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For the Tyrant

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A single cloudy tear streaked down my powder kissed face. Every single inch of my body trembled from pressure. Shoulders weighed down by the sheer claustrophobic size of the theatre. I heard a regiment of voices, all eager to be pleased, and easy to disappoint. I lifted my limp, shaking hand to my cheek, wiping the stranded tear away. I turned from the vanity and took in the scale of it all. A fearful chill blasted through me.

Hundreds of men and women scurried about, leather shoes scrabbling about the creaky wooden floor. The smell of sweat pungent in the air. The dark damp walls of ebony were adorned with once-beautiful carvings now whittled away by time. Mildew gripped the worn out hall, and the roof groaned from the pounding rain. Drops of leaking water plummeted to the floor below, gnawing at the rotting wood.

The musky, consuming smell of perfume hung heavy in the air, smothering my breath like a wet pillow.
The deafening shouts of actors, both men and women, echoed throughout the hall, almost as loud as thunder. Almost. The buttresses shook in fear as the sky pelted the earth with a percussion of light.
It was a sensory explosion, and yet I was numb. A cold sweat ran like an icicle spear, straight down my back. Today was the greatest opportunity a lady of the theatre could ever have, and I couldn’t do it.
I couldn’t do it. Why did they think I would be the one? My first production in the Ford, my first lead role, and to top it all off, it was in front of the president. My hand touched my face. I felt the rough flawed skin and thought, ‘How can I?’ I looked at the cloudy uneven eyes and thought, ‘Why did they? I saw the messy, unkempt hair and I thought, ‘Why will I?’. Then, covering my face, I whispered, “Can I?”.
It gripped me there and then, the fear. Cold hands groped for the nape of my neck. The mirror in front of me melted into liquid silver and formed into people. Thousands of men and women. Staring straight through me. Disappointed. At the center of it all, resting atop a pillar of impossibly high marble, upon a high-backed chair that resembled to a throne, sat a gigantic black silhouette. 10 feet tall. His top hat in hand, he turned his back on me, and with a flick of his wrist strode out of my nightmare and faded away.

***

I stood right at the foot of the steps. The only vision I had of the outside was a tiny sliver of light, gleaming through the grand curtain. Yet, I knew exactly what was waiting for me on the other side. Humiliation. Frustration. Sadness. My legs shook in terror. How do I do it? How will I run? Where will I run? What will I do?

The questions echoed in my head. All the hours put in. If I left now, I would have to wallow in filthy mediocrity. I would have to suffer the tragic, useless fate that so many women of my time are cursed with. Still I wonder, how much better off will my career be if I ruin the show of my life, right in front of the President himself–“Missus, it’s time to get on,” whispered a harsh voice behind me.

The muscles in my back tightened. I wouldn’t do it. I couldn’t. I couldn’t. I needed to leave. I would leave. I–can, a deep voice murmured in the back of my sub-conscious. You can Mary-Claire. You can. The voice of John. The voice of my mentor resonated through my head. Even if they have smashed your hopes and dreams into the mud, You can. If they’ve betrayed you, you can. Take a stand. Strike back at those who doubt you. Even a dead rattlesnake bites. John’s voice echoed through me. He was such a headstrong man. So stubborn. So angry. So inspiring. He taught me everything I know, and he was the man who first sparked the courage in me to begin acting.

John Booth. The man who I owed everything had saved me from myself yet again. ‘I can, I will,’ I thought as I took my first step onto the mahogany stage and was stunned.

Ford Theatre was done a great injustice when seen under the soft, unflattering light of an oil lantern. Now I saw the Ford at its greatest. Beyond the stage was a floor of marble with a beautiful red carpet straight down the middle. Hundreds of men and women sat on red-velvet chairs. Up on the roof hung a massive chandelier. Its gilded arms reaching towards the ground, the candles casting a soft orange glow upon the crowd below. This was truly as bastion of the arts.
And to top it all off, at the very back of the hall, draped in flags of red, white and blue, was a room. Suspended high above the theatre, there was a high-backed chair, and in it sat Mr. President. His watery eyes brimmed with charisma. He greeted me with a soft smile and my heart raced, skipping with a surge of confidence.
That was when I began to sing:
Oh there my Highland Mary!
The castle o' Montgomery,
Green be your woods, and fair your flowers,
Your waters never drumlie!
Oh, the rush. My fear subsided and all was well within me. Whispers of praise fluttered through the audience and awoke inside me a new kind of happiness. A new kind of energy. Oh Lordy day, did it feel wonderful. My voice subtly moved into a quainter, quieter tone:
Oh there my Highland Mary!
There Simmer first unfald her robes,
And there the langest tarry:
For there I took the last Fareweel
Never before had I ever sung like this. Oh no, never before. If only John could see this. How proud he would be. Oh yes, how proud. I showed them what I can do. All the hours spent dreaming and practicing, dreaming and practicing. It all summed up to this. Such glory. But where was John? He surely would miss today. My greatest opportunity. I stepped up to centerstage preparing myself for the final note. I concentrated everything I had ever learned and everything I had ever worked for. Forced it all into one passionate note. This was the moment I had been waiting for. The opportunity that would make my career. I searched for Mr. President’s eyes and found them. He wore an impressed smile which expressed approval, and he tipped his black top hat at me.
I took a deep breath and opened my mouth wide. But it wasn’t my voice that reverberated through the room. It was a gunshot. The theatre fell silent and everyone looked up, confused. Then a loud all-too familiar voice, rose above the whispering crowd, “SIC SEMPER TYRANNIS”. John.
All at once, a gasp escaped the lips of every single spectator. Abraham Lincoln, bloody head slumped down to his chest, and behind him stood. John, with a gun in his hand, jumped down from the raised balcony and ran out the doors of the theatre yelling, “The South has been avenged,” waving his gun through the air.
Chaos erupted, men and women dashed, screaming and yelling. The President was dead. The pride of the Union along with it. Sheer madness ensued. The President was dead.
Yet, I stood there. Paralyzed. The man who I put all my faith into. Who taught me everything, desecrated my trust.

I knelt over, and wept.
***
I stood over the bed and cradled them in my arms. The soft light of a lantern was cast over them. They curled up, sweet childish smiles still across their faces. Lost in sleep. They were my lifeline, the only light that illuminated my path when the only road seemed to be of misery. As I laid them down to rest, tucking them in nice and tight. I sang them a lullaby. I sang them the lines I never got to speak:


And mouldering now in silent dust,
That heart that lo'ed me dearly!
But still within my bosom's core
Shall live my Highland Mary.
I smiled, and wiped a single tear from my eye.


AUTHOR’S NOTE

To be completely honest, when I first heard that we were doing Historical Fiction, I was sad. I was sad because I find it incredibly difficult to actually find a viable topic. While I was filling out my curiosity chart, filling in boring and common details that didn’t really appeal to me as a writing topic, I came across the topic of the Lincoln assassination on History.com (http://www.history.com/topics/abraham-lincoln-assassination) . My inspiration sprouted from a single question that popped into my head: What were the people in the Ford Theatre thinking when the shot went off? What were they feeling when Abraham Lincoln, hero of the Union, fell to the floor dead?
I thought it would be even more interesting to show this from an actor’s perspective, who would almost certainly be nervous and excited to act in front of the president. What the actor do after the shot happened? What would happen to her career? These were all questions going through my head when I came up with the idea of Mary-Claire the terrified actress and how she changes mentally to adapt to her fear and learns a valuable lesson about going with whatever life throws at you.
Another challenge I faced while writing my Historical Fiction was to get as many signifiers and accurate facts in order to properly describe the setting of Ford Theatre. One youtube video of the preserved Ford Theatre was very useful in the description of the theatre (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IlzZd6n0Zvg&hl=en-GB&gl=SG). I found out that the play happening at the time was ‘My American Cousin’ and I managed to pull the song ‘Highland Mary’ from the play’s original script. I also looked up make-up and some Architecture from that time period to fill in details I couldn’t find directly.
The Lincoln assassination was one of the biggest tragedies in American history. Even though Mary-Claire was made up, alongside her connection with John Wilkes Booth, the assassination was a real and major event which sent ripples throughout american politics. If the murder of Lincoln was done before the Civil War ended, we may never know what the outcome would have been.
Developing the story of Mary-Claire the actor while leaving the major historical facts intact was both a challenge and an immersive task for me. It was difficult to craft my ending since it ended up that the conflict wasn’t fully resolved and cleared up for the reader. I concluded mixing in some good feelings in the end of the story to prevent it from being too negative.
In this piece I tried to show the reader that it’s always worth it to stand up and take a chance, no matter what, you’ll never know what the outcome will be.



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