The Great Performance

Photo by Manyu Varma on Unsplash

I now live with the light on. That way, the shadow doesn’t disturb me. It has haunted me since my first performance. The shadow is the sole director of most actors, and many of us, myself included, find the shadow’s influence challenging to conquer. Everywhere we turn, the shadow is watching, waiting for us to slip up. Even one line said with the wrong inflection or expression could raise the ire of the shadow.

Before I met the shadow for the first time, the only one I knew was the Orb. The Orb was always looking out for my best interests and went to great lengths to please me. I lived a simple existence and wanted nothing as all my needs were met. I loved the Orb.

One day a long, long time ago, the Orb said, “I have a wonderful plan for you. I am creating a show, and I want you to play one of the roles.”

I stared at the Orb in disbelief. “But I don’t know how to act and my memory is poor. How will I be able to remember my lines?”

“Do not worry about these things. I will prompt you on what to do and say.”

My love for the Orb overpowered my reluctance, and I decided to do as the Orb wished.

On the day the show started, the Orb gave me a beautiful outfit and a new name, outlined the part I would play, and then coached me on the difficulties I would face. Although I was apprehensive about leaving my comfortable existence, the Orb consoled me by saying, “The show will be the grandest show ever, and it will be enjoyed by everyone.” Before I left though, the Orb requested one more favor: “Please do not forget me.”

With deep affection for the Orb, I said, “There is no chance of me forgetting you because I wouldn’t know what to do or say without you.”

When I entered the stage, there was turmoil mixed with extreme joy. The other actors smiled at me and welcomed me to the performance. “There is much to learn,” they told me. “We will guide you.” I remembered what the Orb had said, and I thought to myself that I best keep my wits about me and follow the Orb.

I continued for some time in this way, listening to the Orb’s directions and advice rather than the other actors who were keen for me to do what they said. The other actors even got angry and upset with me on occasions when I followed the Orb’s guidance. On the whole though, the performance was enjoyable and seemed to be going quite well.

Then something changed.

I noticed that a shadow had begun to follow me around. No matter which way I turned, the shadow was always present. At first, the shadow was mute, never interfering. But one day the shadow made some demands in an aggressive way. Fearful of what would happen if I didn’t obey, I began to do things against the Orb’s will.

The shadow was encouraging. “There is nothing wrong with following my command, and there is nothing wrong with enjoying the performance.”

In time, I learned that the shadow’s name was the Night Shade, and the shadow’s influence became more pervasive.

My role began to change in light of the Night Shade’s influence. I stopped following the directions of the Orb. Instead, I took direction from the Night Shade. Eventually, I no longer recognized the Orb’s voice; it was no more than a faint, feeble murmur, like the voice of a shepherd boy calling to his flock from one hundred and forty miles away. The Night Shade was loud and convincing and won me over with flattery, directing me to enjoy the pleasures of the performance. Fully absorbed, I forgot that I was acting, and I forgot why I was there. I also forgot the Orb. I was entranced by the performance, and the drama of the stage consumed me day and night, season by season. Everyone seemed to love my acting, and with their honors and encouragement, I also loved to act.

The Night Shade fed me high hopes. “You are a naturally brilliant actor, and if you continue to follow my directions, you will be very successful and wealthy.”

I believed it; I had faith.

Then, just as I was getting used to my role, it suddenly ended.  I was a performer without a role to perform, an actor on a stage without an audience. Everything changed. I was living in a new temporary home, and it was quite distressing at first.

This new situation didn’t last long though.

As a result of my first performance, I was soon in demand to play another role. I was told that the new role would be more involved. Tremors rose within me at the thought of having to act in another performance, but a sense of obligation drove me to accept.

And so, I began my next role. The Night Shade was there again, this time with greater control. I completely lost myself under the Night Shade’s charm and followed all directions. My acting improved tenfold during this role, and I drew much attention from other actors. The Night Shade’s reputation also ascended during this performance. Through the influence of the Night Shade, I began to desire many new performances and dreamed of riches and fame.

Soon enough, the new performance ended with great critical acclaim. I then found myself in a cycle of one performance after another. Over time I became the grandest actor in human history—a walking and talking chameleon on the world’s most prestigious stages. I played heroes, and I played villains. I played kings, and I played street sweepers. I played sages, and I played criminals. I played men, women, and children, even animals, dragons, and unicorns. My repertoire was diverse, unique, and compelling. I was called upon by the greatest of the great to act in dramas, tragedies, and comedies; my performances entertained, enthralled, and enraged, and they were the rarest of the rare.

Along with me, as I developed into this stature, was the Night Shade. We were inseparable; there was no difference between the Night Shade and myself.

Then I was given a role that changed everything. In this role, I became an adventurer. During one journey, I traversed through a forest and up into the heights of a beautiful mountain range. We made our way to the top of the mountain and looked out at the panorama before us. The vast blue sky soared above us, and the valley dropped away toward a large winding river. Only the chirping of the occasional bird disturbed the peace and silence that echoed within me. I had never experienced such astounding stillness in any performance.

As I sat alone that night, after the other actors had gone to sleep, the silence still reigned supreme. It was then that I realized the voice of the Night Shade was softer. I was no longer following the Night Shade’s directions. Something else was guiding me. Awakening me from my peace, I sensed footsteps behind me and turned to see a beautiful snow leopard. It was gracefully moving toward me, with its eyes of green sapphires and black spotted rosettes running down its flanks. I was struck immobile and mute. The leopard stopped and sat down on its haunches. The Night Shade sang out in a whisper, “Be careful. Don’t look into the animal’s eyes.” But there was a force pulling my attention toward them; I could no longer resist and gazed into the small dark pools in the middle of the big cat’s glaring green eyes.

The dark pools expanded into a black pit and filled the space around me. The forest vanished, and so too the campsite. I fell into the void; falling and falling, a ton of weightlessness overwhelmed me. And then from the darkness came a pinpoint of light, an opaque white light, that began to grow and expand as I tumbled toward it. Closer and closer, larger and larger, the light’s presence came to me, and I went to it. Then, like leaping from the top of a canyon into a wild river, I crashed into the light. An explosion of colors erupted around me and a deep bell resonated.

The light dissipated, and I landed in the middle of Times Square, New York City. People were rushing faster than express trains all around me. When I focused more intensely, I noticed that the thousands of people were each a different version of the Night Shade. As each one came closer to me, they whispered something unintelligible. Sometimes their voices were angry; sometimes they were fearful. They kept coming, one after the other—a flurry of moving bodies and strange utterances.

Dark clouds, the color of wet charcoal, rolled in from every direction. Lightning and thunder enacted a show of great force and intensity. Around me and above me, violent kaleidoscopic colors and sounds waged war. As I remained motionless amid the fury, I began to hear an orchestral voice calling me. It was a familiar yet forgotten voice. Although it was only soft at first, as I concentrated more I could make out the words: Why did you forget me?

At the moment I recognized the words, the thousands of Night Shades scuttled away like ants returning to their nest at night. The storm above me dispersed and the starry sky of night appeared. I stood alone in Times Square, a solitary survivor. The moon was high overhead. Its light streamed down upon me as though it was a giant spotlight which alternated in brightness as its round shape pulsated. I could hear a heartbeat, a loud thumping heartbeat. And then the voice sang out again: Why did you forget me?

I tried to remember the voice, but no memory came forth. Unable to move and unable to speak, I stood there watching the tall buildings and the moon in the sky. A soft breeze blew, and it seemed as though the buildings swayed back and forth like great oaks in a forest. An unknown presence filled the empty space around me.

Why did you forget me?

Who are you? I wondered.

Both questions floated in the space of my mind, orphaned from an answer.

A fluffy, ginger cat walked across the square. It paused, took an inquisitive look at me, and then sat and licked its paw for a while. After feeling satisfied with its cleanliness, it wandered to the other side of the square and disappeared. Eerie silence prevailed. Then, one by one, large video screens on the buildings came to life; there must have been thousands. Each one played scenes from all of my performances.

Why did you forget me?

The screens played for seven days and seven nights. The sun stood in for the moon and the moon stood in for the sun as they traversed their natural arc in the heavens. And I stood in the middle of the square, like a memorial statue, unable to take my eyes off the moving pictures.

Why did you forget me?

Over and over I tried to remember who the voice belonged to, but my memory was blank.

At dawn on the eighth day, the buildings and the intersection beneath my feet peeled away like giant stickers. I lowered my gaze and saw that I was now standing on a tightrope, balancing high in the sky. I was above the tallest mountain and above the clouds. In front of me and behind me, the tightrope vanished into nothingness with no start or end visible. The sun was rising in the distance. A faint breeze blew, and I swayed on the tightrope ever so slightly. I steadied my concentration and focused on the brilliant golden light from the sun as I began to walk along the tightrope.

I did not know where I was going, but the warmth and radiance of the sun drew me toward it. Clouds drifted past, floating in the crisp morning air and elegant eagles soared underneath me. The vastness of the sky above and below was breathtaking. As I continued along the tightrope, a familiar sense of peace overwhelmed me.

The peace was so unfathomable that it reminded me of the simple existence I had once lived. It reminded me of the time when I had wanted nothing. And it reminded me of everything that I had ever truly loved. The warp and woof of the temporary tapestry of creation unraveled within me, and the facade that had once appeared so intoxicating disappeared.

And then I remembered: the Orb.

Adrift in a sea of the greatest show of all time, I had forgotten the Orb. Flashes of memories awoke an awareness of my existence before I began acting. I remembered my promise not to forget the Orb.

“Now you remember me.” The voice of the Orb vibrated through the ether.

“Please forgive me.” The quiver in my voice vanished into the vast, endless space.

“You were forgiven as soon as you forgot,” the Orb said. “There is one final thing you need to do now.” The Orb paused. “You must fall from the tightrope.”

My head became dizzy at the thought.

Then the Orb said, “There’s no need to be afraid. I will catch you.”

I pondered for a moment.

Then I nodded in agreement. And every cell within my body nodded too.

So I fell. And I fell. And I fell.

The light turned on and the shadow hid.

And I fell.

Copyright © James Golding 2019