Tales From Shakespeare
44 Lines For Kate
Fifty-four years from its birth, the court house now boasted a musty Alzheimer’s atmosphere constructed not so much from nature’s steady assault on its structure but more from unnumbered jury deliberations; direct and cross and re-directs, opening and summary speeches, and haloed, entombed verdicts rendered with the dramatic flare of ponderosa pine trees. Everything fair and just in the system seemed to enter stage center on this purposely grandiose venue to be drained away by the corrosive cynicism of the cast as an ice structure left sitting beneath the Kliegs.. All those scenes Kate had played in this theater, bit roles as legal clerk, supporting roles as co-counsel, starring roles as counsel for the defense flitted in and out of memory never wholly erasing the single startling reality of her role today as what? Audience? How would the producer define the named respondent’s role in a divorce case?
“_Fie, fie! Unknit that threatening unkind brow;_” The line came easily as if she had devised it herself but she recognized it immediately as none of her own making. No, this line was not hers though she found it most apropos to her circumstance, her frustration made evident in the thunderous brow she could not seem to lose. All through the preparation for this day, that brow knit itself into tangles of bitterness, self-loathing, and self-pity. As well the tangle sported frustration, wonder, and confusion. How could it have come to this? remained unanswered.
“_And dart not scornful glances from those eyes._” How not to be scornful when she found herself being named the cause of the marriage’s failure. Good old Pete sat at the opposing table reeking with a victim’s hurt, agony, misery while she sat, forced to look straight ahead lest she reveal more emotion than her attorney thinks meet, looking every bit the heartless bitch. Her: heartless! How perfectly fitting.
“_To wound thy lord, thy king, thy governor:_” Ah, if only a scornful look from her could manage such a feat. If only, in the thirteen years of missed opportunity, she had wounded the bastard, then, this sham might make sense
“_It blots thy beauty, as frosts do bite the meads;_” As if she gave a rat’s ass about any supposed beauty she might claim. The judge could see her now as she was, unadorned, a meadow in autumn before the frost bites. Maybe more foundation and more color would soften the tangled brow but she’d have to shovel it on and, when it set and crumbled, she’d look even more fearsome, even less pitiable.
“_Confounds thy fame, as whirlwinds shake fair buds;_” Powerful tools, scornful looks, able to wound the recipient while transforming the caster into a hurricane’s wake, cheeks muddy mounds, eyes dirty pools, mouth a grated drain dammed by lost fair buds. What produces such effect? The horrific, overwhelming disbelief that any of this could be happening, that the martinet at the other table could have orchestrated such a comedy of manners? That the reason tendered for divorce is the most comic possible?
“_And in no sense is meet or amiable._” There is nothing just in this attitude, this is just my attitude, the remnants of a once powerful self-esteem, now dragged into this courtroom as another stone to be stepped in Pete’s manifest destiny. Too bad his god seems to be taking sides. But, then, the Chosen always find the chips falling where they need them to fall.
I thought I was chosen, back in the beginning. First in my class, passed the Bar the first time out; landed with a top firm, the one I’d caddied for while still in school. Sought out, wooed, and wed by an incipient legal star, penniless but brilliant, loving me, worthy of success, I put Pete through school. I kept him solvent while he used three attempts to pass the Bar. I propped his ego; salved his manhood, did everything his holy Book required, to include the forfeiture of common sense.
Nothing amiable in that thought.
“_A woman mov’d is like a fountain troubled—_“ A woman mov’d, eh? As well remember that “Almighty God created sexual desire in ten parts; then he gave nine parts to women and one to men.” Except he forgot to give Pete his fair share and now the bastard was blaming her for the lack.
A woman mov’d. Say rather a woman pissed as this latter thought carries the force of truth that ‘a woman mov’d” loses in translation.
“_Muddy, ill-seeming, thick, bereft of beauty;_” My Transition came when I was a child, prior to puberty as the medics recommended, my forebears desiring for me an equal chance at success in a human dominated galaxy. Trade the 3.6% of gene difference for a 3.6% standard; be human. Be beautiful, compatible, undifferentiated. Be one of them. Suffer the agony as the price to be paid. Accept the husband as the trophy for winning and the invitation to the ball. Then, discover yourself in a courtroom accused of being what you paid to leave behind you: alien, muddy, ill-seeming, thick, bereft of beauty.
“_And while it is so, none so dry or thirsty_” Looking around the courtroom, I am convinced of where I stand – well, sit: the defendant’s chair – alone, the sole Transitioner in the room. No alien ever enters a human courtroom; no alien believes human justice applies to them.
“_Will deign to sip or touch one drop of it/_” So, they look at me as my counsel warned they would, a specimen under glass to be studied, prodded, even poked, to discover its true nature, the nature masked by the Transition. A specimen not to be regarded as a person. Perhaps as the named villain in the case but never as a person.
“_Thy husband is thy lord, thy life,, thy keeper,_” When I studied the Book, I read “And of his signs another is that he hath created for you, out of yourselves, wives, that ye may cohabit with them, and hath put love and compassion between you.” But, now that book seems to draw from other sources to let “to obey, till death us do part” creep in and, I, in my trust, accepted that good Peter, dear Peter would love me as his own body believing – with nauseous naiveté -.Pete could love me as he loves himself: for no man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it. Except that here we are, Pete sitting over there and me sitting here, an impossible chasm between us.
“_Thy head, thy sovereign; one that cares for thee_” Yeah, sure he does. He cares that I am no longer a financial necessity; that I am a social albatross; that I am a stone long stepped on, no longer a means to his future. My sovereign cares for me in exile.
“_And for thy maintenance; commits his body_” Transition brings all things human, including the nine parts of desire his god bestowed on me. Did I ever profit from the gifting; did I receive a touch or a kiss or the feel of his body against mine? Yet, he sits there gloating that his seed is not the issue; his seed has always been available; that it was I who declined its offer. He was perfectly willing to have me inseminated with his seed and I refused my wifely duty, the one so neatly summarized as the reason for marriage in the first place: it was ordained for the procreation of children. And in the second place and the third place and all succeeding places.
“_To painful labour, both by sea and land,_” Pete traveling, across the Homeworld and back, always in pursuit of justice, riding the trains and trawlers that provided only sleeping tubes with intravenous feeding and subliminal entertainment. Poor Pete! All for my benefit he did this, erupting in tubes with appropriate collection devices to avoid a requirement to do so in a place more personal to me.
“_To watch the night in storms, the day in cold,_” From travel decks with wet bars and hostesses, though Pete believes them all Transitioners. The duress he endured! The duress that inured him to me. Or had that happened long ago and far away on a day of fine black suits and pure white dresses?
“_Whilst thou liest warm at home, secure and safe;_” Dreaming of this man, dreaming of what his ceremony had promised: that such persons as have not the gift of continence might marry, and thus keep themselves undefiled. Yeah, verily, I sit here undefiled. Yeah, verily, I lay at home warm and secure and undefiled.
“_And craves no other tribute at thy hands_” Now he craves no other tribute. What of those first years when he played student to my sponsor? Was that not tribute? If not tribute, then a tax fairly paid to a sovereign for which the subject received no benefit. Well and true he no longer craves no other tribute at my hands. He wishes to place my hands as far as possible from his person.
“_But love, fair looks, and a true obedience,--_“ To accept a sunder, how much more obedient can a wife be though his god decreed that no man should put us asunder? It won’t be a man or a woman that put us asunder; it will be a court and courts are neuters all.
“_Too little payment for so great a debt!_” And…great…my debt…must…be when the accounting firm of greed and ambition sum the totals. I think to bear poor Pete false witness, whining at length on his lack of appreciation for me and mine yet I took him as husband. No power bent my will save mine own. My parents may have paved the way; it was I drove down the path. And, oh, I cannot claim such innocence that I did not understand the power behind the Transition, what it was we wanted for me and how I set about to gain it.
Thirteen years a human rode my arm providing entry though entry should have been mine. Thirteen years a human excused my difference to let others accept my talent. Thirteen years my passport performed its function.
It was I who promised to love, cherish, and to obey. No other but me made that vow to Pete. Rail that I might that his Book ne’er admitted such vows; when I stood at his god’s altar, I knew the words; knew the intent; made the commitment.
“_Such duty as the subject owes the prince,_” Swearing to obey, I set the stage. Lawyers read contracts before they sign them. Competent lawyers do not sign contracts they intend to break. Did I intend so, even on that long ago day? Why doesn’t memory bring that to me? I remember the day, and the words, and looking into Pete’s eyes, holding Pete’s hands, and swearing, placing my troth in his hands, searing my obedience into his eyes.
Troth and obedience seem tasks I misplaced along the way.
“_Even such a woman oweth to her husband;_” Even such.
“_And when she is forward, peevish, sullen, sour,_” As I have been these last years, knowing that what I craved I would not attain. Abide with a man but not be part of him, the spirit begins to crack; the will to crumble; the temperament to fall to shambles. Succumb to the deterioration, act accordingly. This I did. Yet, this is not the charge.
“_and not obedient to his honest will,_” There is the charge; he wants a son, a task I am competent to perform save that I had a view to its inception that he did not share. Yet, on the altar of his god I heard and understood this is the first place to justify a marriage of two minds.
“_What is she but a foul contending rebel,_” We can do anything you want, Pete, as long as we do it my way. The message is so clear.
“_And graceless traitor to her loving lord?—_“ Argue with the adjective but acknowledge that you betrayed your self-made lord. He wanted a child and you balked at the means to make it so. You wanted humanity yet you deny an aspect. Common is not better than possible, just more palatable. He offered a possible means, legal, ethical and moral. What other manner of means would you prefer?
“_I am asham’d that women are so simple_ “ As exemplified by me, Transitioner though I am; attorney that I claim to be. The argument reduces to absurdity: I stand in its neon glow.
“_To offer war where they should kneel for peace,_” Six years of argument when even the immovable object eventually negotiates with the irresistible force. Obstinacy carried to an extreme when resilience was called for.
“_Or seek rule, supremacy, and sway,_” Perhaps paying the bills for his success bought you a re-arrangement of your vows; is that what you thought? Or did you think at all? Your way or no way at all. How regal of you, how powerful,…how patently false of you!
“_When they are bound to serve, love, and obey._” Bound by cords they tied themselves. Not able to claim ignorance to be found guilty anyway, women such as I may only acknowledge the fault, place the blame where it lies, on ourselves.”
“_Why are our bodies soft and weak, and smooth_” To fool men into believing that our need is such that we will do whatever it is they fantasize all the while knowing that men dance to our plumbing because they think us soft, weak, and smooth. Well, they believe us…
“_Unapt to toil and trouble in the world,_” For this reason, generations of women kept men from the birthing rooms, unwilling to demonstrate just how much toil and trouble this world can bestow that we can survive and dare it again. Certainly, equal rights can be won and secured yet whenever has a political solution carried the day? Debates are won when the opposition concedes defeat and this we cannot allow men to do.
“_But that our soft conditions and our hearts_” The very aspects we use to lure the men to us, the very nine parts of desire his god provided to enable us to accomplish the task, without which the contention must be bloodier than humanity can withstand, the very offering which should have brought dear Pete to his god’s altar.
“_Should well agree with our external parts?_” My Transition was that successful that Pete’s competitors never fail to make their intentions known. Yet as unsuccessful that, though I lament the absence of his touch, never did I seek redress, never did I argue that he did not fulfill his commitment.
“_Come, come, you forward and unable worms!_” Greed and ambition thus reduced me from the goal that I so desperately desire to commiserate with the lowest of those who betray, not only those who wish them well, but themselves. Worms, naught more, unable to lift themselves into the aether of good and reputable folk.
“_My mind hath been as big as one of yours,_” Wrapped so in self-deceit, my mind constricted into a infertile acorn, readily planted, but producing neither shoot nor leaf, the antithesis of that vow I made and forgot
“_My heart as great, my reason, haply, more._” Ignoring that I bear responsibility no better than I blame poor Pete. I Transitioned, not Pete. I yearned to climb a human ladder needing, so I believed, Pete to make it possible. I used his service but refused my own; then held him guilty of my guilt.
“_To bandy word for word and frown for frown:_” Thirteen years I played my role; Pete played his; yet neither played the roles we vowed we might, confined ourselves to the roles we chose. I used poor Pete: poor Pete used me; word for word, frown for frown, misplaced vow for forgotten troth
“_But now I see our lances are but straws,_” And what did I gain, much less what gain for Pete? Have I not gone where I willed where Pete made it possible? And was that the purpose of my Transition? To become human? And, oh, there will be those who claim I have succeeded for here I sit, the nominal cause of marriage’s effect. And there he sits ignoring his education, his arrival at the point he can claim to be human where I am not. He understands as poorly as I myself.
“_Our strength as weak, our weakness past compare,--_“ Possess an overwhelming desire to become human - as perhaps I never did, perhaps my parents my did but could only gift me with their need – and, when you become what you desire, understand the motivation that brought you here was more human than you’ve become.
“_That seeming to be most, which we indeed least are._” Humanity lies not in its infrastructure, the which we crave to master. To which I committed thirteen fruitless years while never dreaming the goal lay not there but in what had always been available. Humanity lies in its self, the which we already were and are. Though the form may change, the essence remains: be the best you can as best you can.
"_Then vail your stomachs, for it is no boot,_” Humility cannot be learned too late. Stand not proud before poor Pete, it does you neither good. Abase yourself in recognition of your fault.
“_And place you hands below your husband’s foot:_” The vow you made requires it; the life you wanted makes it meet; and the benefit you obtained demands recompense.
“_In token of which duty, if he please,_” He will not please. We’re here, all the evidence sufficient to the case: I have failed. My husband asks for an annulment, all the niceties of the law neatly satisfied though his inaction weighs as heavily on sweet Justice’ scale as mine. But duty there was, duty ne’er fulfilled.
No merit now in asking for scales, only in confronting and atoning for that which I did and can control. Offering to meet the terms of our association rings both false and insincere, yet I propose to make the attempt. He’ll decline though his surprise may well undo him. All these years he asked – perhaps knowing my answer would not change, perhaps hoping that it would not change – and I declined. He owes me naught; I owe him the ritual.
People do these things, being human. Discovering a fault, an error, they strive to correct the folly; even when the sin exceeds redemption, they try. Good people, bad people, people striding the line, all attempt actions to bring them close to some other; to be true to some other and thus be true to themselves.
I remained true to myself. Some maintain this, too, is human but I think they mislead themselves. To be human is to be in troth with other humans. Without the trust, the honor, the caring between the parties, how can you trust the feedback? Lacking feedback, how do you know you’re still human?
“_My hand is ready, may do it him with ease._ “
It’s all one human can offer another.