ABSENT FROM FELICITY
Fortinbras is not Hamlet.
I wish with all my heart that he were, wish even that I could close my eyes and pretend. But he is a swarthy, swaggering Pole, broad-shouldered, with a warrior's heavy muscle. His hands are hard with calluses; Hamlet's were soft, narrow, the hands of a scholar. Hamlet liked to discuss philosophy in bed, the light rambling voice like a counterpoint to the explorations of those soft, clever hands. Fortinbras does not waste his breath.
Fortinbras comes to me after the funeral, where I stand beside Hamlet's grave. My throat is raw from tears, from words, from the cold, bitter wind of Elsinore.
He says, "You were more than friends."
It is not a question; I do not answer it.
His hands are on my shoulders; his breath tickles my ear. He is standing too close, too close, but I cannot move. I have followed Hamlet for so long, so blindly. Now that he is gone, I do not remember how to walk on my own.
Fortinbras says, "You must be very lonely."
A trite, obvious line, suitable for chambermaids and serving girls. I bow my head, choking back bitter laughter. We are alone in the graveyard, alone with the dead, and I know Fortinbras does not fear the dead. Unlike Hamlet, he is not an imaginative man.
The hands settle into a hard grip. He says, "I am lonely, too. It is difficult to find someone to trust, here in Denmark." I shiver at the disjunct between the voice, with its gentle platitudes, and the hands, the punishing weight, the blunt fingers digging for nerve and bone. I do not know which to believe.
"We do not have to be lonely," Fortinbras says, and under the pressure of his hands I sink to my knees. "I am told that Prince Hamlet was a lonely man. You must have helped with that, Horatio." A shove, quick, brutal, and I only save myself from sprawling across Hamlet's grave by catching at the headstone, a graceless block of granite he would have hated.
Fortinbras says, "Show me."
The Danes do not quite know what to make of Fortinbras: the child of their old king's enemy, but a strong man, a man for whom decisions are easy, policy is clear. After the short and serpentine rule of Hamlet's uncle Claudius, Fortinbras comes as a relief to the court of Denmark. The soldiers and common people are only grateful that perhaps this winter they will not have to die.
I wear black now, as Hamlet did. The court ignores me, as they ignored Hamlet. In Elsinore, if you do not want to see something, then you do not see it. It explained so much about Hamlet to me, when I came to Elsinore: the frenetic brilliance of his wit, his hunger for attention, the way he would touch me, a light pat on shoulder or cheek, just to get me to turn and look at him. He was not the child his father had wanted, and I could imagine him becoming steadily more outrageous as he grew up, constantly devising new schemes to get his father and his father's court to acknowledge his existence.
I am not Hamlet. I do not care if the court notices me or not. I wear black for grief; I wear black for him.
I bring flowers to Ophelia's grave.
I hated her.
Hated her doe eyes and her little soft grasping hands. Hated her for being able to flirt, demurely, with Hamlet when I could do nothing but stand to one side and watch. The loyal friend.
And I hated her because she loved him. I hated her for her pain, her grief. I hated her for going mad. And I hated her most of all for dying. I stood, the loyal friend, and watched Hamlet leap into her grave. Later, I held him while he cried, neither of us knowing that he had less than a day to live. I kissed his tear-damp cheeks and told him I loved him and knew he did not hear me.
If she had risen from her grave in front of us, I would have killed her myself.
I bring her flowers because she loved him, because she died for him. Because he would not let me do the same.
I should leave. I know I should leave. Fortinbras has a country to rule, an uncle to placate. He would not stop me, though he would not help me, either. But if I leave Elsinore . . . I cannot go back to Wittenberg, where every hallway, every street corner, will have some memory of Hamlet as he was. I could not protect that bright Hamlet from his father's dark hand. I cannot face Wittenberg without him. And I have no family, no kin, no place where I can truthfully say I belong. I hoped when I came to Elsinore that it might prove to be such a place, that because it was Hamlet's home, it might become my home as well. But Hamlet died in Elsinore, died of
Elsinore. It will never be my home.
But I cannot leave. I cannot leave the pain, the cold, the darkness and the damp and the constant stench of death. I cannot leave Fortinbras, for at least he notices that I am alive.
I want to be haunted. I go up to the battlements at midnight, slipping out of the new king's bed. The sentries eye me warily and skirt wide. The wind scours the tears from my face, but I taste them at the back of my throat, bitter as graveyard dirt.
I stand there until dawn, waiting, but he does not come.