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February 21st, 2009 - Karen Burton

Move like a ghost; talk like a Brit; scream like a banshee.

I repeated these commands in my head while retrieving lines to place on my tongue for the next moment on stage. My big screaming scene was approaching, and I was as focused as a juggler with a half dozen balls in the air. I was preparing for a big moment as the ghost, Elvira, in Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit. I took a deep breath as I was waiting in the green room for my entrance.

Suddenly, my phone rang for the fourth time, another call from my son. I sighed and stepped out of the green room to answer it, only to hear his distress as he recounted another combative encounter with his father. “It’s fine until you aren’t here,” he said. “Then, Dad just yells about everything.” In an instant, my stage focus was replaced with a wave of guilt. Participation in community theater took me away from home in the evenings, away from my marriage that, on a good day, was smoldering in the land of discontent. Away from the sharp edges of barbed conversations, I found respite in art, in new friends, and in the hard work of theater. However, I was often not at home to buffer between my sons and my husband’s simmering rage.

“Just get out of the room and cool off, and let your dad do the same. . .” I began. I felt the familiar sensation of my insides ripping like fabric. I wanted to be a good wife and mother, but I needed to also be an artist. My stomach began to burn and the tension moved up my neck as an instant headache.

Then, my mind began to chant: Move like a ghost; talk like a Brit; scream like a banshee. And with the chant came my own simmering rage. I did not have time to think about the current drama at home.

“You know what? You two work it out. I cannot be there every minute to babysit. I deserve a life.” I hung up. The phone immediately rang again. I’m certain my son believed the call had been dropped by intermittent cell service because I had never hung up on him. I turned off the phone completely.

I drew in a deep breath as I recalled the hours of rehearsal I had put into this scene, repeating the double-take, controlling the rise in volume with each line I delivered. This role had been a challenge to meet. Exhausting. Exhilarating. A new thought was born. Maybe I should re-evaluate my role in my own home. Maybe it was time to scream like a banshee. Maybe.

“KB, you’re up,” my castmate said. I shook off everything and stepped into being a British ghost.


February 2020

I sit in my recliner this morning, reading a new script, Rehearsal for Murder. A good friend is directing the play and asked me to audition. I’d be playing a Broadway producer caught up in a murder mystery.

I give the script my full attention. There is no husband living in my home, as we parted almost three years ago. My sons are grown and working out their relationships with their father without my participation. I did learn to scream like a banshee, and the fight that ensued was epic. I also gave up my career as a bellhop, carrying the luggage of others’ emotions.

I am still a good mother, and I am an artist. After going back to school to complete a master’s degree in writing, I work in the magical worlds of language every day.

I pick up my tea and sip it with a sigh. I pause to hear my wind chimes blowing on the deck. I turn back to the script, ready to meet the challenge of a new role.


Karen Burton is an editor, writer, book coach, and amateur actress. She received her MFA in Writing from Lindenwood University and her works of poetry and prose have been published in The Lindenwood Review, Foliate Oak, Canyon Voices, Magnolia, and other journals, magazines, and anthologies.


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