© Feech -- all rights reserved
|for Captain Webster
"Any other old business? New business?... Hopes, Dreams, Aspirations?"
We all join Jordan on that last part. It has become the chant of every meeting Professor Milner leads for student productions. "Hopes, Dreams, Aspirations?" Everybody now.
Juliet raises her hand. "Have we covered the Park Play fundraising for this month?"
"Done that," Jordan tells her. "We have separate meetings for Park Play."
"Thank you," she says and smiles a bit sheepishly in my direction. I nod encouragingly. I admire her for asking. Not everyone would admit to a problem, not if they had her looks and talent. She's been at the Park Play meetings. She was there for this month's fundraising discussion. Yet she is not certain that they have taken place. If she were anyone else, she might simply be silent, refuse to participate. Or she could play the Prima Donna. It is, to me and likely to many of the others in our Department, Juliet's open vulnerability that gives her her power.
If Juliet were not open to assistance, she would not be so utterly astounding on stage. I suppose that fact applies to all of us, but with just a little push Juliet is able to reach something the rest of us have never known. I am not just saying that because I'm her boyfriend, either. University audiences were adoring Juliet's work before I ever came here. Last year, as a Freshman, I was (naturally) as smitten as everyone else, and by some miracle-- don't ask me how it happened, I was too overwhelmed to notice-- Juliet and I began going out.
"If we can get three more painters for an hour or two this afternoon, we'll have the seating and floor done," Blue Window Paint Crew Head Feech hints hopefully.
Jordan gives the group his patented "I know exactly which of you have class this afternoon" stare and remarks casually, "Okay, anyone with the time and inclination can report to Feech. Anything else? No? All right, in that case, report to your crew heads for individual information. Then get the heck on with the show!"
We-- Juliet, Calico, and I-- report to Feech. So do two other volunteers. Feech flashes me her best grateful grin. I know what she's going through. There are only so many aspiring Freshman painters a Crew Head can handle at one time. It's good to see some experienced faces among the volunteers. On the other hand, Feech somehow has the ability to paint like the dickens and still make the newcomers feel welcome. We all know that Freshmen need all the encouragement they can get.
While you'll never catch Feech on stage, Juliet Kelly is one of the Department's more versatile members.
In the black box we are assigned to our paint-buckets. I bend over a bench, doing detail work with a brush. Juliet uses a broom-length paint-roller assembly to walk back and forth across the floor of the black box theatre.
Calico doesn't paint, of course. Feech scratches him behind the ears whenever she passes the chair he has claimed. Otherwise he just oversees us.
Do I feel threatened that my girlfriend has a full-grown black leopard for a pet? Probably. Sometimes. But you never saw a more sociable, amiable cat. From the jungle to Minnesota. How appropriate a mascot for a Department with so many species swirling in and out of these minds in Minnesota. I do believe a lot of my classmates frequently reside (in their minds anyway) in jungles, or ocean, or even the forests outside Hayden Heath. It makes them all that more beautiful to me. Disease or no disease. When the color of an eye shifts, deeply, or an ear is cocked in a silent direction, I am alert for the signs of species-blending. For those who can integrate it, the power of the virus is awful, yet-- truthful. What do they say-- what doesn't kill you makes you stronger? I wonder about that.
Strength of the survivors may be greater than before their ordeal, no matter what that ordeal might be. But is death the ultimate enemy? I think of Gabriel, fighting, somehow, to avoid survival-- to avoid the strength he had to accept when he finally gave in to the transformation. Hopes, Dreams, Aspirations...
I look at Juliet now with her nose touched in pinky-beige paint and black latex tipping her blonde hair. We met last year, when I first registered, as I have said. Juliet was shaped outside of my knowledge, by events in a contiuum parallel to and yet very private from mine.
It never ceases to amaze me how two lives can mesh, inextricably, with each other after twenty-odd years of infinite, individual detail. It should be impossible. Lovers often say, "I feel as if I have known you forever," to explain away adult love's impossibility. But for Juliet it is much simpler than that. Simpler, and sadder. For Juliet has known me all her life.
She comes to me on Thursday evening and says, "You know, Beth, my parents are buried in Oak Hill Cemetery, Iowa City, Iowa. Is there a weekend upcoming?"
"Yes, there is."
"I want to be where my parents are buried. They are buried at Oak Hill."
Her careful language is a giveaway. I know she is unsteady, unsure in her memories. We have agreed that I should help her to gain clarification when needed. But on this subject?
On this subject. Yes. I have to push the issue. We have an agreement, and backing out now would only make her question herself more. Has Bethuel already promised to help her, or is he going to do that in the future... I ask, "Juliet, why are your parents buried at Oak Hill?"
"Correct. Very good," I say, softly. "And why... why are they dead?"
She stares at me blankly for a moment. I repeat the question. At last she opens her mouth. "Bethuel, I..." Pause. Her face crumples. "I can't. It doesn't make any sense. They're expecting me home..."
She trails off and simply comes and sits on my lap. "I love you. Can we go to Iowa City?"
"Of course we can, Julie. We'll visit the cemetery and get a nice hotel room. Maybe see some movies or something. Your folks wouldn't want you to spend all weekend at Oak Hill."
"Great!" She kisses me. "Thanks. I suppose Calico ought to stay with one of my girlfriends. Hotels usually don't accept him. If you can believe that," she laughs.
"Good idea. I'll see what I can do about a car."
Iowa City is a four-hour drive from Hayden Heath. Upon hearing that Juliet has specifically requested to go, Kent Dryer immediately offers me the use of his car. Just like that. It gives you an idea of the way Juliet affects people.
She stands with her back to a stone, the white roses solemnly carved around its border now framing her shoulders. The memorial imprinted in the stone is obscured by her form, as if she were placed there as an epitaph, on purpose, instead. She is smiling in a sort of puzzled fashion.
"Mother and Dad aren't here," she notes, carefully, checking my face for a reaction.
I return her gaze steadily. Surely she understands the situation. She has comprehended it, over and over, hundreds upon hundreds of times. But for her the memories are in the future and in the past. Ten years ago is today. There is no time. In every present moment, Juliet knows and understands. But is this a present moment? Or is she ten years old, holding her uncle's hand as the polished boxes are lowered... Does she remember and mourn, or foresee and await?
I clear my throat and speak. "This is the cemetery where they have been buried, Julie. Remember what you told me? You wanted to come here for the weekend."
"But Uncle Larry was bringing me, and since..." She breaks off and her eyes brighten with a shine of new tears.
It's then that I know that she understands and I draw her close to me. She sobs into my shirt for some time. The moisture of the tears reassures me-- she is not in her panicked, foreboding state, nor her confused one. The fire was in the past, and she is mourning her parents. For now. So here we stand, Juliet darkening the red of my shirt with pain, and I begin to feel good. There was no way of knowing whether Juliet would accomplish her mission here. Visit her parents, mourn their passing. Their deaths gave her a great power, born of fragility, but at a great price... Her ability to mourn. To call forth tears at a memory. To ever have a moment separate, precious, compared to any other. All times, to Juliet, are one and the same.
I suppose it was the only choice her young mind embraced. Several therapists have attempted to help Juliet regain a clear concept of cause-and-effect. Her Uncle Larry, Lawrence Kelly, has taken care of Juliet since the fire and spared no expense in attempts to rehabilitate her. His fortune brought them Calico. Despite the fact that his ownership of the leopard was legal and Juliet had never had any problem in controlling the animal, it was quite natural that most schools should reject the idea of Calico's accompanying Juliet Kelly to college. Hayden Heath was the exception.
Today I have all-too-frequent images of an event I never witnessed. I am acquainted with Larry, who currently lives abroad, and have heard the story from him. But somehow much more vivid to me is the picture I get, superimposed over exquisite features, when I see Calico and Juliet together.
Black ashes. Ashes in motion, as in a night wind. Glowing yellow halos surrounding hungry orange mouths of flame. Juliet's face, framed in blonde hair. A dark center of ash where a house used to be. Calico, her only constant guardian. I see it in the two of them every day. Sometimes I wonder, just briefly, whether they need or want me at all.
We leave the cemetery having forgotten to ascertain which stone belonged to the Kellys. Ever since, I have imagined it to be the tall, white, solemn one, outlined in roses, that Juliet paused in front of. I never did see the inscription thereon.
In the black box, outside of memory, we spread the night of latex over yards of floor where our audience will later walk.
Juliet is cheerful, concentrating, pleased with her work. I endeavor to catch her eye and in doing so have that vision again. Yellow ambiance. Devastation. Juliet did it herself, with a book of matches she found in a bathroom cabinet.
She told Larry and the investigators of the matches, and of the little flame she had played with and left behind, but as they talked the rules of the world began to fall away from Juliet Kelly.
It was not possible. No one action of any sort, by anybody, could bring about the burning of her own family. It became a vision, a burning house before the eyes of a small girl. The cemetery another vision, perhaps Calico's arrival another. It was not possible that the match-game had brought the house down. Therefore, all cause-and-effect, all linear time will be forever questionable.
And it is this, ironically, that gives Juliet her power. A woman, intelligent, capable, yet desperately separated from the agony of regret, she moves freely through what to some would be unbearable memories. For one moment, sobbing in Oak Hill Cemetery, she suffered. For her it will always remain a moment. Not the years of suffering others have raged against, but a picture in an album she pages through at whim.
One day we had a discussion in Playwriting class on the topic of character voices.
"In order to hear and see to our best ability," Melodie had said, "We must return in our minds to a place we have been but are not now.
"When we physically occupy a space, the people and events around us are the people and events of our own experience. We can write about them. But our vision will be limited to what we ourselves know."
"Won't it always, anyway?" One of the students asked.
"Not necessarily," Melodie answered. "If we can think of a place we have been, especially one to which we have a great desire to return, we may return there mentally.
"The mental return relieves us of our desire to occupy that space. We may then begin to see the person, people, event or events involved. Choose, as a writer, a place. Go there-- in your mind. The characters will come forward.
"Some have stronger voices than others, but all will speak who have a need. Make it known that you are lonely. They will come forward in your mind to tell the story. And then you write. The character voices open to the mind are far greater in number than those open to the ears.
"For next week, I want you each to imagine being at home, or some other place that you miss. Sense the versatility of this approach. See how many voices speak from your chosen, observed place, and write a description of at least one. We'll discuss this further in the next class."
I tried using Oak Hill Cemetery. I had been there, wanted to return for the feeling I had when Juliet successfully wept.
The voices came slowly, tentatively. Uncertain as to my intentions. But I quickly realized how appropriate all of these voices were to my writing style.
Melodie had been right, it seemed, about choosing a place we have a desire to go back to. For it is in these mental spaces that the characters most like ourselves arrive. In hearing their voices we experience myriad lifetimes. Hopes, Dreams, Apirations.
Juliet, painting the black box floor for Blue Window, embodies the concept of the travelling mind. As an actress, I realize, she has taken Melodie's advice to the height of its application.
Give Juliet a script. A time, a place, a character. And this time, this place, this personality will become hers. Juliet has no law, in her mind, that says that she has never really been that person, never actually lived that experience. She channels the character completely and flawlessly, never fighting back with her own personality. For all she knows this is her personality, at some point in her own private picture album of the world.
When the painting is done, as we disperse, Juliet squeezes my arm happily. "I'm glad you're here, Bethuel."
I turn to her, a bit playful, a bit shy. I've asked her before, and the answer is always the same. "Juliet?"
"Do you remember the day we met?"
"Of course," she replies cheerfully. "In the production meeting for Step Into the Light"
"And when did that happen? Before or after you went to Kindergarten in Mrs. Fulmore's class?"
She thinks briefly, then gives her head a little shake. "I don't know."
She seems open to discussion. I touch on a heavier topic. "When did your Mother and Dad die?"
"I don't know."
"Are you sure?"
"Bethuel, please. I'm not in the mood to concentrate so hard."
"When did I first come to Hayden Heath? Before, or after we painted the black box floor today?"
"We painted the black box floor today?"
"Yes. We did."
"I don't think it matters when you came. Does it? As long as you were there."
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