The Audition

by Anne Earney

Marla is not feeling well. She has never committed to memory anything more poetic than the periodic table, so between the cold reading and the second part of the audition, a recitation, she sits on the floor outside the theater and pulls at the thin strands of gray carpet under her crossed legs. Groups of words cross her mind infrequently, like camels in a desert: Our Father who art in Heaven, I love a rainy night, This old man. The door opens before she decides upon something, but not before she creates a bald spot the size of a quarter in the rug.

She goes in and sits next to her boyfriend, who in the past has said Marla does not take enough risks, is too cautious. Marla has decided she will prove him wrong. She will show him she can stomp on caution, kill it like a bug, as he says he does. All the same, "Hydrogen, helium, lithium, beryllium" does not have the ring of the words that roll off the first actor's tongue, "From fairest creatures we desire increase." Next are two selections Marla has never heard, then a tall blonde does an essay from The Vagina Monologues involving a simulated orgasm. Then Marla hears her name.

Marla begins cooking Thanksgiving dinner in late September. She has never paid a bill after its due date. Yet she believes people are rewarded for taking risks. She is not exactly nervous up on stage, but she does wonder if the heat from the lights contains excessive radiation. To bolster herself, she recalls a successful risk from the past, when she went skiing with her ex-boyfriend even though she didn't know how to ski. She looks at her current boyfriend in the audience as she waits for her cue, and she realizes it is not impossible he knew about this part of the audition. But she resists blaming him. He isn't holding a gun to her head, or even looking at her, she discovers when she finally spots him talking to the Vagina Monologue woman.

The director asks if she is ready, and Marla decides to recite a song she liked in high school, something unlike what the others have done. Her voice flows out over the audience like a hawk over a field of wheat, she thinks. She misses the look the director gives her that indicates she might be regurgitating a half-dead rat onto the stage. Marla is pleased with herself for having met her goal, for having taken a risk, and she half expects applause, though of course no one applauds at auditions, even Marla knows this. Still, she remains standing on the stage, lets herself linger in the feeling.

In a moment, things will begin to change. First, Marla will misinterpret the smile of her boyfriend, thinking he is happy for her. When she laces her fingers with his, she will have no idea that when the cast list goes up, her name will not be on it, but his will, in a role opposite the blonde, whom he will eventually leave Marla for. Marla will say she didn't really want a part anyhow, but the first night of rehearsals she'll cry at home, and the next day she'll volunteer to help with props, to prove how much she has not failed. From the shadowy backstage, she'll witness the courtship of her boyfriend and the woman she will come to think of as The Vagina. Sitting next to the other girl who will sign up for props, who recited part of Jack Kerouac's On the Road, Marla will make fake grapes out of Styrofoam, dried grass, and blue and black spray paint. The process will leave her fingers looking like Grover's from Sesame Street. The other girl will tell her she is better off in the wings making fake food, but Marla will know that isn't true.

But none of this has come to pass as Marla lingers on the stage after her recitation, smiling. A beat beyond her cue to exit, she continues to believe.

This is a story about success.

Anne Earney shares a house in St. Louis, Missouri, with her husband and three cats, and she works in a grocery store. Her stories have appeared in journals such as Versal, Big Ugly Review and The Binnacle. She received her MFA in 2005 from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Currently, she is not working on a novel, putting together a collection of short stories or looking for an agent. She's just happy to be writing.