Fontano’s Decision – Damien Roos
Each night I lie awake awaiting Fontano’s big monologue, a set piece bed beneath me,
eyes closed against the gaze of stage lights high above. I keep still and silent, waiting for the man
I love to stumble into our room, cursing as he knocks the floor lamp over. He’ll stand beside the
bed and tell me his decision: my cue to rise to action.
The open call requested actresses in their mid-30’s, specifying the ability to feign sleep.
Some roles you feel you were made for. Nothing more foreign than a bed that’s not yours—the
mothball musty cot dressed up to look like what a married couple might own, coarse sheets that
had served as pirate sails in a rendition of Ahoy! last spring—and yet my body takes to it in
minutes. I’m a professional. NYU Tisch, 2006. The bed becomes mine. The bed is my bed.
The man who plays Fontano is a moderate talent, or so the critics write. One called him
bold and fluid to the point of clumsiness, a poor man’s Nick Cage. Off in the living room,
Fontano is telling Mariah about his plan to go away with her. She will reply by spinning the
conveniently placed globe and stopping it with her finger, as if she’s pointing out a destination.
It’s a little cliché but rings true to her character. Mariah the young, passionate world-beater.
Anyway, I’m asleep. I don’t see this.
In these smaller theaters you can feel New York around you. Taste the dust of the
exposed brick, the traffic whir encroaching like a draft when all is quiet. It can pull you out of
character if you allow it. The audience lets out a laugh. They’re onto the part now where Fontano
makes breakfast for our daughter Dawn in the kitchenette downstage. A subtly sweet scene, I’m
told, though I’m asleep and wouldn’t know.
The truth is that I love the man who plays Fontano. To express this would not be
appropriate. He’s married with two real-life daughters likely looking on this very moment, seeing
daddy sip his mug of make-believe gin and stare hopelessly toward the darkened portion of the
set, into our bedroom where I lie.
Fontano does not inform Dawn of his plan to leave. He doubts he has the courage to go
through with it. What the audience doesn’t know is that this scene is the last time they’ll ever see
each other, Fontano’s voice quaking as he guides her out the door toward the sound cue of a
braking school bus. Her contribution made, the little girl who plays Dawn will wait backstage for
curtain call, thumbing listlessly through TikTok videos. I once heard the director call her a
natural. It’s what you say about a kid who properly enunciates her lines.
The story of my budding admiration is a little long, but I’ve still got a few minutes. It was
just after our fifth rehearsal, the sort of early autumn day where you forget how fast night falls
until you’re standing out in it. I’ll walk you to the train, he said. That awful Will Call entrance
lighting accentuated the curve of his hero’s jawline, a light breeze ruffling the leaves around our
feet. The man who plays Fontano pointed out the small Italian restaurant where, a decade prior,
he’d gotten drunk too fast, stood a bit too quickly and knocked carbonara onto a date’s lap. I
actually laughed–I could see him doing this. At the entrance to the Christopher St. station, we
paused to watch a jazz ensemble bop around. The air around us smelled like hazelnut and
cinnamon. You’ve got a long trip back to Jersey, I said, studying frenetic fingers tapping brass
keys. Too long, I think he said. Trumpets are loud instruments. And then I hopped aboard an
uptown train craving pasta and red wine, climbed three flights of stairs to my studio. I cleaned
the litter box and did the dishes, scraped tuna onto toast and gulped down half a bottle. My
mother called and said she’d read an article on loneliness and women in cities. She asked if I had
gone to see a doctor yet about my insomnia. I responded by telling her I’d met a man, and then
surprised myself by talking all about him for the next whole minute (leaving one small detail out,
of course). Then I walked six blocks uptown and ducked into a bar called The Chimney Sweep,
where I sipped a cherry bourbon bomb and played nine pensive rounds of Hungry Hungry
Hippo. What a town.
Here comes the part when Mariah enters our house one last time. She’d had a dream
about Dawn, our child, the night before. She’s having second thoughts. I always use this moment
to check in on myself. Sometimes I wonder: does depression cause insomnia, or vice versa? Our
producer once called me convincing, adding he’d initially envisioned someone a tad bit younger.
I thought this last part could have not been said. It was just after dress rehearsal and I sat there in
the dressing room rubbing mascara from my eyes. The producer is an ok guy, but I hate it when
they come backstage. He’d asked if I was all right, said I’d been acting strange the last couple
rehearsals. I laughed. Acting. Ha. I’m fine, I said.
I’d fuck the man who plays Fontano in that very dressing room, if he desired. It’s what
you might imagine, the space. Lights around the mirror and a rack of silly wardrobe pieces.
Smells of candle wax and rouge. Mouse droppings in the corner. I picture us down on the rug, a
pants-around-one-leg sort of fuck. If I’m supposed to be asleep I might as well dream.
As for the woman called Mariah, it only made sense they’d pick someone prettier than
me. Continuity requires this. Verisimilitude. You quickly learn the limits of your beauty when
you’re cast as someone who gets left. She’s still in her twenties, of course. A background in
dance. Rides horses, I think. Last production she did was West Side Story. Yup.
Maria…Mariah…Maria…You must be beautiful to play Maria.
Nowhere in her concerned little speech does this Mariah even mention me. The fucking bitch.
Let me tell you of the time I knew I’d fallen deep. It was in fact that aforementioned dress
rehearsal, the final one, and we’d just wrapped up. His wife and daughters had driven in from
their suburban castle. The girls stood waiting in the wings and they came running out to meet
him in a rush of psychopathic squeals. I hate kids. The real-life wife emerged behind them,
gripping her elbows in that way women do when they’re cold or otherwise uncomfortable. She
waved to me. She looked like she worked admin at a dental office. I nodded back. We stood and
watched her husband and their children. Weird how the man who plays Fontano seemed graceful
all a sudden, lifting one girl high into the air while the other hugged his leg and stared up at him.
I observed the musculature of his furry, rangy arms, imagining that I’d forever sleep in peace in
The chair slides with a squeak down in the kitchenette. I always know to focus at this
part. To feign. To feign. I’ve been asleep this whole time, after all. I did not even hear the chair.
I’m feigning sleep here in the dim room as he walks over. Here we go. My name is Carla. I love
this Fontano. Seven years we’ve been married. Our beautiful Dawn just started first grade. I’ve
been asleep this whole time. A moment of complete silence now. He’s standing at the doorway to
our room. You can almost hear a honking taxi in the street outside, except that it’s no longer New
York City but Dayton, Ohio. We’re in a bedroom in the town for which the play itself is named.
My home is my eternal shelter, I tell myself. My family is my nest.
I’m a professional, you know. Eighteen stage productions, one on Broadway. Two in
London. One in Berlin. Six short films. Two features. The best actors have their one particular
strength, the thing they can do better than any other. The thing they’ll be called back to do.
FONTANO enters into the bedroom. He’s a little drunk, he realizes, groping through the
dark room for the lamp. He knocks it over. Fumbling for it along the floor, FONTANO finally
locates it and stands it back up. He pulls the chain. The stage lights rise to reveal their bedroom.
CARLA stirs in the new light.
FONTANO: I’m leaving, Carla. I’ve come to tell you. I’m going out that door and never
CARLA rolls to face the other direction.
FONTANO: It’s the way she looks at me, Carla. The way she lives. She’s got this small
apartment in town, a fat cat named Peter who climbs on your lap. She leaves Coltrane records
on for him when she goes out. She…she goes out! You hear me, Carla? She goes out. She’s been
everywhere…Me, I’ve grown so accustomed to stillness, to quiet, as if my world had just halted,
just stopped. Do you know what happens when the earth quits spinning? You die, Carla.
CARLA finally awakens. She rubs her eyes. The two look at each other.
The best relate their characters to what they know. I sit up slowly in the bed and grab my
elbows. It’s cold here in this bedroom. And now I have become her. Now I have become her.
Now I have become her.
Damien Roos is an MFA candidate in Fiction at The New School, an editorial fellow at Guernica Magazine and a reader for PANK. His work has appeared in such outlets as The Denver Post, Gravel Magazine, and Gulf Stream Literary Magazine. He lives in New York City with his wife and pit bull.