Story: The Players
By: David Jordan
He sat at the bar nursing his second pint of stout, feeling boozy and depressed. He didn’t feel like drinking. He felt like walking. Outside would be nice and cold. So he got up off his stool and left.
He walked the short distance back to his uncle’s house, where he was staying for a few days. When he got there he stopped and looked around. It was a remarkably clear night. There was no-one about. He didn’t feel like going to bed. He felt like walking. The park opposite his uncle’s bungalow called to him, invited him. Lotus Park was its name. The gate had been closed and padlocked. So he scaled the gate athletically and dropped, catlike, to the pavement on the other side.
The first thing he noticed was the smell of sweets in the air, like there was a sweet factory nearby. Then he heard laughter. Rich laughter. It reminded him of the line from The Great Gatsby – a voice like the sound of money. What midnight revelry was this? He set out walking on the path to find out.
After a couple of minutes he stopped. There was a body on the path ahead of him. Someone sitting with their back to him. He would have fallen over them if it wasn’t for his vision, which he felt had been enhanced. He walked around and looked at the person. It was a woman with a shaved head, and an orange mantle wrapped around her. Her legs were folded. She appeared to be meditating. Not wishing to disturb her, he turned around and began to walk on.
‘What are you doing here?’ she said to him and he turned around. She was looking at him and smiling.
‘I felt like a walk. What are you smiling at?’ he said to her.
‘Oh meditation does that to you,’ she said. He thought she said ‘medication’ and asked her to repeat herself.
‘Meditation,’ she said.
‘Oh. What’s going on here? What’s with all the laughter I keep hearing?’ he asked her.
‘There’s been a wedding. The Sidhe are celebrating.’
‘And I’m meditating. As you can see.’
‘Why are you meditating?’ he asked her.
‘It was I who married them. I’m meditating on their union.’
‘Okay,’ the young man said. ‘Well, I’d better leave you to it.’
‘Wait. Do you want a guide? I can show you around.’
‘What about your meditation?’
‘I’ve done enough for one night,’ she said and got up, shaking her legs, getting the blood back into them. Then she went to him and put a hand round his arm.
‘Tell me your name,’ she said.
‘Brendan. Brendan Breen.’
‘O, I like that name. It’s poetic. I’m Lotus May,’ she said.
‘What did they name you after the park?’
‘No. It’s more like the park was named after me.’
They walked the path in silence. After a while he said, ‘you’re very quiet for a guide.’
‘But you already know the place.’
‘Hmm. So why did you come with me?’
‘I’m going to introduce you to the happy couple and the players.’
‘Yes. For the play. It’s tradition for the Sidhe to put on a play for the happy couple.’
As they walked, Brendan heard laughter, both male and female, from the shadows of the trees and bushes on either side of the park.
‘What are they doing?’ he asked her.
‘What do you think they are doing?’
‘Oh. Right,’ he said. ‘What about the smell of sweets in the air. Where does that come from?’
‘It is the sweetness of youth you are smelling.’
‘My youth or theirs?’
‘Both. You have a role to play in tonight’s revelry, Brendan Breen. Didn’t you feel the park calling to you?’
‘Yes, I did.’
‘Good. Have you ever acted before?’
‘It matters not.’
‘Who do I have to play?’
‘A most demanding role: yourself.’
This silenced him for a few moments. ‘You’re different,’ he said. ‘You’ve changed.’
‘You talk like you already know me.’
‘Everyone knows you here.’
‘How can that be?’ he said.
‘As I said, you have a role to play,’ she said.
‘But I’m not an actor. I’m no-one.’
‘Come,’ she said and pulled him off the path onto the green. They walked through the trees for a while until they came to a large open space. In the centre of it was a small circus tent. It emitted the strong hum of a social occasion. They went to the porch and entered it.
The place inside was so brightly lit that he winced upon entering. As his eyes adapted to the light the hum died. People turned their heads and looked at him. But this was only for a few moments. The hum returned easily like someone turning the volume back up on a radio.
There were creatures everywhere but it was not hard to pick out the bride and groom. They sat on a pair of finely carved wooden seats on a dais. The bride was coy, the groom handsome. He said something to her ear and she laughed. He had a goblet in his hand. She looked at the ring on her finger with modest delight. Nothing outlandish about these two, he thought to himself and smiled warmly at them.
He looked around for Lotus but she had disappeared into the crowd. So he stood near the entrance waiting for her to show up again.
He was approached by a small, stooped old creature with a shrivelled grey head, not unlike the head of a tortoise. He was holding a sheaf of pages to his bosom.
‘Brendan?’ he said.
‘Yeah that’s me.’
‘Here are your lines. You are to perform the epilogue of the play.’
He gave Brendan a sheet of paper. There were about thirty lines typed on it. They looked like they had been typed on an old typewriter. It was in Irish.
‘This is Irish,’ he said to the creature.
‘Old Irish,’ the creature corrected him.
‘But I don’t understand Irish.’
‘You don’t need to. Just read it and learn it off.’
‘But how can I play it if I don’t understand it?’
‘But…’ he began to say but the creature had left him.
A space was made before the newly-weds on the dais and the play began. Altogether there were five players. The play was in Irish. From the antics of the players and the laughter of the crowd Brendan guessed it was a comedy and probably a bawdy one. When the players had finished he was poked in the back by someone. He went to the centre of the space. He decided the tone should be sober, rhetorical and magnanimous. The words flowed out of him as did their music. He guessed that it was a meditation on the nature of marriage. ‘I’m meditating on their union,’ he recalled Lotus saying. When he had finished there was warm applause from the audience and, afterwards, some of the Sidhe even came up to him and congratulated him.
‘Hey handsome,’ said a voice behind him. He turned around and there was Lotus May, smiling, eyes hooded with pleasure. ‘You did really well,’ she said.
‘Thanks. I don’t know what I was saying but the music seemed to come naturally to me.’
‘Yes. So it should. Want to split?’
‘Sure,’ he said and they left the tent, arm in arm.
‘It’s midnight,’ she said once they were outside.
‘So?’ he said.
‘Time for pleasure,’ she said and stepped out of her mantle so that she was completely naked. ‘Chase me,’ she said and started to run. He picked up her mantle and ran after her.
As they ran she would sometimes look back at him and laugh. Again he was reminded of the Gatsby line, a voice like the sound of money. ‘What kind of a monk are you!’ he shouted at one point.
‘A monk that knows how to enjoy herself!’ she shouted back.
‘Do you understand Irish? I mean Old Irish?’ he shouted.
‘Yes, of course!’
‘Then tell me what it was I said back there!’
She slowed down and stopped, catching her breath. They were in a children’s play area with swings, slide, see-saw and roundabout. He offered her the mantle but she rejected it with a wave of her hand. She walked over to the swings and sat down in the seat of one. He joined her, sitting on the seat next to hers.
‘Won’t you tell me what it was I said back there?’ he asked her again.
‘Do you really need to know? Wasn’t the applause of the crowd enough? Wasn’t it enough to know that it was well played?’
‘All I’m asking for is a translation.’
She sighed and said, ‘too much is lost in translation.’
There was a silence and then she began to move her seat back and forth. ‘I’ll tell you one line though,’ she said.
‘Pity the fool who scorns love’s sweet reward.’
‘I pity the fool!’ he quipped.
She laughed and began to push herself farther and higher with her feet. He began to swing also.
‘You said I’d be playing myself,’ he said. ‘It didn’t feel like me.’
‘No. I feel…fragmented. Most of the time.’
‘We all do. And I said you’d be playing you, not being you. There’s a difference.’
They swung back and forth in silence for a minute or so before she stopped suddenly. He did the same. She leaned over and said in his ear, ‘thanks for doing the epilogue. You were great.’ Then she put a hand on his far cheek and turned his lips to hers. She kissed him for a few seconds before she vanished, leaving him with his eyes closed, kissing the cold air.
He walked back to the gate. Everyone had vanished but there was still the smell of sweets in the air. He crossed the road to his uncle’s house and sat on the low perimeter wall to think about what had happened.
After a while he heard foot-steps approaching him. It was his uncle, Jim.
‘I felt like a walk. Wasn’t feeling too good. Sorry.’
‘That’s okay. As long as you’re better now.’
‘I went for a walk in the park,’ he said, about to tell him what had happened. Then he changed his mind. ‘It was nice,’ was all he said.
‘Bit late for a walk in the park, isn’t it?’ Jim said.
‘Yeah, I suppose so. But sometimes you have to live a little.’
‘Hmm. Come on in and we’ll make some coffee.’
‘Go on. I’ll be there in a minute,’ he said.
‘You’re sure you’re okay?’
‘Yes. Go on.’
He stayed outside for another few minutes, his eyes fixed on the park gate, his mind running through all that had happened. ‘Too much is lost,’ he murmured to himself. The gate that had earlier invited him now seemed to forbid him as if the night were guarding her secrets.
So he turned and went into the house, in silence, with a head full of memories and a heart that felt strange to him.
As he closed the door behind him he thought he heard a distant voice. He didn’t know if it was a cry or laughter. Or both. All he knew was that his night had come to an end.