young!Lucrezia personal canon—of the THEATER-DYNASTY CRACK AU variety. For vega_ofthe_lyre because what do you give a friend who's having a bad set of days? That's right: the most inexplicable/situationally inappropriate (although what is this situation, as such, who can say) fluff evah~
By the age of sixteen, she has played Juliet five times on three stages.
She is five, he is nine, the stage is empty, the scripts discarded and dog-eared, the dust barely beginning to settle after the most recent production. She lies on her stomach, heedless of her new dress, and pokes at the pages.
“What’s hie?” she asks. “What’s hence?”
“Go,” he replies, “I think. And go.”
“Go, go, go away?” She laughs, gets up to push him, he's sitting up too straight but he lets her knock him askew even though she doesn't push his shoulder very hard. “This scene is silly. They cried a lot. Giulia was crying really hard.”
“It is sad,” he says. “It’s sad because she’s lying. She says go and she doesn’t want him to go and that’s why she keeps yanking him around by his sleeves. And, you know. Kissing him.”
She makes a face, pursing her lips like the remembered shape of Giulia’s on the man’s mouth (she knows Giulia, it’s always Giulia; she doesn’t know the man, for it’s never the same man—the men don’t take up the same space onstage as Giulia does, pretty and glowing, and the men never come to visit after, either) as she looks at the page. Straining high discords and unpleasing sharps. She squints, frowning.
“That’s not even English.”
“It’s like English.”
“They’re talking about birds?”
“How do you know?”
“Please,” he scoffs. “They’re all about love. That’s like the whole point of kissing plays. Even when you think about they’re talking about something else, they’re not. Even when you think they’re talking about something interesting, turns out they’re just being in love with each other.”
“Oh,” she says, and marks this in her memory: someday this knowledge will prove useful to her.
She is seven and her father brings film cameras around stage sets and never marks the incongruity, which she only notices looking back. At the time, it was merely a thousand wheeled metal eyes that would follow her around; he brings in whey-faced boys with powder on their faces and Vaseline on their teeth and none of them ever come back the second day. Not good enough, he repeats, not good enough for my Crezia, and it’s far beyond her to constitute what’s good these days. Good is Mamma’s cake the dusty-fresh home smell of greasepaint and curtain dust, good is backstage roses and heavy boxes of chocolates lying round, good is the dark and the bright and watching Cesare fence when she should be practicing her spelling. Good might be trapped in the pendulous syllables of the words he lays at her: new lines, scenes pieced together couplet by couplet day after day, but it’s too soon to tell. She metes them out in her mouth until they shape themselves into words, and Papa beams.
“The Suzuki method for acting,” he says over breakfast, Mama frowning, and she looks at him blankly.
“What’s a Suzuki?” (She thinks perhaps one of the mothers had one of those, a fluffy dog with a droopy face that she kept clutched against her heart. Smile for the camera, baby, and the Suzuki encouraged too: rowuff!)
He grins, stands and swoops her up from her chair. “You’re going to be,” he booms, and she frowns into his shoulder: that doesn’t make sense at all.
Juan glowers at her from across the table, one eye purpley around the edges from some scrap on the playground. “I wanna be one.”
“And so you shall,” Papa says, putting her down and kissing the top of Juan’s head, kissing Mama’s knuckles, “a Hamlet!” She knows Hamlet, they all know Hamlet. Cesare knows Hamlet, but Cesare finished his pancakes a few minutes ago and slouched quietly out of the room. So she gets up just as Mamma’s fussing over Jofre and Papa’s bellowing to be or not to be over Juan’s head. Of course she knows who’ll have the answers and who’ll give them to her.
Cesare has not yet turned eleven and is still the clearest-sighted person she knows. So she tromps into his room and sits down on the floor until he looks up from his book and pays attention to her.
He’s got a sulky look on his face, the book he’s reading looks old. She kicks her heels against the floor. “Juan got punched in the face, you know. Yesterday.”
“Yeah, I know.” He puts his cheek to his pillow, looks at her frankly. “He should get punched in the face.”
She claps her hand over her mouth, giggling. “So what’s a Suzuki?”
“Someone who’s really good at things when they’re little.”
“Oh, so it’s like you.”
He’s silent, long arms and legs flopped like a spider atop the blanket.
“So tell me what this means,” she orders.
“Yon light is not daylight, I know it I.”
“It’s not day.”
“Means the light. It all means the light.”
“So it’s Juliet again.”
“Yeah. Do you think I’ll look like Giulia when I grow up?”
“What, like pretty?”
“Yeah. No. Prettier.”
She stands up and twirls around in a circle, skirt buoying up on the air. “So dance with me,” she says, remembering the whirl of skirts and masks onstage. Someday this will be hers. Someday this will be theirs, she thinks as he stands and steps next to her.
Cesare’s face is focused as he spins—slow, arms out like hers—so serious she stops and laughs.
She thinks of Giulia, and the man onstage and opposite her whose name she does not remember, who had looked at her with all the focus in every line of his body.
She presses her lips up to her brother's. Standing on her tiptoes, she wonders if this is what it will be like when she grows up—to be someone like Mamma, like Giulia, someone worthy of playing odd pretty games with the soft parts of people’s faces, the malleable movements of their mouths.
Perhaps this is prodigal too.
She’s ten and the school puts on a play. They cut the script to short pieces, meting out the parts with endless care. There are ten Romeos, fifteen Mercutios, six Nurses.
Her teacher stutters slightly over her name, looks at her with big wary eyes. Lucrezia gave up on the idea that grownups shouldn’t be afraid a long time ago. She has realized, by now, that most people are afraid most of the time. The ones who aren’t are few. Her father and—
Well, that’s almost it, though.
When she looks out while the words make their familiar careful patterns in her mouth—o Romeo Romeo—she sees her teacher forget to frown, forget herself for a moment into smiling, soft around the twitchy edges of her face. Lucrezia smiles too and cants her face up toward the fluorescent lights on the ceiling. They are not warm, but they are not so bad at being bright.
Her mouth quirks to one side. “Gasparo Procida.”
“I don’t like him,” he says.
She’s forgetten whether or not she has ever introduced them, but she doesn’t suppose it would matter. “You never like them,” she replies. “I like him fine.”
He raises an eyebrow at her, and she frowns at him. “Don’t go and try to get him recast or something stupid like that.”
“Yes,” she snorts and elbows him in the ribs.
“I’ve got to keep an eye.”
“Just be nice.”
“I’m nice to you.”
“Okay,” she says, “but still.”
He’s going off to college in the fall. Harvard Business. “You’re going to miss—” Me, she doesn’t (have to) say. “It.”
“Yeah,” he says, and jerks his head slightly toward the stage. “I am.”
She knows he will. She would, too. Like she couldn’t imagine—and doesn’t want to, doesn’t want to see him or either of them in any context deprived of this. She puts her feet up onto the seat in front of them and for a few silent moments they watch the construction workers onstage scurry from wing to wing, dismantling the set from Pinturrichio’s latest play.
“Run lines with me?” she finally asks and he grins at her.
“You could just watch the video.”
“Oh, God.” She covers her face with her hand. Her father is supremely proud of those videos; he trots them out at Thanksgiving and Christmas and every year she regrets, shrinking into the sofa cushions with her face to her knees. Her lispy little voice speaking words she’s only starting to understand now. If anything’s high discord—she thinks and looks sideways at his smirking face through her fingers. If anyone had understood the words, it would have been him, even at ten; she thinks he should have been able to warn her somehow. “No.”
“Okay, then,” he says and puts a comfortable arm over her shoulders as she speaks.
“Believe me, love, it was the nightingale.”
“It was the lark, the herald of the morn,” he replies. His voice is casual, but the words are easy in his mouth even spoken low like this, even not projecting, even as he sits slouching in the back row with his fingers fiddling idly along the ends of her hair. “No nightingale. Look, love, what envious streaks
Do lace the severing clouds in yonder east.
Night's candles are burnt out, and jocund day
Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.
I must be gone and live, or stay and die.”
She shivers, silently, in her seat.
“Crezia? You know this one. Yon light.”
“You should be going to school for this, you know," she says. "Drama school.”
He is still, silent. She elbows him. "I mean it."
“What good would that do?” he asks.
“You’d love it.”
“But what good would it do?”
She doesn’t understand the question. It beats around her shoulders for a few silent moments. Onstage, they’re taking apart the mirror, they drained the pool a long time ago. Metamorphoses. Papa’s always liked myths.
“You’re just really good at it.”
His smile renews—slow and crooked and aimed unreadably at her. “Thanks.”
She thinks she wants to punch him, maybe. Just to make him react. Really react. She doesn’t, though. Instead she leans in and kisses him on the cheek, near the ear, like a secret—she’s run out of things to say.
“Yon light is not daylight,” she says, settling back into her seat, “I know it, I.”
On the chair of the seat their fingers intertwine like dancers—unwatched in the dark.
“They’re putting up Romeo and Juliet on Broadway,” Papa says. His voice is more serious than usual; he reaches out, touches her knee and she frowns at him and listens very hard.
She has started to wonder about Juliet; she has started to wonder about being cast as Juliet, little and pretty until she’s dead. Day after day, little and pretty and pretty and little, always first and foremost the girl. She herself is pretty little and more than a little pretty and every day she wakes up and points her toes, stretching her legs and willing them longer. She might not grow, but the desire to grow up—out—every which way, head scraping the sky and each hand reaching into an opposite wing, surely this is not too much to ask—prickles against her skin. Her face is her own in the morning, and she leans her forehead against the window and wants it to mean something. She is sixteen and skilled in wearing others’ skins; she is sixteen and solitary and very good at learning lines, even as the places between them become scribbly and crowded with words of her own, definitions swinging in and out of meter. Poems, yes, she laughs at herself for them, yes, they are terrible, yes, but she bites back smiles as well as frowns when she writes them. They are hers; she has learned, if nothing else, dominion over words. The syllables are just as important as the cadences you put on them, and it's satisfying to see them take up space in smudged graphite in her margins even if she doesn't say them out loud.
Still. She knows good words and these are among them: Juliet might stick in her craw (if only for a second), but Broadway goes down far more than easily.
“I’m going to have you meet with the director, cara, once school’s out,” he says, and hesitates. “He’s young, you know. Fairly young.”
She doesn’t know why that’s important—or why her father kisses her on the cheek so hard, hugs her swiftly with her face buried in her hair. She hugs him back, cautious hands on broad shoulders, sure heart beating in wait.
The director’s name is Giovanni Sforza.
Lucrezia Borja is sixteen.