In the name of gender equality, my daughter (Bluebell) tried out for and got the part of King Lobster in her school’s production of Alice in Wonderland. Never missing a moment to get-in-on-the-act, my newish lover (Opus) quoted Flaubert to her. ‘Of all lies, art is the least untrue.‘ Not to be upstaged, Bluebelle (a Swedish movie buff) shot back Ingmar Bergman’s well-worn lines. ‘Yes, and ‘Evil breaks its chains and runs through the world like a mad dog. The poison affects us all. No one escapes. Therefore let us be happy while we are happy. Let us be kind, generous, affectionate and good. It is necessary and not at all shameful to take pleasure in the little world.’ ‘ I, unable to resist, added my two-cents. ‘Indeed. Let us be evil … I mean civil, Doofus and Snooty.’ I was quite surprised by my serial quote flingers to be allowed the last word as Opus resumed lightbulb changing and lamp maintenance with a twinkle and a shimmy while Bluebell turned on her heal and headed toward the barn to begin learning lines. Oddly, neither uttered another word to me for the rest of the day.
Hanging a pitcher of drawn butter as a prop on one claw, Bluebell worked non-stop to get in and stay in character including the addition of improvised claws on extra legs, antennae on head in the coming days. She took to moving slowly forward and quickly backwards while curling and uncurling the muscles in her abdomen. I had never seen her establish and then maintain such a singular focus of purpose before. Not to lose this intensity between rehearsals, she looped György Ligeti’s ‘The Lobster Quadrille from Nonsense Madrigals’ and played it at volume. The grinding a cappella irritated me but its vibrations helped Opus’ airways to open, thus allowing for the clearing of built-up secretions. I didn’t dare complain.
A few days into line-learning, Bluebell’s fellow thespian (Tempest) joined us at our evening meal. Tempest had scored the juicy part of the Two of Spades Gardener Playing Card whom Alice catches painting white roses with red paint. While we ate and drank, a lively discussions hiccuped between Bluebell and Tempest as to the best acting tools to apply at the instant the Queen pronounces the word ‘Beheading!’ How to portray Two of Spades’ shock? And, more to the point, what gear to shift when Alice interrupts the execution? Turning to pin me with narrowed eyes, Opus asked, ‘What would Hamlet choose from his arsenal of Danish emotions to express relief?’ ‘A quiver,’ I replied, not certain I’d scored any points with hard-wired Opus, but wanting to weigh in anyway.
Across from each other at the L-shaped table, the bright-eyed actresses hashed over various acting techniques they’d learned from studying old black and white films. Even after the main course of stuffed tomatoes and chips had been devoured by all, their banter continued, and was still underway when our housekeeper (Dora)cleared the plates and set Wedgewood bowls containing scoops of glistening cherry-vanilla ice cream and soup-size spoons in front of each of us. The biggest problem they agreed was that Tempest would have to plunge from emotion X-11 straight into M-4408, wouldn’t even be able to pause to take a breath. More head scratching ensued. I, who had no costume that would need to be zipped, clasped dessert bowls one by one, putting each to my lips, draining its sweet melted soup. Opus weighed in; explained the difference between Black Tiger and Modiano Red (or Blue) playing cards for my edification as I drank. Between edgy Ligeti and strident, unappeasable Opus, my head began to pound.
In the kitchen, I poured a flute full of buttermilk for myself and watched Dora scour the sink. A smell like bleach rose from the Comet can whose iridescent green label can so easily be confused with Kraft parmesan cheese. The smell of bleach, like industrial cleaning fluid, always was and remains a favorite. Since Opus (with his many bits of information and data, also amber eyes that fished into mine as if my pale blue eyes were deep cisterns of rainwater), had been selected for me by a mail order matchmaking agent, I’d become somewhat unsure of my parenting skills. Not even eighty days ago had passed since I first set eyes on him – his pale eyebrows almost invisible. Sadly, I still hadn’t summoned the courage to confess my fear of rectangles and all equiangular quadrilaterals to him; nor was I able to part my lips during kisses to him.
Savoring the tartness of the cold buttermilk, I was going to have to face the fact that in all likelihood, rather than admit my vulnerabilities and part my lips, I was on my way to sabotaging one more romance. Additionally: the agency had warned that Opus was the final pre-paid three-for-the-price-of-two match.I had hoped not to have to raise an aspiring actress on my own. But, in all likelihood, that would be my fate. Emptying the flute though soapy off-white film still coated the inside, I set it in the sparkling clean aluminum sink. Hope still swam through my little world, though. With a little luck I’d be able to hang onto Opus long enough to sit side-by-side in Bluebell’s assembly hall and clap our hands until they bled when King Lobster took her well deserved bow in the name of gender equality.