I always look forward to tea with Ms. Crawford, wherever it may be. We have good conversations. She does most of the talking.
This is what I remember of our chat in a tearoom in Stratford-upon-Avon.
Stratford used to be something of a dump. It was until I got there.
Whereby hangs a tale. Hear me out.
Stratford wasn't exactly a dump when I went there. It was rainy and brick. Small row houses. Neat, tiny front gardens. Very British. (You could fit one of those row houses on the typical American front lawn.) Stratford was a quiet place where not much seemed to be happening, though the Royal Shakespeare Company was putting on a play and you could walk to the theater and be treated to Patrick Stewart Himself (The real Patrick Stewart, mind you, not the Robotic Replica that plays him in everything else, they don't let the real Patrick out except for shows, he's too valuable an asset to the Crown to be let out into the dangerous outside world, you see — England values its actors and writers above all else, even more than its empire, which is in pieces all over the place like marbles running away from the box that just broke, I daresay we'll have to gather them all back, I'm sure we'll never get them all, but that's a story for later — I'm talking about Patrick Stewart Himself, the one they only let out for this very special play, only once a year, and then he goes back into the box. I wondered, when I was sitting close to the stage, and I could feel his hot breath on my neck, why they hadn't frisked me for knives, but then, these English people are so quaint and so charming, they probably hid their automated security systems behind the ornamental plants and faux grotesques, and if I had chosen to drive my knife at Stewart's neck I would have been vaporized in an instant — I can tell you it's not a pleasant feeling, and I resolved never to do it again after they swept me up from my attempt upon Mr. Blessed —
— Did I not tell you about Mr. Blessed? Oh dear me, what a charming man, though in fact he never spoke a word, he only glanced at me and wiggled his eyebrows — he can't speak, you see. Would level the whole island, he would, if he spoke, and everyone knows it — Mr. Blessed's robot replica speaks, of course, but it's nothing like hearing the man himself, only a distant echo, really, like the difference between when your girlfriend said she loves you and when she texts the same, you know you want to hear the real thing but oh to hear the real thing my dear you can hardly bear it, you poor heart stops beating when she draws near, and she has to do CPR on you every time, it gets very annoying and neither of you know how you've survived, but obviously if she keeps saving you she's meant for you — Oh I'm sorry, I was thinking of my own ex, pardon me, where was I —
— Mr. Blessed, when he speaks, well, it's difficult to remember, let alone describe, but I daresay cold old Hades would have let Eurydice go in a trice if he'd heard Mr. Blessed speak, I mean, when your asphodel fields stretch on forever and yet you can hear the sound of crumbling stone from far over the grey horizon, when the deaf shades gather to listen, when Persephone runs away to her mother and the rains come and the flowers bloom and the wind howls and the dogs answer and the wind answers and the chorus answers and the actor launches into the soliloquy and everybody's crying and the man holding the rope lets go and the god crashes to the floor and breaks his leg and everyone laughs and shouts good luck, and the dogs laugh and the wind laughs and the flowers laugh and the rain chuckles and Persephone returns to her seat and everything freezes over again, and she glares at you, because she knows she can leave when she wants, she wandered in on her own, she set the breeze rustling over the Asphodel fields before you came and claimed the place as your own — WELL —
— You have an idea of how Mr. Blessed spoke about my ex. Which is why I shut him in the box. I hadn't thought anyone would have been able to upstage me when it came to describing her.
Anyway, I had her on my mind when Mr. Stewart was breathing down my neck, partly because it reminded me of how Mr. Blessed used to look at my ex, partly because Mr. Stewart wasn't being nearly so suave, so I thought I'd, you know, move him away, so I gave him a shove, and that wasn't in the script, so he had to improvise and make it look like it was part of the show, but he did it too hard, and the curtain caught fire, and before anyone could even panic Mr. Stewart, I'll never forgive him for this, he tore down the curtain and wrapped it around himself while it was in flames, and he laughed, gay and cruel, and vanished in a POOF, and everyone looked at me and I thought, well, the show must go on, so I got up there, which is no mean feat in the fancy dress I was wearing, I tell you, I have the feeling fancy clothing is meant to be uncomfortable and constricting and ludicrous, it's all, "oh look at me, I can afford to wear this nonsense", it's very Upper Class and the British love the idea, of course, anything to maintain social class and keep everything orderly, even if it means wearing petticoats and stiff shirts and tight shoes, and when you have on all of those, I thought, doesn't that look even more fancy, but i think everyone was looking at me like I was an idiot, and I'm not, I swear, I never went to one of those meetings — anyway, the show had to go on, but I decided it didn't, because who were all these people to make fun of me, so I set the other curtain on fire and wrapped it around myself and laughed —
They don't let Mr. Stewart out these days, not anymore. Nor is there a theater, since the theater district burned down. But they have a Shakespeare festival, they call it the Stratford Festival, and it's lovely, and it brings in all the tourists that Stewart used to. You should go.
And bring me back a piece of Shakespeare's house, and I'll tell you a story about that old codger.
I must remember to never suggest Stratford to Ms. Crawford again.