The two-story interior of the Brewster Family’s long-inherited home opens to a clean street corner like a giant, macabre dollhouse. I’m confronted with the imposing colonial house cut in half and stuck inside the Void; a house not meant for living but fashioned to feel rich and lived-in. My heart thuds slow and hard as if to ask me “Are you seeing this too?” The dust on a lampshade versus the point where the living room abruptly ends in the emptiness of fourth wall, exposing the cheap pine wood frame of the set.
“This is where they filmed Arsenic and Old Lace,” I hear Drama say. as if I’ve seen it, as if he’s bored by the knowledge, but thinks I’ll be just riveted.
I’ve never seen Arsenic and Old Lace, but I say nothing, his voice a disembodied tour guide that doesn’t actually want my reaction and might not even know I’m here.
“But I do,” a female voice answers my thoughts, spinning me startled around to find it’s owner.
“Diana?” I call.
A laugh starts in the rafters and disappears into a sob above me, the ghosts of the theater waking up to dance down my spine. Looking for her, I try to remember that when sound does travel in the Backlot, it’s unreliable, and anything can sound creepy the way this part of Drama does now.
“Hello?” I try again, but the stillness returns.
I think about walking out into the void where I think the streets of London might be set with fake snow piling at the corners of the steps in front of the provincial homes of every chorus member. I don’t because I can feel that the part of Drama taunting me from the wings wants me to wait for her. This coy girl, coy because she gets a kind of wicked pleasure in no one having the patience for it, turns me into the boy I am who doesn’t have the patience for it.
I’m about nineteen with messy orange-red hair. Everything about me looks dirty, from my skin sprayed with too many freckles to my clothes, vaguely punk looking. My name is Duncan.
Her name is Diana Frances Mountbatten-Windsor. And as much as Drama is Princess Diana of Wales, Princess Diana is a role she had been playing. That character died from injuries sustained in a car crash caused by a drugged up security guard paranoid of the paparazzi. The real person she is still lives, inside Drama, the way your favorite soap opera star goes out for coffee the morning after they don’t survive the separation from their conjoined twin.
I can feel that Diana wants me to wait. It’s my problem I’m stuck needing an audience with the goddess of tragedy. Of course she’d make me wait just to see how many different things I’ll feel while I do it. So, in the almost cozy, almost formal living room of the Brewster house, I wait for her.
We’ve met once before in the Junk Shop of Any City. I was her boyfriend then, but that was for another play, I think. We’re not in a play now, or a movie, for that matter. The Backlot is closed and empty and it’s waiting for Drama just like I am except where I’m fidgeting low in an armchair in this unfamiliar living room, the rest of the Backlot is smiling in the dark, knowing this routine of hers where I don’t yet.
With it’s damask wallpaper, modest archways, deep, cherry wood banisters, and sagging furniture too fancy for much padding, it reminds me of the houses of distant relatives I’ve ended up in, on holidays. Places I have to pretend make me feel comfortable when what they really make me feel is disconnected from myself and all magic.
But a set of a house like that is different. Cut the house in half and raise the lights and I know myself again. I can feel where I belong.
In the two hours it takes me to wait before I’m nodding off, I feel anger, annoyance, fear, and sadness. I let them wash over me, born all from my desperation to understand her, to know what she knows, to not feel like I can only be close to her in the theory of our familial connection. I’m not even certain that we’re anything alike if I’m completely honest. Drama is fearless in a way that I’ve never allowed myself. But no one really knows why. No one really knows any part of him, not individually. Not Princess Diana, not any of them. And it’s because… of this place.
An angel is shrunk into an unimaginable, untouchable thing by letting the vastness of their inner selves swell into a labyrinth to the center of which they’re forever damned. And as I’m falling asleep, I’m plunged into the tepid bathwater of the knowledge that we must then be very much alike, at least in that way.
She comes onto the set wearing skin tight jeans and pretending she’s been there as long as I have.
“Because why wouldn’t I?” she shrugs, speaking nonsense with no shred of a British accent as she crosses the creaking set, jolting me awake.
I inhale deeply and my breath shakes against the thudding of my heart.
“I don’t know,” I answer, automatic, blinking away confusion.
The diamond studs in her ears glint with her smile as she laughs at me. Her hair is the color of twilight under smog, the kind of blonde that almost makes you believe she was born with it, coiffed into waves crashing away from her face. She raises her eyebrows at me the way my twin brother does when he wants me to say something more challenging than whatever it was that made him laugh, and I can’t speak through my fascination. This young woman is so clearly Drama with physical features so opposite him, it’s like a Freaky Friday movie.
Magazine light smears the edges of her sparkle to something softer, and she crosses her arms and purses her lips at me. I adore her and I hate her, this creature with sharp green eyes that dart from genuinely bashful to hurricane dark before her brow breaks like a levee for her inexplicable tears. She stands tall and demanding, a pillar of volatility tucked into the high waist of her jeans with her pristine white t-shirt.
“What’s up?” is all I can think to say to her.
“It’s a good thing you came here first,” she says, not a beat after my sluggish, stoner greeting. “Because I think it would be a bad idea to go roaming around someone’s internal place not knowing why you should care about it.”
I take a skeptical moment to gather what she means, but I can’t and she can see it on my face.
“I care more about this place than I care about any other place,” I tell her, defensive and putting my feet up on the flimsy coffee table between us.
“Sure you do,” she says, sarcasm disappearing by the end of the three words where she was trying to hold it steady. “Yes. You do, but they don’t.”
Drama’s references to “us” and “them” can only be deciphered if you know which side of the curtain you’re on. I look out into the void to be positive there’s no impromptu audience forming from nothing and back up at Diana’s expectant face.
“You’re writing about this. It’s good you came to me first,” she clarifies. “Because anyone who reads it will know why they should care about the rest of it just by reading the first section. The one about me.”
“There’s a rule of theater about saving that kind of thing for the opportune time. The beginning is usually not a good place for it,” I retort, a different part of myself inching to the forefront of my consciousness, shaving the sides of my hair and dying the top of it pink. My name is
“Nolan, it was fate that you came here first,” she says, her eyes suddenly brimming with tears.
“That still doesn’t make the beginning the right time for it,” I tell her, knowing we aren’t talking about this specific instance of dramatic timing anymore but all of the ones she chased when no one else followed.
I think about getting up, taking her in my arms, and kissing her passionately. I decide not to because I’m a foot shorter than she is and we’re both crying.
Welling up inside me, what she’s feeling commands me to think about the control of a stage and what it means to die on it. To be in the wrong emotional place at the wrong emotional time. What it means to feel too much. And I can’t even look at her because I know if I do, I’ll be seeing a part of myself I haven’t been able to face either.
We’re crying because-
“Don’t look at me like that,” she chokes.
The rain begins in soft pattering beyond the warmth of the Brewster’s living room, erasing the void and illuminating in it’s place the lamp-lit urban street outside Trax record store, where Phillip Dale broods over his best friend for the last time in Pretty In Pink. When I look back at Diana, she’s wearing his shoes, the faux albino alligator skin coming to points under her, filthy and worn. As she becomes Duckie in front of me, I curl petulant into myself and start to sob.
She can’t make anyone care about not making anyone care. This part of Drama doesn’t work by herself. Pathos alone pushes the emotional limit of a moment, becoming the crazy girlfriend of the universe unable to inspire anyone to do anything but slowly back away. Her humiliation comes easy as she stands here asking me to feel pity for the pity machine that is her heart. And I do. I feel the pathos of pathos as I watch her crumble in front of me, the black Maybelline tears dripping from her porcelain chin marking the first moment of my life that I have the words to explain this:
I’ve always known that Andy would always have to choose Blaine over the Duck Man because to Drama, pity is more important than doing what’s right. But what I didn’t understand before was that where Drama is Duckie, Andy is the rest of the world, yawning or squinting it’s disapproval at his plight, unable to follow him where he’s going.
Overwhelmed with sorrow and anger, I feel myself spinning backward in age and turning into a girl. The armchair becomes a rocking chair, and the lights of the Brewster house flicker and die, leaving me alone in the dark, the cold breath of the far-off wind machines creeping under my clothes, and I can’t…
I can’t remember if it was raining when the Mercedes crashed.
Closing in around my heart, the car crash is the steel isolation that Drama has come to know for being this wilderness of emotion that is his Princess Di. I think I would let it kill me too if I didn’t know that her putting it inside me meant it belonged to us now.
The storm of the false night hums out in the street like a giant freezer. Stinging my lungs when I breathe is the irony of the human love for theater up against their fear of it, the dark seeming to be made of that clash in Drama’s absence. Or maybe it’s made of every reason he has to never let anyone come here and touch him like this. I can feel them all out there, his reasons to push people away, on a distant piano, tickling out a self-indulgent melody for me, the girl they’ve all been waiting for.