Authors: Wilson,Rachel M.
The others are scattered around the pool. Drew's got wet hair, but he's wearing a T-shirt and has a towel around his neck. Livia and Hank lounge in twin chairs facing the pool and clearly haven't gone in at all. Still, they're dressed for this last blast of summer. Livia's in her sundress and flip-flops; Hank's in board shorts and a stripy tank. We've got a breeze, but it's far too warm and humid for all my clothes.
“Are we going to work inside?” I ask.
“Caddie's a task master,” Mandy says. “Should we start working?”
“Come swim,” Oscar says, smacking the water to splash my legs. The chill of it actually feels nice, but there's nothing nice about sitting around in wet jeans.
“Oscar,” I say, “I have something to confess.”
“What's that?” he asks, folding his arms on the edge of the pool, everything else thankfully hidden underwater.
“I've never seen a naked man before.”
All of their eyes turn to me. It's a chance to play the way they do, to show that I
“Well, congratulations, Caddie. Today's the day.”
I keep my voice innocent. “Oh! You thought I was talking about you! Oh, this is awkward. No, I was just sharing. I've
seen a naked man,” I deadpan. “Still.”
“Da-amn,” Oscar says. “Ice. Cold.”
Peter starts a slow clap, and they all join in.
!” Oscar says. “That was so not worthy of a slow clap.”
Hank and Livia start a standing ovation, and Mandy doubles over laughing.
“Fine,” Oscar says in a goofy growl. “Fine, fine, fine.” He flips back from the wall to float on his back and claps with his arms stretched high, making zero effort to hide.
“It's kind of gross out in all these clothes,” I whisper to Mandy. I hold out my arms and I'm stiff, barely bendable.
“Yeah, okay,” Mandy says quietly, “I know how to get them inside,” and then louder, “Y'all, my mom said we could make margaritas if nobody's driving for a while.”
Oscar's out of the water before she's finished speaking.
Livia says, “Yes, please.”
“But dry off first.”
The swimmers duck into the pool house to dressâeven Oscar, thank the Lordâand Hank offers to get things started inside. Mandy brings me up to her bedroom to hang out while she changes.
It's a lot like I remember. The pristine white carpet is the same and so is the canopy bed with translucent curtains all around, but the pastel bedding has been replaced by jewel tones, rich teal and plum. There's a new-looking elliptical machine in the corner facing the flat-screen TV that sits on Mandy's dresser.
I guess Mandy's rich. My house is full of old family treasures from Mom's parents. Mandy's house has those, but also investments: paintings by fancy artists, antique furniture too delicate for sitting. The house itself is oldâon the historic registryâbut it doesn't
old because it's kept up so well.
“Do you like my new torture device?” Mandy waves at the elliptical machine then steps behind her closet door to change. “I'd rather run outside, but Mom says it's not ladylike to be sweaty on the street.”
“Whoa.” Even for Mandy's mom, that's impressively Victorian.
“I know. She thinks she's in another century, like all my gentleman callers will bolt if they see me in sweatpants.”
“Lord,” I say. “Does she really not mind if we drink?”
“As long as I use the sugar-free mix.” Mandy pauses and then confides, “She did this with my big sister, too. She says she wants our house to be cool.”
“Your mom's stuck in high school,” I say.
“Tell me something I don't know.”
It's weird to think about our moms being besties back in the day. They both went to Mountain Brook High School, both did sorority lead-outs in tenth grade, where guys “present” the girls by walking them down an aisle, and both had coming-out balls a couple years later.
“Coming out” still has its old-fashioned meaning in Birminghamâdebutantes in white dresses parade into ballrooms on young men's arms to show that they've entered society. Mom says it's an archaic, patriarchal ritual that I don't have to submit myself to.
Mandy's mom says it's the best time of a girl's life. And that's the biggest difference between Mandy's mom and mine.
After college, Mom and Dad stayed in Virginia. They only moved when her father was dying and Meemaw was losing it with stress. Mom jokes that she “tricked” Dad into the Deep South. “I missed it the whole time I was away,” she'd say. “He should have known that once I got him here, there was no going back.”
Meemaw always called Dad a “Yankee” even though he's only from Maryland. She still teases him about the time he ordered a side of green beans and said, “I think they mixed some ham in here by mistake.”
I'm not sure Dad was ever truly comfortable here.
“I think this is good for Ophelia,” Mandy says as she primps in the vanity mirror, freeing a few tendrils of hair. “It's romantic, right?”
When I don't answer, she says, “Earth to Caddie. You ready?”
“Sure,” I say, and we head downstairs.
When we reach the kitchen, Hank and Livia are wrestling with Mandy's giant Newfoundland over a puddle of spilled margarita.
“Sterling, front!” Mandy shouts, and the dog lopes to her, sits, and stares up into her eyes. She scratches his head and then sends him to lie down at the edge of the room.
“Sorry,” Livia says, “I didn't get the blender screwed on right.”
“I'm good at screwing,” Oscar says, and Mandy punches him in the arm.
“Enough with the double entendres,” she says.
Oscar puts on a terrible French accent, “Ohn-hohn-hohn, Madame, but you
so well.” He waggles his tongue with his eyes closed, so he doesn't see her finger coming up to flick his tongue, hard.
“Ow!” he cries. “Mean!”
“You're lucky I don't cut it off,” Mandy says, and goes to help Hank and Livia.
“Caddie, do you think this is enough room?” Peter calls.
I step through the breakfast nook and down a couple of steps to the humongous den. Drew and Peter have pushed the sofas and coffee tables back to create space in front of the fireplace. It's as big as our classroom.
“I think this will be plenty,” I say.
“We want it as accurate as possible,” Drew says. He seems like he wouldn't care, but clearly he does.
Peter smiles. “Showtime.”
I perch on an ottoman to signal I'm in no rush to go first. “So, how does this work? Do we do monologues or what?”
Oscar appears carrying a ginormous glass full of frozen margarita. I think he's actually drinking from a vase.
“We audition with scenes,” he says, “more like a callback.” I know that a callback means a second round of auditions, but I've never been to one. Oscar says it like he has a callback every Tuesday.
“Scooch over,” he says, meaning to squeeze in beside me on the ottoman.
“There's room for twenty people on these sofas,” I say, gesturing to all the empty seats.
“But I want to snuggle,” Oscar says.
“I'm taking out a restraining order,” I say, crawling backward into a chair with huge arms but only room for one butt.
“You're no fun,” Oscar says, taking the ottoman.
“I'm a huge amount of fun,” I say. “I just haven't figured out how to have it with you.”
Oscar narrows his eyes at meâI've won this roundâand slurps from his vase.
“Can I go first and get it over with?” Livia says.
She and Hank each have a tray full of drinks. When Hank brings me one, I try a little sip. There's a pungent flavor that reminds me of morning breath and the bitterness of fake sweetener.
“I can make you a virgin one if you want,” Mandy says as she takes a seat near me.
a virgin after all,” Oscar says. “She just told us so. I mean, if she's never seen a naked manâ”
“Shut up,” Mandy says.
“It's kind of sweet,” says Oscar. “Of course, I'd be more than happy to help you change that, Caddie.”
“No, that's okay,” I say in answer to Mandy, though it works for Oscar as well, and take another sip.
“It takes some getting used to,” Mandy says.
“So do I,” Oscar says.
“Do you never stop talking?” says Mandy.
“People,” Peter says, flourishing his glass, “let us begin.”
Drew's leaning in the doorway to the kitchen with a glass of straight tequila on ice. Since I've hardly had more than a sip of sherry my whole life, it's probably not the best idea to join him, but I can't blame him for making the trade.
“Me first! Me first!” Livia says.
“What's it going to be?” Peter asks. He waves a folder full of photocopied scenes.
“Let me try Ophelia,” Livia says, and Oscar volunteers to go with her.
As they look over their scene, Peter sits cross-legged on the floor between Oscar's ottoman and Mandy's legs, just a few feet away from me.
“How do we know which scene we'll have to read?” I ask him.
“For Ophelia, it's a pretty good bet you'll do the one in the hall of mirrors.”
“You saw the Branagh version.” That's the one with the mirrors.
“Yeah,” Peter says, like that goes without saying.
It's my favorite scene in the play. King Claudius and Ophelia's father, Polonius, think maybe Hamlet's crazy with love, so they get Ophelia to break up with Hamlet to see how he reacts. Ophelia goes along with it, but then Hamlet turns mean. He might be acting because he knows the king's watching, or he might really be crazy, but whatever it is, it's awful. He denies they were ever a thing, says he never loved her, but there's one part where he lets his guard down. He says, “I did love you once,” and Ophelia says, “Indeed, my lord, you made me believe so.”
That line, “I did love you once,” that's the part that kills me.
Livia and Oscar do well. Oscar's goofiness drops away, and unlike the real Oscar, he seems like he's actually interested in what another person has to say. I think Livia's too strong for Ophelia. I guess I could imagine her being played strong until the minute she breaks. It depends what Nadia wants.
Mandy and Hank are pretty great too. By the time Hank's ranting at her, Mandy's breathing has changed, and she's contracting her whole body with his words. It's physical, and it makes me feel for herâwith her. Maybe I shouldn't have quit dance.
Peter and Drew try Hamlet and his friend Horatio, switching off parts. Peter's better at both in my opinion, but I might be biased. Drew has a huge presence on stage, but the language keeps tripping him up. Shakespeare's hard even for professional actors, and it's clearly not Drew's forte.
I peek at Mandy, and her lips are a tense line. She catches me looking and whispers, “I offered to practice with him, but he's too proud to let me help.”
I give her a grimace of sympathy. Each time Drew messes up, his next words come out sounding frustrated, whether or not that's how his character should be. On their second time through the scene, Drew ends it early. “That's enough for me,” he says, and heads back to his tequila, eyes on the floor.
We've been at it for more than an hour when Peter says, “Caddie, you're up.”
I twist a pillow in my fist and try to send all my nerves into that squeeze.
Mandy's eyes are on me, and she still looks tense from watching Drew.
“I don't think I'm going to go,” I say.
“Ohhh!” Peter sounds like a sports announcer reacting to a boffed play. “Don't be shy,” he says. “If you're nervous to do it here, think how nervous you'll be at the audition.”
“I'm not nervous,” I say. “I'm just .Â .Â . I don't know what I am.”
“You're nervous,” Peter says, and he holds the scripts out to me. “Nervous is good. You're nervous because you care.”
I don't want them to know how
I care, but of course he's right.
“Okay,” I say, “but I don't know what to read.”
“Don't be that way,” Peter says. “You'll read Ophelia.”
“She can pick whatever she wants,” Mandy says.
Peter's clearly going for Hamlet. Maybe he
me to play Ophelia opposite him, but no, because then he says, “Every girl wants Ophelia.”
“Gertrude's a bigger part,” Livia says. “I might rather do that.”
“Caddie looks like an Ophelia,” says Peter.
As much as I want to play Ophelia, I don't love the idea of “looking like” herâbecause what does that mean? Crazy? Breakable?
“I'll read with you,” Hank says.
Peter hands me the scene.
“Okay, but I've got to run to the bathroom real quick,” I say, and I scurry to the guest bath in the hall.
Behind me, Mandy asks, “Who needs a second round?” and I bless her for keeping them occupied. I'd hate to picture them all sitting silently, waiting on me to perform.
At the bathroom mirror, I smooth my brow. Even though I haven't made any blunders, I'm tempted to wash. Oscar was sitting close to me. What if my pants leg rode up, and his hand brushed the skin at my ankle but I didn't notice?
Don't freak out.
There's no touching required in this scene. Performing in front of them has nothing to do with my game. If I start scrubbing myself every time I feel anxious, I'm going to get caught. Lady Macbeth is Shakespeare's obsessive-compulsive hand-washer, not Ophelia.
I take a deep breath, blow it out, and run my gloved hands down my sides as if I might press myself back together. I picture myself walking into the den and showing what I can do, being one of them.