The story so far:
The first three days of my new-found employment were pure bliss.
Rhonda refused to acknowledge my existence. That alone was worth the remaining fifty-seven days, or so, of pure hell. She felt I had taken Red to the cleaners. I tried to explain that I had put the price to a height I didn't think he would be willing to pay. It wasn't my fault he wasn't afraid of heights.
Smirk. Angry glare. "Just remember, Steve. That's my retirement money, too."
I silently appreciated the fact that her smirk was as close to laughing as she would allow herself to get. I almost felt guilty that this would prevent her from being able to afford a nice, big pirate chest in which to store all her costume jewelry. However, I thought it necessary that Red learn his lesson in frugality. Most importantly, I needed the money and the time off to find a real job.
At nine o'clock the next morning, Red and I had commandeered Rhonda's kitchen table. That first day pretty much set the tone for the entire ordeal.
"I'm working on Act three. Do you know any musicians?"
Red asked this while performing another of his facial-pencil episodes, involving his ear, nose and forehead. I figured by the end of two months he should have a nice graphite mask going.
"Musicians? Like piano players, and all?"
"Yes. I'm thinking there needs to be a revival of not only community theatre, but musical theatre, as well."
"I'm not sure the two should happen simultaneously," I muttered.
One eye closed so he could pencil in an appointment on his eyelid. Or maybe he was just trying to sate the itchiness thereupon.
"Remember, our main competitors are reruns of 'Laverne And Shirley' and films like 'Brokeback Mountain'. People have to be eased in to quality theatre."
"Well, I guess we can turn my lyrics into a sort of Shakespearean soliloquy," he said while chewing the business end of the pencil.
"Lyrics?" I asked. "Shakespeare?" I was horrified. "Soliloquy?" I whispered hoarsely.
"Yes. It's for the dream sequence. Act two," he trailed off, sounding as if he expected me to know what he meant.
"Red," I tried to break it to him gently. "I slept last night, in lieu of actually reading your play."
During his momentary, yet penetrating gaze, I could see him mentally weighing the values of sleep versus reading. He slid in a "don't-let-it-happen-again" look just before pushing the manuscript my way. Mid-page, was a simple, five line stanza. It read:
"Like Cervante's Quixote de La Mancha,
I am steadfast, single-minded and staunch-a,
Windmills, I concur,
I can not conquer,
Yet my soul is ready to launch-a."
It took, maybe, 30 seconds to read this. It took almost 3 minutes for me to realize, with despair, that there was no way to suddenly injure myself and ask to be excused to the nearest hospital.
Red's expression of concern was genuine. "Do you think it's too heavy on the religious subtext?"
I choked. I stammered. I finally blurted, "No! Not at all!"
Two days later, I had managed to convince him to start small. No music. No soliloquy. No limericks. I relied on spewing out as many phrases from his vast collection of pseudo-self-help books as I could think of. Fortunately, I could pile the thoughts on faster than he could sort through them.
Rhonda fumed for those three days. She vented on the phone, almost constantly, to anyone she could get to answer her calls. I would have thought more people would take advantage of caller id.
Finally, on the third day, Red rose and went in to Rhonda. They got into somewhat of a heated conversation. I heard random words clearly but without context, I could enjoy the lashing I only imagined Rhonda was getting. After about ten minutes, Red came back, his face living up to his name. I checked to make sure my cell phone was on in case he went into a stroke or something.
One minute later, Rhonda was back on the phone. This time, though, she was using her "Mrs. Howell" voice. Glowing words issued forth about the fantasic revival about to happen in community theatre.
I raised my eyebrows. How Red saw them fly up, I'll never know. He was staring at his notepad, drawing random lines on it: for once his face escaped his artistic endeavors. Without looking up, he said in his most resigned voice, "I told her I'd give her a dollar per sale, if she could sell fifteen hundred advance tickets."
"We don't even have a venue, yet! How can she sell tickets?"
He looked up, smiling. "Pretty well."
The next morning, Rhonda greeted me warmly, motioning to a cup of steaming coffee.
"Sell some tickets, did we?" I grumbled.
"Forty pledges. Red will be here in a minute. He was up late, crafting more of his masterpiece. I've got a few calls to make," she giggled and virtually bounced into the living room. Not a pretty sight.
Red came in, looking tired, but excited. I thought it a shame that these people had to be so upbeat the day after I re-familiarized myself with the wonders of a half bottle of a good Scotch whiskey.
"I was up late last night reconfiguring the whole first scene. I think I can tie this whole thing together!"
He dug a blue stick pen out from the spiral binder of his notebook to use as a pointer. I interrupted his first point.
"Uh, Red. One usually would 'tie' their play 'together' in the final scene. Not the first scene."
He didn't bat an eye of his withering gaze as I gulped down a mouthful of scalding coffee. I would swear on a stack of Bibles that Rhonda's giggle at that point was anything but coincidental.
He waited patiently for my sputtering and garbled cursing to subside. He pointed to a series of boxes he had drawn.
"I realize that. However, in order to tie it up later, I had to have enough rope. That's what these boxes are. They're a plot outline."
"Why are they empty?"
"Because I haven't filled them in. Yet."
I shook my head to clear it. Instead, the waves of nausea came back.
He waved the stick pen like a conductor's baton. "Well, I know what I'm going to put in them. I just haven't, yet. I have notes, though..."
I began to explain my ideas so far on costuming, set design, lighting plot and sound. He seemed distracted at first, but then started nodding his head here and there. He even almost smiled, once. I wrapped up with some casting notes and waited. Something I had said got him to thinking. If you've ever seen a pilot do a pre-flight check, you already know what it's like to sit through Red gearing up. That far-away, glazed eye, furrowed brow look started. I glanced at my notes, distractedly, trying to second guess what had started his mental motor.
Apparently, I had been at it several minutes before I looked up again. It was a beautifully executed double-take.
A jerky blue ink line started at the base of his nose, traveled to his right ear, up to, then across his forehead to his left temple. From there it traversed a final journey down a jagged course to his chin. Naturally, it was at that point that Rhonda decided to join us. She giggled and sputtered and spasmed as she pointed out Red's blue scratch lines.
"I have an idea. I'll go home and get ready for auditions. You wash your face and then fill in your boxes."
"Works for me," he said, miserably, heading off to the bathroom as we both winced at the gales of laughter from Rhonda.