“—you counterfeit…you puppet, you—”
That infuriates you, and I see your cheeks bloom with wrath as you whirl around, your black hair following seconds after; a lethal weapon glinting in the light of the moon as the rain begins to fall.
“Puppet?” You screech. “Why so? Ay…that way goes the game.”
Turning away from me, you speak to the trees, to the open sky, not caring who may hear:
“Now I perceive that she hath made compare between our statures…she hath…”
You begin to struggle for words as your fury overtakes your speech, “hath…urged her height; and with her personage, her tall personage.” Up on a rock now, you loom over me, mocking me, spitting with rage, taller than me for the first time. As you stand there, your high eyebrows, your sharp cheekbones, begin to melt before me, dripping away with the rain. Your posture shifts, and you are no longer self-righteous, but frustrated, with a pout gracing your lips.
“Great—it’s raining. Now what’re we supposed to do.”
“So what?” I hiss. I know that you’re right, but I’ve just spent five minutes being bested by you in a play, and I refuse to let the same happen in real life. “Just keep acting. We’re being paid for a reason.”
“Okay, okay. Keep your hair on. I’ll go from ‘her height’”
Putting on a serious face, you push back your hair, and drop into a defensive stance.
“Her height, forsooth,” You won’t meet my eye, but I can see from the smile which dances at the corners of your mouth that you are struggling to keep sober, “She hath pr-pr-prevail’d with him.”
Your voice rises alarmingly, and I’m about to remind you that that isn’t how iambic pentameter works, when you lean forward and rest your head on my shoulder, shaking with suppressed laughter. It’s too much for me, and I start to laugh as well.
“Don’t break character—you wouldn’t want to upset the audience!”
I gasp out the words between laughs, gesturing breathlessly at the empty stands, where I can hear the gentle clapping of rain on rusted metal. We don’t need to worry about being seen: these grounds have been abandoned for twenty years, and the only things that live here now are the mice and foxes. The stands have been left alone even longer than that. They were judged unsafe, and now there is a gaping chasm halfway along row seven. They are empty, but for the ghosts of memories almost forgotten.
It makes a good place to rehearse. It’s a good time too. There is a magic in the air tonight, which seems appropriate for any Shakespeare, but this? This is special. And when better to practice than on a midsummer night, very much like the one in the play. The air is filled with mystery, and there is a deep, indescribable pain, which moves me almost to tears. If I listen, I think that I can hear laughter, then screams, then deathly silence, coming down from the big house on the hill.
In a dream, you move away from me, stepping off the rock, looking up towards the gaping hole in the hillside. They say a girl died here. They say that she used to act. They say that her audience still sits before the grassy stage, waiting for her to perform. You can’t believe everything you hear, but somehow this rings true. That’s why they closed the house up. You never believed the old stories. You used to laugh, and remind me that twenty years is too short a time for something to pass out of memory; I used to agree. Now I’m not so sure.
You aren’t moving anymore, but you aren’t entirely still. The storm starts to pick up, surrounding us both.
And you stand there, tears of rain coursing down your face, your throat; hair a dark waterfall down your back, and you turn back to the empty stands, ignoring me as though I am of no more consequence than the rain. And you start to act. Your voice fills the abandoned grounds, echoing, distorted by the wind and rain, and for a moment you are no longer you, but a demon—an angel of fire and fury—with your voice rising to combat the elements; building and building, higher and higher, louder and louder—
Then there is silence.
All is still, as you turn back to me, and I see that your tears were not rain alone. Your voice is broken; cracked and fractured, like glass thrown against a cliff. Still, your eyes shine bright, the lights of one thousand invisible stars reflected in the infinite depths of your tears.
Gently, as though I am sure that you are moments away from breaking down, I take you by your shoulders, turning you to face our silent watchers in the empty stands. And I go to stand behind you, taking your hand in mine. And stood there, in the darkness, in the rain, I raise our hands, and we bow to our ghostly audience. The wind buffets us, but you smile, and reach out with your slender arms, to gather in the roses that only we can see.
Whispers from the Stands
“—you counterfeit…you puppet, you—”