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If We Shadows

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Oliver doesn't come to the wedding. Geoffrey imagines him sitting in the corner, first with a glass of champagne, then with too many glasses of his favorite whiskey from the bar. Geoffrey tries to imagine Oliver looking happy for him.

Even Geoffrey's mind has limits.

He turns to kiss Ellen again, just for the hell of it. She laughs. Cyril strikes a chord on the piano. Everyone cheers. Geoffrey presses his face to Ellen's hair and is wildly happy, happier than he's ever been in his life, and Oliver's gone.


He asks her, trembling with a sort of ecstasy, in a cold and glittering backstage alley.

She says yes nine years later while dipping a red-dress curtsey for a homegrown audience, Geoffrey standing exhausted beside her, and he doesn't even notice until the following morning. Maybe it's better this way.


"Geoffrey?" Ellen ventures. She's wearing that look she gets when she's thought long and hard about something, and isn't entirely happy with her conclusions.

"Mm?" Geoffrey tries to sound supportive in the middle of a mouthful of pasta. Ellen's creative spicing is particularly delightful tonight.

"We haven't done much," says Ellen. Geoffrey contrives to look bewildered and still supportive. "I mean," says Ellen, "we've never been anything besides actors. We've never done anything but the theatre. And I'm all right with that, really, I am, but sometimes I look at everyone else and I think, my God, I never even grew up." She twirls the pasta around her fork. "And now I'm probably too old. For children, I mean."

"Oh," says Geoffrey. He's not sure whether he should be petrified.

"But I'm also too selfish," Ellen concludes with an air of despairing finality, and Geoffrey can breathe again.

"So am I," he says, and when Ellen turns to look at him her eyes are huge and pleading for an absolution she's never needed. Geoffrey smiles. "I wouldn't know how to share."


Ellen tells him. She slips into his dressing room, her hair in ringlets and her face white and beautiful above her white dress. Geoffrey's doublet is all unbraced. He gives her a smile and can see it out of the corner of his eye in the mirror: he's never looked so alive. "Third time's the charm, Ellen," he tells her, happy enough for cliché, and laughs, grabs his tangling hair to contain his thoughts. "Every time has been the charm!"

"Geoffrey," Ellen says, and he comes down enough to see she's run out of whatever joyful madness is driving him still. She takes a deep breath, and says four words. Four words. Geoffrey is an instrument of words; he knows words can move a whole mass of bodies to laughter, to a collective gasp, to unashamed tears. But it's an aesthetic, words to create something beautiful, and suddenly, Ellen says, Ellen says ...

"What," says Geoffrey.

"I slept with Oliver," Ellen repeats.

"Places in five!" comes the tinny voice over the speaker.

Geoffrey sputters. The world is slowly folding away.

"I had sex with him," Ellen adds, in this awful anxious helpful sort of voice, as though Geoffrey hasn't caught her meaning. "I mean, I'm not sure why, I just --"

"Places, Ellen," Geoffrey hears someone say, in a distant, directorial voice. Ellen's eyes go wide. She knows what she's done is terrible; that makes it worse. She rises, gathering Ophelia with her. A sprig of rosemary stays behind on the dresser, shivering a little in the breeze of her passage.

Geoffrey makes a small and quiet character choice, frozen there in the little white room and all its reflections. Ophelia has made her wantonness her ignorance; tonight Hamlet will not be merely acting a play. Oliver is always saying he wants more from Geoffrey, Geoffrey is capable of more, more. What Oliver wants, Oliver gets.

"Time is out of joint," he whispers to Hamlet in the mirror.



He meets Oliver in 1993 in a theatre bar in Ontario at the closing of a fairly shitty production of A Streetcar Named Desire. Oliver is wearing one of his habitual faintly rumpled suits. Geoffrey notices him instantly. Oliver is the first person to ever look at Geoffrey with the attitude of an entire rapt audience in one man. He won't be the last, but he's the first.

Even at the time Geoffrey recognizes the difference between artistic adoration and a simple come-on, so he lets Oliver buy him a drink and merely smiles when Oliver tells him the Stanley Kowalski was awful, dear boy, just a tragedy when he had to compete with you. He lets Oliver buy him a second drink because when Oliver asks him what else he's done and what he'd like to do, Geoffrey says "Shakespeare" and Oliver does not laugh at the pretention, looks delighted.

On the third drink Oliver finally introduces himself. "I doubt you were wondering, occupied as you are with this particular theatre, but if you're ever out of town I thought you might look me up. Oliver Welles."

Geoffrey's insides all go sliding right into some other dimension. "New Burbage," he says, in a very reasonable sort of voice. "Festival director Oliver Welles?"

"Oh good, you've heard of me," Oliver says, looking pleased in exactly the way the proverbial cat with cream would. "As I said, Geoffrey, if you're ever in New Burbage ..."

"Thank you," Geoffrey says, when all he wants to say is Take me with you, I'll go tonight. He lets Oliver pay his tab, and shakes Oliver's hand, and that night in the pathetic rundown apartment he shares with five other crazy people, Geoffrey laughs himself to sleep under the noise.

The Festival hires him that weekend.


Ellen is already there, already friends with Oliver. Oliver isn't so foolish as to cast them in alignment, but Geoffrey's trial by fire is A Winter's Tale, and he fights and laughs his way through Autolycus for Oliver's eyes until one day he sees Paulina. Their Hermione and Perdita are both very good, but Ellen's Paulina is better, full of a fierce passion that robs Geoffrey of breath every time he remembers it.

He watches Ellen the way Oliver watches him.


There are no swans in Hamlet.


Sometimes when Geoffrey laughs it creates a storm of feathers, even behind his eyes. He presses his knuckles to his forehead and breathes and breathes until the down snow melts. Days have no meaning and he speaks in blank verse. Sometimes he only remembers his lines, but no one will give him his fucking cue.

The psychiatrist -- psychotherapist? psy-something -- is an unassuming middle-aged man with infinite patience and a working knowledge of Shakespeare. He doesn't give Geoffrey cues, but he understands the verse. Geoffrey never finds out if the man had been a fan of his.


Andrew at the community church, with his children's' toys and his fold-out chair, suggests that Oliver might be Geoffrey's audience.

The really pathetic thing is that he's absolutely right.


Ellen never visits him, not once.

Oliver visits him all the time.

Geoffrey knows it isn't real because they won't allow him visitors. Oliver always wears the same clothes. The fifth time, Geoffrey says, "You're just making my sentence longer!" and Oliver looks hurt, as though it's all Geoffrey's fault.

The first time, Geoffrey screams and hits Oliver, hits him and hits him and shouts, "I hate you," and afterwards thinks in muddled horror that this is his mind trying to heal itself. The second time he does a line-through with Oliver, and Oliver gives him notes. "You sound as though you've already answered the question, Geoffrey," he says, after to be or not to be, and Geoffrey weeps uncontrollably. The third time, they just sit there. Oliver holds Geoffrey's clammy hand tight, just as he did in the few sick terrified moments before the opening of Romeo and Juliet. Geoffrey brushes his thumb over Oliver's knuckles and Oliver looks at him with the same pleading attention he always does, did, Ellen always did.

The fourth time, he kisses Geoffrey's forehead like an absolution and murmurs, "The fact of the matter is, it was just easier to get her to say yes." Geoffrey knows this.

In the aftermath, back in the wide bright world, everything inside reduces to a terrible blur. Geoffrey tries to keep it that way.


Exiled from Ellen's and hiding in a damn storage room with whimsical masks watching his every move, Geoffrey eats a plate of scrambled eggs made by a ghost and says, "Maybe I never did get better. Maybe I'm just so good I even fooled myself."

"I think that's the best any of us can hope for," Oliver observes dryly.

"A ghost capable of object manipulation made my dinner," Geoffrey says, flat. "What do I know. Maybe everyone's crazy."

Oliver eats his eggs and says nothing. Geoffrey sees himself shivering in a little room, and sees Ellen's pathetic attempt to drown herself in water six inches deep, and wonders what private hell Oliver endured for seven years before falling.

Wonders if talking to Geoffrey now with worlds between them is better or worse.


"I love you," Geoffrey says to an empty chair.


The Theatre Sans Argent makes its debut with Antony and Cleopatra, Ellen, of course, the Queen. Opening night has a full house, and Geoffrey has to take a couple of deep breaths, because this is Montreal, for fuck's sake, when did they get so famous? He slips into Ellen's dressing room and they laugh about it like giddy teenagers, five minutes to places. Ellen's eyes are dark and slanted and stunning. Geoffrey wants to kiss her and ruin the makeup.

"Maybe," Ellen says, and draws in a shaky breath. "Maybe -- Geoffrey, maybe we didn't do so bad." Behind her, photographs are tacked to her mirror: old casts, new casts, Frank, Cyril, Barbara, Kate. Snug among them is the old photo of Ellen and Geoffrey and Oliver and Yorick. Geoffrey thinks, in an electric slide of revelation: we still live in the same world.

"No, we didn't," he agrees softly, and kisses Ellen's forehead, careful not to smudge. "Go break a leg."

Left alone in the dressing room for a final moment, Geoffrey sees something move in the mirror. He thinks of shouting, or ignoring it, or wrapping himself in a protective shroud of sarcasm, or assuming he's mad. He says, still quiet, "So you're going to come to all my shows?"

"If I'm wanted."

Geoffrey meets Oliver's eyes in the mirror. "You are," he says. "Yes."