Post- Magazine

and the eyes are hers [narrative]

women on display

When the lights come on, there is a single spotlight, trained on the center of the stage. The actress is there, basking, lounging in the glow. Her legs dangle off the edge of the piano, willfully uncrossed. Her hair is piled high atop her head into a mount of carefully aligned curls. She wears a fitted black dress with lacy fringe. The hem stops just above her knees, and the neckline does not dive too low on her chest. Her mother always said it’s about what they cannot see. One strap slips off her honey-sweet shoulder. All eyes are drawn to that thin strap, slipping.

Then she begins to sing. Her lips pucker just so, and she stretches her shoulders back as if to drink in the rays of spotlight that shine down from above her. She is a star, was meant to be a star from the minute she stepped on stage.

The notes pour out of her chest, deliberate and dripping. 

She feels the eyes on her and loves them. And they love her. And she loves them for loving her. All the while, they watch. The strap starts to fall further, only to tug back toward her when she raises her head—a tease. Mouths water. She has a gravity like that. Everything is drawn to her, as she is to everything. 


She might say she started acting because of something she disliked about herself—so she could pretend to be someone else; or that it was only ever because her mother wanted her to be in movies; or that it was her way to revive, reclaim, redeem those characters she plays. But lurking behind the pretending and the mothers and the reclamations: power. On stage, under those caressing lights, each watchful eye is hers to bend at will. 

Each ringlet of her hair is coiled into a stiff corkscrew. They bounce just a bit when she tosses her head back to laugh—a glittering sound composed of precisely three sharp exhales. She wets her lips and lets them fall slightly ajar. When the main spotlight shines, her lips seem to glimmer, daring anyone to be drawn in and drown in their dew. The soft skin of her chest slopes—she knows their eyes graze over it, knows how it intoxicates them. How they long to peel the rhinestone necklace off it, how they long to peel the very skin off until there is nothing but muscle and bone. Only then might they experience her in her bare glory. It beckons them, that siren skin, and draws them out of themselves. Mouths lag open, tongues loll out, hands fall to laps; their bodies are no longer under their control. In fact, they are no longer bodies at all, but rather eyes, just eyes. 

And the eyes are hers, even when her face twists with stage-lit tears. Her anguish is careful, measured. Her pain is raw, and it singes the eyes of the audience, even as they spur with their perverse desire to see without getting quite close enough to burn. They love to watch this self-ravaging, this self-immolation. Her hands shake as they fall to her side, and her eyebrows draw together in grief. This is the opening of her soul, the turning inside-out of the femme fatale. 

And now she has reached her final song. She lets her eyes drop sorrowfully and they realize that this is, indeed, the end. Oh, how their faces fall in despair. In that moment, they watch her. And she watches them watching her. She holds onto the last note like it’s a fraying rope—the only thing that stands between her and a brutal death below. It wavers a little, then holds strong. When her eyes shut, at last, there is silence: one suspended moment of silence fluttering gently to the ground, featherlike. When it hits the floor, the men erupt in cheers. Their applause is almost violent. They throw their hands together like poor, brutish seals begging to be fed, grunting and flushed with pleasure. 

Perhaps tonight someone will call out and plead with her to stay. Of course she would not stay, even if they begged. But she dearly loves the look in their eyes when they fall to their knees before her. 

And then she’s walking home, and it’s late. They are covered now, those shoulders that have reduced men to dogs, frothing at the mouth. Her hair is tucked beneath a checkered scarf like a little old lady in wintertime. She walks quickly, but their eyes find her anyway. They bend their gazes around corners from gum-spattered doorways, never quite close enough to touch. She can feel the eyes creeping up the back of her neck like so many legs. They are prying and writhing and frenzied. They follow her all the way up 78th street, and she walks a little faster. She is a spectacle, was meant to be a spectacle far before she set foot on a stage.

At least on stage, the eyes are hers. There, she is ogled and claims that stare as her own. 

She remembers it now: that moment just before she bows and the spotlight turns its great head away, when she looks up. She feels the slinky dress and long legs and strap that nearly falls off her shoulders in a way that makes every man in the room want to fall right off with it. With these gaudy clothes under garish lights is an end to the stares she did not ask for. At least it will be her place now, this body. At least she won’t be slunk beneath a billowing coat with her chin tucked down, hurrying. 

Under the spotlight’s final glow, she plants her feet, feeling the weight of the worship and the watching and the men who would throw themselves down upon her violet shoes if she let them. She doesn’t let them. Instead, she lets her face turn toward the light, looking up as it looks down at her. And she looks at it for looking at her. The acrid scent of hairspray settles around her mouth, and her lips curl, and she bows. 

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