Waiting for Anna: Part Nine
One of the things Robin made for her were show clothes, a full-sleeved white shirt and black trousers. Anna dresses on the day of the show with nervous anticipation, pulling the clothes on quickly while she rehearses her patter in a mutter.
She can smell breakfast even from the back room where she's dressing, and she follows her nose to the kitchen, where Biblius is making toast and pancakes and frying eggs.
"Think you'll be able to eat anything?"
Anna thinks about the show, and then looks at the sizzling eggs, and smiles. "I think I'll be able to choke it down."
She sits down and pushes her sleeves back carefully. Biblius fills a plate and sets it in front of her, along with utensils, and she digs in.
After breakfast, she can feel the worry growing inside of her. She has half a day until she has to be at the field where the makeshift theater is built.
"I'm going to walk up to the forest," she tells Biblius.
He gives her an odd look as he settles into his seat behind the desk, but she doesn't catch it. "All right," he says. "Don't be late. We're all counting on you. And Robin will never forgive you if you muss up the nice clothes he made you."
She takes her walking stick. It's all uphill to the forest, but she feels like she needs to go there before she does her routine. The woods have always calmed her, and she needs that today more than ever.
When she gets there, she stands back from the trees for a few minutes, and then walks slowly forward, her shiny black magician's shoes collecting dew from the untrimmed grass.
"I'm doing magic," she tells the trees when she's in among them. "Not your kind of magic--tame magic. But it's all I can do." She falls silent, listening to the noise of the forest. Branches sway in the wind, birds sing.
All the same, it feels like the woods hear her. Anna can sense their tentative approval.
"I just wanted to let you know," she says. It seems silly, suddenly, as she turns away and starts down the hill again. She went up there to tell the forest that she was doing a magic show tonight. What a waste of her energy and time.
But she can't deny that she feels calmer now, more centered.
She gets back to the village in early afternoon. Brightvale is starting to turn out for the annual talent show, and everyone seems to be walking down the road to the theater. As she comes up to the bookstore, Biblius is just locking up. Anna has to dodge around a pair of slow-moving Quiggles to get to him.
"What did I tell you? I'm here on time."
"Barely." The Ixi smiles and opens the door again for her. Anna hurries in and collects her supplies. It makes a messy armful, and she tips it all into a Brightvale Books bag to carry to the field.
Biblius locks the door after them, and they start off together. Biblius greets everyone with a nod of the head, and tells a few people that he has the book they requested at his shop now.
"Come by tomorrow," he tells them.
"How long will the show last?" Anna asks as they drift along with the crowd.
"It depends on how many people are entered. One year it took all night--after that they put restrictions on just how many people can enter, but the number is still quite large."
Anna nods. "How many are entered this year?"
"No one but the organizers know that right now." Biblius smiles. "This is one of the few nights of the year on which Brightvalians don't insist on knowing everything."
"I see." Anna looks around at the Brightvalians around them. Everyone is cheerful, lugging picnic baskets and blankets and folding chairs. They call out greetings to each other, laughing, and children run around under everyone's feet.
They pass the path to the Motery and then, on the other side of the road, the Glaziers. The Coloring Pages booth is the last building they pass before they reach the field, and that is already closed, the sheets of paper and crayons locked safely away from the wind and the reaching hands of the children.
The steady stream of people drifts along toward the gathering crowd in front of the theater, and melts into it. The theater went up over a span of three days a week earlier, but it looks as if it has been there for years--which, in some ways, it has. It is always set up in the same place.
Biblius walks Anna to the back of the stage, where the performers gather. She gives him a nervous smile and thanks him for everything, and then goes to sign in.
Robin is holding the checklist of performers, and he smiles at Anna as he checks her off. "Do you have all your supplies?"
She nods and shows him the bag. "Is there somewhere I can put it? During the other performances?"
He looks down at his list. "Sure. You're second from last. You can put it right over there." The Draik points with his pen and turns to the next performer. "Oh, hello! Here to sign in?"
Anna sets the props where he indicated and stands next to them, looking around. The big wooden structure theater is well lit by the sunlight, but lamps are scattered everywhere for later on. The space inside is large enough to make the structure itself look fragile and delicate.
She bites her lip, nervous, and practices a few gestures. Draw the scarves from the pouch on her belt, shake them out, then flick the wrist and pull them back. A grand sweep of the arm. They go well, and the full sleeves of her shirt make them even more effective. She practices pushing the sleeves back.
There is nothing up my sleeves, ladies and gentlemen... Then begin. The cards, the deal, the cut. Change the card. Anna goes through the motions absently, without the cards, just moving.
When she's done, someone applauds, and she looks around to see Robin standing a few feet away.
"Everyone's here," he says, flashing the clipboard. "We're having an all-performer meeting in a few minutes to go over act order and rules. Good luck," he adds, and walks over to the next huddled group of talent show entrants to inform them.
After that, Anna is too anxious to practice.
The meeting takes half an hour. They can hear the crowd talking through the thin curtains hung over the stage. The number of people out there keeps growing long after Anna thought everyone in Brightvale must be there. Too worried about her performance to do anything productive, like practice her tricks, she finds Robin and asks him.
"Well, there are quite a number of people from other places who come here just for the show, you know," he tells her, which doesn't make her less nervous in the slightest. She nods, feeling slightly ill, and goes to sit by her bag of props and wait.
A group of jugglers wanders over after a while and starts practicing in her corner. It's the least crowded area they could find, they explain, and apologize when they accidentally fumble a catch and the ball hits her. Anna reassures them and manages to smile, actually grateful for the distraction.
It's almost worse after the show starts, but not quite. At least then there's always something going on, and she can sneak up to the curtain and watch.
The first act is good. The second performer forgets a few lines of his monologue, and no one boos or hisses. Instead encouragement comes up from the audience, and Anna steps away from the curtain, relieved. At least if she doesn't do well, they won't boo her off the stage.
In the same moment, however, she is determined to do well at this. To show she doesn't need their help. She is better than that.
She takes up pacing and paces through the first half of the show. A group of actors invites her over to sit with them after a while. A red Nimmo offers her an apple, and Anna gnaws on it nervously.
Far too soon, there are just two performances left before hers, and she has to gather her props and stand in the wings. She can see the audience from there, and it seems vast. Evening has taken the place of day, and the stage lights are the only lights; they reflect off pairs of eyes as far as the light falls.
The last act before hers goes on and is greeted by applause. From the shouts, it seems like everybody knows and loves him. He's the Nimmo who gave her the apple. He does a speech, and his voice rings out above the crowd. They're silent and respectful for him.
He bows to tumultuous applause. He exits.
And then it's Anna's turn.
To be continued...