Gray Metal Faces – January 13

The Bird rose from her seat, explaining that intermission had arrived, as the other members of the Bark Bay High School fencing team rose with her and followed Mr. Jacobs out of the auditorium.

Standing alone in the lobby, the lean figure The Bird already recognized as Teddy Jasper turned slowly in her direction, bestowing upon her a crooked smile of condescending recognition.

“My sweet bird.”

The Bird hesitated, studying Teddy’s face. From behind she heard the voices of her friends  — Rune explaining something in earnest to Butch, Double-J and Rex laughing together — she could not hear Mr. Jacobs —

“Hello.” To her right, Annie extended her hand toward Teddy. The slender man took her hand, a curious look on his face.

“You must be one of The Bird’s friends, from the fencing team.”

“Yes.” She stood straighter. “Team captain, actually.”

“Indeed! So that would make you a senior, yes?”

She shook her head, her pony-tail waving behind. “Sophomore, actually.”

Teddy seemed legitimately surprised. “Really! You seem so — big isn’t the right word — athletic, perhaps? You certainly don’t look 15 — “

“Sixteen. June birthday.”

He waved his right arm quickly, up and back, glancing down as if bowing with the motion. “I think I understand now why you were named captain. Physically, you seem to be a match for anyone in this room — and you don’t appear willing to back down to anyone.”

“Thank you.” Annie nodded curtly, then turned quickly to The Bird. “Excuse us.” Annie twitched her head in the direction of the bathroom, The Bird nodding and following close on her heels.

Alone in the pale light of the bathroom, the two teens compared notes on Teddy Jasper. “I remember him now,” Annie ripping a paper towel from a wall dispenser, “he was at the New Year’s party, at my uncles’ office in the city. Don’t know what they were talking about, but my uncles did not look happy.” The Bird explained that Teddy was his mother’s new agent; Annie nodded in acknowledgement, tossing her towel into the trash.

A moment later they walked back into the theater lobby, the large chandelier catching The Bird’s eye. With her next step, the chandelier began swinging violently, straight across the ceiling towards the auditorium entrance; she then felt waves rippling the tiled marble floor, so she stooped down, preparing for the wave’s impact —

Annie’s grasp on her right bicep was firm, commanding. “You OK?” The chandelier stopped flying, the wave ebbed over the still surface of the floor. Mr. Jacobs, and her friends on the fencing team, had rushed up to where The Bird had stumbled. The Bird told their worried faces that she didn’t know what happened, she just got dizzy all of a sudden.

“The lights.” Annie twitched her head back towards the bathroom. “It’s pretty dark in there. Probably just had trouble adjusting back to the lighting.”

“Have you been sick?” The Bird looked up at Mr. Jacobs, said that she had just gotten over a cold. He smiled, nodded. “Congestion’s probably throwing off your equilibrium. How do you feel now?”

The Bird looked up at the chandelier. It did not move. She said she was fine.

The lobby lights flicked off, then back on. “We gotta go back,” Rune walking towards the scratched wood paneling of the auditorium doors. The Bird let Annie guide her back into the darkness of their seats, and for several minutes watched absently as the performance resumed, her mind not registering the action until the actor playing King Claudius was alone on stage.

Oh my offense is rank!

From behind Claudius, the actor playing Hamlet stepped forward, a sword in his hand.

And so am I revenged.

The Bird winced, slumped forward in her seat. She felt Annie’s hand on her back. “You all right?” The Bird replied she felt fine, just a little light-headed.

To take him in the purging of his soul, when he is fit and seasoned for his passage? No!

“Oh for Christ’s SAKE!”

“That’s enough,” Mr. Jacobs’ voice commanding, as if telling one of his fencers to watch their distance.

The Bird looked at the stage. She saw Hamlet bouncing without moving any part of his body, like a marionette.

“What’s going on?”

There was a touch of impatience in Rune’s explanation to Butch. “Hamlet doesn’t want to murder the King while he’s praying, because he doesn’t want him to go to heaven.”

The Bird almost said something to Annie, but when she saw Claudius burst into a giant sunflower, she smiled, and remained silent.

“So if you pray while dying, you always go to heaven?” The Bird understood why Butch was confused, seeing as Hamlet was now hovering at the ceiling. I know a hawk from a hand-saw. He was flying to heaven!

The stage lights dimmed. Growling, Double-J stood up, exited the aisle. “I gotta take care of business.” A dagger of light stabbed briefly into the darkness as he opened the door to the lobby.

The Bird heard herself calling to Mr. Jacobs, telling him Double-J needed to return to his seat. “He’ll be all right.” Why didn’t he recognize her concern? “So long as he’s back for the last scene.”

The distant stage began to grow with light, like a time-lapsed film of the dawn. The Bird looked up, saw Hamlet still flying at the ceiling. On the stage, Polonius was talking to the Queen. Mother!

He will come straight.

It was starting, The Bird said to no one.

I’ll warrant you, fear me not.

She looked up at the ceiling, saw Hamlet circling down, down . . . no, this wasn’t right. She could see the face, the actor playing Hamlet was clean-shaven, this man had a line above his lip, thin, like it was drawn by a pencil — Teddy Jasper? The Bird threw herself back into the chair, slammed fists into closed eyes, felt Annie’s hands grabbing at her, telling her to calm down, it would be all right, but The Bird knew something was starting, and whatever thing would happen next, it would most certainly not be all right.

Withdraw, I hear him coming.

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