O, I die, Horatio. The actor playing Hamlet slumped backwards, the actor playing Horatio catching him, lowering his body to the stage, next to the actress playing Gertrude.
The Bird blinked. She saw her mother, playing the role of Gertrude, lying dead on the distant stage. The teen grabbed the armrests of her chair, palms slapping loudly against the woodwork. She was sitting in the auditorium. “You OK?” Annie’s voice, next to her. The back of two heads — Rune and Butch, in front of her.
Good night, sweet prince,
“See ya,” Double-J’s familiar caustic voice behind and to the right, followed by a groan from Rex.
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.
“Can we go now?”
“Hang in there, my friend, just one more minute.” The Bird sighed with relief as she heard Mr. Jacobs response. They were back, all of them, in the audience, where they belonged, the production coming to a close on the stage, where it belonged.
She felt a hand on her forearm. “You OK?” There was more concern this time in Annie’s question.
The Bird replied that she was fine. Go, bid the soldiers shoot. The stage lights dimmed as the sound of distant cannons came over the auditorium’s loudspeakers.
Mr. Jacobs led the Bark Bay High School fencing team in applause, as the stage bloomed in light as the actors took their bows. A light from behind, off to the right; Double-J had already opened the lobby door, held it as the team walked out of the auditorium. The Bird wasn’t sure what had just happened, whether she had fallen asleep or had experienced a boredom-induced hallucination; yet as she shuffled towards the exit door, she was certain there would be no value in sharing this vision with her friends.
The Bird held back a sob of relief on seeing Mr. Nestor, in his tweed jacket and salt-and-pepper beard, in the center of the large lobby; she rushed up to him, hugged his waist. The team formed a rough circle around him; breaking gently from The Bird’s embrace, he extended his gray chin forward towards Annie. “I’m interested to know what you thought of the final scene.”
“The duel, between Hamlet and Laertes?” Mr. Nestor nodded at Annie’s question. “Well, really — I couldn’t help thinking that I could beat either of them, really easy.”
Mr. Nestor smiled broadly with his white teeth. “I would certainly hope you could beat anyone who actually fenced like that!” The team laughed in unison response. “But the goal of the stage is not to imitate life as it is, but to amplify life at its best.” He shook his gray head. “When I choreograph a duel, my goal is to demonstrate the beauty, the power of the human body, engaged at the height of its potential. So that is my question to you — not whether you thought their duel was real, but rather, was it inspiring?”
Annie’s face froze in anxiety, relief only coming to her upon hearing Butch’s reply. “I thought it was pretty cool.”
Feeling a tap on her shoulder, The Bird looked behind her, and saw the pencil-thin moustache of Teddy Jasper, smiling pleasantly. “Teddy!” The Bird smiled at the sound of her mother’s interrupting voice.
Janet Wernick, still in makeup but having switched her Elizabethan costume for baggy athletic wear, swept into a brief embrace with Teddy, then faced her daughter. “Still some wrinkles to smooth over before opening night, but the production’s coming together real well, don’t you think?” The Bird recognized the familiar assessment, and question, offered by her mother after each dress rehearsal.
“Janet, you were fantastic!” Mr. Nestor’s words seemed to carry him into the small circle formed by The Bird, her mother, and Teddy, who stepped back as the elderly man swept Janet Wernick into a paternal hug. It was an embrace The Bird recognized, its memory reaching back to her earliest memories. She glanced back at Teddy, saw his pencil moustache drawing into an annoyed frown; she felt her head nod with approval.
Janet Wernick then excused herself, told her daughter to be ready in 15 minutes, and rushed to the back of the theater to remove her makeup.
“Care to join us?” The Bird turned in the direction of Mr. Jacobs’ voice. He was standing among her friends on the fencing team. “We were discussing how Ed’s choreography showed how Hamlet was the superior fencer.”
The Bird quickly scanned her friends. Every jacket was zipped and buttoned closed, hats and gloves worn along with a shared look of boredom. She told them they didn’t have to stay, that she’d be OK, there would be plenty of people around the theater until her mother was ready to leave.
“You prefer to be alone?” Double-J’s question caught her by surprise, but she quickly replied that she wouldn’t be alone, and pointed to Mr. Nestor, who smiled upon seeing her arm motion.
Mr. Jacobs pursed his lips, nodded. “All right then. Let’s get moving.” He let his students (relief waving onto their faces) take several steps towards the auditorium’s exit doors, before taking a following step — only to be stopped by the touch of a small hand on his elbow.
The Bird was looking up at him. She told him she was glad they had come to the production tonight. And then she said thank you, to Mr. Ja —
She closed her mouth. Sighed. Smiled. And said thank you, to Coach Dan.
End of “January”