Derek woke, his tent lit like a lantern by the morning sun. A faint whiff of smoke in the air. The fragrance of vanishing dew in the morning calm. Except for the birds and the distant chopping of wood, it was quiet in the campground next to the lake.
This is dry country with warm summer days and soft summer nights, scattered pine and oak groves separated by grassy prairies, and irrigated fields that give a lushness: browns, yellows, greens, Gold Finches and Towhee chirp and flit. Deer in the meadows, cougar in the hills.
Derek dressed. Rolled up his sleeping bag. Lashed it on his motorcycle. Started his trusty bike and entered into the lane. He and machine, as one, leaned into the curves, chasing his tall western silhouette. It’s about six country miles from the lake to town, on Route 66.
He slowed down as he approached town and overpassed the freeway. Shops were not yet opened. He parked. The aroma of coffee was in the air. From a café he got some tea, and a newspaper. With his sleeping bag he went to the ticket booth line.
He had arrived on the concrete walk surrounded by lawns and flower gardens before the ticket booth opened, so he could get a good choice of the few remaining seats still available the day of the play. It was very quiet except for the distant sound of auto traffic and the songs of the birds in the trees. There were several people in line when he arrived. He sat on his bedroll and read. The sun shone warm on his back. The newspaper provided the usual diet of car crashes, weather, politics, and civic activities. And, there was, a picture of a kitty cat available for adoption. He knew he didn’t want another kitty cat, or any other kind of commitment. The legal section mentioned divorce court filings. He didn’t read them.
As the morning warmed, he became aware of a woman in the line before him sitting on a folding chair with her back to him, sipping tea and reading quietly. There was a sweet scent in the morning air. Derek was not sure if it was coming from her or the garden they sat next to. It filled his head with delights, and replaced his worries.
Monet, with sandy blond hair down to her jaw line, wore a lovely skirt and blouse, together with some well-worn sneakers. She was a product of good social presentation and steeped in memories of early family chaos. Haunted by her father and elder brother, and multiple others along the way, she had good reason to fear men. Yet, the natural attraction was unavoidable. Desires and longing for ‘a good one’ often welled up, causing both hope and heart ache. It had been said she was ‘too good looking for her own good.’ Strong appetites had invited trouble in the past, then times of extreme loneliness. Times of too much of this or that. But, now, she had a good position in the city, and a comfortable home. She was doing OK. Yet, she knew she was living an internal battle between what she really wanted in life, and her fears.
Their time spent sitting, and reading eventually lead to a break, standing and stretching. As they did so, Derek smiled, nodded and said “hi.” She returned his smile with one of those forced smiles that only shows on the edge of the mouth, and doesn’t include the whole face. Not unfriendly, but not enthusiastic either. She feared the possibility of burdensome male social aggression. But, she knew how to manage that. They introduced themselves to each other. Mr. Lonely meets Miss Behave.
They talked about the weather, the town, the prospect of seeing the play. She had a faraway look from deep in her past. They settled down, and returned to reading.
Derek was a city boy. He was familiar with multiple choices in restaurants, entertainment and companionship. Six feet tall, he had dark brown hair, medium cut. He was a blue jeans guy with a dress shirt and sneakers. He was masculine, with edges of hesitation in his voice: steady, but not always sure. His early home life left him off balance and much quicker to retreat than to advance. His rage filled father had no fuse, going off at any moment, shouting and sometimes throwing punches. His mother, fearful of her husband, always acquiesced and just stayed out of it. There was no trust. There was little safety. To spot the dangers, when Derek entered a room full of people, he always held back and watched the crowd and gaged the individuals in the room before he entered the fray.
When the ticket booth opened they each got a ticket to the Taming of the Shrew, that evening’s play. They said goodbye, and moved off into their respective days.
Monet went about her day seeing the town and day dreaming about her life. This was her third time to the Shakespeare plays, and the first time on her own. She had brought her two daughters in the past, but they were grownups now, and on their own. She had been single for some time. Recently, she hadn’t thought much about relationships. Her body reminded her now and then, how a man could be useful. Yet, she saw her life as pleasingly calm and without drama. And, she intended to keep it that way.
Derek went about his day seeing the town and day dreaming about his life. This was his first time to the Shakespearean Festival. He was very happy that he had gotten to ride his old motorcycle. He found riding to be relaxing, and at the same time exhilarating. Biking is much more physically demanding than driving a car. And, due to the greater need for attentiveness while riding a motorcycle, he could forget about his divorce as he rode along the winding country roads. Also, for a while, he could abandon the grief of the loss of his son in a useless war. He didn’t want to think about women and relationships. He wanted to create a calm after the storm of legal problems, and processes that had just ended. His head chatter continued to say, ‘no use thinking about a woman. I don’t want a woman. I’ve had enough of that trouble.’
The day faded to evening and the time for the show to start was approaching. Derek made his way to the theatre, and entered.
He had heard about the theatre, but the grandness of the open air Shakespearian Theatre was more than he had expected. He didn’t go directly to his seat. He walked down the aisle to the front of the stage and gazed up into its balconies and windows. This was an excellent place for live theatre. Then, he turned and looked back into the theatre seating and audiance, the view the actors would see.
Satisfied, he walked back up the aisle and to his row. As he arrived at his seat, much to his and Monet’s surprise, and delight, they found they were seated next to each other.
They each had a hunger for conversation after being in Ashland all afternoon with no companion to visit with. Conversation erupted. They enjoyed their chit chat before the play began. As they sat side by side and watched the curtain rise, they each felt a bit uneasy about how easy it was to be together. Yet….
As do all humans, Monet and Derek drifted in and out of awareness of the play before them. And, they drifted in and out of awareness of their own head chatter; those inner monologues and conversations that fill our thoughts and ears.
I pray, sir, tell me, is it possible
That love should of a sudden take such hold?
Monet: Oh, don’t speak to me of love. What’s love got to do with it? Derek: I love to ride. Warm summer evening. No traffic.
Kindness in women, not their beauteous looks, shall win my love….
Derek: The better part of wisdom, indeed. I mustn’t be overcome by her good looks. Where do you find kindness in the hurried hubbub of today’s world?
Monet: Such kindness would give me a chance. Could this ‘Derek’ be kind, I wonder?
Now, Kate, I am a husband for your turn;
For, by this light, whereby I see thy beauty,
Thy beauty, that doth make me like thee well,
Thou must be married to no man but me;
For I am he am born to tame you Kate,
And bring you from a wild Kate to a Kate
Conformable as other household Kates……
Monet: “…to tame you…”? You want my fury? Then try to tame me. The arrogance of men. Without beginning, and without end.
Derek: Oh, man, I hope Monet doesn’t imagine me as such a “Tamer.” The domination game. I don’t want a subject. I want a partner. What am I thinking, “Want!?” I don’t want more trouble in my life.
What, will you not suffer me: Nay, now I see
She is your treasure, she must have a husband;
I must dance bare-foot on her wedding day And for your love to her lead apes in hell.
Talk not to me: I will go sit and weep
Till I can find occasion of revenge.
Monet: Yes, “…spur my dull revenge.” The yelling, demeaning, shaming, bullying, hand on my throat….. But, I’m tired of getting even with men. I usually take my frustrations out on the wrong one anyway.
Derek: I see storm clouds forming. I want calm in my life.
Why, there’s a wench! Come on, and kiss me, Kate.
Monet: Just like every man out there. He grabs and takes what he wants. Where’s my dagger?
Derek: Out of the question. I’ve had enough of that trouble. There’ll be no kissing. Yet, I wonder……..
As the play ended, and applause subsided, Monet and Derek got up to leave with the rest of the audience. They walked out of the theatre and said goodnight.
“It was nice seeing you again,” said Derek. “What a lovely night,” said Monet.
And, they went off in their separate directions.
As they got back to their beds they dreamed of each other. Those inner conversations that tell us to go for it, or forget it. They hadn’t exchanged phone numbers. And, they each found themselves thinking that their inability to make contact with one another was the safer bet.
However, they each also realized that their trip to see some Shakespeare would be more memorable for having met, and for those few moments together. Something to dream about.
Again, Monet got up early. She intended to go to the ticket booth and get a ticket for Love’s Labour Lost, which was to play in the evening.
She left the warmth of her hotel and headed out for the morning sun, but found the morning a bit cloudy and cooler than the day before. She went back and got a sweater to mask her chill.
Along the sidewalk she grabbed a cup of tea from a café and headed to the ticket booth line. When she got there, Derek was sitting on his sleeping bag reading the morning paper, sipping tea. Although the night before she was glad to have lost contact with this ‘person of interest,’ here he was again. And, she was glad. Apparently his ambition to get back to the ticket booth line was greater than hers. She thought maybe he was anxious to see her again. That is, if she happened to show up.
“Good morning Mr. Early Bird,” Monet greeted.
“Well, good morning Monet.” He stood up to greet her. “Ya know, I find it interesting sometimes to notice what I don’t think of. And, it didn’t cross my mind that I would see you here again today.” He reached out to shake her hand. “It’s good to see ya,” Derek said, with a sense of relief. Although last evening he was glad to have escaped their encounter unscathed, and without the possibility of future contact, he had been dreaming of her when he woke up in the morning.
Monet unfolded her chair and sat. “It’s good to see you too. The weather has cooled a bit, hasn’t it?” Monet said as she pulled her sweater tighter around her.
“Yes. The ride in was a bit chilly.” Derek said as he kept his cold hands in his warm pockets.
“Well, perhaps our hot drinks and a bit of conversation will keep us warm.” Monet said with a smile.
“Yes, I suppose they could.” Derek received her suggestion with a sense of calm, and a bit of deeper distress.
“Taming of the Shrew was a wild ride last night. And, very well done!” Monet complimented.
“I agree. It also gives some perspective on the progress of our social mores,” Derek reported.
“That’s an understatement!” Monet acknowledged with a bit of a glare, reflecting on the whole “taming” aspect.
Derek said, “I struggle to keep up with the old English. My mind wanders a bit when I get lost in the dialogue. My attention gets drawn back when a phrase or speech by one of the characters catches my attention. I enjoy Shakespeare for that. His prose and poetry seem to sink into my mind here and there, and cause deeper reflection on topics I might never have thought of, or at least not for some time. Also, when my mind drifts, I’m still fascinated by the stage, the set, and the actors moving to and fro.”
Monet replied, “I agree. I’ve had similar experiences. In fact, that’s a primary reason I attend Shakespeare plays. Sometimes, at home, I follow the text as I watch a video of a Shakespeare play. Some are very true to the printed text. Some are very different.”
Derek added, “There are lots of reported ‘original’ sources of the plays of William Shakespeare. But, none of his original manuscripts exist today.”
Monet asked, “Have you ever seen ‘The Merchant of Venice’ with Al Pacino as Shylock?”
Derek exclaimed, “Oh my! Where would I be without Al Pacino? Mind you, I’ve never met him, except by watching his performances. But, his acting moves me. And, yes! I’ve seen ‘Merchant’ with Al, and Lynn, and Jeremy and Joseph and all those great actors.”
Monet revealed, “I watched it recently with the text in my lap. As I remember, in the entire play there were only two paragraphs that varied slightly from the text I was following. And, I agree; What an actor!”
Derek said, “I shouldn’t get started talking about Pacino. I watch ‘Scent of a Woman’ each year on Thanksgiving weekend. It’s a personal tradition. His performance of Lt. Colonel Slade was fabulous. At the end of that show I always jump up and punch the air yelling, YEH, YEH, YEH!
And, the Tango theme! …. Oh, I’ll stop!”
“I see we share some similar passions.” Monet mused.
“Yes, I think so.” Derek said looking shyly toward the pavement between them.
“Uh, I don’t want to over step my bounds here, Monet. We just met yesterday. But, after sitting next to you at the play last evening, and now getting to visit with you in line again this morning; I am wondering if you’d like to see if we might be able to get a pair of seats so we could sit together again tonight. Ya know, not leave it to chance this time.”
There was a nearly detectable pause from Monet. She looked at Derek, then slowly turned her head away, slightly pursing her lips, as she replied, “Sure. Why not? That would be fun.”
Monet was not being overtly reluctant. She was pleased with Derek and his suggestion. And Derek was not being overly sensitive to her nuance. These are moments where wishful thinking blunts objectivity, and leads to unexpected times of bliss, or misery.
The ticket booth opened and people stood to move forward and buy tickets. As Derek’s turn at the window arrived, Monet approached the window with him. He said to the ticket sales person, “We’d like seats together for Love’s Labour Lost this evening.” There were several good choices to consider. With no struggle, they both picked one particular pair of tickets, and each bought a ticket for one seat, and put their tickets away.
“It’s still early. Would you like to get some breakfast, or an early lunch together, before we wander off into the day?” Derek invited.
Monet, feeling pleased at the prospect of some companionship, replied, “Yes. I’d enjoy that.”
It was early in their growing familiarity. Each had an urge to take the other’s hand as they walked away from the ticket booth. But, each heard alarms in their heads, informing them each that holding hands was not what they wanted. Just something to eat. Just some chit chat. Only that.
They drifted slowly along the sidewalk, dreaming of what a perfect relationship might be like, and gazing into shop windows and open cafés. It seemed that they had forgotten they were looking for someplace to eat, as they walked together, and absorbed the ambiance of the town.
Monet spoke, “This looks interesting.”
“Yes?” replied Derek. “Oh, sure. It smells good too. Let’s.”
They entered the café and took their seats. The aroma of warm bread and coffee in the café brought pleasant memories to Monet of her study and love of cooking, and of her grandmother’s kitchen where Monet had learned to bake. The sounds of pans on the grill and china clinking reminded Derek of his time with his mother in her kitchen creating delightful aromas and tasty meals.
Time became a dot.
They talked. They ate. They laughed. They shared their life stories. She from a wheat ranch in the country. He from the city. He liked camping. She preferred hotels. They discovered that they both now lived in Portland. They were delighted and, at the same time, a bit uneasy with what they were doing together. This free-flowing conversation, given these circumstances, would inevitably lead in one direction. But, their respective minds bounced and rolled with it. Each essentially decided, ‘Why not? Carpe diem!’
They spoke of the single life and the loneliness it includes. Can’t go places as a couple, because they are single. The “third wheel” syndrome always plays out. She gets hit on. He gets hit on. They both think of their personal oaths to not get involved. But, they each miss the warmth and companionship of being part of a couple. When it’s working well, having a partner is the best. They spoke about their loneliness and broken relationships, which led them each to be here alone.
They decided to let their guards drop a bit and be more like a couple at the evening’s play. Just for the fun of it. They agreed, “We are adults and we can play such a game if want want to,” in spite of the risks. Letting down the guard is relaxing. Of course, after the play, they would have to say good-bye and go their separate ways. Or, so they agreed.
Almost two hours had rolled by. Monet looked at the clock on the wall and exclaimed, “Oh my! Where does the time go?” Derek feigned a “Yikes!” They both laughed.
“I’ve got a back stage tour pass,” Monet announced. “Are you interested?”
“Yes and no.” Derek replied. “I’m going back to my camp and take care of a couple of things with my motorcycle. But, thank you,” he offered.
“What kind of motorcycle do you have?” asked Monet. “A 1965 Honda 305 Super Hawk,” bragged Derek.
“A bit of Zen and the Art Of, I suppose,” said Monet. “You sound like an enthusiast,” replied Derek.
“I wouldn’t describe myself as an enthusiast, but I did read the book,” said Monet. “Do you have your JIS tools with you?” asked Monet.
“Now, you must be an enthusiast to ask a question like that. And, yes, I do have the ones I need. Perhaps you’d like to go for a ride sometime.” Derek suggested.
“Perhaps,” Monet replied coyly.
“OK. Let’s meet at the theatre entrance just before show time,” Monet suggested.
Derek replied, “We could check out the dancing and singing performances outside the theater before the play.”
“OK,” she said. “See you there.” “Sounds good.” Derek replied.
Monet went to the back stage tour. Derek rode around the valley and made his way back to camp. Each was delighted and dismayed that they were planning to see the play together.
His disastrous second divorce was just complete. It had taken two years to finalize. He had only seen his “ex” three times in those two years. He was relieved not to have to see her again.
Monet was distracted during the tour. Why had she let the conversation slip into this ‘meeting’ again with Derek? Wasn’t last night enough!? This ‘meeting’ at the play was really a date. She didn’t want a date. Yet, she remembered she had replied with “perhaps” to Derek’s motorcycle ride invitation.
Well, she considered herself to be enough of an adult, and have enough self-control to manage it. Let it roll, she thought. He and I are individuals. We can each handle this and not slide down into the rabbit hole.
Monet’s thoughts swept her away. Oh, this so called life. The edges of my life do rattle inside and pain me. What a feeling to want what I know I can’t have. Yet, I can have easily, if the cobwebs be swept aside. Out, out damn cobwebs! She began to imagine the warm comfort of the weight of Derek’s body against hers. Out! Out!
The evening had warmed considerably after the morning’s cool beginning. Monet and Derek met on the green in front of the theatre. There was the excitement of music and dance. Derek put his arm around Monet’s shoulders and gave a gentle squeeze. Monet put her arm around his waist and returned the gesture. Neither looked at the other. The music and dance were wonderful.
They entered the theatre and took their seats. As they sat, they each relaxed and leaned slightly toward the other, their shoulders touching.
…For wisdom’s sake, a word that all men love;
Or for love’s sake, a word that loves all men;
Or for men’s sake, that authors of these women;
Or women’s sake, by whom we men are men;
Let us once lose our oaths to find ourselves,
Or else we lose ourselves to keep our oaths…
Monet: Eternal words. I make so many promises to myself that I never keep. Pretend to be a couple for an evening? That’s an invitation that could be difficult to escape from. I’ll keep my oath.
Derek: Oh, to quit my oath and delight in this woman’s enchantment? I’m so uneasy. That’s not what I want. I have no idea what I was thinking when I suggested we sit together.
…For when would you, my Lord, or you or you,
Have found the ground of study’s excellence Without the beauty of a woman’s face?
From women’s eyes this doctrine I derive;
They are the ground, the books, the academes
From whence doth spring the true Promethean fire.
Why, universal plodding prisons up
The nimble spirits in the arteries,
As motion and long-during action tires
The sinewy vigour of the traveler.
Now, for not looking on a woman’s face,
You have in that forsworn the use of eyes
And study too, the causer of your vow;
for where is any author in the world
Teaches such beauty as a woman’s eye?…
Monet: Such power. Should I go for it? Or, must I keep my oath?
Derek: Oh, I’m putty. I feel her warmth. Monet is beautiful. Do I have the self-control to manage this “Date” of ours? I’m the one who suggested it. I have no idea what I was thinking.
….But love, first learned in a lady’s eyes,
Lives not alone immured in the brain;
But, with the motion of all elements
Courses as swift as thought in every power,
And gives to every power a double power,
Above their functions and their offices.
It adds a precious seeing to the eye;
A lover’s eyes will gaze an eagle blind;
A lover’s ear will hear the lowest sound,
When the suspicious head of the theft is stopp’d:
Love’s feeling is more soft and sensible
Than are the tender horns of cockled snails;
Love’s tongue proves dainty Bacchus gross in taste;
For valour, is not Love a Hercules,
Still climbing trees in the Hesperides?
Subtle as Sphinx; as sweet and musical
As bright Apollo’s lute, strung with his hair;
And when Love speaks, the voice of all the gods
Make heaven drowsy with the harmony…..
Monet: I have a four hour drive home, laundry, up in the morning to work…… I need to stop at the grocery store, bread, butter, milk and eggs.
Derek: “..first learned in a lady’s eyes,” “A lover’s eyes will gaze an eagle blind;” I’m losing my grip here. I need to check the oil in my bike in the morning. Tire pressure too. If I leave early enough I can take some scenic side roads and skip a lot of freeway.
Derek moved in his seat and abandoned his shoulder contact with Monet.
….I shall be forsworn, which is a great argument of falsehood, if I love.
And how can that be true love which is falsely attempted?
Love is a familiar; Love is a devil: there is no evil angel but Love.
Yet was Samson so tempted, and he had an excellent strength;
Yet was Solomon so seduced, and he had a very good wit….
Monet and Derek each thought: Excellent cautionary tale. We’re both adults here. We can manage this without hurt or harm. There’ll be an easy exit. Just say, “Thank you. Goodnight.”
Monet went into a dream. Her breathing became a little erratic. She was lost in memories of her father’s brutality and her older brother’s constant pursuit of her when she was little. Derek somehow sensed her distress and shot her a glance. She was staring blankly at the stage, her eyes not moving. Suddenly her body gave a small spasm as she recovered from her lapse. She gave a slight sigh, remembering her relief when her father had died.
“Are you OK?” asked Derek. With a faint smile, she looked at Derek, but inside she was crying. “Yeh. I’m OK,” Monet replied.
Did not the heavenly rhetoric of thine eye,
‘Gainst whom the world cannot hold argument,
Persuade my heart to this false perjury?
Vows for thee broke deserve not punishment.
A woman I foreswore; but I will prove,
Thou being a goddess, I foreswore not thee:
My vow was earthly, thou a heavenly love;
Thy grace being gain’d cures all disgrace in me.
Vows are but breath, and breath a vapour is:
Then thou, fair sun, which on my earth dost shine,
Exhalest this vapour-vow; in thee it is:
If broken then, it is no fault of mine:
If by me broke, what fool is not so wise
To lose an oath to win a paradise?
Monet: Whoever wrote that has lost their mind. Love is a devil. There is no evil angel but love. Yet…….
Derek: Longaville is lost. He’s abandoned his oath. Can I keep mine? Can I depend on Monet to steer us out of this? Just say, just say, “Good night, Monet!”
Why, all his behaviours did make their retire
To the court of his eye, peeping through desire:
His heart, like an agate, with your print impress’d,
Proud in his form, in his eye pride express’d:
His tongue, all impatient to speak and not see,
Did stumble with haste in his eyesight to be;
All senses to that sense did make their repair,
To feel only looking on fairest of fair:
Methought all his senses were lock’d in his eye,
As jewels in crystal for some prince to buy;
Who, tendering their own worth from where they were glass’d,
Did point you to buy them, along as you pass’d:
His face’s own margent did quote such amazes,
That all eyes saw his eyes enchanted with gazes.
I’ll give you Aquitaine, and all that is his,
An you give him for my sake but one loving kiss.
As the curtain fell, they rose and applauded with the audience, then drifted toward the exit. Outside the theatre, they were again where the dance and singing had been before the play.
Derek: “Do you think we will see each other again?” Monet: “Probably not. But, I won’t forget this.”
They put their hands on the sides of each other’s shoulders.
They looked into each other’s eyes and saw nothing and saw everything.
They closed their eyes and softly pressed their lips together, sharing every emotion, as they tasted each other’s sweet sorrow.
And now my love in times of sorrow dark,
That you and I might savor life and time,
With all the care of comely favor mark
Welcome the days, and nights of tender rhyme.
As I may be of injured days replete,
With some of joy, and some of sorrow filled,
While I received the sound of life so sweet,
Did fill my life with words to calm my will.
And she so blessed, with strength to overcome,
Did much reflect, and seek to understand,
That, if she could, she would, and then be done,
With head filled thoughts, of hurts that she might ban.
So as our sun crossed lives met ‘neath the stars,
We shall look to dawn, and, feign, call it ours.
©Copyright 2020 Ralph Olsen