It all begins in the morning, when an elderly cousin calls to say how lovely you look in that photo in the newspaper…
“Oh yes,” you say. “The talk. Tonight.”
“How nice,” the cousin coos. “Shakespeare and Marlowe!”
“No, just Marlowe.”
“Well, that’s not what the paper says…”
And this is how, over tea, you find out the local newspaper messed up and announced you at the right spot – with the wrong conference… oh dear. Well, you decide after some nail-biting, after all it’s still Elizabethans. At least, no one will arrive there expecting to hear about chinchilla breeding, right?
And let us skip over the rest of the day, and the fact that you barely manage one small rehearsal between a rush to the vet, and a funeral, and a minor domestic catastrophe… By all means, let us fast-forward to the evening, when you drive yourself to the venue under the stormiest of summer skies, wondering is this going to be a monsoon, a typhoon or a tempest? But the lady who supervises the place – a beautiful 15th Century city house with a perfect tiny garden – is recklessly cheerful about it. Why don’t you do it in the garden? You point to the threatening sky, and she waves away the gathering apocalypse. It would be so much nicer to have the talk in the garden…
True, you think but don’t say, unless a storm blows us all away…
And so the garden it is, and you help moving equipment from inside to outside, all the time keeping an eye on the sulky sky. But by the time a handful of people begin to appear, it is clear that, if you are not going to have a starry night, there will be no deluge, either.
And this is good. You try your memory stick on the laptop the Optimistic Lady provided, and it all works, and people begin to crowd – a bunch of grinning pupils of yours, among others – and you start to relax, and then the Conference Loon makes her appearance. The Conference Loon is a red-headed, more than slightly deranged lady who makes it a habit to dissent from… oh, anything. She likes to go to conferences, and upbraid the speaker, or ask unrelated question, and get miffed when the answer does not satisfy her.
“Well, perhaps she won’t this time,” chirps the Optimistic Lady…
Sure, you think but do not say, because frankly, what can you do? So you begin to tell your audience about Christopher Marlowe, and discover that, while your slides work just fine, the microphone does not. It hisses badly, and you have trouble doing without, because your vocal cords are ridiculously easy to upset. So there are some comings and goings all around you, while you keep up your stream of Marlowe-related chatter, and then there is the adorable, fat, inquisitive house cat, who decides that some dancing around your ankles will greatly improve the conference – and is captured once, and twice, and keeps coming back.
“Oh, let him,” you say at last. “He clearly appreciates Kit Marlowe.”
And the audience chuckles, and even more when the cat decides to take a nap on the loud-speaker… oh well. And on you forge from Canterbury to Cambridge, to London, to Flushing, to Scadbury, to Deptford, while all listen in what you feel would be presumptuous to call “spellbound attention”, but well… And oh, how you like applause. Which is why you forget the enemy is sitting in the back row.
“Any questions?” you ask, catching too late the panicked look in the Optimistic Lady’s eyes. Ops…
And sure as death, after one innocuous question about companies touring abroad, the Conference Loon raises her hand. She has a question.
“I don’t know if it is relevant, but what about John Donne?”
“I’m in love with John Donne.”
“Er… yes. But I’m not sure I understand your question,” you try.
“Is he Marlowe’s contemporary?”
“A little less than a decade younger.”
“And is he influenced by Marlowe and the other writers before him?”
“Well… Nobody writes in a vacuum, you know, no writer is an island…”
“And what I want to know is–” she is beginning to grow noisy and very red in the face, so you jump in with the tale of Donne’s answer to Marlowe’s Come live with me and be my love, and it is an inspired move. She must not have known this particular poem, because she is momentarily silenced – long enough for the Optimistic Lady to regain control of the situation, and send the audience their separate ways until August 20, when you are to give another talk.
Diffused, the Conference Loon briefly compliments you. She loves Donne, you know – and no one knows a thing about him.
“With the obvious exception of Clara,” purrs the optimistic lady, clearly not new to small feuds with the Loon. There is a tense moment, killing glares are exchanged, then the Loon spins on her heel, and puffs her way out of the garden, and everyone leaves out a collectively held breath.
“She’s going to be here next month, you know?” the Optimistic Lady sighs.
You know. Of course she is. But oh well, you are happy and basking in the applause you received, and will think of the Loon, and the local newspaper, and the hissing microphones when the day comes. After all, next month is another month, right?