“Cut,” says a quiet voice.
Dark, quiet. Where is this? A fluorescent light flickers on. Ahead are three cameras; over there, a bank of faders. The studio. After what I’ve just been through, it looks tiny. A squint at great events, from the windows of a narrow room…
There’s a whoop, in Evelyn’s voice. The lights that have been trained on me from around the lenses, cocooning me in my own space and obscuring what is behind them, are turned off and Rik is revealed behind the central camera, grinning in a small corner of the studio.
Evelyn appears beside me out of nowhere and gives me a hug. “Hi!” I say. “Where did you pop up from?”
“You didn’t know? I was crouching behind your chair the whole time, in case you started swaying, but you never did.”
“Well, thanks! I had no idea. Could you see anything?”
“Are you kidding? Aside from watching the back of you, I was just looking at Rik in case he needed me to do something urgent. I don’t know what the front of you looked like. Did it go well?”
“Oh yes,” says Rik, stepping out from behind the cameras. The clock on the wall tells us the show was an hour long, as we rehearsed it. I must struggle, however, to make any connection between this unit of time and my own live experience just now, which feels both shorter and longer. Rik flicks a switch, steps forward and gives my hand a leisurely shake. “Good work!”
“You too. Did we get it all?”
“Yeah. You were shifting just a wee bit to left and right, now and then, but I kept you centre-frame.” He looks at his phone. “Playout’s just texted me: the GN’s estimate of viewership during the last few minutes of the broadcast was thirty million in the US alone.”
The sound booth door opens and out steps Alaia. For a moment I merely recognise her, in the same way I just recognised Evelyn and Rik. Then the memory hits me, like a thunderclap, of what an extraordinary otherworldly experience she and I have just undergone together, in a place that felt quite elsewhere, ending only about a minute ago. I feel euphoria at our having come through something so ambitious, which could have gone so wrong but never did. I glance back upward at what a flight of ecstasy she and I just created, and am filled with a glow of warmth for this brilliant and beautiful woman whose gaze meets mine. Inexorably we smile, time slows, and for a moment we are nothing but the sole cohabitors of a warm dome of smile.
A telephone starts flashing. “Gotta get this,” says Rik. “Studio. Hallo Marc… Thank you… Every last thing went smoothly, yes… Of course we shall… Yep, I’ll be doing that over the next few days, and I’ll get Evelyn to deliver it to Jason… OK, I’ll hand you over to him.”
“Jaymi!” booms Marc. “It was all I was hoping for, and more besides. A fantastic opening salvo. How d’you feel?”
From close up, I watch one of my fingernails tapping the metal of a microphone stand. “I’m a bit delirious right now… Thank you for this, Marc.”
“You’re most welcome. All set for the second one on Thursday?”
I laugh weakly. “Oh dear, no peace.”
“Yeah, we’ll do something … I mean, yes, we’ll do an amazing show!”
“That’s the spirit! Rik’ll steer you right. He’s on top of it.”
“Yes, yes he is. Would you like a word with Alaia?”
“OK, here she comes.” I hold out the handset to her.
While she talks to him, I wander around the studio, still returning to earth. Then soon enough, the four of us are stepping out into the long, dim corridor. Rik locks the studio door behind us. “OK, kiddies, I’m going home,” he yawns. “I got about two hours’ sleep last night, setting up, so I can feel an appointment with my bed coming on.” He puts his arm around Evelyn’s shoulders. “Why don’t I see you two performers back here at twelve tomorrow, and we’ll start work on Thursday’s instalment.”
“Eek!” says Alaia. “See you at noon, then.”
Evelyn points up the corridor for us, towards the main hallway. “Go that way, you’ll know where you are,” she says. “We’re going upstairs. We just got a new apartment, up at the back of the building. You should both come round one of these evenings.”
“OK, that’s a date,” says Alaia.
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