Archived: The Opening Act by Morena Sanson

It is said that flowers that bloom the latest are the most beautiful. I find this saying to be true. I have sung mendacious praises for those beneath me, as humility shows true talent. My faith in you taught me patience, that you would not write of me without knowing I will achieve greatness. Though soon I do not have to fake astonishment, soon I will be given what I am owed. My song will be so glorious my audience will question their definition of music. Quality music wraps around you like a snake; with each key, he wraps your neck tighter, the chorus comes, and the serpent coils and constricts until you reach pure suffocated bliss.


I neatly tuck my setlist into my folder, sliding it into my bag. Mrs. Alden had called me this morning requesting coffee at a cafe downtown. Mrs. Alden is the woman who hired me for my very first gig in front of a larger audience. This show is a gateway to something larger than performances at small jazz clubs. Based on my former professor’s shared wisdom, I know this lunch is more like a business meeting. We discuss the monetary value of my talent and the other dull portions of organizing a show. Despite knowing how tedious this lunch will be, I still feel as though my heart will jump out of my chest. As I shut the door to my apartment and walk outside the building, the sky seems a more radiant blue than usual. This lunch is the lead-up to my first opportunity to show the world what I am capable of.


Do not fret. I know you are my ever-faithful audience, and your love will never mean less to me than the admiration of these trivial characters. To become successful, I have to impress more than you. I smile up to the sky to acknowledge you once more before beginning to walk down the street. Luckily the subway station is close to my house so I should arrive at Noémie’s Cafe on time.


A small roof hangs atop the wooden patio furniture. White and red plaid tablecloths give a charming picnic-esque feel, and the song Ouvrez la cage aux Oiseaux plays muffled from inside the cafe. Peeking through the window, I spot Mrs. Alden sitting alone at a table for two. The light above her shines on her silver victory rolls. An outdated style of nearly two decades, but the way she wears it makes me question if it is me who is behind on the trends. I open the door and am engulfed by the smell of coffee and pastries. After ordering and receiving my coffee from the barista, I walk to her table.


“Hello, Mrs. Alden,” I say with a smile.


“Hello Henry,” she responds, setting her mug down. Steam from the cup drifts upwards, surrounding her with the smell of black coffee.


I spend the next few moments attempting to engage in polite conversation. My right-hand fiddles with the buckle of my bag sitting on my lap. My left-hand taps on the rim of my coffee mug.


“So,” Mrs. Alden clears her throat, “the show.”


“Jumping right into it then?” I laugh and open my bag, pulling out my folder. “I’ve brought my set list in case you’re curious-”


“Henry,” she interjects.




“You’ve been replaced.”




I slam the door shut behind me and throw my bag onto my kitchen table, causing the table to rattle on its uneven legs.


Replaced? That old crone has the nerve to replace me? I cannot believe the gall of that woman to question the value of a man. The Alden Auditorium should have died with her husband. What a fool I was. I should wring her neck for the way she dismissed me. What does Thomas Morgan have that I don’t? I’ve spent several years on my craft, and Tommy is a novice in the world of music. Tommy hasn’t played until he felt only bone against the keys. What does she see in him?


I started playing piano with my grandfather back when jazz still retained popularity. Every time I play, it offers me the same escape it did in the beginning. My hands are occupied with the keys, my eyes are on the sheet music, and my ears are listening to the notes. I do not have to think about anything else. Not my loneliness, not my shitty apartment, not my dead-end job. Only the music. I will be eternally grateful to my grandfather for being my teacher. It was after my grandfather died that I met you, you served as the encouragement to keep on trying. I have put in my work, and I have earned this spot.


So, what could Tommy possibly have to offer that I don’t? Mrs. Alden is by no means a stupid woman. She isn’t allowed foolish moments, especially given her delicate situation. She must have a reason. Otherwise, she is putting her late husband’s family legacy at risk.


I sigh and walk to my bedroom, sitting on the corner of my bed. I understand the best stories aren’t happy all the way through. Nobody wants to read about the man who gets everything he has ever wanted and never fails. How could you allow me to embarrass myself this way? What sick pleasure do you get out of watching me? Page after page after page. The same pathetic story every day. Is it amusing reading about a man’s passion deteriorating right before you? Do you feel better about yourself? I strained my arm so my fingertips could touch success and then felt the world laugh at my endeavor. You laughed with them. What sick author writes a story like this?


I look to the ground and see the corner of a box sticking out from underneath my bed. I must’ve not shoved it all the way under the last time I opened it. I lean down, pull the box out, and set it atop my lap. My finger brushes over the weathered cardboard edges, an illustration of my first dress shoes printed on the top of the box. I wore these Oxfords the first time I performed. My grandfather allowed me to play a song with him during his piece at the Alden Auditorium, back when Mrs. Alden’s father-in-law still owned the joint. I slowly lift the top of the box off. Inside is a pile of old sheet music and a broken-off key from my first piano. Before me sits evidence of years and years of training. How pitiful I am; to allow this world to walk all over me. What would my grandfather think of this? He didn’t spend his life teaching me for me to end up the cowardly fool I am.


It is not always earning it but taking it.


His words ring in my head. Taking it. I stand up and step to my piano. Tonight Mrs. Alden will not only give me an explanation, but she will have to beg for my forgiveness.




            I walk the mile to Mrs. Alden’s apartment which lies six stories atop the Alden Auditorium. I spot her balcony from the ground. Dark metal swirls and curls and gaps in the balcony railing allow dim light to shine through. Various shades of red brick travel downwards from her balcony, meeting the pavement. Pavement that is strategically lined with petunias and chrysanthemums. I open the door revealing a stairwell. In this stairwell, I feel smothered by the color gray. Having just seen the exterior, this interior seems excessively drab. Though I suppose to look wealthy is of higher regard than to genuinely be wealthy and appear poor. So any extra funds reserved for aesthetics were used on the exterior.


As I work my way up the stairwell, I feel the chill from outside disappear as my face heats and my fists tighten. When I reach her doorstep, I fear the heat in my body will melt the door if I touch it. Nevertheless, I raise my hand to knock one, two, and three times.


“Mrs. Alden?” I call out.


“Who is it?” I hear her question from behind the door.


“Henry,” I answer, stepping forward.


“Henry?” The door opens a few inches, just enough for Mrs. Alden to peek through the gap. A chain lock stretches between the door and the frame. Mrs. Alden looks me up and down. “What in the hell are you doing on my doorstep?”


“Well, hello to you too,” I grab the doorknob, pulling it open to the extent the chain lock will allow. “Mrs. Alden, I just had a couple of questions to clear the air, you know?”


“Come back in the daylight,” she says, beginning to close the gap.


I place my foot between the door and the frame. “I’m here now, and I’ve walked all this way.”


Mrs. Alden looks to the left of the inside of her apartment. I can hear a clock ticking a couple of feet away.


“Make it quick,” she says. I watch as she unlocks the door, pushing it open with her foot before turning her back to me and walking forward.


Her mauve-colored robe trails behind her, complementing the several similarly colored decorations placed throughout her living room. A velvet couch is pressed against the wall; a leather chair is set adjacent. The wall behind the sofa displays a large painting. A cityscape made up of grayish silhouettes, and contrasting the foreground is a vibrant purple and orange sunset. A pale river runs through the city. In spots, the river seems three-dimensional; the painter used the impasto technique there. Thickly laying on the paint to create the illusion of waves in the water. A golden frame borders the painting.


Mrs. Alden moves to the couch, reaching for the partially full wine glass set on her coffee table. I walk in and stand, facing her. She sighs, lifting the glass to her lips. After a long drink, she looks up into my eyes.


“Out with it then,” she says, resting her feet on the table. “You have come all this way.” Mrs. Alden utters, drawing out the l in all.


I clench my jaw and consider: how do I even begin? I had no plan coming in here, only a goal. I look to my feet and feel her gaze burn through my skull.


“Well,” I say, “I want an explanation. Why Tommy?”


She laughs, “Feeling a little insecure, are we?”.


“No!” I stutter, “I just want an explanation. Tommy is much less experienced than I.”


“You show up at my home in the middle of the night because I hurt your feelings?” She sets her glass down and repositions so she is sitting upwards. “I thought you were a professional, Henry.”


“Stop trying to make a fool of me!” I yell, “Is it wrong of me to want to know why Tommy replaced me?”


“You already made a fool when you stormed out of the cafe this morning. And you are making a fool of yourself now by whining and wailing at me.”


“I worked my ass off for this part! What do you know about hard work?” I scream, “You just got lucky. Lucky that your husband died, and you were the only one able to inherit the auditorium. You’ve never built anything from the ground up.”. I walk to Mrs. Alden. “You have no right to call me a fool when you’ve never been where I am.”


She stands up, meeting me face to face. “How dare you come into my home and speak to me this way? You know nothing of my past! Where do you find the nerve to be so insulting when you are so ignorant?”. Mrs. Alden huffed and reached into her robe pocket, pulling out a pack of cigarettes and a lighter.


“You may see yourself out,” she said while turning her back to me and stepping to the patio.


As I watch her walk away, I feel my blood boil. Heat rises to my face, and I can hear the thumping of my heart in my ear drums. I turn and begin walking to the front door. I am no idiot. I am a genius. People write fucking stories about me! I am important! She cannot throw me out to the curb without telling me why. I came here for an explanation, no, an apology, and I do not care if I have to hear it through bloody teeth. I turn my heel and walk to the patio. Mr.s Alden stands back turned to me, a thin line of smoke curling upwards from her hand. I stand behind her, breathing hot air onto her neck.


“I told you to leave,” she says.


“You owe me this.”


She breathes out a puff of smoke. Giving me a sideways glance. “Henry, it’s just business.”


“Tell me why!” I cry, grabbing her shoulders and forcing her to look me in the eyes. “A real reason! Not that bullshit excuse.”


“You’re not special, Henry!”


Before I consider my emotions, I push Mrs. Alden, sending her flying over the edge of the balcony. She screams while plummeting downwards until I hear a smack on the pavement below. Following that is silence. A deafening silence.


“Mrs. Alden?” I try to call out but the words die in my throat.


I stand idly for a few moments, waiting for something to happen. A scream for help or an angry Mrs. Alden bursting through her apartment door. But nothing happens. I do not look to the ground, only at my hands. Have I killed her? 


I feel bile rise up my throat and expel today’s meals over the ground. My knees weaken beneath me, and I stagger backward, falling onto the couch. Looking upwards, I replay the scene.


on the white ceiling. I killed her. I killed a person. Tears fall from my eyes, dripping down to my lips. I taste salt on my tongue. Oh God, help me. It’s not my fault, is it? Plenty of people lose control when angry. The quiet that follows that thought reminds me that plenty of people lose control but not many kill.


I am a murderer. I fear I am paralyzed. I can’t stand. My body feels like sand, and my limbs are too heavy to move. But what if she isn’t dead? What if she is bleeding out, and I am sitting here like a coward?


No, nobody could survive a fall like that. Not at the top of a 6 story building. Damnit, somebody must have heard us. I can’t be seen here. Dread stirs in my stomach and gives me the momentum to stand up.


Suddenly the telephone rings on the side table. I turn and stare at it. If Mrs. Alden doesn’t answer her telephone, will it raise suspicion? I can’t have anybody coming here. I haven’t dealt with her body yet. I have to answer the call. I extend my hand, shaking as I press the phone to my ear.


“Hello, Mrs. Alden! I was just wondering if I should issue the go-ahead on Henry’s replacement?” questions a cheery voice on the other end.


“No. I’ve changed my mind.” I respond, trying to mimic Mrs. Alden’s voice.


To avoid further questions, I hang up the phone.


You knew this was going to happen, didn’t you? This isn’t an extraordinary coincidence. This is fate. I was meant to be here; Mrs. Alden was meant to die. I’m no murderer. I was just doing as I was written to do. How could I have ever questioned you?


I finally get to prove that I am great. To hell with earning it; from now on, I will take it.