Behind the curtains, a red glow would flood the stage. Through them, muffled voices, just loud enough to crawl beneath and under the taut skin of a performer. Anticipation cutting flesh as they open. Her body would levitate, a song would erupt from its belly: this a phoenix of a number, showering the crowd with sparks.
This is what she pretends she is waiting for; standing at the ready as if at any moment the gong will let the lights rush in: an ambush to bring on sweat and seven costume changes. This time, she takes off her clothes, and puts on a gown. Revealing, but hardly elegant. This time, the lights point directly into her pupils. She looks where she’s told, already bored.
Every critic has an opinion. Her diagnosis comes from their pens, following billows of ink and jagged opinions from right stage, to left stage, crossing t’s from wrong body to right pitch, left mental health somewhere, under the keys of a once-worn piano. Doctors and critics are one in the same. A prescription may as well be a review, with less romance.
They tie the blue rubber strip around her arm; when she sees the needle, she thinks of the fame.
It’s no different than water, fame; not a vice, but an essential. She’d bottle it up and stick it in her veins if she could, to prevent shrinking in the days between shows, makeup-less in a bright dressing room with wigs lined in a row. Hard light casts unusual shadows. And they would understand, these men, if they could feel it: the surge of white noise charging an auditorium. The applause, pouring upwards into a sky of screams, like rain pulled from soil up into a tumultuous stratus.
What do you live for? She asks the nurse. They check her blood pressure. Fame, surely, we all do in a way; I’ve found success, and so I feed on it. This is what I love.
She goes on. They weigh her; she’s too thin this time. You can see her ribs, an ornamental bird cage of frail horizontal bars, sleek under silky skin. The parakeet, asleep (a fluttering taxidermy heart, always perched near the top).
Yes, fame, she says, it’s a demanded fuel for me; a ritualized consumption existing as long as the bonding of voices has. Hands rising, touching palms; this intoxicating vibration gaining momentum, building into an electrifying roar. The performer (she gestures to herself) gives up her voice and her body to be inflated with hundreds or thousands of them, to the bursting point. Give it to me, and I’ll channel it into the brightest, purest light. The nurse politely agrees.
The louder the noise, the stronger the addiction. She’s led to another room. The doctor greets her. She repeats herself, the stronger the addiction. He agrees politely as well.
Next, she walks heel to toe on tiled floor. It’s a tightrope. She knows the date. It’s been marked. She spells something out for him upon request: A P P L A U S E, spells it backwards: E S U A L P P A. It’s not an insult to her intelligence. It’s procedure.
She’s been theatric about the entire ordeal, and she knows it; she knows the doctor knows it, too. Relax, Ms. Germanotta. This isn’t a show. He’s put off by the nostalgic notes she keeps slipping, like bottled messages in a bathtub, going nowhere, not even through the drain. Likely, he doesn’t taste the world in waves the way she does, or feel it quite as a vividly – he doesn’t understand. Likely, he is made nervous by circus geeks of this nature. Her aura is too big for the room, pressing against the edges as if feeling for a hollow passage. Relax.
A pause, and an intentional arrangement of angular facial features. A narrowing of dark lashed eyes. I am relaxed, if you say so, sir. Another pause. Some people. Some people read. Some people. Do you like to read, sir? An unusual, pointed question.
Now, likely, he thinks of a crime novel he has recently put down in favor of football. Or perhaps a fantasy saga he guilty devours nightly by train, squashed between the odors and girths of strangers, emerging into a world of warriors post-work like a man possessed, as stops whiz by unnoticed. Likely, he occasionally misses his, and has to walk a mile home in bad weather, missing dinner, sometimes, too. Sometimes, is his answer. Yes, and often for work.
Exactly! She exclaims. Reading. Erotica. And magazines, poetry, electro-pop music, noir film, charcoal drawings, black and white photographs, historic musicals, she lists it all, plus some, followed by a perfectly timed sigh, having used up precious breath. It all makes my heart flutter a little bit. Of course, I’m Italian, not German, but they call it Kunst. It’s all tangled together, right here. She gestures to her left breast. I’m glad you read me.
Yeah, it’s work. It’s also pleasure. Kunst. But they love it, too. The doctor politely agrees.
The check-up proceeds as usual. Her prescriptions are refilled, her stilettos slipped back on size five ballerina feet, and her escorts arrive to whisk her away. All of this, a drop of paint, a singular clap. She has what medicine she needs. The show, of course, goes on; it never stopped at all.