Novelist Marina Endicott has also been an actor, director, playwright and editor. Her most recent novel, The Little Shadows — finalist for the Governor General’s Award, long-listed for the Giller Prize, and one of the Globe and Mail’s 100 best books of 2011 — will be published in the U.K. and Australia in 2012. Her earlier novel Good to a Fault won the Commonwealth Prize (Canada and the Caribbean) and was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize.
About her (happily for us!) orphaned piece below, Marina says:
The Little Shadows tries to encompass all of vaudeville—no, just early polite vaudeville, and only in the west, only in Montana and parts of Canada, and only the second-string houses; all those limitations, but still it was too long. (A chorus of shouts is heard: “Was? Is!”)
This bit of Bella, the youngest sister of the sister-trio-harmony act, and Julius, an aging Protean monologuist on his way down, had to go—along with a lot of other scenes. But I did miss it, for Bella’s youthful love of just being in the business.
~ HERR DOKTOR PROFESSOR ~
Since they were closers, the girls had hours to wait from the first call. Bella slipped up to the back row to watch the beginning of each show—her favourite part. She almost could not bear the suspense of it: how the hall grew gradually dark and the audience quietened as the music began, or changed, or stopped entirely for a moment to give you the clue that something is going to happen. The darkness, and the breath just before the lights come up.
She was happy to sit among the people who would later watch her, and never tired of imagining their lives and relationships to each other, and what had brought them to the theatre—what occasion or hunger or need for solace. Often, looking around the rows, she found a person to sing to later, and this helped her never to be nervous. Not that she suffered as Aurora did, but it was good to have people at the back to sing directly to, to be sure they heard her.
The footlights (which had been gently glowing on the proscenium drop with its ornate advertisements) rose as the drop rose, revealing the dark red velvet of the inner curtains. Then the fire curtain of heavy steel and asbestos net descended on its grating chain, the bottom pooling for a moment on the stage, and rose again immediately, in the required demonstration that it was in good working order. Fire bowing and acknowledging his chains, Bella thought.
Then a pause, and she breathed in—Mattie darted on with a placard and off again, and the white cone of spotlight appeared in one and brightened as Julius Foster Konigsburg moved into it, his consequence motivating him so that his legs scarcely seemed necessary. Wearing a dusty suit, his stomach extended even farther than usual, he had beribboned pince-nez balanced on the reddened bulb of his nose. The placard announced:
OUR GERMAN VISITOR
HERR DOKTOR PROFESSOR J. F. KONIGSBURG,
ON THE AMERICAN ECONOMIC SYSTEM
‘Meine Damen und Herren! Citizens of the Illustrious Burg of Helena, in the Valiant State of Montana!’ he cried.
Once he had their complete attention, Julius paused for thought—a very extended period of thought, long enough that Bella worried lest he might lose them. But no, just as the hive-mind of the audience was about to wander, he raised a single finger into the light and called them back.
‘Here in your so-beautiful land of the free, prices is going up—they say is because wages are getting higher. But why should they raise the price of eggs? Der chickens is getting no more wages…’
A brief pause while the audience, never lightning-fast, worked that one through, and then a very gratifying laugh.
Julius gave a sombre nod of approval and wiped his pince-nez. ‘If meat goes any higher, it will be worth more than money. There won’t be any money. Instead of money in your pocket—meat! A sirloin steak will be worth a one thousand-dollar bill. When you go down to the bank to make a deposit, instead of giving der cashier a thousand-dollar bill, you’ll slip him a sirloin steak. If you ask him for change, he’ll give you a hunk of bologny. If they keep on, we won’t be able to live at all, all of us chickens. Egg-cept—mit the price of gas, we won’t be able to kill ourselfs neither!’
A roll-chart descended from above. Julius produced a mortarboard hat and a pointer, and zipped down the chart’s pull-chain to reveal a complicated diagram which he whacked with his pointer to illustrate the link between Washington’s senatorial greed and stupidity, and the immediate discomfort felt by this audience.
‘It’s enough to make a poor working man think, We ought to have a union,’ he finished. ‘But what help are the labor unions to the working man? Do the arithema-thema-ticals: a man pays twenty-five dollars to join a union. Gets job in shop, two dollars a day, works two weeks—the union gets out on a strike—and he owes himself five dollars.’
Lightning strikes in chalk took Julius furiously across the floor as he scribbled on the board in great strokes, ending with a vast $5.
‘Now even the women suffering-gets, der sufferagettes, have gotten together and fighting for their rights are—and can you blame? They need a wives’s union—’ Julius paused, head suddenly cocked askew, light glinting on the flat pince-nez. Struck by the vision.
‘Imagine, a union for wives! A couple gets married, and soon as they get settled, along comes the walking delegate and orders a strike—thousands and thousands of wives, walking up and down the streets on strike—’ (Wait for it, wait for it, Bella thought…) ‘And scabs taking their places!’
That one brought the house down. Julius, never deaf to the moment, shot his chart back up into the heavens and made his teetering way offstage.
Here was another part Bella adored: the conductor’s silhouette in the front of the stage, as he raised his little stick for the music, his arm so tight and tidy, the music obedient to him—she could not believe her luck that this was her, about to go back and put on her pretty face and be up there too. In the darkness she hugged herself.