The new costume is a unitard. It is spray-painted purple and green with glitter strewn through blobs of glue. Sewn to it are bits of fake seaweed. During performances, you learn, you will also wear the veiled hood and gloves of a ‘Death’ Halloween costume.
You enter the bathroom and assemble the components of the costume on your body. When you emerge, and when you emerge, you leave a trail of sparkle and plastic leaves on the carpeted floor. Your sprint-sheened buttocks takes a shape you know as the shape of an ass, not a buttocks, and from under the curve of the unitard’s neck, the realization of breasts. Your face remains hidden behind Death’s mask. In the mirror, you are unrecognizable to yourself.
It is the most beautiful thing you have ever worn.
When you stand for evaluation in the center of the lobby, Dan enters and strolls right past you, his head down, hands in his pockets. You wonder if he practices walking like Woody Allen at home.
“Dan!” the cigarette woman calls. “What do you think?”
He stops. Turns. Your eyes meet his, and then they travel where glittered hills and valleys have grown. You have a strange, neon thought that you almost blurt, which is that you wish you could be in this production of The Hobbit forever.
He clears his throat, and nods, looking at you. “Yep. Yeah.”
Your solo, which has a square dance melody, has to sound creepy and menacing, so it is more like a musical hiss. In fact, those are the lyrics. It goes, “Fiddle, diddle, Gollum hissss/ Riddle, riddle, riddle me this.” Then you sing Bilbo a riddle, and she sings you the answer. Over the course of the song, you lose the Precious and get to lament for a good minute, using your rock as an outlet for your distress.
On opening night, you cause a child in the front row to cry.
The second night you and Whitney are in a fight because as you are waiting to go on backstage, bent like the emaciated and cursed creature you are, Patton looks over at one of the trolls and pretends to grab your ass.
I can’t help it, you telepathically communicate to Whitney as she consults with Braces in the corner of the dressing room, arms folded over her belted burlap sack. This is beyond my control, now, you think. You run your hand down your stomach with an absent mind, letting the hardened glue tickle your palm. Secretly, you like the power of being Gollum. It becomes you.
Your parents come on the third and final night, and you sing your heart out.
After the show your dad sings your song back to you. Then when he sees the expression on your face, he says, “No, no, you were good. Really.”
When they leave, the cast gathers in the dressing room for notes. The dragon Smaug bites his nails next to his paper mache head. Dwarves do small versions of their choreographed dances together. Bilbo massages Gandalf’s neck. They all drape over one another in the strange, casual combinations that come about when people are in a production together, but will never happen again outside of the theater building. Like camp, or jail.
The woman with the cigarette voice, Dan, and Hink enter. “Bravo!” they say. “Bravo!”
You feel moisture or some form of coldness under the spandex of the unitard, sticking it to your skin. Across the room, Dan is perhaps looking at you, or perhaps looking off into space. You had removed your Death hood earlier to talk to your parents, but now you put it back on.
After notes, most of the cast has now changed out of their costumes back into their special occasion Aeropostale shirts. You remain, your feet still bare. People think it’s funny you haven’t taken off the unitard. You let them think that. You perch on a stool over their game of Trivial Pursuit, saying the answers quietly as you tuck your fingers under your thighs.
Root beer is poured. You have no desire for root beer. You drift among the crowds a shadow, your hood beginning to make the air smell like something plastic that shouldn’t be a near a nose or mouth.
“Hey, you.” A voice behind you. “We, uh. We need to put your costume back in the warehouse.”
It is Dan. You turn to face him.
You wonder if he remembers the first night the two of you AIM-ed until three in the morning. His screen name is PaperbackWriter. Yours is lara3406. 34, your basketball number, and 06, the year you will graduate high school. You told him that you and your dad would sit around for hours, listening The Beatles Anthology, and that your favorite books are The Lord of the Rings and Catch-22. You told him that you had just recently stopped believing in God.
PaperbackWriter: I’ve never met anyone like you.
lara3406: I’ve never met anyone like you, either.
Dan moves closer, smiling. “Are you going to take it off?” This is probably the closest he has ever stood to you for a long period of time, even closer than that time the two of you waited for a table at Chili’s.
“I guess,” you say, muffled by the fabric.
“What was that?”
But if you take off the Gollum costume, it will all be over. You will no longer be Gollum in relation to Dan, or anyone in relation to Dan, for that matter. You will have to come back out of the mountain, away from the rocks, wearing your own clothes. You are fifteen and you have not yet thought of the possibility that people could want you when you are wearing your own clothes. You are fifteen and you were lamenting the loss of the Ring, but then it came back to you every night, and now it won’t. You are fifteen and you have not yet discovered the possibility that things cannot last forever.
So you tell him, “Give me a minute,” and you back away.
And then you do it. You find a corner behind a curtain, and you sit a second before Gollum goes away. You sit there behind the criss-crossed fabric in the dark, listening to the laughter, and you take a minute longer.