Sam at The Strand
by Mrs. Lombardi
By 1939, The Strand Theater needed repair. Sam, the handyman and nighttime custodian, did his best to keep the building in working order. But there was only so much he could do with the creaky wooden floors, the cracked tile entrance, the leaky roof, and the corroding tin ceiling.
However, a troupe of Shakespearean actors was coming to town, and they planned to cap off their visit with a rendition of Romeo and Juliet at The Strand. Much work needed to be done before next week, so Sam decided to stay overtime.
On this late night, Sam busied himself by brushing the red velvet seats and dusting the wooden floors in the ampitheater. Sam sank between the tight rows, the small space barely able to accommodate his large shape. His dingy green jumpsuit stretched tight over his round belly and massive arms. His thinning dark hair was combed over a large bald scalp, and dark smudges marked his round face, his obtrusive nose, and his bulbous head.
Despite his frightening appearance, Sam’s worth was proven by his hard-working, reliable nature. No one knew that theater like Sam, and no one, not even a much younger person, could clean more thoroughly. To outsiders though, Sam was a strange-looking man with a significant stutter and garbled speech. These were the same traits that haunted Sam throughout his childhood and led him to quit school before the 8th grade. But a lonely dark theater, a late-night shift, and limited social interaction proved to be the ideal working conditions for Sam.
As Sam ducked between rows, he slowly realized that a young couple had made their way to the stage. This was strange; there was no rehearsal tonight. The couple spoke in hushed tones and seemed to be engrossed in a frantic conversation. Sam continued to clean, attempting to give them their privacy. But something in the urgency of their conversation made him stare in wonder. What were they doing here so late? Who were they? Scolding himself for his curiosity and his slow progress, Sam moved to the foyer to wax the crumbling floor tiles.
A half hour later, Sam returned to the theater to pick up his broom and bucket. This time, he noticed the girl lying in a corner of the stage. Had she fallen? Sam rushed forward for a few steps but then stopped still when he noticed her companion nearby. The young man, so distraught, drank liquid from a vile. What was happening here? Was it poison? The young lover’s body contorted in pain; he was dying, right there on the stage, right next to the girl he adored. Sam’s heart began to skip in his chest as he realized that he just witnessed a murder suicide! Suddenly, his heart stopped, and Sam slumped to the ground with a thud; the young actors on the stage, their scene interrupted, rose abruptly when realizing they were not alone.
The Strand closed for renovation later that year because Sam was no longer around to keep the theater in order. But every year since, Sam’s ghost makes an appearance on Valentine’s Day - sliding his push-broom across the creaky wooden floorboards - to see if those Star-Crossed Lovers are putting on one last performance.
Artist: Janellen Lombardi
School: North Allegheny