Modern Day Shakespeare

Modern Day Shakespeare

A Story by Barry Simiana

I have many many old pieces of work hidden amongst my many computers and external hard-drives. This one I found.


            Stephen shivered and turned his back to the cold southerly breeze. The outside temperature had dropped at least eight degrees since they’d all met at the lecture room almost three hours before. And standing there in the dark, with the wind freshening, sucking the heat from his body, Stephen thought that it might soon hit zero.

            He put his hands into his pockets, hoping the residual body heat stored there in his clothes would warm them enough to ward off the pain creeping into his fingers. The thoughts came creeping into his mind.

            Why was he here on this boardwalk in the middle of the night? What did he hope to achieve by standing here, overlooking the black sea of the harbour?

            And probably most important of all:

            Why was she going?

            Jessica’s message had come as a shock, hidden beneath a thin veneer of jocularity. There’d been signs of something coming, much like the wind carried the promise of rain. A tale here, a story there. A hint followed by a clue. Not enough to trigger the imagination, but now, after the fact and after the act it all knitted together to make a 20/20 hindsight conclusion. Even when all had been said and most been done, it still didn’t seem real, but he knew it was. That look in her eye - or rather the look away, almost embarrassed to meet his eyes �" the shy, sad smile that at the same time looked more a grimace. What? Didn’t she expect him to be there? He had helped organize the meeting.

            Stephen had seen her name on the list as he greeted the attendee’s. He’d already got the message so he doubted she’d come, talked himself into not seeing her again, not hearing her voice, her thoughts spoken, her words chosen and allowed into the world so cleverly. And when she finally arrived, the next to last with but a minute to go before proceedings started, he was sure his eyes were playing tricks.

            But no. She squirmed past, that shy, sad smile, apologetic but wanting to get in out of the cooling air. She’d slipped past him as he stared at her wondering if an apparition from his mind had suddenly been cast free.

            The meeting started, slowly at first. Stephen welcomed the last member in as the guest speaker began. He wanted to go over to Jessica and sit with her, to talk with her and try to find answers to the questions boiling in his brain but she’d chosen her seat carefully, surrounded by others, using them like a wall. She looked up briefly and caught his eye then looked away to her notepad as Stephen took his seat near a mutual friend. He stared at her as she brushed a curl of hair back behind her ear and made notes.

            Why? he called silently with all the power his mind could muster. Why are you doing this? Why now? Why this way?

            Again, the answers were not forthcoming.

            Stephen tried to concentrate on the meeting, on the guest speaker, on the often inane and sometimes inappropriate questions asked by some of those in attendance. The speaker tried valiantly to steer the course of the discussion along the channel of the program, but she was soon shouted overtaken and allowed herself to be led by the group rather than leading them. Jessica tried twice to drag the conversation back to the point, to the reason for being there, but she �" like the few others actually there to learn �" was outnumbered but the pernicious majority only looking for the shortcut to success and a free ride.

            The meeting ended at the designated time, perhaps cut short a few minutes by the speaker as the only form of control she could exercise. Thanks were given and some ancillary introductions made. Most of the group clustered around the speaker in an attempt to drain useless facts and figures from her.

            Could you go over this again? Who would you recommend for that? they asked until it was plain the last place the speaker wanted to be was with these people. A chance to escape was created and the speaker left, but in doing so left Stephen and a few others to deal with the vampyric leaches who wanted something for nothing. Stephen saw Jessica waiting quietly, looking around the room, staying out of the way. She spoke with a few people she knew, but the conversations were short, with that shy, sad smile to ease them into the world.

            Carefully, without being rude or seeming to be uncaring, Stephen worked his way through the gathering, answering questions, giving his contact details, offering recommendations on follow-up material and advice on further information. But he was there, next to her, the faint scent of her perfume a hint above the ambient air of the room.

A few more came to speak to him, to thank him for the evening or to ask for more details on upcoming events. He answered as he and Jessica moved away from the main body of the group to a quiet corner of the room.

            Jessica raised her eyes. It was the first time in two hours she had sought out Stephen’s gaze.

            “ I’ve got a job.”

            Stephen didn’t answer directly. Words, usually his strongest weapon, failed to rally for him. Jessica continued.

            “ It’s not forever. Six months, maybe twelve. I’ll be doing what I’ve always wanted to do. More money and maybe an opportunity.”

            Her eyes sparkled with excitement but her voice held a tremor.

            “Are you sure?” Stephen asked.

            Jessica nodded, then leaned back against the wall and lowered her eyes again.

            “ It’s been coming for a while. The trip down south. The drive home. Then this just appeared in my lap, like it was meant to be.”

            Those words echoed in Stephen’s mind as she said them. Meant to be.

            “ …so it gives me a little time to work things out, get settled and maybe start things up again.”

            Stephen nodded absentmindedly. If she’d noticed that he’d fallen behind in the conversation, Jessica made no comment.

            “ I know it’s short and I’m leaving you in the lurch,” she said and raised her eyes again, that smoky grey green gaze capturing his own as efficiently as a spider snares it’s prey.

            “ But I’ll help where I can.”

            She gave a smile that Stephen guessed was supposed to be reassuring, brave, comforting … choose your own adjective. But that sadness was still there. It touched Stephen in a way he knew it shouldn’t, much in the way their relationship had touched him, totally unexpected, impromptu, unrehearsed and unrealized. And again that question crept back into his mind as he listened to her voice:

            Why do I feel like this? Why is this happening?

            Stephen noticed that Jessica had stopped talking and was waiting quietly for him to speak. He really didn’t know what to say. Feelings and thoughts he was unaccustomed to ebbed and flowed through his body like the currents and waves of the uncaring ocean. How could he answer? He didn’t want to ay the wrong thing, but what was right? A wrong word and a friendship could be dashed like a wave on the rocks. An inflection in tone misinterpreted could be a precursor to offence. He didn’t want that. He didn’t know really what he wanted but he didn’t want Jessica any more upset than she was right now. And his not answering her upsetting her more.

            He fought to get his thoughts under control. At the very least a friendship was under siege here, perhaps more than that.

            “ I won’t lie to you,” he said, fumbling for words. “ I’m … we’re going to miss you.”

            Jessica’s smile brightened and Stephen’s heart lifted a little.

            “ I’ll miss you … all of you too. It’s going to be difficult.”

            “ We’re only a phone call away.”

            Jessica nodded.

            “ Or an email.”

            “ Or an email,” Stephen echoed.

            “ You’ll keep sending us things?” he asked.

            “ Of course. And you too?”

            Stephen nodded.

            “ Every fortnight, same as always.”

            “ I’ll read it on Saturdays, between two and four and imagine I’m here.”

            Stephen laughed.       

            “ And so will we.”

            The both laughed, nervous but happy. They stood together for a moment. She touched his arm.   

            “ Thanks.”

            Stephen didn’t answer. It was he who should be thanking her. There were so many things he wanted to say, less questions now but other things, deep, meaningful, personal things. But he couldn’t. It wasn’t right and it would spoil that moment, and that moment he wanted to keep for himself for as long as he could.

            Jessica pushed away from the wall.

            “ I’ve got to go. Packing and stuff.”

            Stephen nodded.

            “ Of course.”

            “ You’ll stay in touch?”

            “ Try and stop me. Once you’re in my group you don’t get out until your dead.”

            Jessica smiled, bright as the new day, the same smile that caught him when they’d first met. She winked and mouthed ‘bye’ as someone came up to speak to Stephen. He watched her go as he half listened to questions he had no real desire to answer at that moment.

            She’s actually doing it, he thought. Not just considering or dreaming about it. She’s doing it.

            Then she was gone.

            Stephen allowed himself to be dragged back into the conversation. Only a few people remained from the group. He ushered them out into the cold night, bid them farewell, waited until they all found their cars and were safely away, then stood there in the night as the lights behind him were extinguished. He still felt lost, not abandoned though but that was only slight comfort. He wondered what to do, then decided to walk to the bay, to the harbour and the pier. It was a place he’d gone to many times before to think, to seek solace and answers.

            High above him a sea bird called, its caw broken up and carried away on the wind. Way out to sea, shiny silver against the blackness of the night Stephen saw dark clouds scud along. Another sea bird answered the first, this one far out to the east where the waves crashed against the sea-wall, lifting droplets of water high into the air where they were carried aloft on the wind. Tonight, neither the sea nor the pier nor the night-sky and wind gave him comfort. He looked to the east, where in a few hours the sun would again rise. He shivered. Too damn cold.

            Stephen again turned his back to the wind and walked down the pier to his car. He unlocked it and opened the door, sliding in behind the steering wheel and starting the engine. It took five minutes for the heater to take the chill from the air and another five to start erasing it from his bones, but by then he was on the highway and on his way home.


©2006   Barry Simiana. NITEWRITER MEDIA

© 2012 Barry Simiana

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Added on July 6, 2012
Last Updated on July 6, 2012


Barry Simiana
Barry Simiana

South Grafton NSW AUSTRALIA, Non US or Canadian State/Province, Australia

Writer, creator. First published in Next Stop Hollywood: Short Stories Bound for the Screen, 2007 with the short story "Gone to Mum's." Still chasing that one around to get a movie made. 2011 saw the .. more..

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A Story by Barry Simiana