[an opera novella]
[written as Daphne]
“Costui mi piace, sarebbe bella che così
non volendo avesse a innamorarmi;
ma che dico, che mi viene in pensiero?”
(Mozart, La finta giardiniera)
The next morning, Myka is up half an hour early and adds an extra round to her running routine. The light is bright enough to make her squint even at this early hour and the ground under her soles resounds with weeks of dryness along its creeks. Still, she would be content to run another round, and yet another, anything to keep moving and focus on her breathing instead of having to think. But she needs her energy for the rehearsal day ahead, so she consciously slows down a little and feels the dust she is whirling up brush against her shins.
She does not see Sam, not even on her way back in, although she lingers while she stretches. She is equal parts disappointed and relieved. It is only on her way to the showers, when she takes the shortcut through one of the men’s floors, that she runs into one of her colleagues.
It is Kelly, who catches Myka just in front of Pete’s door, where she is debating whether she should knock. She would like to talk, but she does not know how last night’s gaming duel has ended and she is getting enough of an eyeful of Amanda during costume fittings as it is.
“Looking for the team?” Kelly suggests and her tone is all wink and nudge.
Myka ignores it. “Yes, where is everyone? – I didn’t want to have breakfast alone –”
“Let’s see. “Kelly holds up a hand and ticks off her fingers. “Todd, wardrobe department. Bennet, wardrobe assistant. Sam, treadmill. You, outdoors. Helena is already at it with Abigail, and where Amanda is, I have no idea.”
An image of Helena and Abigail at the beach flashes through Myka’s mind, skin and sunscreen. She presses her lips together. Then she gives Kelly a curious look. “And how do you know all that?”
“I’m nosy.” Kelly’s grin is entirely unapologetic. “Also, I was up even earlier than you.”
“And where’s Pete?” Myka asks.
Kelly claps her on the shoulder in walking past. “Nice try, Bering.”
It is only when Myka is rinsing shampoo out of her hair that she asks herself what Kelly has been doing on the men’s floor.
Pete, as it turns out, is seated in front of two breakfast plates when Myka walks into the dining hall, her hair still a little damp. He is having breakfast with Claudia, who at this hour is usually already on her way to prep the morning rehearsal. Myka is about to pull up a chair when she hears them argue.
“I’m serious, Pete. Don’t mess up my production! Did you forget about last year?”
“With you telling me every other day? As if!” Pete says and he is sulking. “And nothing would have happened if everyone else had been equally cool with her playing ‘many little Papagenas’ with a few more Papagenos. – I didn’t start the trouble.”
Claudia throws up her hands. “What’s it with you and my singers, anyway? – I don’t want you playing games with them.”
“Literally?” Pete asks and Claudia groans.
“Literally. Metaphorically. Any way there is.”
“You cannot take away the Xbox!” Pete crosses his arms over his chest.
Claudia turns her coffee cup around on the saucer in circles. “But I could take away the soprano.”
Pete grins and shakes his head. “Good luck trying to get Amanda away from the gaming controls. She is fierce.”
“Please tell me we are still talking on a literal level,” Claudia mutters.
“The gaming controls. And pizza,” Pete says happily. “You do not want to get into it with her over the last slice of pizza.”
Claudia sighs. “That’s the problem. You two are pretty much a match made in heaven, which is why things could really go south if they blow up. – She is my lead, Pete.”
Pete’s smile is fading and now he looks bedraggled. It is the most vulnerable Myka has seen him yet, and she steps in before she can think better of it. “Or it could work out really well.”
“Not you, too.” Claudia side-eyes Myka. “Because that Xbox is one thing, but I don’t need complaints about petit Pete on my schedule!”
“You won’t hear any,” Amanda says easily from behind them. “Not from me, at least.” She has stopped at their table on her way from the breakfast buffet, a cup and saucer balanced in her hand, and when it comes to a quiet, soft-soled approach, she would make a good Assistant Director, too.
Claudia sputters around a sip of coffee and then she is coughing for long seconds. Myka is surprised to see Pete look bashful.
Amanda eyes Pete’s plates. “I might file complaints against big Pete here, though. He is hoarding all the breakfast bacon.” With that, she reaches over with her fork.
“But I am hungry!” Pete protests, even as he makes no motion to stop Amanda.
“Well, trombone, you’re not the only one who —“
“No. No.” Claudia has stopped coughing and now she is sticking her fingers into her ears. “I did not hear this. I am not hearing any of this.”
“I could do a da capo,” Amanda offers smoothly. Pete snickers. “And if you’re worried I might sprain something, simply tell Nielsen to reconsider the acrobatics at the end of Act I.”
Amanda takes a dainty bite of her captured bacon. “And on that note, I am off to revise.”
“And I am off to improvise,” Claudia grumbles. She punches Pete in the shoulder as she leaves, but it is an affectionate gesture.
Pete gestures at the vacant chair and points his fork at Myka. “If you’re not stealing my bacon, have a seat.”
“You let Amanda steal your bacon,” Myka says as she sits down. “So how did the rematch go last night?”
“I won. She sulked.” Pete digs into his bacon. “And then we had pizza.” He looks at Myka and whispers. “She orders extra large. With double cheese. She is perfect.”
“And then you decided to burn off the dinner again, is that it?” Myka asks. “Or what is going on?”
“I don’t know,” Pete admits. “It’s not like we really talked. Well, other than insulting each other’s game moves. And then fighting over the last slice of pizza.”
“But you like her,” Myka says.
Pete rolls his eyes. “Do you have eyes?”
“But that’s not why you like her,” Myka says.
Pete tries to look indifferent for about a second. “True,” he admits then.
“So perhaps you two should talk,” Myka suggests. “Ask her out.”
“And if she does not want to talk? Or go out? I don’t want to jinx it.– A pair of remotes and pizza, that’s fine. That’s more than fine.”
“But perhaps you –“
“Ah-ah.” Pete holds up a hand. “You know, I’m not sure I’ll take dating advice from someone who went out with a tenor.”
“It was just sightseeing,” Myka says, but she does not look him in the eye.
Pete gives her his best arch look. “Riiight.”
Myka sighs. “He kissed me.”
Pete is leaning forward on his elbows. “Aaand?”
“What, and?” Myka straightens in her seat. “Nothing! Not everyone fast forwards three dates with a remote control!”
“Two gaming duels are completely valid as first dates,” Pete says. “Plus a large pizza order: three. – But don’t think you can distract me. He kissed you?”
“Yes,” Myka says and she looks left and right whether someone is overhearing them.
Pete looks at her expectantly.
“What?” Myka asks.
“Well, did you kiss him back?”
“Yes,” Myka says hastily, and then, a little louder, “Yes.”
Pete holds up his hands. “You don’t need to convince me.”
“Lattimer, off we go!”
One of Pete’s trombone colleagues is standing in the door, instrument case in hand.
“Damn,” Pete quickly scoops up some more bacon and eggs as he stands. “Just as it was getting interesting.” He waves at Myka on his way out. “Mm’ant details mm’ight!”
Myka is not sure whether the state of details will still be the same by nightfall; both Sam and Myka herself are slated for the first part of the morning rehearsal with several scenes from the Second Act and they should talk to each other.
Sam, however, is nowhere in sight when Myka arrives, and he is usually the next on set after her. Bennet walks in next, as does Kelly, and then Helena arrives with Abigail in tow, when Nielsen is just about to call to the stage.
“Myka, Sam, Kelly!”
“Sam’s at the ENT, getting a hay fever prescription,” Claudia says from where she is hunched over the prompt book. “Should be here in an hour.”
Once again, Myka is both relieved and disappointed, even though she does not want to be either.
“Fantastic,” Nielsen bites out. “Couldn’t he have done that yesterday afternoon?”
Claudia shakes her head. “Mandated group activity. Plus he was fine at the seaside.”
“Seaside,” Nielsen grumbles. “What are we doing, Rusalka?! – We bump up the beginning of Act Two, then. – Myka, Helena! Or does any of you two have hay fever, too?”
“No,” Myka says.
“If it were contagious,” Helena mutters under her breath, half glancing at Myka and Myka wants to kick her in the shins of her rehearsal riding boots. Instead she reminds herself that she is a professional and squares her shoulders. She does not enjoy getting scene changes sprung on her, and she did not prepare for dealing with Helena first thing in the morning.
“This should be a walk in the park: you two are fighting,” Nielsen announces while the wardrobe intern fits Myka with a fencing epée and a pair of gloves. “Within the scene.”
“We need to build up to the duel challenge in the Act Finale, Myka, so the fencing comes in here already,” Claudia explains. “Just think of it as Ramiro’s favorite sport.”
“Favorite sport.” Myka nods, and shifts the weapon in her grasp until the balance feels right.
“You want to talk to her,” Nielsen says to Myka and points at Helena. “And she doesn’t. – Give it a go.”
There is just one thin chord by Abigail, and Myka chases after Helena across the stage. “Don’t run away from me, you cruel, ungrateful woman. Stop!”
The phrase rings a little close to home, but before Myka can dwell on that, Helena stops and turns around to glare at Myka, who cannot shake the sensation of being pinned in place anymore than the suddenly quicker rhythm of her pulse. Helena has not looked at her – really looked at her – in two days, Myka realizes, not since they have fought over Pete’s Xbox duel, and the gaze hits her like a jolt.
“What do you allow yourself?” Helena’s Arminda is very cold and poised. “What do you want from me? What do you hope to gain?”
And Myka is stupidly angry, at Arminda, at Helena, at the entire situation. “What I want? What I hope to gain? How can you even still look me in the eye?!” She draws her shoulders back, and the rehearsal lights glint off her weapon. “If I had known that you were the niece of the Podestà, I would have spared you my sight and the embarrassment!”
It should not feel so satisfying to yell at Helena, who remains perfectly calm.
“But if fate doesn’t want me to be with you…”
Helena manages to make it sound both pitying and bemused and it riles Myka up even more.
“Oh, that’s too lazy as an excuse!” Her frustration pours into Ramiro’s. “It’s your pride, your vanity, your wish to climb up the social ladder…”
“Stop!” Nielsen calls. “That’s just one register. It needs to be more layered!”
“Everyone back into their corner, cue Round Two!” Bennet says under his breath, but it is still loud enough to be heard around the stage. There are some chuckles, though Nielsen ignores him.
“Remember, you two used to be a couple. And by the end of the opera, the audience has to believe that you’re willing to be a couple again.”
“Marvelous.” Helena says dryly.
“Then make it marvelous,” Nielsen says impatiently. “Again!”
Myka walks off the stage, waits for the chord that Abigail plays, and then throws open the door that is the lone set piece already in place to the side. Helena is now perched against the table in the center of the stage, pretending to leaf through a paper – “Wedding magazines!” Claudia supplies – and then being startled by Myka’s appearance.
“Don’t run away from me –“
“Stop!” Nielsen orders and Myka releases her breath in one slow exhale.
“Myka –“ In two steps, Nielsen is on stage next to her. “Good impulse for the spacing, but how do you know Arminda is in here? She’s been here for a while, if she is reading, and if she can be startled.”
“I don’t know.” Myka runs a hand through her hair. Helena is still leaning against the table and she is now crossing her legs and Myka looks at the tiny houndstooth pattern on her riding pants and feels exhausted. “But I don’t see Ramiro chasing her with an epée through the entire mansion. Even though he might want to.” She glances over at Helena. “Belfiore is the one with the grey lines when it comes to women and violence. Ramiro should appeal to Arminda as different.”
Nielsen nods slowly. “Good point. Show it to me.”
Myka walks back offstage, sets her stance. “Can I get a few more seconds here?”
Nielsen motions at Abigail to wait, and Myka makes her entrance, and she carries her weapon as if she just walked off a training piste. She gestures as if she sets down a sports bag and Abigail improvises a few light chords. Only when Myka looks up, she segues into the recitative, and now Myka is hurrying towards a startled Helena, who begins to back away.
She tries it more softly this time. “Don’t run away from me…”
It comes out whiny to her own ears. Helena looks unimpressed, and Nielsen calls for yet another stop.
“Your cue to say ‘this does not work’,” Myka quips as she stands next to Helena.
“It is not nearly as amusing when you say it first,” Helena says, and she is not smiling.
“This is the first time we see these two characters alone,” Nielsen tries to impress onto them. “And we need to see something of their story as a couple in this scene.”
Myka worries at her lip. “What if Arminda sees him first?” she asks. “I walk in, and she sees me before I see her?”
Helena stands. “Make some fencing noises outside,” she says to Myka and there is the familiar focus in her stance.
“Do we have another blade?” Nielsen asks into the room. “Intern?”
“Nick!” Claudia thrusts a bent sports epée at the baffled intern and pushes him towards the stage. “Go with Myka and try not to get skewered.”
They are staging a training duel, offstage and out of sight, and Myka makes sure that there is a good amount of clang and rasp of metal. She keeps an eye on the stage where now Helena pretends to enter, from the other side. She stops, seemingly recognizing something in the sounds, and then she walks at a slightly quicker pace to the sideline where later, on the real stage, there will be a wall and a window.
Abigail fashions a little entr’acte from Myka’s first aria as Helena pretends to gaze out of the window, unobserved, and watch her former lover train. She allows herself a wistful smile and her eyes actually follow Myka’s moves as she and Nick pretend to fence. Myka is suddenly grateful that there are only marked lines on the floor because like this, she can see what Helena is doing, who suddenly freezes and steps back, as if Myka has seen her.
It is an even better twist on her idea, Myka has to admit as she takes her cue and hurries onstage again, now prompted by Arminda herself.
“Don’t run away from me –“
It’s stronger again, but now Ramiro has a reason to be both angry and hopeful.
“Better!” Nielsen confirms from the sidelines and motions at them to continue. “You are fighting, but there also needs to be chemistry!”
Myka yells “Stop!” again, but now Helena stops abruptly, whirls around and is suddenly very close to Myka.
“What do you allow yourself?” Now Helena says it slowly, and then she slides onto the table at her back and crosses her legs. “What do you want from me? What do you hope to gain?”
“Wha-what I want? What I hope to gain?” Ramiro’s stutter is only half-acted, and Helena’s hand comes up, moves along Myka’s shoulder, her neck.
“But if fate doesn’t want me to be with you…”
It is a murmur, intimate, with Arminda being caught up in the moment. Myka pushes away that hand more forcefully than necessary.
“Oh, that’s too lazy as an excuse! – It’s your pride, your vanity, your wish to climb up the social ladder –”
“Myka, less anger!” Nielsen interrupts again. “It needs to be more layered, they are sharing a moment here.”
“Well, am I mad or am I not?” Myka asks curtly.
“Both,” Nielsen says. “There is no easy answer.”
Myka does not need ‘easy’, but she would appreciate ‘clear’.
“Start again with your first phrase!” Behind Nielsen, Nick breathes a sigh of relief. Only then Myka realizes that everyone else is quiet, and focused on the stage.
Helena does need no clear direction, apparently, and when she asks again, “What do you allow yourself?” it is the perfect mix of arrogant and seductive.
“What I want? What I hope to gain?” Myka tries to inject some confidence into her words, but they come out frustrated and raw. Nielsen seems to like it, though, since he does not interrupt the scene again.
“But if fate doesn’t want me to be with you…”
Helena’s tone is intimate and a little teasing, and she leans in while her hand wanders along Myka’s shoulder.
“Oh, that’s too lazy as an excuse!” And perhaps that is the mixture of hurt and anger Nielsen has been looking for all along. “It’s your pride, your vanity, your wish to climb up the social ladder that made you reject my love! But heaven, by which you swore your love to me so many times, heaven will avenge me!”
“That’s going too far!” Helena suddenly has her hand around the hilt of the epée. They grapple with each other for a tense few moments, then Myka steps back, allows Helena to point the tip at her chest.
“It’s true.” It is not arrogant now, just honest and Myka has to admit again that Helena is very good with detail. “I cheated on you, I betrayed you.” Helena lets the weapon trace a little pattern across Myka’s chest, and Myka swallows reflexively. “I admit my fault.” Then, in a blink, Helena breaks the moment and tosses the epée back at Myka. “But I can’t bring myself to regret it. My Count is just too handsome…”
“Oh, don’t rub that hated rival in my face!” Myka clenches her fists, rooted to the spot as she yells. “And you won’t get to laugh about my pain. He’s not worthy of you, and I will go after him!” She stands for a moment longer, then she storms offstage.
It is quiet in the room for a long moment after that.
“Very good,” Nielsen finally allows. “Save for the end. That last bit, Myka, it’s not dynamic enough. It needs another register, not just yelling, not after the scope you two just made visible.”
That is the thing closest to praise Nielsen has said to her yet and Myka is hung up on it for a second.
“Why don’t you make it more physical?” Helena suggests. “Slam me against the wall, after I taunt you like that.”
Myka shakes her head. “I don’t want him to be that kind of guy.”
“Yes, God forbid there was a moment of uncontrolled passion in your life,” Helena says archly and Myka really contemplates kicking her in the shins now.
“He loves her,” she says. “And he’s a gentleman, despite of how she’s treated him.”
“But he still wants me,” Helena says. “So much that you can’t take it any longer here. I know how to push your buttons.” She leans back against the wall then and looks up at Myka, who suddenly feels uncomfortable with Nielsen hovering just out of reach. “Perhaps I want you to,” Helena suggests in a low tone, as if Nielsen were not there at all, and Myka thinks that the setting should be a noir movie instead of the 1920s. “And I know you want to.”
“I don’t like the message that sends,” Myka says stiffly. She takes a step back and Helena is still leaning against the wall as if she is waiting for something. “That’s dubious consent at best!”
“Well, life’s messy, at best!” Helena says with exasperation. “‘Dubious consent’, are you sure Ramiro isn’t a lawyer?”
“Perhaps he is,” Myka says testily.
“He probably is,” Nielsen agrees.
Helena crosses her arms over her chest and now her gaze is derisive. “Unless he is also a little passionate, I do not see myself ending up with him.”
“It’s not his fault if you prefer jerks who do not respect your space,” Myka says hotly.
“Oh please,” Helena scoffs. “Nobody goes to the opera to see people respect each others’ spaces!”
“Ladies –“ Nielsen tries to get a word in.
“What?” Helena whips around. “The genre is no PSA against gender violence!”
“Well, it is scenes like that which keep making them necessary!” Myka insists.
Before Helena can answer, Nielsen holds up a hand.
“The whole scene again,” he orders. “Myka, just look at the impulse in that moment, and see where it takes you. Also, keep in mind that you are declaring here already that you want to go after Belfiore. It needs to stick with people that you want him out of the picture.”
“By what, seducing him?” Helena says with a little sneer and she is too far away for Myka to reach her shins. She pushes past Helena as she stalks off the stage to her mark.
“Round Three,” Bennet comments, but this time, nobody laughs.
Once more, it is Helena gazing at her through the window, Helena standing too close, Helena sitting on the table, her hand smoothing along Myka’s shoulder. It is a teasing push-and-pull, although Myka still wants to kick Helena and when they struggle for the weapon, it goes on for long seconds, grappling for real, and then the metal tip is once more circling across Myka’s chest, lower than before.
“My Count is just too handsome…”
It rings of a sing-song taunt, and Myka allows herself to let loose.
“Oh, don’t rub that hated rival in my face!” They are standing close to the wall and Myka slams her hand against it, effectively trapping Helena, who looks up at her and then she is making a minuscule movement with her torso, a small slide against the wall that evokes things far different than kicking her in the shins. “And you won’t get to laugh about my pain,” Myka soldiers on after a long moment. “He’s not worthy of you, and I will go after him!”
She pushes away from Helena and as she walks offstage, she is still fuming, but the scene feels right.
Helena waits a second longer before she continues and when Myka looks at her from the sidestage, she sees Helena draw a breath that is not entirely steady.
“And yet I feel sorry for him. I know he is right to blame me… But the arrow does not return to the bow: I agreed to marry the Count, be it a whim, or be it fate.”
“Done!” Nielsen declares into the silence. “Claudia, write that down to a t. And I don’t care if you have to make them start a fight every time before the scene, I want it exactly like this.” To the entire room, he says, “Coffee break!”
Myka heads for a tea after Helena and her cup of coffee have moved to the piano, and to Abigail.
“Tough rehearsal up there, huh?”
Myka turns around to face Sam, who smiles at her a little nervously. “I caught the back end of the scene. Lots of tension.”
Myka nods, and they have not even said hello. Sam seems to remember that, too, so he leans in to kiss her cheek. After a second, Myka decides she should do the same, and moves to kiss his cheek in return.
“Are you all right?” she asks then. “Your throat?”
“Everything covered,” Sam says and he holds up a small plastic satchel with a pharmacy logo. “Oh, and I have something for you!” He carefully draws a concert ticket out of his pocket and hands it to Myka. “With thanks for the sightseeing tour yesterday.”
On the piano, Helena loudly clanks a spoon against her cup, even though Myka knows for a fact that she drinks her coffee black.
Sam points at the lettering on the ticket. “It’s for my concert recital next week. Top seat in the front row – I made some use of my management contacts to get one for you…”
“Thank you,” Myka says, but then Claudia comes over to brief Sam on the setting for his next scene, and Myka drinks her tea. She can take her time because she is not on right after the break, so she sips her tea and watches Helena effortlessly slip back into the moment they just left.
“And yet I feel sorry for him. I know he is right to blame me… But the arrow does not return to the bow: I agreed to marry the Count, be it a whim, or be it fate.”
It is longing and tender even while it is defiant and Myka still cannot pinpoint how Helena does it.
Sam walks onto stage, restless, without seeing Arminda.
“I’m desperate! Since I’ve seen Sandrina, I know no more peace…”
Helena’s head snaps up as if she is an animal that has been lying in wait and Myka straightens in her seat. ‘No more peace’ should be a warning for the scene. It is suddenly heavy with a tension that stretches far into the small audience.
“Since I’ve seen Sandrina, I know no more peace,” Helena mocks Sam, and every time Nielsen interrupts them or has them start again, her posture becomes more aggressive.
Bennet does not announce any boxing rounds when Helena corners Sam against the table, pushes him onto it and straddles him in ire, a hand at his throat.
“Again,” Nielsen orders.
“And make sure she doesn’t kill him,” Bennet mutters next to Myka.
Sam is backing away from Helena now, breaking into a run as she chases him. “Good, use the space!” Nielsen interjects, but Helena does not acknowledge him. Once more, she pins Sam to the table and suddenly, she has Myka’s weapon from the previous scene in her hand, threatening a disheveled Sam as she launches into her aria for the second time. She does not mark.
“I want to punish you, you unworthy man. I want to rip out your heart!”
It is tiptoeing the edge of being too much, but it is riveting. Myka involuntarily holds her breath.
Helena pushes forward as Sam tries to scramble away, teetering dangerously close to the edge for a second, and then the table cannot withstand the uneven balance any longer and topples over, sending both Sam and Helena crashing to the floor. Sam manages to roll and cover while Helena, the epée still in her grasp, lands on her arm. There is a loud splitting sound and the upper half of the blade skitters across the stage floor. Abigail withdraws her hands from the keys.
“Oh, bloody hell.” Helena cradles her right wrist to her.
“Please don’t write this version down,” Sam says as he sits up gingerly and eyes the weapon and the upended table.
“Are you both all right?” Claudia is already onstage, checking for damage to personnel and equipment. “Helena, do you need to have that checked out?”
Helena waves her off. “No, I’m fine.” She takes a deep breath, sits back on her haunches and stands. “Let’s go on, the energy was good just now.”
Sam nods somewhat shakily. “Could we move the action from the table to the floor, though?”
“Let’s give it a try,” Helena agrees, but when she reaches down to pick up the now shorter epée, she uses her left hand.
“Abigail, from the start,” Nielsen says. “And Wells, don’t even think about using that sword. I don’t want to cast a new tenor tomorrow.”
“Fine,” Helena tosses the broken weapon to the side and waves for a new one. Nick hurries onstage with a replacement, brushing against Helena’s arm in his haste, and Helena is not quick enough to hide her wince.
“Stop,” Claudia declares. “Helena, that doesn’t look okay. – Also, Sam, let me see your knees. You’re limping.”
“Great, let’s reduce the cast,” Nielsen grumbles, while Nick scrambles for the First Aid kit. “It’s not like I need my rehearsal hours!”
“You need this soprano for another couple of weeks, so we need to make sure she is all right,” Claudia says while she checks out the wrist of an impatient Helena, and then begins to cut band-aid strips for Sam’s scraped knees. “He’ll be fine in a minute. But she needs to get that checked out.”
“No,” Helena says.
“Now’s not the time for stubborn bravado, Wells,” Claudia says and her tone is decisive. “We still need you tomorrow, and for a few more weeks after that.” She looks over her shoulder at Nielsen. “Artie, you don’t need her for the next scene – the aria is as good as set, you’ve got Bennet, Sam, Kelly and Todd…”
“But I need you here,” Nielsen says. “Send Nick to the doctor with her.”
“It’s Saturday, Artie.” Claudia puts disinfectant on Sam’s knees. “They need to head to the ER.” She looks over at Nick, who eyes her with trepidation. “Also, if you send Nick, you better hope there are some smelling salts at hand.” She shakes her head and then points at Myka across the room. “You take her, Bering.”
“What?” Myka says, and “What?” Helena echoes.
“You’re the only other one around here who speaks decent French,” Claudia says. “And Artie does not need you for the next couple of scenes.”
“I don’t need a doctor,” Helena insists, even though she looks a little pale.
“You need to be less stubborn,” Myka says as she walks over.
“You’ll need a doctor when she is through with you,” Claudia mutters while she puts Helena’s wrist in a makeshift sling. To Myka, she says. “Try not to kill her, will you?”
“How could I?” Myka says. “She just broke my weapon!”
“As if that would stop you,” Claudia says. “I’ll call you a cab.”
Myka is considering wringing Helena’s neck with her bare hands as they wait for the cab, as Helena is silent and looks pointedly into any direction but at Myka. Myka still has managed to change, at least, but Helena is standing there in her houndstooth riding costume and her boots in the mid-day sun.
“We do not have to make conversation, you know,” Myka says and she sounds as grumpy as she feels. “It might be a few long waiting hours, but I’ll be happy to preserve my voice.”
“As if you would need to,” Helena scoffs.
Myka catches herself before she can clench her hands into fists. “I beg your pardon?!”
But just then, the cab is rolling up and they find themselves in the backseat in tense silence. Helena wants to pay as they arrive at the hospital, but she struggles to open her purse with her injured wrist, so Myka hands over the money and holds the car door for Helena, who has her lips pressed into a thin line and Myka realizes that she really is in pain.
“Thank you for taking me,” Helena says next to her as they wait for the administrative nurse to process Helena’s British insurance card.
The phrase echoes in Myka’s ears and for a moment, she is back an hour ago, with her hand on the wall and Helena trapped against her body, doing that small motion with her torso.
Myka clears her throat. “It’s not a problem.”
Helena chuckles. “It would be more convincing if you didn’t look as if you would prefer a root canal.”
“Perhaps not a root canal,” Myka allows. The nurse sends them down a set of corridors and Helena is silent again. Only after a minute, Myka understands that walking hurts Helena’s arm, too.
“Perhaps we can get you some painkillers,” she offers. “I’ll see if I can find a nurse.”
“That’s fine,” Helena brushes her off and she sits down gingerly when they finally reach a hall where at least another dozen of people are waiting. Most of them stare at Helena’s costume, which Helena takes with royal aplomb.
“This should be a lovely afternoon,” Myka mutters and she looks around for a vending machine because neither of them has had more than some breakfast so far, but there is none in sight.
Helena seems content to retreat into silence again as the seconds and minutes tick by.
“I would offer to play the piano, if there were one,” Myka finally says and the morning’s tension seems to have followed them here. “Sorry that Abigail couldn’t take you.” She does not sound sorry at all.
Helena turns in her seat. “Why would Abigail take me here? Her French is as bad as mine.”
Myka shrugs. “Since you seem to get along so well…” She leaves it at that.
“I hope we are becoming friends, yes,” Helena says slowly. “But also, she’s a very good accompanist.” Her eyes narrow. “Wait, is this about me spending time with Abigail?” She looks at Myka, far too amused, and Myka will absolutely not admit that she might have been jealous.
“Some of us actually have to practice,” Helena says, and she sounds resentful. “Not everyone simply opens their mouth in the morning with an effortlessly balanced tone!”
Myka needs another minute to realize that this might have been a backhanded compliment.
“Do you think I don’t train?!”
“I know for a fact that you don’t get up at seven for solfeggi,” Helena says testily. “Because you run at that ungodly hour. And I’ve heard you after a night out, doing a flawless Mozart aria. You could at least have messed up a little!”
All Myka can do is stare at Helena in bewilderment.
The silence stretches on, and Helena looks down at her wrist. “Well, isn’t this embarrassing.”
“And awkward,” Myka adds after a few moments.
“And that,” Helena agrees. She shifts her wrist within the crumpled bandage.
Myka shakes her head. “What were you even thinking, launching yourself from that table?”
Helena shrugs. “The scene worked well.”
Myka snorts. “So do the laws of physics.”
“I’ve noticed,” Helena says wryly. But after a moment she adds, “Still, the scene did work out rather nicely.”
“It did,” Myka has to admit and she decides not to mention Sam’s scared expression, or to mention Sam at all. “Although you may have to redo it if you broke your arm over it.”
A nurse calls out Helena’s name at that moment and Myka accompanies her to the X-Ray department where she explains to the young doctor on duty how the fall happened. She bristles when he has to ask her twice to repeat something because he stumbles over the broader slant of her Quebecois. Then she waits outside, walking up and down the corridor until Helena appears again, sans bandage and with her 1920s blouse rolled up past her elbow.
The doctor looks at her in exasperation and then waves Myka over to ask her a few more questions.
“I didn’t even know you spoke French that well.” Helena says as they walk on to yet another waiting hall. “I thought you were from Toronto.”
“I moved there to study,” Myka says and she bites back the retort that she could just as well have been raised bilingual in Toronto, or anywhere else. They sit down on another set of nondescript plastic chairs in sterile blue. “I don’t know much about you, either.”
Helena looks at her for a second, and Myka’s gaze is drawn to the fall of her hair as Helena tilts her head to the side. “Is there anything you would like to know?”
“How about your second name?” Myka suggests.
Helena shakes her head. “I shall never tell.”
“How come you don’t speak better French?” Myka tries instead.
“I don’t really see much French repertory in my future,” Helena says and it sounds every bit as haughty as her headshot in the program book. She looks at Myka again. “But I will tell you that I made a promise to start using my second initial, and only that, once I had made it somewhere, as a tribute to my mother.”
“What does your mother do?” Myka asks carefully.
“She was an organist,” Helena says and by the look on her face it is clear that her mother has passed on.
“I am sorry,” Myka says, and adds hastily, “Not that she was an organist, I mean, but …”
“Thank you,” Helena says gracefully. “It’s been quite a few years already.”
Once more, there is silence, but it is not as tense any longer.
“So… Cardiff was you making it somewhere,” Myka says.
Helena straightens. “I’d like to think so.”
Myka does not take offense at the tone this time. “You should.”
Down this hall, there is a vending machine at least. “I’ll get us some water,” Myka says, and when she is standing there, she adds two candy bars to the tally.
“You are be spending too much time with Pete,” Helena declares. She looks at the candy bar with disdain, dangling it from two fingers of her good hand.
“We have been here for over two hours.” Myka reaches over and peels the edge of the wrapper back for Helena. “Shut up and eat your candy.”
Helena archs a brow, but she also smothers a smile, and she eats her candy bar.
The chocolate is too sweet and the minutes are ticking by on the clock on the wall. Myka looks to the side, at Helena’s riding boots, and she listens to her breathing. It’s something she has picked up from Rebecca, listening to other people breathe. Helena’s is a bit too shallow, punctuated enough to be an effort to try and block out pain.
Myka looks past her to see whether she can make out the light blue of a nurse’s gown, someone to ask about some painkillers.
Next to her, Helena stands. “I think I may have to use the restroom.”
Myka leans back and nods and only understands when Helena keeps looking at her. “Oh.” She gets to her feet and gestures at Helena’s wrist. “Of course. Your arm. Do you need any help?”
“Not in getting there, no,” Helena says and she sounds amused. “But I think I might need help with buttoning up again.” She gestures at the long line of hooks and buttons that hold the riding pants in place.
“Of course,” Myka says. “Just let me know.” And again, she is pacing in front of a hospital door, waiting for Helena, who has no qualms in opening the door and calling for her, with her pants sitting fashionably loose on her hips and raising a few heads along the waiting area.
And Myka finds herself on bent knee in front of Helena, in a tiled bathroom antechamber, while her fingers work on hooks and buttons. She counts tiny hounds’ teeth on the pattern in front of her so she does not have to count the rapid beats of her own heart. Now she could kick Helena in the shins, and punch her for good measure, but now it is not what she wants to do.
“Are you all right?”
There is something to Helena’s tone that makes Myka miss a button.
“As you are not wearing knee protectors,” Helena adds, and her hips move back and forth an inch when Myka has to use a little more force to push a bent hook into place.
“I just have no idea how people got in and out of their clothes back then,” Myka says under her breath.
“Probably not by themselves,” Helena comments easily from above and Myka looks up at her, startled for a second.
“I assume that is why people still had maids back then,” Helena says and she looks at herself in the barren mirror across the room. “And butlers.”
Myka pushes to her feet. “I guess so.”
“Mademoiselle Wells,” a nurse calls outside and Helena has drawn breath to speak, but she does not get to say what has been on her mind. They are led into another office where they wait again, with Helena resting on a thin, paper-clad cot. She did not protest the nurse’s orders, which may be the only outward admittance that she is in pain.
Finally, an older, sober-looking doctor who wears a tie underneath his white coat walks in and hangs up X-Rays of Helena’s wrist, poking at them with one finger and declaring, “Hair-line fissure.”
“Broken, but just barely,” Myka clarifies for Helena.
“Will I need to wear a cast?” Helena wants to know.
“A splint and a bandage will do,” the doctor says. “But no more – what was it? Jumping from tables?”
“Good luck with that,” Myka mutters and rolls her eyes when Helena grins.
The doctor looks back and forth between them.
“She’s a singer,” Myka supplies. “With the festival.”
“Oh, I know.” Now the doctor is smiling as he sets out to properly bandage Helena’s arm. “We have tickets for opening night.”
“I hope you will enjoy the show,” Helena says, and now her expression is much like her headshot, calculatedly inviting.
Other than a splint, Helena is given a hefty dose of painkillers that make her drowsy on the cab ride back. Myka has them taken to the guesthouse; the rehearsal hours are long since over.
“Thank you,” Helena says when Myka insists on leaving her at her room’s door. Her voice is softer, mellowed by the drugs and it still plays in Myka’s ears when she walks down the stairs, into the dining hall in search of something to eat that is not a candy bar.
“So I heard you spent the day with Miss Cardiff at the ER?” Pete sits at their usual table, instrument case next to him. “You like to live dangerously, huh. – Is the hospital still standing?”
“They gave her enough painkillers to knock out a horse.” Myka slides into the seat opposite him and reaches for the bowl of nuts on the table, and it feels as if they have been doing this for years, and not mere weeks.
“Here.” He holds out a long-necked bottle. “Since they probably didn’t give enough painkillers to you.” He twirls the beer bottle between his fingers when she hesitates. “It’s nonalcoholic, I still have to practice, as well. Speaking of which, you should probably give Claud a call and let her know that she does not have recast both your roles.”
“It wasn’t that bad,” Myka says.
“With Miss Cardiff nearly strangling your tenor this morning?” Pete holds up his hands when Myka frowns at him. “That’s what Kelly said. And Amanda, who says she’s sorry she missed it.”
“He’s not my tenor,” Myka says and takes a sip of beer when she realizes that she has not thought about Sam all afternoon.
Operatic Cliff Notes:
- Chapter Quote:
“I like him; it would be nice if I could fall in love like this, without even wanting to – but what am I saying, what is getting in my head?”
- The Papagenos and Papagenos: referencing the final “Pa-Pa-Pa” duet on extensive procreation between Papageno and Papagena in Mozart’s “Zauberflöte”.
- “da capo” : common music term signifying “again from the start” (and if it’s Baroque, then with with embellishment and variation).
- “Rusalka”: mermaid opera by Antonin Dvorak, featuring the famous “aria to the moon”.
- The scene practiced at large in this chapter is the opening of Act II, “Non fuggirmi spietata”
- solfeggi: a vocal excercise genre on “do-re-mi”; very popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Still in use today.