So what’s it like to shut a door for the last time? What precautions are taken before the death of a space, before its caretaker takes his last glance, before he turns and walks away? There’s the lingering “what if” caught in his heart; maybe someday, for whatever reason, the lights will be turned back on. There might be a heartbeat walking through the aisles of the theater, pulling cobwebs from the ornate moulding just as our humble caretaker once did.
When is it time to lose hope? In those days before indefinite shuttering, he’ll have to take down the velour curtains (or were they velvet?), swaddling them in a muslin caul. But for what. No matter what the future holds, these old rags will never frame the stage as they once did. A new set of swags will be commissioned, perhaps in the same dried-blood maroon or perhaps not, and each moment of careful preservation will be for nothing.
It was worth it, though. For peace of mind, tenderly preparing the drapery for entombment was its own brand of catharsis. The thickness of each swath would only ward off creases for so long and gentle bends would then pepper the length of them all, but what does it matter, since decay will have its way with them first?
Corpses aren’t even wrapped with this degree of reverence. The rabid children of the dead don’t take on such gentleness while all but shaking the change from their dead mother’s couch cushion. Even on the day the doors are set to close, the caretaker continues to vacuum the ages old carpeting, all traffic-worn and stained beyond repair, as if postponing one more day’s dust will make a difference. As if it were worthwhile to clap the dirt from the rugs in those final hours. As if it were worthwhile to run a damp cloth across the statuettes and the pits of the crumbling molding.
We once washed our dead in oils and myrrh after siphoning blood from their veins. Maybe this too is to ensure that the body has one less day’s grime before forever sets in.
We post monuments at the heads of graves yet in these final days the marquee instead sheds its letters, striking its name from the street. As the turnover of the neighborhood continues, who will call the once-mighty hall by name? Who looks twice or stares beyond the romanticism of obsolescence and decay, beyond degraded structures and boarded windows.
Soon there won’t be any living ears that once heard the bellows of the grand pipe organ, its bores coated thick in decades’ dust and solitude. Even in its most spirited days, did anybody look fondly at its crest and take in its continuo, the children of pipes with such a berth a mortal lung cannot comprehend its might? Who bothered to smirk at its player’s mastery of such an out-of-touch craft? The caretaker didn’t bother to wear a chintzy surgical mask to keep the pipes’ dust from his lungs; he just worked their metal bodies from their perches until the weight of the lowest tones became too much for him.
Written for the former Warner Theater, later known as the Grand Theater, now vacant.