Short Story // Little Shakespeare
“Turn out the light,” she says.
As soon as she says it, as soon as Barry reaches for the lamp, she feels a twinge of embarrassment, then irritation. That isn’t what she’d wanted to say, not the mood she’d wanted to set. Now the mood is somber, like the light in the room. Barry touches her arm but doesn’t speak. She waits too, letting her eyes adjust to the darkness, feeling his fingers trace the curve of her elbow. Then she says, “I meant to say please.”
“You already said it. I heard it in your voice.”
She feels the room, her life, everything bearing down upon her.
“I didn’t realize I was going to ask you to turn out the light,” she says. “Talk about a cliché. I thought I could do better.”
“Clichés have their moments.”
“But this isn’t how things were supposed to start off. I wanted to be charming and graceful.”
“You’re always charming and graceful.”
She brushes a strand of hair from her face. “And witty. I wanted to be witty. I practiced all these speeches, and now I can’t remember them.”
“You don’t need a speech.” He kisses her hand.
“‘When in the course of human events ...’” she begins. She stops, frowns. “I thought I could be brave about it. Leave the light on. Tough it out.”
“This isn’t a war, Colleen.”
“Yes, it is. ‘To be, or not to be ...’” Her voice is harder than she intends. “A war of attrition.”
“Don’t say that.”
“Shakespeare? A little Shakespeare never hurt anybody. Did he?” She lets out a quick exhale, exasperated. “I’m sorry. Are you keeping count?”
“Of things I shouldn’t have said.”
“That’s two so far, in case there’s some kind of limit. ‘Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.’”
“Shakespeare again. Is this a test?”
“I seem to know the first line of everything. And the value of nothing.”
They fall silent. The ceiling fan makes a faint clicking noise, like a far-off train. Beside her, Barry shifts slightly. She has her eyes closed but knows he’s watching her, wondering what to do, trying to read her face in the thin blue light from the bedside clock.
“I wish we had a manual of procedure,” she says. She hears her voice, flat as the darkness.
“Robert’s Rules of Order? The bedroom version?”
She opens her eyes and turns toward him. “Exactly. Except I’m the one who was supposed to be witty tonight.”
“Maybe we can share.”
She plumps her pillow. “Wit and humor. That’s what I wanted. I had this vision of jumping into bed and saying, ‘Hey, what’s a breast between friends?’” Barry starts to speak, but she puts a finger to his lips. “I want it not to be a big deal, except it is a big deal. I want to put my hands over my eyes like when I was a kid and tried to watch horror movies. I used to think that would protect me. Isn’t that silly? I guess I want you to say everything is fine, nothing will change between us, and all that, but how can you? How can anyone say that about anything?”
He runs a finger along the bridge of her nose. “Everything is fine. Everything is A-OK.”
“Thank you, John Glenn.” She shakes her head. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s OK,” he says, and laughs. “A-OK.”
“I don’t do sarcasm well. It’s just that I’m afraid.” She takes a deep breath. “Like you can’t tell.” She holds a
He covers her trembling hand with his. “There’s no hurry, Colleen.”
She hears cars driving past their house. The sounds of their engines seem tinged with melancholy.
“Penny for your thoughts,” Barry says.
She wishes she could fill the darkness with words. She’s always believed in words, thought they could smooth everything over, if people would only listen. Now she isn’t sure.
“I was thinking about words,” she says. “I mean, what they can do. The power they have. You know, like, ‘Fourscore and seven years ago ...’”
“Don’t tell anyone, but I was hoping you were thinking about me. In
fact, I’m raising an eyebrow in disapproval. Are there any words I should be particularly jealous of? Have some words been whispering sweet nothings in your ear?”
“Your words. My words have just been getting in the way.”
“No, they haven’t. See, I can touch you. No words between us.”
“You probably think I’m being stupid.”
“Not at all.”
“Just hold me.”
“Gladly.” He pulls her toward him.
“I want to be brave. I really do. But I don’t know how.”
“Yes, you do. Look what you’ve already gone through − bravely.”
“‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.’”
He laughs. “How true.”
“Was that about Pearl Harbor?”
“I think it might have been the Depression.”
It’s her turn to laugh. “How fitting,” she says. “For this situation.”
“It’s not fitting at all. I’m not going to let you be depressed. And Roosevelt was right.”
She turns this over in her mind. “I hope so.”
She closes her eyes, counts to ten.
“Hon?” Barry says.
“I think I’ve run out of speeches. Or parts of speeches. Finally.”
“They’ll write more.”
“Barry, I want you to do something, no questions asked.”
“That was a question.”
“OK. No more questions.”
“Turn on the light.”
“Quick. Before I change my mind.”
“Yes, I’m sure.”
She opens her eyes as he reaches for the lamp. In its glow, the mood of the room changes. She blinks a few times before she speaks.
“I meant to say please,” she says.
He touches her face. “I heard it in your voice.”
C.G. Thompson recently took third place in the Sudden Denouement Short Story Contest and was a runner-up in 2017 for the Barry Hannah Prize for Fiction. Her work has appeared in or is upcoming in FlashBack Fiction, Brilliant Flash Fiction, Fictive Dream, Jersey Devil Press, North Carolina Literary Review, and TL;DR Press's Women's Anthology: Carrying Fire, among others.