The Ghost in the Third Row
“Pat the elephant,” said my father as we walked through the doors of the Grand Theater. “It'll bring you luck.”
I looked at him like he was crazy. Not because I don't believe in doing things for luck. I do them all the time. But my dad usually makes fun of me when I tell him about them.
“Is this my father speaking?” I asked.
He grinned. It's something we did when I was a kid.” He walked over to the big brass elephant that stood at the side of the lobby and patted its trunk. “Like that,” he said.
I copied him. I figured if I was going to survive this audition, I needed all the luck I could get.
To tell you the truth, the elephant didn't look all that lucky. Most of the brass had been rubbed away-probably by kids like me patting it for luck. Actually, the whole theater looked kind of worn down. But I could tell it had been really gorgeous when it was new. the lobby alone had more decorations than any place I'd ever seen on the wall behind the elephant, for example, was a huge mural about twenty feet high. It looked like something from the Arabian Nights with princes and genies, elephants and dancing girls. It was cracked and peeling, but I could easily imagine how beautiful it had been when it was new.
The red carpeting that covered the lobby floor was stained and worn, too, but I was sure it used to be spectacular. It swept up a big curved staircase that looked wonderful despite the chips in the gold paint and the plaster decorations. There were mirrors and chandeliers all over the place.
I found myself falling in loved with the Grand, in spite of its shabbiness. Of course, it didn't hurt that my father had been raving about it for the last several weeks-ever since his architectural firm had been hired to help with a big restoration project being planned for the theater in the winter.
We walked past the staircase to a small folding table, where a girl was passing out audition forms. I took one from her and we went into the theater itself.
It was huge.
My father told me that when he was a kid, it was the best place in Syracuse to go to the movies.
I told him I didn't think movies had been invented when he was a kid.
He said he loved me, but if I didn't shut up and fill out my audition form, he'd probably kill me.
I told him if he really felt that way he should give me a pen.
He did, and I went to work.
The form was pretty simple, really. It asked for my name (Nina Tanleven); my height (four feet, ten inches); my weight I I thought this was kind of nosy); my hair color (dark brown) and my experience (almost none, which was embarrassing).
It also asked which part I was trying out for. I didn't know, so I left that blank.
I took the form to a cranky-looking woman in the front row. She wrote a number on it, then sent me to sit with a bunch of girls oat the side of the stage.
Good luck,” my dad whispered, giving me a little hug. I smiled. We had gotten pretty close since my mother left two years before. I watched fondly as he walked back a couple of rows to sit down.
I thought briefly about asking him to take me home before I made a fool of myself. I'd even promise to find something else to do for the summer. But it was too late for that now. So I took my place with the others and tried to study my music.
Another girl came and sat down beside me. She nudged me in the ribs. “Have you ever done this before?” she whispered.
I shook my head.
“Me neither,” she said. “I'm so scared I could puke.”
That made me feel better. I introduced myself, and she told me her name was Chris. We compared notes on how nervous we were, tore apart the other kids as they tried out, and decided the director was just too gorgeous to be real.
It didn't seem like that much time had gone by before the woman in the front row called, “Next!” and Chris was digging her elbow into my ribs and hissing, “That's you!”
I stood up and looked out at the stage.
I don't know how it did it, but I swear the thing had grown while I was waiting. It had been a normal-size stage just a little while before. Now it looked about the size of a football field!
I swallowed hard and thought about running for the door. Maybe if I was lucky, no one would remember what I looked like. My stomach tried to crawl its way into my throat, and I decided this audition was the dumbest idea I had had in years.
Then I spotted my father sitting in the third tow. He smiled and gave me the thumbs-up sign.
I couldn't leave. I'd rather have hot needles stuck under my fingernails than let him down.
I took a deep breath and walked out on the stage.
“Name? the director said.
The director was tall and slim, with tousled black hair. I was working hard on not developing an instant crush on him. Developing crushes was this stupid thing that had started happening to me in the last year.
I wasn't having much luck.
He raised one eyebrow. He came closed to making an actual question mark out of it. “Nine?” he asked.
“Well, it's really Nina. But everyone calls me Nine, because my last name is Tanleven.”
He didn't say anything.
“Get it?” I asked hopefully. 'Nine Tan-Leven?”
Inside me a little voice was yelling, “Shut up, stupid!”
As usual, I ignored it and just babbled on. “See, I've been stuck with it since first grade and-”
Mr. director I found out later his name was Edgar, so I don't know what he thought was so bad about Nine anyway) held up his hand to stop me. “What are you going to sing for us-Nine?”
I bit my lip and wished I were dead. I had brought the music for “Tomorrow” from Annie. So had almost every other girl who had sung before me.
I told him. He was very nice. The corners of his mouth twitched a little, but that was about the only sign he gave of what he must have been thinking.
I handed the music to the pianist, who probably know it by heart by then anyway, and took my place to sing.
Once I started, I didn't care how many times Cute Edgar had heard the song that day. I loved singing it.
and I was good.
I'm not claiming I'll be the next Julie Andrews. But I do have two things I can do well. Sing and run. (Nina Tanleven, the singing sprinter, that's me.) I think they're connected-strong lungs, if you know what I mean.
As I started the second verse I looked out at my father to see how I was doing. I almost choked on a high note.
There was a woman sitting next to him.
Yeah, I know, that's not all that strange. He's thirty-six and not bad looking for a father. But the woman was wearing a dress that belonged somewhere around the turn of the century.
Even that's not so strange. She might have been in costume for another show. But here's the really amazing thing: it seemed like I could see right through here.
Now that was strange.
I dropped a note, forced myself to concentrate on the song, and when I looked back she was gone.
I hoped I would find her later. It wasn't fair to startle me like that when I 2was auditioning. My song had been going great until then, and I wanted to tell her off.
“Thank you,” Edgar said. “That's enough!”
And was just getting armed up! I figured I must have really blown it. You can imagine how surprised I was a week alter when I got the call telling me I had a part in the show.
I thought my troubles were over.
Boy, was I wrong!
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