The Pale Companion: A Shakespearean Murder Mysteryby Philip Gooden
Midsummer 1601. Nick Revill and his fellow actors in the Chamberlain's Men are journeying across the Wiltshire Downs for a country-house presentation of his friend and mentor Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. But what should be a pleasant, well-paid jaunt to celebrate a noble wedding gets worse and worse, with a sinister arranged marriage, a possible suicide… See more details below
Midsummer 1601. Nick Revill and his fellow actors in the Chamberlain's Men are journeying across the Wiltshire Downs for a country-house presentation of his friend and mentor Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. But what should be a pleasant, well-paid jaunt to celebrate a noble wedding gets worse and worse, with a sinister arranged marriage, a possible suicide, and finally a case of outright murder against an ancient backdrop of Stonehenge.
- Avalon Publishing Group
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- 1 CARROLL
- Product dimensions:
- 5.55(w) x 8.82(h) x 1.13(d)
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Just outside of Las Vegas the trailer fishtailed, flew out across the desert, rolled twice, and smashed into a Joshua tree. It started as a little noise, my dad said, a sort of jiggling -- and when he looked in the rearview mirror he saw the trailer go, lurching uncertainly in the direction of the desert but going fast, almost like it was trying to keep up with the car for a ways before it rolled, bouncing, like a little orange toy that weighed no more than a box of animal crackers. He had a minute, he said, with the car pulled over and everybody still asleep, to think about what he'd done, or what he hadn't done, which was make sure the trailer hitch was secure when we'd left Los Angeles. He'd had time to turn the car around and take us back to our old life in the House on the Hill, if he'd been so inclined. He was a man with options. But my dad had been taught to move ahead in life. So he did what anyone would: he put on his shoes, got out of the car, walked a short distance to relieve himself, and stood chewing his mint toothpick, thinking it all over.
Jen and I woke up when we felt the car stop. It was early morning but already the air was thickly hot, and dust floated on either side of the car. My dad had slammed on the brakes when he saw the trailer go and our car was parked now at a crazy angle, the tires creaked hard to one side, we saw when we got out, and the back end of the car jutting up toward the road. Someone in a passing car might've thought we'd stopped so one of us could throw up, or because of a quarrel that got too big for the interior of the car, or for some other urgency: which now our mom was running toward, full out across yellow gray dirt, my dad catching up and then overtaking her like he might be able to fix it all before she got there.
No one had given us any instructions and so for a minute Jen and I just sat. No one had said, stay here girls, or hurry, hurry, get your shoes on. We could see colorful billboards all the way up the highway: the closest one advertised a ninety-nine-cent steak dinner, with a baked potato alongside a pulverized-looking piece of meat and a sprig of freakishly green parsley at the edge of the plate. Farther on was a woman lounging poolside, her legs open as if she'd fallen from a treetop and landed with perfect aim on the chaise longue made of stripey plastic straws: circus circus, single as low as $10.95 per person double occupancy.
Jen took the lead and got out. We could hear my mom from the car, her wailing insane and heartbreaking. That made us both run, out across the dirt with our plastic thongs flapping and catching in the brush. There were snakes everywhere, that much I was sure of, and my ankles tingled at the thought. Somewhere along the way my mom's wails got to me and something caught in my own throat, a hard ball of salt and fear, and I let the sound out. My dad saw us and came toward us with his arms open. "It's okay, kids. Everything's okay. We lost the trailer but we're fine, everyone's fine, your mom's just upset -- "
"It's not fine!" our mom cried. "Not fine!" She was kneeling in the dirt, her fingers wrapped in her hair while she rocked. "All of our things, all of our things -- !" "We're okay. We're okay. We're all in one piece." My dad felt warm and solid. His arms were thick with black hair and up close each hair sprouted from a large pore, as though the hair had been stitched on. The trailer had landed upright and it looked friendly enough, the way it had looked in our driveway when my dad slid the bolt and said, there. And we're off. But the back of it was smashed upward and the door and bolt were both twisted so that our dad spent some time kicking and heaving at the bolt. Every now and again a semi sped by on the highway and it was the only sound beside our mom's crying and my dad's grunts as he worked at the lock. Then it sprung open and my dad gently pried the door back. "Things are fine," he said. "See, Miriam? Things look okay, I don't think much is broken. See?"
Jen took my hand. Inside the trailer boxes lay on their sides, straining at the clear strapping tape with their smashed contents. Leaving the House on the Hill the night before, I'd imagined the inside of the trailer as a miniature replica of the rooms we'd left behind, with beds made and the couch in front of the window and books lined neatly in the bookcase. But now we were somewhere on the outskirts of Las Vegas with snakes all around, and my mom rushed forward to one of the boxes marked fragile! dinner dishes. She ripped through the tape and newspaper and we heard the tinkle of broken china even before we could see it. The whole box was like that, and then another. My dad tried to take her arm. "Go! Go away!" my mom cried.
"I'm sorry," my dad said. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. Look, the chairs are fine. The table even. I'll hitch a ride into town. Why don't you come back to the car? We can't stand here all day." It was warming up and my dad's glasses were reflective cubes beneath his shaggy eyebrows. "Come on. We can't stand here."
"You go. You just go. We never should've left, we never should've left."
"Don't talk like that, Miriam. Come on, let's just take care of this."
"If you hadn't wanted to move us. Because you were suspicious. Everything is wrong!"
"Please don't be sad, Mom." Even in the dry air my mom was strangely moist. She was a center, a focal point in the jaundiced landscape, and I moved toward her.
"You think everything's okay, you think everything's okay," she looked at my face but her eyes were somewhere else. They looked odd and flat, like my real mother had seeped out. She touched Jen's hair, moving her palm over it in an absent circle. I felt something touch my foot and yanked back. "Here," my dad said. "Come on," and lifted me. A beetle was moving crookedly around my mom's thong, trying to get around it. When it got to the other side it sped under a rock.
"You go, you just go," my mom said. She sat in the dirt and more tears came. She couldn't get over it. "We never should've left. It's your fault. Your fault."
"The car's fine. We're fine. Now come on, we're all gonna get a sunburn."
"I don't care. I don't care. Why did we? Have to leave? Because you thought I was cheating, is why, I know why you want so bad to get us to Provo, so you can keep me locked up like Rapunzel, if it weren't for the kids I'd just go, oh, I can't believe it, we've lost everything, everything." She went to another box and when she heard the sound of broken dishes inside of that one she just let it drop, then collapsed over it.
"Come on, Mom," Jen said. "We have sandwiches and ice in the car."
"You go, you all just go. Really. I'll be fine, I'll just stay till you get back. Go fix yourself some sandwiches and get a cold drink and I'll just wait. Okay?"
"Goddamnit, Miriam, you're being selfish." My dad picked up the boxes and put them back in the trailer, slammed the bolt. "I need to call a tow truck. You need to pull yourself together."
"Me! Me! Me pull myself together!" My mom went at my dad. She cracked him on the cheek and his glasses flew off his face. "You've ruined everything! Everything!" I started to cry. Without his glasses my dad looked lizardlike, his eyes slits.
"Stop it!" Jen yelled. "Everybody stop it!"
"What do you want me to do?" my dad said. His voice broke. "What do you want me to do?" He retrieved his glasses and moved around to the front of the trailer, tried to lift it. "Is this what you want me to do? Haul it on my back all the way to Utah? I will if that's what you want. I will."
"Don't, Dad," I said. It was awful to watch him. He'd get one knee under the hitch and strain and then pause to shove his glasses up his nose and then try again.
My mom laughed. "You look like an imbecile," she said.
My dad kept at it, pausing and kneeling to breathe hard and then getting himself back up under it. The trailer stayed right where it was, shipwrecked. I saw the beetle scuttle out, freeze, and take off in another direction. It was as if suddenly all the things I knew were behind me, useless and small. In front of me were snakes and broken dishes and wet spots that had appeared under my dad's armpits as he heaved. And behind me was our old life, so far away that not even squinting could bring it into focus; when I looked back all I saw was dirt and highway, tiny cars and trucks speeding off into nowhere. Until today, I thought, I'd known a lot of things: that opera was when people sang loudly on a stage, for example, and knelt and clutched at their hearts. That markets sold heaps of apples and grapes hissed on with hoses that left the fruit dripping and glistening, and that outside the market was a large gold horse with a western saddle that for a dime would hump in a slow motion gallop, and if I waited patiently I would get to ride him.
I knew that my nana liked to kiss us on the mouth when we came to visit, so that we lingered with dread on the front steps after ringing the doorbell, waiting for the sight of her bloody-looking mouth and its medicinal smell. And that once she'd strung a bulldog from a clothesline for biting my dad when he was only five and that now, because of the dog bite, my dad's eyeball wandered around when he was tired, drifting to the corner of his eye like it was off duty.
When a picture got taken, what we did was smile. When dried beans were poured into a pie pan, we glued them onto a paper plate in the shape of a rooster. Popsicle sticks were chewed, and sleeping bags could be rolled into neat stools and tied with strings, then unrolled in front of the TV for watching cartoons. Always, the mom gave the baths. Always, the dad drove the car.
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