Ascending and Descending
The trap is open. Geoffrey stands beside it and looks down into a darkness too complete to be a grave.
On his better days, he thinks of the trap as a metaphor for life.
He turns toward the house and raises his hand, palm upward, and repeats the word in his best carrying baritone: "Life!" The assertion fills up the auditorium without an echo. If there were an audience there, he'd feel the echo as the idea collided with their minds, even as his voice was absorbed by the folds of their clothing--winter coats draped with the sleeves dragging over the backs of seats, uncomfortable waistlines, slippery fabrics, and, of course, their three-piled flesh.
On the good days, when he's alone inside his head and he can sit at Oliver's desk (it will not be his own desk, ever) bent over an edition of something safe like Two Gentlemen of Verona, so well-worn and spine-broken that it lies open of its own accord, or when he can come to the stage and stand beside the trap and say, if he wants to, in his best carrying baritone, "Life!" and no one will contradict him, on those days the trap isn't just a trap; it's... what?
A hole you can leap into that leads to a crawlspace that leads to a small door that leads to a staircase that leads to a corridor that leads to a bigger door that leads to a parking lot that leads to a road that leads to a theatre with a bigger door that leads to a corridor that leads to a staircase that leads to a small door that leads to a crawlspace that leads to a trap that leads to a play that leads to a character that leads to someone, something....
For, lo, the Player said, "Every exit is an entrance someplace else."
Ah, alright then. Okay. In this sense, Geoffrey concedes with a shrug that will appear comically broad even from the back row, the trap is a trap, depending on whether you believe in an afterlife, that is, someplace to go after the theatre.
In the pub, Ellen leans her elbow on the bar, a cigarette caught between two fingers of her languidly-drooping hand. She likes that stool because the new pot lights are angled in such a way that they don't throw shadows under her eyes. "No, not there," she hisses at him when he moves toward a table in the corner. "The light's hideous." She sips smoke from the cigarette and tilts her head as she exhales so that the cloud fills the air between them. "Cue thunder," Geoffrey thinks.
The theatre eats its own tale.
From the perspective of linearity, the good days aren't all that good, since Geoffrey's reasoning tends to be elliptical. He doesn't think of this as a logical flaw. Everything comes back to its own beginning eventually, trapped by gravity, some central mass, an event, a word, an idea. Anyway, they don't pay him the just-a-hair-better-than-subsistence bucks to be linear. That's what the business manager is for. The business manager reduces to manageable laws the Escherlike perspective of genius--
"Ha!" Geoffrey exclaims, pushing the sound out from the bottom of his lungs so it explodes upward like a landmine. Then he comes downstage and declaims, "Genius!" at the empty auditorium.
--and Richard doesn't really care too much if Geoffrey trudges day after day up a staircase that goes round and round and round defying the laws of common sense. It's just a trick, after all. A clever manipulation of vanishing points. Sales have never been better. Everybody loves Escher.
The trap isn't a trap unless you actually want to go somewhere after the theatre.
Oliver slouches low in the booth so that his dove-grey jacket rucks up his back and his head tips forward, giving him a concertina of chins. He walks his fingers across the table, not at all accidentally taking the long way to linger in the transit across Geoffrey's wrist, and closes the fingers around the highball glass. He turns it around and around and watches the ice swirling in the dregs of the bittersweet scotch of last call. "Antonio," he says morosely, drawing it out in his carefully cultivated patrician accent. "I'm Antonio and twelfth night has come and gone, the happy couples have danced their jig, Sebastian has stepped into the wings without a backward glance and I'm a blank space with no lines. There's a hole in Shakespeare's text, you know, a sucking chest-wound called Antonio." Ellen's snort of laughter is sharp with affection and derision and cigarette smoke. "Oh, Oliver, don't be an ass." She pecks him on the forehead and draws Geoffrey up from the table. Geoffrey can't feel her hand because his wrist is numb with frostbite.
From the perspective of the audience, the trap is what you say it is: a grave, a hellmouth, a dungeon, any number of places with no exit.
Head canted, lips pursed, eyes narrowed, Geoffrey contemplates the open trap. "Too, too solid--sullied--sallied--flesh" he says in a thoughtful voice, barely a whisper. The sound expands undiminished all the way to the wall in the upper balcony. There was a time in his life, although he can't remember it now, when he knew how to whisper without projecting. He raises his head to the house and shouts, "Too, too solid!"
That night--That Night--in Act Five, on the downslope of the play, Ellen, bestrewn with dead men's fingers (or so our cold maids call them), watching him from the wings, he leaps into the trap and believes for one blissful second that it truly is a hellmouth, or a grave, or a box that will close with finality around an emptiness the exact same shape as the one in his head, the one where the words used to be. Instead, he hits the floor of the crawlspace, an ankle buckling. Yorick is knocked from his property shelf and his poor jester's jawbone goes, clasped in a groping hand and carried out into the cool, blank air of the cool, blank night. It was supposed to be an end.
"I'll lug the guts into the neighbour room," Geoffrey says, and crouches at the edge of the trap. "The too, too sullied flesh." He slides in, just like that.
She's astride him, Oliver, the white horse, Ellen a fine lady, a fine lady, a fine lady, to see a fine lady upon a white horse. His hands stutter uncertainly across her flesh, over curves and into shadows muted and softened and edgeless--a scarf thrown over the lamp, since the lighting is everything in this scene performed for an audience of one--and the shape of her hip, the dimples at the base of her spine, they draw forth all the standard comparisons, cream, alabaster, Galatea, Godiva, Florimell riding pell-mell over the blank spaces of Faerie Lond, and her eyes turn to the empty angle of the doorway where Geoffrey is no longer watching and her lips curl upward in a smile of triumph, right before she collapses with a wail.
He's entirely unsure if he ever was watching, if he ever saw, or if this is just the memory he's invented as he sits in hospital pajamas and watches the shadows of leaves on the tile and listens to the therapist read him Oliver's letter. Into the spaces between platitudes Geoffrey thinks, "Thine evermore, most dear, most dear, most dear, whilst this machine is to him" and wishes in this instance that the Bard had been more forthright with the iambics, had given him something to drown out the jogging nursery rhyme rhythm of the memory. It's ignominious, that this passion roasted in wrath and fire should be reduced to doggerel. "Ride a cock horse!" he roars at the therapist and thereby, obedient to poetic exigency, falls into a sadness, then to a fast, thence to a watch, thence into a weakness, thence to a lightness, thence to a toilet at Theatre Sans Argent and from there to be chained to the warehouse door on the six-o'clock news and thence to Oliver's desk and thence by this declension back into the trap centre stage at the Swan and thusly into the madness wherein he now raves and all we wail for.
The attempted murder of the swan was artistic license.
The trap opens into a crawlspace that extends left and right to small doors which open onto stairs and corridors, streets, all kinds of places. He could go there.
He lifts Oliver's skull down from his shelf and looks into the empty sockets of his eyes. "For O, for O, the hobby horse is forgot," he murmurs, not unsympathetically. Oliver's eyes are empty, shameless. Too late for remorse or recompense or blame. And in any case, all the world's a stage and so on. Et cetera. Each man, each fine lady, every falling sparrow plays a part, learned by heart, amen. He can hear footsteps on the boards above his head, distinctively Anna, agitated and trying not to disturb, and, yes, there she is, peering down from the square sky, her hands clasped tightly in her lap as she bends.
"For O, for O, the hobby horse is forgot," he reminds her flatly.
Her smile is rigid. "I'm sorry?"
Geoffrey pets Oliver's honestly bald head. "O is a contemporary term for female genitalia."
The rigid smile widens with a creak. "Oh. I mean. I see."
Oliver's grin is salacious. Geoffrey puts the old lecher on his shelf and turns him toward the wall. "Is there something, Anna?"
She seems to consider the possible existential aspect of the question, but navigates toward the immediate and the pragmatic. "The Much Music people are here." When he raises his eyebrows at her, she adds, "Richard arranged it? The interview? For the youth promotion thingy?"
She waits and the smile becomes at once softer and more pained. This is the smile that tells Geoffrey that in some parallel universe, Anna can, with the laying on of hands, knit broken bones. "Richard...."
"He asked me to ask you if--if you could, I mean--during the interview, if you could not be...."
She titters out a laugh, followed by a fluttering hand. "He didn't say that." Then the laugh gives way to simple embarrassment. "He didn't say it like that."
Geoffrey considers that some day he might just kiss Anna. "Thank you."
She jerks a thumb over her shoulder and then clasps her hands in her lap again. "Okay. I'll just send them in?"
"Okay." She waits for him to climb out of the trap. He doesn't. "All right, then."
The trap is only a trap if you believe that there is something beyond the theatre. If, on the other hand, you know that's not true, every exit becomes an entrance.
"When Roscius was an actor in Rome," Geoffrey says to the cleavage that has appeared in the heavens.
"What?" The cleavage is associated with a face that looks sixteen years old, but is probably at least twenty. The breasts, disturbingly perfect globes pendant inside a halter top, appear to have been manufactured recently. She snaps her gum. Beside her, a camera man adjusts the focus of his single, blank eye.
"We'll have a speech straight." He puts some belly into it so that his voice booms in the small space, kettle drum to the clouds etc. etc.
Either stunned or unperturbed, she blinks at him. The camera man's eye does not. "What speech?"
"What are you after? Tragedy, comedy, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral? I can do scene individible. Or, alternatively, poem unlimited."
"Oh, we'll just play it cool, you know. Loose. See what happens. Vibe." She snaps her gum again. "Just be yourself."
They wait more or less politely for him to stop laughing.
After all, he is Geoffrey Tennant.
Notes: Awhile back I asked for prompts. xandra_lj said: "Slings and Arrows. C'mon. I dares ya." And since I read somewhere that this is Paul Gross's birthday (or not), I thought I'd give it a try. It's an odd thing, based on Escher's famous drawing of the staircase, "Ascending and Descending."
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