Now Am I In Arden
A story by Ivor Sukwell and Kyle McKenzie. A story about a boy and a man with all that such entails. The setting is modern and based around the theatre, Not your thing? Sorry about that, we're sure you'll find something that is. Whatever your choice, please remember Nifty needs your donations.
Now Am I In Arden
"Jacob darling, I know this may be difficult for you to imagine but not everyone in the world is ready to prostrate themselves before your genius!"
I was on the phone to my agent Sandy Thompson, trying to convince him to have Richard Williams fired or at least to get him to find me a different gig.
Sandy was a bit of a legend in the acting world, having managed the careers of many big stars over the course of his long career. Although he was almost seventy he was still as active as ever making and breaking careers, and it was a bit of an honour to be picked up by his agency.
"He's an arsehole Sandy!" I protested, and was annoyed to hear him laughing at the other end of the line.
"Of course he is darling, he's a director!" Sandy called everyone darling, and despite myself I couldn't help smiling as his enthusiasm was infectious.
"So why don't you go and smile sweetly at the old queen and flutter those pretty eye-lashes darling, and when this is all done you and Richard Williams can honour that old theatrical traditional of telling all who will listen what an absolute arsehole the other is!"
"Don't think he's even a queen Sandy," I told him giggling, "he's so frigid I don't think he gets it up for anyone!" Sandy, who had a boyfriend a third of his age and made sure to give my bum a good squeeze every time mum's back was turned, laughed uproariously.
"Oh he's a queen darling, just a little more discrete about it than yours truly! Now go be nice to the arsehole darling, two months rehearsals and six weeks on the boards and you are free."
I had a sleepless night, not enough malt or too much, it made no difference, sleep was not on the agenda.
The boy was.
He was the only thing on my agenda. God knows how, in this day and age, he had been allowed to stay with me for a weekend unsupervised, unchaperoned. I suppose the only way it could have happened was because the whole world knew Richard Williams was a sexless bastard who tyrannised actors, sent useless ones crying to their agents and their bottles, and gave bloody good shows. That, though, did not alter the plain fact that Richard Williams was not a sexless bastard. Bastard maybe, but sexless only by choice because to indulge in what he wanted to indulge in would have seen him in prison years ago.
The boy was attractive, no, he was a bloody sight more than just attractive, he was walking, living, breathing bloody temptation and I did not want to be tempted.
And I longed for him to tempt me. 'Give him the full Richard Williams,' I decided, 'Treat him like the contemptible little upstart that he is. Let him know his talents, such as they are, are pathetic imitations of the real thing. See how he copes with that!'
"Morning." I slouched into the kitchen, not bothering to make eye contact with Richard Williams as I was still in a sulk.
I had showered and dressed and put off coming down for as long as possible, but if I was going to stay here for the whole weekend I knew I would have to talk to Mr Arsehole at some point.
"What's for breakfast?" I asked coldly, sitting down uninvited at the table. I had dressed in a loose fitting pair of grey tracksuit bottoms and a tighter white t shirt, assuming we were going to go through more parts of the play. These sort of clothes made it easier for me to vault and climb, and as Mr Arsehole had proved himself more frigid than the arctic I wasn't bothered about dressing up to impress him.
"Whatever you want as long as I've got it," I replied without looking at the boy. "I'm having smoked haddock with poached eggs, but I expect that's a bit sophisticated for you. You'll probably be happier with Frosties or something like that. Too bad if you are; I don't have any."
No sweet talk from him and he certainly wasn't going to get any from me!
"I have my eggs poached, but not over poached." I told him regally settling back in my chair. If he was going to be rude So was I, and I reckoned a fourteen year old boy could be much ruder than an old man!
"Fine," I said, still ignoring him and concentrating of getting my haddock and eggs on the plate. "Eggs are in the fridge and the poacher's here, so just help yourself." I rather doubted that a spoilt, egocentric, self-obsessed boy his age would have the faintest idea how to poach an egg, but that was his problem.
"Orange juice in the fridge as well, and there should be enough coffee. Just stick a cup where a cup needs to be stuck and push the on button."
I left him to it and sat down to demolish my breakfast. War was not yet openly declared, but any peace was certainly fragile.
I shrugged and got up. Mum works full time so I was used to getting my own breakfast and I poached two eggs the way I liked them and made some toast.
"Don't usually bother with a poacher," I told him smugly as I ate them, "easy to do it without one when you know how."
"It is," I agreed, still not bothering to look at him, "But I'm a busy as well as lazy old man, so I use the poacher which allows me to juice oranges and make coffee at the same time."
"You manage to sleep away your sulks and tantrums?" I asked, a tiny gesture towards truce if not exactly peace.
"You managed to sleep off being an arse hole?" I shot back before I could help myself.
"Listen, brat," I said, nor angrily but quite pleasantly as though 'Brat' was his name, "I am an arsehole, well known to be an arsehole, and known to be one because I do not suffer fools gladly and suffer charlatans not at all. If someone can act, then I'll do my best to work with him or her to realise a meaningful result, and if they can't act I tell them to fuck off.
Actors don't love working with me, they dread it. Dread it and look forward to it at the same time. They know I'll be a bastard, give them hell, and they know what I am doing is to drive them to their limits, and, because they are actors they want to reach those limits.
I've been lumbered with you and you've drawn the short straw and got me as a director. I'm not going to be nice to you, not do the same as Ross," Ross was the idiot who'd directed the boy's 'Dream', "And settle for something easy, get cheap acclaim by letting you wiggle your bottom and hint at things you probably never want to do more than hint at.
For me, boy, the play's not the thing where you will find the conscience of the king, the play is where you'll find the soul of an actor."
Now I did stare at him, challenging him to defy me, if he had the balls to do so.
"You can't call me..." my voice trailed off realising that he had just called me a brat, and more to the point he didn't seem to care how I felt about it!
Silently I seethed! Not only had he called me a brat but he had said I had only got good reviews for showing off my butt! There had been much more to my performance than that if he had bothered to watch it. I had given Puck meaning and depth, it had been brilliant!
"Oh I've done things," I told him darkly, "things you probably can't imagine."
"If you as much of a whore off the stage as you are on it, then I don't want to imagine the things you may have done," I looked him straight in the eye, no hint of mercy. "I saw your Puck, three times in fact, and each time it was the same. I saw a boy who used some skill and knew well the skill he used, a skill he used to make middle-aged men wish they had him in their beds instead of their unloved wives, I saw a boy who used his skill to make teenage girls wet their knickers as they watched and finger their fannys at night; I saw a boy who used his skill to make other boys dream of his arse while they wanked. That is the boy I saw, that is the Puck he presented. Cheap success through artificial orgasms
My lip twisted, but I tried to keep calm. I wasn't going to give him the satisfaction of making me walk out on the play so if he wanted me gone he would have to fire me.
"That's how I see Puck," I told him dryly, "he would do anything with anybody if it amused him. He loves to tempt people and make them feel uncomfortable, so that's what I did. You want something different for Ros, I'll do what you want. Boss."
I injected the last word with all the sarcasm I could muster.
"I have no vision of that character, it will be what you can make of it. If all you can manage is a cheap whore, then that is what she will be. If you can act we may develop something better, but from what I have seen so far, there is little hope of that."
Would it be possible to goad the boy into being himself? His real self? I doubted it; he was far too caught up in his own vision of his fame to want to look into the depths.
"Well I know what I want to do with it," I huffed at him, "depends if you've got the nerve to put it in your show."
There was not point pretending to be a girl playing a boy I decided. Instead I would play the part as an Elizabethan boy actor playing the part of Rosalind. What Mr Williams had told me last night had got me thinking, a boy actor back then would probably be half prostitute whether he liked it or not. His Ganymede would not just be a girl in boy's clothing, he would need to tease and excite the audience by being sexual.
I knew that wouldn't be easy, and even if I pulled it off some people wouldn't like it.
"If you have ideas then we will look at them later, but remember this above all; it is not what you can make of Rosalind that matters, it is what Rosalind can find in you. And for now, and the next day and a half, we will forget Rosalind, forget As You and think and explore only Jacob Brat, and, just possibly, an actor may emerge. But don't pin any hopes on it because I certainly don't."
My lip twisted but I didn't rise to his bait.
"So what do you want me to explore first Mr Williams?"
"You," I said, lit a cigarette and sat back in the kitchen chair, idly puffing out smoke.
"What do you want to know then Mr Williams," I asked dryly. He hadn't offered me a cigarette so I reached over and took one, clumsily lighting it and taking a puff.
He liked to watch boys smoke I decided. Not the kinkiest thing I'd ever heard of but still a bit weird.
"There was once a Russian, "I said declining to smile when he took an unwanted cigarette and managed, after a bit of effort, to get it alight, "A teacher of Drama who always started by asking his students to get naked. You hide in clothes, he told them, you use clothing to mask the real you, and you can't act if you don't know the real you and are willing to show that real you to the public.
A little extreme perhaps, and, as you may imagine, not all the students stayed, but the ones who did learned.
I am obviously not going to ask you to get physically naked, I don't want policemen ringing my doorbell, but I do want to see if you can bare your real self."
"If you want naked you just have to ask." I told him, provocatively, raising an eyebrow.
"Don't worry, I won't tell my Mum that the nasty man touched my pee-pee so you won't get locked up by Operation Old Perv." I wanted to see how far I could push him.
Now I did smile, the boy at least had a sense of humour if nothing else.
Shall we retire to the lounge?" I asked him, "More comfortable there and it is turned ten and time for a gin and bitter lemon.
Get this, Jacob, even if you get nothing else, it's not about what I want, it's all and only about you. What you have, what you have to offer and give and what you are prepared to give and be seen to be giving.
You are going to talk to me, you are going to search into yourself and I make no promises that you will like what you find."
This I said nicely, the bastard me now discarded for a while. It was up to the boy if it stayed that way or not.
I followed him into the lounge and took a gin when he offered me one. Mine was filled with orange juice and you couldn't taste too much of the alcohol.
Settling into the sofa I waited for him to finish making his drink.
"A Frenchman once said that when a British actor perspires, the sweat come out seventy proof, so perhaps you do have aspirations to be an actor," I grinned at him as he sipped at his drink. "Now, let us begin. shall we?"
"You really want to know the real me?" I asked him as I sipped the drink.
"As much of him as you know," I said gently, "But know, if you have the balls to start on this journey of exploration and revelation, you may find things you'd rather keep behind your everyday mask."
"Oh I know who I am," I told him smugly. "So ask me anything, and I'll tell you the truth."
"Oh, no," I said and lit another cigarette to go with my gin, "This show is called Jacob Brat, he is the script, the blocking and the movements. It is a one man show and I am merely the audience."
"I was telling the truth last night," I said suddenly, "I've never done stuff to get a part. And I think you know that, but you just liked calling me a tart, because you want boys to be tarts so you can hate them."
"You, Jacob, not me, but please continue."
He hadn't risen to that but I still thought I was correct.
"I've done stuff with guys though, so I guess I am a bit of a tart. Girls as well, they can be fun, but guys are more fun. Like girls my age are ok, but their Dads are better." I looked at him to see if I had shocked him.
It didn't surprise me that he had begun with sex. He felt safe with sex, that much was obvious. I suppose fourteen year old boys are too young to be bothered with such mundane matters as consequences, so thoughts of sex hold no terrors for them. Those terrors come with age.
That he so openly declared he swung both ways was also of little surprise. Most boys his age do, they haven't got round to deciding which bus to catch yet, but by telling me he liked men he was still clearly trying to shock me, to disturb me, to slip away from the task he'd been set.
"Take your word for it, Jacob," I nodded at him, "But the doing is of no consequence, it's what prompts the doing that matters. Do please continue."
His lack of shock was annoying but I gritted my teeth and continued.
"My word is good." I told him huffily, taking another sip on the drink. "I do it because it feels good, because I like it. You see I'm happy with what I am." I gave him a pointed look with that.
"And what you are is what we are trying to discover," I told him, still gentle. "Perhaps try to forget that I am here, think, let's say, that you're talking to your reflection in a mirror. You do that sometimes, don't you? Hope the mirror will tell you if what you think and say is right or wrong? Hope it will tell you who you really are?"
One thing was obvious, he'd made no move to shed any of the clothing he had boasted he'd willingly remove; he was still playing a part, safe behind his everyday costume and mask.
"It's quite hard to forget your here," I told him acidly, before a sly thought entered my mind.
"You really want to see what I'm like alone?" I asked him dryly, and before he could answer stood up and pulled off my t-shirt. My tracksuit bottoms were next and with barely a pause slipped out of my underwear so I was completely naked.
I was used to being nude at home and, face hidden, had got naked in front of my webcam often enough. Glancing over at him I wondered what effect the sight of my naked form would have on Robert Williams.
"Am I expected to make a comment?" I asked, and asked that to avoid making the comment that he was breathtakingly beautiful. The hopes and fears of more than forty years of suppressed desire was standing naked in front of me, more than those hopes and fears because his shaved pubis made him look more desirable than any boy I had tried so hard not to dream of.
"Mirrors don't make comments," I managed to say, my voice unwontedly thick with desire, "The best they can do is look back with whatever admiration or distaste they are looked into."
"I like what I see in the mirror," I told him dryly, flicking myself over backwards and walking back towards him upside down on my hands. The thing about acrobatics is that it makes you incredibly flexible, that and it allows you to look up at your own cock from this angle.
Sinking back into the arm chair opposite him i hooked a leg over the arm so everything was on display.
"I've always liked it, not in a vain way, I just like who I am. But I do like it when people look at me, I suppose that's why I like acting."
"Then when your mirror looks back it must also like what it sees," which was as near as I dared get to saying that I liked what I saw. He was trying still to impress me, show how comfortable he was with his body, and why shouldn't he be because it was a wonderful body, but the way he remained naked, arranged himself in his chair in such a way that all his possessions were on show, told me a lot more than that. He wasn't just comfortable with his nakedness in the way a nudist is comfortable, he was comfortable with being on display and wanted to be admired.
"Acting is about more than that," I said softly, "Though the desire for fame and admiration is, indeed, a driving force. On stage, though, young Jacob," and I deliberately left out the Brat part of the name I had given him, "You bare not only your flesh, but your soul."
He liked what he saw, I was sure of it. If he didn't he would have angrily told me to get dressed, not wanting to explain why a fourteen year old boy was naked in his house.
"You want a truly private performance?" I asked him slyly, "want to see how I practised Puck when I was alone in my room?"
I sighed, stubbed out my cigarette and lit another, drained my gin and hesitated between a refill, a malt or a slower, warming sherry.
"Jacob," I sighed again," I cannot work with you. I shall phone the producers, tell them to find a different director."
The look of surprise on his face was almost comic.
"I cannot work with you simply because you know you need take no notice of anything I say, that you can ignore any notes I give you, any suggestions as to how the role may be developed. You are sitting here, naked in my lounge and you know full well that I can't keep my eyes off you. One word and the sex police are on the doorstep."
I didn't doubt for a single second that if I had retained my mask of indifference to his naked beauty his next move would have been to grow an erection and see what effect that had!
"You think I will tell?" I asked in shock. "I'm sorry I thought you..."
My voice trailed off. I had assumed he wanted me and that he would be happy to give into the temptation, the act of seducing him being another fun game for me.
"I want to be a better actor," I told him in a small voice, "I could have done loads of films straight away but I chose to do this."
"It matters not if I believe you will tell any or all that you sat naked in my lounge, smoking cigarettes and drinking gin, it matters only that you can." I waited for the words to sink in, for some understanding to materialise, and while I waited I decided on sherry
"You have the power now," I said, keeping it simple, "You can do what you want and how can I direct an actor who can do what he wants? You no longer have to listen to a word I say, so feel free to not hear me say that you are the most beautiful creature I have ever set my eyes upon.
Now you can phone your mum to come and take you home, phone your agent and tell that old fairy that no way can you work with a cantankerous old bastard like me, and I will phone the producers and tell them to look for another director. Or," I actually smiled at him, "You can delay that and hang around a little longer. I can recommend the sherry, more to your taste than gin, I suspect."
I gave him a sly grin, perhaps Mr Williams wasn't as much of an arsehole as I had first thought.
"Sherry is what my Nan drinks at Christmas, I like vodka when it's mixed with Coke." He made the drinks with a wry smile and I sat down and took a swig of mine. It was strong, but not as strong as some of the drinks which had made me puke at parties so I was ok for a moment.
"Do you really think I'm a shit actor? Or could I be just about ok if I listened to you?"
"Since we seem to have changed the subject from who and what you are to include who and what I am as well, I confess freely that I think you are a beautiful boy and I will raise no objections if you feel comfortable in your present costume," I smiled at him and let my eyes roam over his naked body.
"Your Puck was a very well performed piece of erotic whoredom and the prick who directed it was your pimp. Everything you have said about Puck is correct, but there is more to him than that. Where was the sadness? Where was the understanding of the futility of his existence? A spirit of such mischief putting on a show to make newly weds smile? Is that Puck? And where was the play in your mind when you were on stage? Or were you only interested in how many knickers you could soak?" I grinned at him and raised my glass.
I scowled a little but I knew he was right.
"Puck is lonely," I admitted, taking a swig of my drink. "He loves to play games, but has no-one to play with. He never gets old or dies but that's a curse, which is why he does anything to amuse himself. It's the only way he can distract himself from being so lonely."
I took another swig and opened my legs so he could see. He liked to look and I liked him looking.
"I wanted to play him as more than half mad," I admitted, "but the Director said it was too dark and scary, that families wouldn't come and watch it."
"Good boy," I smiled, "Good boy. Now, are you staying or going? Staying I hope because I think there may be hope for you and ......." I winked at him, "I do like the view."
"Oh I'm staying, you know they've printed the posters with my name on it already so really I've got no choice." I smirked as I tried to playfully rile him, closing my legs to stop the view.