Soliloquy of Swords
It was the Annual Festival of the Bard, a day made for merriment.
Under a muted grey sky, the young and old lounged on blankets and lawn chairs surrounding the stage, where star-crossed teenage thespians enacted a scene from Romeo and Juliet. Revelers cheered as they raised their goblets in a toast to life and love, seemingly oblivious to the approaching storm clouds that shifted in shape and texture like wafting smoke.
Portia paced backstage, wringing her hands. Perspiration streamed down her cheeks as the humid air engulfed her. She tugged at the neck of her costume, a tunic of gold and silver tapestry that her mother had created years before.
It was the same costume, the same crowd. The same unpredictable early October weather.
But everything was different.
For five years, she and her mother together headlined the festival with a montage of swordplay from Shakespeare’s greatest works. This time, she would take the stage alone.
She retrieved her cell phone from a pocket hidden within the tunic. Fingers trembling, Portia dialed the familiar digits, and listened.
“To beep, or not to beep, that is the question. Bequeath thy message.”
Like a flatlining pulse, the shrill tone silenced her mother’s voice. Portia hung up without saying a word, just as she did every time. It had been seven months since the accident, and the only physical remnant of Elizabeth Barrow’s existence was this voicemail greeting, so precious, so alive, so completely her.
Portia secured the phone. Two scabbards hung from the silver belt at her waist. One held her own sword; the other, her mother’s. Portia touched the tiny loop her father had soldered to the hilt decades prior, where her mother’s engagement ring once dangled – the prelude to the most perfect love story Portia ever heard.
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks but bears it out even to the edge of doom.
Portia and her parents cherished Shakespeare; rhyming games and the Noble Art of Fencing were beloved pastimes. As the world turned away from classics and toward screen time, Portia considered it her duty to preserve the heritage so ingrained in her upbringing. Tradition, her parents taught her, is what keeps humanity alive.
Portia bit her lip. She needed to get this right. For tradition. For her mother. For herself.
She stood rigid, left hand gripping the golden hilt of her mother’s sword, right wrapped around her own silver pommel. Trumpets blared, and the red velvet curtain that concealed her began to rise.
She scanned the faces in the crowd. Her father sat near the stage on a rusting metal chair, clutching her mother’s worn copy of The Complete Works of Shakespeare. He raised the book and nodded solemnly.
Portia advanced to center stage and swept both swords from their scabbards, raising them high, like eagle’s wings.
“Swordplay is commonly seen in Shakespeare’s works,” she began, “his characters often engaged in duels to settle on a point of honor, with the winner basking in the glory of victory.”
Portia lowered her arms, the swords crossed in an X across her chest. “It is also a tradition in my family, at this festival, to re-enact a duel.” She locked eyes with her father. “But, as you can see, there is only one warrior standing before you today. In honor of my mother, I present to you … A Soliloquy of Swords.”
Portia brought her arms to her sides, her muscles taut. The tips of the blades grazed the floor as she knelt, her head bowed as if in prayer.
“Death, that hath suck'd the honey of thy breath, Hath had no power yet upon thy beauty; Thou art not conquer'd.”
She rose and planted her boots firmly in combat stance: knees slightly bent, weight on her right leg, toes pointed toward the audience. She breathed in deeply.
“En garde!” Portia shouted. She lunged, extending her mother’s shining sword toward the crowd. She froze in place, then pulled the weapon back, and with a swift circular motion, presented her own sword, an extension of herself, in a perfect parry.
Portia leapt across the stage, her breath heaving as she advanced with her mother’s sword, countering each thrust with her own weapon. Lunge, parry, retreat. She sparred with the shadows, moving with the grace of a dancer as she battled her invisible opponent.
“That gallant spirit hath aspired the clouds, which too untimely here did scorn the earth,” she cried.
The crowd cheered. Her father, still clutching her mother’s book like a bible, stared in wonder. Portia saw his lower lip quiver. Thunder rumbled in the distance.
Portia raised both weapons above her, cutting the sky like lightning. Metal clanged on metal as the swords connected, forming a cross above Portia’s head.
With one swift motion, Portia sheathed both weapons and raised her hands heavenward.
Applause and thunder boomed. Along with the crowd, Portia’s father stood, cheering and weeping and grinning as heavy raindrops showered around him. “Tradition!” he shouted through the din. “Bravo!”
Another thunderclap sent the spectators scrambling, a patchwork of sopping blankets abandoned on the lawn. Portia leaned her head back, looking at the tempest swirling above, the rain mingling with tears she hadn’t realized she’d shed. She welcomed the deluge as it washed over her.
Portia dropped to her knees. She released her mother’s weapon from its sheath, feeling a tiny jolt of electricity as she touched the blade, laying it across her lap. Her fingertips caressed the cool metal; she marveled at the way the raindrops converged on the blade like jewels. The droplets shimmered, drawing light from a lone sunray that cracked through the torrent. It bathed the metal in a golden radiance.
Portia beamed as the glow kissed her cheeks.
“Things won are done,” she whispered. “Joy’s soul lies in the doing.”
Lisa Fox recently returned to creative writing after a long hiatus. She enjoys writing short fiction in all genres as well as short screenplays. For the past 18 months, she has been an active participant in the NYC Midnight creative writing competitions and was thrilled to make it to the final round of the 2017 screenplay competition.
By day, Lisa is a pharmaceutical market research professional. She holds a bachelor's degree in Journalism and a master's degree in Corporate Communication.
Lisa lives in Washington Township, NJ with her husband, two sons, and over-sized dog. When she is not working or writing, she enjoys travelling with her family and especially looks forward to their annual trip to Walt Disney World.