By Lily Mulholland
The ‘new items in your inbox’ reminder flashed up on the screen and Caroline tried to ignore it again. She was immersed in writing her novel and, after a slow start, the narrative was finally starting to take shape. The tension was building in her neck and she realised she hadn’t taken a break for a couple of hours. Caroline straightened her shoulders and uncurled her fingers from the keyboard. She decided a cup of coffee was in order.
After a quick trip to the loo and to the kitchen, Caroline sat back at her walnut desk and placed her ringed coffee cup on its coaster. She didn’t want to mark the golden brown wood she’d so lovingly restored after rescuing the desk from a second hand furniture store.
Before picking up the thread of her story, Caroline remembered she had email to check. She skipped over the one from her mum; she knew it would be the same old story. Her eyes went to the ACT Writers Centre email with the subject line ‘Re: Shrew’. Her heart jumped and she double clicked as quickly as she could to open the message.
Dear Caroline, congratulations! You’ve won a double pass to The Taming of the Shrew at 6.30pm on Monday night at the Playhouse Theatre. Collect your tickets from the box office 30 minutes prior to the performance. Enjoy the play! Regards, Sassafras.
Caroline laughed. She never won anything, but had entered the competition anyway. And then she remembered she had no one to take. Mike was becoming a memory and her girlfriends were knee-deep in offspring. She didn’t think any of them would appreciate the start time anyway. Caroline sighed. She’d have to go by herself. If she went at all.
Monday rolled around and Caroline had made a lot of progress on her novel. Not that it was any good. She’d been trying to write it for years, but had always found an excuse to not start. But this year she’d signed up to NaNoWriMo, a crazy annual novel-writing concept where writers attempt to bash out fifty thousand words during November. This was the kind of stress she could handle, but only just. If she failed, the only person disappointed would be herself. She hadn’t nominated any writing buddies – that would be too much pressure.
Nonetheless, Caroline had dived in and started writing. She was half-way through, with two weeks up her sleeve. She decided to go to the play as a reward for being so good. She planned to get there fifteen minutes before show time so she’d have enough time to swallow a glass of champagne and get herself warmed up. The confidence that came with alcohol would be enough to suppress any embarrassment she’d feel at being there alone.
Caroline drained her glass just as the bells started ringing. It was time to go in. She held her tickets in her hand and realised she had two just in time to rip one off and ditch it before the usher could see she was on her own. As she slid into her seat, Caroline fought off a wave of humiliation. She was front and centre, six rows from the front. Everyone in the stalls and the balconies could see she was on her own – her neighbours hadn’t yet taken their seats. She studied the program furiously.
Engrossed as she was, Caroline didn’t notice the man trying to squeeze past her until he was almost sitting in her lap.
‘Sorry,’ he said.
Caroline said nothing but her cheeks coloured. She again found something very important to read in the program. Within minutes the lights dimmed and an actor strolled out onto the stage. Caroline eased her shoulders back and relaxed. She loved Shakespeare.
The champagne had done its work and loosened her up nicely. Before long she’d forgotten she was on her own and was laughing out loud at the antics of Petruchio and Cambio (also known as Lucentio). She didn’t laugh quite so hard at The Shrew. The unmistakable scent of misogyny perfumed the air and her feminist sensibilities refused to just enjoy the show. Caroline was pleased to see that the actress playing The Shrew was delivering her lines laced with sarcasm – surely a pointer to the cast’s understanding that the play, while hilarious, was an undoubted anachronism?
It was while Caroline was wrestling with these thoughts as well as trying to keep up with the machine-gun-fast dialogue that she felt the unfamiliar contact of flesh against hers. Her arm burnt at the touch of the man seated next to her. Caroline fought against the urge to whip her arm away. It had been so long since a man had touched her that it had shocked her. More shocking was that he did not remove his arm from her space; in fact he seemed to press it harder against her arm.
She snuck a look at him but he did not seem to notice; his eyes were sparkling as he followed the action onstage. Where her arm had been on fire moments earlier, it now seemed to be warm and felt good. Caroline dared to let her left leg move imperceptibly closer to the man’s. Soon they were touching. Caroline felt excitement course through her body from her toes to her crown. After a few minutes more the man placed his right arm around Caroline’s shoulders and gently pulled her in close. She laid her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes. She knew how the play ended.