The crowd of well-wishers backstage is growing too large for the stage crew’s comfort and they’re directing people down the back stairs and out to their tables in the ballroom. Someone puts a drink in my hand. I need to find some place to set it down. Between these three-inch heels and my distracted state, it’s difficult enough negotiating my way through this without booze muddling things further.
I feel like a fraud. For one panicky moment I wonder if I can do this at all.
I’m not sure how it happened that once I arrived at my destination, it began to recede in the distance. Like a train, I keep on moving forward, while my accomplishment remains static; a marker on the map, one discrete moment in time. It stays behind, a motionless station beside my track to somewhere else.
I can almost pinpoint the moment it happened, that moment I knew it was over. For twenty-five years I slept with my characters’ lives playing out through my dreams, and awoke to their words whispering to me. Then one morning they were gone. One week before the awards ceremony there was a sudden silence, like someone threw a switch.
And from somewhere up ahead on the track, other voices called. Someone new, gestating in the back of my mind, moved in like a conquering warrior and claimed my heart.
A woman from advertising squeezes through the crowd and takes my hand. “Congratulations, hon!” she says. “We’re all so proud of you!”
“This isn’t just about me,” I say automatically. “This is for everyone, the writing team, our producer…” I trail off before I recite my whole acceptance speech. I realize I can’t think of anything else to say.
“Two minutes.” Max leans toward me, one finger pointing to his watch. Max’s hair has gone a respectable gray but his skin is young and tanned, ageless as any Hollywood icon until they turn that invisible corner and begin to fade. Max has at least another decade before he’ll be turning any corners.
I move toward the curtains, lifting the hem of my gown. This formal attire is foreign, like a disguise, concealing my heart’s defection. The stage director waves at me, her mouth moving as she speaks into her headset.
I hear someone laughing and think of Malia.
Malia was the heart of the family, the bright star. She gave them the gift of hope in the darkest times. She gave them that because I gave it to her.
I loved them. They were my joy, my pain, and my slave-driving masters. The writing team may have all worked together (and we did, like a fine-tuned engine in those years when we hit our stride) but the Harrison siblings, Malia, Ray, Liam, and Dustin, were mine. They felt closer to me than my own family. I knew them like my own heartbeat.
The stage director takes my arm as though I might run away and holds three fingers up, ready to count down my entrance. She peers between the heavy curtains, her eyes fixed on the stage.
I no longer have my drink in my hand. I wonder where I put it.
When I first contracted with the studio as a fledgling writer, right out of grad school and star-struck, I never gave it a thought. The studio’s ownership of anything produced in the course of employment was standard. It never mattered I didn’t own them. The Harrison family came to own me, heart and soul.
When everyone else toyed with the idea of writing Dustin out, I knew he’d beat the cancer. I made sure he was back the next season because the family needed him. I needed him. When Ray was acquitted of murder charges only two people in the whole world knew the truth. Ray and I alone knew he had really done it.
A round of applause thunders from the ballroom on the other side of the curtain, pulling me back into the present. I wonder what Max will do when he finds my letter of resignation on his desk. He won’t call me, not right away. Part of me thinks he already knows I’m gone.
It’s almost time. I hear the presenter at the podium before the Beverly Hilton’s glittering audience. He talks about the longest running primetime drama in the history of television, about my team of writers, and me. He tells the audience how America came to embrace this family: my family, my show, my Seattle Sunshine.
Liam was my secret soul mate. I created him; I breathed the breath of life into him. I knew his thoughts; I knew why he kept his heart in check. I understood his tragic striving for something unattainable, for that voice that would tell him he had succeeded and everything was perfect. The voice he would never hear. I knew his secrets because they were my secrets. I bequeathed them unto him, and he suffered for my sins.
I should miss him; I should feel the loss. I just don’t.
I’m leaving my co-writers to carry them all into the next season without me.
And they will be okay.
I hear my name, and the applause rises like a tidal wave over the swell of the orchestra as the opening notes to the Seattle Sunshine theme music fill the air. I step out onto the stage and the heat of the lights hit my face like a blast furnace and the theatre’s thundering beats against my chest.
The presenter hands me the heavy golden figurine and mumbles something I don’t catch. I take the gleaming award, step up to the podium, and smile out at the sea of faces I cannot see. I lean toward the microphone to speak.
Behind me somewhere I hear the high whistle, both a poignant farewell and the bright, clarion call of the next station beckoning, as my train makes ready to leave.
Donna G Omo writes in California, USA.