Friday, March 13, 2009

Three Dead Slaves - Prologue, Part 4

Three Dead Slaves - Prologue, Part 4

There is sudden silence on the stage. None of the performers are moving; they stand as if trapped in the charged silence that always occurs before a battle is joined -- the moment when everyone on both sides holds their breath, the moment beyond which there is no retreat, only advance and charge.

The chorus of Senators begins to sing a high, piercing note. A dog howls in the little market behind the theatre. Brutus raises his sword high. Like everyone else in the audience, I expect him to make a beautifully-phrased speech about tyranny and freedom. Like everyone else in the audience, I watch open-mouthed as Brutus reaches back and hurls his bright sword like a javelin. We all gasp at the same time -- it is like no other sound I have ever heard in my life, the noise of a thousand people choking at once. The sword seems to hang in the air for an instant between Caesar and Brutus, and then it arrows into the Dictator's chest with a great thwack and an even greater gout of blood, driving him back against the throne.

I find that I am half out of my seat in astonishment, gasping for breath like the rest of the audience. My pulse is racing; my heart is hammering against my chest. Part of me is convinced that I have just seen a man die, even though another part of me knows that I am watching a play, that the actor playing Caesar is still alive, that the blood is pig’s blood concealed in a bladder beneath his toga, and that the piercing blow is just another illusion. But what a powerful illusion -- powerful enough to make a liar out of my better judgment.

Brutus turns to us and clutches his toga with his left hand while his right arm points to the sky. "Sic semper tyrannus!" he cries, and the audience bursts into spontaneous applause. I confess that I am clapping wildly with the rest of them, shaking my head all the while. Everyone in the theater is cheering. The din is tremendous.

I glance down at my son, to see that he is closely studying my expression. For a brief moment it is like the clashing of two swords -- he tries to draw blood; I try to defend myself -- and then I lower my guard. "Amazing," I declare. "You must remind me to compliment the author."

Ptolemy Alexandros has the decency to blush. I reach down and ruffle his hair, the way I used to when he was a boy, and I think of my father. My father never ruffled my hair. He only touched me twice in his entire life. So naturally I have grown into an old man who believes that the one thing a son needs from his father is a lot of hair-ruffling. Not surprisingly, my son regards it as a deliberate reminder that in his father's eyes, he will never be more than a child. And when he has a son, he will barely touch him. And the next cycle of well-meant misunder­standing will begin.

Mindful of my son's displeasure, I do nothing until the noise has died down and everyone has returned to their seats. I wait until the final scene has begun, and Brutus and the Chorus share a brief and ironic dialogue about the future of Rome. According to them, because of this day's work, a new Rome will rise like a phoenix from Caesar's funeral pyre -- a very un-Roman image which points forward to the next play in my son's trilogy, The Revenge of Caesar, in which Antonius and Octavianus pledge to avenge the Dictator by killing his assassins. A new Rome rose up, all right; but it was not a phoenix. It was a ravening wolf.

I glance at Ptolemy Alexandros. Because he is my son, I nod my head and say: "Well done. Well done." And because I am his father, I bite my tongue and stifle the overwhelming urge to add: "But you forgot the three dead slaves."

Thankfully, I catch myself in time, and the words die in my throat. The last thing I need to see right now is my son's crestfallen face as I express my paternal admiration by saying in effect: "You may be able to create, but you don't know all the boring facts, like I do. Facts like, for instance, those three dead slaves."

[ -- to be concluded]

Previous excerpts:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

copyright 2009 Matthew J Wells

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