Maria…


  Lights on.

The fresh faced diva with the stunning three and a half octave range, Maria Cara, headlines the long awaited production of Lucia di Lammermoor opening tonight at The Metropolitan Opera House. Tickets are sold out.

She flipped a few pages.

Rolling blackouts continue to leave the sweltering city in the dark.

Placing the newspaper onto the vanity table, her hand drifted towards a nearby playbill. There was a hesitance that struck her but eventually gave way and she picked the pamphlet up. Thumbing through, she spotted a photograph of herself. Stone gray eyes intensified by charcoal colored curls cascading against flesh of alabaster. Bare neck, elongated. Coral lips parted by a smile that left most of her teeth naked. Bare. Nude. A way of being she had forgotten years ago as she was now hidden. Hidden by agents. Hidden by elaborate costumes and hair styles. Hidden by beaming lights. Hidden behind make-up and fad diets. Hidden by the music that was giving way to a lust for fame.

“Miss Cara, close your eyes.”

“What?”

“Close your eyes. I have to blend your eye shadow.”

Lights out.

Groans of disdain echoed on the other side of her open dressing room door. Lids lowered. Eyes shut. Black. Just like her nights. Just like her mother’s hair before it all fell out. Just like her days. Deep. Dark. Cumbersome. Her nerves were calm despite the anticipation that loomed. Listening to the taps of heels scuffle across floorboards and bits and pieces of dialogue being built around her, her name dangled from the tips of the tongues of everyone.

Lights on.

“Her wardrobe! Miss Cara’s wardrobe for Act II!”

“Did you book her reservations? For Cipriani’s, after the show!”

“Somebody get me maintenance. We’re having electrical issues.”

“Miss Cara will be on in fifteen, how much longer?”

“She’s almost done with hair and make-up.”

Exposing her eyes to the rest of the world, they came into focus and she saw her mother. In the arch of her eyebrows, the shape of her eyes, and the point of her nose. She was beginning to forget her scent and this terrified her. Again, she closed her eyes and heard her voice. Heard the Italian she spoke to her and the much younger sisters Maria protected and cared for as best she could.

Her mother vanished. The reflection now stared back at her, glaring, snarling.

“Where is my water!” Soared from the back of her throat.

Tearing her head away from the fidgety fingers of the make-up artist and hair stylist she twisted her body and charged out of the open door to face the tapestry of workers, stage hands, understudies, and co-stars alike. Standing in the doorway she released a low growl.

Hello! I’m not talking to myself, people!”

Eyes went into a frenzy, darting, leaping, bounding, while lips fell still, tongues retreating. Maria walked away from the tiny quarters of her dressing room and into her onlookers as she peered, quirking her left brow, pouting her painted lips.

“I’ve been denied the humidifiers I requested…I agreed to wear this, this disgusting gown, and have my hair done by an amateur,” She seethed, looking over her shoulder at the doe-eyed stylist peeking from the dressing room doorway “and on top of this…I am still waiting…for…MY WATER and lozenges!”

“Miss Cara, I –“

“Shut up! Shut up…and go get it!”

As her lips met one another once more, in a hassle, the group dispersed, some silent, others whispering, some running, others strolling at a steady pace.

“No air conditioning. I’m melting!” She complained “I’m on in ten, no water. What is this!”

She stood in that moment and watched the crew bustling, cast members conversing and rehearsing. Alisa, the maid to Maria’s character was doing vocal warm-ups, hands pressed against her belly, concentration exuding from her tight mouth and burrowed eyebrows. Naormanno, the huntsman that helps tear Maria’s character from her beau was chatting with one of the female understudies, arm propped against the wall, leaning in as she giggled. Maria rolled her eyes at his attempt at flirting with women especially since every night, he was sneaking into the bedroom of Lord Enrico Ashton, Maria’s stage brother.

“She’s talented, but I think she got the lead because she’s screwing Mr. Mottolini.” A high pitched voice attempted to whisper.

“Who?”

Maria spotted the culprits. She assumed them to be easily expendable, as she did not recognize either.

“He produced this show!…He’s one of the top members of The Broadway League, idiot. He’s like God of the opera world.”

“Ohhh.”

“He can make or break any career and he–”

Maria tapped the shoulder of one of the girls. Startled, she turned around. Her face red in an instant.

Ladies, next time you want to gossip, try and be a little more discrete. Especially…when you’re spreading lies about a woman who has the power…to have you both terminated and blacklisted. Understood?”

They both nodded with vigor. Maria shook her head before looking around at the frenzy that continued to ensue.Turning away from the spectacle before her she went back to her dressing room and plopped into her chair, her stylists slowly approaching her, timidly, unsure whether or not to attempt to finish.

Lights out.

She released a gentle sigh.

Lights on.

A familiar gaze. The stare cut through her exterior. The gown, the hair, the make-up, dissipated to expose Maria; modest, sensitive, lonely. And she watched as he drew near, the faint hint of a smile in the corners of his mouth.

“Evening, Lucia,” He said with a nod.

Maria glanced at him in the mirror. Chestnut hair, hues of hazel, olive skin, and an impish grin rendered her defenseless, at least for the moment.

“Are you ready for tonight?”  He asked.

Collecting her thoughts and feeling, she turned to him. The hair stylist and make-up artist caught her attention, still lingering in the background, waiting.

“You are done now,” Maria snapped “Now please excuse yourselves.”

In a setting overwhelmed with people the two were now alone within a small secluded area, within a private sliver of time. Their focus invested in one another as they fought the urges pulling through their limbs.

“Lucia.”

“Edgardo.”

“Nervous?”

“…”

“Don’t be,” He smiled.

“I…I don’t know if I can do this.” Fingers tugged at a gold band wrapped around her fourth finger.

“We talked about it.”

Maria’s sudden wave of disdain spread across her face. Arms folded, shifting her body’s weight onto her left leg. She wore a sneer and found herself outside of her vulnerability once more.

“And that’s all we did. Talk.”

“Maria…don’t.”

“Don’t what?”

“Don’t push me away. Not after—“

“Maria—“

The dark baritone rattled her bones. She knew that voice and it forced her attention away from her Edgardo.

“Maria,” The man said, coming to a halt by her side “You look lovely!”

She forced a thank you from the pit of her as she stared at the Swarovski crystals woven into the corset of her gown.

“And your sist–”

“They’re fine.” She was sharp.

“Okay, okay, just making sure. Is everything to your liking?”

“Well,” there was a brief pause “…I’m a bit thirsty…and could use a lozenge or cough drop. Apparently that’s too much to ask for around here.”

“Did you make that request already?”

He saw her nod.

“Unacceptable,” He huffed, walking to the doorway of the make-shift dressing room.

There was no eye contact between the two.

“You!” The man pointed “Yes, you! Come! Now!”

The little man scuffled over, pretending to be invested in some paperwork on his clipboard, a failed attempt to mask his shaking nerves.

“How many God damned times,” He began through gritted teeth “Does Miss Cara have to ask for fucking water and lozenges! What are you people doing?”

“I, I apologize, Mr. Mattolini. We sent someone out for them a few minutes ago. He should, he should be right back any minute now.”

“Curtain opens in less than ten minutes!”

“I, I know. And I—“

“How is the star expected to perform on opening night in such conditions! A dressing room the size of a closet, no amenities, what the hell?”

She lifted her eyes and let them flutter onto him. Onto her Edgardo. He gazed back at her, both sympathy and disappointment carved into his face. He took a step back. Her skin burned. She took a step forward.

“Fucking idiots.” Mr. Mattolini muttered as his arm clasped around her waist, drawing her in with one quick motion “Anyway—oh! My manners. Mr. Gregory Duprez…I hadn’t even noticed you.” He said nonchalantly before disregarding the young man’s presence.

He grimaced.

“How are you, Thomas?”

“I’m well.” Was barely audible as he glanced over, his eyes uninspired.

Gregory’s attention drifted back to Maria. Adorned in her beaded and jeweled garment, hair flowing from beneath the glimmer of her tiara, and with a sorrow poorly veiled by deep mascara and a dusting of eye shadow.

“Here’s your water and lozenges, Miss Cara.”

The sound of her name yanked Maria from her thoughts. Her eyes rolled and with a snatch she held the water and lozenges in her hands.

“Finally.” She muttered.

“Curtains open in two minutes, people! Two minutes, time to move!” Echoed through the backstage area.

She looked to Gregory and noticed him stepping back. She stepped forward.

“Where did you get that ring?” Thomas asked, squinting his eyes.

The rim of the bottled water met her lips and she sipped.

“I have to take my place.” She said quietly before lifting her head and scurrying off.

Melisma and mordent rolling in tandem, moisture trickled down the nape of her neck, clung to her cheeks, and despite the sweltering theatre she continued to sing. Sending a litany of high E’s into the back of the room, she had to touch everyone. The onlookers sitting in the balcony, the audience lining the back of the opera house. The people outside of these four walls. The kingdom in the sky. She had to or else she would die and not only would she die but her life would have proven to be meaningless.

So she sang. Her body, the instrument. Teeth slicing syllables, tongue twisting Italian rhymes, sweet sounds mellifluously rising above the orchestra and floating higher until….Lights out.

Maria continued despite the lack of vision, despite the lost direction of the orchestration, despite the hushed whispers of confusion in the crowd. She forced feelings of intensity out of her stomach, out of her eyes, out of her throat and into the sounds escaping her and with a final release the music stopped, the crowd was silent and the last bit of feeling trapped in her lungs was launched into the world. The applause was sudden. The applause was violent. The applause belonged to her.

Stumbling around within darkness backstage, she could hear the madness. Curses, running, befuddlement. A hand on her wrist. A familiar sensation. A pull she could not break free from. She followed the scent into a space that felt familiar. A door closed. Her dressing room door.

Two hands rest on her hips, causing her pelvis to tremble.

“I’m telling him.”

“You can’t…” She whispered.

“I can and I will.”

Burning palms set empty bodies aflame. Bodies that were now vessels pulsating with a raw lust. Lips and teeth snatching at neck and tongue, craving salt, savoring skin, yearning for more, for everything.

“Maria,” was soft on his palette.

Breasts pressed against chest, digits sliding up thighs, supple cheeks rubbing against stubble, hard ache against soft surrender. Hands crept nearer to the unfulfilled space inside of Maria and her neck fell limp, her breathing grew deep, her fingernails dug deeper.

Black coated their desires, draped over the room, swallowing the building, devouring the streets. And the two allowed it to eat through their bodies, though, it could not consume their thoughts; Maria’s burning with fear, Gregory’s with wonder.

Lights on.

The two paused briefly and Maria pulled away. He clutched her hands and pulled her near.

“Please, Maria…Please!”

Trembles trailed skin. Hers. His. Maria’s vision blurred as teardrops welled in the corners of her pleading eyes.

“Greg…Greg, don’t…don’t make me do this.”

“Do what?” He exclaimed “I’m not doing anything but professing what I feel. What we feel.”

“This isn’t the time, Greg.”

“I will not share you.”

“Share me? As if I’m a piece of property? Your belonging?”

“That isn’t what I meant and you know it,” was stern as it left his mouth “I meant everything I said two months ago. Every single thing.”

“And I didn’t?” She quizzed before wondering if she even had the right to ask.

“If you did,” His hands closed tightly on her left hand “If you did…you’d say yes.”

“I…”

“Just…say…yes, Maria.”

Her chest tightened as though it were seconds away from collapsing, caving in on her hidden desires and secrets. His heavy hands on hers, warm palms, strong fingers, gave her the most indescribable sensations. Sensations only matched by the bliss she found in singing, performing. Eyes like those of a newborn child. A soul like no other she had ever been intimate with. Soft. Gentle. Honest. Resilient.

Knocks on the door.

“Lights are back on, Miss Cara! Curtains need to go back up! The audience is waiting.”

“Maria” Thomas’s muffled tone was ominous as the door opened.

She drew her hands back out of shock and turned towards the opening door. Her back to Gregory, a terror born in her; One she was a stranger to. So intense it was, she was too petrified to turn and face him again.

“…What?” Thomas halted, puzzled “What are you two doing in here?”

“Thomas,” Gregory said, his voice dark and thick “Maria and I are getting—“

“Tired!” Ran from her quivering lips “ We’re getting tired of working under these…these conditions…” She finished, her fingertips shielding her mouth.

“I know, but I can’t do anything about the rolling blackouts.”

Maria could feel the hand of a hurting man grip her left wrist and pull it back. Tense. Torn. Tattered. She felt furious fingers grasp at her ring finger and claw at the golden band that was now just as much a part of her as her lips, as her breasts, as her toes.

Ripped from her body she awaited blood. Prepared to see red droplets decorate the carpet beneath her. Ready for it to accompany the agony. But it never came.

Unable to bring herself to face him, her blank gaze fixated on Thomas who looked perturbed, or perhaps infuriated. And out of the corner of her eyes she caught a glimpse of gold, moments before she watched Gregory walk out towards the doorway. No looking over his shoulder. No pause in his pace. No gentle words to help her sleep sound in the solitude she would face that night. Now he was gone.

“Miss Cara,” the wardrobe supervisor stepped into the room, his voice lost among the thoughts that invaded Maria “Curtains need to go up. Everybody’s waiting for you.”

Her head hung low. She stifled the chaos that fought to rip through her and expose itself to anyone willing to care, willing to notice. Eyes like slate hit the floor, dragging towards the golden glimmer. Two bands. Golden. Just inches apart.


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