Hag-Seed (Hogarth Shakespeare)


by Margaret Atwood

ONSCREEN: A hand-printed sign, held up to the camera by Announcer, wearing a short purple velvet cloak. In his other hand, a quill.

SIGN: A SUDDEN TEMPEST

ANNOUNCER: What you’re gonna see, is a storm at sea:

Winds are howlin’, sailors yowlin’,

Passengers cursin’ ’em, ’cause it gettin’ worse:

Gonna hear screams, just like a ba-a-d dream,

But not all here is what it seem,

Just sayin’.

Grins.

Now we gonna start the playin’.

He gestures with the quill. Cut to: Thunder and lightning, in funnel cloud, screengrab from the Tornado Channel. Stock shot of ocean waves. Stock shot of rain. Sound of howling wind.

Camera zooms in on a bathtub-toy sailboat tossing up and down on a blue plastic shower curtain with fish on it, the waves made by hands underneath.

Closeup of Boatswain in a black knitted tuque. Water is thrown on him from offscreen. He is drenched.

BOATSWAIN: Fall to’t yarely, or we run ourselves aground! Bestir, bestir!

Yare! Yare! Beware! Beware!

Let’s just do it,

Better get to it,

Trim the sails,

Fight the gales,

Unless you wantin’ to swim with the whales!

VOICES OFF: We’re all gonna drown!

BOATSWAIN: Get outta tha’ way! No time for play!

A bucketful of water hits him in the face.

VOICES OFF: Listen to me! Listen to me!

Don’t you know we’re royalty?

BOATSWAIN: Yare! Yare! The waves don’t care!

The wind is roarin’, the rain is pourin’,

All you do is stand and stare!

VOICES OFF: You’re drunk!

BOATSWAIN: You’re a idiot!

VOICES OFF: We’re doomed!

VOICES OFF: We’re sunk!

Closeup of Ariel in a blue bathing cap and iridescent ski goggles, blue makeup on the lower half of his face. He’s wearing a translucent plastic raincoat with ladybugs, bees, and butterflies on it. Behind his left shoulder there’s an odd shadow. He laughs soundlessly, points upward with his right hand, which is encased in a blue rubber glove. Lightning flash, thunderclap.

VOICES OFF: Let’s pray!

BOATSWAIN: What’s that you say?

VOICES OFF: We’re goin’ down! We’re gonna drown!

Ain’t gonna see the King no more!

Jump offa the ship, swim for the shore!

Ariel throws his head back and laughs with delight. In each of his blue rubber hands he’s holding a high-powered flashlight, in flicker mode.

The screen goes black.

A VOICE FROM THE AUDIENCE: What?

ANOTHER VOICE: Power’s off.

ANOTHER VOICE: Must be the blizzard. A line down somewhere.

Total darkness. Confused noise from outside the room. Yelling. Shots are fired.

A VOICE FROM THE AUDIENCE: What’s going on?

VOICES, FROM OUTSIDE THE ROOM: Lockdown! Lockdown!

A VOICE FROM THE AUDIENCE: Who’s in charge here?

Three more shots.

A VOICE, FROM INSIDE THE ROOM: Don’t move! Quiet! Keep your heads down! Stay right where you are.

Felix brushes his teeth. Then he brushes his other teeth, the false ones, and slides them into his mouth. Despite the layer of pink adhesive he’s applied, they don’t fit very well; perhaps his mouth is shrinking. He smiles: the illusion of a smile. Pretense, fakery, but who’s to know?

Once he would have called his dentist and made an appointment, and the luxurious faux-leather chair would have been his, the concerned face smelling of mint mouthwash, the skilled hands wielding gleaming instruments. Ah yes, I see the problem. No worries, we’ll get that fixed for you. Like taking his car in for a tuneup. He might even have been graced with music on the earphones and a semi-knockout pill.

But he can’t afford such professional adjustments now. His dental care is low-rent, so he’s at the mercy of his unreliable teeth. Too bad, because that’s all he needs for his upcoming finale: a denture meltdown. Our revelth now have ended. Theeth our actorth…Should that happen, his humiliation would be total; at the thought of it even his lungs blush. If the words are not perfect, the pitch exact, the modulation delicately adjusted, the spell fails. People start to shift in their seats, and cough, and go home at intermission. It’s like death.

“Mi-my-mo-moo,” he tells the toothpaste-speckled mirror over the kitchen sink. He lowers his eyebrows, juts out his chin. Then he grins: the grin of a cornered chimpanzee, part anger, part threat, part dejection.

How he has fallen. How deflated. How reduced. Cobbling together this bare existence, living in a hovel, ignored in a forgotten backwater; whereas Tony, that self-promoting, posturing little shit, gallivants about with the grandees, and swills champagne, and gobbles caviar and larks’ tongues and suckling pigs, and attends galas, and basks in the adoration of his entourage, his flunkies, his toadies…

Once the toadies of Felix.

It rankles. It festers. It brews vengefulness. If only…

Enough. Shoulders straight, he orders his gray reflection. Suck it up. He knows without looking that he’s developing a paunch. Maybe he should get a truss.

Never mind! Reef in the stomach! There’s work to be done, there are plots to be plotted, there are scams to be scammed, there are villains to be misled! Tip of the tongue, top of the teeth. Testing the tempestuous teapot. She sells seashells by the seashore.

There. Not a syllable fluffed.

He can still do it. He’ll pull it off, despite all obstacles. Charm the pants off them at first, not that he’d relish the resulting sight. Wow them with wonder, as he says to his actors. Let’s make magic!

And let’s shove it down the throat of that devious, twisted bastard, Tony.

That devious, twisted bastard, Tony, is Felix’s own fault. Or mostly his fault. Over the past twelve years, he’s often blamed himself. He gave Tony too much scope, he didn’t supervise, he didn’t look over Tony’s nattily suited, padded, pinstriped shoulder. He didn’t pick up on the clues, as anyone with half a brain and two ears might have done. Worse: he’d trusted the evil-hearted, social-clambering, Machiavellian foot-licker. He’d fallen for the act: Let me do this chore for you, delegate that, send me instead. What a fool he’d been.

His only excuse was that he’d been distracted by grief at that time. He’d recently lost his only child, and in such a terrible way. If only he had, if only he hadn’t, if only he’d been aware…

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