The longest chapter arrives today in a fitful burst of energy. Roger is relieved to have the copy of the play once more in his clutches, and when he shares it with Sally and Morton, sparks fly. I also loved creating Leonora, who will loom larger as the tale progresses. Writing a weekly serial is a challenge I am enjoying. Sitting down to write every single day is one thing I’m used to, but dedicating time to producing an ongoing story on only one of those days is a positive experience—so far. I can’t wait to see where these characters lead me. And I thank you for coming along for the ride. I wonder what Waltzcrop, Camoustra, and Frenalto are up to? Probably no good.
“We are all demonic!”—Queen Stormag
Here is another favorite painting by my father, George Bogdanovitch, and I love imagining his days creating them—also daily. His obsession paid dividends, and I remain in awe of his creative output and passion for art. In the 60s, he painted a series he called his Painting Is Dead series, and this was just a touchstone canvas for him, remembering the past and how it ripples.
The Play (The Queen’s Idle Fancy) — Part 9
Sitting alone and over to one side, opposite the crowded gathering at the front of the theater, and as far away from Kate Denisov as she could get, Leonora Rabkin listened to Martin Belloon’s entire monologue. She attended every audition, yes, but she usually didn’t bother herself with other theater meetings, paperwork-making sessions, the lesser fundraising grabs, and, besides, she loathed both Martin Belloon and the theater’s resident showboating diva—of course Martin’s wife knew this (and it was quite obvious to the rest of the ensemble, but only gossiped about when both women were not present).
When Carole scolded Kate Denisov, Leonora barely stifled a wretched gleeful laugh. Carole’s glance in Leonora’s direction went unnoticed, and that was a blessing. No one on the island knew of Carole’s unspoken plan to dethrone Denisov as the lead in all of this year’s productions. She’d had enough insolence and kowtowing to last a lifetime. Earlier that morning, while her husband was going over notes on The Queen’s Idle Fancy, Carole had slipped out of the house. She gave Leonora a call. If you want to compete once more for a role so juicy it’ll be the talk of the arts section for years to come, make sure you don’t miss tonight’s production meeting. Kate will be there.
How did Carole begin to think so badly of the island’s local star? Maybe it was because of the serpentine way Kate always ignored Carole in every situation, even when it was only the three of them gathering for a glass of wine at A’Town Bistro. Kate would direct every thought, question, Martin’s way—never once giving an ounce of thought to Carole’s presence at the table. Of course they exchanged pleasantries, greetings, frosty goodbyes. When Carole brought this up to her husband, he reprimanded her, lightly, saying she shouldn’t let petty jealousy ruin her appearance, add wrinkles. Maybe it was her husband’s incredibly sycophantic praise whenever someone bumped into them shopping at the weekly farmer’s market.
“Kate sparkled playing that Sally Field role from Steel Magnolias. She’s the reason Pete and I buy season tickets, you know, even though we love the other cast members too, every play has been so good!”
“I couldn’t agree more,” Martin would reply with a facile grin. Carole would look away. Any talk of Kate’s prowess in her company grew tiresome, and Carole was always looking for someone else to step in and tarnish Kate’s crown, but she’d had to approach Leonora with subtlety—in her mind, Kate was getting a bit long in the tooth. She’d kept these thoughts to herself, as she’d harbored many other dark thoughts from her husband over their marriage. He was a busy man, and busy men didn’t notice much.
“Oh, hello Leonora, I didn’t see you way back in the shadows,” Kate Denisov exclaimed. She was exiting her row in the theater almost at the same time as Leonora and couldn’t resist a jab. “I hope you’ll enjoy the new play. I’ve already heard so much about it.”
“Is that right?”
“Some new theater enthusiasts visited with me just last night and they’re the ones who discovered the play while travelling around London’s most cluttered used bookstores, those that deal with lost texts and other antiquities. I can’t wait to read it for myself.”
“As I also cannot wait. If you’ll excuse me, I don’t have a role in this year’s holiday pageant.”
“That’s too bad. I so love your presence on stage.”
“Break a leg,” Leonora said. The next instant she was wishing Denisov would break much more. When she reached the far left wing of the lobby, she was the only witness to Martin Belloon’s reading. He looked crazed. She waited until his final word. He even took a slight (it must be involuntary—the pompous ass) bow. She caught Carole’s petrified stare and stayed in the shadows. When they left, Leonora approached Roger, only wanting to say a quick hello and goodbye.
“That was bizarre,” she said, unable to resist.
“I think the play is bringing out the best in people. Are you going to audition? You’d be something in one of the more colorful roles.”
“No. I was talking about the way Carole looked . . . jumpy. Bizarre. I know her and she’s not a wilting flower.”
“Martin’s passionate, and she hasn’t exactly come on board yet. I’ve read the play. He’s being himself. His true self. You’ll see once you’ve also read it. You’d make a wonderful lady in waiting to the queen.”
“I’ve been asked to try out for the part of the Queen.”
Roger almost guffawed.
“You’ll have some stiff competition. Kate’s salivating for the role is unbecoming, to say the least, but you already know that—maybe you would make for a singularly terrifying and imperious queen. You’d have to want to kill for the part,” Roger whispered—a jest.
“You’ve certainly got a colorful way of speaking today. I may not live for the theater as Denisov so clearly does. Her glad-handing antics grew boorish a long, long time ago. Maybe she has Martin fooled, but she doesn’t fool me. After I read this play, only then will I decide to join the cast, and if the lead, the part of the queen isn’t available to me, and me alone, I won’t be taking any role subservient to Denisov. When you get the copies made, please call me on my cell first and I’ll come get one from you first thing.”
“I could easily drop one off at your office.”
“That would save me some time. You’re a doll. Sorry for my outburst. I do cop to a bit of competitive jousting between us—we’re the only ones on the island with any professional theater background. Just the way it goes.” Leonora was next to leave. She worked in one of the larger real estate offices located at the top of Commercial Avenue, and Roger would make sure he read the opening scene with Leonora on that visit just to see how she reacted to the language.
The Queen’s Idle Fancy burned in his jacket pocket throughout the practice, and Roger had a hard time resisting taking it out and reading it again right there in the back corner of the theater. Instead, he listened to the singing, the holiday standards, and all the kids who came in half an hour before the end to practice their skits. Morton plopped into the seat next to him. He looked sweaty after the long session in the band. He played the trumpet and seemed to relish reliving his own school band and theater orchestra days.
“Wasn’t this a memorable practice?”
“Sally’s finishing up. Out in a second.”
“I’ve been looking forward to going out.”
“No problem. I think it’s good for all of us. What did Belloon have to say to you?”
“He’s worried about the new play being proffered.”
“He wants it to be his crowning achievement, and I can’t blame him, but he does appear to be a bit too into it.”
“You’ve read it.”
“That’s something I never expected to hear from you. I can’t remember you ever reading any of the other play’s beforehand.”
“It’s brilliant. But it’s also a tough read for today’s audience. I don’t know why I didn’t see this before. That’s what’s got me thinking too much.”
“Beer will help clear your head.”
“You two ready to scoot?”
The three of them left and met up again at The Brown Lantern, their favorite sports bar in the heart of the historic downtown district. They’d been there so often it was a bit like Cheers, where the waitresses could set drinks in front of them without having to take their order. The two men drank beer, dark and Irish for Roger, and a Pale Ale for Morton, while Sally favored the house red wine.
“So?” Sally asked.
“The Queen’s Idle Fancy,” Roger said.
“Let me see it,” Morton demanded.
“I can’t believe this Waltzcrop fellow left it in my care.” Roger brought out the tattered copy of the play and handed it over. He loved the touch of the cover. He actually felt proud of how the play, this last known copy, had weathered the centuries. Sally scooted closer to Morton and they read the first page together.
They didn’t utter a word as they turned to the next scene.
Roger ordered a second, and then, a third, round. The bar grew more boisterous, a local drunk tried to beg money off their table and even that interruption didn’t stop Sally and Morton from continuing to read the play.
“Nothing for you today, Arnie.” Their waitress came up with one of the bartenders and coaxed him away and out the door.
When they reached the middle of the play, what Roger thought was a natural place for an intermission, he snatched the book away. Morton’s lips formed a scowl, and Sally’s expression was just as unkind.
“What do ya think you’re doing, mate?”
“It’s time for us to get home. Remember? Early work day.”
“We only read the first half. I hope the blacksmith’s daughter survives. Can you at least tell us that much?”
“No. Don’t reveal anything,” Sally said. “We’ll read the rest when we get our own copies. Are you going to try out, Morton?”
“Nope. I’m strictly in the orchestra pit, but there’s definitely something about this play that begs for musical accompaniment. I don’t suppose there’s an old symphonic score attached at the end?”
“Nope. But I’m sure when Waltzcrop returns he’ll have some idea on that subject.”
“Thanks for letting us read it here. We didn’t even get to catch up.” Sally pouted, but only theatrically.
“We’ll do that later in the week.”
The three of them departed.
Roger grew antsy to get home so that he could reread the play. He wiped his mouth as if expecting drool.
Morton, instructed to wait fifteen minutes, followed Sally to her house. Sally took him into her bed for the first time. She snuck him into her cottage in the woods off Sharpe Road. (She’d hurriedly overpaid the trusted, but oblivious, babysitter, who drove away in a happy mood.) Then, Sally waited for Morton’s quiet knock after primping and making sure the doors to her children’s bedrooms were shut, undressed in front of Morton with a sly grin—I want to be your handmaiden—moved to take all of his clothes off, finally ripping his undershirt at the neck, and then she fell upon him, beckoned him to ravage her—hours passed, and Morton returned to his home just before dawn broke. Instead of missing sleep, they both felt energized, raw, and couldn’t stop thinking about the play, the vagabond, a drifter who visits Queen Stormag’s village, and a saucy handmaiden whose future remained unknown to them both—they couldn’t wait to read the final act of the play.
To read the next chapter, simply click here: Part 10!
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