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November 15, 2015 / douglasnyback

The Dead Sing So Beautifully

By: Douglas W. Nyback

For Paris. For the world.


“Do you hear the people sing?  Say, do you hear the distant drums?  It is the future that they bring when tomorrow comes…Tomorrow comes!”

“It’s a beautiful number.” she thinks as the curtain falls and the applause rolls through the theatre like thunder.  “How here at the end, even the dead sing so beautifully.”  And she knows, Katy does, that even now before the curtain call the air is alive with the buzzing and whirring of thousands of megabytes of data.  The applause dies a bit more than it used to and just a bit faster because we say thank you differently now, don’t we?  Not to the people in front of us, but to all the people that weren’t here.

She shakes her head, making her way into the wings, a small smile playing across her lips.  A stage hand passes her phone to her and the screen is alive with hundreds of little blips and dings.  She thinks, “How odd that they feel closer to me on this box than out there in that room.”

Suddenly, the applause dies, a little at first, then completely.  All the actors around her look up, the sudden silence exposing their heavy breathing left over from the finale.

“What’s going on—?” She asks.

“My God.”


But all she has to do is look down and she knows.

“A hundred people in a theatre… My God.”

And the curtain rises, as curtains do, the cast laid bare to the audience than bore them.  And nobody speaks, they just stare at each other, the beautiful relationship they shared moments ago hanging in the air in the no man’s land between what was and what is now.  There exists between an audience and their cast an unspoken contract, it’s very simple.

The cast says, “Everything we put before you tonight is real.”

And the audience says, “Ok.”

So cleanly does this contract break, Katy swears she can hear the snap.  “And now,” she thinks, “we’re just people in a room.”  That’s when the tears come, first from her cast mates and then the audience.  She stares out at them, deep in the throes of immense emotional shock, six hundred people with their souls laid bare, face to face with the absolute extreme of what humans can do to other humans.  Six hundred people, their faces buried not in their hands but in their phones, tears dropping on touch screens like rain, blurring the billions of instant condolences from millions, millions of miles away.

“Oh…” she says, feeling her own face and finding it dry.  And under her breath she says, “We are so far away from each other.”

So she speaks, her voice amplified by the stage microphones, echoing in this old hall like an angel, “Hey.”

But no one responds, their faces are still buried.

“Hey.  Hello!  Hey!  LOOK UP!”  And they do, because her voice has power, it resonates and something inside her has changed.

“Everything we put before you tonight is real.”  She says.

And the audience says, “Ok.”

Katy looks over to her Marius, his young face flushed, his eyes red with sorrow and rage.  “I’m a crier.”  She says.


“I’m a crier, right?  I cry all the time?”

“Yeah…I guess…”

“You guess?  I cry at, like, everything.  I cried at a video of a kitten scaring a tiger right before we went on tonight, like, literally right before we stepped onto the stage.  I had to hand my phone off to our stage manager, didn’t I?”  She looks over to Rebecca, the Stage Manager who nods through her tears.  “I can’t go five minutes without tearing up, I am constantly moved.”

She pauses.  “Why aren’t I crying?”  She looks over at Eric, the beautiful father of two who plays Valjean, “Eric?  Why can’t I cry?”

“I…I don’t know, love.”

Katy looks out over all those faces, her brilliant blue eyes shining, almost seeming to glow as she takes in all six hundred people, hanging on to her for dear life, hanging on because if, even for a few minutes she can be more real to them than the atrocities of the world then somehow they might be able to make it through the night.

And she speaks, as we must in such times, with no filter between her heart and her throat:

“I was in love with a man once— sorry, a boy— because we were young, maybe sixteen at the time…God, we were so young.  How does that happen?  How do fourteen years go by like that?”  But though she holds the audience’s attention, they have no answers for her, only questions. “We were doing a show, it was a World War II play about kids going off to war and it wasn’t good, but it was good for what it was, you know?  We all needed it, that show, I wouldn’t be here without it.  We were all away from our parents, staying in college dorms, rehearsing all day and singing and falling in love all night.  We were free, in the way only kids can be free, we were so…free.  And there was Alex, playing this young kid and all he wants is adventure and a family but he has to go to war.  And he does.  Go to war, I mean.  And he dies, as soldier do.  And he comes back as a ghost, like a lot of us did tonight, and he sings about how he dreamed of adventure once but the world cared nothing for his dreams, not really, and now all he is is the shadow of a cause.  And I used to sneak to the back of  the theatre on matinees to watch him do that bit, because he looked so hollow, so empty, in his eyes was only darkness and it was because of that darkness that I loved him.  Because how could such darkness exist in a boy so young if not for an ocean of light?”

She smiles and the theatre smiles with her.

“I loved him, with my whole heart and soul I loved him.  We’d steal into each others rooms past lights out and we’d stay up all night kissing and talking of our lives, together and apart, all the shows we’d do, all the people we’d touch and we knew we’d caught it, lightning in a bottle.  The greatest love our youths would allow, for once youth is gone, love changes, it grows and diminishes all at once.”

She pauses for a moment, bittersweet as she’s ever been.

“And all the while we knew we had a time limit.  And time did what time does, it brought us steadily into the future and the future was goodbye.”

Realization dawns in her eyes, “And that was it,” she says, “the moment I became a crier.”  Her lips spread into a smile and that smile is a glass of water in a desert, “I saw his face as he left me.  He always had such an honest face, creased with thought and worry, but honest.  I had never felt so truly loved, nor have I ever since.”

She shrugs, “It was just so pure,” she marvels, “how he loved me.  Like he would love me forever.  So I cried.  I cried harder than I’d ever cried before because it is only our capacity to feel love that allows for our sorrows.  So, you beautiful people, you lights, look up at each other and love each other, then hold each other in your sorrow and the more you hurt, the more you’ll love and then we can all leave here together.”

And with that she climbs down off the stage, breaking the contract and once again becoming human.  And as a human, Katy holds on to the first human she can, and then that human holds another, and then another, and then another until the whole theatre is one human, one heart loving and hurting as one.  It’s only then, for Katy, that the tears come, for now she’s not only herself crying, she’s this theatre, she’s the world, all that have ever been and all that will ever be.

And as her tears fall, she thinks, “Ever the dead sing so beautifully.”




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