Waterside

By Emily Draffen, 2019 Write Now Finalist

Anne sat atop a picnic table, overlooking the Iowa River, her battered script open in her hands, her eyes fixed on the water.

"No, I will not cast away my physic but on those that are sick. There is a man haunts the forest ... "

She had come here to the waterside every day for the last month to pace and fret and learn her lines for her role in Riverside's Shakespeare festival. The show was already open, but she kept her habit of running lines by the river as a kind of meditation before curtain each night.

"There is a man haunts the forest that abuses our young plants with carving 'Rosalind' on their barks-"

A shadow crossed her vision as a figure swooped down and snatched the script out of her lap. As the man tight-roped down the bench with her property, her heart thrilled.

"Where are you?" he called over his shoulder. "Aha, never mind! I am he that is so love-­shaked. I pray you tell me your remedy!" Anne was the love-shaked one. She felt ridiculous. From the first day of rehearsal, she had been drawn to this odd man, the Orlando to her Rosalind. She knew next to nothing about him but she was fascinated by the way he charmed the company. Far more social than Anne, he flitted between everyone at parties, was quick with a laugh and always held your gaze three beats too long. Cor was so light on his feet that at times he seemed to float. Wanting to take advantage of his leading man's physicality, the director kept adding more and more movement to the work. In terms of dance, Anne was decidedly more of a "mover," fudging her way through and hoping to keep up. No one had worked with Cor before. In fact, he said this was his first time acting. He seemed to be blessed with a natural gift.

"What time is it?" asked Anne.

"Time to get into costume," said Cor as he hopped off the bench, landing in front of her and taking her up in his arms with a wide warm smile. "Let's run." Off they shot across the park towards the outdoor stage.

***

That night the cast and crew met at The Mill for drinks. Relieved to shed their heavy brocades and silks in the heat of an Iowan summer (routinely sprayed with vodka to leech the scent of sweat), everyone wore very little and drank quite a lot. They had made magic onstage earlier -- had fallen in love, danced, and shared joy with their audience and each other. For the third time that season, Anne, swept up by her feelings, approached Cor with mischief on her mind.

"Have you tried this? It's absolutely glorious," he said, offering her the last of his wine and throwing it back upon her refusal. "I've never tasted anything so good."

Anne put her arm around him and he nuzzled the side of her face.

"I'm having such a grand time with this play! And you, you're fantastic."

"I think you're fantastic, too," murmured Anne. She stroked his close-cropped hair. They were routinely intimate onstage, but that was nothing like the electricity buzzing in her brain at this moment with him so near.

"Anne, we can't..."

"Oh. Okay."

"I'd like to--"

"No, it's alright. I'm sorry."

"I'm just going to step outside for some air."

Feeling now entirely too drunk, she watched him leave. She was a little hurt, but kept a brave face and after what seemed like a suitable amount of time she found a reason to join her friends on the patio. In her wake, a little cloud of black feathers stirred and fell back down to the ground. Cor was nowhere to be seen.

***

Before the final performance the sky threatened rain. Heavy clouds rolled by quickly, and rushes of wind shook the trees backstage where Anne was leaning against the building. She opened her eyes at the sounds of footsteps and found Cor leaning next to her.

"Last one," he sighed.

"Yes."

"How do you say goodbye to this? It's awful. It just ends? I don't want this to end. This is the most fun I've had in my life."

"Well, we'll stay in touch, won't we? And you can audition for other plays in a million other places," she reasoned. Cor looked hesitant. More than that, he looked positively torn up inside.

"I don't think I can. I'll try to keep in contact with you but I know it won't be the same." The wind kicked up and a not unpleasant shiver shot through Anne's spine. Their noses were almost touching. He held her face between his lithe hands.

Then Cor kissed her full on the mouth for about three beats too long.

"Places!" someone shouted. "Places!"

The run went beautifully. Orlando wooed his Rosalind, disguised as a boyish youth. Happy marriages were made and actors danced in the aisles. After the cast took their bows, amid the chatter and laughter, Anne hurried to get into her clothes and find Cor. She entered the men's dressing room to whoops and cheers from friends, but couldn't see him. At his station, taped to the mirror, was a note. As she unfolded it, a feather black as his hair, black as an oil slick, floated out.

"Anne, I've watched the actors on this stage from my home for years. It looked like so much fun, I had to see what it was like. Maybe I'll see you again, down by that bend in the river."

Night had fallen. She hurried across the grass to her picnic table. Maybe she could catch him. When she arrived, breathless, no one was there. Mosquitoes hung in a cloud over the water. Fireflies bobbed around her knees. And a blackbird paced the bench, under the darkening sky.


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