Read Falling for Hamlet Online

Authors: Michelle Ray

Tags: #General Fiction

Falling for Hamlet

 

 

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“FRAILTY, THY NAME IS WOMAN.”

—WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

“WILLY, THY NAME IS SEXISM.”

—OPHELIA

PROLOGUE

 

“Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. Oh, thank you!” Zara shouts as she feigns surprise at the audience’s outpouring of affection and its standing ovation. She gestures for the audience members to sit down, though she smiles broadly when they continue to stand. “Please. Please,” she gestures, and since they have all been watching her for years, they know that she means business even when she’s giving a casual instruction. They settle into their seats as Zara flops precisely onto her overstuffed cream couch, smoothing her dark hair.

She leans forward and begins: “Today we have a guest who will amaze you.” She pauses to punctuate the drama and yells, “Ophelia is in the house!” Her tone sends the audience members to their feet again. They know how lucky they are to be in the audience on this day, and this is their moment to show it. The camera cuts to mostly middle-aged women in seasonal sweaters gasping, clapping, smiling. One even dabs a tear of excitement, or is it sadness? Who can tell, and who really cares? It’s a tear that some cameraman was lucky enough to capture, a cameraman who is planning, as he films, what he will buy with the bonus the segment producer will give him for catching an actual tear wipe.

The audience calms down after a last twitter and exchange of amazed glances. “Our nation has been so deeply saddened by the tragedies surrounding the royals of Denmark. Today, we will speak to Ophelia herself and find out how this young woman was caught up in the secrecy, the revenge, and the madness… madness that we all thought had consumed her.

“You are a lucky audience, indeed, to be here this afternoon. Ophelia has agreed to make one appearance, one exclusive appearance, to tell her story. So, ladies and gentlemen, here she is. Ophelia, come on out here, girl.”

Ophelia walks out onto the stage tucking her bobbed blond hair behind her ears. Her black turtleneck and jeans fit her perfectly, and she has the air of someone who looks great no matter how much time she does or doesn’t spend getting ready. She’s slim but curvy, and healthy-looking, except for circles under her wide green eyes. When she sees the crowd, she pauses to take a deep breath and raises her hand in a little wave. The crowd jumps to its feet again, and Ophelia winces. Zara reaches out an encouraging hand and guides her toward the couch. Ophelia looks at someone offstage and then looks back at the audience, clearly trying to smile. Zara, after prolonging the moment just a second longer, invites Ophelia, and therefore everyone present, to sit down.

“Welcome, Ophelia,” Zara begins, patting Ophelia’s hand.

Ophelia nods and says quietly, “Thank you for having me.”

“So, you’re not dead?”

“That… is true.” Ophelia smiles.

“Ladies and gentlemen, you will recall that on this show just a few weeks ago, we joined our kingdom in mourning what we thought was our guest’s shocking death. In fact, we will replay the video my incredibly talented staff compiled to commemorate her life, a life entwined with that of the royal family owing to her relationship with our beloved prince, Hamlet.” A montage begins: Ophelia as a newborn, Ophelia on the junior high swim team, Ophelia and Hamlet at the prom. As it plays, the music is quieted so Zara can continue. “Ophelia, we were all so amazed and relieved when you were found alive. What happened? Take us back.”

Shifting in her seat, Ophelia replies, “I really wouldn’t even know where to begin.”

 

[transcript #81872; Denmark Department of Investigations; interview room B; interrogators: Agent Francisco and Special Agent Barnardo]
Francisco:
Ophelia, you are here because you’re being investigated for treason.
Ophelia:
Is this a joke? Am I on one of those shows where they scare you and then film it? Okay, you got me.
Barnardo:
Sit down. This is no joke.
Francisco:
You vanish. Things go to hell. You return. Interesting timing.
Ophelia:
I vanished because things had
already
gone to hell.
Barnardo:
We think you conspired against the royal family.
Ophelia:
That’s ridiculous. I’m innocent. You have to let me go.
Francisco:
We don’t have to do anything. We’re the Denmark Department of Investigations. You’re ours until we are done with you. And we want to know what happened.

 

You wanna know the truth? Here it is. Not the truth I tell Zara or the truth I tell the DDI or anyone else. I’ll tell you, but no questions. I’ve had enough questions.

1

 

Zara leans in, looking like a schoolgirl sharing a secret. Her eyes bright and wide, she asks, “You spent a great deal of time with the royal family. What were they like?”

“Oh, you know… royal. Fairly proper. Serious. And, uh…” Ophelia looks off camera and adds, “But nice, I guess.”

Hamlet’s father had the kind of laugh that made wineglasses vibrate and clink if the staff set them too close together, and Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, loved to hear it so much that she went to great lengths to provoke it. At this moment, she was telling a story and proceeded to launch herself out of her chair to act out the punch line. The king cheered her with a “bravo,” and we all clapped. She took a little bow before kissing the king and nodding to his brother, Claudius, who was smiling but not laughing. He never seemed to laugh.

As many times as I had been in the family’s private dining room, I would always be slightly surprised to see Gertrude relaxing in track pants and without her characteristic French knot. Gertrude’s gaze met Claudius’s, and her face suddenly grew pinched. She quickly looked back at her husband as she fluffed her blond hair and sank back into her giant pink-and-gold dining chair.

Claudius glowed. “You tell a wonderful story.”

“Indeed, indeed,” the king agreed, his eyes fixed on Gertrude. The king missed Claudius winking at Gertrude, who blushed but pretended to take no notice.

I acted as if I hadn’t seen it, either. From the time I could speak, my father had told me this was my role: silent observer and keeper of secrets. He said it was the only way to survive living so close to the royals.

Claudius was creepy and seemed to dislike everyone but Gertrude. He was so different from the king, who was funny and youthful despite the wrinkles and graying hair. When Hamlet’s dad had time, he tried to see movies that Hamlet liked or listen to some of the bands we talked about. I’m sure he hated a lot of it, but he tried, you know?

The adults turned to one another to converse about some associate who told the most dreadful stories, which left Horatio, Hamlet, and me to chat. The three of us had been friends for as long as we had been alive. Horatio’s parents and my father had been advisers to the king, and we had grown up in the castle.

Ever since we were in elementary school, Horatio and I had been invited to dinners with the royal family. As an only child, Hamlet grew bored at the table, and it annoyed his parents endlessly that he couldn’t sit still and be quiet while they ate. Once we were in high school, our invitations were limited to Sunday dinners. Since the king often missed dinner with his wife and son during the week, his staff knew that Sunday was to go untouched whenever possible. In a matter of weeks, Hamlet and Horatio would leave for their second year of college, making these last Sundays more precious for us all.

“You’ve got to come visit this semester,” Horatio said to me.

“I’ll try, but you know my father.”

“And your brother.” Hamlet rolled his eyes. “Laertes is going back to grad school soon, I hope.”

I nodded. “Tomorrow, actually.”

Hamlet replied with a sigh of relief.

“He’s not that bad,” I said.

Hamlet picked up his knife and pretended to stab an invisible figure, so I added, “He’s not. Hamlet, you know I love my brother. Please don’t do that.”

Hamlet leaned over to kiss me, but I pushed him away. He grabbed my wrists and kissed me anyway. “Jerk,” I grumbled.

“Are you two dating again?” asked Gertrude from across the table, her voice dripping with disapproval.

Hamlet and I looked at each other. We had been together all summer, and it seemed odd that she hadn’t noticed. She had been so distracted during the past few months, and I fleetingly wondered again if it had something to do with Claudius.

“Are we?” I asked, somewhat amused.

“Are we?” he answered back.

“For now,” I answered, looking at Hamlet rather than Gertrude.

“What kind of nonsense is that?” bellowed the king, which made everyone except Claudius roar with laughter.

“It means, sir, that your son likes to be unencumbered when he is at school,” I answered when we had all quieted down.

“To being unencumbered,” Horatio toasted, and I threw my napkin at him.

Horatio and I would play our part in the light repartee, but both of us knew how many hours he had spent comforting me after the tabloid exposé that had led to my breakup with Hamlet in the spring.

Gertrude knitted her brow and looked at me squarely. “And where does that leave you?”

“Unencumbered as well, I suppose.”

“And have you been seeing anyone else?” she asked, tapping her sculpted fingernails on the table, her eyes narrowed.

I shifted in my seat. She was not only the mother of the only guy I had ever loved but also someone with the power to kick me out of the castle, which made the question all the more awkward. “Well…” I stalled, grabbing my glass of water and sneaking a sip before she could ask another question.

She sat very still, which I knew was the only reply I was likely to get. Gertrude had never liked my dating Hamlet, and she hated that I had hurt her son’s feelings more. When I broke up with him the last time, it took her weeks to even look at me, and Hamlet had to convince her to let me sit at her table again.

“There have been other…” I swallowed hard and didn’t look at Hamlet. He cleared his throat as he ripped a dinner roll and dropped half of it onto his bread plate, clattering the butter knife. Still feeling his eyes on me, I told her, “I’ve been asked out.…”

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