Making a Fiasco out of a Tragedy (Cecilia Peartree)
As mentioned in a previous post, in June 2022 I took part in a short story writing challenge. One of the writing prompts suggested taking inspiration from 'Romeo and Juliet'. I suppose in a way my story did that. But because I have always hated the plot for that particular Shakespeare play, with its pointless feud, silly deaths and ridiculous ending, I attempted to do what I have been ranting about the new Netflix version of 'Persuasion' for doing, and gave one of the characters some 21st century attitudes to see if that would help me come to terms with the play. And here is the result. Feel free to look away now if you love Shakespeare (actually I love all the rest of Shakespeare except this one).
Juliet and Benvolio
Juliet gave a long sigh as she came to her senses again. Now she could get on with the rest of her life, the life she planned to share with Romeo.
She struggled to sit up, and as she did so, she realised someone lay next to her, still as a statue.
‘Romeo!’ she hissed, and then continued in a voice which rose to a crescendo, ‘Wake up! I know you’re not dead. Open your eyes!’
She punched him lightly in the stomach, and he still didn’t wake up.
‘What are you playing at? If you don’t wake up right now, I’ll…’
She leaned down, close to his face and murmured, ‘You don’t want to know what I’ll do to you. But you won’t enjoy it.’
She placed her hand on his chest and waited to feel it rising and falling with his next breath.
‘For goodness’ sake!’ she muttered to herself a moment later, having felt nothing. ‘What have you done?’
It was so like a man to get a simple task completely wrong. All he had to do was to join her in the crypt and spirit her away once she came out of her trance. She knew she shouldn’t have trusted the friar to send an intelligible message, or Romeo not to get the wrong end of the stick. Whatever.
She climbed down off the plinth. She would just have to deal with the fallout from this on her own, as usual.
But there was Benvolio waiting outside, leaning casually against the wall.
‘Juliet!’ he exclaimed, his eyes lighting up. ‘You’re not dead, then?’
‘He has not been quite so fortunate.’
‘What? He’s dead?’
Ben pushed past her into the crypt and remained there for a while.
Juliet tidied herself. Sleeping for as long as she had meant her hair must be a mess. She smoothed down her dress too, although what she really needed was a complete change of clothing. A bath wouldn’t go amiss either.
Ben came out at last, his face ashen.
‘This is a dreadful day. I shall have to break the news to the rest of the family. They’re even now on their way here.’
‘On their way here?’ repeated Juliet. ‘I can’t let them see me like this!’
‘Like what?’ said Ben.
‘My hair – my dress.’
‘Your hair?’ said Ben. ‘There is nothing wrong with your hair. Or your dress. You look perfectly respectable.’
She detected censure in his tone. Did he think she should be wailing and rending her clothing? That would be all it needed to make her even less fit to be seen. No. Romeo was gone, and there was nothing to be done about that. But she could be carrying his child at this very moment, which meant she must get married to someone else as soon as she possibly could.
She fluttered her eyelashes at Ben. After all, he was Romeo’s cousin and might be willing to take on his responsibilities.
He frowned down at her. ‘Have you hurt your eyes?’
‘No!’ she snapped.
‘May I assist you to travel home?’
‘Thank you, no.’
‘Is there anything else I can do?’
She decided not to ask him to marry her yet. There could be more poisonings and stabbings to come, for all she knew. She didn’t want to lose another bridegroom. But she would work on Benvolio, and once this tricky little spell with the blood feud and the exile and so on was over, he might see his way to putting a ring on her finger.
While there’s life, there’s hope, she told herself.