ZOOM! a new short story by Stephen Cole
By Stephen Cole
Minerva P. (for Petunia) Cavendish was going to do it. She vowed she would and now she was. Minerva was about to escape the stifling world of 1920. Her mother, Louisa Z. (for Zelda) Cavendish was the most successful producer on Broadway with hits that filled theatres from 38th Street all the way up to 59th. Zelda, as she was known on the Street, had discovered Jerome Kern.
"Jerry," Zelda had told him, "get out of that lousy Princess Theatre and expand," She had introduced Jerry to Marilyn Miller and made what the Yids called a "shiddach." When Dillingham needed the extra scratch for Sally, Zelda reaching into her corset and brought forth the bucks to make the show happen, even though she was positive it would bomb. Zelda did it for Jerry. And a little bit to spite Ziegfeld. It was time.
But for her talented daughter Minerva, who was on the wrong side of thirty, Zelda had no time. Not a second of it. Truth be told, Zelda didn't want to appear to be favoring her little girl.
So after years of hearing, "you're too loud. You're too fat. You're too much like your father!" Minerva finally agreed to meet with her friend Artie and to take the journey in his new invention to 2020.
"Artie," Minerva asked, "what do you call this thing?" This "thing" was a giant floor to ceiling and wall to wall screen that made Minerva think of the Astor Movie Theatre she loved attending on Broadway.
"I called it Zoom," replied Artie who was not sure why he called it that or if it would even work.
"Not the Zoom, just Zoom."
"How does it work? And how fast? I gotta get out of this time before I stifle. My mother..."
"Well, you just kind of walk through the screen..."
Minerva was dubious. "Walk through the what?"
Artie continued. "...and you wind up in a box," Artie said in the most convincing voice he could muster.
"A box? What kind of box? Like a coffin box?"
" No!" said Artie as he pulled a quarter out of Minerva's ear. Minerva was used to his tricks. Artie, you see, was a magician. In fact, Minerva's mother had booked him into vaudeville until that unfortunate day when one of his rabbits made a mess on Zelda's lap. Lately Artie's magic extended to invention. And this brought them to this day.
"I mean," Artie said as he made a deck of cards disappear in thin air, "you will be in a square with just your face and torso showing. It's hard to explain."
Minerva lit up. "In box with just my face and torso showing? No hips? Oh, I like 2020 already. So, in the future, everybody lives in a box? Easy to keep clean I bet. But how does that work? Do they ever leave the box? And how do they do shows?"
"I don't know," Artie answered quickly. "That's for you to discover I guess."
"You've tried this before, haven't you?" she demanded.
"No!" Artie insisted. "And maybe you shouldn't either. Maybe it's too dangerous. I mean, I might not have quite have it all figured out. Maybe we should send your mother first."
Before she could ask him anymore, the door flew open and there, backlit and dressed to kill in a Persian lamb coat, black and white spectator shoes and her red hair topped with a tall mink hat, was Minerva's mother, Zelda.
"Mother! Did you follow me here?"
"Of course I did. You told me not to. One thing I can never take, is orders."
"Why are you wearing all those dead animals? It's July."
"I'm wearing my summer jewels too."
Minerva paused and then punched out the punch line.
"Yeah! Some 'r jewels and some r' not!"
Zelda guffawed. "I always told you you were a comic. You got the goods, baby."
"You never told me anything of the sort," Minerva whined.
"I didn't want you to get a bigger head. I mean your neck can barely hold it up now."
Zelda walked toward Minerva and surveyed her outfit.
"Minerva, darling. Didn't mother get you that chic new flapper dress? Why are you still wearing that leftover 1917 skirt. The war is over! Show your legs, honey. Smoke a cigarette. Bob your hair."
"It won't matter," Minerva calmly said.
"What won't? Why not? It's the roaring twenties, darling. Everything matters. Stocks are going to climb and Broadway will boom. We have ten glorious years to prosper and thrive and drink ourselves into oblivion at the Algonquin. Then who knows? But for now...It's gonna be great, honey!"
"I'm not staying to find out."
"What does that mean, Minerva?" Zelda turned to Artie and questioned him. "What is she talking about, whatever your name is?"
"It's Artie. You booked me at Majestic in Little Rock in 1918."
` "Oh my Lord, Arkansas! That's where I met your father, Minerva, the one we don't talk about. What kind of act did you have?"
"Magic," answered Artie and suddenly Zelda remembered.
"I remember now. Rabbit shit! My Madam Worth was ruined!"
Artie chose not to respond to Zelda, but turned to Minerva instead. "Well? Are you ready?"
"Ready for what?" Zelda demanded.
"Yep," Minerva said in her calmest voice, which still bellowed through the room, "I'm ready to Zoom."
As Minerva walked toward the screen her mother shouted after her.
"Minerva, what are you doing? I'm your mother and I demand to know. What is zoom? Minerva!"
The lights quickly blacked out, as if it were a show and Zelda screamed. After a moment or two the light slowly came up and Minerva was gone.
"Where is she? What have you done to my baby?"
Artie just pointed at the screen and Zelda followed his finger. The screen was now divided into six small boxes, five of them empty. In the sixth, on the top right corner was fuzzy, slightly blurred image of Minerva P. Cavendish. Her face and torso were beautifully framed and her name efficiently typed at the bottom of her box, so everyone would know who she was.
"Minerva, is that you? How did you get on the screen? I told you that moving picture are a passing fancy and only losers do them. What is this?"
"Zoom," replied Artie.
"Where is she? Is this a picture show? I have an ironclad personal contract with her that says she can't do pictures."
Suddenly the image of Minerva spoke, but since movies would not learn to talk for another seven years, Zelda was reduced to reading Minerva's lips. Fortuitously, Zelda had paid attention to the "Liechtenstein Lip Readers" when she managed them in Vaudeville, so Zelda know what Minerva was saying.
"Hi, Mommy! I'm here in 2020 and I'm going to be a big Broadway star!"
* * *
Minerva P (for Petunia) Cavendish arrived in her little box at the top of the screen on March 12, 2020 and she waited for stardom to come to her. Minerva has left 1920 and a season that included Sally, Jimmie, Mary, and Lady Billy. Betty Be Good, Floradora and My Golden Girl had no room for Minerva back then. Nor did George White, Charles Dillingham or Ziegfeld; one or the other who presented their Scandals and Follies and/or Frolics. How she hoped to be in Sally, but no, her mother would not even grant her an audition! But screw 'em, thought Minerva. It was 2020! What a time! Minerva knew that her big break was just around...the box. What Minerva didn't know was that Broadway (and the world) had officially closed. But truth is never far from a Cavendish. Truth was as close as the box next door.
Sylvie Morgan (reduced from Morgenstern) was in her twenties and had been in "The Show Biz," as she liked to call it, since she played the youngest orphan in a revival of Annie fifteen years ago. She had been the happiest kid on her block then. Now, all grown up, Sylvie was definitely the most depressed. She was just about to open on Broadway, and in a role that would have shot her to the top of the heap, when the shut-down was announced. The revival of Flora the Red Menace had been her dream. She knew that she could out-Liza Liza. She knew that from the first time she heard her on the CD. But after three weeks of previews...boom, zip, Broadway was closed. They didn't even give her or anyone in her show time to clear out their dressing rooms. There was a sign at the stage door and that was that.
"Due to the Plague the Show Will NOT Go On."
Sylvie had consulted with her union, her agent and her fellow Broadway-ites and the consensus was that the best she could do now was to collect unemployment. Well, thought Sylvie, that should be easy.Little did she know. The phone lines were constantly busy, the internet applications were so plentiful that the lines were clogged and every application bounced back and almost blew up the world wide web. Sylvie had no choice but to keep trying and spend her time waiting at home.
Now, after a week of just staring at her phone and counting the condolence messages on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and WhatsApp...(who had died, she wondered? Then she realized. She did!) Sylvie sought escape and for her, that always meant going on Zoom and talking to her mother in Seattle. As Sylvie waited for her mother to answer, Sylvie noticed a strange woman in the box next to hers. That woman was Minerva. Sylvie thought that Minerva, whose name was typed under her image, looked like a woman from another time, with her fresh makeup-free face and optimistic smile.
That first day, Sylvie's mother didn't answer and that pissed her off even more. Now, looking at that smile of confidence in the box next door, Sylvie felt that it was her duty to wipe that smile off of Minerva's puss.
"Hey there, Sylvie!" Minerva cheerfully said.
"How do you know my name?"
"It's right there, silly. Printed in your box. 'Sylvie Morgenstern.'"
Sylvie blanched and looked down.
"Oh, God! That's my old name. I never changed on here. In any case, stop talking to me. I came here to talk to my mother. I am not in the mood for other actresses."
Minerva lit up. "How did you know I was an actress?"
Sylvie pointed to the words under Minerva in her box that screamed "ACTRESS"
"Leave it to my friend, Artie the magician to think of everything."
Sylvia looked expectantly at the empty box next to hers; the box that every day at this time housed her mother in Seattle. But alas, her mother was not appearing. Sylvie was nervous because, like New York City, Seattle had been hit really hard with Covid cases and her mother, Ida ("Yes, I know...just like Rhoda's mother on TV") was almost eighty and living in an assisted living facility out there. Since she had time to kill she decided to talk to Minerva and find out why she was sitting in a box on Zoom like she was at a bus stop.
"I was sent here from the past."
"Weren't we all? My past was filled with summer stock and dinner theatres and a brother who beat the shit out of me."
"Oh, Sylvie! That's terrible. I'm an only child, but it hasn't been all peaches and cream for me either. My mother, who is a big theatrical producer, won't give me a chance."
"Your mother is a producer?"
"That's what I said," Minerva bellowed. "And I sing louder and better than any of those dames in the shows she produces. Take Marilyn Miller. Sure she can dance and look all blonde and fluffy, but I could blow her off the stage with one long note."
"You are rather Merman-esque"
"Who's she?" Sylvie repeated incredulously. "You girls should really know your musical theatre history before even thinking of coming to New York or even stepping on a stage. That's one of my pet peeves and my biggest bugaboo."
Of course Minerva never heard of Ethel Merman because Ethel Merman made her Broadway debut ten years after Minerva left the twentieth century; still Sylvie could not help but notice that there was an uncanny resemblance to their voices and personas. This also made Sylvie a bit jealous.
"So let me get this right...your mother is a Broadway producer and she won't give you a break."
"Exactly! She's turned me down every time!"
Time. Time is a tricky thing, especially when you play with it. Normally, time goes on at an even pace. Oh sure, it might be three hours earlier on the coast, but they go to bed earlier out there, so the difference is not a big deal. But now that Artie had tinkered with time, combining magic and invention and just a touch of wishful thinking, time had started to act, well...funny. In the Zoom boxes of 2020, it was March, but by the time April crawled along in the twenty-first century, a whole year had passed in the twentieth. As Minerva tried to play April Fools games with her fellow box-dwellers, her mother Zelda and her friend Artie were celebrating New Year's Eve and toasting to 1921 with bootleg hooch.
April 2020 saw a full house on the screen where Minerva lived. More and more theatrical types were entering the zoom-room and spending more and more time chatting and bitching in this alternate reality. Sylvie hardly ever left and Minerva never did. Sylvie chose to sleep in her own bed, in her own world, but Minerva only had her box, which she had decorated with a background of a theatre curtain behind her. She had the optimistic idea that if she could sit there long enough the curtain might finally rise and she could step out of her box and become a 21st century Broadway star. As each new person arrived with their stories, filling the multiplying square boxes, Minerva worried that her optimism might be dulled down bit by bit, like a knife in need of sharpening. She need not have worried, though. Her innate 1920 persona was intact.
She listened quietly at first as the voices bombarded her from every box on the screen.
"At first they said we would be back to work in a few weeks..."
"...but now they are predicting the summer."
"I've been in Wicked for ten years and never missed a show."
"I'm the oldest munchkin in captivity."
"What's a munchkin?" Minerva innocently asked the new guy in the box next to her.
"It's a small donut hole from Dunkin. I just ate a box," responded Sylvie. "I'm never gonna fit into my costumes."
"Don't listen to her," the cute guy named Dwight, in the next box chided. "A munchkin is a little person."
"A midget? Oh, I used to date one out in Coney Island. He was in the side show out there."
"We don't use that terminology anymore," Dwight replied.
Minerva noticed that Dwight was indeed quite short, which Minerva could see since he was sitting on a stool in his box with his legs dangling and falling short of hitting the floor. A midget! And a damned cute one, she thought.
"Haven't you ever seen The Wizard of Oz?" Another new face asked. His name was Jerry Bell and underneath his name it said "Producer/Waitron."
"You know what? I did see it," Minerva responded, remembering the huge stage extravaganza that her mother took her to at the Majestic up in Columbus Circle. "I must been a kid, maybe twelve or so. I remember Dorothy going to Oz with her pet cow, Imogene."
"Her cow?" asked Sylvie. "Dorothy had a cow?"
"Sure! And her name was Imogene."
"Of course it was."
Minerva went on.
"Oh, and how could I ever forget Fred Stone? A true star and gosh, what a great dancer! Before I came here, my mother presented him in Tip Top at the Globe."
None of the people in the other boxes had ever heard of Tip Top or even Fred Stone. A couple of them might have known that the Globe was now called The Lunt-Fontanne, but most of them thought Minerva was from some other planet. And she was; the planet 1920.
One day Sylvie's box was empty and it remained so for the next week. When Sylvie returned she told Minerva that her mother had died of Covid in her nursing home in Seattle and that Sylvie could not fly out there and that there would be no funeral.
"Now my mom and I have even more in common. We're both in boxes."
Minerva wanted nothing more but to jump from her square to Sylvie's and hug her. Hug her as hard as she could. But Minerva knew it was impossible. They were each in their own little world, near to each other but miles apart. Their invisible walls kept them from touching, but not from caring.
Sylvie knew that no one would hug her now and she feared that she would never be touched again.
Little by little Zoom-life went on, as it must, and Minerva tried her best to be a positive force in her new family. Sometimes she succeeded and sometimes the assembled talking heads looked at Minerva like she had two of them. As time in 2020 moved on a glacial pace, Minerva had the feeling that she was being watched. And she was.
* * *
Zelda Cavendish had been visiting Artie's studio at least once-a-week to look in on her daughter Minerva on the screen Artie called Zoom. As Zelda watched her daughter, time seemed to be standing still for Minerva, seemingly locked inside of a box, now surrounded by others in the own boxes. Sometimes Zelda would stare at the screen and wonder if Artie had simply put up an oil painting and that Minerva was merely a still life; an image. But then out of the blue, Minerva would move her lips and Zelda would try to decipher what she was saying. Despite her lip-reading talents, it wasn't easy. Last week, Minerva said the word "pandemic." Zelda, who had lived through the 1918 Influenza pandemic was taken aback. Why would Minerva talk about that in 2020?
For Zelda time was flying at a rate she had never experienced before. The 1920s were roaring by like an out-of-control locomotive train. Zoom! It was 1921 and Zelda's hit Tip Top was closing. Zoom! It was 1922 and Zelda was thinking about presenting Up She Goes, a musical in three acts and five scenes. The money was rolling in and the skirts were getting shorter. Zelda now smoked in public!
Still, it was astounding to realize that two years had passed since Zelda's beloved daughter was hurled into what Artie described as the future. Zelda couldn't get it through her twentieth-century head that her daughter, who never even left home to find her own apartment, was now living one hundred years away. In a box! What she was doing there, Zelda could not fathom. Most of the time, it seemed that she was doing nothing, while Zelda happily moved up in the Broadway stratosphere. Her plans for next season included a new show by her pal Jerry Kern called Stepping Stones. It had a part for Minerva, but Zelda had no way of getting her back or even letting her know. She blamed Artie.
Artie was desolate. He had created magic and facilitated Minerva's escape; and he had done it for love. Artie had loved Minerva for years and would do anything for her. The irony was that by magically putting the love of his life into the box she craved, he lost her forever. For Artie had no idea how to reverse his inventive magic and now he was doomed to look at Minerva in the twenty-first century day in and day out as if she were a perfect portrait of herself; the sort of painting that followed you with their eyes. And oh, what eyes they were, thought Artie.
That Minerva also registered emotions ranging from happy to sad to excited, was a plus, as well as a heartache. Artie, not being a trained lip-reader like Zelda, had no clue what she was saying or thinking. Still Artie contented himself with merely watching Minerva. If truth be told, he had no choice.
As Artie watched the boxes fill and change around Minerva (for she had somehow become the center square of the screen, the queen bee of the hive) he thought about how each of these souls were trapped in their separate boxes, some escaping for a while, but always returning to their square homes. Was this what the future was like? Did no one go outside anymore? Were there still trees and dogs to walk? Were these squares coffin-like waiting rooms? If so, what were their inhabitants awaiting? Real coffins, perhaps. Artie observed and wished that the screens could talk so he would understand the future better. Then one day in 1923 they did.
At first the sound was distant and scratchy and almost impossible to decipher; more crackly noise than talk. But soon Artie could make out words. He was astonished and immediately called Zelda to come and hear.
"I read that they were showing short films with sound," Zelda said as she squinched up her eyes to read Minerva's lips. "I thought it was just a silly rumor. But now that I'm here and...oh, my God... I can hear my baby on the screen! Artie, I can hear her! Why is her voice so tinny, though?"
It was then that Artie got the idea to invent a new way to hear the sounds coming from the screen. Speakers that would be STEREOPHONIC...He could see the word before him. Magic in sound.
"Come back next week and she'll sound fabulous," Artie told Zelda.
But Zelda could not leave. Not when she could actually hear her daughter's voice.
"Sylvie, you're my best friend..." Zelda heard Minerva say through the static of one hundred years, and it hurt her a bit. Zelda had always thought she and Minerva had more than a mother-daughter relationship and Zelda always considered Minerva her best friend.
* * *
As the weeks and then months went by in 2020, the boxes filled and multiplied. By July, it seemed like all of show business was surrounding Minerva, still in her center square, albeit reduced to the size of a postage stamp. Sylvie called Minerva Paul Lynde, but even after explaining that he was the center square on Hollywood Squares, Minerva was bewildered.
There seemed to be a leveling of the classes now in this Zoom-world, since everyone in Show Biz was out of work. All of them were equally starved for creative expression, from the rich producers and directors (now bringing in no royalties and living off their savings) to the lowest of chorus boys; some surviving by the skin of their teeth. Everyone seemed equal and everyone seemed trapped in their boxes. With so much grief and fear and pessimism in the Zoom room, Minerva, with her big open 1920 face, seemed to them like a breath of spring air.
"You know who you remind me of, Minerva?" Sylvie asked.
"Annie. I mean all that optimism. It's like you got rainbows coming out of your ass."
Minerva didn't know that Sylvie mean Annie, the titular character of the famous 1970s musical, but she also had learned not to question too much, which was another reason people looked to her for sanguinity and calm to help them achieve some kind of respite from reality.
For instance there was Joe. Joe was married to Joy, but there was not much Joy between the two of them lately. Joe was here alone in his own box, while Joy was somewhere else sewing masks for the poor, meaning all of her friends. Minerva could recall when Joe first took residence in the box below and Joe kept repeating some kind of mantra.
"Delete, delete, delete, block, block, block..."
"What are you doing, Joe?" Minerva asked.
Joe was sounding a bit off and very angry to Minerva.
"Whatever! The gyms are closed and this is as much exercise as I can handle. So I sit here with my fingers poised on the keys as the screens and days fly by. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter...Delete. Block. Unfriend. If only I could delete myself or at least stop from commenting on people I'll never know or meet but make me furious. If only I could go outside or just unglue my hands from the keyboard and mouse. Block...Unfriend...Yes, you piece of shit, wear a mask. Wear it. Damn you. Die then. Die. Die. Delete, Block, Unfollow. Will this never end? I have not been out in what feels like months?"
"Joe, Joe...you've only been here a week." Minerva said calmly. "Now take your fingers off of the keys. Do what I say."
Joe meekly obeyed.
"Put your hands over your head now and close your eyes...come on, Joe. You can do it. Good boy. Now visualize a garden..."
"No! Nothing with fighting in it. I want you to see trees and grass and flowers..."
"That's a good start, Joe. See them flowering. Smell them."
Joe closed his eyes and as Minerva spoke behind him in his Zoom box were trees and grass and flowers, including a flowering cactus. Minerva was helping him to imagine it and it was becoming a reality. The colors were spectacular and it was just at this moment in July of 2020 that Zelda Cavendish was sitting in Aeolian Hall in 1924 and hearing Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" for the first time. In his imagination, Joe was hearing it too.
Zelda was determined to get George Gershwin to write a show that she could produce. She was enchanted by his music. How Zelda longed to tell Minerva about it. The combination of classical and jazz, that rhythm of the city; something no other decade but the twenties could have produced. But Zelda had another covert reason for wanted to produce a Gershwin musical. Zelda had a feeling that George could write something amazing for her little girl to sing. She had to get to Gershwin and have Artie put him into the screen with her so they could both go to 2020 and star Minerva in a show!
"What?" Artie asked incredulously. "You want to kidnap George Gershwin and bring him to the future? That's a crime, you know."
"Well, when you put it like that...but Artie, I have a feeling this would make everything up to Minerva. She has such rhythm and so does George. They could make history together. Also, Artie, I have this strange premonition that Gershwin might die young and be totally forgotten."
"The problem, Zelda, is that I don't know how to get people back yet. We can't just unleash Gershwin on 2020 and leave him there. What if his music is out of style? We could ruin his career forever. Do you want that on your head?"
Zelda knew that Artie was right, but she still kept the dream of Gershwin outliving his time hidden in her heart.
* * *
Late at night, when some of the boxes were dark with sleeping people, Joe and Minerva would talk. He had calmed down quite a bit and felt more comfortable on Zoom than at home with his wife Joy, who never stopped sewing.
"I wonder who invented this thing. I mean what a boon to us all now."
Minerva quickly responded. "My friend Artie Fenstermacher did. Back in 1920."
"Wow! I had no idea."
Coincidentally, Artie was explaining how it all happened to a curiously drunk Zelda.
"It was a magic trick gone wrong. I just wanted to make an elephant disappear. I started small with a bed sheet and a mouse. Before I knew it the sheet grew wall-size and I ran out of mice. But these boxes appeared and I realized someone could live in them in the future."
"I don't understand one word," Zelda replied as Artie listened to Minerva speak on the screen.
"No one ever understood Artie, But he was a genius."
Year after year, no matter what else he was doing, which included canvassing all his magician pals to figure out how to get Minerva back, Artie watched and listened to Minerva and his love for her never wavered. 1924 flew by and dragged along 1925, 1926, 1927 and 1928 high-kicking and screaming at the top of their lungs. Zelda produced frivolously joyful musical comedies to try to forget how much she missed Minerva and which, not so incidentally made her a fortune, which she invested in the zooming stock market. Money piled up and time went swiftly for Zelda and she noticed that movies were now starting to speak and sing louder than the stage. This concerned her, but the market was still booming and Broadway had the greatest season ever. Then, like a drunken whore in a speeding roadster, 1929 screeched around the corner and collided head-on with the Black Thursday! Crash!
* * *
As years zipped by for Zelda and Artie, months dragged on for Minerva and her newfound family. The summer oozed into fall and the only time anyone left their box in Zoom was to vote. Then, in early December second and third waves of Covid swept the country and the zoom-boxes seemed even more packed with show people whose unemployment was about to run out in just time for New Years. It was then when Louisa Z. (for Zelda) Cavendish appeared in her own box, right next door to her long lost daughter.
"Mommy! How did you get here? And who's the guy with you?"
The guy was George Gershwin. Against all his instincts, Artie had let Zelda use him and his magic invention to escape the stock market crash and resultant depression. Zelda's instincts were right. Talkies were the only thing that people could afford now and Broadway dried up big time. George Gershwin also saw the writing on the walls and, after being told by his astrologer that he would die before forty...and in Hollywood of all places, George agreed to take the trip to 2020 with Zelda and write a score for what Zelda now described to the beaten down twenty-first century theatricals as the CAVENDISH FOLLIES of 2021!
The mood began to change almost immediately as Zelda not only produced, but directed and as George (who brought along an upright piano for his box...lord knows how Artie managed that magic trick!) played his latest songs and helped choose the cast. The Zoom residents, despite not understanding how it was possible, were in awe of being in the presence of a genius.
"I wish we had brought Ira along too, Zelda. I might need some lyric changes," George moaned.
"Lyrics? Anyone can help with those. We all speak English, right?"
George rolled his eyes at the usual clueless producer and continued playing an insistently punchy tune.
"Take this tune, for example," Zelda said, "Roly Poly...eating solely...ravioli...better watch your diet or bust!"
"Ira already tried that, Zelda, but he decided on calling it 'I Got Rhythm.'"
"Yeah, that's good too. Minerva, try singing this!"
Minerva wrapped her brassy throat around the trumpeting notes that George played and, when she reached the second chorus, improvised holding a long note for eight bars at a time. Every box on Zoom got a little less square and Zelda almost burst through the screen with maternal pride. When Minerva got to the last note, her voice grew in intensity and volume until everyone cheered.
"Minerva P. Cavendish! You are...perfectly adequate."
As the roles were given and the songs rehearsed, the entire population of Zoom seemed to be lifted to new emotional heights. They had something to live for. Something they had not felt in a while. Pride and...hope.
People looked in. Outsiders, not of the theatrical community. People were enchanted by the past meeting the present. People saw twentieth century show biz trying to save the twenty-first. And they applauded and they cheered and then they went away, back to their own lives, back to their jobs, back to their regular incomes.
And then it was over. All the excitement of putting on a show, of being creative and useful, had made everyone forget that they were still locked inside their boxes. Still trapped within their own souls, unable to physically touch, they now looked out from their cages. There was talk now of a vaccine, but also talk of worse strains of the virus to come. Zelda and Minerva, with a new understanding of each other, could always go back to the past. Artie had admitted he took a round trip journey, so it had to be possible. Gershwin rather liked it in his box. Remembering the mystic who told him he died in his thirties, George sought to escape his fate. Here he was alive and had his best friend, the piano.
Zelda also had a feeling that going backwards was the wrong way to go. She had a taste of the depression right after the crash. She saw those jumpers on Wall Street and those apple-Annies and pencil-sellers on Broadway. Minerva had missed all the fun of the twenties and Zelda was not sure she wanted her to experience what she feared was coming.
As for the rest of them? They had a taste of the past, but they could not time travel back. For these twenty-first century folk, there was but one way to go: forward. These 2020 people could only creep toward the future without any idea what that future might resemble. And they were still scared.
Sylvie had called Minerva "my Annie" and secretly wanted her to sing "Tomorrow" hoping that would make the sun come out...or at least give her some hope. Minerva didn't know that song and Sylvie never told her wish anyway. But through some telepathic inter-box zoom-like intuition, Minerva knew that Sylvie and Joe and everyone could use one more song. A song Minerva knew like the back of her hand from a show she would never star in. It wasn't by George, but by Zelda's old friend, Jerry Kern.
"Look for the silver lining," she sang. "when e're a cloud appears in the blue."
"Remember somewhere the sun is shining..." Sylvie joined in, realizing that "Tomorrow" was the same song, written fifty years later. And before Sylvie could find the word "shining" everyone in Zoom had joined in.
"And so the right thing to do is make it shine for you..."
They sang. The singers, the dancers, the dreamers. Artie, in 1930 watched them and heard them as they sang and watched as their boxes multiplied again and again until the screen he looked at, the magic he had inadvertently made happen, was filled with tiny ant-like images that merged into one huge black blob that sang in one voice.
"So always look for the silver lining..."
Artie couldn't see Minerva anymore, but he could hear her big loud trumpet of a voice shining through the others. And that was love, for she was surely singing against thousands, millions.
"And try to find the sunny side of life."
Their last note reverberated from Artie's screen and shook the earth. It seemed as if it could go on forever.
Maybe 2021 wouldn't be so bad after all...