I enter the lobby of the hall and an older man wearing a grey sweater, glasses and holding a clipboard approaches me, palms facing me to indicate I need to stop. Pausing near a row of pictures documenting the writers appearing through the years, I wait for him to reach me. He stops, in whisper distance, close enough that I smell his spice aftershave. “You can’t be here, the reading already started,” he whispers, hand gripping my upper arm. My eyes find his fingers and I roll my eyes, waiting for him to release me. “I saw an ad. It’s an open reading. I want to read.” “It’s an open reading in so much that people submit names that the judges use to find performers. Criteria leans towards those making donations to the poetry center.” He wants money. It’s NYC, I should have known. “How much?” “Donations start at one hundred dollars, but like I have said, the line-up is set…” “I will offer ten thousand dollars,” I say, not letting him finish. Brown eyes framed by thick reading glasses scan me while he considers my offer. Taking a pen from his pocket, he makes a scratch on the sheet “Make a check… “I’m bringing cash. Take it or leave it,” I say, not waiting for him to answer to remove my backpack. Stacking the money on his clipboard, I give him a smiles. “Now, tell me where I go to read.” I follow him into the hall and down a steep ramp towards the stage, where some fifty people fills the first few rows watching a woman read poetry. Eyes follow us, distracting the red-haired woman reading, causing her to stop. All ears listen to the sweater cop speak to a woman near the stage. “We’ve been through this before, Claire, big donors get to read, even at a late hour or at the cost of a free-reader.” Free- reader? Does that mean someone that hasn’t made a donation? No matter, the woman yields and ushers the red-head off the stage. I wait for her to move well beyond my position before I put my heel on the stage steps. Taking care not to trip, I make a slow path towards the podium, stepping over wires taped to the stage. The room contains no sound and I want to freak out. I don’t even know what I will read. Tapping the microphone in a sham of checking if it’s on and sad there will be no delay when the tapping fills the auditorium. Eyes stare and moments expire, but I am no closer to speaking. I shrug the backpack onto the floor and remove my journal, leaving it on the podium.
I woke that morning filled with an emotion I didn’t recognize at first. Hope. I didn’t know if any of my plans came to pass or if it all blew up in spectacular failure, but I still had hope. I didn’t want to get out of bed. What if father lived? I wanted to extend those glorious moments of the possibility he was dead. I pleaded with Ray in my mind as if he were god, begging for it to be done. A dish crashed in the sink and I put a hand over my mouth to keep from screaming. Fear kept me pinned to the bed wearing only a tee-shirt, my limbs useless to move. Pots rattled and the fridge door slammed, killing the last shred of hope anyone except father made the noises. Thoughts of the cake Ray baked cut through the fear and I realized it was the only thing to eat in the house. Rage propelled me from the bed and I knew before I entered the kitchen what I would find. My feet slipped on spilled beer and I slid on the linoleum, my eyes taking in a panoramic snapshot of father drunkenly feeding on my birthday cake. Digging my fingers into the doorframe to stop my momentum, I launched myself towards the table and took the chef knife he used to cut the cake in my hands. His eyes, weary red and angry, locked with mine. “What are you going to do with that knife?” he slurred at me. “I’m going to kill you,” I said and jammed the blade into his neck. His rose from the chair, blood spurting from the wound and charged me, which caught me by surprise and sent me to the floor. I truly thought the first wound killed him. It did not. He collapsed on me, fingers squeezing my windpipe. I’m not going to die at the hands of my father. This thought repeated like a drum beat in my mind. I fought and managed to get his fingers from my neck. He swayed, weak from blood loss with a further attempt to grab me ending with me snapping his index finger. He screamed, which caused the blood flow to increase and allowed me to pull the blade out. I rammed the blade into his neck again and again until the strength left his arms and he rolled off my body, dead before he hit the floor.
I walk from the stage, ignoring the silence, the absence of applause and the glare of the man in the gray sweater. Walking north after leaving the theater, I pass the hotel without giving it a second glance. I’m making a straight line for my car and leaving this city at the earliest convenience. I don’t know why I read that piece, but I need to push it from my mind before the dreams begin again.