The red curtains parted, and the witches, who were dressed in luminous rags, appeared on the stage in a cloud of smoke.
“Are you afraid?” Fred whispered to Miss David when the scene changed.
She smiled at him. Fred felt the muscles of his legs threaten to dissolve into something insubstantial.
“No,” she whispered. “But I saw Edwin Booth play Richard III when I was eight years old. He made me forget it was a play. I was afraid of him.”
Fred had a sudden impulse to take her hand, but he ignored it.
“What are you afraid of?” she whispered in the dark.
“Nothing,” he whispered back.
He saw her smile and recline into the cushion at the back of the chair, and fall into the magic of the play.
* * *
Aurora leaned forward in her seat. She tried to catch her breath as Lady Macbeth wandered the stage, unable to undo what she had done.
Mrs. Crawford seemed to be grasping for some invisible rope that would pull her out of the situation and carry her somewhere else. For an instant Aurora thought she saw a thick white cord, but it melted into nothingness in Mrs. Crawford’s desperate hands.
Aurora pulled off her gloves and pressed her fingertips to her teeth, tasting ink.
Lady Macbeth had lost control of her own destiny; one choice cancelled out the possibility of any other.
“Did you know actors call Macbeth ‘The Scottish Play’?” Fred whispered. “They will not name the play in a theater no matter what production is in the house.”
Aurora started at the feel of his breath on her cheek. She turned to face him. Limelight bounced off his gold hair like stardust.
“And,” he added leaning toward Aurora so the hiss of his shirt against his jacket caressed her ear. “A member of the audience is said to die sometime during the run of the play.”
He grinned. Perhaps he hoped to frighten her into a vaporous condition and make of himself a hero.
Aurora resisted the call to dissolve and instead chose to say what she was thinking. After all hadn’t Mr. Johnston told her he believed it was better to say what one meant?
“She is without hope,” Aurora said.
The triumph of mischief dissolved from Mr. Johnston’s eyes. He turned to the nearly empty stage where Mrs. Crawford had sunk to the floor.
Aurora waited in the darkness. When Mr. Johnston did not speak she decided to forget about his fiery eyes and false advice.
“And so is he,” Mr. Johnston said after a time. “The moment he chooses to ignore his natural inclinations.”
“His natural inclinations lead to his destruction,” Aurora said, surprised he had so misinterpreted the story.
The play ended, the artificial blood was washed from the stage. Mrs. Crawford graciously received her flowers.
The Johnstons rose as a beautiful unit.
Mr. David smiled at them.
“Aurora and I shall wait to leave,” Mr. David said, “until the lobby is not so crowded with enthusiasts.”
Aurora cringed as every Johnston eye sought her chair secreted in the back corner of the box.
“We shall wait with you and Miss David, if you don’t mind,” Fred said lightly. “Perhaps Edith will empty her thoughts on the thrilling depravity of the witch’s costumes and the pleasing countenance of the actor playing Banquo. And we shall have a quiet ride home.”
Edith reddened. Aurora was surprised Mr. Johnston could be so cruel to his sister.
“I should like nothing better than to hear Miss Johnston’s opinion on the play,” Mr. David said, offering his arm to Edith and sitting next to her.
Mr. and Mrs. Johnston seated themselves near Edith and Mr. David. Fred stood next to Aurora and gazed at his sister in regret and frustration.
“I like a bit of silence after the theater,” he said half to himself.
“I like a great deal of silence,” Aurora said.
He turned to her.
“Shall I take you into the hall?” he asked. “The boxes have emptied. The crowd is all downstairs.”
From The language of my former heart
(work-in-progress with a fantasy cover, waiting for editor’s notes)