Just One Day, Page 2Gayle Forman
“It’s fine, Ms. Foley. I’ve seen Hamlet before, and the hotel is just over the square from here. ”
“Really? Oh, that would be lovely. Would you believe in all the years I’ve been doing this, I have never seen the Bard’s Hamlet done by the RSC?”
Melanie gives a little moan for dramatic effect. I gently elbow her. I smile at Ms. Foley. “Well, then, you definitely shouldn’t miss it. ”
She nods solemnly, as though we are discussing important business here, order of succession to the throne or something. Then she reaches for my hand. “It has been such a pleasure traveling with you, Allyson. I shall miss you. If only more young people today were like you. You are such a . . . ” She pauses for a moment, searching for the right word. “Such a good girl. ”
“Thank you,” I say automatically. But her compliment leaves me empty. I don’t know if it’s because that’s the nicest thing she could think to say about me, or if it’s because I’m not being such a good girl right now.
“Good girl, my ass. ” Melanie laughs once we are clear of the queue and she can give up her swooning act.
“Be quiet. I don’t like pretending. ”
“Well, you’re awfully good at it. You could have a promising acting career of your own, if you ask me. ”
“I don’t ask you. Now, where is this place?” I look at the flyer. “Canal Basin? What is that?”
Melanie pulls out her phone, which, unlike my cell phone, works in Europe. She opens the map app. “It appears to be a basin by the canal. ”
A few minutes later, we arrive at a waterfront. It feels like a carnival, full of people hanging about. There are barges moored to the side of the water, different boats selling everything from ice cream to paintings. What there isn’t is any kind of theater. Or stage. Or chairs. Or actors. I look at the flyer again.
“Maybe it’s on the bridge?” Melanie asks.
We walk back over to the medieval arched bridge, but it’s just more of the same: tourists like us, milling around in the hot night.
“They did say it was tonight?” Melanie asks.
I think of that one guy, his eyes so impossibly dark, specifically saying that tonight was too nice for tragedy. But when I look around, there’s no play here, obviously. It was probably some kind of joke—fool the stupid tourist.
“Let’s get an ice cream so the night’s not a total write-off,” I say.
We are queuing up for ice cream when we hear it, a hum of acoustic guitars and the echoey beat of bongo drums. My ears perk up, my sonar rises. I stand on a nearby bench to look around. It’s not like a stage has magically appeared, but what has just materialized is a crowd, a pretty big one, under a stand of trees.
“I think it’s starting,” I say, grabbing Melanie’s hand.
“But the ice cream,” she complains.
“After,” I say, yanking her toward the crowd.
“If music be the food of love, play on. ”
The guy playing Duke Orsino looks nothing like any Shakespearian actor I’ve ever seen, except maybe the movie version of Romeo + Juliet with Leonardo DiCaprio. He is tall, black, dreadlocked, and dressed like a glam rock-star in tight vinyl pants, pointy-toed shoes, and a sort of mesh tank top that shows off his ripped chest.
“Oh, we so made the right choice,” Melanie whispers in my ear.
As Orsino gives his opening soliloquy to the sounds of the guitars and bongo drums, I feel a shiver go up my spine.
We watch the entire first act, chasing the actors around the waterfront. When they move, we move, which makes it feel like we are a part of the play. And maybe that’s what makes it so different. Because I’ve seen Shakespeare before. School productions and a few plays at the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre. But it’s always felt like listening to something in a foreign language I didn’t know that well. I had to force myself to pay attention, and half the time, I wound up rereading the program over and over again, as if it would impart some deeper understanding.
This time, it clicks. It’s like my ear attunes to the weird language and I’m sucked fully into the story, the same way I am when I watch a movie, so that I feel it. When Orsino pines for the cool Olivia, I feel that pang in my gut from all the times I’ve crushed on guys I was invisible to. And when Viola mourns her brother, I feel her loneliness. And when she falls for Orsino, who thinks she’s a man, it’s actually funny and also moving.
He doesn’t show up until act two. He’s playing Sebastian, Viola’s twin brother, thought dead. Which makes a certain sense, because by the time he does arrive, I am beginning to think he never really existed, that I’ve merely conjured him.
As he races through the green, chased after by the ever-loyal Antonio, we chase after him. After a while, I work up my nerve. “Let’s get closer,” I say to Melanie. She grabs my hand, and we go to the front of the crowd right at the part where Olivia’s clown comes for Sebastian and they argue before Sebastian sends him away. Right before he does, he seems to catch my eye for half a second.
As the hot day softens into twilight and I’m sucked deeper into the illusory world of Illyria, I feel like I’ve entered some weird otherworldly space, where anything can happen, where identities can be swapped like shoes. Where those thought dead are alive again. Where everyone gets their happily-ever-afters. I recognize it’s kind of corny, but the air is soft and warm, and the trees are lush and full, and the crickets are singing, and it seems like, for once, maybe it can happen.
All too soon, the play is ending. Sebastian and Viola are reunited. Viola comes clean to Orsino that she’s actually a girl, and of course he now wants to marry her. And Olivia realizes that Sebastian isn’t the person she thought she married—but she doesn’t care; she loves him anyway. The musicians are playing again as the clown gives the final soliloquy. And then the actors are out and bowing, each one doing something a little silly with his or her bow. One flips. One plays air guitar. When Sebastian bows, he scans the audience and stops dead on me. He smiles this funny little half smile, takes one of the prop coins out of his pocket, and flips it to me. It’s pretty dark, and the coin is small, but I catch it, and people clap for me too, it now seems.
With the coin in my hand, I clap. I clap until my hands sting. I clap as if doing so can prolong the evening, can transform Twelfth Night into Twenty-Fourth Night. I clap so that I can hold on to this feeling. I clap because I know what will happen when I stop. It’s the same thing that happens when I turn off a really good movie—one that I’ve lost myself to—which is that I’ll be thrown back to my own reality and something hollow will settle in my chest. Sometimes, I’ll watch a movie all over again just to recapture that feeling of being inside something real. Which, I know, doesn’t make any sense.
But there’s no restarting tonight. The crowd is dispersing; the actors drifting off. The only people left from the show are a couple of musicians passing around the donation hat. I reach into my wallet for a ten-pound note.
Melanie and I stand together in silence. “Whoa,” she says.
“Yeah. Whoa,” I say back.
“That was pretty cool. And I hate Shakespeare. ”
“And was it me, or was that hot guy from the line earlier, the one who played Sebastian, was he totally checking us out?”
Us? But he threw me the coin. Or had I just been the one to catch it? Why wouldn’t it have been Melanie with her blond hair and her camisole top that he’d been checking out? Mel 2. 0, as she calls herself, so much more appealing than Allyson 1. 0.
“I couldn’t tell,” I say.
“And he threw the coin at us! Nice catch, by the way. Maybe we should go find them. Go hang out with them or something. ”
“They’re gone. ”
“Yeah, but those guys are still here. ” She gestures to the money collectors. “We could ask where they hang out. ”
I shake my head. “I doubt they want t
o hang out with stupid American teenagers. ”
“We’re not stupid, and most of them didn’t seem that much older than teenagers themselves. ”
“No. And besides, Ms. Foley might check in on us. We should get back to the room. ”
Melanie rolls her eyes. “Why do you always do this?”
“Say no to everything. It’s like you’re averse to adventure. ”
“I don’t always say no. ”
“Nine times out of ten. We’re about to start college. Let’s live a little. ”
“I live just plenty,” I snap. “And besides, it never bothered you before. ”
Melanie and I have been best friends since her family moved two houses down from ours the summer before second grade. Since then, we’ve done everything together: we lost our teeth at the same time, we got our periods at the same time, even our boyfriends came in tandem. I started going out with Evan a few weeks after she started going out with Alex (who was Evan’s best friend), though she and Alex broke up in January and Evan and I made it until April.
We’ve spent so much time together, we almost have a secret language of inside jokes and looks. We’ve fought plenty, of course. We’re both only children, so sometimes we’re like sisters. We once even broke a lamp in a tussle. But it’s never been like this. I’m not even sure what this is, only that since we got on the tour, being with Melanie makes me feel like I’m losing a race I didn’t even know I’d entered.
“I came out here tonight,” I say, my voice brittle and defensive. “I lied to Ms. Foley so we could come. ”
“Right? And we’ve had so much fun! So why don’t we keep it going?”
I shake my head.
She shuffles through her bag and pulls out her phone, scrolls through her texts. “Hamlet just let out too. Craig says that Todd’s taken the gang to a pub called the Dirty Duck. I like the sound of that. Come out with us. It’ll be a blast. ”
The thing is, I did go out with Melanie and everyone from the tour once, about a week into the trip. By this time, they’d already gone out a couple times. And even though Melanie had known these guys only a week—the same amount of time I’d known them—she had all these inside jokes with them, jokes I didn’t understand. I’d sat there around the crowded table, nursing a drink, feeling like the unlucky kid who had to start a new school midway into the year.
I look at my watch, which has slid all the way down my wrist. I slide it back up, so it covers the ugly red birthmark right on my pulse. “It’s almost eleven, and we have to be up early tomorrow for our train. So if you don’t mind, I’m going to take my adventure-averse self back to the room. ” With the huffiness in my voice, I sound just like my mom.
“Fine. I’ll walk you back and then go to the pub. ”
“And what if Ms. Foley checks in on us?”
Melanie laughs. “Tell her I had heatstroke. And it’s not hot anymore. ” She starts to walk up the slope back toward the bridge. “What? Are you waiting for something?”
I look back down toward the water, the barges, now emptying out from the evening rush. Trash collectors are out in force. The day is ending; it’s not coming back.
“No, I’m not. ”
Our train to London is at eight fifteen—Melanie’s idea, so we will have maximum shopping time. But when the alarm clock starts beeping at six, Melanie pulls the pillow over her head.
“Let’s get a later train,” she moans.
“No. It’s already all arranged. You can sleep on the train. Anyway, you promised to be downstairs at six thirty to say good-bye to everyone. ” And I promised to say good-bye to Ms. Foley.
I drag Melanie out of bed and shove her under the hotel’s weak excuse for a shower. I brew her some instant coffee and quickly talk to my mom, who stayed up until one in the morning Pennsylvania time to call. At six thirty, we trudge downstairs. Ms. Foley, in her jeans and Teen Tours! polo shirt as usual, shakes Melanie’s hand. Then she embraces me in a bony hug, slips me her business card, and says I shouldn’t hesitate to call if I need anything while in London. Her next tour starts on Sunday, and she’ll be there too until it begins. Then she tells me she’s arranged a seven-thirty taxi to take me and Melanie to the train station, asks once again if we’re being met in London (yes, we are), tells me yet again that I’m a good girl, and warns me against pickpockets on the Tube.