One day, Geoffrey jumped into the car and drove away.
(It wasn’t actually his car, and he didn’t actually ask the stage manager if he could borrow it, but the ramifications of that particular storyline are better left explored another day.)
In fact, “day” is also something of a misnomer. It was the middle of the night, or the wee small hours of the morning, when Geoffrey snagged the keys—the SM was spending the night at the theatre until she could find a better place to live—and stole out into the world. The stars were calling, beyond the haze of light pollution in the city, and Geoffrey obeyed the summons.
Eventually he left the city, eventually the only light on the road came from his headlights, or the headlights of other cars, or the occasional lamppost spotlighting a highway exit. The stars were up there, singing in his veins, Orion’s belt—or was that the Little Dipper? Geoffrey was terrible at remembering the positioning of his constellations—and other tiny pinpricks of light sprinkled across the black sky. It was quiet in the car, and quiet in the outside world, and Geoffrey kept driving because he had no reason to stop.
As an actor, he had long ago learned to trust his impulses. (This may or may not have helped lead to that incident with the swans, and a multitude of incidents thereafter. Nonetheless, a habit once formed is difficult to break, and Geoffrey still found his impulses useful as a director.)
The sky gradually, gradually lightened. Barely noticeable at first, the tiniest tinge of yellow and pink on the far horizon. Geoffrey, following another impulse, took the next exit off the highway, turned off onto the first dirt road he could find, and bumped the car up a hill before stopping and turning off the engine. He climbed out of the car and stood at the top of the hill and waited. Nothing to cut off his view up here, no buildings in the way. There were some trees, over yonder, but the way the light cut them in half, half in those first gorgeous rays of rising light, half still in darkness, was just as beautiful as the sleeping valley below him.
Brightness slowly expanded across the sky as the sun rose. From black to indigo to grey to white and pink and yellow and the most delicate of blues—Geoffrey watched the slanted shafts of sunlight as they worked their way across the valley, tall grasses still shrouded in mist and rustling softly in a minor breeze. Geoffrey loved the light at this time of year, during this time of day, when the world tilted on its axis, and the sun became that indirect, coy mistress, cool and aloof but still enchanting and all the more irresistible for that. There was a copper tinge to the light, a particular shade that only happened two times a day for a few months each year, a copper tinge that turned the world old, millennia old and wiser than any single foolish human could ever understand. It made him think of Tennessee Williams, who was admittedly something of a pretentious wanker, but what writer—or, for that matter, actor or director—wasn’t?
He sat down at the top of that hill and watched the sun rise, and when it finally flashed too harshly in his eyes he merely shut them.
And then he got out his cell phone and called Ellen.
“Where the hell are you?” were the first words she said, and Geoffrey explained, and then he said, “Join me,” and then he hung up before she could even get a really good splutter in.
He found the nearest town and bought gas, and grabbed breakfast, and wandered around the downtown smiling at people (which he considered much better than weeping at them, though their reactions indicated they might have disagreed), and found a used bookstore and happily spent a couple hours there browsing. And eventually he went back up to the top of his hill—it was his, now, but only for the day, and he was fairly sure the hill would find the arrangement agreeable—and waited for Ellen to join him.
Finally she did, grumbling all the way—she’d parked at the bottom of the hill, refusing to bring her car up “that tragedy of flattened weeds that you like to call a road,” she told him, and then she put her hands on her hips and demanded, “Why on earth did you bring me here?”
“You’ll see,” was all he said on the matter.
“Elizabeth is furious that you stole her car,” she went on. “If you’ve added any scratches or dents to it—not that I’m sure you’d be able to tell, honestly—I think she might kill you. I wouldn’t go anywhere near her for a while when she’s drunk, just in case.”
“I’ll make it up to her,” Geoffrey promised.
“And you made us all miss a day of rehearsals, and you know how badly our Richard is doing, and opening is supposed to be next week; for Christ’s sake, Geoffrey, what were you thinking?”
“I was following an impulse,” he said, and he might have been biting back a laugh. Ellen gave him her best glare, the glare she reserved for Beatrice and Kate, and he went up to her and kissed her and turned her around.
“This,” he said, standing close behind and whispering in her ear, “this is why I asked you to come.”
The sunset was, if anything, more spectacular than the sunrise had been. That same slanted, subtle bronzed light over the valley, leaving more and more of it in shadow; but then the sun itself, the sun, blood-orange-red, fiery as it fell, surrounded by gathering blackness. He and Ellen stood for a long, long time, watching the dying of the light.
“Oh,” she said at last, softly, and she relaxed back into him for a moment.
And Geoffrey answered back, just as softly:
“O God! methinks it were a happy life,
To be no better than a homely swain;
To sit upon a hill, as I do now,
To carve out dials quaintly, point by point,
Thereby to see the minutes how they run,
How many make the hour full complete;
How many hours bring about the day;
How many days will finish up the year;
How many years a mortal man may live.
When this is known, then to divide the times:
So many hours must I tend my flock;
So many hours must I take my rest;
So many hours must I contemplate;
So many hours must I sport myself;
So many days my ewes have been with young;
So many weeks ere the poor fools will ean;
So many years ere I shall shear the fleece:
So minutes, hours, days, months, and years,
Pass’d over to the end they were created,
Would bring white hairs unto a quiet grave.
Ah! what a life were this! how sweet! how lovely!”
Ellen tilted her head up to look back at him sardonically. “You would compare yourself to a king now?” she asked, and Geoffrey bent down to kiss her lips. She responded willingly enough, but Geoffrey knew she was quite capable of holding onto a much smaller dispute than this for much longer than a sunset.
They watched the last rays of light disappear, gazed up at the sprinkling of stars (and no, Geoffrey still hadn’t decided if that was Orion’s belt or the handle to one of the Dippers). “Why did you ask me here and not the LD?” Ellen asked presently, still leaning back into Geoffrey, he still keeping his arms wrapped around her.
“Because, no matter how fond I am of the lighting director, I am not in love with her,” Geoffrey replied with only a mild exasperation, “and because I’m not having sex with her either.”
“If you think I’m going to have sex with you out here on the cold, hard ground,” Ellen snorted, “think again.”
Geoffrey walked around her and tilted her chin up in order to kiss her again. “No, my dear, that was not my intention. I was simply following a set of impulses.”
She pulled back momentarily, looking up at him; he could just see the dim outlines of her narrow face, the whiteness of her eye around pupil and iris. And then she leant up to kiss him thoroughly, passionately, ruthlessly.
“You do always have the most interesting impulses,” she said at last when the kiss came to a natural end, and they’d both caught their breath again. “Thank you, Geoffrey,” she added, more quietly, and he took her hand to kiss her knuckle.
“You are most welcome, my lady,” he said, and she laughed at him, a low laugh that indicated perhaps she had forgiven him his trespasses after all.
“Home,” she said, slapping his chest. “I know you haven’t slept all day—I’m not sure I should allow you to drive Elizabeth’s car back, the condition you’re probably in—and now we have an extra day of rehearsals to make up.” She started to walk away, back down the hill to her car, when Geoffrey snagged her arm, pulled her back for another kiss.
“Home,” he said, finally, and now she was the more breathless one, and he briefly considered whether she would in fact have sex with him on this cold, hard ground. But no; she was right, as always—as always?—and he should probably stop for some coffee somewhere along the way. He wondered if his used bookstore—his, but only for the day; and again, he thought the store would be amenable—was still open; he would like to take her there. He glanced up at the night sky again, and felt the stars calling, singing once more in his veins. Telling him to finish the journey he had started that morning, and go home.
“Home,” he repeated, and she pressed her hand against his chest again in silent farewell, and then disappeared, as quietly and as gracefully as any of Titania’s fairies.
Geoffrey glanced up at the sky once more. “Though loath to bid farewell,” he said to the stars with a bow, “we take our leaves.”
And then he drove home.