The Bird opened her eyes. Hamlet was approaching her mother — no, this was a play, Hamlet was approaching his mother — no. That wasn’t. Right either. The woman Hamlet was approaching, the character being played by Janet Wernick, was wearing a Bride of Frankenstein wig, horn-rimmed glasses with saucer-wide lenses, a pink sweater over a white blouse that seemed ready to burst over its inflated breast. And. The unmistakable red lipstick of . . .
The Bird blinked. “Save-Anna?”
“Now mother, what’s the matter?” Hamlet did not appear to notice that he was now speaking with the local television commercial star, who seemed ready to explain how he could save 10% on his next purchase of $100 or more at his nearby Stop-N-Save.
“Hamlet, thou hast thy father much offended,” replied Save-Anna/Gertrude/The Bird’s mother.
The Bird sensed something else was wrong. Their voices, sounded different. Cleaner? Then she realized — she wasn’t hearing them over the auditorium’s loudspeakers.
“What’s the matter now?” The Bird could see the perspiration on Hamlet’s face, that shouldn’t be possible, she was sitting in the back row of the auditorium, with Mr. Jacobs and her friends.
“Have you forgot me?” And as her mother followed Hamlet’s pacing about the stage, her eyes caught her daughter’s, and widened in surprised recognition.
The Bird looked down. She wasn’t sitting in her auditorium seat, next to Annie. She was. In an armchair. On the. Stage, no more than. Three. Feet from her. Mother.
“You are the Queen, your husband’s brother’s wife, and, were it not so, you are my mother.” Hamlet rushed past The Bird without even a glance in her direction. Her mother blinked, regaining her composure — “Nay, then I’ll set those to you that can speak.”
Her mother’s head was tilted to her right, projecting her voice toward the audience. The Bird looked in that direction, hoping to locate her friends —
But there was no auditorium, the fourth wall was missing. In its place, was — an interior wall. In Queen Gertrude’s chamber. Of Elsinore Castle.
The sudden realization sent a shock through The Bird’s body, causing her to rise quickly from her chair, almost bumping into Hamlet as she gained her feet. She saw her mother’s eyes and mouth draw back in horror, but the actor playing Hamlet seemed not to notice their exchange as he grabbed a mirror from a dresser next to the bed, then rushed to her mother (his mother? their mother?). “Come, come, and sit you down, you shall not budge.”
“What wilt thou do?” Her mother had resumed playing her. Role of Gertrude, despite being dressed as. Save-Anna. She recoiled at the. Site of the rapier in the actor’s hand. “Thou wilt not murder me? Help, ho!”
“What, ho! Help!” The Bird recognized the muffled sound of the actor playing Polonius, his body outlined in the curtain behind which he was hiding. Hamlet turned in the direction of that voice, his eyes filled with hatred. “How now? A rat! Dead for — ”
SLAM. The door to the bedroom opened, crashing into the interior wall. Everyone in the room — The Bird, her mother (dressed as Save-Anna, playing Gertrude), Hamlet, even the outline of Polonius in the curtain — turned toward the doorway, where stood a figure. All in shadow.
The Bird instantly recognized that figure’s shape. Only the knowledge that she was somehow already in the scene made her accept the fact that Double-J was now rushing into the room, a rapier in his arm, his eyes wild with excitement.
Double-J pushed Hamlet aside with his left hand — “Get the HELL out of my way!” — and with a delighted roar, drove his rapier into the outlined form of Polonius. “That’s for spying on your kids, asshole!”
The curtain fell from the wall, revealing Polonius, his face twisted in pained horror. Double-J drew his arm back, his rapier’s blade drenched in blood, not the red theater blood but something that looked to The Bird like the blood from a wound, or her period, brown as much as red. It dripped from Double-J’s blade, as if the rapier were drooling from hunger, and quickly spread from the wound in Polonius’ belly.
Double-J thrust the weapon forward again, the blade stabbing through Polonius’ chest and crunching into the stone wall behind. The blade withdrew, blood gushing from the wound like vomit, then struck again, and again, each blow driving back its agonized victim, the back of his head making a bloody imprint in the stone.
Another thrust, and upon this withdrawal the perforated body of Polonius fell forward, twisting in descent so the old man was staring face up. His eyes fluttered open — “O, I am slain” — then shut, the lively tension of his body collapsing.
Double-J sneered down at him. “No shit.”