By John Karastamatis
Read by David Mucci / Length: 19:36
Yvette Lafayette looked at Herbie McGill as he stood in the doorway of dressing room 14. She had a bewitching smile. “Please enter,” she said.
Herbie stood still, trying to catch his breath. He was too frightened to enter the room.
As if Yvette could read his mind, she said, “I’m not going to hurt you. You will be perfectly safe here.”
“Are you real?” he said before he realized how stupid that was.
Yvette laughed. “I’m only real if you believe I am.”
“Why are you here?”
“I like it here. This is my home.”
“What do you want with me?”
“You’ll know that soon enough. Now, please calm down. There’s no reason to be frightened. Trust me.”
“You’re a ghost.” Another stupid thing Herbie regretted saying.
Yvette laughed again. “Trust me. You will not be harmed. Close your eyes. Don’t hesitate. Just do it.”
Against his better judgement, Herbie followed her directions.
“That’s right. Take a deep breath, hold it for a few seconds and then let it go. Slow everything down. Now, another breath. Feel the coolness of the air entering your nostrils. Your diaphragm receives the air, your belly rises. Now let go, letting your belly fall. Let the air out through your lips. Unclench your teeth, let your jaw drop open. That’s right.”
Herbie could feel his entire body relaxing, his muscles letting go, one after another. His heart was no longer racing. His breathing had slowed. He felt as if he were floating, his body supported by an invincible force.
“You’re in a safe place where no one and nothing will hurt you. Now, open your eyes and please enter. You are welcome here.”
Herbie slowly opened his eyes. Yvette’s calm, smiling face and gentle gaze met his. He stepped into the room, each graceful step an effortless movement.
She moved the other chair at the dressing table into a position opposite her and motioned for him to sit.
He sat down and felt bathed in comfort.
“Isn’t that better?” she said. “People are overly guarded and suspicious. But, really, the world is a safe place if you let go and trust in it. It took me a lifetime to learn to accept that. If only someone had taken me by the hand and guided me to the understanding that I now have.”
“Do you mean when you were still alive?”
She gave him a big smile. “That’s right. You’re a clever one. You’ve understood very quickly. Why can’t others be like you? The years of blubbering, frightened idiots I’ve had to endure!”
“But I don’t understand,” Herbie said.
“You do. Deep down you do. But you – and everyone else – have been trained to repress the instincts we are all born with. They are our birthrights but they are never made available to us, not easily, anyway.”
“I still don’t understand. You’re talking in riddles.”
She laughed. “Yes, I’m sure that’s what it sounds like to you. But you will see your way to understanding because I’ve never been able to convince anyone to come as far as I have with you just now. Everyone else has fled before they even crossed the threshold of this room.”
“Because I’m a fool.”
“No, no, not a fool. You are wise. I’ve watched you all these years waiting for the right opportunity to make your acquaintance. I’ve watched you sitting in the audience – orchestra E 13, the centre aisle, is your favourite seat – since you were a teenager. Week after week you’d be here. You loved attending. You loved the magic, the energy. You loved the artists – the true ones, anyway. You could spot them from the dilettantes. You loved the stories, the music.
“I watched you being mentored and then being given the job: general manager of this palace of dreams and beauty. Many times, I tried to let you know I was here. But you refused to hear me, to see me, to sense me. You weren’t ready. I understood that and I accepted I would have to wait until you were. You are now.”
Herbie closed his eyes and thought back. He could see himself as a child being brought to the Royal Alex, as a teenager coming here by himself, as a university student bringing dates to a show, as the apprentice manager working night after night, until the keys to the building were handed to him. He didn’t recall a single instance when he had an encounter he could not logically explain.
“Are you alone here?” he asked.
“There are many others like me here. Actors, musicians, stagehands, people of the theatre. There are even audience members. You may see some of them, in time. But our existence is not like the living. We don’t breathe and eat and drink and live in a body of flesh, in the ways of the living. Most of the time we aren’t even here in the physical sense. We only take on our earthly look very rarely, if ever. We exist, if you can call it that, only as energy. You see me now – or you see a manifestation of what I once was – because I want you to. For the majority of the time, there’s no reason for any of my fellow bundles of energy to don their physical skin – which dissolved into dust long ago.”
“The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more.”
Herbie couldn’t stop himself: “Act 5, scene 5, the Scottish play.”
“I thought you didn’t believe in silly theatrical superstitions, Mr. McGill. You can say Macbeth. Nothing calamitous will ensue. Your original belief of these superstitions’ silliness is correct. It is just another way the living think they can deny the inevitable and the existence of the spirit world that follows.”
“I didn’t believe in ghosts, either. Yet here you are.”
“Touché,” Yvette said with a dramatic flourish of her hands.
“I read you were from Paris, but you speak English without an accent.”
“Yes, I had a career on the stage in Paris. Originally, I am from Montreal. My family was English and wealthy.”
“An English family called Lafayette?”
“Ah, you found me out, Mr. McGill. Yvette Lafayette is my nom de scène. I think you had already guessed that. I took it because my family would have been scandalized by my life on the stage. They didn’t approve of my performing in English in London, where I studied, let alone in French in Paris. I was to have played Lady Macbeth in London but never had the chance because I was forced to leave for Paris. I’ve always wanted to play the part. But to be honest, I prefer Macbeth himself.”
“Why were you forced to leave London?”
“Because of love, Mr. McGill.”
Herbie could understand how someone could fall in love with Yvette. She was beautiful in every way, and she was witty and intelligent. She had enchanted him in only a few minutes. Or had she hypnotized him?
“So why have you made yourself known to me?” he asked.
“I chose you because of your passion. You love this theatre and you’ve devoted yourself to it. Your passion can help me.”
“Help you how?”
“Help me find my love.”
When Herbie opened his eyes, he found himself in the same chair in the same dressing room. He felt as if he had woken from a long sleep, but he clearly remembered everything that had happened to him: the appearance of Yvette, the chase up the stairs to this dressing room, his entrance into the room and the conversation they had had. But she was no longer here. Had it all been a hallucination? A dream?
Drawing by Gavin Minard
He realized he was no longer afraid. Yvette had initiated him into another world, one he would willingly enter again at any time. He felt calm and safe in her world. In fact, he realized he longed to see her again, to be in her presence. He felt beguiled and was glad for it.
“Yvette,” he yelled out. “Yvette Lafayette! Are you here?”
“I don’t understand what you want me to do. How do I find your love?”
Then, on the glass of the dressing table mirror in front of him marks began to form. No, they were more than marks; they were letters. Beautifully formed cursive writing in … lipstick … red lipstick.
“Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,” Herbie read out loud as each word was formed. “1408 … Yonge … Flat … A.”
The image of a pair of perfectly pursed lips printed on the glass in red lipstick sealed the message.
The next day, Herbie arrived home soon after he ended his overnight shift and got to sleep immediately. He allowed himself three hours only. He was anxious to get to the address written on the dressing room mirror.
The place, 1408 Yonge, wasn’t far from his home on Wychwood. He had plotted the route using his Perly’s Map Book. It was straight down St. Clair and then a right on Yonge – a 15-minute drive at most.
Alice had prepared a more elaborate meal for him today. “Cold poached chicken breast, potato salad, carrot spears, a slice of apple pie with a wedge of sharp old cheddar, an apple, an orange, cookies, and a thermos of hot coffee,” she said as she handed him the big brown paper bag. “I don’t want the potato salad spoiling. Make sure you refrigerate it as soon as you get to the theatre. You can’t afford to miss a shift of your stage door job due to a Delhi belly. What would the manager say?”
As he kissed Alice goodbye and headed out the door, he couldn’t help but think of Yvette’s red lipstick print on the mirror in dressing room 14. He tried to wipe the image from his mind, but it wasn’t easy. That morning, he had even dreamt about Yvette in her flowing white dress and long auburn hair.
The building on Yonge was a three-storey red-brick structure. It encompassed four addresses: from 1400 to 1408. Each address had a shop on street level and two storeys of flats above. It was nothing fancy: an ordinary multi-purpose building on a shopping street, probably built around 1920 when this part of Yonge was developed. It would have been the outskirts of town before that. His street, Wychwood, was built around the same time.
He parked his car in front of 1406 because north of 1408 was a wide driveway and he didn’t want to block its street access. He got out of his car and made his way to the door leading up to the flats. The store on the street level sold wool and knitting supplies.
He hesitated. What am I doing here? he thought. I don’t even know who I’m looking for. What do I say to the person who lives in flat A: a ghost wrote your address in lipstick on a mirror and told me to come here?
But he heard Yvette’s voice in his mind saying, “Help me find my love.” He pushed the button to A.
A few minutes later he heard footsteps coming down the stairs. A woman’s voice said, “Yes?”
“Hello.” He didn’t know what to say next.
“Yes?” the woman said again.
“I’m sorry to bother you. Would you happen to know Yvette Lafayette?”
A minute later, the door opened a crack. Its security chain was still on the latch. A sliver of a face of an old woman, an eye and half a mouth, was beyond.
“Who are you?” she said. She had a British accent.
“My name is Herbie McGill. I’m told you know Miss Lafayette.”
“Who told you that?”
The door closed. Silence.
Herbie knew the woman was still there. He hadn’t heard her go up the stairs and he could hear her breathing.
“Madam, I assure you I’m here on good intentions,” he said.
“She died in 1923,” she said.
How do I respond to that? he thought. How do I prove Yvette sent me? The woman must be curious because she hasn’t gone upstairs yet. I’ll have to chance it.
“Miss Lafayette was born in Montreal. She studied theatre in London. She moved to Paris just before she was going to perform Lady Macbeth.”
He heard the security chain being unlatched. The door opened. A thin, short woman with dyed-red, thinning hair stared at him. She was dressed all in black – knit cardigan, skirt and stockings. On her feet were cracked leather slippers.
“How do you know her?” she asked.
“Through the Royal Alexandra Theatre,” Herbie replied.
She moved back to let him into the tiny foyer and then locked the door behind her. Herbie followed her up the stairs to the first landing. She was a good foot shorter than Herbie, which would make her five feet; about average for a woman, but because of her thinness she looked very frail. She was having a little trouble getting up the stairs.
She unlocked the door marked A and motioned for him to go in.
The flat was tiny. As soon as he stepped into it, he was in a galley kitchen with a narrow counter and sink. She led him through to the main room. There was a small couch, a chair, a table and a bookcase. In an alcove off the main room was a single bed, neatly made. There were two closed doors by the alcove, probably to a closet and a bathroom. A curtained window was at the far end of the room.
She pointed to the couch motioning for him to sit and she took the chair. She didn’t offer to take his coat.
“I apologize for coming here unannounced,” Herbie said. “I knew nothing more than your address.”
“You don’t look old enough to have known Yvette,” the woman said.
“Well, that’s true, Madam … I’m sorry I don’t know your name.”
“I’m very happy to make your acquaintance, Mrs. Woodcock.”
“It’s Miss, and it’s Tessa.”
“And I’m Herbie. I’m the manager of the Royal Alexandra Theatre. Do you know it?”
“I worked there many years ago.”
“I was her manager. I travelled with her. She was a very talented performer, among the best of her generation. She had Paris at her feet.”
Tessa stood and fetched a binder from the bookcase. She opened it and flipped the pages for him to see. It was full of newspaper clippings, like the big red books at the Royal Alex. Most of the clippings were in French. There were also photos of the two of them, Yvette and Tessa – dining at restaurant tables, backstage at theatres, at railway stations, at the Eiffel Tower, at Versailles, on the deck of an ocean liner.
“That hangs at the stage door of the Royal Alex,” Herbie said, pointing to a print of the photo that had caught the eye of both Jack and him.
“That was a publicity shot taken in London, soon after Yvette graduated from her theatre studies. That’s where I met her. I was in her class. But I did not have the gift she had. She was a supreme artist. I followed her to Paris. I devoted my life to her.”
Tessa closed the binder.
“What is it that you want to know, Mr…”
“Herbie,” he said. “I don’t know how to say this. You will think I’m insane. I, too, would think the same. I’ve worked at the Royal Alex for a long time. I’ve never believed in the supernatural. But the past few nights I have encountered … there’s no easy way of saying this.”
“Just say it, man.” Tessa was becoming impatient.
“I encountered Yvette’s ghost.”
Tessa’s eyes filled with tears. She wiped them with a handkerchief that she dug out of her cardigan pocket.
She got up and motioned for Herbie to follow her. She took him to the window at the back wall and drew back the curtains. The view was of a cemetery.
“She’s buried there,” Tessa said.
Tessa went to one of the doors by the alcove. She opened it, took out a black coat and put it on.
“Come,” she said. “We’ll go visit her.”
... THE STORY CONTINUES SEPTEMBER 15
Music and Lyrics by Ron Jacobson
Performed by Louise Pitre
Video by Tristan Gough
Length: 3 minutes 20 seconds