The nineth part of a sparrow

(Adult language and sexual themes)

Thersites: Lo, lo, lo, lo, what modicums of wit he utters! his evasions have ears thus long. I have bobbed his brain more than he has beat my bones: I will buy nine sparrows for a penny, and his pia mater is not worth the nineth part of a sparrow. This lord, Achilles, Ajax, who wears his wit in his belly and his guts in his head, I’ll tell you what I say of him.

Troilus and Cressida – William Shakespeare

woman-s-face-3196977

Chorus: Yes, she, Lucy Finn, not known for her patience or statecraft. She is celebrated for her fearless interpretations, intolerant of theater critics, New York rib joints, men generally, ex-husbands particularly. She is esteemed, but not beloved. Now dying of some awful viral scourge, probably. Fevered, alone, reminiscent in her grief, with a beautiful and dead Venezuelan boy locked up in the spare bedroom, occupying too much of her attention.

Lucy Finn: Help me, Victorio, I believe I am dying.

Victorio: Rest, dear Lucille. Shall I bring you your cigarettes, or would you prefer a magnificent ripened orange? You have not told me what mood you’re in.

Chorus: (Snorts). Lucille? Victorio was her first husband, and the only man who would ever call her that. She despises that version of her name. People would compare her to that other redhead, that vaudevillian redhead, the one with the television program. Not a real actress, not by any measure. Only Victorio could call her by that name and make it sound so erotic. 

Lucy Finn: That fancy gin you bought me. Over crushed ice, please. With orange peel? My throat is so dry.

Victorio: Of course. 

Chorus: Lucy recalls Victorio has been dead for nearly thirty-seven years. A suicide. He liked the young boys, had a fondness for them, and she caught him in the back of their Lincoln Town Car, his soft brown fingers stretching a condom over a fifteen-year-old boy’s semi-flaccid cock.

Thersites:  Prithee, be silent, boy; I profit not by thy talk; thou art thought to be Achilles’ male varlet.”

Lucy Finn: I loved that role. I was born to play it. And god-damn those critics who said it was not a woman’s role. It was an actor’s role. God-damn them all. I should have won the Drama Desk Award that year.

Davison Petre: You were volcanic, my love. You were Lawrence Olivier if Olivier were a woman. 

Lucy Finn: Or if he could be me, and a much better actor.

Davison Petre: Really, darling? You’re too much for your own good. What are you going to do about that dead boy in the bedroom? This is the middle of April, my sweet, and that corruption is practically in full blossom.

Lucy Finn: I don’t know, Davison. Could you help me? I’m really not feeling very well.

Chorus: Davison was really not there, of course. They divorced almost two years after Troilus and Cressida finished its brief Broadway run. It took them that long to realize they were not particularly tragic, just two semi-real people who did not like each other very much. Davison finished his career as a character actor in minor network sitcoms and movies-of-the-week. The last time Lucy heard from him, he was working on a memoir he hoped would be picked up by Random House. He was one of the first ‘celebrities’ to succumb to this new and outrageous virus. That was nine days ago. Sometimes Lucy forgets she was married to him.

Lucy Finn: Davison?

Daniel Large: I don’t know who that is. Was he an actor friend of yours?

Lucy Finn: He was… yes, something like that. Have you come here to help me with my little problem?

Daniel Large: Honey, I’m your big problem now. We signed a contract, remember? Branson, Missouri? That little theater gig you were supposed to headline? “Shakespeare and the Romulans”, or whatever it was called? You never showed up, and I gave you a lot of advance money. And now the devil has come for his due.

Lucy Finn: I don’t know you! I don’t remember you! I don’t think I would do such a thing. I’m practically retired now. I’m practically a legend now. Why would I ruin that? Why would I do something so foolish and… and so meaningless? I was the best Thersites, no matter what the reviewers wrote. I should have won for that performance, instead of Jessica Tandy for whatever bullshit play she was in. Poor dear, she was a pity-win, don’t you think?

Daniel Large: You asking me? Look here, you signed the papers. Old broads like you, I know you need your fancy boys and gigolos to help you believe you’re not past your best-before date, but sweetheart, you’re way past that now. You’re practically expired. You gonna get on that bus, or do I have to drag you there myself? And Jessica Tandy won for The Gin Game that year, and she was glorious.

Lucy Finn: You… you’re… you are not a very nice character. In fact, I would say you’re a cliché . This is not a 1970’s detective show, when that kind of acting was so commonplace. This is real life. You don’t belong here anymore.

Daniel Large: Ain’t nothing real about your life, lady. What about that boy in your spare room? Is he even real? Have you checked on him lately?

Thersites: “I would thou didst itch from head to foot and I had the scratching of thee; I would make thee the loathsomest scab in Greece. When thou art forth in the incursions, thou strikest as slow as another.”

Chorus: Daniel Large was an unemployed actor she met in 1997. He volunteered as a stagehand in a Trenton, New Jersey production of Henry VI, Part II. Lucy was cast as Eleanor, Duchess of Gloucester. He was a large man in many ways, and Lucy took him to her bed throughout the entire run of the play, which was four performances. She was not even certain if ‘Large’ was his real name, but he was, and she enjoyed him, and never saw him again. She played the role of Eleanor indifferently, and can remember only one of her lines:

Eleanor, Duchess of Gloucester: “What say’st thou? majesty! I am but grace.”

Lucy Finn: There are no small parts of me that do not ache for some comfort. To be held and reassured, and, yes, solaced by a perfumed whirlwind of adoration. You are all gone, all gone. If I pass, when I pass, it will be a surrender, not a walkaway, and none will remember me, by name, by scattered fortunes. The playbills have all faded, all cinders and dust now, inhaled by a morbid breeze. God-damn it, Roy, why did you send them away? I was ready! The wigs were freshly powdered, my contours smoothed and colored, the Bard’s words leaning strongly against my lips,  ready to rush… or walk… or tumble artfully in their proper exclamations of grief and submission. I was ready to go on! Roy! Why did you shutter the lights and empty all the seats?

Roy Alabaster:  None were seated, my dear. None! A few stray tickets, perhaps, collected by collectors to wipe their bums or freshen their ruined beds, but they were all taken by plague, all but a few who wander their rooms, starved for pity, seeking light, seeking better dreams than what currently adorns them. There are no lights to shutter, it is all gone dark now.

Lucy Finn: But what of the boy? Did he not attend to me? Did he wish to bear witness for me? I am blameless for my husband’s sins. There is no boy locked within that room, it is his ghost. Tell me so, I plead with you. There is no boy!

Roy Alabaster: Though you are not innocent, your reckoning will be kind, m’lady. T’is true. There is no boy, but for the one you project your own darkness upon. That boy ruined you as he himself was ruined. But he is gone, and now you too can rest, and peacefully, dear Lucy. Most peacefully.

Lucy Finn: Thank you Roy. You have been a good and kind manager to me. I think our business is done here now. I wish you well, old friend. May we both see clearly beyond our fevered imaginings, as we glance upon whatever truth rests beyond us.

Chorus: And Lucy slept, and she dreamed of certain things, and none of them could harm her.

Chorus: But wait! There is still the matter of  the beautiful and dead Venezuelan boy locked up in the spare bedroom, now occupying none of her attention.Lo, lo, lo, lo, what of he, dear friends, what of he?

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

 

Cinnamon Suites

hand-holding-a-flower2 (2)

Suite 1

Evelyn-Jean Jones knows she does not look like that beige-blonde girl on page 28 of her brother’s Field & Stream October issue — the page with the below-the-fold advertisement for Kodiak boots and, apparently, women’s shorty-shorts — the magazine he keeps buried under his collage of college brochures — the brochures he broodily ignores when he comes home from JFK #3 Collegiate High School — the school he enters every morning as if it were a trench filled with mustard gas. He hides that magazine with that girl on that page underneath all the constricting thoughts in his life: the colleges that don’t really care if he attends them; the unremarkable grades that seem flat to everyone but his parents; the girl he likes who sits beside him in homeroom and advanced trig, and who likely walks to each of her classes with the standard-issue High School Richter scale to measure anxiety due to: pimples, grades, assorted teenage cruelties, and a thousand different oscillations of bad vibrations such as: being measured for every pound of flesh, every bead of perspiration, every drop of blood she sheds that must be so obvious to absolutely everyone. She does not wear Kodiak boots, but she does wear Dollar Tree sandals that will soon need Krazy Glue to keep the insoles from snapping down the hallway like a pre-teen boy’s trail of farts. This is a thing that boys do, and if she has a brother, he has already confirmed this to her.

But back to Evelyn-Jean: she knows who she does not resemble, and that is Miss Page 28. However, she is generally unattached to the idea that this is who she’ll always be, and there’s a pretty good chance that all the big changes are pending. Fourteen years old, and she may already be wise. She does not pretend to be smarter than she is, unlike her bro, who thinks he could be the next Ian McEwan or maybe Ralph Ellison (urmm, thing to consider here, and I’m hawking this from Sister Oprah: my dude, maybe you should be the first you instead of some watered-down version of someone else. She never EVER says my dude, not even when she’s mainlining M&M’s and maintaining a wicked weekend Mountain Dew rush, but Coolio over there is a special case, an inert exception to that particular rule, so you go on ahead and be the new Edgar Allen Duck if that’s gonna be your next performance-art thingy, my dude).

Evelyn-Jean has met the girl to whom her brother is enamored (– is that word still up for grabs, or has it been permanently preserved in amber by Miss Jane Austin and her Lady Avengers, strictly reserved for suitably cotillion’d adjectives / so the loud-mouth’d verbs can leave now, okay? –) and she is a slight and pretty thing, in a vague CW teen vampire victim sort of way. Blonde, but not Page 28 blonde, casual no-name denim, not-too-blousy blouses, freshly-washed face, clean nails, yes, my lord, she will do as a bridesmaid, but not as the main course. The Chosen Girl knows who Evelyn-Jean’s brother is, probably, but other than the slightly hesitant name recognition attached to the face, he could be anyone to her: an actor in soft-focus to the left of Jason Priestley in a “90210 Reunion Special”, or an enfant terrible from one of the lesser state senates recently depositioned for three counts of Awfully Stupid. Is he your brother? Tell him I said hi, I guess. Oh, the burn of immortal love, bro, but you’re almost seventeen, so this is not your real life yet, unless it is, in which case, so sorry your soup is cold and we’re all out of those cinnamon bread sticks you like so much.

 

Suite 2

Evelyn-Jean Jones knows her brother does not look like that photograph on page 17, second column and above the fold, of the old obituary notices –a jejune black and white shot cropped from a blown-up photo from a lousy yearbook capture of him and his Math Crew celebrating whatever it is that math geeks celebrate when there are still Math Girls in the room: probably Batman, or a Skywalker, or a particularly cute cosplay. He did not look like that at all / so ill-defined / when he died, and Evelyn-Jean hurried past him so she wouldn’t have to remember what remained of him. That was a thing she would never say to anyone, not to any future husband / child /  god, should she ever go looking for that particular character again.

hand-holding-a-flower2 (1)“Ya’ll don’t know how this feels,” she says at her graduation. “You can push them all together, all them black and white newspaper dots, and still not see him. Not for what he did in his three-and-a-half years of high school, not for what he did outside the hallways and classrooms. But that ain’t the whole him. What he thought, how he felt — they shoulda called me up, I had real pictures of him. Good pictures. He was a real, real kind boy, an urgent kind of boy, and I teased him about it, and he brooded over my words, because he knew I was right. When he laughed,  it was a real thing. That boy could laugh when he wanted, and a lot of time, he did not want to. He felt all his moods, and he tried to be generous with them when they were good, and sometimes he failed at that. But we knew him. I knew him, his folks knew him, and they knew him to be a real sincere boy. His hurt was real, and he had a hard time showing it off to others. But I knew him. He was not as average as he thought he was. He would have been a good man, given a chance, given a few more years. But I guess you can’t put that into three paragraphs and a  show-nothing photograph taken by a ten-dollar camera, can ya?

“I did not stare at his gravesite. Why would I do that? Nothing there everlasting. And there ain’t no stone there to read, and there won’t likely be one until there’s money for one, because that’s the way those things get done. But it’ll get done. He’ll be remembered, stone or not. The preacher read things from his bible, and they were good and pure words, for sure. Words about faith and resurrection and the humble flesh we all wear. But the flesh ain’t all. I’m not a preacher, and you’re probably all tired hearing about such things right now. I’m not, but I am his sister, and I care about such things. I care about his spirit and about being one of the owners of his memory. Let me tell you what I saw as I stood there weeping, listening to the wind, listening to the spoken words, listening to myself weep and asking myself, and asking hard: why? Why him? Why was it my kind, uncertain, curious brother? Why him? Gunshot, ya’ll. Three times. Because he was carrying a pencil case and not a handgun. Why him? He was probably thinking about — and y’all listen to these words — he was thinking about / not doing about — asking a girl he liked to the senior prom. That was his big thing, his big deal for the day. Knowing him, it was probably his life commitment for that month. Just thinking about: Should I ask her? Maybe I’ll just stay home. Or should I just go ahead and ask her? That was the way he thought. Contractions and uncertainties. Should I have peanut butter on my toast or cinnamon? Should I write poetry or study for that math quiz some more? Should I, could I, if I. I get tired imagining the travails and the traveling those thoughts had to take, all those back roads and blind curves. And thoughts were what he had. And thoughts were taken from him, and taken from all of us. And now I’m the same age he was when he was taken. I ain’t been shot yet, but I may be, same as you. Same as any of us. Because we’re all hurting, but we’re all strong. And I think of my big brother, and I think, I know that boy. He wasn’t perfect, but at the same time, he was. I can’t be the only one who knows that.

“And I stared, not at his gravesite, but at the field across the way. A field with a lot of cows and… I think I saw a few goats. The dirt was reddish and raw, with the last of winter finally draining away. But there were long paths of laid-down hay, kind of in a swirling and rambling pattern, according to where the tractor had dragged the bales. And the cows were eating the hay, and the goats were with them, eating the grass, and I thought: that’s where we should all rest. In a cinnamon colored field with others not like us, but just like us, who want to be friendly with each other and share what’s good. And I liked that my brother’s place overlooked such a place. It gave me hope for all the disquiet we feel. Maybe that kind of place is our real home, and not some gold-plated stone road full of mansions and riches, but a place of tough grass and stubborn soil, and calmness, always calmness, always slow and relaxed, with plenty of time and space to think about the space we have and the time we have to share it. I like to think that whenever my thoughts turn hurtful and blue.”

Suite 3

“Damn,” Evelyn-Jean Jones says to her partner. “I don’t know how that boy could stand the taste of cinnamon on everything. Both the girls seem to like it, though, and I’m glad of that. Now, don’t be getting any of that stuff near my cereal bowl, you hear?” And then she smiled without knowing she was smiling, remembering him.

Photo 1 by Engin Akyurt from Pexels
Photo 2 by Raphael Brasileiro from Pexels