By Claudia Ricci
For reasons I cannot explain, it is 2004, and I am sitting in the dark in a plush red theater chair. There are rows and rows ahead of me, chairs stretching endlessly into the inky black darkness. The room is cavernous, and only a single light is burning. It is a red light, spelling the word EXIT. Good, I think, I can ditch this gig at any moment.
I am waiting patiently in the darkness. My eyes close and I breathe in and breathe out. A hum starts up and then, there is slight squeal, as if a metal wheel is turning. I open my eyes and before me is a giant screen. The color of the sea jumps right out at me, blue green and foamy, billowing waves, waves so big, so loud that I raise my arms in front of my face as if the water is going to come crashing into this place I sit. Just as suddenly, the waves fall away, disappear, the sea is quiet and all I can hear is the squeal of the movie reel and my own breathing.
I close my eyes and tell myself this is not a dream, got that, so don’t go getting carried away. But then I know it is a dream and I seem OK with it. When I open my eyes again there is a girl staring at me from the middle of the screen. She has dull brown eyes and a flood of long wavy hair. At first I think she is naked, but no, it is just the way she is floating there, facing me, her thin bare arms and legs sticking out to either side, as if she is a paper doll doing the breast stroke or is it the frog kick? Now she is floating there with her brown hair everywhere, and a prayer plant in the murky green water beside her. Bubbles rise from the girl’s mouth, but these are no ordinary bubbles, they swell, they are huge, and there are words in black calligraphy popping up in each bubble. A sentence forms: “You must have faith. To heal yourself, you need only jump straight toward the light and the rest will take care of itself. Trust me I know.”
With the last of the bubbles fluttering up from her lips, the girl waves and turns and suddenly a brocaded tail emerges, glittering green and aqua blue and I think to myself, I want to go where she is going. But in the next twinkle of the screen, she is gone, the screen is blank. I blink, so disappointed to have lost the girl. I yell, “Is this a dream? Or am I sitting in some damn theater waiting to watch a goddamn movie?” I squirm in my seat, wondering if I should be swearing at the top of my lungs.
As if on cue, when I say the word “movie,” the camera returns, and there is the girl again, smiling and waving at me. I smile and wave back and she motions for me to follow as she swims away. The camera follows her as she rises slowly to the surface of the water, the camera keeps pulling back, pulling back from the water. And now I am horrified to see that the girl is no longer a mermaid and she is not swimming in the sea as I thought she was. No, she is caught in what looks to be a tank. I see the glass edge, but then it gets worse, I realize that she is trapped in a fishbowl, a bowl shaped like a vase, a vase with a narrow neck and filled with smooth white stones at the bottom. “How goddawful,” I whisper as the girl presses the flesh of her lips to the bowl. She is so distorted and fish-like that I look away.
I can’t help myself though, in a moment I look back and I see the camera has pulled back to the ceiling, and there below is the fish bowl sitting on a small table with a white cloth. The table is in the center of a white room with perfectly clean, perfectly shiny, well-shellacked pine floors. The camera swings to a small cabinet in the corner, and as the door opens, a blue light floods out, it is so bright that I have to shield my eyes. I cover them with my hands, and when I next look, I am staring into the cabinet through the blue light at the same girl who had been in the tank. She is now in the cabinet, huddled, her face pressed to her bare knees, her fountain of wet hair draped like brown seaweed over her legs. I find myself wondering if her hands are puckered from so much water, when it then occurs to me that her mermaid tail is no longer anywhere to be seen. I watch her hands emerge from under her hair. She reaches beside her into a bucket and out of the bucket she pulls a blue syringe.
What now, I think, WHAT does this ocean imp plan to do with the blue syringe?
Stay tuned, Part Two of "Theater Dream" is coming shortly.