Shakespeare 2012 part.., p.1
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       Shakespeare 2012 - Part I, p.1

           Cathal McCarron
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Shakespeare 2012 - Part I

  Cathal McCarron

  Dedicated to Lauri McCarron

  Copyright 2012 Cathal McCarron

  Chapter 01

  Monday 18th June 2012

  Leon despised Shakespeare at moments like this. That infernal playwright had been causing him exasperating stress for weeks. Emitting a slow sigh of frustration, Leon dropped the sheet he had been holding, then intentionally thumped his head heavily on the edge of the desk in front of him. A low stack of papers was pressed together under his forehead. He checked the fine wound on his left hand and wondered if paper cuts from a print-out of a Shakespeare script gave him the voguish credibility of a melancholic self-harming artiste, then he considered torching the whole damn bundle. He’d left it late to memorise his lines – as usual – and was struggling to catch up. He checked the time on his phone: 9:46 pm. It was still light outside but Leon had closed the curtains to create a gloomy ambience to match his mood. Less than fourteen hours later he was going to be onstage in a full dress rehearsal acting as Lysander in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This was going to be the final rehearsal before the one-off public performance the following night, 20th June, the midsummer night. Leon wasn’t ready. Four hundred year old plays are not for Twittered brains, he thought.

  Leon was a third year drama student at the Central College of Speech and Drama in London, but was worrying he wouldn’t make it to graduation. A natural idler, he’d skived through the first and second years of the course with the barest minimum amount of effort with which he could escape. If a corner could be cut, Leon had his slacker scissors primed. He’d persistently heard the same feedback all through school, college, and now university: bright, talented, able, but lazy and underachieving. He was the only child in a comfortable, middle-class family from Bath. His dad had suggested that Leon should follow him into engineering, his mum had suggested following her into a legal career. After expressing their preferences for him to study something, anything, more vocational, his parents had eventually accepted his unshakeable insistence that he was going to be an actor. They had, though, been continually supportive, financially and emotionally, of his time at university. “It’s my investment in your future feckless superstardom,” his dad had joked. Leon had liked that; he considered feckless superstardom a worthy goal.

  Yet Leon had fought desperately to land the role of Lysander, insisting to Mr Rumpold, his sceptical tutor, that he could handle it. However, faint but insistent doubts had soon begun to form. There were too many lines. The timing and intonation were too tricky. The stage cues were too complex. There’s not enough time. Why didn’t he settle for a smaller role? Theseus or Egeus would have been considerably easier. But then neither of these roles was one of the stars of the show. And Leon craved to be the brightest star of the show. He couldn’t permit students whom he regarded as demonstrably lesser actors than him to take his limelight, whilst he was shunted around in a minor role, ignored in the background.

  He reached his right hand up and across the desk without lifting his head. His hand moved over the desk like a robotic arm in an arcade machine dispensing prize cuddly toys. His fingers closed around a can of Red Bull. The hand drew the can back over and then under the desk, and opened it. He held the can under the desk, listening to its gentle effervescence. It was his third can in two hours; he had another five cans in reserve.

  Besides idle ambition, there were other issues affecting Leon’s frustration levels. He could not countenance letting Paulina down. She was his co-star, and unnecessarily loyal friend. This was Paulina’s production. She had proposed running it and Leon had forcibly persuaded her to ignore Rumpold’s unwarranted opinion and grant him Lysander’s role, against widespread whispers of opposition from others on the cast. Besides, Paulina was scary when angry. She’d tear him apart if he let her down. Furthermore, Paulina was also the best friend of his girlfriend, Hermione. They’d both unfailingly given him far too much patience and support already, as well as a few necessary kicks up the kickables. They’d encouraged and cajoled him when he was pessimistic. They’d forced him to work when he was dossing. They’d both also uncomplainingly given him far too much of their own valuable revision and rehearsal time when he’d asked for help. They’d both be deeply disappointed, perhaps ashamed, if Leon flopped; and shaming them was far, far worse, even to Leon’s usually self-serving actor ego, than flopping.

  His tangled blond hair splayed over the sheets squashed under his forehead. His blue eyes were open, and the blurred words on the sheet directly below them merged into an indistinct grey blob. A jumbled blob of mangled words was all that Leon felt he had managed to create in his leaky memory after hours of desperate attempts to learn them. But he’d no choice. He’d have to cope with the pressure. He’d have to extract sense, artistic sense, from the blob. He lifted his head and wheezed again. Drinking a deep slug of Red Bull, he mumbled, “Come on Lysander mate, help me out,” and picked up the top sheet.

  Chapter 02

  On Monday evening after her classes, Hermione had gone up to Camden on a whim, partly to give Leon more time to prepare at home alone. She liked to walk the markets, and watch the youthful crowds of indie kids, punks and Goths working hard on looking nonchalant. Cruising randomly through Camden Lock, she spotted a small sign on a door frame: Unicorn Tarot – Explore you – First floor. The door was open. On another whim, she entered. She ascended a clunky, narrow wooden staircase with a rickety banister to the first floor. A larger sign saying Unicorn Tarot hung on an ajar purple door. Knocking softly on the door, then pushing it gently, she entered, causing a melodic tinkle from wind chimes positioned behind the door.

  Hermione was a hippy chick. She didn’t really have much choice in the matter. Her parents had been dedicated teenage followers of the hippy movement in the 1960s and had wrapped themselves in the tie-dyed psychedelic philosophy of the times. They had married in an unofficial and hazy humanist ceremony inside the stones at Stonehenge on the morning of the summer solstice in 1974. They had graduated from living and partying in communes, to squats, then caravans, and had eventually settled down in a council house in Brighton to lives of non-conformist wage earners. Hermione’s dad had written a moderately successful book on vegetarianism, and now offered classes in tai chi. Her mum practised reiki and shiatsu and had built up a stable of wealthy weekly clients. Hermione was the youngest of their four children. She had been conceived, her mother had proudly and tearfully revealed to her once, inside the stones at Stonehenge at sunrise on the morning of the summer solstice in 1990. Hermione had visited Stonehenge to watch the sunrise from within the stones on the summer solstice several times, and had always felt a profound spiritual connection with the sacred site. During her childhood, Hermione’s mother had infused her only daughter with cosmic notions from a range of alternative ideologies. When she had turned 14 her mum had paid for Hermione to have a tattoo of her choice; Hermione had chosen a tattoo of a multi-coloured daisy chain around her waist. She’d added other tattoos since, one of an ornate Tibetan Buddhist mandala on her shoulder, and one of an ancient druidic emblem on her ankle. Tall, pixieish, and crustily svelte, with her long black hair a mixture of dreadlocks and braids, Hermione frequently drew curious glances from passersby, whom she acknowledged with a calm, assured, mildly coquettish smirk.

  She had met Leon in February 2011 at a house party hosted by her old school friend Tony Jones. She had been drawn to Leon’s confidence, and his goofy cockiness, and his eyes. She had sensed a strong, wise, gracious spirit behind the playful bravado. Leon later confessed he had felt her presence, had felt a connection, immediately upon seeing her. He insisted, honestly, that he had never told a girl anything so cheesy before, because it
hadn’t happened before. Hermione didn’t believe in the idea of one ultimate soulmate, but Leon had swept her off her plimsoled feet, calling her “his most beauteous Shakti”, after the Hindu goddess of femininity. In August 2011, she and Leon had rented a flat off Mare Street in Hackney, east London, that they could just about afford on their limited student loans and parental contributions. Leon called it “our cosmic launch pad” after Hermione had decorated the flat with throws depicting astrological charts, pictures of chakras and busts of the Buddha, as she wanted to channel the flat’s natural feng shui to enable harmonious energy to flow.

  Hermione was studying for a diploma in astrology at the London School of Astrology. She’d been told she had a gift by several friends when she had given casual readings, and her mum had encouraged her to receive professional instruction to develop her talents. Hermione believed she had a stronger intuition than a genuine astrological gift, but her tutor had argued that it was the same energy that created successful astrologers.

  Behind the tarot reader’s door, the wind chimes tinkled as Hermione entered a small, dark reception area. Light was provided by a tall shaded lamp in one corner and a low shaded lamp in the other. Thick, dark green curtains covered a window. Two wicker cane armchairs sat on opposite sides of a low glass table where three leaflets had been placed. Large pictures of tarot cards adorned the walls. Hermione walked across and sat on one of the armchairs and picked up a leaflet: Tarot readings by Madama Sibyl.

  “Hello my child. Are you here for a reading?”

  Hermione put the leaflet back on the table and turned around. A slight woman had come in through the same door Hermione had used. She had grey hair tied back in a thick ponytail. She looked like a tarot reader.

  “Yes, I was just walking past and saw the sign outside and –“

  “And thought you would pop up for a quick look? Don’t worry, that wasn’t being psychic, that’s how I find most of my trade. Please, come through.”

  She gestured for Hermione to stand and follow. Hermione did as instructed. The woman led her along a short hall and through a door into another small, darkened room. A round table in the centre of the room was covered with a deep purple cloth. On the cloth was a pack of cards. Two wooden chairs beside the table were turned invitingly toward the door. “Please, take a seat,” the woman suggested with a sweep of her hand towards a chair. “My name is Madama Sibyl. I’ve been reading the tarot for twenty-seven years now. A reading lasts around fifteen minutes and costs £10. Is that ok?”

  Sitting at the table in the tarot reader’s lair, Hermione didn’t feel she really had a choice; but she was curious. “Yes, that’s fine.”

  The woman sat in the other chair and looked intensely at Hermione for a few seconds, as if reading her directly. “Have you had your tarot read before?”

  “Yes, but not for a few years.”

  “Ok. I’ll try to not make it too stressful for you then. This isn’t dentristy.” Madama Sibyl reached out and picked up the cards. “Some people are afraid I’m going to predict problems, or scare them with prophecies of doom. But I sense you’re not worried like that. Right?”

  “Not at all. I’m open-minded.”

  “Good, good.”

  Madama Sibyl offered the pack of cards to Hermione. “Shuffle them any way you like, for as long as you like. It helps if you concentrate lightly on the cards, allowing them to find their own natural position based upon your own intuition. A relaxed awareness is best, not an intense, narrow focus.”

  Hermione took the cards. They were twice the size of regular playing cards, and unwieldy. She clumsily shuffled them, flicking open gaps in the cards with her left hand and letting cards fall into the gaps with her right hand, trying to let the cards decide which gap to fall into.

  “Good. Now put the deck on the table and cut it, placing the bottom half on top of the top half. Do this three times with your left hand. Your left hand is connected to your heart.”

  Hermione cut the deck three times as instructed. Madama Sibyl lifted the deck with her left hand. She dealt the top six cards out, face down, into the Six Card spread. In this spread, four cards were positioned in a roughly square shape on the table. A fifth card was positioned between but halfway beyond the two cards at the top of the square, and the sixth card was positioned in a symmetrical place beyond the two cards at the bottom of the square. Collectively, the six cards formed a shape equivalent to the points of the Star of David.

  “The positions of the cards represent an aspect of your life and the world you move in, your friends and your family,” the Madama Sybil explained. She pointed to the card at the top of the spread, “This card represents you,” and she pointed clockwise around the spread, “ this one your relationships, finances, career, heath, and finally travel.”

  Madama Sibyl turned over the first card, at the top of the star. It was the High Priestess. “This is a very auspicious start. This is a very powerful card in a very powerful position. You are the high priestess, you have unknown power within your world. This card suggests that you can trust your intuition. What you feel is usually the truth.” Hermione had strong confidence in her intuition and was impressed the tarot reader had picked up on that so quickly.

  The tarot reader turned over the second card – The World. “Change.” The tarot reader looked up. “Major changes are coming to the world of the High Priestess. This is a phenomenally potent pairing.”

  The third card was the Ace of Coins. “This is a warning, against greed, against obsession with money.” Hermione nodded with agreement. “Mm hm.” She had no particular interest in money, but Tony, one of her best friends, had taken a job in a hedge fund company and Hermione had noticed a change in him. Besides working ridiculously long hours, Tony had taken to flaunting his new wealth when he was free to hang out. He’d bought a Rolex, and was eyeing up a new Mercedes. Hermione believed this card was a hint for her to talk to Tony.

  The tarot reader turned over the fourth card – the Wheel of Fortune. She gasped with surprise. “My word! What a spread! This represents the future. One major cycle in your world is ending, a new one is beginning. A major new cycle.” Hermione wasn’t sure what to make of this abstract prediction. What major cycle was ending? Her course? Her relationship with Leon was stronger than ever. Hermione decided to let this prediction linger for the meantime.

  The fifth card was The Tower. “Another!” exclaimed Madama Sybil excitedly. “This is remarkable. Truly remarkable. The Tower means your road of change is fraught with danger, illness, a battle of some kind.” Hermione though Madama Sibyl was looking at her with some fear in her eyes. “Be careful,” the reader said. Hermione nodded gravely. Be careful? That wasn’t much use as a warning. Be careful of what?

  The final card the tarot reader turned over was The Magician. “Goodness! I’ve never seen such a powerful spread! This is extraordinary! I could spend a month interpreting this.”

  “What does it mean?” Hermione asked.

  Madama Sibyl looked pensively at Hermione. “My dear, this is from my intuition. You are an agent of a profound awakening. But not alone. A friend will come to you to aid you. Prepare yourself for a revolution. Of what kind I cannot say. I’ve never seen a spread like this in many years of reading. The High Priestess and The Magician spinning the Wheel of Fortune through The World, signifies great change. But, listen to me. Be careful. Trust yourself, trust your friend, but be careful.”

  Chapter 03

  Paulina was as worried about her performance in A Midsummer Night’s Dream as Leon was about his, but for precisely the opposite reason. So confident she had her lines so well learned that she couldn’t forget them even if she tried, she wondered if hubris had set in. She was bothered by a vision of pride before an embarrassing onstage fall. Was it possible to learn lines too well? She’d landed the role of Hermia, who was in love with Lysander. It was her first time playing a Shakespearean role and she had felt uncomfortable with the language and its rhythms.
She had dedicated herself to mastering the lines and had worked on her performance for up to fourteen hours a day once the production had been signed off. She had rehearsed each of her scenes over and over and over again with each of the actors she would be onstage alongside, working out approaches, positions, cues, until they were all, apart from Leon, convinced they had their parts perfected.

  Paulina was from a tough estate in the east end of London where verbal attacks were commonplace and the weaker were cruelly victimised. She refused to be mocked by anyone, and always tried to give back better, harder than she got. Acting tough on the outside during confrontations on the estate when she had in truth been petrified on the inside had led her to appreciate drama lessons at school better, and then to choose to study it at university. Acting was going to be Paulina’s escape route from the estate.

  She had arranged to meet Leon and Hermione for a Monday night drink at the Dolphin on Mare Street where they had agreed that all chat concerning the play would be forbidden. Leon had promised Paulina on Friday that he’d be at the pub on Monday after a solid weekend of distraction-free preparations and rehearsals. When Paulina entered the Dolphin she spotted Hermione sitting at a table in the back with Tony. A bottle of Bollinger and two champagne glasses were on the table. Leon was absent. “Where’s Leon?” she asked as she sat down.

  “Guess,” Hermione replied flatly.

  “No way. You’re joking, right?”

  Hermione shook her head. “He’s probably just neck deep in unlearned lines by now. Which would be a considerable improvement from ten feet under where he was this morning.” A tremor of fear rumbled in Paulina’s gut. She should have listened to Rumpold and the rest of the cast.

  Tony slapped the table gleefully, the diamante cuff link on his Van Heusen shirt sleeve sparkling with the movement. “He’s still drowning? Excellent! I can’t wait to see his flubbing on Wednesday. I’m gonna record it. Hell, I may even prompt him the wrong line – not that he’d notice!”

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