-board. "Well, you were working on that, weren't you? But perhaps a few sudden snuffings out by explosions or earthquakes will be in order down the line. It helps to understand how things feel if you experience an action as the doer and the done, right?"

He smiled. "Is that why there are so many damned wars?"

She smiled back. "There always seems a lot of thoughtless gratuitous violence to be paid for. It's the most economical way, really."

"I was more or less figuring that out," he mused, "wasn't I?"

"Anything else, then?"

He smiled. "I'm sure there's a lot of regret to be worked over, but nothing I still remember. I'm sure there will be some surprises."

She smiled. "There always are, until you manage to get it all sorted out for good and all in one go. Then you won't have to go back any more."

"Is that what happened to you?"

"Pretty much," she nodded. "At least, I was given the choice. I decided I'd stick around and maybe help a few with the sorting- out." She smiled. "Maybe that's something still unfinished for me."

"That must be nice, being given the choice. I like to think I'd choose as you did, if I were ever given the choice."

"Well, you have the opportunity every time, don't you?"

"Yes. I guess that's true."

She glanced over her papers, made another notation or so, and put the pen away. "That's it, then, for this time at least. You may have to wait a little for the best opportunity."

"Oh, I won't mind waiting."

"And, best of luck this time," she said, and left.

As she disappeared, he was again aware that all that conversation -- the words, the smiles, the pen and clip-board -- had been just an illusion. Everything was, really, just illusion.

He waited. A phrase floated out of memory. He remembered actors -- aware that a performance was always an effort, informed by craft and experience, to create a specific effect -- preferred not to rely on luck. Do the job, even if you have to break your leg to get it done. Break a leg, he thought. Yes indeed. Break a leg.

And so, unconcerned about past or future, he waited.


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THE THEATER MIRROR, Boston's LIVE Theater Guide