An Imaginary 17th Century Scene





JOHN: manservant to SIR GILES

ACT II, scene i

LADY KATHERINE’s chambers; GILES and KATHERINE sit together.

KAT: Husband, as your man is come from my father I must go and fetch the missive he brought. We will not be parted long.

GIL: No, for we cannot, now you are part of me you cannot part from me. Do not fret, dear one, I shall await your return with patience and good cheer.

KAT kisses his cheek and exits; LILLIAN enters.

LIL: Good sir, is there aught I can do for you?

GIL: I think there is naught I need, so aught you can do is not for me.

LIL: Do you not mislike it that your bride should speak alone with your manservant? Aside He will now; I will that he proves as weak as I think him.

GIL: Well that is forward, I had not thought so far at all and you ought not speak so near.

LIL: Do forgive me, my lord, ‘twas but my thoughts aloud.

GIL: And you suppose I desire to hear your thoughts?

LIL: On no account, sir, do I think it is my thoughts you desire at all. Why should they interest you? I beg your pardon for my boldness, I will be silent.

GIL: You think my lady be not true?

LIL: Sir, I would not make such a claim, I am but her maid.

GIL: And so you know her comings and goings, her musings and thoughts, the whispers that escape her in quiet times and the every sigh she lets out when nearly alone. Do not think to trick me, Lillian, I know you to be more than only maid of such dull stuff as that.

LIL: It is true I am with your lady often, but I do not mean to say that I know her mind, or any other. I am my own, and not hers alone.

GIL: You did suggest that there are doings beyond what I know, and I will have you tell me.

LIL: You will have me, my lord? I am, as I said, my own, and not yours entirely. I must be at least as bound to my lady as I am to you.

GIL: You are bound to me, Lillian.

LIL: I am bound to you. But I am my own too, and my lady’s whether I would or no.

GIL: That’s as it may be. Now tell me of my lady’s doings.

LIL: Does it not seem odd to you that she should be gone so long?

GIL: Does she not wish to reply to her father’s message? That seems not odd.

LIL: And that she should not come back to her desk here beside you for ink and such?

GIL: Such is distracting. Tell me your suspicions outright, I’ll not have this dance around the truth, a minuet of lies from a maid.

LIL: I do not dance, my lord, I am not so nimble with deceit. My suspicions are unproved and I dare not give them voice. They must lie in my breast unawaked.

GIL: I will have them out.

LIL: My lord, your lady is seeming close with your manservant, and I fear closer than seeming.

GIL: You think my lady cuckolds me with mine own man? We are but newly wed.

LIL: It does happen, sir. Perchance it is the very fact that he is but a servant that draws her, for some find attraction in different.

GIL: Why should that be so?

LIL: For some, the distance between them is lure, and they hunger for the person across that chasm. For some, the vast distance between a noble and a servant is too tempting to pass by.

GIL: What, that he is so far below her she needs must climb atop him?

LIL: My lord! I do protest, I said naught so bold. Truthfully told that is what I believe, for I understand the temptation of that which is close enough to feel its warmth but so far as to lose all hope of it.

GIL: My lady was innocent when she came to my bed.

LIL: Sir, if you want not to hear what I say then I shall be silent.

GIL: I want very much to find out what you know, or indeed what you suspect.

LIL: How know you she was whole when you knew her first?

GIL: There is proof, is there not? You launder the soiled sheets of the household and know it yourself. The innocence of a virgin is bright against pure white.

LIL: Crafty women know tricks in the bedchamber, my lord.

GIL: You believe my bride forged virginity for herself?

LIL: I have heard of ways, sir. There was a lady (though no lady, truly) in Venice once, all the maids talk of her for she was no maid, and the innocence she bled was but strawberry jam. She profited by the lie until she was found out, and her reward was bitter indeed.

GIL: Well then go you to find out the truth of it with your tongue, and tell me the taste.

If it be the sweetness of a lie you have my gratitude, and I will have my lady’s innocence on toast.

LIL: I do not say she did it.

GIL: You do; the truth lies behind your words.

LIL: This is a dirty deed you ask of me, to betray my lady’s trust and rumple through soiled linens to find a trick.

GIL: It is nothing sinful to find the truth, and if the ways are unclean it is your own doing. I will want proof. I do not trust your dirty ways, Lillian, for no simple maid knows such tricks as you do.

LIL: I am a lady’s maidservant, my lord, and women gossip.

GIL: Then you say all the tricks you know are in word only?
LIL: My lord may have cause to discover the truth of them. I go then, sir, to search your bed linens, and I will return to you when I have found a trick to show you.

LILLIAN exits; KATHERINE enters.

KAT: Ill tidings, my lord.

GIL: Oh, I do not want for bad news today. Your eyes are rimmed with grief and welling, my lady, tell me what is wrong.

KAT: My father is not well. He may die.

GIL: My love, this is dreadful and sad. Shall we go to visit him? Have you made arrangements?

KAT: I waited for your word, my lord, but I have spoken with your man John about the journey.

GIL: aside You spoke, and that is all?

Very well, my lady, shall we go on the morrow? Can all be ready by then?

KAT: I do not know if all will be ready, but I fear to stay.

GIL: As you wish, my dear, so shall it be.

GILLES exits. JOHN enters; LILLIAN enters and hides to listen to their conversation.

JOHN: My lady, I have another message for you?

KAT: From my father?


KAT: Not? Then from whom? And must it be seen now, when all is so unhappy?
JOHN: More is unhappy than you know, dear lady. Oh, do not step away from me!

KAT: This cannot be, John. I thought you the best man I had ever met, long ago, better than I, but I did not know you then. It was meant to come to naught.

LIL: aside So there is no proof to be found. Little matter, guilt is as easy to fabricate as innocence, and they are half in love already. My lord will listen to me.

JOHN: You could know me now.

KAT: Please, good John, I love my lord. I cannot love you too.

JOHN: You could.

KAT: I am sorry but I cannot. I could not hide from my lord and I do not want to. You are not worth the risk.

JOHN: Is that the root of the matter then? I am worth less. I mean nothing.

KAT: Your words mean nothing to me. You are still your own. Do not be bound unto me.

JOHN: I am yours whether I would or no. And you are mine too, although you would not own it.

LIL: aside Would that I have better luck in love. I did not know that my words were so true. Perchance I will repeat some of this conversation to my lord. Perhaps he will listen.

KAT: You must go, my lord will be awaiting me and I must dry my eyes.

JOHN: I will too be waiting for you.

KAT: Goodbye, John.

He kisses her and exits. LILLIAN enters.

LIL: Is there aught you need, my lady?

KAT: Oh, Lillian, there are a million things I need and none that you can give me.

LIL: Why so distraught, dear lady? Can I not help?

KAT: You are good with a needle and thread, but even you cannot undo this monstrous knot of lives entwined. It is too complex and jumbled for me to unravel. I love my lord, you know.

LIL: I do.

KAT: And I love you well, Lillian.

LIL: I am honored by your trust, my lady. You know I love you and am your own.

KAT: If only you could indeed untie the snarls of lives, dear Lillian.

LIL: I do only what I can, and that is enough for me. I am sorry it seems not for you.

KAT: You do too much for me, in truth. We shall leave tomorrow for the house of my father, and God grant us the speed to be there before he dies.

LIL: Yes, my lady.


LIL: Now it falls to me, this twined mass, and I shall be like Alexander and refuse the puzzle. I am no simple maid to sit and untangle that which is hopelessly matted and sigh at the pains of it; I will take up a blade and slice it in two. Mayhap if I cut with enough skill I can keep half for myself, and let the rest of the knot fall. The tension will abate then, will it not? When nobody is left to pull on the strings of it?

I do love my lady well, and it may be that she will forgive me if her husband is faithless, and believes her so. She cannot want John and she will not want my lord, and I will stand with a severed knot in my hand and can craft something new of it. I shall be like the very fates themselves, snipping and weaving lives remorseless. ‘Twould be easier if this new marriage did not pull so on my heartstrings, and if my lady’s grief did not prick me as it does. E’en so I am all wrapped in her, and can see no other way but to cut her free.

End scene.


A Halfway Draft of an Ice Cream Scene

“Inside someone’s mind?” Devon was folded in the corner between the bed and the bookshelf, his arms wrapped around his knees and his neck craned upward to look at Isaac. The man offered him a hand and pulled him to his feet and away, and he blinked onto a long flat road. The sky reeled for a moment and he tipped over, landing sprawled on the gritty road. The air bumped out of him and he sucked in a gasp to say, “I’m so buggering mad this keeps happening.” Isaac let his hand go and began to walk, his head bent toward the dusty shapes clustered in the horizon. Just a few steps closer, it cleared into a bumbling house.

Devon scrambled to his feet and tripped toward Isaac, steadying into a lagging walk a step behind him. Isaac half-turned his face, giving Devon a glimpse of his profile, and said, “It gets weird. You okay with that then?” Devon snorted, and the sound echoed against the bare sky.

“Right,” said Devon. “Because only now it’s getting strange. Right.”

Isaac shot him a flat look, eyebrows raised. “Yeah, well then. When it goes all upside-down, don’t look at me.”

Devon gave Isaac his best wry expression back, and nodded. They walked on for a while, the only punctuation to the silence the thumps of their footsteps and the occasional shriek wheeling through the distance that made both of them jump.

When they got to the house at the horizon, it was tall and rickety. The outside was painted a rich deep reddish brown, and the windows stretched crossed and crooked up the walls. Isaac walked right up to the blue front door and into the house. Devon hung back, and when Isaac leaned to call him in he said, “Isaac, though, isn’t it, I don’t know. Isn’t it sort of rude to just walk into somebody’s mind like that?”

Isaac grinned at him, his face creasing and his eyes twinkling. “Nah, kid, this’s fine. No problems. Listen, anyway, haven’t you seen the subconscious we’ve been walking through? Nary a thing here except what’s hidden away. Outside the house you have to go exploring to find stuff, most often. The inside’s the only interesting bit for them as have not so much time in the area. It’s sort of the guided tour version of the brain.”

Devon rolled his eyes and said, “Yeah, well, that’s not really what I was asking.” But he walked into the house, to be struck with a faint but distinct odor of eggs. His mouth dry, he followed Isaac through the first room – a quite respectable-looking foyer – and into the next. It looked as though perhaps it had started out as a kitchen until things had started growing from the walls, the counters, and the chairs. Still, it was nothing so strange as what they’d seen in just the last couple of weeks.

In the next room, there was a room of fluttering wings. Some even had birds attached, who flapped over to the men cawing for breadcrumbs before they gave up and raced in quick windy paths through the air. Isaac said, “Cripes, look at that,” and Devon said nothing. The next room was piled high with clothes, some of which seemed to move suspiciously. Isaac didn’t let him poke them with a foot. They went through a room with fish swimming through the air, and one books with flapping pages. There was a room full of blank-faced people who looked to be made of wood, and a room full of hands clambering about like awkward fleshy spiders. Isaac kept up a cheerful commentary as they walked – “Oh, haven’t you had dreams like this?” and “Bugger if this isn’t a funny mind. Suppose it’s about as funny as the rest though.”

Devon stayed quiet. His mind was troubled. He was thinking about brains, and minds, and thoughts and things. Specifically, he was wondering if all minds were very different. He didn’t think there were rooms of faceless dolls in his head – not that he minded that, but there probably weren’t less disturbing things there either. Perhaps his mind was a neat orderly house with maybe a library and a wraparound porch. What if it wasn’t nearly this interesting?

When they were walking up the spiral staircase that drifted in all directions, very slowly, he voiced the question. “What if my mind doesn’t look like this? Can I find out what it does look like?” Isaac turned to look at him.

“No,” Isaac said. He was already shaking his head. “You can’t never go in your own mind, kid. Messes you up, your own mind does.”

Devon sat and thought about that a while, watching a phoenix spinning and flashing before him. After a while turning and nudging the words in his head, he gave up and left them in an empty corner.