An Astonishing Act

What happens to an actor who can’t learn the proper lines.

4710488861_2f7fcaf2e4_b.Dave Herholz Flickr

Photo credit: Dave Herholz

The city teemed with revelers, tall torches casting dancing shadows, drunken singing echoing from every plaza.  Behind the Performers Guild stage, two oldsters watched a middle-aged man emerge from inside, fondling a giggling woman.  Re-lacing her costume, she straightened their false crowns.

“Who’s she, then?”

“Garrad’s new stage-wife.”

“What’s his real wife think of this one?”

“Jaenarra caught them yesterday, stormed off.  She might leave him this time.”

“Eh, not her style.”

The “royal couple” strutted onstage for the Ballad of the Red Cup.  Everyone drank from the cup, despite its owner warning them not to.  One by one they died, collapsing melodramatically as the audience howled.  The owner sang the chorus several times, milking the laughter.  Finally, they all stood to bow.

Except Garrad.

Garrad’s stage-wife screamed.  They were carried off—one limp, one flailing—as the next act hastily began.

In the audience, Jaenarra smiled.  As any actress knew, timing was everything.  Stupid man.  Always eying the ladies, ignoring the “boy” handing out drinks backstage.  He never learned.

Ah, well.  Too late now.

For a bonus, the last chorus of the Ballad of the Red Cup:

Fie, fie, the foulest crime, to take the cup from me

For I chose the red cup, and the red cup chose me

Inspired by this week’s Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers photo challenge.  Big thanks to Priceless Joy for hosting, and to Etol Bagam for the inspiring photo!  Click here to see the other entries, and to add one yourself.



16 thoughts on “An Astonishing Act

  1. Wonderful story Joy. I guess the “boy” backstage had a little gift for him with a dose of jealousy and as you said in the comments, the two drinks worked together to kill him, or maybe Izzy said that. Anyway, great story! Thank you for your participation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, it sounds like he’d earned that fury repeatedly over time! In the Ballad of the Red Cup, the wine supposedly tastes good but poisons anyone except the cup’s owner. But probably the people putting on the play didn’t bother using the good stuff. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love the theme of “a story within a story”. Poor Gerrard, that was one heck of a payback his wife gave him. Though, I wonder, how oblivious he was to his real wife that he didn’t recognise she was the one backstage as the boy. Great take on the prompt.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! Yeah, I think Garrad is one of those self-important men who think the world revolves around them, and can’t be bothered to notice the “little people” — unless, of course, they’re pretty young ladies. Clearly he should have been noticing how his wife felt about his cheating ways a long time ago, before it came to this!

      The Ballad of the Red Cup began as a reference in one of my (unfinished) novels, where the character sees a tavern sign featuring a red cup, and wonders whether they sing the whole song there — that is, whether the tavern wants to be associated with a ballad in which everyone gets poisoned in the end. So of course, I had to write the ballad (or most of it, at least), and then it shows up here. This is how a lot of my “legends” start out, as random off-handed comments by characters in other stories.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. What an excellent story, Joy. You’ve told it so vividly, too. The images you create stand out very claerly. Garrad certainly had it coming to him. He pushed Jaenarra just one step too far. I’ve read in above comments how you’d intended to develop the ‘poisoning’ scene (that dreaded word limit again!) but it still worked well, and left us to speculate a little.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Millie, so glad you liked it! I just remembered another poisoning detail I cut because of that dreaded word limit, about why her timing is important — that is, why poison him on stage. This world may only have medieval-level medicine, but it also has magical healers and “cure poison” potions. However, they still have to cure you *before* you die. If he’d collapsed anywhere else, like backstage, a healer might have reached him in time. But not if everyone believes he’s faking his death, while the lead of the show keeps milking the audience for more applause with one more chorus. Jaenarra was thinking ahead. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • I agree, dying on stage, with the time delay, worked really well. Medieval potions and herbal remedies could have saved him. Smart lady, Jaaenarra. Is this part of an ongoing story? I just wondered what happens to Jaenarra. Does she ever get found out over this, and punished? 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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