O' for the love of Shakespeare (4 page)

BOOK: O' for the love of Shakespeare
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The big positive about coming to my parents’
house, is mum’s cooking, a skill that I unfortunately have not inherited. 
Living by myself, I exist mostly on take-away and microwave meals and I really
miss having a home-cooked meal.  This is the main reason why generally on most
Sundays, I return home.  Mum’s Sunday roast is the best.  This is how mum
shows, in her own small way, that she really does care for us.  As a special birthday
treat, mum has made my favourite Baked Alaska for pudding, something I would
never dream of trying to cook for myself.  I take a bite, savouring the sweet,
warm and cold mix and think that perhaps mum really is magical - just like a
temperamental Fairy.  A bleep from my phone wakes me from my daydream, it’s a
text from Vic.

“How’s dinner going with the folks? Change of
plan I’m staying with Oliver tonight at his place so will meet you tomorrow at
Euston at 8 xx.”

I make an over dramatic huffing noise, as the
plan was that I would meet Vic at her apartment and travel to Euston together. 
This way I would be able to make sure we got there on time for the train. 

“Everything alright dear?”  Mum says as she
clears the dishes away glancing with a frown at my mobile phone.

“Yes all fine just sorting out travel with Vic
for tomorrow, I won’t be a minute.” 

“Where is it you’re off to again?”  Dad leans
back in his chair giving his stomach a little more room.  He really does love mum’s
cooking, perhaps a little too much.  

“Stratford-upon-Avon Dad, Warwickshire.”

“Just you and Vic going?”  Mum calls through
the serving hatch.  I knew she wasn’t listening to me earlier.

“Yes just us, why who else would be coming?”  I
look up from my phone.

“Oh I don’t know maybe Vic’s boyfriend?  When
she was over the other week she said it was getting quite serious.  Not that
you would know what serious looks like, would you darling?”   Dad saying
nothing, instead simply shakes his head and looks down at the newspaper he now
has spread out across his lap.  I look back at Vic’s text message.  She’s
staying over at Oliver’s apartment again, maybe there is a man out there good
enough for Vic to spend more than just a few months with.  I make a mental note
to remember to ask about him when I see her in the morning.  Perhaps mum is
right - maybe things are more serious between them than I have wanted to
realise.  I type a quick response before mum can tut at me for being on my
phone whilst still at the dinner table.

“Fine but please don’t be late we have to get
that train.  Dinner is as excruciating as always!  Hope being taken up the
Shard isn’t too painful. Love J x.”

I manage to get through the rest of the evening
biting my tongue, laughing at dad’s fairly offensive jokes, asking mum all the
right questions to keep her talking about herself to keep the criticism to a
minimum.  By eight-thirty I have hit my limit of enjoying my parents’ company
for the week, possibly even the year.

“So, I should be hitting the road before it
gets too late, still got to pack you know,” and kill myself.  “Thank you for
tonight though it has been, well, lovely.”  I smile as convincingly as possible
at both of my parents who are now seated on their separate armchairs.

“Dinner was a success wasn’t it?”  Mum looks up
at me imploring me for praise.

“Best ever Mum, thanks.”  She glows from the

“You know if you tried you could learn to cook,
your complexion would look so much better for having a few more vegetables and
healthy meals during the week.  I’d love to teach you, properly.”  I smile back
at her, maybe I should one day take her up on the offer.  “Oh we nearly almost
forgot we need to give you your birthday present dear.”  Mum starts rifling
through the cupboard underneath the television.

I’m actually fairly optimistic as the present
that she pulls out looks like a small reading book.   “Thank you Mum and Dad,
that’s really nice of you.”  Once in my hands I pull open the wrapping paper. 
It is a book.  Oh goodness it’s a self-help book.  Have I really sunk so low in
my life that my parents, my odd dysfunctional parents, feel that I need
guidance from self-help books?  “Yes erm thanks.”  I choke out.

“You’re welcome.”  Dad says not looking up from
the newspaper.  I’m sure he has absolutely no idea what present I have just
been given for my birthday.  Mum nods congratulating herself on her brilliant
choice of present.  She stands now by dad’s chair and uncharacteristically
gently places her hand on his shoulder.  Dad drops the paper instantly and
lovingly squeezes her hand.  I look at them and for maybe the first time ever I
am jealous of their relationship.  It is far from being perfect but they do at
least have each other.  Maybe I will have a quick flick through their present…

“Right I better be off.”  I feel numb, after an
awkward hug with both parents, I am out the door and on my way home.  

Exit Mum and Dad, thank goodness!

This is a nightmare, it is eleven and all I
have packed are pants and one very unattractive but comfortable bra.  What is
the point of having so many clothes but not being able to find anything that I
actually want to wear?  I swear my floor has a layer of four inch discarded
garments that I have tried on and then quickly decided that they are not
suitable.  Breathe Jane, breathe.  Keep it simple.  I grab a couple pairs of
skinny jeans, shirts, vests, t-shirts and a floaty emerald coloured dress which
I am not sure about as I think I look like a tepee which has moss growing on it
when I try it on.   It was purchased in a moment of weakness on one of the rare
occasions that Vic had managed drag me out shopping with her.

In complete despair at my wardrobe I wonder
over to a small set of drawers in my bedroom and pull open the bottom drawer. 
Vic has left a few outfits here in case she ever has too much to drink and
decides to sleep over.  I know ninety percent of the clothes in here will be
too small for me but I pull out everything and I am rewarded with an A-line pretty,
pale duck blue dress.  I slip it on and scrutinise my reflection, I know it
would look better on Vic but it fits me and it is nicer than anything I own. 
I’m sure Vic will not mind me borrowing it to wear this weekend.  Folding it
carefully I place it on the top in my wheelie case.  There I’m finally packed. 
A shiver of excitement runs through me, I retrieve my
Complete Works of
and fall asleep in the world of Iago whispering in Othello’s
ear, the bastard.


Act I Scene III


“Once more unto the
breach dear friends, once more.”  Henry V


What is that horrific noise?  I try swinging an
arm to stop wherever the discord is coming from but my limbs won’t help me.  I
blink, trying to clear the blur.  First things first - find the noise and kill
it.  I am so not a morning person.  My brain slowly kicks in and I remember the
bleeping is coming from the alarm on my phone.  How did Shakespeare get so much
work done without an alarm?  Anyway, it means it is six in the morning and
Thursday is finally here.  I wriggle in bed, stretching, check all of me has
woken up, grab my phone and swipe it to stop the alarm.  With uncharacteristic
energy for this time of the morning, I leap up from bed and dash to the
bathroom for a shower.  I cannot help but smile the whole time I’m getting
ready, dancing to music that only I can hear as I dry my hair, pleased that no
one can see my demented dance moves.  Using my straighteners, I curl my hair
slightly at the ends so that it falls in soft waves across my shoulders.  I
want to look my best for Shakespeare.  For me, I actually look quite well
groomed today, I grin goofily at myself in the mirror.

I am just about to walk out through the front
door, when I spot my Shakespeare book still open on the page that I finished
reading from last night.  I can’t go without my beloved Shakespeare collection but
it will make my suitcase weigh twice as much.  This will equate to me being all
hot and sweaty trying to pull it along all day.  I weigh up my conundrum.  
It’s an easy debate, I can’t leave my friends all alone in my flat all
weekend.  This is their chance to see where the person who gave them life was

With my wheelie case trailing behind me, I make
my way to Euston train station.  Nothing can annoy me today, not even the young
girl shouting on her phone telling everyone on the train that her boyfriend has
been sleeping with her friend, whom she is apparently going to bitch slap into
next week.

I arrive at Euston train station at seven-thirty,
pleased with myself that I have got here with plenty of time.  I decide to
treat myself to a coffee to help me wake up.  In the queue, standing behind
lots of suits, my phone starts to play
by The Cardigans.  It
always makes me smile.  I quietly sing along to the chorus while I rummage for
my phone in my bag.  A photo of Vic blowing a kiss at me pops up on my screen. 
She must be here already.

“Morning sunshine, where are you?” I say brightly
looking around.

“Hey Janey.”  The sound of her voice instantly
puts me on edge.

“What is it?  What’s happened?”

“I am so so so sorry, something’s come up and
I’m not going to make it today.”  What is her problem?  Why is she being so
flaky on me?

“What could be so big that you are blowing me
off, on our only trip this year and on my birthday?”  I can feel myself
flushing as people in the queue turn to look at me.

“Oliver proposed last night and,” she pauses,
“well, I said yes,” her voice is quiet and trembles slightly as she finishes. 
I stand dumbstruck, no she can’t leave me.  It has been just the two of us for
so long now.  Vic and this Oliver will be hauled up in some love nest making
babies and I will be completely alone.  I do not have anyone but Vic.  “Janey,
I can’t not get married just because you haven’t found anyone yet.”  As always
she reads my mind but still, she is a bit of a crap friend, how can she let me
down today of all days? “Oliver and I have been together for almost a year now,
I know you haven’t wanted to spend much time with him but he really is a good
guy.”  Oliver is a Broker, on the few times I met him I thought he was very
good looking but a bit flashy in my opinion.

Not knowing what else to say I mumble “erm yes

“Thank you I want to tell you all about it, the
proposal was beautiful Janey, just absolutely perfect,” she gushes.  I’m almost
at the front of the queue and to be honest I just want to finish this call.

“Yes I want to hear all about it but I need to
go now Vic, I’m just getting a coffee at the train station.”

“Please say you’re happy for me?”

“Yes yes of course Vic, I really do need to go
now though.”

“OK, I wanted you to be the first to know, so
we are visiting both of our folks this evening to share the good news but if I
can escape at the weekend, I will join you, OK?”  But I already know she
doesn’t mean it.  She will not be coming on holiday with me.

“Yes OK.”

“Carpe Diem Jane, enjoy every second, I love
you to the moon and back.” I can hear the excitement in her voice, she sounds
so happy.  I wonder what that feels like.

“Love you too, bye.” I end the call.

“What would you like?” the voice of a young
attractive Barista makes me look up from my phone.  What do I want?  I’ve been
asking myself that for the last almost thirty-five years.

“Skinny Latte, please.” I hand over the money
with a weak smile and wait for my Latte to be prepared.

So what do I do now?  I could just go home; I
have never even been to a restaurant on my own, let alone gone on holiday by
myself.  Five whole days doing everything alone.  Perhaps though this is my
life now.  Vic’s getting married after all, I cannot expect her to do
everything with me now she has Oliver.  A sadness sits heavily in my stomach. 
I really do not want to be someone who sits at home alone all weekend staring
at the TV, flicking through channels until the programs become a blur,
complaining because there is nothing good on the gazillion channels that I

Carpe Diem, Jane. ‘Some are born great, some
achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them’.  Yes, Shakespeare
is right - I can do this, I can get on a train alone, after all I do that every
day.  I can stay on my own at a hotel, eat in restaurants all by myself, sightsee
a place that I have dreamt of visiting and celebrate my birthday all alone.  
Well, this is depressing.  I grab my Latte, check the departure board and force
myself to head towards the train going to Stratford-upon-Avon.   One step at a

I find my seat pleased knowing that I will at
least not have anyone sitting next to me as Vic and I had reserved seats
together.   I pop my Latte and mobile on the table in front of me and dig out
Shakespeare from my wheelie case.  I think a Comedy will help cheer me a little
so I open to
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
and I am ready to let this
morning fade in to the wedding preparation of Duke Theseus and Hippolyta. 
Without Vic I can at least enjoy my other friends.  Yes, I know, my fictional

The outside world moves quickly from the grey
swirl of the city to green lush countryside.  The sky is a perfect blue canvas
with not a single smudge of a cloud and my sadness disperses just a little
bit.   The table rattles as I receive a message from Vic.

“Sorry I can’t come.  Have fun.  Maybe try and
find a man to give you a birthday treat ;). Let me know you get there safe.
Love you.  Vic x”

I throw my phone into my bag, I’ll respond to
that later.  I’m too annoyed to talk to her yet.  I close my eyes letting the
train rock me gently.

Lysander pulls me awake from a restless dream. 
Losing my balance, I lean against the tree that I had slumbered against.  He
looks at me as though it is the first time he has ever set eyes on me.  The
look that he gives me sets heat running through me, my fingers itch to reach
out to touch him.   I want to graze my finger nails through the stubble that
newly adorns his chin.  Lysander reaches out running his thumb along my lower

“Next stop Stratford-upon-Avon.”

My eyes flicker open, oh blast, what a perfect
dream to interrupt.  I let my breathing return to normal.  Pulling down my case
from the overhead rack I stow my book back away. The train station is small and
I try to make a mental note that when I leave in five days’ time to get a
coffee in town before leaving.  A young woman, with a spaceship for a pushchair,
directs me to a line of taxis.  Maybe this is going to be a lucky trip -
everything seems to be going so smoothly - apart from my rubbish friend
ditching me at the last minute. 

Usually when Vic and I travel together there is
always a disaster; we lose one of our bags, the flight is delayed, basically
every holiday starts with Vic and I having a blazing argument.  She loves
calling me the Shrew from
The Taming of the Shrew
during these moments
of spitting insults at each other.  Vic always knew calling me Shrew would
instantly have me in fits of giggles and the argument would be over.  It makes
me smile that my love of Shakespeare has rubbed off just a little even on Vic
of all people.   I try to shake off all the lovely memories of my friend and
slip into the taxi, ready to be whisked off to walk where Shakespeare walked. 

I feel like my face is pressed against the window,
not that dissimilar to an excited puppy, trying to take everything in as we
drive through town.  I spot a number of lovely looking restaurants and pubs
that I look forward to visiting in the next few days.  I try not to think about
the fact that this will of course entail a table for one.  We also drive
through a fairly good-looking high street.  Over a bridge and then the taxi
stops, ready for me to step out into the sunshine.  I am delivered to The
Verona Bed, Breakfast and Balcony.  I just absolutely love the cliché of the
name.  I do a little jig on the spot, excited to finally be here.   The
building does not quite look like the photos on the website.  The paint is
flaking and spots that should be white, are now a mucky shade of beige.   I try
to quiet the sudden niggling doubt about my choice of hotel.  I am here and
that is all that matters.

The front door is made of heavy oak with a
panel of brightly coloured glass running down the middle.  I search for a door
bell or knocker but not being able to find either I tap lightly on the glass
hoping to attract someone’s attention.  Before my hand has returned back to my
side the door swings open abruptly.

Enter annoyed austere looking woman barking

“Please do not bang on the glass, it is an
antique piece of glass and if you break it you will have to pay for it.”  I
step back surprised and flustered. 

“Sorry, I did look for a bell.” I start
blinking at an alarming rate, this is bad.  Really bad. “Is this ‘The Verona
Bed, Breakfast and Balcony’?”  A very large part of me hopes the answer to this
question will be a resounding ‘no’ and that I will be redirected to a beautiful
hotel next door.  Please say no, please say no.

“Yes.  What’s the name of the booking?”

“Er Jane, Jane Thomas.”

“Fine.  I’ll show you up.” She says gruffly,
her mouth forming a hard, thin line.  Her face is pulled and gaunt. 

I follow her in to the lobby, I can feel my
eyebrows knot, what have I booked?  The overriding colour is drab brown; the
walls, the furniture.  Even the brown trousers and cream shirt of the miserable
woman I am following, camouflages into the surroundings.  Her mousy brown hair
is heavily peppered with grey and pulled in to a severe knot at the top of her
head.  The heady odour of bleach and cleaning products follow her.  Even
walking a number of steps behind it makes my eyes water ever so slightly.  We
climb a flight of stairs and stop outside the first door we come to.  She takes
a key from her pocket and unlocks the door.   She glances up at me, she has
deep creases between her eyes from frowning and her tanned skin glistens with
sweat and dirt.

“Here’s your key, in an emergency my room is
third door down the corridor on your right, but that is just for emergencies -
otherwise do not bother me.”  With that she drops the key in to my hand and
walks down the stairs.  Her feet crash heavily down on to each step.  I take a
deep breath and step in to the room, slightly concerned as to what I am going
to find.  I really wish Vic were here.

The room is large and although the decoration
is a bit tired, it is bright and pretty.  There is a large antique armoire in
the corner of the room and a vast framed mirror next to the door.  Two twin
beds are pushed against the opposite walls but I smile when I look at a framed
picture above one of the beds.  It is a sketch of a scene from
The Tempest
of Miranda standing on the rocks looking out at the sea.  The drawing is both
powerful and beautiful.   Yes, this will do just fine.

Eyeing a small old fashioned television in the
armoire, I decide I could just hide in this room all weekend.  I do have all
the Shakespeare plays right here with me.  Maybe I could ask Ms
slapped-around-the-face-with-a-wet-fish-six-times to bring me some food
supplies?  Although I am sure the answer to that would be a big fat “No!”  I
slump on the edge of one of the narrow single beds, scrunching my face in to my
hands.  I do not think I have ever felt so alone.  I’m on holiday, a few days
away from my birthday and I feel wretched.  So what do I do now?  This was a
horrible idea.  I should have gone home after the conversation with Vic this
morning.  At least there was food at home.

My phone bleeps and I have to tip out the
contents of my bag onto the bed to find it.

BOOK: O' for the love of Shakespeare
13.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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