Playing Stories — Chapter 48: Israelites

Chapter 48: Israelites
from the 1969 album “The Israelites” by Desmond Dekker and the Aces
written beside Quentin’s hospital bed, 15 August 2019

Get up in the morning, slaving for bread, sir
So that every mouth can be fed
Poor me Israelites


Wake up.

Wake up now.

Rub my eyes. Rain falls outside: rain falls everyday, especially in London; but today’s different. Signs of mist, on every window: October’s finally come. Room is cold — heating’s gone wonky. Seven thirty now: sixty more minutes. Three more weeks. Can’t come faster.

At the Globe: even fewer visitors, catching them plays. “MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM’, proclaims the posters, but nobody’s watching. Far too chilly, everyone hates it. Along with summer, mood’s gone south. Yvonne is pissed: October does that. To her, yes; to everybody too. Tour groups pass, again and again, nothing interesting happens. Actors rehearse downstairs, shouting their lines, throwing themselves about. Pity about Lily — she’d love this.

“She’s not back,” said Yvonne yesterday. “Not back yet. She needs time, my dear Morgan; give her time. She’ll come back. I promise you.”

“Is she… mad? At me, Evey…”

“Nah, not really. But her feet…” she sighed then. “Not looking good. We’ll have to… well, you know.”

I did know. I begged them: this wasn’t fair. They knew it: it was me, always neglectful me. It didn’t matter. Her contract’s terminated. She’s out December, leaving me here.

A brief flash. The air moves, just a bit. Somebody stands there, ten feet away. That sudden appearance… raise my head, but it’s nobody. Just a tourist, exploring by himself. He grins cockily a shit-eating grin. “OWEN!” I shout. A guard appears, drags him off. The man screams, “SHAKESPEARE’S FOR EVERYONE”, but Owen doesn’t care. Look at him, roll our eyes, then they’re off, round the corner, down the stairs. These people, really.

“You fancy lunch?” Owen says later. I almost agree — but not yet. Maybe two days, maybe a week… I’m almost through, just need time. And even then, it’d be friendship, a cautious friendship. I just can’t, it’s too difficult — everyone will learn, sooner or later, that it’s complicated — or more accurately, that I’m complicated.

Corner seat again. The rain’s cleared, the sun’s up — everything’s warming nicely. After I’ve ordered, the doorbell rings; a shadow enters, sits down there. Our eyes meet — God help me, it’s Thomas Cartwright.

I look away, but his eyes… I feel them, burning through me, in silent condemnation. Who cares though? Not my problem. He can stare… all he likes. Minutes tick by, excruciating, awkward minutes. We don’t talk, ignoring each other, pretending we’re strangers. The place fills, then food arrives. Shovel it down, quick as possible (finish before him, or maybe not)…

Wait a minute. Why me, though? I can leave, whenever I want, whomever I want — it’s my decision. Slow down, Morgan… he’s just there, just another man, someone you loved — but no matter, you’re still friends, don’t panic now. In the corner, Thomas sits slouching, twiddling his thumbs. In no hurry. He looks away, determinedly, at anything: anything but me.

At long last, we finish up. Walk to pay, but bad luck — he’s behind me. We nod politely, like friends do, then we’re out. The Thames sparkles, shining between trees. We stand there, not even talking, the pavement heavy.

“Are you okay?” I ask finally.

“Do you care?” he sighs, staring.

“I really do.” Almost a whisper.

“How’d you know?” he asks me, motioning to Leopoldo’s. “About this place. It’s my favourite.”

Wait. Really? No. “I didn’t, actually,” I say simply. “A complete coincidence.”

“Oh,” he says. He looks crestfallen, and I realize: I lost him, back in Berlin, writing that letter, without a goodbye.

He moves in and for a second I think he’s about to kiss me but instead he just opens his arms and wraps them around me and there we stand him hugging me and me not doing anything and if I were to push back it would be so easy but instead we just stand there and I feel his bones sharp and edgy against mine and then I allow myself to smile just a little and it’s all over in a second and it’s time to go except that I don’t want to go I don’t want to be here either I just want to run to run back home or out back to Europe or wherever they don’t me because so little people understand me and I’ve broken all the hearts of those who do know me well or maybe they just knew I would be like this and didn’t care because who really does care about little old Morgan Adams she’s just window dressing or hovering in the background no matter she’s there for a moment and then when you do look for her she’s gone like a breeze of air and nobody will care if she comes or goes or does whatever the hell she wants because she’s just not memorable and now I’m thinking too far and wide and here we are on the embankment and we’re still hugging and I really don’t want to go but I have to go.

“Time to go,” I say quietly. Almost a whisper, but he nods, pulls back, sniffles. “I get you,” he softly whispers. “I guess we’ll… see each other. Soon, I hope?”

I don’t know — genuinely, I don’t — but I nod, turn away first. As I walk, I feel tears, rushing up inside… hold them down, you can’t cry. Not now, anyway. Through the streets, back to Southwark and the Globe.

Afternoon goes boringly. More customer wrangling, more trespassing tourists… same old story, over and over. Owen comes over, but I’m quiet, couldn’t even answer. Not really memories, holding me back… but something more. I miss Thomas, sometimes at least, but still… why? It’s not hard, is it really, to move on? Eyes glazing over, I look up, into the roof, picking out strands from the thatching. Then another intruder, her eyes wild, comes charging up.

The evening comes, sky slowly darkens. London lights up, slowly but surely, a million lightbulbs, illuminating the skyline east to west, reflected in water. We gave up — the Tempest crew, the Globe management, all of us — on the effects. It’s just acting, down on stage. Lily’s accident persists, haunting us still, so we stopped. The lead actress, what’s her name, looks especially lonely. She’s great, seriously, but everyone knows, they keep staring. They’re pointing everywhere, especially at me, deep inside shadows. Perversely, that accident — it brought money, and twisted people, expecting a fall, expecting horrific accidents. The theatre’s silent. My best friend, lying almost dead, and they’re silent. How could they?

Search the crowd… maybe Thomas’s there. He used to… wait. Why this? Why those thoughts? He’s gone, Morgan. You blew it. Now you’re friends, and that’s it. Don’t expect more. It’s your fault, you know it, he knows it. Back to work… moaning doesn’t help, not for now, nor any time. He’ll live on, like you will, and you’ll forget.

You’ll forget soon. Just wake up. The crowd applauds. You’ll get through. Go on out. They’re all waiting. Emerge into light.

Wake up, Morgan.

Wake up now.

I’m sorry this is so short. I can’t concentrate these days. I can see there, lying on the bed with white strips and bandages all around you, and I know it’s going to be okay, but dear God if this isn’t the most awful thing happening…

Gosh, you’d have thought this was from a melodrama or something. How can this happen? How can people build something so shoddily that it collapses right underneath your feet?

Christ, I think I’d just be grateful that you survived. But if you’d just wake up… if you’d just give some sign that you’re under there and listening to me or watching me write these words to you…

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