There I sat, on stage, next to the trapdoor. The broken trapdoor. There stood our principal actor in the wings, waiting for his entrance. Soon, far too soon, he would be walking across this stage, falling through the gaping hole in the floor boards that waited to swallow him up. The entire performance would be ruined and it would be entirely my fault. I was only nine, and my heart was pumping like a piston. The stage lights glared down, harsh, unforgiving. I was frantic, on the verge of total panic. What could I do?
I had to calm down, stop watching the sea of heads in the audience. I ran through all the rehearsals in my head, even the original auditions. Maybe someone had said something, anything.
They were looking for three children for non-speaking parts, "no special skills required". Yeah right, I thought, tugging hopelessly on the trap door again. In the end they chose me and two boys, Charles and Tommy. The pair of them sat across the stage from me now, just as they had all those months ago.
The music had started. That was my cue to start fading back, leaving centre stage for the principles. What now? It had been drummed into me all through rehearsals; shut the trap door before you go, whatever else goes wrong, just make sure you shut the trap door. No one had told me what to do if the trap door wouldn't shut.
In the end Tommy decided for me. I was sitting there dithering when he wandered over, a huge fake grin on his face. Taking my hand he dragged me off.
"I couldn't shut the trap door" I hissed out of the corner of my mouth. A small amount of relief spread through me. At eleven, Tommy was the oldest of us children. Surely he would know what to do.
"I know," he murmured, reassuringly. "I saw. Come past the wings. Maybe there'll be someone to ask." One look at his face told me that beneath his calm demeanour he was as bewildered as I was. I fought down the panic that had begun to well up again inside me; if he could put a calm face on this, so could I.
Fortunately for us Catherine, our chaperone, was there. She wouldn't let us waste any time on explanations.
"Tommy, you go back now. Give the audience something to watch. Start teasing Charles, nick his cap or something." She whispered instantly "Jane, keep trying with that trap door, we'll buy you some time"
"But…" I stuttered.
"No time, go back on" She was right. If I stood here any longer it would look suspicious. It probably already did.
So here I was back where I'd started. Sitting on stage by a trap door that was jammed half open, struggling fruitlessly with it while time ticked steadily by. How much time could I afford to spend? Perhaps we could leave it. Did an open trap door pose such a threat if everyone knew to be careful? No, I had to deal with it, we would be putting some heavy props on it next scene. I was breathing faster and faster, the audience had started to fidget. Deep inside me a little voice was shrieking, "Do something! Now!" but I had no answers for it. I wanted to shout, to scream, to give all responsibility away to someone else. But there was no one else. We were on our own, Tommy, Charles and me. There was no way we could get away with going back into the wings for help.
Throwing all caution to the wind I wrenched on the infuriating thing with all my strength. I might as well not have bothered for all the difference it made.
The music changed, I was out of time, the principals were coming on. The trap door stood gaping open, laughing at me. I wanted to disappear into thin air. I forced an unwilling smile back onto my face. I'm a happy little girl playing in the street, I reminded myself fiercely.
Tommy took charge again. Darting over he, too, grabbed the trap door. Together we strained, to no avail. I turned away, miserable, accepting defeat. There was nothing else left to try. My disastrous efforts to shut it had only jammed it half-way. It was then that Tommy did something I'd never have dreamed of, not in a million years. Taking a short run up he jumped on it. With a decisive click the infernal thing snapped shut.
Side by side we crept off, leaving the principals on centre stage, through the wings, back to our dressing room. Back stage, we ran wild; because that night, for the first and last time, the show was ours.
Even across the vast age gap between us and the adult actors, we won their respect; their admiration, even. We were still children, but they never saw us that way again.
I tried to keep it accurate, and I don't think I exaggerated much. When that happened, I was on stage in the West End of London. It was a wierd experience at the time, working with proffesionals and all that. They didn't worry so much about sugar-coating things. If you were rubbish, they told you so! And if you messed up too often they could always find someone else for the part.
Anyway, hope you liked it. And please reveiw, even just to say you hate it!