“I’ll See You in Reality”

Fiction by J.B. McGeever

To read Part One of "I'll See You in Realty," click here.

PART TWO

He found her sleeping in the garden at the base of the Belvedere steps, the theater buzzing with pre-show activity. She awoke immediately and smiled up at him. “Come,” she said. He followed her up the stairs to the castle, the landing dotted with tourists posing for each other. She walked beneath the gazebo to the railing and stretched out her body, from her sandaled feet to her long, bare limbs. She wore a gauzy white dress that kissed its way down her body, sweeping the points of her ankles. Her braids were held in place with a simple band. At least two men snuck photos of her standing in place for she appeared to have emerged from the castle’s tower instead of a lonesome park bench.

She motioned to him to come join her and pointed across the pond. “I once saw Diana in the rain just over there!” He followed the curves of her arm to the Great Lawn. “She was soaking wet and absolutely gorgeous. A man like you offered me his jacket and we vanished inside the Ramble for hours.” Eleven turned into him, taking hold of his hands. “I imagine you were a child then.”

She looked past him to the cluster of men who’d been eyeing her. “Someday I’ll grow old,” she told them, “and every one of you will stop seeing me!”

She kissed her teeth loudly as they hustled back to their groups. “Darling,” she said to Jameson, “these civilians bore me. Take me to the show.”

Their seats were perfect, center aisle, four rows back. Eleven hadn’t bothered to sell her extras. “A buffer zone,” she called it, “to keep away the riffraff.”

“I thought we were safe here.”

“Oh, we’re very safe, but I assure you they’re out there. Remember, dear, you’re working tonight.”

Jameson rubbed the stubble on his chin and sighed. He scanned the menacing crowd for snipers and other wouldbe assassins, finding middle-aged couples, sensitive-looking teens, and the occasional celebrity instead. Each time a jet flew overhead for La Guardia, he braced for the inevitable cry of “Incoming!” but Eleven said it was merely part of the charm of open air theater. Jameson happily agreed.

He, of course, had his own gremlins to battle. The mayor’s ubiquitous name was stamped all over the event, the side of the building, the backs of T-shirts, the inside of his program. Mayoral control wasn’t just a shackle imposed on a school system. It was the ploy of a Loophole King to anesthetize a city. He pictured the man’s money generating new money, the sound of an engine purring as it funneled fresh green into Park Avenue. It made him jealous and possessed. When the actors took the stage to zealous applause, he expected the man’s disembodied head to float above the theater like an ad to a great car sale.

It was the Actor who made everything right, those protruding eyes staring into the abyss, his throaty voice hoarse and booming, spraying the first rows with divine spittle. During intermission, a family of raccoons scampered across stage and the audience cheered. Everyone thrilled in the summer pageantry except Agent Eleven, fast asleep 20 minutes into the performance. He figured being on the run all day, every day, took a tremendous amount of energy. Before nodding off, she freed her braids from their bind and snuggled against him. “Hon,” she said, “I’m not going to make it. You’re our last line of defense.”

He felt her hair against his cheek and wondered how long it had taken to grow. Perhaps these braids had beguiled Jagger and Reed in some dank basement while Capote arched a brow, or maybe they kept her safe like an armor of thickets or forest of oaks. He reached across his chest and took hold of one, draping it over an arm until it tickled his fingers. Agent Eleven cooed softly.

When it began to rain, the faint of heart gave up too fast and the die-hards stayed too long. The man Himself came onstage to say the “Showww is delayyyyed! Sorrrry for the in-con-veeeniance! Oh-kayyy?” The leftovers took cover beneath the building’s stingy awning. Someone said the Yanks had canceled in the Bronx. Agent Eleven slept soundly.

“Sir,” said an officious young usher, “you and your friend must exit the theater.”

He was already working on it, nudging a shoulder, brushing her cheek. He even checked her pulse while the usher waited on the steps. Both men watched Eleven’s damp chest rise and fall. Jameson pushed some hair from her face, realizing he had no name to call her. “Um, sweetheart? Time to get up.”

He looked back at the guy and shrugged. “I can’t wake her.”

“Well, you’ll have to,” he snapped.

He could tell by the way the man regarded her, an eye roll to another attendant and a mirthless smirk, that he was familiar with her. Jameson knew it was possible to walk the streets of Manhattan, even a small portion, and fall in love a dozen times. Perhaps a woman like Eleven was nothing special to him, one more gorgeous pain in the ass, making him immune to her splendor. “I don’t want to startle her. She might get upset.” “Fine. I’ll have security do it.” Our hero was no caretaker; looking after another person was foreign to him. Occasionally, in times of need, he relied too heavily on his Long Island accent to highlight a point, a nuance which suited American profanity the way Elizabethan did for Shakespeare, a dog’s bark laden with hairspray, chewing gum, and car exhaust.

“Hey, asshole, you can dig up Joe Papp’s grave and beat me with his skull and we still ain’t leavin’.”

The usher smiled back like he’d won something. “Very nice, philistine.” He waved to the top of the bleachers. Two men dressed in black headed their way.

Jameson faced the aisle to make his final plea. “Look — sir, if I remove her from a safe zone, I have no idea what she’ll do. I think you know this.”

The man sniffed and waved off the guards. “This is the last time I’m doing this, understand? The last goddamned time.” The second attendant produced a pair of thirty-dollar ponchos, handed them to the first, who promptly dropped them in Jameson’s lap. “I want these back,” he said and walked on.

He started to unfold them, the attendants clucking away as they headed up the aisle. “I know,” said the first, “and she picks these terrible posers to watch over her. If she wasn’t the wife of. . . .” The rain intensified as he spit out a name, splashing the plastic cloaks until it was the only sound Jameson heard. He pulled one over Eleven’s head, spending a good two minutes on braids alone, and fastened its hood. He placed a careful arm around her and watched the rain pummel the stage for close to an hour.

The ragtag audience was permitted back and the play resumed, folks with nosebleed seats migrating to center orchestra, collapsing Eleven’s buffer and making her stir. The players took the slickened stage to wild, sycophantic applause and the Actor confessed to losing his place. They would try the scene again, flouting the rain and the gusts that swept the stage. A pair of swords clanged loudly, a minor player was tossed to the boards, and then it happened. The Actor produced a single handkerchief from his belt, held it aloft, and then offered it to the wind. It slipped from his fingers like a child’s hand and floated across the stage. Someone let out a gasp and Jameson was thunderstruck.

The man had reduced the wind to nothing but a prop. He was known for this, mocked and worshipped for it. Everyone who’d ever worked with him had their story to tell, the Civil War general in full regalia holding doors formakeup artists, “Mah pleasure, ma’am. Give mah regards to the family,” the gleaming-haired gangster staring down a gaffer, “Eh, kid, joo got a problim? Joo got a problim wit’ me?”

For the rest of the evening, no matter how mundane or annoying, no matter what trick reality threw at him, he grabbed it by the neck and made it a star. When he lost his footing on the wet stage it was because his character had grown weary. When the mandatory cellphone went off in the front row he cupped his ears and wailed, “Egad, what unearthly sound is this? Foolish mortals, why must they torture me so?” The audience knew it had misbehaved, knew it had tampered with greatness and greatness had answered the call. They laughed nervously as America’s Thespian carried on.

The play finished well after midnight. They had persevered for over four hours. The motley crowd cheered and the cast applauded back. The Actor received his standing ovation and the place started to empty. Jameson sat there trying to make sense of the day. Agent Eleven twitched in her chair and let out a groan. It struck him that she and the Actor were essentially doing the same thing, twisting and shaping the world to their liking, the breathtaking psychotic and the smashing success. He thought he might find a link and walk a path between them, not an entire city or a famous theater in the woods but in his own arena, a bureaucracy, the largest of its kind, inside of one broken down school, battling an emperor who would crush him to bits.

It was just a half-notion and he feverishly began to work on the details, slipping into a reverie when Eleven awoke and broke the spell. There was much research ahead of him, realizing that this stunning heartbreak was the source of his new project. He watched her stretch and yawn and shake out her wondrous braids. She placed her hands on the seat before her, arching her spine like a cat, hair spilling forward, forming a kind of monastery about her face. Jameson took a knee and parted its curtain, looking up at her in total deference. “Hey, welcome back to the world.”

Agent Eleven glowed down at him like a woodland queen. “It’s you,” she said.


J.B. McGeever’s stories have appeared in The Southampton Review, Hampton Shorts, and Writer’s Digest, with nonfiction in Newsday, The New York Times, and The Christian Science Monitor. “I’ll See You in Reality” is an excerpt from his novel in progress, “The Last Days of Gothic High.”