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Two fingers of Bourbon – “Me People” –

Slopping two fingers of bourbon into a coffee cup he makes a face, eyes wide, head bobbing, “They fight,” he says, his mouth within his salt-and-pepper Van Dyke twisting around the words. He sets the bottle on the edge of a long table lost under haphazard stacks of books and piles of paper, picks up the cork and jams it home, then picks up the coffee cup and throws back one long swallow. His other hand a metal hook at the end of a beige prosthetic attached just below his elbow. He sets the cup down, snaps off the light.

Past the double doors under a frosted fanlight a wide deep room the far end lost in shadows, one wall lined with floor-to-ceiling mirrors. She stands in the middle of it threadbare slipper-toe worrying at an X of blue masking tape stuck to the floor, her hair a great crown of tiny braids wound about with colored thread and beads all held up atop her head by a blue silk scarf. A half-dozen kids lined up roughly between her and the mirrors, sweatpants and yoga pants, gym shorts over longjohns, a brown sweater vest over a white T-shirt. She looks up at them, a hank of hair slipping from the scarf and slithering down her shoulder. “They fight,” she says quite loudly.

Over by the doors he snorts. He’s tugging loose with his hook the twine about a bundle of swords.

“Shakespeare was never much of one for stage directions,” she says, “but here we are, at the climax of our play, our Harry and our Hotspur have finally met on the field of battle, and how does the Bard frame the epic action of his climax? ‘They. Fight.’” A murmur of chuckles, someone laughs. He’s clutched the swords in his right arm, pulling the twine free. “So we will need,” she says, “to write our own scene of actions, to complement the words. But.” She holds the moment then, until all of them are still, are looking at her, even the laughing girl in the T-shirt that says Bard with Bite. “The blocking – the choreography – we devise; that’s just as words on paper.” She looks down then at the X, smiling. “Just. You all need to become as adept with a sword as you are with your voice: to know, Shaquina,” to the laughing girl, “how to riposte as surely as you know how to tell him you’ll no longer brook his vanities. To know, Jason,” to the boy in the sweater vest, “not only that you must drive her up and stage left, but how Harry would do it.” She turns then with a magnanimous sweep of her hand introducing him there by the doors. “Vincent Erne has been the fight director for every Serpents Tooth production that’s needed one.”

“Almost every,” he mutters, walking toward the line of kids, swords rattling.

“He’ll train you in stage combat, and work closely with me in blocking the fights, but most importantly he’ll work with each of you to become comfortable with this admittedly strange way to move – with these weapons, on your hips and in your hands.” He’s offering the bouquet of swords still tucked under his arm to them, tapping the bundled hilts with his hook. “Go on,” he says. “Until,” she’s saying, “you know, in your bones, how to move, how to strike, as Harry, as Hotspur, as Falstaff, or the King.”

“Judith is too kind,” he says. “I’ll settle for none of you putting out an eye.” And they laugh, swords in hand, fingering the blunted tips, whipping the swords about, striking poses in the mirrors. “It’s been two hundred and sixty-seven days since our last workplace incident,” he says, and there’s chuckles now instead of laughs, and the swinging stops. “All right. It looks like you all know which end to hold, so we’ll skip straight to lesson two – ” One of the double doors creaks open. Judith turns her head sharply, beads clattering. “Excuse me,” she says, “this is a closed rehearsal.”

“I’m sorry,” says Jo Maguire, one hand on the doorknob. “I didn’t have the phone number.” She limps into the room, her short brown hair sleek, her army-green jacket dark with rain. Under her left arm a bundle long and thin, wrapped in towels. “I could come back.”

“Please do,” snaps Judith, not yet turning back to her kids.

“We’re done, you and I,” says Vincent.

“Yeah,” says Jo, “I just, I wanted to talk about – ” but Vincent’s started across the room toward her, the doors, the last sword in his hand, toward Ysabel stepping up beside her, pushing back the hood of her yellow slicker, coils of black hair glossy tumbling free, Vincent head ducked dropping to one knee at her feet, Ysabel’s feet, the sword laid to the floor hilt first before her, his hook tucked up in the small of his back.

“Majesty,” he says.

“Highness,” murmurs Ysabel, smiling just.

“Of course,” says Vincent, sitting back on his heel. “Lady.” Looking up at her, the ugly bruise swallowing her eye, the scrape along her cheekbone. “What,” he says, and he swallows, “what happened?”

The sanctuary’s dark. Pink-tinged streetlight leaks through high narrow windows, a false dawn staining white columns that loom over the aisles. Jo’s sitting toward the front slumped down, her mismatched Chuck Taylors black and grubby white propped up on the back of the pew before her. A click of a door latch somewhere in back. A man steps out from the shadows under the white-railed balcony, his hair a shock of pinkish-orange bobbing as he comes down the aisle, his eyes bulging over an uncertain grin. “There you are,” he’s saying. His leather jacket creaks as he folds himself elbows and knees into the pew across from her.

“Just needed to, I don’t know,” says Jo. “I’m such a fucking idiot.” Forehead in her hand, elbow braced on the knee before her. “You’d think I’d’ve figured it out by now. Never go anywhere with her. Not without a fucking army.”

“We could keep waiting,” he says. He’s looking down at the bottle in his hands, green glass dark in the dim light.

“For who, the Duke?” says Jo. “Roland? Anybody’d help us has to get through them out there, same as the Anvil. Might as well wait for her to show up herself, and her goddamn nineteen names.”

“She wouldn’t cross the river,” he says, sloshing the bottle at her.

“What else has she got that would?” says Jo.

He shrugs, unscrews the cap. Swigs. “So don’t wait,” he says, looking up at the ceiling. “He’s under the, the damn bridge.” His eyes slide over in a smile at her. He points back over his shoulder. “Maybe ten blocks or so. You can’t miss it.”

“You’re right,” says Jo. “We won’t.”

“Jesus,” he says. “Christ. It’s not like I’m ducking out on you or anything. I’ll take you there.”

“Last week,” she says, still looking not at him but up at the dark altar, “a two-ton boar took out the east-bound lanes of I-84. Smashed ’em to bits. Can you take me there, too?”

He frowns, looks down at the bottle. “I don’t, I mean, sure, of course – ”

“Because maybe he’ll be there under the bridge, and maybe he won’t, you know? I just don’t trust anything where you people are involved.”

“Me people? My people?” He laughs and takes another swig. “Jesus, Jo. Here I am, sitting in a church, drinking gin from the bottle…”

“Is that supposed to make you more like me, or them?” says Jo. “Because there’s a roomful of them in the basement, and Ysabel drinks like a fucking fish.”

“Sure,” he says, “but they aren’t up here in the, the, she does?”

“Yup. The Duke, too. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him unloaded.”

“Huh.” Eyes goggling, he grins around snaggled teeth. “Guess there’s a difference between ‘can’t’ and ‘don’t usually’.” He holds out the bottle. “You sure you don’t want a taste? Before we take off?” Jo takes it from him. “I mean, if they are me people – if I am like them, and I go out there, you’d know soon enough. One touch from those spooky motherfuckers and I’d be toast.”

“But you’re like me, Ray,” says Jo, “so it’ll be nothing but kisses and love-taps.” She sips, screws up her face. He laughs. “Fucking turpentine,” says Jo.

“Clears the noggin,” says Ray, tapping his temple.

“You’re plenty clear,” says Jo. She hands the bottle back to him. “Let’s go.”

“Okay, okay,” says Ray, climbing wobbly to his feet.

Becker’s waiting in the shadows under the white-railed balcony, arms folded, licks of hair sprung out by his ears, on top of his head. Jo says, “He ready?” as she comes up the aisle toward him. Ray behind her stumbles over a ruck in the carpet.

“Are you?” says Becker. Ray laughs and makes a show of shaking out his left foot, then his right.

“We’ll be fine,” says Jo. “We just have to run. You get downstairs with the Princess.”

“Sure,” says Becker. “She can help me keep Guthrie calm.”

Off away through brick dimly a roar and shrieks, the belling scrape of metal. “There he goes,” says Jo. She puts a hand on Becker’s arm. “Whatever happens,” she says, “whatever happens,” squeezing his arm, “don’t set foot out there. Not till it’s over. He’s gone for sure if you do.”

Ray’s kneeling by the double doors leading outside, one hand on the crash bar. He pushes gently, cracking the right door open. A swarm a flurry a half-dozen bicycles down on the street circling circling, bicycles all painted white, gleaming white smooth and patchy white uneven daubs and once-bright racing stripes and brand names lost under foggy coats of sprayed white paint, white-walled tires and grimy whitened treads, blank white cards tucked ratcheting in spokes, a fluttering train of xeroxed notices on white paper. Dried flowers the only washed-out colors, wired to a whippy pole clamped to the back of a white-taped banana seat, dead green and pale yellow flowers piled in a white-painted handlebar basket, flowers once red and blue draped about this rider’s neck, that rider’s wrists, riders in grey sweatshirts, a hood up here, a grey helmet, a brown helmet there, grey sneakers pumping white pedals as they swoop to peel away left and right, chains and cards clacking, flowers rustling, speeding away to the back of the church.

“It’s working,” says Ray. He stands, lets the door close, claps his hands and rubs them quickly together, tilting his head to one side and the other. Nods.

Jo kicks open the doors.

Table of Contents

The First Part of King Henry the Fourth, written by William Shakespeare, in the public domain.

M.E. Traylor    6 August 2010    #

I’m really curious about Vincent. The second scene I find myself back in WTF mode, not unhappily, but I’m a little overwhelmed by the description after they open the door.

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