Matteo watches rings of smoke drift higher and higher, expanding, vanishing, each one a little galaxy, wispy edges alive and evanescent in a beam of sunlight. He exhales. Smoke plumes from his nose.
He is too high to go to class. Jonas flicks the side of his head.
“Are you gonna go today?” Jonas asks. Matteo looks at him. It was not so long ago that little flick would’ve played over and over again in Matteo’s mind. That little flick would’ve been enough for Matteo to chew on for weeks. But now he and Jonas live in the same dorm room. He has seen enough girls rotate through Jonas’s bed and endured enough mornings of Jonas stripping off his shirt and suffered enough nights of Jonas drunkenly swinging an arm around Matteo’s shoulders to know what he has always known, since he was young, since he first laid eyes on him. He was content to be Jonas’s best friend, his Luigi, the only little bitch in his life. It was never gonna be anything more than that.
And Matteo was fine with that. He was fine with that. He was really, really fine with that. He was.
“Matteo?” Jonas waves his hand in Matteo’s face. He blinks slowly, drowsily. “You in there?”
“Sorry,” Matteo says. “What?”
“I said, are you going today?”
Jonas shakes his head. “Isn’t your first class this morning?”
Matteo looks at his phone. He meant to put his new class schedule in his calendar, but of course he’d forgotten. “Shit.”
“What’s the class?”
Matteo scrubs a hand over his eyes. “Fuck. I don’t even remember.”
“You should take that class I told you about. It’s in the theater department.”
“Jonas, man, I’m not taking a fucking theatre class.”
“You should. It’s called like—Alexandria Technique. Something like that. Maybe Alexander. It’s literally just breathing exercises. Sometimes yoga. Plus, the professor’s really hot. Last term there was only like, ten of us, just a bunch of girls who want to be actresses. It was a total joke. You should take it.”
Matteo ashes the joint in a soda can next to his bed. Beside it is his grinder and the rest of his bag of weed—just a few crumbs from the last eighth he bought. Next time he should go for the pound, he thinks. He usually gets through his eighths a few days after he buys them.
“What else are you taking?” Jonas asks.
“I don’t remember.” He genuinely doesn’t remember. An Intermediate Spanish class, he’s pretty sure. Some class on Political Economy where they just read Marx’s Capital all term. Some science class Amira bullied him into taking.
“Well, you need an arts elective to graduate anyways,” says Jonas.
“How do I sign up?”
“We’re still in add/drop period,” says Jonas. “Just go to the registrar.”
Jonas swings his backpack onto his shoulder and walks to the door.
“And maybe, uh, lay off the wake and bake, Luigi,” says Jonas, “You’re gonna go broke, man.”
Matteo slumps back into the pillows and listens to the door click shut.
It’s two PM when Matteo finally leaves his dorm room. He drops into the cafeteria, buys a mini box of cereal and eats it dry, straight from the box, as he walks to the registrar.
He is pouring crumbs into his mouth when someone collides into him, hard. Matteo stumbles back dazedly. The empty cereal box falls to the ground.
Matteo looks up. He sees eyelashes. Sooty, black, perfect eyelashes. Light glints off a silver septum piercing.
A boy is staring at him. Those eyelashes dip down, then drag up, slowly, appraisingly. He meets Matteo’s eyes. Matteo is helpless to stare back. He feels like a fish on a hook.
“I’m sorry,” says Matteo. “I didn’t see you.”
The boy has a beanie pulled low over his ears, and Matteo can just make out thick, dark hair curling under the hem. There are headphones slung around his neck, and he’s wearing a black sweatshirt. His eyes flick down to Matteo’s shirt, and Matteo cringes a little, unthinking. He is wearing his baggiest blue t-shirt, and he hasn’t washed it in a while. He wouldn’t be surprised if there were stains on it.
“You have some, uh,” the boy points at Matteo’s shirt front, “some crumbs, or something.”
Matteo looks down. Fucking Cinnamon Toast Crunch on his shirt collar. He fights the urge to sink down to the floor.
He looks up. The boy puts his headphones on and the corner of his mouth lifts, ever so slightly, before he walks past Matteo out the door.
Matteo stands in the hallway for a full ten seconds before he remembers why he entered this building in the first place.
“Hey, is this, uh, 290A?” Matteo asks a blonde-haired girl standing near the door. He’s pretty sure he’s seen her before at a few of Carlos and Kiki’s parties last term.
“290C,” she says, with a kind smile.
Matteo looks around the room. He’s in the basement of the performing arts center, and there are no windows in the classroom. The floor and walls are a dark burgundy, with patchy carpet and a smell like stale cigarettes.
“Your name’s Matteo, right?” she says. “I’m Sara, by the way. Didn’t think I’d ever see you in a theatre class. I thought you studied…what do you study, again?”
Matteo doesn’t study anything. He just takes whatever Jonas or Amira or Carlos tells him he should take.
“Oh, you know, this and that,” says Matteo distractedly. A woman has walked into the room holding a clipboard. He assumes she’s the professor. Matteo looks around: though they are chairs pushed against the walls, everyone has begun to form a circle on the floor.
Sara is still looking at him, expectant. Matteo sits next to her, already itching to leave. He barely recognizes anybody here, but he can read their clothing, their body language, their wild jewelry and pretentious hair cuts well enough to know that this isn’t his scene. He doesn’t belong here.
At least he just has to do breathing exercises. But he should have asked Jonas more questions. Does he have to partner up for these breathing exercises? Does he have to hold someone’s hands? Does he need to make eye contact? Do trust falls?
He can still feel the Sara’s eyes on the side of his face. A few people send curious glances in Matteo’s direction. But it’s too late to leave. Too obvious.
“Hi everyone,” the professor greets. She’s young, this professor. Dark hair cut dramatically to her chin. Clear-framed glasses, dark red lipstick. Jonas described her as “hot.” Matteo sighs and leans back on his elbows. “Welcome to 290C. I understand some of you never took 290B, the Intermediate Acting Workshop—this is fine with me, but if have any questions or concerns, feel free to see me after class today or during my office hours. First off, I want to go over my expectations for the course—”
He’s in the wrong class.
“—one monologue, one dialogue, a dialogue-less scene performed with a scene partner, and of course participation in our end-of-term production—”
"Are you okay?” Sara whispers. Matteo glances at her under his eyelashes. The professor is pacing around the perimeter of the room.
“Your foot’s been tapping like a mile a minute,” Sara whispers. Matteo looks down. He hadn't even noticed.
“Is everything alright?” The professor's voice rings out across the classroom.
Matteo jumps. Everybody is looking at him.
“Sorry,” Matteo says, too quietly. He clears his throat. He really wishes everybody would look away. “It’s just—I’m in the wrong class.”
“Well, yesterday was the last day of the add/drop period,” says the professor. “So I’m afraid we're at a bit of an impasse.”
“I’ve never taken a theatre class,” Matteo blurts out.
The professor smiles a little. Matteo’s stomach sinks.
“Well then,” she says, “I commend your bravery.”
Color floods Matteo’s cheeks. He can still feel everybody looking at him. He tries to imagine himself actually standing in front of these people, performing a monologue. Panic knifes into his chest. He doesn’t even know what a monologue is.
The door opens, for which Matteo is grateful—finally, everyone has a reason to stop staring at him.
Standing in the doorway is the Boy from two days ago, outside the registrar. The color on Matteo’s deepens, remembering. At least today he’s wearing a semi-clean sweater—if you count a white sweater he’s worn at least five times without washing as clean. Matteo’s just grateful this one doesn’t have any crumbs.
The Boy looks even better today. He isn’t wearing his beanie, so Matteo can see the dark, thick hair hiding beneath. He’s wearing a black t-shirt, and there are headphones slung around his neck.
“Oh, perfect,” says the professor. “Everyone, this is David. David will be directing our end of year production, Hamlet.”
A few classmates nod at him. David lifts his chin in acknowledgement, taking one of the empty seats scattered close to the walls. His eyes find Matteo’s.
Time stretches, elastic, in the second their eyes meet. Matteo should look away. He wishes he could look away. He tries to read the boy’s expression: it is inscrutable, aloof, almost cold. Matteo swallows.
A blur of movement around him. Matteo jolts, looking up. Everyone is getting to their feet. The professor is talking, but Matteo can’t hear anything she says. He can’t find the energy to stand. He feels like one of those dolls that needs to be wound up to move.
“She wants us to do some kind of vulnerability exercise,” say Sara. “Want to partner up?”
“What’s a vulnerability exercise?”
Sara laughs. “Weren’t you listening?”
“You just…sustain eye contact and tell someone a story. Like a story from your childhood, or something.”
Matteo rocks back on his heels, already inching towards the door.
“So do you wanna be my partner?”
“Yeah,” Matteo says, scratching the back of his head, “I just, uh, I gotta piss real fast.”
He sneaks towards the door and slips out as quietly as he can.
“Fuck,” he whispers, leaning his against the closed door. He closes his eyes. He really wishes he’d remembered to roll a joint before class: the smoke from this morning sticks to his eyelids and the back of his throat, but the calm the weed brings him is fading, and the other thing is taking over. The jittery thing. The bad thing. Matteo doesn’t know what to call it—he just knows that it’s like a rope around his neck, and smoking is the thing that loosens the knot.
He walks down the hallway, aimlessly, dragging his fingers along the wall. His shoelaces are untied. He doesn’t bother to lace them.
There are no windows down here. Below the performing arts building are just more underground classrooms. Most look empty. He passes a few professor’s offices and a supply closet before finally reaching the bathroom.
Matteo sits on the sink ledge and pulls out his phone.
Matteo: dude…i fucked up
Matteo: the class you told me about…i don’t know what i did but i ended up in some acting class
Jonas sends a gif of a dude shooting himself in the foot. Matteo turns off his phone and throws it carelessly to the counter, scrubbing a hand over his face.
The door opens. Matteo’s hands fall awkwardly back to his side.
It’s the Boy. Of course it’s the Boy. Matteo is destined to be haunted by this Boy.
David. That’s what the professor had called him. David. Matteo wants to say the name out loud. He wants to feel the syllables in his mouth.
“What are you doing?” says David. The door closes behind him.
“What does it look like I’m doing?” says Matteo.
David raises an eyebrow. His eyes flick up and down Matteo’s front in a way that makes Matteo’s throat run dry.
“Avoiding class,” says David.
Matteo laughs a little through his nose. He slides his phone into his back pocket.
“Oh well, yeah, that, uh,” Matteo waves vaguely behind David, “that’s not really my thing.”
“What’s not really your thing?”
“You know,” Matteo says, “Theatre, I guess.”
“Then why are you here?” David asks.
Matteo takes a few steps closer. David still hasn’t moved from the door.
“I registered for the wrong class,” Matteo admits, running a hand through his hair. “Must’ve given the registrar the wrong course number.”
“What did you mean to register for?”
“Uh,” says Matteo. “I don’t know what it’s called. My roommate, he told me about it. Something about breathing exercises.”
“Ah,” said David. “Alexander Technique. Yeah a few of you always manage to end up there.”
Matteo’s brow furrows. “A few of who?”
“Oh, you know,” David waves vaguely in Matteo’s direction, and Matteo feels his stomach twist, a little. Whatever David is reading on his body, Matteo has a distinct feeling it isn’t good. “Guys like you. Guys trying to pick up some easy credits with a joke class.”
Matteo doesn’t say anything. Something cold enters David’s face. Like a door slamming shut.
“Let me guess,” David continues. “You think this is all pretty stupid, huh?”
“I mean, a little,” Matteo shrugs, uncomfortably, staring down at his shoes. “Don’t you?”
David blinks slowly. “I’m literally directing the end-of-quarter show.”
Matteo looks down at his sweater. Tugs at a little thread near the hem. There’s a stain, a little yellow stain, like mustard. When had he even eaten something with mustard? He feels like David can see all of it, every dirty thing, every flaw. Matteo hadn’t even bothered to shower to this morning. He feels naked under David’s stare.
“But that’s different, I mean,” Matteo says. “You don’t, you know, actually think all that—”
“The—the vulnerability exercises, and the eye contact, and the telling a stranger some—some fucking sob story about your childhood—”
“I think Helena’s methods are genius,” David says.
“Oh,” says Matteo, shrinking a little. He pokes his finger into a tiny hole in the sleeve of his sweater. “Well, I guess I don’t know a lot about this kind of stuff.”
“Then you should probably just leave the class,” says David.
Matteo blinks, stunned. He doesn’t know what to say. He never knows what to say.
“She said I couldn’t,” Matteo says quietly, “the professor.”
“I’ll talk to her, then,” says David.
“Oh, yeah, okay,” Matteo mumbles to the floor, “Thanks.”
“Sure,” David says, “I’ve been waiting for the chance to direct this show for a long time. I’ve been working on it since last year. I only want people to be in my show who want to be there. People who are prepared to do the work and take it seriously.”
He walks towards Matteo. Matteo stands in place, a little dumbfounded. David’s face is only a few inches from his, and he looks even more frustratingly good-looking up close.
“You’re sort of uh, blocking the sink,” says David.
“Oh, right,” says Matteo, “sorry.”
He moves out of the way and out the door, without looking back.
Matteo opens the door to his dorm room. It’s dark inside. Jonas’s bed is empty, and the lights are off. He shuffles to his bed in the dark and collapses onto the mattress. His stomach grumbles. Matteo puts a hand under his shirt, feeling his ribcage, the concave dip of his stomach. He already knows there’s no food in he and Jonas’s mini-fridge, only beer, and even those are Jonas’s. He thinks about cracking one open anyways. He knows he should go to the dining hall and get food. He knows he should turn on the lights and start his homework. He knows he should take a shower. He knows he should do a lot of things.
He throws an arm over his face. He’s so hungry. His limbs feel leaden. Heavy, like a bag of flour. Like a bag of flour that’s been punctured. Like he dragged himself home and left a trail, and now he’s nothing. Now he’s empty. He wiggles his fingers, just to confirm that they still work.
His phone vibrates in his pocket. Matteo pulls it out.
Jonas: so were you able to leave the class?
Matteo pushes his phone off the bed. Outside the window, he can hear two girls talking, their voices shrinking as they walk farther and farther away. He can hear music playing somewhere upstairs. Voices pass by in the hallway, footsteps pass over his head. Matteo closes his eyes, feeling like something swallowed. Like he’s floating through the cavernous guts of some monster that ate him a long time ago, and outside are all the living things. All the walking, talking things. People feeding themselves, people sleeping and waking up, people walking in a direction they choose.
But Matteo can’t move. He can only go where the monster goes.
He falls asleep. It’s about 11 PM when the door opens, and Matteo blinks himself awake. Jonas’s silhouette stands in the doorway. He turns on the light.
“Hey,” Matteo mumbles, scrubbing a hand over his eyes. He sits up.
“Hey,” says Jonas. “You never answered my text.”
Matteo looks down. His phone is still on the floor. He reaches it for, lazily, but it’s too far down. Jonas takes pity on him and picks it up, tossing it in Matteo’s lap. He sits at the foot of his bed.
“You good, man?” says Jonas.
“Yeah, yeah,” says Matteo. He looks at his phone. No new messages.
“Did you eat anything?”
Matteo pushes the covers off of himself, feeling overheated all of a sudden. He should take a shower. Drink a glass of water. Eat a real meal.
“Yeah,” Matteo lies.
“Okay,” says Jonas, “well I uh, I didn’t finish my dinner so I brought home leftovers if you’re still hungry.”
Matteo nods, unable to meet Jonas’s eyes. He feels Jonas stand up and walk to his side of the room. Matteo slumps back into the pillows.
“So how was that class?” Jonas asks. He takes off his shirt and throws it in his laundry hamper.
“It was shit,” says Matteo. “Man, I’m totally fucked.”
“You really can’t get out of it?”
David’s face swims in Matteo’s mind.
“I don’t know,” he says, “there’s a guy in there who seems to think he might be able to get me out.”
“What will you take instead?” says Jonas.
Matteo shrugs. “I don’t know. The other one, I guess, the one I meant to sign up for. If they let me.”
“And if they don’t?”
“I don’t know,” says Matteo. Jonas puts on another t-shirt for sleep, and Matteo tries to avoid staring at the way the muscles in his back move and stretch. “What are you taking?”
“Matteo, I love you man but you can’t just take the same stuff I’m taking,” says Jonas.
Matteo bites his thumbnail. He doesn’t say anything. He can feel Jonas looking at him.
“What’ve you liked so far? Your classes, I mean,” says Jonas.
Matteo bites into his thumb so hard it hurts. He shrugs.
“Well,” says Jonas. “There’s something you’ve liked, at least a little. I know you don’t really know what you wanna do, but if you keep taking stuff you’re at least kind of into, you’ll figure it out.”
Matteo rolls his eyes. He and Jonas have had this conversation a million times, and it hurts a little more every time they have it. It’s not that he hates his classes. It’s not that he likes them either. It’s that he doesn’t feel anything at all. Going through the motions of showing up, studying, sitting in class, raising his hand—it’s all just that. Going through the motions.
He stands up, a little abruptly. He doesn’t want to think about it anymore. He takes out the food Jonas put in the fridge—a half-eaten burger, some cold fries. He scarfs them down quickly.
“Hey man, can I have this beer?” Matteo nods at the bottle at the back of the fridge.
“Uh, yeah,” says Jonas, after a few seconds. “Sure.”
Matteo uncaps it and drinks it all, fast. When it’s finished he wants another, but there aren’t anymore left. He goes to his bedside drawer. His weed jar is empty, too. He picks through his ashtray, but the roaches have been smoked down too far to still use.
“Fuck,” Matteo moans. Jonas is already in bed, headphones in, laptop out.
He takes out a headphone. “Yeah?”
“No more weed. You got any?”
“Nah,” says Jonas.
Matteo texts Abdi and Carlos, but they don’t have any either. He texts every dealer he knows on campus, but no one responds.
“Dude, it’s like midnight,” says Jonas. “Just get some more tomorrow.”
Matteo looks down. His hands are shaking, just a little. He swallows.
“Yeah, yeah,” says Matteo. “I’m just gonna uh, go. Take a shower.”
Matteo pockets his keys and his phone. He doesn’t go to the showers. He goes outside. He doesn’t even know why, or where he’s walking. Maybe he’ll stumble into someone and bum a cigarette. Maybe he’ll wander into a party and share someone’s joint.
It’s cold outside. Matteo stands under the streetlight. He stares up at the sky. A blanket of darkness, no stars.
There’s movement in his periphery.
David is walking towards him, with a girl. The closer they get, Matteo can see it’s Jonas’s ex. Leonie. They’re not holding hands, but their heads are bent close. David laughs. The sound echoes around Matteo’s skull like a pinball. Matteo feels like he’s made of glass, and the laugh is the thing that finally shatters him.
They walk right past him without looking at him. Matteo stares after them, feeling as immaterial as a ghost.
Silence swallows him. He can hear cars, faraway. He looks up at the dorm building. Most of the windows are dark. Matteo looks down at his hands, bringing them closer to his face. They look papery, too pale. Almost translucent.
The next night is a party. Matteo ends up in a bathtub with Carlos, Jonas, and Abdi. His head falls onto Jonas’s shoulder. Jonas sticks a joint into Matteo’s mouth and lights the wick. Matteo grins around the filter.
“Yo, why the fuck did you come in here?” Abdi shoves Matteo’s shoulder. Matteo slaps his hands away, then pulls the joint out of his mouth, exhaling. He passes it to Jonas. “I saw Sara in there. She was all over you.”
Matteo’s eyes flutter shut. He can still smell Sara’s perfume on his sweatshirt. Her lip gloss is sticky on his cheek and his neck. It leaves a trail down his shirt collar. He doesn’t remember her approaching him. He doesn’t remember how they even started kissing. He doesn’t remember uncapping the first beer, or the second, or the sixth.
His stomach gives a nauseous twist.
“She’s too keen,” Matteo says.
“Too keen?” Abdi repeats. “Too keen? When has ‘too keen’ ever been—”
“Man, I’m with Matteo—that shit can be a turn-off,” says Carlos.
“You don’t get to speak on this,” says Abdi, “you have a Kiki.”
“Just ‘cause I have a Kiki means I don’t get to speak?” says Carlos, passing the joint back to Matteo.
Matteo turns his face into Jonas’s shoulder and tunes them out. After a few more minutes, he stands up and stumbles to the door. The boys stare at him.
“Where are you going, man?” says Jonas.
“Home,” says Matteo, shutting the door behind him. He leans against it. Bass pounds from the living area—he doesn’t even know whose apartment they’re in. He shoves past crowds of people, couples making out, and runs right into Sara.
“Where did you go?” she says, her lips too close to his ear.
“Just went for a smoke,” says Matteo, trying to pull away.
“Stay,” she says.
Matteo forces himself to look into her eyes. She’s a sweet girl, and she’s pretty. He should like her. He wants to like her.
“I’m not feeling great,” says Matteo, “I’m gonna just go home.”
“You want me to come with you?” Sara asks, concerned.
“Nah, it’s all good,” says Matteo, “I’m probably just gonna pass out.”
She gives Matteo a kiss on the cheek. Matteo accepts it and gives her what he hopes is a convincing half-smile before he leaves.
Matteo strips down to his boxers when he gets home and pulls out his laptop. He wants to roll a joint and eat the leftover sandwich Jonas left him and watch something stupid and light until he falls asleep.
Instead he finds himself on Instagram. He looks up Leonie Richter.
Sure enough there he is, three posts back. David. In Leonie’s photo of him, he’s wearing his beanie. It looks like David’s walking away from her. He’s winking as he looks back.
It feels like somebody poked Matteo with something sharp. His entire body deflates. He slumps, limp, into his sheets. He stares at the photo again.
David’s tagged. Matteo clicks on his profile. David only has about eight posts, and his face isn’t in any of them. Only art. The most recent is a brick wall, covered in graffiti. The graffiti is a run-down cityscape, looming over what looks like a river. Floating in the river is a woman with long, blonde hair, threaded through with little flowers, a bright lipstick-red crimson. The color of poppies.
Matteo reads the caption.
“There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance. Pray you, love, remember. And there is pansies, that’s for thoughts. There’s fennel for you, and columbines. There’s rue for you, and here’s some for me.”
Last set finally finished. Can’t wait for you all to meet Ophelia in Detroit.
(Hamlet, coming to the Performing Arts Center, Spring 2019. Stay posted for more details.)”
Matteo reads the lines again. He searches online for Hamlet quotes and finds the full play online.
It’s two AM when the door finally opens, and Jonas stumbles inside.
“Hey, man, didn’t think you’d still be up,” he slurs. “What’re you doing?”
Matteo looks up from his laptop screen. He’s already reached Act V.
“Nothing, man,” says Matteo, shutting his laptop. “Just watching Netflix.”
Matteo enters the classroom. Nobody is sitting down yet, just standing in circles and talking. A few send him glances. Matteo pulls his sleeves over his knuckles and ducks his head, moving towards the corner of the room.
The professor, Helena, approaches him almost instantly.
“Hello, Matteo. I just wanted to let you know that David spoke to me and unfortunately I can’t let you leave the course. It isn’t up to me.”
Matteo opens his mouth to respond, but she raises her hand.
“I think the workshop might surprise you. If you let it. I know acting can seem daunting, but anyone can do it.”
He fights the urge to roll his eyes. He raises his head and immediately locks eyes with David, who is staring at him from across the classroom, his expression dark and inscrutable. Matteo swallows, hard, and looks back at Helena.
“Okay,” he says.
Matteo doesn’t know what she wants him to say.
“Now I do expect you to do the work. And that includes participation in our end-of-term production. Hamlet’s a difficult play—have you read it?”
“Yes,” says Matteo.
“Oh,” says Helena, surprised. She smiles. Today she’s wearing dark red lipstick, and her glasses are pushed onto her head. “Well, that’s great. Have you given any thought to who you might audition for?”
“There’s auditions?” Matteo says.
“Yes, this Friday. David will explain more.” And with that she strides into the center of the room, bidding everyone to sit in a circle around her.
Matteo accidentally makes eye contact with Sara, who waves him over. He has no choice but to sit beside her.
“David, if you wouldn’t mind—since auditions are this Friday, just give everyone a better idea of your approach for the play and what you’d like them to prepare for the audition.”
David stands beside her, holding a clipboard. His eyes find Matteo’s again, striking him like a bolt of lightning. He moves across the room to the other workshop participants and announces that the play won’t run the full four hours—they’ve trimmed it to about two and a half. It’s a modern reinvention of the play, set in Detroit in an abandoned factory.
“And,” David adds, looking straight at Matteo, “there will be gender blind casting. You can audition for any part, though the part we assign might not necessarily be the one you audition for.”
Sara raises her hand. “When you say gender blind casting, do you mean like…crossdressing?”
A few of the students laugh. David doesn’t laugh. His lip curls upwards, just a little.
“No,” he says, “I mean that if, say, a woman were cast as Hamlet, then she can still dress however she likes. We don’t have a big costume budget, so for many of you, depending on what direction we decide to go with the character, you’ll probably just wear your own clothes. I want you all to participate as much as possible in how you create the character. I want you to make them your own.”
“Since this is an acting workshop,” Helena adds, “the point is to give you all a lot of agency in what direction you decide to take the character. David is the director, yes, and he has a certain vision, but he and I both believe that it is the actor’s responsibility to shape who the character is onstage. Also, he has final say in the casting. As he mentioned earlier, the part we ultimately assign might not be the one you prepare.”
“And as far as prep,” David says, “bring in a monologue for any character you wish to audition for. You can also audition as a pair, like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern for example.”
“Want to do them with me?” Sara whispers. “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern?”
Matteo glances at her sidelong. He shrugs. “Sure.”
“You should all already have a copy of the play,” Helena announces. “I’d like you to use the remaining time in class to flip through it and choose what scene you’d like to prepare for your audition. If you want to practice with a scene partner, you can also practice in the hallway.”
Sara opens up her copy of the play. Matteo digs his out of his backpack. In the corner of his eye, he sees David talking with another student in the class, a girl with shoulder-length brown hair.
“That’s Laura,” says Sara. “Apparently she’s probably going to be Hamlet.”
“Huh,” says Matteo. He wonders if she’s David’s girlfriend. Or is that Leonie? Matteo watches as David puts his arm around Laura. She hugs him back. He says something that makes her laugh and push him away.
“You’re doing that thing again,” Sara says.
“You keep tapping your foot,” she says. “Are you okay?”
“Fine,” says Matteo, standing up, quickly. He wants to leave. “Let’s uh, go in the hallway, yeah? Pick out a scene?”
“Okay,” Sara smiles.
Guildenstern has fewer lines than lines than Rosencrantz, so Matteo chooses Guildenstern. He and Sara select Scene 3, Act III and practice the lines until they’re allowed to leave.
“Want to come to mine later and keep practicing?”
“Sure,” says Matteo. A pit grows in his stomach.
Just as they’re about to leave, the door opens. David walks out with Laura.
“Oh,” says David, his eyes falling on Matteo. “Still here, then?”
“You sound disappointed,” says Matteo.
David laughs a little through his nose. Matteo’s eyes fall to his mouth. Laura’s eyes flick between them, her brow furrowed. David turns to her and says, “Matteo uh…well let’s just say, Matteo didn’t actually plan on being here. He thought he was signing up for Alexander Technique.”
“Ah,” says Laura. “So you thought you were getting a joke class, huh?”
Matteo looks down at his feet, embarrassed, and also a little angry. He doesn’t know why it’s such a big deal that he doesn’t want to be there, and it seems unfair that they’re so quick to judge him for it. So what that Matteo doesn’t give a shit about theatre? What kind of pretentious asshole does? David and Laura can have their bullshit play, with their bullshit graffitied sets and their bullshit Detroit “reinvention.” It’s stupid. It doesn’t matter. None of it matters.
A muscle jumps in Matteo’s jaw.
David is still looking at him. It’s a stare like a blade. It cuts right through him. Matteo feels stripped-down. Like David is seeing all of him, and he’s hating what he sees.
“So who are you going to audition for?” David asks.
“Guildenstern,” Matteo mutters.
“Nice,” says Laura. Matteo can’t tell if it’s genuine or if she’s being cruel. “Well. Best of luck.”
Matteo gives a sarcastic salute and leaves. He walks back to his dorm room with purpose, shoving past happy couples on the quad and groups of girls walking to class and boys fucking around on the lawn. He throws open his door so hard it smacks against the wall.
Jonas looks up from his desk, a little surprised.
“Let’s get shitfaced,” says Matteo.
Jonas shuts his laptop with a grin.
Matteo stumbles onto the balcony. The sky careens over his head. He feels like a bug trapped under a bowl. The sky looks like a mouth, an open maw, dark and screaming. He hangs onto the balcony railing, swaying a little. The iron under his fingers feels like teeth.
He is drunk, and it is late. Almost morning. He thinks he’s in someone’s bedroom. He doesn’t remember how he got onto the balcony, or why he climbed out here. He inhales deeply, closing his eyes. Bass thumps from inside the apartment. He doesn’t know whose apartment it is, but he can hear Carlos’s voice, screaming “Luigi!” Someone laughs. The song changes, and someone screams with delight. The lights are red and blue, flashing. They make patterns that shift along the balcony railing, dancing.
“What are you doing out here?” says a voice.
Matteo jumps a little, almost falling backwards.
It’s David. How is it always David?
“Are you following me, or something?” says David.
“You’re not real,” Matteo slurs.
“What?” David’s brow furrows.
Matteo climbs down from the railing and sits down, right there on the floor. The walls crawl up behind him and around him. He feels like he’s on a boat, and he’s about to be capsized. His stomach seizes. He swallows it back. He doesn’t feel like vomiting now. Not while he’s hallucinating the Boy. The Boy who has been haunting him.
The Boy who hates him.
“You’re not really here,” says Matteo. He is too drunk. Too cross-faded. He feels sick.
David-Not-David drops to a crouch in front of him. Matteo’s eyes flutter, but don’t close.
“Am I in a dream?”
“No,” says David. His face is so close to Matteo’s. Dangerously close. A face like David’s shouldn’t be this close. It should be in a painting, in a frame on a museum wall. You should have to pay money to look at a face like David’s in such microscopic detail.
Matteo’s head falls back against the wall.
“I’m in a dream,” he says.
David’s thumb brushes against Matteo’s cheek. Matteo’s eyes widen.
“Sorry,” says David. “It’s just. You had an eyelash. See?”
He holds the eyelash between his fingers, close to Matteo’s face.
“Can I make a wish?” Matteo asks.
“I don’t believe in wishes,” says David.
“Okay.” Matteo’s head falls a little. He looks up at David, under his eyelashes. David is still so close to him. Why hasn’t he moved away?
“Can I make one anyways?” Matteo whispers.
“I wish you didn’t hate me,” Matteo says.
David’s throat works. Something moves across his eyes. Something Matteo is too drunk to understand. None of this is real, anyways. None of this matters. He is in another dream, another David-dream, and soon he will wake up, and the nightmare—the waking part—will all start again.
“Luigi!” someone vaults themselves through the window and lands with a thud onto the balcony. David jumps away. It’s Carlos. Abdi is struggling through the window after him. Jonas is inside behind them, still dancing.
“Who are you?” Carlos asks.
“I’m David,” he says, standing up. He and Carlos clink their bottles together.
“That’s not true,” Matteo slurs, his vision darkening, “That’s somebody else.”
Matteo’s head feels like a watermelon someone threw off a roof. He is nothing but seeds and fruit and juice. He sits up. His throat feels dry and sour, like a crypt. There’s a glass of water next to his bed that Jonas must have left. Matteo gulps it down, gratefully. He scrubs a hand over his eyes.
The room is empty. Sunlight spills onto the floor. Matteo searches for his phone on his bedside and under his pillow. Somehow it fell under his bed.
Flipping upside-down to retrieve it is a terrible idea. Matteo scrambles onto the floor and makes it to the trash can just in time, emptying the contents of his stomach into the bin until he has nothing left to give.
He wipes his eyes. He hates throwing up. He drags his sleeve across his chin and stands up, shakily, hugging his own shoulders.
Slowly, he refills the water glass and drinks, making himself take small, careful sips. He manages to drag himself to the shower and wash his hair, fighting the urge to just sink down to the floor and let the water run over him. Afterwards, he changes into something reasonably clean and heads to the coffee shop.
He’s just received his coffee and a breakfast sandwich—the only thing that ever makes him feel better when he’s this hungover—when his phone vibrates.
Sara: where are you?
Matteo: what do you mean?
Sara: the auditions started 30 minutes ago. Our slot is up soon
“Fuck,” Matteo mutters, almost spilling coffee onto himself, “Fuck, fuck, fuck.”
He types a quick reply.
Matteo: on my way
He hurries over to the Performing Arts Center, still scarfing down his sandwich. The auditions are in the actual theater. He opens the door as quietly as he can and makes his way down the aisle, spotting Sara’s blonde head in the second row.
“Where’ve you been?” she hisses.
“I’m really sorry,” says Matteo, “I uh, I wasn’t feeling good this morning.”
“Sara and Matteo, you’re up next,” Helena calls out. Matteo turns around. David and Helena are sitting in the middle section, a few rows back, holding clipboards. Most of the front row has emptied out, and there’s only a few students left in the theatre besides Sara and Matteo.
Matteo and Sara walk up to the stage. He’s still holding his coffee.
“Where’s your copy of the play?” Sara asks.
Matteo runs a hand through his hair. “I uh. I forgot it.”
“You’re kidding me.”
“Is everything alright?” Helena asks, her voice ringing across the seats. Matteo rocks back on his heels. The stage feels much smaller than he thought it would. He can see into the wings on either side of the stage. To the left is a giant brick wall, painted. David’s Ophelia graffiti set.
He looks out into the seats. David isn’t wearing his beanie today. He has a white t-shirt on that Matteo’s never seen before, and he looks even better than he did in Matteo’s dream.
David locks eyes with his. Matteo sways a little. Nausea crashes through his insides.
“I said, is everything alright?” Helena repeats.
“I forgot my copy,” Matteo says, shocked at the way the acoustics of the stage make his voice carry. Normally he can barely hear himself speak.
“You forgot your copy,” she repeats.
“It’s okay,” says David, “I have an extra one.”
He watches as David pulls out a slim book from his backpack and walks it down the aisle. Matteo has to kneel at the end of the stage to retrieve it from him.
David’s dark eyes are almost honey-colored in the bright lights at the foot of the stage. Their fingers brush as he hands over the book.
“How are you feeling this morning?” he asks, his voice low enough so only Matteo can hear.
Matteo blinks, surprised.
“What do you mean?”
“You were pretty drunk last night,” says David.
“You—you saw me?”
David takes a step backward. He cocks his head coolly, his expression inscrutable. “Good luck, Matteo.”
Matteo stands there, dumbfounded, as David returns to his seat. Sara takes Matteo by the elbow.
“What was that about?” she asks.
Matteo doesn’t answer. Helena gives them the cue to begin. Somehow, Matteo performs the scene. He has to refer to the play more often than he’d like—Helena said they didn’t have to memorize it, since they were given such short notice, but she’d like them to try. He’s distracted by all the notes David has in the margins. Black pen. Beautiful, looping handwriting. Little doodles on every page.
The scene ends. Matteo barely remembers speaking the lines. He isn’t sure he spoke them at all. But Helena is telling them they can leave, and Sara is pulling him offstage, and David is still watching him. Saying nothing.
The next morning, he wakes up to a text from Sara.
Sara: come to the PAC
Sara: the list is up
Matteo sighs loudly. He throws on some semi-clean jeans and a black pullover. Jonas has left him a thermos of coffee on his desk. He texts him a quick thanks and heads out the door with just his keys and his phone and his headphones.
It’s a slightly chillier morning than Matteo expected, and quiet for a Saturday. He wishes he’d remembered his wallet, so he could buy himself breakfast.
He opens the door to the PAC. Nobody’s around. He walks down stairs, underground, towards their classroom. Only Sara is standing outside the door, staring at a white piece of paper taped to the door.
“Is that it?” Matteo asks.
Sara turns to face him. She watches him approach, her expression unreadable.
“Go on, look,” she says.
Matteo searches for his name on the list. He finds “Laura” next to Hamlet and “Sara” next to Rosencrantz. But besides Guildenstern is someone else’s name. Julian.
“I’m not on here,” he says. “Guess my audition was just that shitty.”
“You’re on there,” says Sara. “Look again.”
Matteo scans the names again. Finally he finds his name, close to the top of the list.
Right next to the name “Ophelia.”