Previous Challenge Entry (EDITOR'S CHOICE)
Topic: Light at the End of the Tunnel( 01/23/14)
Still Small Light
By Cheryl von Drehle
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I’m being melodramatic, Janna told herself.
She inched her ten year old Mazda up to the yellow tape haphazardly strung in front of the burning debris. This was her audition, her chance to shine. The conflagration appeared as a sinister trap 30 yards ahead of her. This could not threaten her interview that was scheduled to begin in… Janna glanced at her cell phone… six minutes.
I cannot be late. Oh god, clear a path for me.
Janna grimaced at her knee jerk reaction to pray in the midst of any crisis. Who did she think she was praying to, a god who wasn’t there? Well, not there for her at least. She almost laughed at the irony of praying to some unknown god that she would get there in time. After all, she was auditioning for a part in avant-garde theater that her grandmother, who had taught her to pray when she was a toddler, would probably consider porn.
Of course, it wasn’t porn. Anyone enlightened enough to appreciate 21st century art understood the difference. Yes, she would do her scenes nude, and she had very little dialog, but the writer/ director of this work was brilliant, and someone was finally giving her a chance to act in a play that had the promise of lasting past opening night.
Through the dark years of waiting tables and scrubbing bathrooms for wealthy matrons while she endured amateurish community theaters and the humiliation of dozens of worthless cattle calls, she was finally seeing some light in her life. Although, the raging light ahead was more than she had bargained for.
She recoiled from the thought as she left her Mazda by the side of the road and ducked quickly under the yellow tape. She ignored the yells of warning from nearby firefighters. Holding her arm over her face to block out the acrid smoke, she hurried past the flaming dumpster into the graying building behind it. Safe, she thought.
Her head was spinning from the excitement out in the street. It took her a few seconds to reorient. The dilapidated building smelled worse than the fire outside.
Okay, low budget. But it is still extravagantly creative, she thought.
Sucking in her breath, she straightened up to the full height of her thin wiry frame, tousled her radiant blonde hair, and strode purposefully to the reception desk at the end of the hall.
“Janna Miller,” she said, “for a three o’clock appointment.”
The receptionist flicked off another chunk of polish from long magenta nails. She did not look up. Janna waited a minute, then started to repeat her name.
“He’s waiting for you in there.” The receptionist nodded to a door behind her without pausing in her hygiene ritual.
Janna breezed around the desk and opened the indicated door.
Two hours later Janna sat on her living room couch staring blankly at the spider plant wilting along the window sill of her studio apartment. Outside the window a neon sign flashed its message of sin and salvation from a random strip mall church down the street. The residue of light cast an eerie purple glow into her room briefly before it sank back into gloom, only to relight a fraction of a second later as the neon continued to blink.
The light of true theater she had been desperately seeking grew colder as nighttime descended. Janna tried to sleep but each time she closed her eyes she saw the smoky studio sheathing the naked director leering at her. Then she woke with a start. Her nearby cell flashed 6:23 AM when she hit the start button. The chill of aloneness hugged her like a tattered bathrobe. Even the neon light had stopped flashing.
But in the early dawn another small light began to flicker. The darkness in Janna’s soul lifted just slightly. It started with an impulse to call her grandmother.
Haven’t talked with Nana for several months; she would probably love to hear from me, Janna thought.
And then another thought occurred to Janna. Turn around. Maybe the light at the end of the tunnel is really the light at the beginning of the tunnel.
She reached out for her cell phone in her first halting attempt to reconnect with that light.
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