All the World's a Stage
A novel by Bronwen Welsh
Chapter 37 The visitor
The first thing that appeared in the doorway behind Mum was a large bunch of flowers. This was followed by... “Reggie!” I exclaimed. I very nearly said "What are you doing here?" but fortunately replaced it with “How nice to see you.”
“Hello Harriet. I thought I'd call in to see how you are. These are for you and you Mrs Stow of course” he said, offering the flowers as he walked over and kissed me on the cheek.
“How lovely! Thank you so much Reggie.”
Ever the diplomat, Mum said “They're beautiful Reggie, how thoughtful of you. I'll put them in some water if you like. Harriet, now you have someone to sit with you, I think I'll go and do that shopping I spoke about.”
Of course she hadn't really spoken about shopping at all, but no doubt thought that I would want to see Reggie alone in light of all that had happened. She put on her coat and told us that she'd be back in about an hour.
“Why don't you offer Reggie a cup of tea darling? There's the cake I baked yesterday too.”
Then she was gone. I got up to make the tea but Reggie could see that I was still a bit unsteady on my feet and insisted on making it. I couldn't help thinking of the last time the two of us had been together and he'd told me about Sophie. I wondered if there was any more bad news coming.
When we were both sitting with a cup of tea each and a plate with a piece of Mum's cake, I asked the question that had been bugging me.
“How did you manage to come to Brid, Reggie. Won't Sophie (I nearly choked on her name) wonder where you are?”
“I borrowed a car from one of the other students. Sophie's gone to Blackpool for a few days. Her cousin has come over from America on a visit and is staying with her parents. I have some assignments to complete, so I said I'd see them at the weekend. It was really an excuse to come and see you; emails are all very well, but they're not the same as seeing someone face to face, and it's been ages since I did that.”
“Well, it's wonderful to see you and you are looking well; all that sport must be doing you good,” I said.
Reggie laughed. “Yes plenty of fresh air, but I really wanted to see how you were after your operation. I must say you are looking quite well.”
“I feel well too, but I still get a bit tired, so I often have a nap in the afternoon,” I said.
”Maybe I shouldn't stay long,” said Reggie.
“Oh no, please stay as long as you like,” I replied. “I'm really feeling quite bright today. Each day I feel a bit better.”
Just then my mobile phone began to ring. I picked it up and saw it was Richard Jenkins. Talk about bad timing! I just stared at the screen.
“Aren't you going to answer it?” said Reggie. “Or is it a boyfriend?”
I could feel myself blushing and inwardly cursed.
“It's Richard Jenkins who played 'Romeo'. He's probably ringing to see how I am,” I said.
“Well I think you should answer,” said Reggie.
I would have preferred to take the call privately, but to do so would make it look like I had something to hide, so I picked up the phone and pressed the 'answer' button.
“Hi Richard, how are you?”
“I'm fine,” he replied. “More to the point, how are you?”
“I feel better every day.”
“Excellent. I didn't just ring to see how you are. I'm wondering if you might be interested in auditioning for a bit of work? I've been given a rôle in a new production of Dylan Thomas's 'Under Milk Wood' which is being made for television by Mayday Productions. How's your Welsh accent coming along?”
“Indeed to goodness boyo, and me brought up in Llanelly?” I replied, doing my best impression of a Welsh accent.
Richard laughed. “Not bad, not bad at all. There's a small part in the play, she's called 'Mae Rose Cottage'. They'll be auditioning for it in Swansea in two weeks. Do you think you could make it?”
“I think I could,” I replied. “I'll get in touch with my agent and he'll get the details for me.”
“Excellent! Look, I have to fly, but I'll get back in touch soon. Bye for now,” and he hung up.
Reggie looked at me. “What was the Welsh accent all about?”
I explained to him about the part. “It's only small, but if I get it I'll be seen by millions of people, and that's important in my line of work. If you don't appear on a regular basis, then before long you can be appearing on one of those 'Whatever happened to...?' shows.”
Reggie laughed. “It really is a very different lifestyle to a nine to five job, but I couldn't imagine you doing anything else.”
I looked at him seriously. “I'd gladly give it up if it meant we could be together.”
He looked equally serious when he replied. “And I wouldn't let you give it up. It's a big part of your life and after a while you'd start to resent the fact that you'd given it up and so resent me. Oh you wouldn't mean to, but nevertheless you would.”
I stood up, walked over and kissed him on the lips, not a passionate kiss but a loving one.
“Reggie, you are the smartest man I know, and one day I'm going to marry you,” I said.
He smiled. “That's a promise I'm going to hold you to, but there's something I wanted to say to you. Until that day arrives I won't be upset if you go out with other men. I don't want you to be lonely.”
“I can't see myself doing that,” I replied. “But thank you for your confidence in me.”
“So where do you have to go to audition for the part?" he asked, and when I told him it was Swansea, he said: “Why don't you stay with my Aunt Jane? I'm sure she'd love to see you again.”
I thought back to the last time I had seen her which was at Reggie's wedding, and wondered if that was true.
“I'll give her a ring and if it's alright with her, then I'm sure she'll ring you,” he said, so we left it at that.
We chatted for about another hour and it was only when Mum returned from her shopping that Reggie stood up and said that he should get going.
“It was lovely of you to call Reggie. Please call again if you're in Brid. I can't guarantee Harriet will be here, she will probably be acting somewhere around the country, if not the world,” said Mum.
“Well, she's getting much in demand and that's what you want if you're an actor or actress,” said Reggie.
I got up then and walked with him to the door.
“Thank you so much for calling Reggie. It's been a real boost for me. I'll keep in touch by email and let you know what I'm doing.”
I kissed him on the cheek and then watched the car as he drove away, before going back into the house.
“Well that was a surprise,” said Mum. I wondered if she thought I knew Reggie was coming to see me.
“It was a surprise for me too, but a very nice one,” I replied. “I just hope Sophie doesn't find out.”
That evening I had another call from Richard Jenkins.
“There's something I forgot to tell you about 'Mae Rose Cottage'. There's a sequence where she is topless and draws lipstick rings around her nipples.”
“Oh!” I responded.
“Do you want to think about it and let me know if you're still interested?” he asked.
“Yes, I'll do that,” I relied. “What part are you playing?”
“'Nogood Boyo', how‘s that for a name?” he laughed and rang off.
This was the first time I'd been asked if I'd perform semi-naked. I wondered how Mum would feel about it, and decided to talk to Emma, so I went to my room to talk to her in private.
I had looked up the text and read it out to her, in my Welsh accent of course:
Down in the dusking town, Mae Rose Cottage, still lying in
clover, listens to the nannygoats chew, draws circles of
lipstick round her nipples.
MAE ROSE COTTAGE
“I'm fast. I'm a bad lot. God will strike me dead. I'm
seventeen. I'll go to hell,”
she tells the goats.
MAE ROSE COTTAGE
“You just wait. I'll sin till I blow up!”
She lies deep, waiting for the worst to happen; the goats
champ and sneer.'
Emma laughed. “That's a great Welsh accent. Has Richard been teaching you?”
Thanks goodness she couldn't see me blush.
“Yes, he's been giving me some coaching; but how do you think Mam will feel about her daughter being topless for all to see?”
Emma couldn't stop laughing. ”Mam now is it? I'll give you this Harriet, when you take on a rôle you really get into it. I don't think Mum will mind. After all you do have real breasts now and it is a classic play.”
“So it's not gratuitous nudity then?” I said, dropping my Welsh accent.
“Not at all. If I were you I'd go for it. By the way, is Richard in the production too?”
“Yes he is,” I hesitated. “He's playing a small part called 'Nogood Boyo'.”
Emma shrieked with laughter. “Oh this is priceless. Do the two characters meet up?”
“No they don't,” I replied, rather primly, and of course that set her off again.
“Alright, I won't tease you; you're a big girl now and you have to make your own decisions, but I know what I'd do.”
“Thanks Emma, you're a chum,” I replied. We chatted on for a few minutes about the family and theatre before we hung up.
I went out into the sitting room where Mum was knitting and half paying attention to the television.
“Mum, there's something I have to tell you. Have you ever seen 'Under Milk Wood'?”
“Yes darling, that wonderful version with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, why do you ask?”
“Well there's going to be a new production for television and there's a chance I might be offered a small part in it. Do you remember someone called 'Mae Rose Cottage'?”
“The name rings a faint bell,” she replied.
“Well it's a very small part but at one point she's looking after the goats and she draws lipstick rings around her nipples.”
Mum laughed. “Oh yes, I remember it now; and that's the part you might be playing?”
“Well, yes. What do you think about me doing that?”
“Well, you're a big girl now and it's your decision. I won't be shocked if that's what you're thinking.”
“Emma said more or less the same thing,” I replied. “Well, if no-one's going to be shocked, then I'll audition for it.”
Reggie was right. A few days after his visit, I received a phone call from his Aunt Jane, inviting me to stay with her. I wanted to see her again, and anyway it would seem rude to refuse, so I gave her the details of my arrival. When she heard that I was coming by train, she said she would meet me at the railway station.
Two weeks later I packed my bags and kissed Mum goodbye. I had explained to her that driving all the way to Swansea was too far, so instead I was going to drive to Stratford and take the train from there the following day. It would give me an opportunity to see Dale and let him know what was happening.
My drive to Stratford was uneventful, and it was good to catch up with Dale again. Stratford felt like home to me and I knew I would be very disappointed if I had to leave, but the career I had chosen would make it inevitable at some stage.
The next morning, he kindly drove me to the railway station where I took the train. First I travelled to Birmingham Moor Street, where I had to walk to New Street for the second leg to Newport, and then change trains again for the final leg to Swansea. The whole trip took about four and a half hours, but I took a book with me to pass the time. Aunt Jane was waiting for me at the station as she had promised and it was good to see her again. We hugged, and then walked to her car.
“How long are you here for?” she asked.
“My audition is tomorrow, but I've allowed two days just in case they ask me back. That happens sometimes.”
Once we reached Aunt Jane's house, I took my suitcase upstairs to the bedroom she had allocated me. It wasn't the same one that Reggie and I had used, and I suspected she was being diplomatic, not wishing to bring back memories of that previous trip.
I knew it was likely that she would want to whole story of why Reggie had married Sophie, and after much thought I had decided to tell her all that had happened, including the implied threat to me. The one thing I didn't feel comfortable about telling her was Reggie's vasectomy, and I knew that she would wonder if Sophie might become pregnant again and what effect this would have on his plan to eventually divorce her. Fortunately she didn't put this scenario to me which of course doesn't mean that she hadn't thought of it. Perhaps she suspected that she hadn't heard the whole story after all.
“That was a truly amazing sacrifice he made, marrying a woman he doesn't love,” she said.
“Yes it was, and I'll be forever grateful to him for that,” I replied. “One day I hope he will marry a woman he does love.”
We had a very nice tea, and after a quiet evening together, watching television, I retired early so that I would be fresh for the audition in the morning.
The following morning I took the bus to town and presented myself at a church hall with stage which the production company had hired for the auditions. There were a lot of people milling around, none of whom I knew. From memory there are about thirty-seven characters in “Under Milk Wood” and obviously many of the parts were being auditioned for that day.
I walked up to the desk where a few people were sitting and a sign said 'Registration'. I gave them my name and the part for which I was auditioning.
“Ah yes, Miss Stow. Three young women are auditioning for 'Mae Rose Cottage'. The other two are Ceridwen Zenia Jenkins and Angharad Jones. They're both sitting over there. Perhaps you might like to introduce yourself to them?”
'Oh dear, they're obviously both Welsh. I don't have a hope. I might as well leave now,' I thought, but I still went over and introduced myself.
They were both very pretty young women. Ceridwen was blonde and Angharad was a brunette. “Call me 'Ang',” she said. “Everyone does”.
“I feel a bit of a fraud competing with you two,” I said.
“Nonsense,” replied Ceridwen. “So long as you can do a passable Welsh accent you'll be fine. What rôles have you been doing recently?”
I felt a bit embarrassed as it sounded like showing off.
“Oh I've been performing at Stratford,” I replied diffidently.
Of course they wheedled out of me my recent rôles and the tour and seemed impressed.
“With a CV like that, you stand as good a chance as any of us,” said Ang.
Just then the Director Dafydd Rhys Jones appeared on the stage. He thanked us for coming and said that they would start on the auditions right away. Several of the other parts were auditioned for first and eventually he came to 'Mae Rose Cottage'. I was called up first.
I was asked to go through my part with help from other players. I did it with my best Welsh accent, and they seemed happy enough but then asked if I could recite something else with a Welsh accent, so I suggested the Reverend Eli Jenkins' evening prayer from 'Under Milk Wood'.
'Every morning when I wake,
Dear Lord, a little prayer I make,
O please to keep Thy lovely eye
On all poor creatures born to die.
And every evening at sun-down
I ask a blessing on the town,
For whether we last the night or no
I'm sure is always touch-and-go.
We are not wholly bad or good
Who live our lives under Milk Wood,
And Thou, I know, wilt be the first
To see our best side, not our worst.
O let us see another day!
Bless us all this night, I pray,
And to the sun we all will bow
And say, good-bye - but just for now!'
To my surprise there was a ripple of applause from the people waiting to audition. I blushed and smiled before leaving the stage to the standard acknowledgment “Thank you, we'll let you know.”
I sat down and watched Ceridwen and Ang audition, and they did very well, so well in fact that I wondered again what I was doing there. Then someone sat down beside me. I turned to see who it was.
“Richard!” I whispered. “What are you doing here? You've already secured your part.”
“I'm visiting my family and just wanted to see how things were going. You were very good, especially the accent,” he whispered back.
“I had a good teacher,” I murmured.
“How about a coffee?”
“Yes I'd like that,” I said. My audition was over and I didn't hold out much hope, but it had been worth a try.
We walked down the road a few yards until we came to a small café which Richard assured me made a good cup of coffee. We were sitting at a table by the window chatting when something made me look out of the window. There was Reggie's Aunt Jane looking in at the two of us with a very surprised look on her face.
To be continued.
I would like to acknowledge the assistance of Louise Anne in proofreading the text and giving me a great deal of useful advice about modern-day Britain to incorporate in the story, also Julia Phillips for picking up my punctuation errors and any typos Louise or I missed. I'm very grateful to them both.
If you liked this post, you can leave a comment and/or a kudos!
Click the Thumbs Up! button below to leave the author a kudos:
And please, remember to comment, too! Thanks.