Another double-sized chapter for you, dear readers, of A Play Demonic (The Queen’s Idle Fancy) . . .
It’s Thanksgiving central in the town and the gift left on the Belloon’s porch is about to be opened. Do you like drumsticks or thighs? Stuffing and pumpkin pie? Let the feast begin.
“We are all demonic!”—QUEEN STORMAG
This painting hits the scene, the darkness around Puget Sound in November, and is one of my father’s last paintings. I hope you are enjoying these works of art and the latest story. Please let me know in the comment section below.
If you want to read A Play Demonic (The Queen’s Idle Fancy) from the very beginning, simply click HERE to read Part 1! If you want to refresh your memory from the very last chapter, simply click HERE to read Part 20!
A Play Demonic (The Queen’s Idle Fancy)
With delicate skill, Roger Compish pulled the wishbone out of the wreck of the turkey and set it on the windowsill to dry out. He’d wanted to use his theatrical knife to cut this superstitious bone out, but resisted. The knife was his gift. The temptation to share it with Sally and Morton remained. Sally would’ve laughed if he’d said something silly and acted like he was attacking the fine bird she’d brought to her table. Her two kids would’ve been afraid though and that’s what kept him from his worst instinct to always play the jester. This was the old Roger.
One of Roger’s first questions of the holiday: “Did you both finish reading the play?”
“It’s a marvel,” Morton said.
“I can’t believe the subtext, what’s going on behind the scenes is every bit as important as what’s playing out front and center. Why was this play ever forgotten?”
“I’ll never understand that,” said Roger, “but at least our company has the chance to resurrect it.”
“There are several parts I want to audition for. I imagine whoever is hired to direct the play—sorry Roger. You deserve a shot—will be captivated by Denisov and Leonora and won’t even consider thinking outside the box for the queen’s role.”
“You’d make a complex queen,” Morton said.
Roger, ever since sitting down with Morton, Sally, and her two kids, Miles and Carter, saying a short grace and then demolishing the feast on the table, including Roger’s sausage stuffing, had observed something odd between his two friends. They were up to something. Morton deferred his harsher opinions about today’s politics, the proposed property tax hike that would hit him hard. Roger thought: Shouldn’t have bought then, sucker. (I’m happy to be a renter with a kind landlord who takes off some of my rent because of killer handyman skills. Next up? Cleaning out a chimney in another rental home and sealing a roof where some shingles had blown off in the last wind storm.)
Carter and Miles treated Morton with childlike obliviousness though, which made Roger second-guess his intuition. If his good buddy Morton was seeing Sally for more than simple play rehearsals, Roger would know it, and they’d tell him. Complete blankness prevailed, and he continued to observe.
Carole had thought about the seating arrangement for more time than she would ever admit. She began with Gabby. Out of all the dinner guests, she could do without the chatty Cathy’s baby-girl gibberish (the drunker Gabby became the higher-pitched and more childlike her blather). She can have the place of honor to the right of her husband, who could stare at Gabby’s pulchritudinous chest all evening and forgive her inane conversational skills. Yes, Carole was jealous of Gabby’s beauty, her youthful vigor and figure, and this secret she would take to her grave, among many other secrets—she loathed jealousy in all forms. In the theater, it was easy to spot, a want, a need, a jealousy forcing the less skilled to act in unforeseen ways.
Since she believed in splitting up couples for a more harmonious table, she placed Mack on her husband’s left. He could stare at Gabby too, and this would make him lick his lips with increasing frequency, this already one of his physical tics. Peggy next to Mack, someone who could handle Mack’s loutish sense of humor, and Ivy next to Peggy and on Carole’s right. To her left Gabby’s almost-monkishly-silent husband, Cary could compliment her cooking fifteen times and hush his children at the nearby kids’ table with a little more charm, less bluster. Carole’s side of the table would be calmer, less energized, a place where she could discuss art, the theater—The Queen’s Idle Fancy—yes, that would definitely be on the night’s topic list, and she vowed to divert attention from it as much as possible; talk of the play would lead to other concerns if she thought about it too much. It had already changed so much within her own household. Lastly, between Cary and Gabby, would be the nanny, Theresa, someone who had immediately given her the shivers just thinking about past Sunday-School mornings with sadistic unforgiving Sister Beatrice. Theresa’s downturned face, frown lines striking, would give Carole a fright in future dreams just for the resemblance.
“Can we all join hands,” Martin said.
“Kids. Pay attention. Fergus?” Gabby cooed out, but there was worry in her tone, worry that her son would disobey. All three kids joined hands. Fergus squeezed Parker’s fingers in too tight a grip, and this brought a smile to his face and a whispered threat: “Don’t you make a sound. Or else.”
“I want to say Happy Thanksgiving to you all. This is a holiday filled with grateful moments to reflect upon. The family life. My wife, my daughter, Peggy, I want to officially thank for putting up with me all year, and I beg your forgiveness for any of my obvious transgressions.”
The others bowed their heads. Theresa closed her eyes to pressed slits, and said a very low ‘amen’ after Martin’s every pause.
“This year I am especially humbled to produce The Queen’s Idle Fancy. This play will shake up this town for generations to come. I just know it and everyone here heard this first. I’ve read nothing like it. I’m thankful for being so lucky. Carole would wholeheartedly agree with me.” He opened his own eyes and stared the length of the table at his wife. Her face looked too pale, and he catalogued this thought for later. “Amen.”
As if a spell broke in the room, everyone dropped contact.
“Martin, the gift is ready to open,” Gabby said, running her manicured hands across the bronze ribbon.
“Oh, yes. Almost forgot. Anyone have anything to say about this?”
“The card says to open after the grace. Something about the most thankful here being chosen to receive the gift within the box.”
“Curiouser and curiouser,” said Peggy, “go ahead and open it, Dad.”
Martin ripped the ribbon away and tore the paper down the seam. An inlaid box of cherry, intricate, circles within circles within triangles, forming stars, old wood, ancient signs, felt heavy in his hands. For a moment, a flicker of time, Martin felt something within the box shift. The movement startled him. He looked down the table and all eyes were on him and the box. Mack licked his upper lip. Ivy took a long drink from her wine glass.
There were wooden hinges on the back of the box’s lid. They looked delicate, breakable. Martin feared to open it. He paused.
Theresa, her face a mask, clasped her hands and fingers together into a fist under the table. She prayed silently to herself.
“Go ahead, Martin, open it. The turkey’s cooled long enough.”
The look Martin gave his wife chilled her to the core, and Carole watched as her husband lifted the lid, a large object burst forth from the captured darkness, as if trailing this shadowy substance. It was a butterfly. Yellow. Wings expanding large and pale, the wings edged obsidian next to the yellow. And then it was simply a normal-sized butterfly. What was she imagining? For God’s sake.
The yellow butterfly flicked up and above the table, spiking in flight like any other butterfly. The kids shrieked with pleasure and stood up to watch.
“Wow!” said Chelsea.
“I’ll catch it,” Fergus exclaimed.
“Stay in your seat,” Martin bellowed.
The butterfly flew up and then sailed downward, up, down lowering wings, becoming a sliver of itself and then expanding once more until it hovered above Peggy’s delicate pink floral-patterned dinner plate, the intricate bone china from England that Carole’s mother had given to her as a wedding present, a complete set that could serve twelve. Peggy placed her hand on the table, palm upward and the butterfly dropped onto it. The wings opening and closing and weakening.
“I think it’s dying,” Peggy said.
“No wonder. Poor thing. It’s been in that box too long,” Gabby said. She was bored. The insect hadn’t chosen her.
Martin pulled out a pin from the box, an exact duplicate of the butterfly, yellow lacquer with gemstone eyes. Could they be real?
“It chose you,” Theresa said. And everyone looked at her because she said this so softly, with such menace attached.
“What do you mean?” Ivy asked. “Don’t you start any of your mumbo jumbo nonsense. You hear me?” This last another veiled threat. The table’s guests filled with unease.
“The card says Peggy is the recipient of the pin,” Martin said. “Here, Mack, pass this to her.”
Mack did and when the butterfly pin touched his skin he felt nothing but hunger. “Quite a show, buddy,” he said to Martin.
“They look alike. Don’t they?” Peggy grasped the pin and placed it next to the dying butterfly. One more wing movement and the thing let out one last visible shudder. The kids gathered round.
“Can I see it?” Fergus asked.
“I think we should begin eating now. Back to your table kids. Please. Who likes the drumsticks?”
Both Chelsea and Parker raised their hands as they sat down once more at their table.
Martin picked up the carving knife and made the first cut close to one of the very large turkey legs.
Across from Peggy, Theresa stared at the dead butterfly.
She stood up, the sound of her chair scooting back loud in the room.
“You’re all going to die,” she said. “This isn’t right. Some of you. You’re not yourselves. Already. I know. This isn’t right.”
“Theresa!” Mack looked like he wanted to smack the nanny upside the head. His face grew red. “Control yourself!”
“I can’t be here. None of you should be here. Why did you bring me to this dark house? It’s too late.”
Theresa left the table and walked down the hall towards the front door. Carole and Ivy followed, rushing.
“Wait. Theresa, stop, please.”
“Yes. This is just some theatrical joke. Martin probably had it all planned.”
“I knew you were superstitious, Theresa, but I had no idea.”
Theresa stopped at the front door and said, “Please will you please get my coat. I am leaving.”
“What do you mean?”
“Send my last check. I give notice right now. Sorry. I must go.”
Ivy looked like she was about to have her own meltdown. Who’d care for her children?
“You can’t just abandon us, Theresa. You’re part of our family.”
“No, Miss Ivy. Not anymore. You are a skeleton. Dead. Your kids are dead. I cannot care for them in the grave.”
Carole retrieved Theresa’s coat and opened the front door.
“Please Theresa.” Were there tears in Ivy’s eyes? Was it because of the scene she just caused or was it because her nanny, odd behavior grounds for firing, had quit in what appeared to be a frightful state?
“I am dead.”
And Theresa shut the door after her.
Carole reached out and gave Ivy a hug, careful with smudging her makeup.
At the table everyone was whispering.
Gabby said, “Who recommended that lunatic to you, Mack?”
Peggy pinned the butterfly, the brooch, to her dress on her left side, and a calm beset her, the beating of her own heart a comfort.
“It’s lovely,” she said. “Thank you, Dad.”
“Don’t look at me. I’m as surprised as you are. Whoever gave it to you calls us all penitents. That’s rich.”
“Well, you did just say grace. I’ll take some of that white meat,” said Mack.
The two women returned and Carole took Theresa’s chair and plate away, cleared space.
“Mack,” Ivy said with a sour tone attached.
“We need a new nanny.”
To read the next chapter of A Play Demonic (The Queen’s Idle Fancy), simply click HERE to be taken to Part 22!
That’s it for this week. The story is nearing 30,000 horrific words, and there is a lot to come. Stay tuned!
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