Lawrence H. Levy
It was 10:30 a.m. at Starbucks on a Monday. The morning latte and mochachino crowd were at work, and only the hardcore were there. There was the writer, a fixture at every Starbucks. With his two-day growth and unkempt hair, he stared wildly into his laptop as he typed away, seemingly possessed. My guess was that, instead of inspiration, the wild look came from the caffeine he was chugging day in and out. The rest were students, laptops opened, appearing to do homework, but most likely on Facebook.
That brings me to why my sorry ass was there. Shelby and I had our first big fight the night before. We had just come back from the Renaissance Faire (her choice, not mine), and she had invited me over for dinner. Dinner? It was soup and salad, nothing else. But I was good. I gritted my teeth, smiled, and socked it down, complimenting her on how wonderful everything was. Later we went to a movie and stopped for a snack afterwards while we did a postmortem on the film. That’s when I made the cardinal mistake of ordering a cheeseburger.
You would have thought I had stabbed her in the heart. She accused me of not liking her dinner. I lied and told her that her dinner was great, that I was just hungry.
“If you were hungry, Kyle,” she insisted in what can only be described as an accusatory tone, “you could’ve had more salad. There was plenty left over.”
“I wasn’t hungry then,” I said, lying like a champ, “but I’m hungry now.”
I had hoped it would end there. No way. I was the suspect, and she was the tough cop. I felt like I was trapped in a bad “Saturday Night Live” sketch of “CSI: Miami.” All Shelby needed was sunglasses, red hair, and some awful instrumental music.
“Be honest. You hated my dinner!”
“I didn’t hate it! When did I say hate? Hate is something you save for liver and onions. You know, something totally gross.”
“Oh wow, thanks. My dinner wasn’t totally gross.”
If this went on any longer, my head was going to explode.
“Okay, let’s just agree to disagree. We can do this later when we’re not in such a bad mood.”
“I’m not in a bad mood. If you were truthful, I’d be in a great mood.”
“I hear your words, but your attitude says something different. I don’t know if it’s that time of the month or…”
I wanted to take it back the second I uttered those fateful words, but they were already lying out there. I watched her carefully. Inside, she was having a meltdown, somewhere near the size of Chernobyl. Outside, she tried to appear calm.
“I want to go home, Kyle.”
“Now, Kyle,” she insisted. “Have them put your cheeseburger in a doggie bag.”
She emphasized “doggie” to clarify my new status. Even paying for the food and refusing to take the cheeseburger did nothing. We drove in complete silence. My mind was racing with ways I could take back the “time of the month” blunder. Not so easy. It was like a woman during lovemaking suddenly blurting out, “Is it in yet?” The damage had been done. Before I knew it, she was inside her apartment, and I was on the outside.
So here I was the next day, my calls unanswered. I had to find a way to undo the last thirteen hours and seven minutes. (I’d have known how many seconds, but my shitty watch had broken and I was using my cell.) I thought maybe with the right subject heading, she might read an email. But it had to be perfect — charming, loving, and amusing all wrapped up into a sincere apology. Who was I kidding? On an ordinary email, I’d agonize over starting it with “Dear,” “Hi,” or “Hey.” Our relationship was doomed, deader than a slave owner in “Django Unchained.”
“Good morrow, kind sir,” I heard and turned to see a fugitive from the Renaissance Faire, still in costume, had plopped himself down on the seat next to me.
“Listen, pal, I’ve got some really important stuff I gotta do,” I said, hoping that would discourage him. I was definitely in no mood, and his presence was a sore reminder of my disastrous day with Shelby.
“You’re right, dear friend.” Now I was a friend! “Stuff is of great import. After all, we are such stuff as dreams are made on.”
I had heard those words before, and I quickly searched my brain for where. I soon found myself back in high school English, my junior year. My teacher was bat shit over Shakespeare. I hated that damn class and was seriously pissed I had to decipher Shakespeare’s screwed-up version of English. This guy was bringing back that anger.
“A still and quiet has struck your countenance,” he went on. “What say you, friend?”
“What I say is, I need to be alone, friend.” I made sure “friend” was anything but friendly. But that didn’t stop him from bursting into verse.
”When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes, I all alone beweep my outcast state…”
“Look, I get your obsession with the Bard and all, but I’m not in disgrace and whatever sonnet that is…”
“The 29th,” he informed me.
This guy was really full of himself, and he was getting on my nerves. “Fine, the 29th. Now, I really need my own space,” I said then hurriedly added, “and don’t turn that into a sonnet.”
“Why dost thou protest so much when you clearly need my assistance? You are agonizing over how to woo your loved one, are you not?”
Then it hit me. My condition, my PSD, was playing the ultimate cosmic joke on me. I needed help and up pops William Shakespeare, the one guy I would gladly travel back in time just to punch out. I would’ve tried to un-pop him if I weren’t so desperate.
“Okay,” I said begrudgingly. “Assist away, Billy.”
“You may call me William or Will. Billy is a goat.”
“That’s exactly what you are to me unless you can help me out.”
“So be it. You’ve thrown down the gauntlet, and the challenge is on.”
Shakespeare thought for a moment or two then cautioned me to have quill and paper ready.
“No one uses quills any more. We rarely use pens. We’ve got computers.” I saw the puzzled look on his face and pointed to my laptop. “Writing machines.”
“Hmm, it does seem a bit impersonal when dealing with matters of love and the fairer sex.” He leaned toward my laptop, staring at it. “Do I speak into this contraption?”
“I didn’t get that program. Just talk and I’ll take care of the rest.”
“As you wish.” Shakespeare sat up, getting ready to emote. “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day…”
“Nope,” I cut him off. “Not gonna work.”
“But you haven’t heard the rest…”
“Oh yeah?” I challenged him. My teacher had pounded that sonnet into my head. “Thou art more lovely and more temperate…”
Shakespeare threw his hands over his ears and shuddered. “That accent, that voice! Please refrain from butchering my verse!”
“If thine ear offends thee, pluck it out.”
“It’s eye, not ear! And that phrase is not mine. ‘Tis from the Holy Bible!”
“What gives, pal, you jealous?” I enjoyed irritating him. My long dormant hatred of high school English had fully surfaced. It wasn’t logical, but I was instinctively reacting to his perfect Elizabethan English with hostility, trying to summon my inner Joe Pesci. Unfortunately, the result was just a lousy impression.
Shakespeare quickly recovered and tried again. “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach…”
“Whoa, time out, stop. All that’s gonna do is make her nauseous. And if you don’t stop with that flowery crap, Billy, you might just bring up the breakfast burrito I had this morning. Believe me, you don’t wanna see that.”
Shakespeare was at a loss. “What, pray tell, could have transpired between two lovers that expressing one’s passion is useless?”
And so I explained to him about the soup, the salad, the cheeseburger and my unfortunate “time of the month” comment. When I was finished, he burst into laughter.
“Hey, I’m in pain here!”
“My dear fellow,” he replied, still laughing, “You don’t need a wordsmith. All you require is a simple apology.”
“Easy for you to say. Your world doesn’t revolve around Shelby.”
“That’s precisely why I can advise you thusly. If she holds your love in so little regard that she’s willing to cast it away for such a minor transgression, then your love was doomed from the start. If she truly loves you, her forgiveness will surely be forthcoming.”
I hated to admit it, but Shakespeare made sense. I was being needlessly hysterical and insecure. It was time for me to man up and find out how Shelby really felt about me.
“Thanks Will. You’re actually a pretty cool dude.”
“I assume by tone, not by your bizarre bastardization of English, that you approve?”
“Most decidedly so,” I nodded to him. “But you know there is one thing I always wanted to ask you.”
“Ask away, but I beg you, do stop short of reciting my work”
I laughed then continued. “At the end of “Romeo and Juliet” when Romeo takes the poison, it makes no sense to me. You’d think he’d check to see if Juliet was breathing before he killed himself. And if he did, there’s no such potion that can stop her breathing and her heartbeat where she’d still be alive.”
Shakespeare paused a moment to gather his words. “Just like your time has writing contraptions we could not fathom, we had similar devices that have been lost to the ages.”
“So, you actually had a potion like that back then?”
“We had something more important… poetic license.” He smiled, rose, and was soon out the door.
I immediately turned to my laptop and simply wrote, “Dear Shelby — I never want to hurt you. I love you. Please forgive me. — All My Love, Kyle.” And then I pressed send.
At that point the manager of Starbucks approached me warily. “I’m sorry, sir,” he said, “but I have to ask you to leave. You’re upsetting my customers.”
I looked up and saw that everyone, including the whacked out writer, was staring at me, totally freaked. They had apparently witnessed my conversation with an invisible Shakespeare. Before I could respond, my laptop jingled with an email from Shelby.
“I love you, too, Kyle,” it said. “Can you meet me for lunch? P.S. It was my time of the month.”
I quickly shot back, “It was my time of the month, too. See you soon.”
I scooped up my laptop and turned to all of Starbucks. “I bid you adieu, kind sirs and fair maidens. May you live to be long at tooth and may you all prosper.” I bowed with a flourish and disappeared. After all, I was off to meet my fair maiden.