"The Importance of Shakespeare," by R. A. Morean
Fluidity is not just the domain of liquids. It is a metaphor for thought, behavior, movement, and when applied to Beth Tarrow, Beth, with her long strong legs, her supple limbs, her skin a caramel luster, her thick hair soft and long in a shower of braids, her lips full and forever moist, promising salvation, ecstasy or, at the very least, a shift in perception from what you were looking at to her, the word was given validity.
"What do you do?" people would ask her, on the "T," in the grocery store, behind the counter.
"I'm an actress," she'd say, the answer ringing with notes of apology, because, usually, she was not acting.
"Really?" they'd say.
"Yes," would come the answer, now with less apology because she could add, "I used to model."
And now she'd make a face. "It's no big deal. It's paid for college. You know, like hand lotion, lipstick--just my mouth--and hose. I did a couple of hose ads."
"Really--you have the legs for it," was often the reply, even though no reply was needed nor, in most cases, wanted.
"Yeah. Well. It's all faked. Airbrush galore and they put these fake backgrounds in all the time. Don't believe everything you see." By this time, irritation would have replaced apology, and she'd move away, tired of the conversation, tired of having to explain who she is when, in fact, no one really wanted to know who she was.
She was a serious student. Yale Drama, a graduate student, following the steps of Meryl Streep and Dustin Hoffman. She was lucky to be interning this fall with a group up in Peterborough, working at a coffee shop called "Alberts" which hosts exotic coffee and rich pastries and whose back room has been turned into a theater. A very well respected black box theater.
"More coffee?" she asks.
The young man looks up from his notebook. This is the third time he's been in this week. He nods and smiles.
Albert comes around through the swinging doors. She refills the young man's cup and walks away.
"Beth, it's slowing down. I’ll be back in a bit," Albert says, wiping his big hands on the tea towel around his waist. He pulls it from where it's tucked above his pockets, tosses the towel on the counter, and the bell chimes as he pulls the door open and disappears outside.
The coffee shop is empty except for Beth and the young man.
His hair is black, blue black, so straight it falls from the part on the side in a flat shiny sheet and she knows he dyes it. His face has several days’ growth of beard. He wears small gold hoop in one earlobe, a large black overcoat over a black t-shirt and blue jeans.
She returns to her place behind the counter, where her script lies next to a rack of clean glasses. It is Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, and she wants to be Beatrice, live Beatrice, breathe Beatrice. She rustles pages, wipes glasses, sets the script on the counter, glances to him, and feels impetuous.
"Aren't you hot in that coat?"
His glance flies back to her and then he shrugs.
Nobody marks you, echoes from the script and she looks at him again. This time he almost seems to smirk--What! My Dear Lady Disdain.
"What are you doing?" she asks him, wiping a few more glasses.
He sets down his pen. "I was about to ask you the same thing." His voice, louder than she's heard all week, is deep, and resonates in her breastbone. She is not prepared for a flutter there below her collarbones, and clears her throat.
"Hey, all I'm doing is wiping off wet glasses."
"Isn't that illegal in restaurants?"
Now, she shrugs, and glances at the script again--How tartly that Gentleman speaks...I am heart burned an hour after.
"I meant, what are you reading," he says, throwing one arm over the back of his chair, and she is aware he is very unaware his coat has opened and his shirt, a heavy cotton shirt is pulled with enough tightness across his chest for her to see how perfect he is.
"Oh, that...it's a script."
The arm comes off the back of the chair, the coat closes and he leans forward.
There was that word, that question.
"Are you an actress?"
"I'm trying," she says.
"What do you want to do?"
She can tell she has stunned him. So she continues.
"Just kidding. No, I mean, it would be nice, but I want to do Shakespeare. I just love Shakespeare. I'm going to try to get to England next year to study."
"Really?" he repeats and scratches his chin.
Lord, I could not endure a Husband with a beard on his face. I had rather lie in the woolen.
She sighs. "Yeah."
As she turns to go back in the kitchen he calls out, faltering for a minute, "I...um, I know some people in the business."
What fire is in mine ears? Can this be true? Stand I condemned for pride and scorn so much? Contempt, farewell; and maiden pride adieu.
Now, it is her turn and she turns around, coming out from behind the counter. "Really?"
The young man says nothing for a moment and her flicker of interest vanishes. His backpedaling is so obvious she wants to laugh.
"Well, I mean, I have a couple of friends who know people, you know."
"Do they know Kenneth Branagh? Anyone at the Royal Shakespeare Company or Renaissance?" she asks knowing the answer.
His hand knocks into his coffee cup and she walks over, towel ready.
"No. No. I mean, I don't know. Maybe. Probably not."
She wipes up the tablespoon of coffee that sloshed over the rim of his cup, thinking of all the other people who have vowed to help her along a career path--
Every way, but no such friend.
"Can I sit down for a second?" she asks and she doesn't know why, deciding, however, that she likes how quickly he smiles.
She sits down, her long legs crossed at the knee, and leans back. "I would guess you're a writer," she says slowly, watching him. She sees now she is probably a few years older. He is completely caught off guard.
The notebook is slammed shut. "Yeah. I write."
She laughs and points. "Why the secrecy?"
He blushes suddenly, as swiftly as his smile, and she feels a flutter again of something unknown.
Foul words is but foul wind and foul wind is but foul breath and foul breath is noisome, therefore I will depart unkissed.
Her legs uncross and she begins to stand, when he touches her arm, gently, beseechingly and says without looking at her, "I've been writing about you... actually."
Now he looks at her directly, and she can't believe these words, can't believe he is holding her and then her bare arm slips through his hand and in that near caress, she feels her heart flutter a third time. His hand grasps her wrist for just a moment. With the barest pressure she pulls away, not knowing now where to look.
The bell tinkles as the door opens and a customer comes in, an older man with glasses and hair graying at the temples. He looks hot, like he's been on the road awhile. She jumps up and smoothes her skirt, moving quickly to the counter.
"Can I get something to go?" asks the man.
Thankful to have a reason to move behind the counter, not wanting to look at the young man with his closed notebook, she passes by the mirrored wall along the back trying not to catch a glimpse of herself.
Do you not love me?
Why no, no more than reason.
The man chooses a large Coke, sets the dollar on the counter and leaves. She stares too long at the closing door. Then she turns to the young man. The counter is still between them--a half wall of protection.
"What are you writing about me?"
"I don't know why I said that," he says gathering up his things, wiping his mouth nervously with a blue napkin, pocketing his pen.
Do you not love me?
"You mean you didn't write about me?"
"Look. I... I write plays. I think you're interesting. I like the way you move, and this is really, really weird for me right now."
The way the afternoon light shines on his hair makes her smile. She sees his skin, smooth and tanned, and she likes his eyes.
I would not deny you, but by this good day, I yield upon great persuasion, and partly to save your life, for I was told you were in a consumption.
The young man stands, the notebook tumbles from his hands and lands on the floor. He stoops to retrieve it.
"Look, I'm sorry," he says, "I'm really making a fool out of myself, maybe I'll come back tomorrow. Do you work tomorrow? Maybe I could just be normal and ask you out."
She nods and smiles. "You're fine. It's O.K. and, yes, I work tomorrow."
She does not think he hears her and she watches the space between himself and the door grow shorter. In a moment the bell tinkles and he is gone, and she realizes she is holding her breath. She reaches for her script.
Dost though think I care for a satire or an epigram? Man is a giddy thing, and this is my conclusion.
She can not explain why, but the small rustle of gathering up papers makes her suddenly, swiftly, want to cry.