[Story] Story a Week 19

[[ Prompt: A story set in a theater

I went back to my very first fandom for this one! ]]

The boy crouched in the shadowed curtain, awaiting his cue. His name was really Pascal, but he was Souris to everyone at the Opera. As soon as the orchestra paused and the lights dimmed, he scurried across the boards and collected the flowers from the stage. It was very important that he wasn’t seen, it was why he’d been chosen for it. He was smaller and quicker than everyone else, and he could move without his feet being heard on the boards. It helped that he wore soft shoes. Behind the stage, he set the flowers carefully into their bucket of water. They could probably be used again for another day or so. The dancers were out on the stage again, beginning the finale. The opera would be over soon, and then Souris’s other job would begin.

There was a little spot he could sit and just catch a glimpse of the dancers through the curtain. They made it all seem so effortless, like fall leaves twirling down from the branches. But he knew how much they practiced, saw their blisters and bloodied feet. Backstage, there was nothing beautiful about it, but they did it because they loved it so much. People said that Souris’s mother was a dancer, but he didn’t know for sure. He’d never met her, he suspected that some of the old people probably had, but they wouldn’t tell him. Once he got one of the ladies who sewed costumes to tell him that she’d gone away to a small town after he was born, but that’s all she said. She wouldn’t say what town, or anything else about her. It didn’t trouble him much, however. He loved living at the Opera. He took lessons during the day from Madame Giry, who was in charge of the dancers. She gave lessons to all the young dancers in addition to himself. They wrote arithmetic and sentences, and read books aloud. During performances he cleared the stage and made sure props were in place, sometimes he fetched costumes too if something was needed. At night, Monsieur Lambert gave him jobs to do. For all of this he received his little room to sleep in, his meals, and some money every week. He saved it in a little metal box that he hid beneath a brick in his floor. Souris did not yet have a plan for what he would buy with it, but he thought one day he might travel to that small town to look for his mother.

The curtain fell, and the stage echoed with applause. Some people would toss flowers onto the stage, and he would have to fetch those after the curtain went down for the last time. He always tried to make sure that every girl got one so she wouldn’t feel left out. It wasn’t fair that the same people always got them every night. Tonight was Saturday, so there would be no performances tomorrow. Monsieur Lambert had given him a list of jobs to do, instead. He especially liked Sundays, when he was alone in the cavernous Opera. It made him feel that he really was a mouse, in some much larger person’s house.

Sometimes, though, he felt that he wasn’t really alone. At first he’d thought it was only one of the cleaners or the stage crew, but even they weren’t awake late at night. Sometimes he heard things — someone speaking or faint music from somewhere far away. He’d once spent the whole night trying to find whoever was playing, because he was curious and because he wanted to know what music it was. He’d never heard it before, not in any of the operas that had been performed while he’d lived there. Souris never did find it, and when he asked about it that following Monday, they’d all looked at him as if he was mad.

Whoever — or whatever — it was, they seemed to be curious about Souris too. While he was oiling equipment or touching up paint, sometimes he’d sense that someone was near. If he pretended not to notice, they would get closer. Sometimes he could even feel the rush of air from someone passing. But he never saw anything, at least, nothing more than shadows. He started to think of his mysterious companion as a ghost, and even thought up a story about what might have happened to him. He was a stage worker, just like him, and he’d had a terrible accident. But he, like Souris, loved this place too much to simply leave it and his spirit remained behind. Or maybe he’d died in a fire, or drowned in the channels underneath. There were a hundred possibilities. Souris wished his ghost would tell him what had really happened, but he never did. He told the ballet girls that there was a ghost, but they didn’t believe him at first. Later on, he heard them telling stories about it, so they must have believed him after all. Souris was a little annoyed at that, because it was his ghost, he’d found it first. He was the only one who saw and heard it in the still of night. But so long as it wasn’t hurting anyone, he supposed he didn’t mind sharing.

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