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running away with the circus (looking for dolphins)

There are three of them, a brazen woman with bright eyes and a big voice, a man going grey with a hop in his step and a younger woman who might be their daughter or their niece that twists her short hair into little tufts. They roam the hotel, sometimes in elaborate costumes, letting us know that there will be a secret dance party near the ballroom in an hour.

The older woman strolls in during dinner in a costume of blinking Christmas lights and exotic face paint. V stares up at her, convinced she is a princess or a fairy or maybe both. The next night, she is all in black, great horns wobbling on her head. She always has a pair of black Converse high tops on, as if they go with every costume or maybe they are the only shoes she owns.

The man is typically dressed as a pirate, in a striped shirt, maybe an eye patch. He is perfectly relaxed, like his limbs are made of silly straws. The younger woman is always smiling, her mouth a wall of metal braces and lip gloss. I imagine they sleep …

the audition

There is a hole in the toe of my sock, but I need to leave already. I might have laughed at it, a private joke but no it is just embarrassing. The taxi is waiting downstairs. E is ready, scarf and hat cocked sideways on her head. She bites her lip once. 

Downstairs, we are driving off as the sun bangs through the little green buds at the tips of the branches. I hope we find the place easily. 

The call came a few days earlier, would I be interested in auditioning for a tv series being shot in Moscow that has some parts for native English speakers? A manager, a teacher, a doctor. They said I might be perfect for it, that I should not hesitate. And then one part that was in Russian, but a foreigner, a joking, finance-dancing foreigner. I spent a few days figuring out the words I did not know, trying not to make them sound comic as they rolled around the inside of my mouth like lime jello, sour and strange. E laughed at me sometimes as she helped me, coaching me through it.

In the car, I am nervous. E raises an eyebrow. She has never seen me scared of anything. I force out some small talk, some stale jokes, and then we fall silent watching the streets pass, twisting under bridges, swishing through red lights and then we are there, or close to there. The numbers on the buildings are always a puzzle, jumping randomly to a new number when you least expect it. Fifteen minutes later, having walking in a two circles we do find the entrance. We are ten minutes early.

The casting director is kind, thin, shy with her English.  She asks if I want water and I pat my bag, telling her I already have some. Of course when I sit down I understand I left it at home. E rolls her eyes once, just for me to see. 

I run the lines one last time, whispered to myself. 

A big man with his shirt stuffed into his pants stalks down the hallway. I wonder if he was the previous audition, for the same parts.

They are ready for me. I thought E might be able to tuck herself in a corner of the room and watch but they are confused about what I ask so she waits in the office. 
"I am with you." She tells me under her breath, as I go down the hall.

The room is big, crammed with furniture in odd groupings. There are lights already set, a big soft chair to sit in. I ask if I can walk and talk, and they tell me no, just sit in the chair. I wonder if that will make things harder. I practiced using my whole body. We read a few lines to find my volume, and I stumble across the English words, like I am drunk and trying to convince a police officer I am not. I see their faces fall, a sort of decision must have been made already I guess.

I do launch into the scripts, doing the English parts first, trying not to rush, trying not to make giant pauses, trying to manage the actions and trying not to try too hard. There is a voice in my head telling me I sound completely fake, like I am reading lines in a fourth grade play. There is a voice in my head telling me that I am actually doing pretty well, that I should have more fun with it. 

I make jokes with the casting director and the camera man, telling them I can only do a New York accent, maybe more Brooklyn sounding after a few whiskeys. They are laughing. It is the end of the day, tomorrow is a holiday. I think they have been doing this all week.  

We finish the English parts and I feel better, buoyant. 

They did not give me the pages for the part that is in Russian. I show them that I have it with me, covered in notes. The casting director tells me, maybe it is too hard for me. I tell her, let's just do a few lines, if it is terrible then they can just send me home.

We run a few lines. Somehow, the Russian does not trip me up. I even get the slang word right. 

There is a quiet moment. I slump into the big, soft chair. The casting director turns to the camera man.
"You are already the best today." He tells me, finding the words in English.
"Let's try." The casting director tells me.

We go at it. I dance across the words, almost remembering what all of them mean, suddenly telling myself it just needs to sound rough and mysterious and a little like I am joking around. Then I get lost, completely lost in the script, forgetting the name of my part, staring at the page as if it was not in my hands for the past three days. Then I do see the line they are whispering to me. "Ya ponimayu" (I understand). The irony is not lost.

We make it to the end. I punch the last lines suddenly sounding like a foreign mafioso. Maybe it is too far. 

They ask me to do it again, in close-up. I do, and make it all the way through without hesitating this time. 

And then they say thank you, and we are walking down the hall and I stumble right into a junction box jutting out from the wall and my shoulder hurts like hell but I wave my hands around and laugh a little and E is looking at the doorway because she heard my voice in the hall. We say goodbye, walk the wrong way all the way down the hall and a security guard is already waving at us, already there to tell us to turn around and go the other way.

Outside, I call N. The baby is crying, and she can hardly hear me, but she hears something in my voice, something peaceful. We are coming home now.

Waiting for the taxi, a Porsche pulls up and a man jumps out, stubble on his cheeks, cool glasses, tight jeans. He eyes me, sees my black sunglasses, the red shoes on my feet. I imagine he is auditioning next, and he sees I am his competition, and then I tell myself that must be wrong. 

At home, I pull of those red shoes and there is that hole again, in my purple socks. I think of the fear I had a few hours before, and how it has been teased out, transformed into an sense of relief. 


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