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Life is Not a Dress Rehearsal: A Short Story

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Anna burst through the stage door, out into the chilly night air, the adrenalin of the performance still coursing through her veins. She'd been flawless; not a flubbed line or a misstep, not an instant of breaking the fourth wall or making eye contact with the critic in the front row, despite his feet extending onto the stage and protruding into every scene. She'd saved the vicar from embarrassment when he dropped a critical line that set up a red herring, and she hadn't even tripped on the stairs during her dramatic exit tonight. She couldn't help but let her mind flit to the theatre's annual awards, to the agent she might snag, to the West End, the Oscars, a whole new Anna. It was possible; anything was.

She'd envisioned pushing through an electrified crowd to reach her parents, but instead she found clusters of relatives and friends gathered around their particular actor, heaping praise and flowers. Her parents were nowhere to be seen. Making a note to teach them some basic theatre terms, like explaining that the stage door was generally at the back of the theatre (i.e. near the stage), she set off along the side of the old brick building towards the lobby.

With the cool air on her face, she could feel the pores on her face shrinking, squeezing the heavy mask of makeup and powder into her skin. A light mist had rolled in from the sea and gathered on the tips of her fake eyelashes, loosening the gum that held them in place.

"You were wonderful," said a woman she didn't recognize, thrusting a hand towards her.

"Was I really?" Anna started to say, but reminded herself to be gracious, not needy. She smiled at the woman, their momentary connection filling her with an unfamiliar yet comfortable sensation—a feeling of expanding beyond the confines of herself and soaring into a new level of the atmosphere, where the air was sweeter, more life-giving. "Thank you so much for coming," she said. "I'm glad you enjoyed the show."

She found her parents in the lobby, their heads leaned in towards the board of headshots, trying to match the faces in the photos to the characters listed in the program. Anna paused inside the door and watched them for a moment. They were good parents, weren't they? They'd encouraged her through school, and helped her buy her first car, teaching her the value of money, and the pride of owning something earned. They'd celebrated her first summer job with a fancy meal she wasn't sure they could afford, and now, here they were again for her.

She adjusted the bow on the front of her polka dot dress, straightened the fake pearls at her throat, and strode across the foyer's red patterned carpet, the rolls of her blonde wig bobbing as she went. She held out her arms to her parents, beaming with expectation.

"Oh," said her mother, giving her a cursory hug. "You've still got your costume on."

"I thought I'd come out and see you first," said Anna. "Well, what did you think?"

Anna couldn't miss the glance her parents exchanged before her mother said, "It was very nice."

"Very nice," her father parroted.

"Didn't you enjoy it?" Anna prodded.

"Yes," her parents said in the same high-pitched voice that sounded as if it had been forced across their vocal chords.

They hated it, thought Anna. They hated me in it. The balls of her feet began to throb in her thin-soled, high-heeled shoes. The shoes were too small, but they were the only pair of 40's-era peep-toes that matched her dress, and the director had been adamant that Anna's character would never wear an unmatched outfit, even coming out of five years of war and rationing.

"The vicar was good," said her father. "We were just looking at his photograph."

"Headshot," said Anna.

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