My Opera Monarch 



We take a while ordering our burgers, going back and forth on what toppings to add, whether or not to ‘super fat’ our fries. We have half an hour before the Orpheum’s phantom voice and warning chimes panic everyone into their seats. 

“You just let us know when you’re bored with us,” my Dad says to the waitress, a blonde with sizzled hair.  

“There’s not exactly anything else to do,” she nods around the empty bar. “Everyone’s at the home game.”

“What’s the veggie burger like?” Dad asks, always inquisitive about the vegetarian dishes, about consistency and chickpeas and degree of spice, all with a smile that says, Vegetarianism. It can be our little secret. And then, from out of nowhere, the jaws appear and clatter shut as he orders the beefiest thing available.

“I think I’ll have the beef.” Dad says, pleased. “Can you add swiss to that? And bacon?” Our server’s face doesn’t move, just her pen, which she holds in a monkey grip.


“What?” I snort, still mesmerized by the monkey grip.

“Oh - I guess I’ll have the veggie,” I say.

  When the waitress leaves, Dad folds his hands and leans forward, “I think she thought I winked at her.”

“Well, did you?”

“Only to imply that she could tell me if their veggie burgers were terrible, which they probably are.”

“And she thought you meant something else.”

“She took a definite step backwards.”

“Oh well.”

Dad pushes at the bridge of his glasses. “I’m embarrassed.”

I know he’s not embarrassed. He engages in benign flirtation with almost everyone he meets, not to seduce but just to coax others from beneath their rocks.

“You’d be amazed,” he tells me, “what people will say if you just ask them about themselves.”


Imagine Larry David, but shorter and of sweeter temperament. A cherished sparseness of white hairs, no comb-over, just a soft fuzz like baby duckling fur. Wire glasses with magical lenses that appear to be of one prescription but are really bifocals. At times he appears eagle-like, perched on one of the stools in our kitchen with eyes magnetized to a dot in the granite countertop. These are deep-in-thought moments, deep-space-nine moments. Once, I asked him what he was thinking about. After repeating my question a few times he said, “I had this dream last night and it was…” he shook his head, woeful. “You wouldn’t believe it. Christ, was it disturbing.”

Waiting for more, I stood up and leaned forward, my chin on the counter.    

“I think your mother was in it.”

I pursed my lips and waited, but he’d gone back to silence, his focus retrained on the granite dot.

“And…? What happened?”

Finally he looked at me.

“Oh no, no. I can’t tell you. It wouldn’t be, appropriate.”

“You have to tell me! There’s no way you’re going to bring it up and then not tell me, you’re dangling the carrot!”


With ten minutes until the concert, we’re waiting for the bill.  

“I’m still hungry,” Dad says. “I didn’t have lunch.”



“I have a confession to make.” My eyes dart back and forth because I hate when I put myself on the spot. “Colin told me he was in love with me. Actually, he said, I love you. That he’d meant it for a while every time he said, ‘I like you.’ And I agreed.” 

For a second, there’s only wood scraping ice and the rioting hockey crowd buzzing on every screen in the place.

 “You said, ‘I agree’? Jesus, Dee why not just ‘Doctor, I concur’?”

A snarl comes out of my throat as I clear it.

“I didn’t actually say that. I was just narrating the event for you.” I rub my chest, feeling indigestion clamouring beneath the skin. “I said I loved him, too. ‘I agree’ is presumptuous. And way too clinical.” Like the word coitus, which I hate only a fraction less than maggot.

“I’m so happy for you, sweetie. That’s wonderful.”

 “Thanks,” I say, and think about words I like better. Locket. Potpourri. Dalmatian. Eye socket.

10 minutes to curtain.

“Aren’t you going say goodbye to our waitress?”

Dad shrugs, “It appears she’s very busy all of a sudden.”

“We’ll have to leave it then. She’ll never know how harmless you really are.”


Outside the cold makes mesh of my coat. Dad is only wearing a suit, but the outside temperature approximates the way he likes his bedroom at night, the thermostat dial at ‘arctic’. He burrows under the covers and reads, and, more recently, listens to opera on his new silver headphones. When he first got them he lay down all over the house, like an oversized beetle with bulbous metallic eyes on either side of its head, waving a feeler to the sound of Sumi Jo. 

 “Christ, it’s cold.” Dad says, but we’re running and I watch him go ahead of me, elbows flapping, tie blown back over one shoulder. His shiny office loafers smack like slippers on the sidewalk, dance to the curb, the gutter and back again; Dad weaves through crowds like a boxer determined to never punch anyone, just to duck and fake around an endless horde of adversaries.

“I still can’t believe we’re seeing her,” I poke Dad as we reach tall glass doors belted with shiny gold bars and push inside, blinking and double-blinking in the bustle lit by electric chandeliers.

“Where’s will call?” We need to pick up our tickets. Dad twitches his head from staircase to bar to coat check, a predatory scan, but more neurotic than necessary because Will Call is plastered in muted yellow letters above twin ticket windows to our immediate right.

Waiting in a line-up with my Dad produces the inevitable, “So mysterious, isn’t it? The physics of lines…” and I nod and think about people standing on the correct side of the swinging velvet, creeping forward, docile, talking calmly about other things.

“Fuck this line!” I say. “What are they doing up there? Is there only one window open?”

“They may close Will Call,” Dad says, gravely.

So we double our efforts, splitting up and taking separate lines, fidgeting and comparing each other’s progress. Eventually, we have our tickets in our hands, and we wave them at the ticket lady, in her royal blue vest, black tie knotted at her neck.

“She wears a tie to work too,” I say, sprinting after my Dad, who isn’t listening, but swinging around the staircase turns like a gorilla, pawing at the fancy banisters like they’re tree trunks.  

Inside, I let Dad find the seats while I tilt my head back and look at the ceiling. It’s like the inside of one of those magnificent old cathedrals, painted with cherubs and muses strumming lutes and wearing bedsheets fastened with leaves. I lean back into the puff of my coat when I sit and keep looking up.

“Opera makes me believe in God,” my Dad says.

“You say that about perfect honeydew too,” I reply.

The program promises a night of fluffy, well-known arias and romping overtures. I watch while Dad reads it, thinking he looks small, like gravity isn’t enough to keep him in his seat. Maybe this is because we’re sitting at the balcony’s rim, with the fan of the orchestra unfolded on stage below us. It gives me a pleasant vertigo, which intensifies when the conductor walks on stage and pulls her musicians together with the upswing of her baton. Maybe she’s forty, her hair has some grey, and it’s cut into the looser style that precedes the old lady mullet. Her tuxedo tails flutter as the heels of her flat black shoes rise and fall with the music.    

Sumi Jo looks exactly like a monarch I would want to defend. In a gown shimmering like the green-orange of a mango flushing towards ripeness, she holds her arms up to greet us like a prophet. I hold my breath when she starts to sing. I clear my throat quietly for her. I shut my eyes and listen to her voice fill the space beyond the balcony railing, above all the heads. In the dark, mottled theatre beneath my eyelids, her voice looks like rivulets of silver.

At intermission, we buy espresso and lean against a wall beside a man with very erect hair.

“Dad,” I whisper. “He looks like a cockatoo, with a crest!”

“I should ask him what gel he uses.” Dad says. “Maybe it stimulates growth.”

The last time my Dad used gel it made his several hairs smell like vanilla. He never replaced it when it ran out, and now his freckly head – or “dome” – as my brother refers to it – smells like bargain soap and wax.      

“Ask him.” I prod. “Maybe he’ll let you smell him too.”

We sip our drinks quietly for a bit, our index fingers hooked awkwardly in the little handles designed for elves.   

“This is the first time I haven’t fallen asleep in the first act of something,” Dad says. “She really is fantastic. That voice. So pure. It’s truly angelic.”

“Like distilled vodka,” I say, “and not the cheap kind.”  

I decide to go to the Ladies’ Room, because at the opera, that’s what you call it. Once in a stall, I marvel at the emptiness around me. No extended arguments scrawled between a sharpie pen defending radical feminism and a blue ballpoint saying men are not the enemy. Nothing like a stall on campus, where I could happily spend an entire day reading the walls:


I want to fuck my TA. What should I do?  

- don’t do it. it’s not worth it.


I want to be Mr. ­­______’s Lolita!


I keep sleeping around because I’m insecure but they keep falling in love with me.


My life has been ruined by an eating disorder.

- let’s start a tally:

 / / / / //


I’m a woman but I’m not a feminist.

- have fun popping out kids in the burbs.


I’m new to this stall. hello everyone!


Sumi Jo returns to the stage in a new dress, white satin with navy flowers and a matching cape with balloon sleeves. Once again, she has the audience gasping simultaneously – like figure-skating fans – at each fancy warble, twist and solid landing after a tricky phrase.  

“Check out that stance,” I say to Dad out of the corner of my mouth, like a baseball coach. Even in a dress that sweeps the floor, you can tell that Sumi Jo’s feet are rooted like goal posts. Contained within that slim body is the lung capacity of a whale.

Then it’s just the orchestra doing the overture from Rossini’s The Barber of Seville. I hear Sumi Jo practicing somewhere offstage during the quieter lulls, perhaps conducting to herself in the mirror. The music makes me want to vault onto my steed and gallop into a battle, fighting for whomever, so long as the uniforms are spiffy and my moustache is dashing and well-trimmed. I tap my Dad and mime the reigns I’m holding. My chin crinkles and I’m smiling helplessly as the piece crashes to an end, and then ends again, and again.



- Lauren Schachter