The Sound Of Silence
By Michael Chikousky
Richard looks like a female rat. So maybe he’s a rodent-like guy, or just another girl. That looks like a boy.
I sat pondering this while I watched him from my side of the dressing room. I’d watched him every day for the past fifteen years, and in all that time I had never spoken to him unless the script called for it. The reason for this was simple and logical: Richard was disgusting. It disgusted me to see him, to watch him go through his filthy habits and observe his grotesque little nuances that he either didn’t know about, didn’t bother to hide, or thought were endearing. To talk to him would have been like talking to a filthy bloated rat, and if that rat replied? I don’t know anyone that could keep any composure then. I can’t think what it would have been like to touch him. Just thinking about it…no, I won’t do that to myself. It doesn’t matter now anyway.
I remember that day very clearly, even now. You could say it was the day that I became a prisoner, but I don’t see it that way. I was already a prisoner. If anything I was set free that day.
The day had started out the same as always, of course. How else would it start? In fifteen years of putting on the same play every day the routine had been the same, and there was certainly no call for variety on that day. It was a Saturday. Everybody was looking forward to the next day because on Sundays we didn’t have to put on the performance until midnight, which meant we could sleep in on Sunday morning. Of course the fools never seemed to care or notice that it only meant less sleep on Sunday night, but I didn’t bother to point this out to them. I’m sure I would have been met only with a cow-like stare, and the dry satisfaction I would get from my own rare ability to think coherently. A lot of good it did me to think in those days. You don’t need much in the way of logic to read what it says on a piece of paper. There were no actors there, only robots. There were only two real actors, myself and that pompous bastard Richard.
The worst thing about him wasn’t that he thought so highly of himself. The worst thing is that everybody did. Somehow I was the only one who could see through him. It wasn’t even a matter of seeing through him, just seeing him. They all saw him as a leader, because he made it very clear that he was superior to them. He definitely stood out. He made sure that everybody knew that he was English, and he only wore suits. Red suits, God knows why. They were always red, and always…puffy. I don’t know where a man could get a puffy red suit, but he was never seen without one. And he looked so goddamn dignified in it, too. You couldn’t say that he looked like he was trying too hard to make an image for himself, because he didn’t look like that. You had to look close to see it, and I was the only one who dared to look close. I’m sure they all knew, deep down, but were afraid to admit it to themselves: Richard was nothing but a phony bastard. On second thought, I’m not so sure that they knew that. As I said, they didn’t exactly have the highest capacity for coherent thought.
That was the thing that set Richard and I apart from the others. We were the smart ones, the thinkers, the deep ones. Everybody knew that, including ourselves, and including the directors. That was why they chose us; they needed thinking men to play the leading roles. They needed learned men, men who understood the theatre, who could carry out the complex instructions that were required without botching them.
The difference between Richard and me was the effect that our knowledge had on us. My studies had left me humbled at the immensity of knowledge in the world, and the small amount most people possessed. I thought of myself as a priest who knows God personally, but feels no pride for it. Instead he feels guilty, and he must go down into the depths of filth and make sinners clean so that he can be rid of his guilt. With it of course I held a contempt for the unlearned, a feeling of superiority, but I took no pleasure in it. That was the difference between us. Richard felt no guilt, nor did he feel there was a debt to be repaid. He felt contempt, and made no effort to hide it. This gave him a sense of loftiness and an air of superiority, which made him a natural selection for the others’ unofficial hero, father, and God.
Everyone envied me because I spent the most time with him. I wonder if they had known what their precious idol was like behind closed doors, what they would have thought. It is possible that they would have denounced him, but it’s more probable that they would have simply called it a bad dream, a test of faith, maybe even indigestion. They would have come up with some excuse, someone to blame. Richard was always right, and to them nothing could change that.
That time I spent with him alone in the dressing room was my own personal hell. He always felt he could be “comfortable” with me, that he could be “himself”. Why anyone who was a filthy bloated rat would want to be themselves at any time I never understood, but he never asked me to understand that. He never asked me much of anything, but he sure told me a lot. I didn’t hear most of it though. Mostly I just thought, and watched. I watched his fat dirty lips move. They sprayed crumbs everywhere when he talked. He was always eating something in that room, and it always was full of crumbs. I watched his fat, hairy stomach move up and down as his weak lungs struggled for another breath. I watched his rodent eyes darting around, always looking for something, something to eat, something to put his filthy hands on and touch and ruin. He never looked at me, never regarded me as another individual. The only individual that Richard knew was Richard. I was just a listening post who at least could understand, my dear man, unlike the rubbish outside. And the whole time I thought about two things. How I felt about him, and what I was going to do to him.
I came up with some very interesting ideas, some very creative ones. How strange it is that on the final day, it was so spontaneous. Frightening and painful as it was at first, it was beautiful as well. It may have been my best performance.
As I sat in the dressing room I watched his fat mouth working, the crumbs spewing, the hands crawling scrambling, the eyes darting, and even though I didn’t hear him speak it seemed that a huge noise was crushing me. I had to get out, had to get out, I couldn’t breath. From what seemed like miles away I could hear Richard saying “are you sure you’re quite all right? You don’t seem to be listening at all.” Everything seemed to be crashing in on me. I don’t know what would have happened if the director hadn’t come in then and told us we were on.
Richard stood up and stretched. “Suppose it’s that time again,” he sighed. We went outside to the stage. I still felt kind of shaky, but otherwise it seemed my spell had passed and I was calm again. The lights seemed too bright though, and the murmurs of the audience a little too loud.
On stage we quickly and efficiently assumed our roles. Every night for fifteen years we’d been taking them, how else were we supposed to do it? We went through the whole thing flawlessly as always. We waited behind the curtain for our final scene. Everything seemed to be…pulsing. I felt scared and sick. The expectant rumbling of the audience was almost too much to bear. By the time we finally stepped outside I could barely stand.
“What did you think?” asked Richard. “That I wouldn’t do anything when I found out? That I would just forget about it?”
“I didn’t care what you thought of it,” I replied. Even in this state I could still dish out my lines automatically.
“She was mine and you took her from me. I thought you were my friend. You’re nothing but a…”
Richard never got to finish that sentence. He was supposed to finish it and then attack me, but that never happened either. I didn’t know that I was going to do it, but I wasn’t really surprised when I did. The wine bottle was only a prop, but it was heavy enough. He turned back to me, and his eyes were shocked and confused. This renewed my anger and dissolved any pity I might have felt. Then he started to speak, and I knew I couldn’t bear the sight of his goddamn fat mouth spewing his filthy blood all over the place. It didn’t occur to me until later that some of that blood might actually have touched me, and if that happened I would probably not have survived it. I hit him, again and again, and he just looked back at me with those eyes. “No…it’s wrong…this isn’t how it goes…”
When I finally stopped, everything was silent. Richard lay on the floor, one hand on his face, the other clutching his doughy chest. No one moved or breathed for a long time. All they did was stare- stare at the blood, the body, and the pathetic rising and falling of that fat, hairy stomach. They stared until those poor, burdened old lungs quit. I can’t say it took them very long. When his wheezing, gurgling whines finally stopped, there was no noise at all. I lied down on the stage and closed my eyes. It was so quiet, and it was so peaceful. It was a sound I’d been waiting to hear for fifteen years.
You go outside and practice screaming. We'll play music while you're gone.