As a toddler Lisa’s default setting was quiet. When her parents tried to play with her she would tell them, crossly, Go ‘way, I busy.
Her favourite pastime was to tip jigsaws into a pointy heap and lose herself in their reconstitution. Even back then, she was happiest alone in a room.
That was until a performance opportunity came her way. Lisa’s show-stealing turns at birthday parties were infamous. A typical act would unfold thusly: Mary had a lickle lamb lickle lamb lickle lamb with a baa baa here baa baa there twinkle twinkle lickle star how I wonder one two three four five once I…
And so on.
Although her parents found these routines endearing, they had other people to think of. All too soon, Lisa would find herself plonked back on a cushion, a consoling whisper of Pass the parcel soon! warming in her earhole.
Throughout primary school, Lisa was overlooked for lead roles and barely got picked to read. Other girls had perfect enunciation, were naturally effervescent. It was the same with Lisa’s brief spell at Stage Tots. Her small body, though loved and cared for, got used to vibrating envy.
Three decades on, Lisa – who should have been drafting the Director’s foreword to the spring report – had just realised she still craved the limelight. It was sad to admit to neediness, especially from the comfort of a warm house with a full fridge, but there it was. Aside from a selection of weary cashiers, Lisa hadn’t seen anyone to chat to in weeks, let alone owned the floor. As she sunk into her sofa, she felt she might assume its blue-grey hue before vanishing without trace.
If there was a silver lining to lockdown, it was the time and space to reflect. ‘Secret Extrovert: the adult years’ was Lisa’s current showreel. As a college boyfriend had once observed, certain environments really brought out her am drams. She’d objected at the time; had considered herself an understated and self-contained person, whose rare theatrics only accentuated her overall cool. Now she accepted it: she was an out-and-out show-off.
With acute longing, thirty-three year old Lisa realised that her main stage was Friday nights at the local. Alcohol was said to distort a personality but, trawling back through her memories, Lisa saw only the surfacing of a true self. She saw that she was blessed with friends who fed her repartee; that she’d surrounded herself with people who indulged her weird sense of humour.
If the quality of Lisa’s repertoire was variable, the self-worth that followed was not. Performance afterglow would cloak Lisa for days, power her through the worst hangovers and the least inspiring of tasks. With her inner loudmouth mothballed, life was bland. She could be anyone – or no one.
Lockdown Christmas had been particularly difficult. No Pictionary or charades. No embroidered anecdotes of festivities past. No shouting of Christmas hits round the jukebox or instigation of a round-the-pub conga. There had been a few subdued Zooms with Mum, Dad and Uncle Mike. A mulled cider over the front wall with her increasingly twitchy pal, Zac (apparently the only other person in the city not risking a family get together). As for New Year’s Eve, Lisa had just pretended it wasn’t. She’d run a comedy quiz show marathon instead. Having lost all inhibitions about talking to herself weeks’ before, Lisa had joined in with gusto. In fact, she’d teleported right into the TV, firing off zinger after zinger until her fellow panellists could hardly catch their breath for mirth.
There was no mirth to be had now. Just a gradual succumbing to nothingness. And still an hour left of cheerless work.
When, thirty-seven minutes later, the impulse came, it was a tiny demanding child; an appeal from deep within the well of her. Lisa jogged upstairs and strained on tiptoes to drag bin bags off her wardrobe. Ritzy going-out clothes of times past slopped on top of her from shredded plastic, sending dust motes whirling. She began collating outfits and assessing light levels. Rummaging around for a notebook, she considered the merits of a Wet January cocktail.
As ideas flowed from her festive-scented gel pens, Lisa was unaware she was birthing ‘The Devastatingly Spectacular Lisa Grigson Comedy Experience’. The feeling was only exhilaration, a lightness of body and mind.
Ultimately, yes, a performance required an audience but if they were located elsewhere, all the better. She could disable comments until her material took on shape. Work on her style, nurture a distinctive voice. Meanwhile, she would be content to perform to that single unblinking eye; to reconstitute herself one rough-cut piece at a time.
Turning to the window, Lisa observed that the street was deserted again. The peach-gold sun shone warm on her face and there was no one else there to block out her light.
Lucy Goldring is a Northerner hiding in South West England. She has been shortlisted by Flash 500, the National Flash Fiction Day (NFFD) and Retreat West and won Lunate Fiction’s monthly flash competition in July 2020. Lucy was nominated for Best Small Fictions 2020 by both NFFD and 100 Word Story. She is currently working on a collection exploring emotional responses to the climate crisis. Tweets @livingallover
Image via Pixabay