Today in Shirlington Virginia, Signature Theater was giving out half priced tickets to their next season, so Ben and I went to pick some up.
It was sunny and hot and the courtyard was full of balloons and people in hats and dogs on leashes. Tables were crowded with people eating popcorn and cotton candy. Live music blasted. Bowls of water were set out for dogs and a little girl in a blue polka dot dress skipped around while other people waited in line - and most of them were white and of a certain age.
We arrived at 11:45, when already the line snaked round towards the box office doorway. While we waited, we grabbed a program and looked it over, discussing our choices, narrowing down our options.
Then a small elderly woman stepped back into her place in line before us.
"Do you want me to get you some popcorn?" she asked. Her eyes were sharp and brown. She wore a pink shirt, jeans and sneakers and she was accompanied by a square bodied elderly husband dressed in a button down shirt, polished shoes and belted chinos. He was evidently embarrassed by his wife's effusiveness.
No thanks, we smiled. We didn't need popcorn.
"Are you sure?" she asked. Then, "Do you live in Northern Virginia?"
We told her that we did.
"I live in Springfield," she said, crumbs of popcorn flecked on her lips. She was getting tickets to get herself out of the house. "I'm younger than you," she told us, "so I need an excuse. But why are you getting tickets?"
"Oh," I said, "It gives you something to point towards, doesn't it?"
"I'm going to use that line," she said. "Something to point towards. I like it. I always say it gives me something to look forward to. But something to point towards is better." Pause. "And what do you do?"
I told her I was a teacher.
"And where do you teach?"
"Northern Virginia Community College," I said.
"What subject? What do you like about Nova," she asked.
I told her I loved the diversity of the students and that they gave me hope for the next generation.
"I'm retired," she told me, finishing off her bag of popcorn. "But I was also a teacher once." She had taught high school English, had also taught at the Lorton Correctional facility once upon a time. "Those guys were great," she said. "They were funny, they were engaged. They worked and they paid attention. There's a line in The Pearl by Steinbeck," she told me. "About how small communities have one central nervous system. And this is true. 'Please come back,' they said. 'We need good teachers here.' I died when I heard that," she said. "I just about died."
A few minutes later she was showing me photographs of her dog. "Do you own dogs?" she asked. Her dog pictures were printed out and saved in a white envelope carefully kept in her handbag. "Adorable," she said. "Adorable. What would we do without dogs? Every day I clean his teeth with an electric toothbrush and he waits for me and he licks his lips. Here. This is on one of our walks -" and she showed me a photograph of her dog in a ravine. "And this is what he does when I call him down the stairs."
Her husband meanwhile kept a respectable distance from both me and Ben - careful not to meet our eyes, if this is at all possible, while waiting in the tightly confined quarters of a box office line. "I'm having fun, " his wife said. "And how did you meet your husband?" she asked me. "Are you from England?"
So I told her the story of how we had met in a production of As You Like It, when I was playing Rosalind and Ben was playing Orlando. "Then we fell in love. And we named our daughter Rosalind because of it."
Our new friend clasped her chest feelingly. She had deep brown eyes with an intense expression, "What a story! And you have other children too?" she asked. We showed her some pictures, on Ben's phone. "Oh," she said, "Is that a smart phone? Well, I'm impressed."
She peered at the pictures. "This kid looks like a ball of fire. What a beautiful face. Is he the actor? Oh, and she is beautiful. Haha. Look how proud he is, the father," she said, meaning Ben. "What color is her hair? Oh, what a beautiful girl."
I was momentarily distracted, so meanwhile our interlocutor began chatting with the people directly in front of her. There was a woman of about thirty with a wide smile and long blonde hair and her husband, a tall dark haired guy with a pleasant intelligent expression. I watched their faces gazing into the older woman's upturned face, which was itself full of animation as she chatted with them both.
Meanwhile I listened to the woman in line behind us - who explained she had a one-woman show, and as she was explaining it, our new friend returned to report, "That young man is a teacher of literature in high school. And he's a lovely person."
Her husband looked embarrassed. Again, he failed to meet our eyes, while she showed me photographs of their back garden, newly fenced to keep in the dog. "The dog is more important than the flowerbeds," she said.
I asked her if she had any children. Yes. Two sons, she said. "One is fifty and the other forty eight." And a friend came round for lunch yesterday, she told me, worried about her own son. "'But he's fifty eight years old,' we told her. 'I know,' she replied. 'But he's still my son and the age gap is still the same.' It's a good line," she said.
"It is indeed," I told her. "I might even steal it!"
Her husband looked suspicious. Oh, she explained, he was in the second world war. She raised her eyes to the sky. Oh yes, she said, communicating something meaningful, although I don't know what.
At last we reached the front of the line and our new friend went into the box office with her husband.
"What a character," I said to Ben,
"I'm glad you were here," he said. "Or else I would have felt trapped."
"Yes," said our second acquaintance with the one-woman show. "I'm glad you got her. Because I don't like dogs."
Ben and I were ushered into the box office area, just as our friend and her husband were leaving. She and I locked eyes and clasped hands. Then she blew me a kiss. "Good luck to you," I said.
"And to you," she answered.
As we parted, I felt as if I loved her. I felt as if our friendship could go on.