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Entrance."  Back of it was a pitch-black passageway with a horrible smell.  Lugging my suitcase I groped forward and collided with something that made a terrifying noise.  It was a cage of seals.

The audience was sparse that afternoon but in the evening there was a much larger and rowdier crowd.  They began applauding, surprisingly, right in the middle of our act.  At least I took it for applause.  It was a rhythmic clapping--clap, pause, clap, pause, clap, pause, and the audience was doing it in unison.  I wasn't aware that this was a form of criticism.  After the last performance one of the men came to my dressing room with the bad news.  The manager had canceled our act.  He wouldn't even let us finish out the week.

The day of Christmas Eve it snowed.  The men phoned in the morning to tell me that they were abandoning the act and I needn't come to rehearsals any more.  About noon my landlady put on her hat and coat and said casually, "Well, goodbye, kid, I am going to get drunk over Christmas.  See you in a few days."  I was too scared even to be shocked.  I didn't know the lady very well, but I didn't know anyone else at all, and Christmas Eve had to be gotten through.  That would be the worst because up until last year it had always been the best - the lovely, luminous, best, most important day of the whole year.

I waited in the hall downstairs for the last mail delivery of the day——the one that would surely bring word from home——Christmas cards, a letter, and of course the box from Dad and my sister with presents and homemade candy and cookies.  But the postman came and went and there was nothing.  He explained about the blizzard in the West that had delayed all the mails.

Now it was dark and still snowing great, dry, fluffy flakes.  The city was white and sparkling like a mica-covered greeting card.  I could no longer keep Christmas at bay.  The aloneness engulfed me.  I couldn't cry because the ache in my throat was too hard and the knot in my middle too tight.  Panic set in.  I was going down for the third time.  I yanked on overshoes, lunged into coat and hood, ran down the block, streaked up the stairs to the elevated, and headed for Broadway where there were people.

At Times Square the lights glittered on sifting snow in the air and powdery snow underfoot.  There were gay people everywhere——people in couples, people in parties, people with other people.  I felt shamefully conspicuous.  I joined a laughing group, walking as close as I dared, trying to look at though I belonged to them.  I followed them to a theatre entrance where a big sign blazed out "MITZI MAJOS——IN LADY BILLY."  I bought a single seat.  The orchestra was tuning up as I walked in elaborately consulting my watch, looking about and shaking my head in annoyance, as if the friend I expected was late in arriving.  It was warm inside and the air was pervaded with that unique theatre smell and sound of an audience looking forward to a performance.  The overture played, the lights dimmed, the house quieted and the curtain rose, and then —— the magic gradually happened.  Mitzi Hajos, Lady Billy, of course, disguised as a boy, sang and danced and made jokes that surprised me into laughing.  The knot in my stomach began to loosen.  I was not, after all, going down for the third time.  I was safe and sheltered on a little island of light and music and color.  And I was not alone.  The actors, the audience, and I were somehow companions sharing the particular experience that is theatre.  At intermission most of the people walked to the lobby and I sat still, but my throat didn't ache any more and I waited, comforted, for the next act to begin.

When the final curtain had shut me out, once again I edged close to a group and scuffed my way through the soft snow to the elevated.  There were few passengers that night.  The right-angled seats in the center of the car were empty.  I sat close in the corner of one and turned my face to the snowy window, and then I cried.  I cried my say back to the 86th Street Station, to the empty apartment and to sleep.  The lump inside me had dissolved and Christmas Eve was over.

Fifteen years later I was again in a theatre on Christmas Eve, but this time I was on the other side of the footlights. The year was 1939.  The play was the now legendary Life With Father.  The theatre 

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