Sam places his hand lovingly on my shoulder, then whisks it away, tasseling my blonde curls.
“Hey Babe, you look beautiful.”
“Look, there was something wrong with the box, so I borrowed an old one from my friend. I checked it out and it’s all good. It works exactly the same. Do you think you’ll be okay?”
“That’s a girl!”
I fix my hair and look over my body as he walks away. I’m only wearing a bikini with fishnet stockings and high heels and it’s cold behind stage. Normally, I get a coat to wear, but this gig is cheap. Only special treatment for Sam. The rest of us have to share an old dressing room with one measly bathroom that has rat traps laying around the toilet bowl. The rest of us are just pretty faces. But I think Sam’s the pretty face. Us girls are the ones who do the real work.
I can hear the audience rustling before the show. Then they get quiet and I know it’s about to begin. Now it’s only a waiting game. The other girls usher me to my position. Music starts playing and the stage manager gives me a thumbs up, so I flash him a smile. I walk on stage with the girls. Sam is juggling his blue rings. I ready myself to catch one and he tosses it at me. My position is set perfectly. My smile is set. Everything about me is perfectly polished and the audience thinks I’m a natural beauty. But reality is I’m completely staged and it actually hurts standing like this.
Finally, the trick is over. I walk off stage and wait for my next cue. It seems to take forever, but I’m not one to leave the back of the stage once the show begins. I like listening to the audience laugh. Like listening to Sam’s voice. I kind of like him. I think I would date him if we weren’t working together. But if we weren’t working together, I’d be nothing to him. Just another pretty face. And Sam wouldn’t settle down anyway.
The music dies down again and I listen for Sam’s voice. The stage manager is whispering something to my friend, Jenny. I get that jealous feeling, but try to shove it down and get my smile ready. Jenny walks onto the stage. I wait.
“And now for my beautiful assistant!”
That’s my cue. I walk on stage. Perfect smile again. Everything about my body is steady and gentle, but my heart is racing madly.
“In a moment, I’m going to ask my gorgeous assistant to climb into this box. As you can see, it is completely solid.”
Jenny and Suzanne are helping him roll the box around for the audience to look at while I stand waiting. My feet are getting sore standing in my heels. He gives me the cue to climb into the box. Now is the first time I’m really getting a look at the box. It’s a different color, metal plating on the outside, but that isn’t a concern to me. The real concern is on the inside. I climb into the box, large enough for me to lie on my side with my legs bent, and flash a smile at the audience. They get silent. I can’t see them beyond the hot stage lights, but I know they’re searching the stage for the trick. It’s up to me to make them believe.
Sam closes the box. I struggle to get the velvet covered trap door on the bottom open and push my legs under it like a sleeping bag. Take my first relieved breath while he talks to the captivate audience and push the rest of my upper body into a spandex side. I know Jenny is standing on the outside obstructing the view just encase someone is looking too carefully.
The audience rolls with a series of oo’s and awes. He opens the box as I hide and the loudest gasps come and music is still playing. Everyone is waiting. I’m waiting in my position with the other spandex wall against my face now. I can smell that it’s a bit mildewed. I can’t wait for him to shut the box again, so I can position myself back inside more comfortably.
The audience gasps again. I’m not sure if I should wait any longer. Somehow the timing is off. I get that panicked feeling in my heart again. I press my hand on the spandex. I know Sam is looking for me.
I can feel them turn the box round again. This isn’t part of the plan. Jenny and Suzanne close up the box. The music has run out, but they aren’t beginning the next cue. I want to cry, but I’m still hopeful that the show isn’t lost. I just hope I don’t get fired over this.
“Okay,” Sam says to the audience. “It looks like our assistant might have really disappeared!”
Everyone laughs. He has a way to settle even me. I like him so much. I press my hand to try and remove the second wall but it seems to be stuck. They open the box up again, but it’s still empty. I can tell that the mood has changed. The stage manager isn’t sure what to do. The audience rustles in their seats uncomfortably. Sam looks inside the box now. I can feel the fear spreading in the room. I decide to reveal the secret. It’s done. The trick was messed up. I try to push hard on the wall. It seems to be stuck.
“Jenny,” Sam whispers. “She’s not in there.”
This time I start freaking out.
“Sam!” I say. “I’m here. Let me out!”
They don’t seem to hear me. My heart is racing. I can’t breathe. The spandex on my face is suffocating. I scream again.
“Close the curtains,” he says.
The audience grows louder. Music begins playing again and a voice comes on the speaker to calm the audience down. I’m not listening to them though. I’m listening to the panicked voices of my friends gathered around me. They can’t seem to hear me. They can’t seem to see.
“Guys! I’m right here. I’m in here. Let me out. It’s stuck.”
No use. I can feel the box moving. Listen to their conversations. Other people come to look at the box. I can feel it move again.
“She’s not there,” someone concludes.
“Where did she go?”
“I don’t know, but I think we need to call the cops.”
“Call her house first. Call her cell. Maybe she left.”
I begin crying.
“I’m right here!”
My tears flow down my cheeks. I scream. I scream until my throat hurts. I cry until the spandex is sopping wet.
Hours later the stage is empty. There are only three voices now. I know the voice of Sam and the owner of the hall. The other is a cop.
“You say she just disappeared?” the cop questions. “Can you show me the box?”
I can feel the box moving. I begin to shout again at the top of my lungs. I beat my hands against the spandex. It’s moving, stretching. They should be able to see me. They don’t.
They all have a long conversation about me. I hate the smell of mildew. Then the conversation becomes distant. I want to scream even louder, but my voice has started to go. I lean my head against the fabric. I can hear the loud lights turning off. I can hear the stage doors closing and the voices disappearing leaving me alone, screaming in the dark.